10 May 2023

Big wet season not a problem for Cape York station owner

| Matt Nicholls
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Melissa Price holding Delta Jorgensen, Cody Jorgensen, Richard Price and Elaine Price.

BEING cut off from the outside world is just something that comes with the territory for most of Cape York’s cattle stations.

And for many of the remaining graziers on the Peninsula, it’s the best time of year.

“I’ll probably be stuck here until after Easter and that doesn’t worry me one bit,” said Richard Price, the owner of Southwell Station.

“I’ve been here since 1985 and I love it here in the wet season.”

The father of five daughters has his youngest, Rebecca, 18, to keep him company on the property as the rain tumbles down.

Since the start of December, the station near Pormpuraaw has been blessed with almost a metre of rain.

“It’s a good opportunity to get in the shed and do a few jobs, although there’s not much room to move as most of the gear is in the shed at this time of year,” the 64-year-old said.

“We call it the slack season but there’s always something to be done. We’re lucky we are pretty self-resilient out here.”

Southwell has a menagerie of animals, including milking cows, goats, guinea foul, pigs, ducks, turkeys and, of course, chooks.

“I’ve just been out breaking up a fight between the animals,” Price said on a drizzly morning.

“We’ve even got emus that hang about the place.”

Southwell Station’s Richard Price with a native grass catcher on his quad bike.

With fresh milk, a well stocked vege garden and plenty of animals to slaughter and eat, no one goes hungry at Southwell.

There’s also a freezer full of beef and fish, with the Holroyd and Edward rivers providing plenty of places to flick a lure, although it’s not as plentiful as it once was.

“Crocs are a big problem. The fishing has been stuffed because of them,” Price said.

“There’s a spot that would have about 200 freshies lying around. It’s so bad that even the crocs are starving to death.”

Over the years, Southwell has opened its doors for private fishing and hunting, with visitors enjoying the remote lifestyle and a chance to hunt boars and catch big barra.

It was one of the ways to help pay the bills.

“I’ve battled my whole life but I’m just starting to get ahead now,” admitted Price.

“We’ve always been able to pay the bills but would be scratching ourselves for anything else.

“The carbon credits have made a big difference to this place and I’ve only just recently started making money.

“I reckon next year the bank will be paid off.”

Bull catchers Rebecca, Novalee and Louise Price.

While it’s just “Nookie” and his daughter on Southwell at the moment, there can be up to seven workers on the property in the dry season.

Between mustering cattle and conducting carbon burns, it can get busy in the winter months.

“It’s hard to know exactly how big the herd is but we run about 1500 head of cattle,” Price said.

“They wander a lot and it’s a big job to muster them.”

Southwell Station was originally part of Strathgordon before it was divided into four smaller properties.

“It’s not a bad spot we have as it’s right next to (Toby’s Lagoon),” Price said.

“There’s 146,000 hectares and the homestead is built on high ground because we get big floods.”

While it takes almost two hours to get to Pormpuraaw, the Price family usually head to the big smoke of Mareeba when the roads are open.

It’s a six hour drive when the roads have been graded.

Rebecca was last week hoping to get out as a horse on the property needed vet attention for a hoof issue.

“The horse will be OK but it’d be handy to get it looked at,” she said.

Novalee Price with the dogs on the tractor.

Being resourceful is part and parcel of living remotely, though.

Southwell is lucky enough to have an airstrip that can handle most wet seasons, meaning that the Skytrans mail plane will land each Thursday.

“If we need spare parts or some fresh produce we’ll get it on the plane,” Price said.

“They can also bring passengers and take out passengers if we need to.”

Rebecca said she had no plans of ditching her dad anytime soon, happy to stay on the station and help out.

One of her older sisters opted to head to Mareeba and pick fruit during the summer, no doubt enticed by the social life of town rather than the sweat-inducing labour of being in an orchard.

But Rebecca is content with life on the land.

The 18-year-old combined her studies with home school, boarding school and school of the air, but is happy to be a bull catcher.

“I like it here at this time of year,” Rebecca said.

“We had a roast goat for Christmas Day. Actually, it was smoked goat as dad built his own smoker.”

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