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Autumn Muster

This episode screened July 28, 2007.

'Autumn Muster'

Four years ago James and Georgina Murray ventured up the infamous Skippers Canyon road near Queenstown to visit The Branches station, where a manager's job was on offer.

They never got there.  Snow had made the single lane gravel road impassable - so after walking for several hours, they turned round and drove home without seeing the property.

The next trip, in a helicopter, was a lot easier - and they liked what they saw.  More importantly the consortium that owns the station liked them as well, and the two young casual musterers were appointed to the manager's role.

The hour and half's tortuous drive from Queenstown and the rugged winters didn't faze James or Georgina, but the vastness of the 33,000 ha property took a bit of getting used to. 

The couple, who married during their second year at the station, say they spent four days exploring the property when they first arrived and still felt they'd barely scratched the surface of the enormous territory in their control.

Their first winter forced them indoors for several weeks.  The road was impassable and the airstrip was too icy to use. 

The remote location was brought into sharp focus with the impending birth of the couple's first child.

"When I was pregnant it was winter and we had two or three days with no phone," says Georgina.  "I was on my own and James was away mustering.  It was quite a nerve wracking time."

But neither of them were new to high country life.  James had been mustering in the back country since leaving school, although Georgina had left her job as a town planner to go mustering only a year before the Branches position became available.

What attracted both of them to The Branches was the opportunity for a traditional style of farming.  The bulk of the stock work is done on horseback and the couple both run big dog teams. 

The Branches takes its name from the many tributaries that form the upper reaches of the Shotover River. 

For many years it was synonymous with rural icon Arthur Borrell, who ran the station for 33 years.  Mr Borrell disappeared in 2005 - and despite an extensive search, he was never found. (Watch the video interview about former Branches owner Arthur Borrell, who disappeared by clicking on the related link.)

Country Calendar visited The Branches in April, when all stock are brought out of the summer country in preparation for the cold weather to come.  It's a hectic month of mustering, yard work and droving cattle up the Skipper's Canyon Road.