Two booklets recently published by the Northern Territory Department of Primary Industry and Fisheries (DPIF) recount the hard work, pioneering spirit, and often amazing tales of the NT Government’s early Stock Inspectors and Veterinarians.
Territory Stockies and Government Vets-The Northern Territory Animal Health System From 1965 to 2012, was coordinated by former NTG Veterinarian Brian Radunz, who compiled stories with contributions from 20 former NTG Stockies and Vets and the era’s five major animal health programs.
“A long line of dedicated animal health staff often sacrificed comfort and personal safety to get the job done, sometimes in the Territory’s most remote areas,” said Dr Radunz, Chief Veterinary Officer from 1999 to 2012. “I wrote the books because I think it’s important to remember that the current success of the NT’s pastoral industry owes much to the work of those dedicated people.
“The booklets celebrate the achievements of the cattle industry, private sector service providers and DPIF staff in cattle disease eradication. The eradication of contagious bovine pleuropneumonia and the availability of TB and brucellosis-free Brahman cattle enabled the rapid growth of the live cattle export industry from the early 1990s”.
The booklets are filled with larger than life characters including stoic stockmen and tough-as-nails vets and ‘stockies’.
Bruce Tye, a former stock inspector, recalls that Regional Stock Inspector Denis Morgan was such a man:
A beast bucked in the crush and the scalpel blade injured his fingers. He should have gone straight to town but remembering he was there because we were short-handed, he double-gloved his hand and worked away at the glue and tags until we finished the mob. His fingers must have throbbed all day long. (Vet) Geoff Maher drove him to Alice that night. I believe that the tide was out on the first bottle of rum before they got to Beenleigh bore on the Plenty Highway.
Brian Radunz has fond memories of Noel Ross who tragically lost his life at work in 1989 due to a helicopter accident. Noel was the stockie in Darwin, starting work in the region in 1972 as a green young vet. Brian said Noel was an extraordinary gentleman and a competent horse ‘vet’, having been trained to do basic horse surgery. As more vets appeared in the 1970s, stockies were no longer permitted to do surgery.
Brian also recalls Dave Russell’s dedication to work during a job bleeding cattle at a property three hours from Katherine in the mid-1970s. Dave got a very large splinter in his right thumb from the wooden race. As there was only Dave and Brian doing the job, he did not want to drive back to Katherine for medical treatment and leave the job short-handed. Dave asked Brian to remove the large splinter with his veterinary equipment. There was local anaesthetic and horse and cattle needles in the vehicle. The new needles could not penetrate the hard skin on his thumb and so treatment had to be aborted. He struggled on and finished the job and drove back to Katherine. Brian later discovered that the doctor had a similar problem and had to use more advanced human medical procedures.
Contributor and former stock inspector Bruce Tye sums up his work in those early days,“We defeated bovine tuberculosis and brucellosis (in the NT) and that is a mighty big thing to say. Although it was a program that had its challenges, we were lucky to work in some magnificent parts of Australia with some of the best people.”