FROM being raised at the Moore River Native Settlement, where the movie Rabbit Proof Fence was based, to starting Western Australia’s first and only Aboriginal cattle backgrounding operation, Kevin Barron’s story is one for the history books.
Mr Barron grew up attending Moora Primary School and living at New Norcia and during his early years, he worked on many stations including as a station hand mustering and handling cattle and developed a passion for the pastoral industry.
“I spent some time in New Norcia mission and when I was 16 I put what little possessions I had into a pillowcase, jumped out the window and hopped on a train to find my old man who was working at Walebing,” Mr Barron said.
“He asked me if I wanted to go to Meekatharra, where mum’s brother was, and when I got up there I went to Mount Augustus and learnt to ride horses and spent a lot of time around cattle.”
Throughout his life, Mr Barron has had many jobs including builder’s labourer, construction of concrete tanks, mine pegging, mustering sheep and cattle, farm hand on properties around Mingenew, shire worker, airport security, and lastly FIFO plant operator, a role which the almost 75-year-old only quit at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.
Out of all of his jobs, taking on ownership of Yallalie Downs at Dandaragan and starting the Beemurra Aboriginal Corporation was his pride and joy.
Mr Barron went to Yallalie in 2000 as part of a deal struck with the then Indigenous Land Corporation.
The name Beemurra is from his grandmother’s language from out in the Western Desert, and is the term for a rock python, about 17 feet long, that feeds entirely on marsupials.
In the early days, the 1242 hectare property at Yallalie was leased to a couple of local farmers for cropping, plus the Barrons had about 2000 sheep on the place, but neither of those options seemed viable in the long-term.
However conversations with the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD) in 2015 changed everything and put Mr Barron on the path to turning the property into a cattle backgrounding operation.
DPIRD project development officer Tony Gray said back then, the department had a program called Indigenous Land Holder Service and Beemurra approached that service to request support to run its farm.
“We had an agreement that we would support them, but it was totally optional and all on their own initiative that they came to us to ask for help to improve the profitability of their farm,” Mr Gray said.
“We did a lot of work with them to make sure they had a corporation that was functional and to help get them to identify what they wanted from their property.
“At the time the property was leased out and there had been a poor history where Beemurra had effectively no control over what was happening to their land and they were getting paid a pretty poor amount for it.”
Together with Mr Gray, Beemurra developed a plan to run cattle and the idea of planting perennials to support that was seen as the most viable option.
“Kevin was the one to initially make the approach to us to get involved and started all the planning of the work on the property, he was involved and very supportive from the beginning,” Mr Gray said.
“We had to upgrade the infrastructure and productivity of the pastures, we had to put infrastructure in so they could manage the cattle and we had to create a system where they could get cattle and generate an income.
“We also had to look at the skills of the individual members involved so they could manage the cattle and the business and understand what was going on.”
Mr Barron said that before 2015 the infrastructure was set up for sheep, not for cattle.
“There was a lot of work put into the property to get it up to code for what we wanted to do,” Mr Barron said.
“Honestly it felt like I was fencing in my sleep at night, we’ve got 1242ha, so we had to secure the boundaries, make the paddocks or cells and create the laneways which are 18m wide.
“You have to be able to feed the cattle, so we focused on getting that done first by seeding perennials, which is why we started off small and we’re gradually expanding.”
At Yallalie Downs, they operate in cells of approximately 30 to 40ha each in size, with cattle let into a cell to graze for about seven days before being moved on to the next and the previous cell being left to rest.
Currently the capacity of the operation allows for up to 600 head of cattle at any one time, but over the course of the year they have between 1500 to 2000 cattle pass through.
These days Mr Barron runs the operation with his two granddaughters – Lexie Mourambine, who has been there since the beginning and is the farm manager, and Madeline Anderson, who came on board full-time 18 months ago and handles the administration side of things.
Ms Anderson said she was proud of her pop and what he has been able to achieve.
“He came from a mission, he had a hard life and he did the hard yards to learn different skills over the years,” Ms Anderson said.
“Having the opportunity to come to Yallalie Downs, it was all about his vision to provide opportunities for the next generation.
“I was a young teenager when the family first moved here, to then come back as an adult and hear more about pop’s hopes and dreams for the place, and see how far it’s come, it’s really unique to be a part of.”
Mr Gray said Beemurra had come along at an unbelievable rate and the standout feature that most people don’t really talk about was how the skills of the members had improved.
“The way the younger members’ skills, particularly Madeline and Lexie, have improved has been spectacular and from my perspective very pleasing as they always want to learn, we put them through courses and they actually apply what they’re taught,” he said.
“Lexie has really embraced the technology of the weighing of the cattle and also the stress-free stockman skills.
“When we first started she couldn’t move the cattle from one paddock to the other on her own, now she is moving to the stage where she is teaching other members how to do it.”
Both Mr Barron and Ms Mourambine have completed all the required training from animal husbandry to low-stress stock handling, plus workshops with a local veterinarian.
Mr Barron said if cattle were stressed out, they don’t put on weight and their entire business model is based on getting money to build that weight gain up.
“We always check the new cattle when they come in and do it for 20 minutes in the morning and the afternoon so they can get used to us,” he said.
“When they first come in, they generally go to a corner and stay there, but we pull them out of those corners and into the middle of the paddock and they get used to us being around.
“My original vision was to have this place equal to anyone else that runs cattle, now I want it to be a blue ribbon place and be better than the rest.”
Beemurra is also part of the Noongar Land Enterprise Group (NLE), a not-for-profit, Aboriginal-led grower group that promotes collective strength and achieves optimum economic rewards from Noongar land-based enterprises.
Ms Anderson said NLE provided Beemurra with an opportunity to increase networks and explore different ways on how to access the market and support each other.
“Sometimes, up here, you work in silos and to be part of a group that is alway supporting each other provides a lot of opportunities,” she said.
“To be able to share skills and knowledge is great, we know other NLE organisations are doing awesome stuff and we love to see that.”
While Ms Mourambine takes care of the animals, Ms Anderson is busy in the office taking care of the business and she is now the chairwoman of the Beemurra Aboriginal Corporation.
Ms Anderson said it was really great to see how far the place had progressed and how far it’s going to go and she said it was exciting to be part of that.
“All the changes that have happened over the years have been trial and error and to see something which has blossomed in the past five years is incredible,” she said.
“We’re able to say we’re not just Aboriginal, but we’re people who are skilled in the beef industry, specifically backgrounding, we’ve picked up the skills and the knowledge required.
“It’s a massive achievement for any Aboriginal corporation to be part of that supply chain, community and enterprise, plus to have the next generation grow up and learn those skills that pop has taught us.”
Credit: Source link