Less the two km from Banka Banka is Cutjenbra waterhole, which for thousands of years before white men bought their cattle, provided all the local inhabitants needed to survive.
‘Youngsters on this station look the picture of health, and this is entirely due to the unremitting personal care and attention given by Mrs Ward’. Statement in the 1950s by a native affairs branch inspector
This Cattle station, 100 km north of Tennant Creek, was the first operational pastoral station established in the Northern Territory. It was first settled soon after John McDougall Stuart’s epic successful crossing of the continent from Adelaide to Darwin, on his sixth attempt in 1861. On his 4th attempt in 1860, just 25 km south of Banka Banka, at Attack Creek, his party were forced to retreat south by very hostile members of the Warramunga Aboriginal people. They raided his camp, threw boomerangs at the horses and used fired to drive them back. Stuart had usually been able to negotiate with aboriginal people and got on well with them previously but on this occasion he was forced to retreat the 2400 km to Adelaide.
Isolation from markets meant that, despite the grasses on the Barkley Tableland being perfect for producing cattle, mustering the cattle all the way to Markets thousands of kilometers was not economic until WW 11 changed that, with improvement in roads and railheads. The development of the “road train” (reputably first used by Philip Ward on Banka Banka station) meant that stock could be moved to wherever feed was plentiful and to markets and abattoirs.
Modern road trains like this can carry hundreds of cattle enormous distances to abattoirs, changed the entire economic basis of the cattle industry
The most successful station owners, Philip & Mary Ward ran the station from 1941 to 1970. During this time they employed up to 300 aboriginal people on the station. . Mary Ward was passionate to see the local people educated, and first funded personally a private school on the property and made attendance compulsory for the aboriginal children.She and her husband did not agree with the policy of removing part-Aborigines from their mothers. They sent children to school at Alice Springs at their own expense until 1961, when due to her efforts a government school opened at Banka Banka. She also provided scholarships for older children who wanted to continue their education in Adelaide and housing in Tennant Creek for sick aboriginal people who needed Hospital treatment. These “indulgences” were not at all common at the time and Mary’s actions were disapproved of by many local white folk. Forty years after their deaths, local people still speak highly of the Wards – they were renowned as “good bosses”. http://adbonline.anu.edu.au/biogs/A160582b.htm
When Mary, who had run the station for 11 years after her husband’s death became too ill, she sold the station to the American silver billionaire, Howard Hunt, with the proviso that all aboriginals continue to be employed. When he became bankrupt and sold the property, this policy was abandoned. The property now belongs to the Kidman Company, the largest pastoral company in Australia and employs no aboriginal workers locally. The Caravan Park which occupies the site of the restored original homestead continues to honour the memories of the pioneering Ward family.