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Looking after the land in one of Australia’s most challenging environments

Northern Territory

Out beyond the limits of where Australia’s tourists venture, an elderly cattleman and his wife carve a living from land that isn’t supposed to be able to support them.

Bob Purvis and his wife, Marie, live in arid zone country on the edge of a desert.

They grow cattle and despite nearly no rain for three years their animals look magnificent.

In poor grassland that has been overstocked and under-resourced under previous management, Bob has invested knowledge hard won from 62 years of stewardship of Woodgreen Station, two and half hours north east of Alice Springs. He has been trying to ensure that minimising damage to the ecology of his land allows his success year by year to return an investment he can live on.

NT Regional Recovery Officer, Jane Mack, met Bob on his station to find out how he and his cattle cope with drought.

“My dad overstocked this land and totally destroyed what little growth we had in poor soils to keep stock alive in good times, let alone when the rains didn’t come,” Bob said. “It has taken me better than 40 years to restore some of the paddocks here to proper use, but that’s what’s happening now.”

Bob concedes it’s a lifetime job that only generational farmers can manage on land that is both fragile and – in present conditions – struggling.

He has turned to science to seek soil and pasture assessment using map overlays so he knows what part of his pasture can be restored to its best yield capacity.

“It’s about patience and persistence and taking the time to build structures that will trap moisture and growth factors to make the most for the stock.

“We have kept our carrying capacity within the most conservative limits, but our stock weights at the saleyard show that our strategy works.” His strict rotational use of pasture and a strongly conservative carrying weight of stock have been hallmarks of survival.

Bob is proud of what he has restored at Woodgreen. His family’s progress on what is an enormously challenging part of the Territory shows remarkable commitment to understand the environment and the benefits of being exacting about how he goes about land management.

“Some tell me that I’m crazy, but the end result of successes in sales and a continuing ability to feed our cattle despite the drought would be testimony to that fact they’re wrong,” Bob said.