An old-school north Queensland stockman shows the city folk how it’s done. Graham Simmons goes along for the ride. It sounds too corny to be for real, but the new Australian Muster Experience (AME), a 35-minute drive out of Port Douglas in north Queensland, is the genuine article.
The lush Whyanbeel Valley, just north-west of the little town of Miallo and about 30 minutes’ drive from Cairns, seems an unlikely place to find working stockmen. For starters, the dust of the bush is replaced by the greenest of grass, and the surrounding rainforest is a world away from the straggly scrub of traditional cattle country. But despite its good looks, this place isn’t just for show – Whyanbeel Station is used as a fattening property for cattle raised out at Mount Mulligan, in the far west of the Atherton Tablelands.
Founded by lifelong stockman Gordon Pringle, the Australian Muster Experience showcases the arts of mustering, stock-handling and camp-drafting. Gordon spent much of his youth working on cattle stations up in Cape York, before moving back to Port Douglas and later establishing two properties of his own – Mount Mulligan Station and Whyanbeel Valley. He reckons his main aim is to educate city folk about the realities of life in The Outback.
AME bills itself as the real deal, and it is. As cattle come thundering across the wide amphitheatre towards the mustering yard, hotly pursued by riders on horseback, you’d swear you were watching an epic Western movie in the making – only in this case, as the AME website declares, there are “no actors or show ponies here!”
In the show, Gordon often leads the charge. The star horse is Shrek, a 10-year-old gelding that could probably make its way to the stockyard blindfolded.
As the riders approach the yard, the clap of the hooves builds to a tumultuous roar. The cattle are driven into the stockyard, where they are rounded up and corralled. Some fine examples of bareback riding set the scene, with one of the stockmen even managing to crack a fair whip while standing in the saddle – and not even remotely looking like falling off his horse.
For light relief, “Nipper” (Dave Martin), who could have stumbled out of the back door of any country pub, turns on some hilarious clowning. Funnily enough, the bulls never get the better of him; as he staggers across the arena closely pursued by a stockwhip, the cattle don’t seem to know what to make of the spectacle.
An excellent commentary accompanies the action, with music by country singer Dennis Rose. Following the show, a substantial barbecue meal is served. The bar is open, too – maybe not such a boon to those who have to drive back to Port Douglas.
The only downside of the show is the admission price, which is decidedly on the positive side of zero (see right). But note that it’s a lot cheaper to drive there yourself than to use the transfers offered – so if one of your party is willing to forgo the pleasures of the bar, this could be the best option.
THE AT Verdict
Graham Simmons, who paid his own way and visited anonymously, says:
The antics of the sheepdogs alone are worth the time spent getting to the venue.
Where Kingston Road, Whyanbeel Valley, via Miallo. Take the Captain Cook Highway north from Port Douglas, then turn left onto the Miallo-Whyanbeel road just past the Mossman Golf Course.
Notes Lunch and dinner shows are held daily in peak season (May-September), and about four days a week at other times of the year.
Price The Lunch Muster costs $63 for adults (children $36, family ticket $185) if you drive yourself. Including transfers from Port Douglas, the price is $99 for adults (children $58, family $276) or from Cairns and its northern beaches $120 for adults (children $75, family $335).