National Geographic : 1992 Apr
of the nearest U. S. competitor. Stuart, 40, grew up here; his father managed the station before him. Blindfold Stuart, take him to any spot on this Belgium-size property, and he will know where he is. Stuart works for Kidman Holdings, the country's largest landholder, which owns the Anna Creek lease. (All pastoral land here is leased from the state government.) Kid man, with four stations around the Simpson Desert, is the region's top cattle producer. WHEN I ARRIVED at Anna Creek in May 1991--the start of winter in the Southern Hemisphere-it hadn't rained for two years. A half inch fell in May 1990, but "that's nothing to talk about when you're trying to feed cattle," said Stuart's wife, Pam. The yearly average at Anna Creek is five and a half inches, one of the country's lowest, and much of the station grows nothing but rocks. If good summer rains create feed, Anna Creek can carry 30,000 head of cattle. This season Stuart was running 8,000-the rest had been shipped to market or to other Kidman stations on the Simpson Desert's wetter, northeastern side. In the scrub behind the Nunns' house stands an old tombstone: "Sacred to the memory of Benjamin Daggett who was acci dentally shot in the kitchen." He was buried by "friends and fellow workmen" on April 22, 1883. Things are quieter in the stock men's kitchen nowadays. The cook, Pam Moreton, won't even let the ringers smoke. "And they have to shower before tea." Tea is the evening meal in the outback. Along with breakfast, lunch, and a mid morning snack called smoko, Pam prepares it "This country is marginal," says Gaynor Cleary, manager ofAtula Station (top). "If it rains, it's great; if not, it's horrid." Flooding in summer 1991 raised a sea of cattle feed aroundAtula's ghost gums. Floods also greened Queensland's Chan nel Country (left); most of the water flows south from the state's tropics. Scant desert rain coaxed now dried billybuttons from a dune (center). "Splendid country" when explorer John McDouall Stuart reported it perfect for cattle in the 1860s, the Finke River (far left) is usually dry.