Life on Mulga Downs

Alex Woodleigh, partner to Kathy Sullivan, has grown up on Mulga Downs. This a cattle station to the north-east of Alice Springs. As the crow flies, it’s around 125 kms from Alice, but a much longer distance by road. What Americans would term a ranch, the station is around 7,000 square km.  or about 1,750,000 acres. It’s a pastoral company, growing beef for local and export markets.

He studied at Roseworthy Agricultural College in SA, but otherwise has spent his life in the Northern Territory. He is in some ways an enigmatic character, but I managed to catch up with him briefly for a chat on one of his visits to town.

Mulga Downs is a huge property, Alex. Did you always see yourself running the station?

Alex,-reducedAlex: I was the only child in the family and it was always assumed that I would run the family business. I’m the fourth generation to run cattle here. I took over management earlier than expected, because of the death of my father when I was in my early twenties. I had to grow up fast. Fortunately, there were some other experienced station hands working on  Mulga Downs, so I wasn’t without help or advice.

How did your friendship with Dave Bishop evolve?

Alex: Dave Bishop was a childhood friend. We didn’t know each other in the early years, but grew close when we both attended boarding school down south. Dave’s parents lived in town, but we managed to catch up regularly. Once he got the job with StationAir, he often dropped past doing the mail runs.

Is there much social life on the station?

Alex: It varies on the time of year and what’s happening. There’s a transient population to help with mustering or other aspects of station management and maintenance, and we might get together of an evening for a bit of a yarn. Otherwise, there are times when we meet up with others on adjoining stations, or at the local races or events like that. Having the plane is helpful. I can take Mum into town whenever she needs a break.

What appealed to you about Kathy when you first met her? I thought you would have married a woman who was used to station life.

Alex: It was a gradual thing. I noticed her at the railway station first, but that was just in passing. She looked a bit lost.  She irritated me initially. I didn’t think an inexperienced pilot fresh from the city was the best person for the job she was taking on. I particularly wasn’t impressed that she was taking over the job held by Dave Bishop. She kept turning up wherever I was though and she had a way of making her presence known. I admired her determination, even though I didn’t let on about that.  It was a gradual thing, but she got under my skin. As far as marriage went, that wasn’t on my agenda, whether to Kathy or anyone else. I had no preconceptions about the woman I might marry though.

When did you decide that Kathy was the woman for you?

Alex: I’m not sure really. My mother liked her, but of course, my mother has a very generous spirit and likes many people. It was important to me nevertheless. I think when we went for the morning walk on Jinka Station, things really fell into place. I was attracted well before that though, as you might have noticed when we were doing the fire-spotting.

She was mostly antagonistic towards me around that time, so I wasn’t sure how to proceed. Then I thought she was interested in that city bloke, which would be only natural for a woman from the city, so I backed right off. I was waiting to see if Kathy would last the distance with the job, and also to see what might be the best approach in developing the relationship. As things turned out, she sort of fell into my lap, though not in the way you might imagine and no, I don’t think she is a heifer. I wanted to set the record straight about that.

Thanks, Alex. We look forward to learning more about life in and around Alice.

Emily Hussey

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