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Old MacDonnell Report – The Jackaroo Act

Justin & Pauline MacDonnell and their young family are the owners of “Wallaroo”, a 71,000 acre cattle station nestled in the Carnarvon Ranges in Outback Queensland.  They run this property in conjunction with another located in the fertile Arcadia Valley.  “Wallaroo” with its cycad-filled gorges, unique Aboriginal art and amazing rock formations is part of BOOBOOK’s Ecotours, where guests in small intimate groups enjoy private access to this diverse property with local ecologist, Craig Eddie as one of the guides.

It is very evident that Justin MacDonnell, who has become a jack of all trades, has come a long way since his first Jackarooing days and induction into farming.  Here, Pauline (his adorable wife) tells us why:

“Justin started his career on the land by leaving his well-paid job as an accountant and offering himself as a jackaroo to whoever would have him.  He moved around his contacts out west learning all sorts of new skills.  He made up for his lack of experience with enthusiasm, motivation and his ability to work it out eventually, no matter how long it took.

After about 6 months he found himself working for my family in the Arcadia Valley.  Under the watchful eye for my father Wally, my Uncle Robert and two cousins, Matthew and Kenton, Justin was determined to impress.

We’d had a couple of inches of rain and the cattle needed to be moved to the next paddock.  This was a job for the four-wheeler and gumboots.  Back then we use to own an automatic Kawasaki.  Any fool could operate it, you just turned the key, hit the throttle with your thumb and you were away, automatically clicking through gears until you reached a top speed of about 70km/hr.

Moving the cattle from one paddock to the next was not deemed a difficult task so Matthew sent out Justin, the new jackaroo.  Better he end up covered in mud than Matthew, was the thought.  Justin accepted his task with much enthusiasm and set off to the appointed paddock, spraying mud all the way.

Eventually Justin reached his destination and spotted cattle ahead. He took off in their direction.  The cattle moved off at pass, weaving through the Brigalow scrub with ease, unlike Justin on his four-wheeler.  The cattle crossed a ditch and were now escaping across open grass land.  Justin floored the accelerator; hit the ditch which happened to be a foot deep in water and the bike came to a grinding holt.   He revved the bike with all she had but this just sank the wheels further into the mud.  Justin watched as his mob of cattle disappeared over the horizon – he was well and truly bogged.

Justin, a tall strong bloke, try as he might, couldn’t move the bike. The more he pushed the accelerator, the more his steed sank into the mud.  If only he could lift the back of the bike while pushing the accelerator he might just be able to get the bike out of the ditch and retain a little of his precious dignity. The idea of walking home to then have to explain the situation to Matthew was not an option.  A plan started to formulate.  Justin found a piece of wire and tied down the accelerator.  With the bike now at full throttle, he climbed off into the mud, sloshed around to the rear of the bike and with all his strength, lifted the back wheels and helped push the bike out.  If anyone has ever stood at the back of a bogged vehicle while it worked to escape, you’ll know how much mud is flung up.  Justin wore this mud from head to toe.  His plan, however, worked a treat!!  The bike took off out of the ditch and up the bank, she was away.  The only problem was, in lifting the bike, Justin had managed to press his gumboots deep, deep, deep into the mud, making it impossible to lift them out!

Showing the kids what’s what.

With no hope of catching his bike, Justin watched helplessly as the bike roared off away from the ditch, all the while steadily gaining speed.  Suddenly the bike’s left front tyres hit an ant’s nest, forcing the bike to turn.  Justin, literally grounded to where he stood, watched in stark disbelief as the bike started to arc, perform a complete u-turn and then drove itself back into the ditch, bogging up to its axels, still at full throttle,  facing the opposite direction, just 10 metres from where Justin stood stuck in his gumboots.

Justin eventually freed the bike out of the ditch, mustered the cattle and with his dignity still intact, although still looking like he’d stepped out of a mud wrestling match, was able to tell Matthew the whole story.  This unfortunately was Justin’s biggest mistake that day as, unbeknownst to him, the Valley traditionally presents an award each year to the best “jackaroo act”. You’ll never guess who won it that year…….”

Gather a group of about ten of your friends or family and join in BOOBOOK Ecotours “Wonders of Wallaroo” tour.  On this adventure you’ll get to meet and spend some time with MacDonnell’s in their very own back yard, and when sitting around a hypnotising camp fire looking up the clear starry sky you will no doubt get to hear lots more stories about Justin and his Jackarooing days from Pauline.

Want to come and check out one of Australia’s wildest frontiers?