top of page

Australian Indigenous Stockmen, The men who opened up the outback

WARNING: Visitors should be aware that this website includes images and names of deceased people that may cause sadness or distress to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Indigenous stockman, the men who opened up the outback.

We can see them, in our history, the voices and images of the Australian Indigenous Stockman. The Ringers, the stockman, the jackeroo’s, the camp cooks, the drover, the fencer, the shearer and the saddler. They are a part of Australia’s soul, when we think of these Indigenous men and women we think of huge cattle stations, blistering hot shearing sheds, hard gut breaking work, how they opened up our country.

We also see their unique oneness with our land and animals, their indelible spirit and their fortitude of life as a stockman and those big musters. To all Indigenous men and women who were and are gave service to the Australian Pastoral Industry, Tea&Belle want to celebrate and honour you.

Across all of Australia there are legendary stock routes from the Canning Stock route in WA, to Murranji, Birdsville and Strzelecki tracks. Ethnologist, Walter Roth in 1897 studied the lines of Aboriginal trade. What he would be documenting was what we would now know as Stock Routes. Describing how the routes followed major watercourses crossing over into vast plains that would then meet with another river were what Aboriginal people had used since millennia to do their own farming albeit hunting and gathering.

These Aboriginal trading lines, white fulla’s soon recognised the value of these routes and went about establishing valuable sheep & cattle Industries along these routes. We have all heard of the famous pastoralists such as Sir Sydney Kidman, Lord Vesty and John Macarthur but these men and their dynasties were built off the skills and resourcefulness of Indigenous men and women and their knowledge of country and skills of living and working with the land. “The exploitation or in rare occasions fair treatment of Indigenous Stock people were invaluable across Australia” (McGrath 1997) stated station owners, conceding they could not survive without aboriginal knowledge and labour. So much so that pastoralist were willing to pay more for acreage which came with an Aboriginal workforce.

In Queensland on 1886 over 55% of the pastoral workforce were Indigenous and in 1937. 3000 Indigenous people were employed on cattle stations in the Northern territory. With these stock routes or trading lines Indigenous Stockmen worked the land all over Australia, we often think of the Indigenous Stockman as those men and women on large cattle stations in NT and Western Australia but Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander stockmen and women worked all over Australia from those working the vast open spaces of the Big Cattle stations, to shearing 200 sheep a day in the Riverina, or to the dairymen of the south coast of NSW and the Atherton tablelands in QLD.

When curating our collection we looked at items that highlighted and celebrated Indigenous Stockman.

With too many to mention we would like to pay our respects to all Indigenous stockman and women, from those today who are renewing age old aboriginal farming practices in a modern world to our forefathers who opened up Australia, who gave freely of their knowledge of the land and whereby Australia’s agriculture industry became integral to the nation’s economy, we thank you.

We have collated a list of Aboriginal Stockman who we think ROCK!

Vincent Lingiarri

Vincent Lingiarri. Proud and Strong Aboriginal Stockman

Paul Kelly and Kev Carmody can tell his story better then I ever could

From Little Things Big Things Grow

Gather round people I’ll tell you a story

An eight year long story of power and pride

’Bout British Lord Vestey and Vincent Lingiarri

They were opposite men on opposite sides

Vestey was fat with money and muscle

Beef was his business, broad was his door

Vincent was lean and spoke very little

He had no bank balance, hard dirt was his floor

From little things big things grow

From little things big things grow

Gurindji were working for nothing but rations

Where once they had gathered the wealth of the land

Daily the oppression got tighter and tighter

Gurindji decided they must make a stand

They picked up their swags and started off walking

At Wattie Creek they sat themselves down

Now it don’t sound like much but it sure got tongues talking

Back at the homestead and then in the town

From little things big things grow

From little things big things grow

Vestey man said I’ll double your wages

Seven quid a week you’ll have in your hand

Vincent said uhuh we’re not talking about wages

We’re sitting right here till we get our land

Vestey man roared and Vestey man thundered

You don’t stand the chance of a cinder in snow

Vince said if we fall others are rising

From little things big things grow

From little things big things grow

Then Vincent Lingiarri boarded an aeroplane

Landed in Sydney, big city of lights

And daily he went round softly speaking his story

To all kinds of men from all walks of life

And Vincent sat down with big politicians

This affair they told him is a matter of state

Let us sort it out, your people are hungry

Vincent said no thanks, we know how to wait

From little things big things grow

From little things big things grow

Then Vincent Lingiarri returned in an aeroplane

Back to his country once more to sit down

And he told his people let the stars keep on turning

We have friends in the south, in the cities and towns

Eight years went by, eight long years of waiting

Till one day a tall stranger appeared in the land

And he came with lawyers and he came with great ceremony

And through Vincent’s fingers poured a handful of sand

From little things big things grow

From little things big things grow

That was the story of Vincent Lingiarri

But this is the story of something much more

How power and privilege can not move a people

Who know where they stand and stand in the law

From little things big things grow

From little things big things grow

From little things big things grow

From little things big things grow

Charlie Flanagan

Drawings by Charlie Flanagan of his memories of working as an aboriginal stockman. No photo's could be found of Charlie, These drawings were sketched whilst he was Incaracerate at Fanny Bay prison

Imagine 20,000 head of cattle being moved from Richmond Downs in Queensland to the top of northern Territory. One of the master stockman that delivered this feat was Charlie Flanagan, this cattle drive would become known as Hells Gate Track due to Hells Gate is a break in the escarpment near the Palmer River, beyond this was the never never, the great unknown where civilisation ended and the great Australian outback started. Charlie drove these cattle with other Stockman which took many months. After this momentous ride Charlie rode the winner in the Palmerston cup on a horse named Cygnet.

Staying in Darwin after the cattle drive, five years later Charlie was charged with murder of Samuel Croker (greenhide Sam) over a card game. He was charged with murder with the judge sentencing him to hang, whilst in jail he started to sketch from memory his time as a stockman. These sketches give us today a valuable insight in the life of the Indigenous stockman in the 1880’s. Charlie was the first man hanged at Fannie Bay Gaol aged 37.

During his career as a stockman he worked at Iconic Australian Cattle stations such as Ord River Station, Wave Hill Station and Victoria River Downs. He was recognised as an exceptional stockman and for his superior skills and a horseman, especially breaking in horses for the cattle stations, a Strapper and ringer.

No accurate records were ever kept but Possum was born sometime in 1932, in an isolated dry creek bed about 200 kilometres northwest of Alice Springs. His mother, Long Rose Nangala and father, Tjatjiti Tjungurrayi, were members of the Anmatyerre tribal group living on ancestral lands near Napperby cattle station. While white settlers and government officials had driven tens of thousands of Aborigines from Australia’s richest farming land during the 19th century, the dispossession of central Australian Aborigines did not occur until the early 1900s and continued during the early years of Possum’s life.

Possum received no formal education but knew six Aboriginal languages and a little English. His working life began at an early age on the Hamilton Downs cattle station—the very industry that had driven his family from the land. After learning how to muster and brand cattle, he became a stockman at Hamilton Downs and then head stockman at Narwietooma station. He learnt ancestral stories from elders like One Pound Jim Tjungurrayi, who took on the role of his father, and was famous for his extensive knowledge of the country. This information and Possum’s work herding cattle and horses across the desert provided the source and content of his later paintings.

“One Pound” Jim Tjungurrayi

“One Pound” Jim Tjungurrayi. Indigenous stockman who is immortilised on the Australian $2 coin.

Tjungurrayi was born outside of Alice Springs, his birthday is unknown though it is assumed to be in the mid 1890’s.

Jim was known for his exceptional knowledge of country, he worked at many stations throughout Northern Territory as an all-round stockman. He was well liked by all who knew him and he became a mentor to many young aboriginal men at the stations he worked at. One such man who would come to call Jim his father is Clifford possum Tjapaltjarri.

Jim Tjungurrayi would become known as “one pound Jimmy”, it was said that jimmy would do odd jobs, paint and make boomerangs and charge “one pound”

Jim Tjungurrayi became immortalised when his image was used indigenous person represented on an Australian postage stamp. From this his image was used on the Australian $2 coin

Sally Malay

Proud and strong Indigenous stockman and Champion Bullrider, Sally Mallay

Born in Derby, WA this 17 year old and grew up working with his dad and cousins on cattle stations in the far north of Australia.

Only 17 he has always felt at one with the land, he went to boarding school but he stated in an interview on the ABC that he could handle city life and couldn’t wait to get out bush.

His dad seen his natural skill with horses he started competition in rodeos up north. He started to professionally compete and his father found him a job as an apprentice farrier in Victoria so he could compete and learn more horsemanship skills. He has now won enough Rodeos that he has qualified him for international Competitions.

Sally is heading off to Wyoming to compete for Australia.

Asked about his future, Malay told the ABC “The trip will help me achieve my long-term goal – to secure a scholarship to one of the specialist rodeo colleges that are big business in the US and then come back home to WA and teach the next generation stockman skills”

Rex Collins

Australian Indigenous Stockman, Rex Collins.

Taken from ABC

Rex Collins worked in cattle Stations in the Northern Territory for 40 plus years, he still lives on Sturt Plains Station, south of Daley Waters.

Rex or Rexy know to all is a renowned stockman through this area for his skills as an all-round stockman.

Born on Beetaloo Station sometime in the late 1950s or early 1960s, Mr. Collins started working when he was just 13 years old.

In an interview given to ABC rural, Rex states "My uncles taught me everything, and I just keep working," Mr. Collins said

Rex Collins has worked as a stockman on Northern Territory cattle stations since he was 13 years old.

"At Beetaloo it was rough. We used to chase them [bulls] around, jump off your horse, throw them out in the open, and tie them up."

"It's easy now, not like years ago, [when] it was very hard.

"No yards, we didn't have. We had to do bronco branding out on the flat."

From Beetaloo Station, Mr. Collins moved to Newcastle Waters Station, with stints at Humbert River Station in the Victoria River District, Ucharonidge Station and Hayfield Station. It was at Newcastle Waters Station where Mr Collins met Brad Ingles, now the owner and manager of Sturt Plains Station. Mr Collins said working for Mr Inglis was "pretty easy" compared to when he started out in the cattle industry.

"You don't have to run around and chase cattle anymore," he said.

Rex work ethic is everything we as Australians respect and love about Australian stockman

William "Deucem" Smith (1896–1947)

The memorial of William “Deucem” Smith, An Indigenous Australian shearer and stockman

William Had the honour of being known as the greatest shearer of the first half of the twentieth century.

William was born in Bourke NSW in 1896, he was from the Muruwari Tribe. William learnt to shear from a young age and spent most of his life shearing the south west slopes and Canberra region.

The nickname “Deucem” was given to William when he declared (successfully) that he would Deuce (out shear) all his competitors at a shearing shed on the Darling River.

William famously shore 1430 sheep in one week with a broken right thumb, Shearing 290 stud merino weathers in one day in 1936 at Mirool Park near Griffith, NSW

Williams shearing prowess is touted in the essay Champion Shearers of Australia (D'Arcy Niland, February 1943):

Rated as one of the greatest shearers in the world, who time out of number has eclipsed records and cleaned up the best of his natural competitors... Smith is regarded as more than a champion - a phenomenon. Even rival champions pay direct tributes to him. They talk in the sheds about how he bowled over champ after champ like ninepins. Near Drysdale, Deucem Smith, with a broken thumb on his right hand, the hand in which the hand piece is held, shore a week's tally of 1430.

On his death in 1949, William was interred under the full name of William “Deucem” Smith on 20 January 1949.


Gordon Peter who was one of the last known aboriginal tribe from the Malgana area to live in Shark Bay.

He was the son of King Peter (whose tribal name was Waru) the chief of the Malgana tribe located in the Tamala Station area of Shark Bay.

Born in the early 1900`s, Gordon Peter worked as a station hand, roustabout and later as a deck hand on several fishing boats in Shark Bay.

As a descendant of the chief of the Malgana tribe, he carried many of the traditions, stories and tribal skills of the aboriginal people within his living memory.

He also had an excellent recall of early station life and the hardships faced by the pioneers of Shark Bay.

He also took a keen interest in the progress and people of Shark Bay, and always had time to welcome visitors and friends to Denham.

In later years, he retired to Denham and was to be found enjoying the tranquility of the foreshore and could be seen on the Denham jetty meeting locals and visitors to Shark Bay.

Always friendly and interesting, he provided a unique perspective on the early history of Shark Bay and the contribution the local aboriginal people made to the pastoral, pearling and fishing industries.

The park commemorates his name and the multicultural mix of people who contributed so much to the heritage and early history of Shark Bay

For Further reading please see below jandamarra


McGrath, A., ed., Contested Ground, Allen & Unwin, 1997

Featured Posts
Recent Posts
Search By Tags
Follow Us
  • Facebook Basic Square
  • Twitter Basic Square
  • Google+ Social Icon
bottom of page