Singing in­dus­try’s truths

Cou­ple grows Kather­ine Out­back Ex­pe­ri­ence

The Northern Star - Northern New South Wales Rural Weekly - - News - AN­DREA DAVY An­drea.davy@ru­ral­weekly.com.au

A FEW weeks ago Tom Cur­tain was thrown from a buck­ing horse while break­ing it in.

It’s some­thing that oc­ca­sion­ally hap­pens to even the most ex­pe­ri­enced horse­men, but in Tom’s case his un­grace­ful dis­mount was watched – and thor­oughly en­joyed – by about 100 spec­ta­tors.

As a horse­man first, he quickly dusted him­self off and got back to work train­ing, but as a per­former, he put aside his pride and al­lowed the crowd to rel­ish in the buck­jump­ing dis­play.

Al­most ev­ery day of the week Tom, along with his fi­ancé Annabel Mclarty, give tourists and school­child­ren an in­sight into sta­tion life through the Kather­ine Out­back Ex­pe­ri­ence.

The show started small – with Tom only hav­ing a round yard set up in the sun for a hand­ful of tourists to crowd around – but has grown to a busi­ness that now at­tracts hun­dreds and hosts up to 12 shows per week.

This week, Tom and Annabel chat­ted to the Ru­ral Weekly to ex­plain how a horse breaker, turned singer-songwriter, and a Perth town plan­ner started one of the Top End’s fastest grow­ing at­trac­tions.

As a pro­fes­sional horse breaker, the 2011 live-ex­port ban came as blow to Tom’s busi­ness.

Sta­tions were forced to cut their bud­gets and Tom’s work, break­ing in horses for stock camps, soon dried up.

To make ends meet, he started singing at the lo­cal car­a­van park, which wasn’t far from his prop­erty.

A self-taught mu­si­cian, Tom started writ­ing his own music when he was work­ing in Mt Sand­ford Sta­tion’s stock­camp. His head stock­man, Martin Oaks, gave him an old gui­tar and taught him three chords.

“I be­gan to prac­tise ev­ery lunch time and ev­ery night time around the camp­fire,” he said.

Tom’s music re­flects his time spent work­ing on cat­tle sta­tions. His songs are about the ex­pe­ri­ences he has had and the char­ac­ters he has met. He quickly grew an au­di­ence and will re­lease his third al­bum this year.

When per­form­ing at the car­a­van park he would of­ten share sto­ries about his work be­tween songs, and one night a few lis­ten­ers asked if he could show them how he trained his horses.

Be­liev­ing there was a big­ger mar­ket for an agri­cul­tural-in­fused live show, he launched the Kather­ine Out­back Ex­pe­ri­ence in July 2013.

The busi­ness grew steadily, cap­tur­ing the at­ten­tion of grey no­mads, but soon kicked up a gear when Annabel Mclarty joined the team.

The cou­ple re­cently be­came en­gaged, and while Annabel doesn’t have mar­ket­ing ex­pe­ri­ence – she is ac­tu­ally a fully qual­i­fied ur­ban plan­ner – she shares Tom’s de­ter­mi­na­tion for the pro­ject.

“Annabel came on in the last three years. She has just been phe­nom­e­nal with all the mar­ket­ing,” Tom said.

For Annabel, their shows have a much deeper mean­ing than just giv­ing tourist a few hours of en­ter­tain­ment.

“An in­creased un­der­stand­ing of the north­ern beef in­dus­try is im­por­tant to us,” she said.

“We want to help peo­ple un­der­stand why horses and dogs are used to work cat­tle. We want to share that knowl­edge.”

Annabelle grew up on a cat­tle prop­erty about an hour south of Perth.

“An­other as­pect for us, is show­ing how im­por­tant the pastoral in­dus­try is to the top end of Aus­tralia, it’s part of the way of life up here,” she said.

“I guess for us, it’s re­ally spe­cial to be able to share a bit of in­sight into what life is like on ru­ral prop­er­ties and sta­tions.

“When peo­ple think about the Ter­ri­tory they think about the in­cred­i­ble land­scapes, the in­cred­i­ble in­dige­nous cul­ture and they also think about the cow­boys of the out­back sta­tions.”

Tom de­scribes the show as hav­ing no “bells and whis­tles”, just mostly him telling it like it is.

The horses he breaks in are later trucked back to sta­tions for use in stock camps, and the work­ing dogs are sold to gra­ziers through­out the coun­try.

With 12 work­ing dogs, all at dif­fer­ent lev­els, Tom ad­mit­ted there was an el­e­ment of “risk” to his show, as there were a few “rat­bags” in the ranks.

But he would pre­fer to have an hon­est show, where there is the chance of some­thing go­ing wrong, than an overly pol­ished per­for­mance.

“The other day I got bucked off a horse in the round yard. I had about 100 peo­ple there, and they just loved it,” he said.

Tom joked he still couldn’t feel his shoul­der.

“If I was us­ing the same horse ev­ery time in the show I would get bored of it,” he said.

“We use a horse two or three times in a show and then we will kick it out when they get too quiet.

“I am pas­sion­ate about get­ting the very best out of each horse.”

Of course, there is plenty of music through­out the show as well.

The hardy cou­ple work as much as de­mand re­quires, oc­ca­sion­ally scor­ing a day off once a week. In the off sea­son, when it’s be­comes too hot for tourists in the Top End, the show is packed up and taken on the road to south­ern western Aus­tralia.

Visit www.kather­i­ne­out­back­ex­pe­ri­ence.com.au for more in­for­ma­tion.

PHOTOS: CON­TRIB­UTED

Kather­ine Out­back Ex­pe­ri­ence own­ers Tom Cur­tain and Annabel Mclarty are a great work­ing team.

Tom en­joys work­ing with all kinds of horses.

Tom is a pro­fes­sional horse trainer.

Work­ing dogs are stars of the show.

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