An Outback GentlemanBiography, Nostalgia | January 8, 2015
By Billy Jupp
It takes a special kind of person to survive in the rough rugged frontier known as the Australian outback.
Heat, dust and isolation are things a person deals with just trying to live from day to day.
But Doc Cunningham has not only survived in the outback for 45 years, he has flourished.
Growing up in Jung, in Victorias Wimmera region, a young Doc left home at 12 years old after a difficult time growing up
“Yeah it wasn’t much fun in the family home; my sister (Amanda) and I were on the receiving end quite a bit.”
Not even a teenager yet Doc enrolled in agricultural college in Adelaide and graduated by age 15. Upon graduation Doc packed his swag and headed to the outback as a jackeroo.
A jackeroo is not a career for the faint hearted but Doc had found his calling “I loved it right from the start” he said. “It was hard work but hey I got to ride my horse and I loved it”.
And it was growing up riding his horse that Doc’s next great opportunity in life was revealed. “It was just a simple Carlton Draught commercial but I became good friends with the producers and it took off from there”.
From the Carlton Draught commercial, Doc became the lead stuntman in the 1980’s movie ‘The Man from Snowy River’.
“It was just a matter of becoming mates with the producers” said Doc. “Once they saw me in the beer ad and knew I was pretty keen on riding horses, they gave me the job of riding and shooting any point of view shots during the movie.”
After filming wrapped up Doc was moved to Mansfield in Victoria by the film’s producers to run a cattle property, as well as be a horse instructor for the Burrows production company.
Doc’s job was to train actors in horse riding, the major project he worked on was the miniseries ‘ANZACS’.
“It was a bit of a thrill working with stars like John Blake and Paul Hogan” said Doc. “Blake was a little wobbly to begin with but he was like a jockey after we finished.”
After 3 successful years in Mansfield the appeal of the outback called Doc back to the red centre.
“You can’t help where your heart is” said Doc. “I just wanted to go back and go on with what I started”.
Once back in the territory Doc found the jackeroo game to be a lot different than when he had left. “I got sick of someone else telling me what to do; I realized I wanted to be my own boss”.
So with that Doc started his own contract mustering business. “It was really surprising how many people on all kinds of stations wanted someone else to muster for them”.
Not to be old fashioned Doc tried his best to revolutionize the mustering business, by flying aeroplanes.
“Mustering from the air was something only the very wealthy did in the beginning” he said. “But soon enough I learnt to fly small aircrafts and it was cheaper to do it by air than the old fashioned ways”.
Doc quickly became a prolific pilot within the Northern Territory, but his legend really grew when he landed an aeroplane on top of Ayers Rock. “I was young and a bit silly I suppose, but sure enough I flew that bugger parallel up the rock” he laughed.
Years pass quite quickly even in the outback, and much like his jackeroo days Doc soon found he needed to move on to something different. So he became a stock agent.
Originally starting with Dalgetty stock agents Doc eventually went on to represent all of the major stock agencies including Elders and Landmark.
“I most recently worked in association with Elders” said Doc. “But I just felt the game had changed so much from when I started, that I had to get out.”
After more than two decades of working as a stock agent for the major corporations Doc decided with his second wife Ro that it was time to go it alone.
“It was quite brave at the time” said Ro. “But it was totally the right decision and one we are still delighted with today”.
Doc feels the role of a modern stock agent is far removed from what it was in years gone by. “It’s all about revenue now; they don’t understand their clients as people.”
“They only see dollar signs” Doc added.
With a new approach to stock agency Doc founded his own company called Trailco in 2006 and worked in partnership with Elders until 2012 before completely going it alone.
“This country has the cheapest grazing land” said Doc. “There is enough money to be made for everyone if you’re understanding and reasonable.
Trailco delivers an unmatched personalized service which includes Doc and his employees bringing groceries out to remote homesteads every time they visit.
“It’s not like the city, supermarkets aren’t just around the corner, it can go a long way to help some people who can’t get regular fresh food” he said.
Phil Jamieson a client of Doc’s for the last 6 years agrees that Doc is a true gentleman and one of the best stock agents in the business “he’s a good bloke, not afraid to get his hands dirty and help you out with any tucker or stuff that you need.
I was with him while he was at Elders and I knew once he left I just had to follow him” said Phil.
The advent of live export in recent times has been the newest development for Doc in the cattle industry, and he doesn’t hide his views on the recent live export ban.
“I agree that what was happening to the animals at the other end was not ideal, but banning live export all together is crazy.
It hurt so many cattlemen who were already doing it tough” he said.
Once the live export ban was lifted Doc made a point of only dealing with suitable exporters “I made sure for my clients sake they were going in the right direction” he said.
“I mean no one wants to lose money for so much hard work.”
While Doc continues to lobby for better exporting procedures it remains clear that this outback gentleman will never change his people first attitude.
Behind the rugged softly spoken exterior of Doc Cunningham lies a man who would give everything for a mate and ask for little in return.
He truly is a pure example of the outback spirit.