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Nuffield Australia 2010 Autumn Tour report

Approximately 50 people participated in the ‘Autumn Tour’ held over 4 days in the Northern Territory. As the group came together on our first evening we headed out for dinner to Chars Restaurant, one of Australia’s best known steak restaurants.


The tour on the first day was based around the Darwin region, commencing with a visit to Paspaley Pearls. Paspaley is the world’s leading South Sea pearl company, growing the finest quality pearls in the world. This visit included two segments of the business, the shipyards followed by the main headquarters of Paspaley Pearls located on the edge of the Darwin Mall. The shipyards contained six dry repair berths and five wet berths, covering all facets of ship repair including engineering and maintenance. While the provision of these services to Paspaley’s own fleet of pearling ships remains a core priority, Pearl Marine Engineering Pty Ltd also completes work for a wide range of contracts including The Royal Australian Navy. The visit to the shipyards concluded with an inspection of one of the pearling ships. The group were all impressed by the level of comfort onboard the vessel.

The tour then continued on to Crocodylus Park where we heard Prof. Grahame Webb speak about the concept of sustainable use of wildlife to benefit conservation. This was followed by a visit to the abattoir and hatchery, where we were able to hold a baby crocodile before finishing with an opportunity for some participants to feed large breeding crocodiles in the park.


Starting with the returned scholar’s presentation day and the Keynote Speaker was Bruce Sawyer, Director of Farming Systems, Plant Industries Division in the NT Department of Resources. Bruce provided an overview of the agricultural sector in the NT, detailing that the Pastoral Industry is worth in excess of $260 M, field crops around $18 M and horticulture approx $118 M, with mangos as the largest horticultural industry.  Download presentation (4.8 MB)

The day continued with 7 presentations from returned Scholars. All Scholars kept the audience well entertained with the high quality reports that revealed their findings and how they will apply the learning’s to their own farms and agriculture in Australia.

Robert Bradley   Download presentation (2 MB)

Julie Brien  Download presentation (2.4 MB)

Adam Butterworth  Download presentation (3.6 MB)

Tom Frankcomb  Download presentation (3.5 MB)

Jennifer Hawkins  Download presentation (2.2 MB)

Paul Mumford  Download presentation (3.6 MB)

Evan Ryan  Download presentation (2.6 MB)

Included in the day’s program was a presentation from Katherine Sarneckis, CEO Seafood Industry Council. Katherine spoke about “Local seafood swindles – the deception and failure of voluntary labelling”. Following this we were all more informed about dining out in local restaurants and being able to determine when our seafood is locally produced.

That evening a dinner was held at the Novotel Restaurant, with an entertaining and informative speak from Luke Bowen, Executive Director of the NT Cattleman’s Association. This presentation highlighted the lack of infrastructure, i.e. roads in the region, and also spoke about the value of the export live cattle trade in the region.  Download presentation (6.8 MB)


Friday morning we departed Darwin and started heading towards Katherine. Our first visit for the day was to Geoff and Sharon Arthur’s property, called Beatrice Buffalo Pty. Ltd. Here we viewed their small herd of Buffalo and head about their plans to develop their buffalo dairy, and buffalo animal husbandry. From here we continued onto Beatrice Hill Farm (BHF). BHF is used as the base for the NT buffalo research program and floodplain land management research programs, with the NT having the only Buffalo Research program in Australia. BHF manages the departments riverine buffalo breeding herd. The program is developing a riverine buffalo breeding herd through a cross breeding program between riverine buffalo imported from USA in the early 90’s and the local swamp buffalo. This includes a project to register the herd on to the Breed plan stud recording system (funded by RIRDC).

Having spent the morning hearing about Buffalo breeding in the NT we headed towards the Douglas Daly Region, making a quick stop at the tourist park for lunch. After emptying the shop of all ice-creams/icy-poles and chocolate bars the group continued on route to Howie’s property called “Maneroo”.

Phil and Annette Howie, along with their son Chris and daughter-in-law Amanda, manage a 5,200 ha property which borders the Daly River. Originally from Western Australia they now run rotational cell-grazing to rest pastures, and no-till hay production to reduce erosion and loss of soil moisture. Under the cell-grazing system, the cattle are rotated to new pastures every 60 days. In September 2009 they were awarded the NT Landcare Primary Producer Award for their sustainable land management and cattle production methods.

That evening the group checked into the All Seasons in Katherine before heading to a buffet dinner in the restaurant where we were able to eat crocodile and kangaroo from the barbie. At this stage a number of local Nuffield Alumni joined us for dinner, including Jon Shaw, Helen Murphy and Dean Hersey.


Following yet another early start the group visited Ballongilly Station, the property owned by Paul and Debbie Herrod. Along with their daughter Lorree, they run Ponderosa Brahaman Bull Stud. Paul spoke about their bull stud management and selection, detailing their feeding methods to ensure they produce high quality bulls which will meet customer requirements. We inspected a number of their bulls destined for an upcoming sale, and were impressed by their placid nature.

The second visit for the day was to a MIS Mango Plantation, originally established by Timbercorp. Although currently operated by receivers the orchard will continue to operate until the end of the next harvest. The property is currently managed by Oolloo Farm Management, which is part of the OneHarvest Group. The orchard consists solely of the Calypso™.variety. This variety is a cross between Kensington Pride and Sensation and was introduced into Australia in 1999. The OneHarvest Group has the exclusive rights to sell this variety. Initially established in 2006 the trees remain the property of the investors for a period of 20 years, with the land currently for sale. The 135 ha orchard has 25,000 trees planted of varying age, with harvest typically occurring during Oct-Dec.

At lunch time the group returned to the All Seasons for a casual lunch before heading off on the Nabilil Dreaming Sunset Dinner Cruise in the Katherine Gorge. During this cruise we heard about Nabilil a dragon-like figure who named the region Nitmiluk after hearing the song of the cicada and the spirit, history and culture of the Jawoyn people. The cruise continued along the first two gorges, and finished with dinner onboard the boat on the return trip. This was a fantastic evening and a great way for this Autumn Tour to draw to an end.

Sunday to Monday

The day commenced with the ANZAC Dawn service in Katherine before returning to the All Seasons for breakfast and check out. At this stage the group split, with some returning to Darwin and the rest continuing onto Kununurra and Broome.

We left Katherine for Kununurra by bus and the travel took most of the day through some beautiful but rugged land used to graze cattle almost exclusively Brahmans. We had one engagement in the evening; an overview of the Ord River Scheme, particularly Stage 2. This was presented by Peter Stubbs the Director of the Ord-East Kimberley Expansion Project. The expansion will take the Ord from 14,000 hectares to 22,000 hectares and will allow a surge of current crops such as Chia, Melons, Pumpkins as well as other crops such as Cotton and Rice. Costing around $220 million, the work is to start this month and the first land release is expected in 2011 The long term plans allow the Ord Scheme to extend into the Northern Territory, Noel Wilson also gave us details of where the Ord is today with 45% of its area under Sandalwood and the next big thing Chia could be as important. The generosity of the speakers was highlighted to me in that they gave their time freely to talk to Nuffield’s on the evening of Anzac Day.

John Foss (Nuffield 2001) and his wife Kay then took us through the Chia story. Originally from South America, Chia is a grain of antiquity but has health properties that are just being recognised. Chia is the highest known source of plant based Omega3 and has high levels of fibre and protein. It is also gluten free and is endorsed by the Celiac Society and has a tick of approval from the Heart Foundation, [That is the end of the commercial John]. If this comes to maturity, and I have no reason to suspect it will not, Chia and the Ord will be a perfect fit. Some sturdy tourists took 3 planes to fly the Ord at 5.30 am. Some did not.

Tropical Sandalwood was the first up on Monday [still a public holiday] and well worth a look. Sandalwood is a parasite so is planted with a host which changes as the Sandalwood grows. The nurseries had to be seen to be believed; excellent agriculture!

Rewards Group then showed us their packing shed for red grapefruit and mangoes at the $6.25 million facility. It was absolute state of the art, as the fruit are being packed, the major supermarkets in Melbourne are notified and by the time the fruit is at the end of its process the destination of the pack is known. The facility is a credit to the owners.

Majibun Farm is being developed as a Chia production block and are using their recycled water to facilitate this. Saw a few crops of Rice which could be making resurgence. The sugar mill is gone and the other crop of interest with a change of government in WA is GM Cotton.

We looked at 2 really interesting Farm Shops. First The Hoochery, which is a Rum distillery and shop. Seemed very popular. They now have to grow their own sugar to make the molasses for the rum. This was an adjunct to many years of successful special seed production. The other shop was a Sandalwood venture and it had only been opened 3 days, it was really smart and told a great story

Our thanks to John and Kay and those who made the Ord a great visit.


And so on Tues 27th April 2010 we took off down The Gibb River Road for 1000 kms of gravel heading for Broome. The youngest participant was a 2009 scholar; the most senior a 1966 scholar and the party consisted of 2 drivers 20 scholars and 1 sponsor. We were camping out, just a ground sheet and air mattress then sleeping bags. Thankfully a passing shower the first night was the only precipitation.

There is a serious side to the tour and I will come to it in a bit. However it needs to be said we laughed our way for 4 days in one of the most unforgettable Nuffield tours I have ever been on. We went to Emma Gorge then El Questro to camp after a tour of Chamberlain Gorge.  It is worth noting that the camping ground at El Questro was expecting to host 400 people a night in the season [still 2 weeks away]. The 2 premium suites at El Questro homestead are virtually fully booked at around $2500 a night. Quite a Farm stay operation.


Day 8 started with swims at Zebedee Springs, then an unscheduled stop at Ellenbrae Station for Lunch with scones made as we spoke with the manager. Very much a cattle harvesting operation and different to the class Brahmans seen earlier in the NT. Then on to Manning Gorge for the night.


Day 9 was a stroll to the Gorge before breakfast (2 Geltch kms =5 real ones) or a swim at the camp for others. Then to Lennard River Gorge which is the same distance except that it is up. Serious bit is that Leonard River can run in places up to 4 km wide in the wet and we drove through 40.000 acres of flat self-mulching gray soil that could be watered by the river. Napier Downs will someday be a huge food producer. Overnight was Windjana Gorge quite a sight.


Day 10 was a bit of Aboriginal history then to Tunnel Creek where the river goes 750 metres through the Napier Range. Then another 100 kms of flat open country some irrigation able perhaps in the future. 200kms on the tar bought us to Camballin and Liveringa Station an example of what the future brings. The Fitzroy River during The Wet is second only to The Amazon on flow to the ocean. If it could be dammed or if the powers that be WANT to dam it Camballin has 61.000 acres of irrigable country, all treeless and level. That is right, twice the total area of the competed Ord. It was developed in the late seventies by Texan know-how and destroyed by Govt apathy. The farm now produces 1500 cattle a year and sorghum hay for export cattle boats. We were wonderfully hosted (indeed lavishly) and we were probably the scruffiest group of Nuffield’s that ever went on a farm inspection. Then to Broome.

It is impossible to sum up what we saw as it was different for each one and I do not know whether I saw a dream of hopes shattered or a dream of the future. I suspect that the Kimberley is the future and it will happen in the life of our younger scholars. Thank you to Jim, Graeme and Des the drivers, and the fun/serious team.

Thanks must go to the local NT Nuffield Alumni and their partners for making this tour possible.

Photographs taken during the tour can be viewed on the Nuffield Australian online gallery. Some of the scholars involved in this part of the tour have recorded their impressions in prose. It can be read  here.

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