Halfway to nowhere and millions of acres
By Ieva Tomsons
RETIRED pastoral station managers Dudley and Jill Hall (left) have gone from overseeing millions of acres to settling on a picturesque 70-acre (28ha) block in Nunile.
It takes a special breed of person to cope with the isolation and challenges of living on remote properties and the Halls were bred for it.Read more
Dudley spent his first seven or eight years on Boodarie station 18km from Port Hedland and Jill grew up on Maroonah 250km south of Onslow.
Mustering, windmill runs and helping at shearing time were all part of station life on their sheep properties and they were taught how to track at an early age by the Aboriginal families that lived and worked on their stations.
“They told me to look at the ground, watch the ants and when the crows were flying high it meant rain was on its way,” said Jill, who wishes she had paid more attention to their stories and was sad when they moved off the station to live in town.
In the late 1940s Dudley’s family bought Wallareenya 40 miles (64km) east of Port Hedland.
There was no School of the Air when the Halls grew up and Jill’s primary education was by correspondence until she went to board at St Hilda’s Anglican School for Girls in Mosman Park.
Dudley spent his first three years of primary school living with friends in Port Hedland during the week and once they moved to Wallareenya he was taught by his mother before heading to Guildford Grammar School as a boarder.
After high school Dudley returned to Wallareenya. His parents had separated, and he was left to run the property with his mother.
He learnt a lot from Jack Coppin, an Aboriginal stockman, who had been on the station for many years.
“Jack could do anything. You name it he could do it – fix windmills, wells, fencing, all aspects of stock husbandry and he was a good horseman.”
‘Only white bloke’
Dudley was often the only white bloke in the mustering team and developed a taste for bungarra (monitor lizard), a staple bush tucker.
After three years on Wallereenya, Dudley headed to NSW and Queensland to work on sheep and cattle properties and took time out to visit his father and his new family in NSW.
While Dudley was over east, Jill, after a gap year on Maroonah, returned to Perth to complete a secretarial course and started working for a real estate company.
When Dudley returned to Perth in 1963 he was met at the airport by his sister and Jill. They were married two years later.
“It was the beginning of happy times,” smiles Dudley.
The newlyweds drove to Wallereenya and Jill adapted to station life on a much-smaller property in close proximity to Port Hedland.
“It felt suburban as we went to town every week not once or twice a year like on Maroonah.
“Supplies didn’t come on the mail truck and Dudley was able to play cricket in town, the race round was fairly close – Roebourne ,Wittenoom, Marble Bar, Hedland – and we’d go out with friends on weekends.”
In 1970 Wallereenya was sold and the Halls were offered the management of Maroonah where they stayed for the next eight years.
Dudley wasn’t really keen on getting a pilot’s licence, but it was essential to overseeing 500,000 acres (200,000ha).
Jill had to be a Jill-of-all-trades, schooling their two daughters on School of the Air, caring for a young son, cooking for the workers and treating mishaps or illnesses affecting her family and workers.
“We had a pedal radio and every morning the doctor would come on and diagnose symptoms if needed. All the medicines were numbered, and you were told to give three of number two, twice a day; it was a pretty good system.”
After Maroonah was sold in 1978 the Halls first managed Minilya a 1,000,000-acre (400,000ha) coastal pastoral lease 119km north of Carnarvon for a couple of years when it too was sold.
It would be a place where they were content and after a short stint on Warroora station they returned to Minilya where they stayed for another six years.
Visitors were always stopping by and the couple were kept busy managing 3000 cattle and 48,000 sheep which took 10 weeks to shear.
By the end of it, even the shearers were sick of it,” laughs Dudley.
He remembers flying over Minilya during floods. “All the rivers had joined up and the stock were standing on small islands – it was amazing that they survived.”
In 1988 Minilya was sold and the Halls say it was “really tough” having to leave the property and all their friends.
An Elders’ advertisement for a manager in Yunta South Australia caught Dudley’s eye.
“Jill’s instinct was not to go, and she was right. There had been 12 managers in 12 years. We didn’t last long either.”
Back in WA they headed north again to oversee Minnie Creek, a 1,000,000-acre (400,000ha) property running 36,000 sheep north of Gascoyne Junction.
“We had three-four permanent workers and casuals at mustering time,” said Dudley.
After four years Minnie Creek changed hands. The Halls tried their luck in Perth where Dudley mowed lawns and Jill turned her hand to sewing cushions for her sister’s interior decorating business.
“The winter was grim, and we’d had enough after nine months. A ‘brilliant opportunity’ came up to own a roadhouse at Mundrabilla,” said Jill, tongue-in-cheek.
“It was halfway to nowhere and we were going to be the big owners,” laughs Dudley.
The business was really rundown, and they resorted to parking their own cars and rubbish wagon out the front to make it look as if they had customers.
With 4am starts and 11pm finishes it was a punishing workload, but they built the business up in less than two years.
“We went from saying (to the passing traffic) ‘please stop’ to ‘keep going’. We were there 20 months, two weeks, seven hours and six minutes,” hoots Dudley.
After selling the roadhouse, Dudley embarked on a career in real estate and Jill worked in a florist’s office in Perth.
Selling real estate didn’t suit Dudley. “I’d tell the buyers all the negatives; it wasn’t for me.”
In 1994 the Halls headed to the Goldfields to manage Melita station, a 500,000-acre (200,000ha) property 25km south of Leonora.
They were in unfamiliar country but enjoyed the close proximity to Kalgoorlie and the area’s history.
After four years on Melita the Halls purchased 450 acres (182ha) in Nunile and relocated one of the old Northam army barracks to make their permanent home.
They were now cropping and running a few stock of their own but they also took time out to manage a Dunsborough resort as well as caretaking properties up north.
For their final station management job in 2005 running Gifford Creek near Mt Augustus for a few years, Dudley had to re-sit his pilot’s licence.
The 1,000,000-acre (400,00ha) cattle property was in rugged country but was the best-set-up property they ever worked on – a fitting finale to their long career as station managers.