Why are massive, mostly empty blocks of land in the NT selling for multi-millions?


Enormous cattle stations are the Park Lane or Mayfair of the Northern Territory property market, dotting a landscape where cattle barons have been making their mark for decades.

They aren’t cheap. Last year the 376,000-hectare Kalala Station near Daly Waters sold for $58 million to a family.

The smaller 100,000-hectare Scott Creek Station near Katherine sold to an Argentinian family for $12 million.

And the 41,000-hectare Carmor Plains, east of Darwin, sold for just over $20 million to a Malaysian state-owned company.

Why are largely vacant blocks of land in such demand?

“Large tracts of land [and] our fundamentals have always been very favourable,” said Andy Gray, a locally renowned pastoral real estate agent who has sold and valued properties for decades in the Northern Territory.

“We have a market to our north and that’s been in play for a long time, and markets developing outside traditional cattle grazing,” he said.

“[There is a] lot of interest in cotton development, broad-acre dry-land cotton, also a very strong horticulture industry, so the Territory is fundamentally strong and that potential is being realised.”

Andy Gray is a pastoral real estate agent in the Northern Territory(ABC Landline)

Although some cattle stations rival the size of small nations, there are few of them. And they tend not to change hands often.

“If you were to take the expanse of the Northern Territory, [it’s] about 230 pastoral properties,” Mr Gray said.

So how does a person get a foot in the door, especially young families not equipped with major corporate buying power?

Leasing a legacy

It’s an ambition that young couple Bec and Steve Eyres share.

“Definitely long-term [we’d like] to have our own property,” Ms Eyres said.

Steve and Bec Eyres in their car with the mother holding her baby
The Eyres family are working towards owning their own property.(ABC Landline: Kristy O’Brien)

The couple has leased country to run cattle and started building up their herd and savings.

“It’s just the numbers we have to build and for that you need land, so that’s what will make the dream come true,” Mr Eyres said.

Leasing has been a common way for many families to build up the capital and stock they need to buy a station.

“It’s probably a bit like buying your first home,” Mr Gray said.

“Perhaps [it’s] not going to be your forever home, but it gets you into the market and you build from there, and there are some real success stories in the Northern Territory of people who have been able to achieve that by leasing country, agisting country, and then building as they go.

“There are still opportunities today; there’s a lot of Aboriginal-owned land that’s leased, those terms will expire [and the] Northern Land Council, Central Land Council, will offer those properties out to the marketplace again.”

Working your way up

Others are trying a different approach.

Dave Young was one of the youngest people to manage a large property for beef giant Consolidated Pastoral Company when he took over Newry Station in 2017.

It’s now changed hands but he’s still there with his young family, and hopes to use his career in the corporate cattle industry to build his knowledge and savings.

Station manager Dave Young overseeing a mob of cattle being loaded onto a truck for live export.
Station manager Dave Young oversees a mob of cattle being loaded onto a truck for live export.(ABC Landline: Kristy O’Brien)

“I think you’re a lot more prepared if you did go into owning your own block later on,” he said.

“You’ve got a lot of training and lot of time put into you by helping somebody else.

“It takes years of getting to that point with the right people around you.”

Building a dynasty

There are also the family dynasties and those who take over the family farm, but a simple handover can be fraught and divide families.

Steve Cadzow feels lucky to have dodged such issues when he took over the family’s Mt Riddock Station in Central Australia a few years ago.

“It was something it came up prior to me getting married and it came up after we got married, that we wanted certainty, and so we put measures in place to set it up,” he said.

Steve Cadzow
Steve Cadzow is a second-generation Territory cattleman.(ABC Landline)

The family worked out a comprehensive succession plan so his parents ensured he and his sister were treated fairly.

“I think the hardest thing is to sit around the table and talk about it,” he said.

Wherever in the north cattlemen or women call home, highly priced land comes with an enviable lifestyle, laden with freedom and beauty.

“It’s a great life for family,” Mr Young said.

“I grew up doing it, loved it as a kid. I think it’d be one of the best.”

A ute driving through a paddock on Newry Station in the Northern Territory.
A ute drives through a paddock on Newry Station in the Northern Territory.(ABC Landline: Kristy O’Brien)

For some, it might just be the beginning of a new legacy of cattle kings.

“Family structures have been built, dynasties have been built around the pastoral industry,” Mr Gray said.

“I still say that there’s an opportunity to do that.”

Watch this story on ABC TV’s Landline at 12:30pm on Sunday, or on iview.



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Sam Bell

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