Advice from an outback station owner

Outback etiquette

THE crew at 4X4 have been out in the bush for the last two weeks, and along the way we came across an unattended campfire still burning. We put it out and continued, later passing through areas of private land that had prominent signs up warning that trespasses would be prosecuted for leaving the public road.

It only goes to reinforce an email I received the other week from a frustrated mate who runs a sheep and cattle property in far-west NSW. He has been having more than his fair share of people doing the wrong thing – either unknowingly or, sadly, intentionally – while they pass through his place, resulting in busted gates, shot-up water tanks, spooked cattle and thirsty sheep. As a keen 4WDer and tourer, he appreciates why we want to come to the outback and visit the remote parts of Australia; but along with the privilege of touring our vast country comes some responsibility.

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Here’s what he said: “When travelling in station country (designated by stock, fences, gates and watering points) you’re travelling on a working station where stock is our livelihood. Please make the effort to contact/visit the homestead if you would like to do anything other than pass directly through, or if you have queries on road conditions. It is when travellers are found camping, exploring or travelling on station tracks or closed roads without permission that landowners and managers can become grumpy.

Outback Etiquette
“Leave gates as you find them. If it doesn’t look right, call in to see the station staff or attempt to track down someone on the UHF radio. If travelling in a group use convoy procedures and make sure the last through closes the gate properly. We often see latches that are not put back securely. Children need close supervision if taking on the gate-opening task. We cannot stress this enough: a box-up of stock by leaving a gate open can incur very significant mustering and handling costs to resolve; while a closed gate (that should be open) can deprive stock of access to water, resulting in many costly deaths.

“On outback properties there are often activities in progress that can have a major safety implication if people are camping without permission. For example, many stations have ’roo shooters that operate at night, there may be hunters looking for feral animals, and there may be mustering activities in progress. Do not camp without making an attempt to gain permission from the property, and don’t camp close to water points as that will deprive stock of access to water.

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“Dogs must be on a lead at all times. Many properties regularly bait, trap and/or use other methods for the management of wild dogs and there can be a very real risk to any dog that is allowed off a lead.

Take out any rubbish with you and rake out fires to ensure no cans or other debris is left behind. When you need to go to the toilet, dig a hole and burn the paper before filling the hole in, while ensuring you are well away from watering points and the side of the road.

“Shooting and exploring are not allowed under any circumstances without specific permission.

Put out fires station owner
“If it happens to rain and you’re leaving defined wheel marks, stop and access the damage. In most areas roads are closed whenever there is any amount of rain and in many cases it may just mean camping overnight to let sun and wind do some drying before proceeding. Again, make every attempt to contact the station to find out what conditions are doing. We have, on occasions, put people up in our shearers’ quarters for several days rather than make a mess of the road. Remember, we have to travel on these roads every day.

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“And you can help us by doing a big favour and report anything that doesn’t look right. If you suspect there is stock in strife or a watering point has stopped working, please try to call in or make contact via the UHF. Given the distances involved in station country we often only find out about issues after it’s too late.

“As landowners we’re happy to provide advice where we can to those who travel through our ‘backyard’, thus improving the outcomes and experience for us all."

What more can I say? Be a good outback traveller and we’ll all be better for it.

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