The Australian Outback's Largest Cattle Stations

About Fiona Lake

Who am I?  I grew up as Fiona Mckindlay on a wheat-sheep farm on the New South Wales side of the Murray River. As long as I can remember I have been interested in art, craft and design; agriculture and the natural environment (plants and animals); books, language, history and the differences between cultures. I've always been curious and loved roaming about. What I do now combines all these interests in a very satisfying way. 

I have spent many years living on a variety of places spread throughout three states and now live in Townsville.   A daily newspaper and a daily mail service are aspects of town life that I continue to appreciate. These are the sorts of little luxuries taken for granted unless you have spent some years without them (living in a remote area).

I've specialised in photographing and writing about Australia's largest and most remote cattle stations since I had the good fortune to start work on one in 1984. Though I grew up on a farm I had no idea these stations existed, let alone what they were like to live and work on. It was obvious that few other Australians did either, and I've dedicated my life to recording this very special part of Australian culture, bringing life in remote outback Australia to the rest of the world. And in more recent years, running workshops and public speaking; helping rural residents to tell their own stories and ensure they're seen by others.

My business is multistrand; it includes: 

  • Photography (including commercial aerial photography - via helicopters & drones)
  • Writing
  • Book publishing
  • Running workshops & public speaking
  • Event promotion
  • Running effective photography competitions
  • Farm tour leading

Please consider supporting the advocacy work I do, by purchasing a book.

A comprehensive professional bio can be found on my LinkedIn profile.

What is the 'outback'?

What used to be commonly known as 'the bush' is now usually referred to by those living on the coast as 'the outback'. Many people say you can't define it. But to me 'the outback' is a place where you can't see from one fence to another. Where all you can hear is the sound of the wind in the trees or grass and all you can smell is natural. Where you look around and can't see the 'hand of man' anywhere. Where it would have looked the same, more or less, 100 or 200 years ago.

Despite what many believe most extensive grazing properties are well managed and there are few if any detrimental effects on the environment. Extensive grazing often has little or no impact on native wildlife, in fact sometimes birds and animals benefit (eg. from a reliable water supply) and increase in numbers. By comparison, there is enormous, ongoing environmental damage in our cities and native wildlife is virtually extinct in urban areas (apart from a handful of bird species, some small lizard species and possums).

Agricultural communities all over the world have a lot in common but unfortunately they also share the problems. Rural communities everywhere are rapidly undergoing fundamental, irreversible changes or they are under huge pressure trying to control or resist these changes. This pressure is exacerbated by extremist animal rights groups who are out of touch with the practical realities of natural life cycles. I am passionate about prompting people to think about who grows the food they eat and where it comes from. It is an important responsibility to provide useful and accurate information to increase understanding and encourage mutual respect and maintenance of a healthy, evolving rural culture, worldwide.  To pass on what I've learned over several decades I run workshops on best-practice rural advocacy, photography (mobile phones to drones) plus a range of other topics. Details of the workshops I run, including testimonials, are in Rural Workshops.

Food producers keep us alive

After oxygen and water, food is the most critical element we need to survive. We must look after those who grow our own food, and our natural environment, if for no other reason than to ensure our own survival.  It is vital that every person on the planet understands that every single one of the daily choices we make, affect the environment in some way - though the effects are not always right in front of our face.

The photographs and information on this website exists thanks to farm and station managers and owners allowing me to visit the properties they are responsible for. Thank you to everyone who has helped me to record life in rural and outback regions, and thank you to all those who do so in future.

Cultural changes

The generation of men and women now in their 80s and older were born at the same time as the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS), in the depression years when wood-fired steam engines were pumping up bore water in remote areas. They went to school around the time of the Second World War and began work when bronco horses were used to brand calves, packhorses carted the camp gear around, drovers took weeks to deliver fat cattle to saleyards and abattoirs, and grain harvesters were pulled by horses. After the second world war, mechanisation really took off.  Increasingly trucks were used to cart cattle instead of drovers and the beef crash of the 1970s had a lasting effect on cattle station employment. The Brucellosis and Tuberculosis Eradication Campaign (BTEC) helped increase helicopter and motorbike mustering during the 1980s. Satellites beamed television into remote areas in the late 1980s and the development of reliable telephone and internet services through the 1990s brought significant social changes. Camping out is now becoming increasingly uncommon, windmills are disappearing in favour of submersible pumps and timber cattle yards are being replaced by steel.

Australians born in the 1920s and 1930s (as my parents were) are unique and have been nicknamed 'frugals' due to their capacity to work hard, save hard, their sense of community responsibility and stoicism. They are a generation that will be sorely missed, both in rural and urban areas.

I've never been especially interested in formal museums.  Instead I find living, breathing culture and practical skills and knowledge infinitely more interesting. It is impossible to predict with certainty what changes tomorrow will bring, but the changes in the northern pastoral industry have been massive during the last thirty plus years. It is likely that technology such as robotics will be put to work in the bush, before too long - hopefully on weed eradication, to start with. Many of the photographs I have taken have been unrepeatable just a year or two later.

We must learn to value more highly what we have today.

Some of the links to online publicity & stories etc (not a complete list):

(Please note:  all the above website links were current at the time of posting.  However some of these pages may have been removed or had their address changed by the managers of these websites.)

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