The History of Davenport Downs Station

Davenport Downs Station is the largest cattle station in Queensland. It’s also the fourth largest station in Australia. The station that is currently owned by Paraway Pastoral Company Limited (Paraway) consists of two original properties that the company joined together. These properties are the original Davenport Downs, which Paraway bought in 2009, and Springvale, which the company bought in 2011.

The enormous station covers around 1.5 million hectares and accommodates 25 million head of cattle. It’s Queensland location is in channel country, about 184 kilometres (114 miles) south-east of Boulia and 262 kilometres (163 miles) northeast of Birdsville.  Today, the station is an integral part of Paraway’s successful operations. This is a long way from the early history of Davenport Downs Station, which began in the mid 19th century.

Key points
  • Davenport Downs Station is the largest cattle station in Queensland.
  • The first lease holder of Davenport Downs Station was John Costello, in the late 1860s.
  • A massive flood hit Davenport Downs station in 2019.
  • Davenport Downs is part of the Paraway Pastoral Company Limited group of properties.

Darwin Cattle Yards

Overall, the station covers 16,116 square kilometres (6,222 square miles), situated on the Barkly Tableland. To give you a better idea of the size, the station is bigger than the whole of Northern Ireland.
There are 55,000 head of cattle at the station. The owners also use the Mitchell grass on the land to produce hay to use at their other properties. This use of the property at Alexandria helps to sustain the success of the entire business. The history of this vast cattle station stretches back over a lengthy period of time. It began back in the 19th century.

The early history of Davenport Downs Station

John Costello was the first person to take the lease of Davenport Downs Station late in the 1860s. Soon after, another prominent pastoralist, James Rutherford, took over the lease. He also took over other properties, including the neighbouring station Ingledoon.

Rutherford was born in Amherst, New York, USA. He originally wanted to join his brother in the goldfields of California. However, there were no opportunities for him to sail to the area. So, he set sail for Melbourne, Australia, instead. When Costello first arrived in the country, he mined near Bendigo.

However, after his fortunes dipped, he invested in properties in Queensland. This is where he purchased the lease for Davenport Downs Station and began to develop it. Rutherford died in 1911, and the lease for Davenport Downs was sold in 1913 to Thomas Purcell. At the time, the area of the property was 8,000 square kilometres (3,089 square miles). There were 20,200 head of cattle on the land as well as 340 horses and 68 camels.

In 1925, Purcell sold the property to the leaseholders of a neighbouring property. The new owners, Cooper and Trenerry, got a station that had 17,000 head of cattle and covered an area of 5,734 square kilometres (2,214 square miles).

Seven years later, Davenport Downs suffered during one of the droughts that often cause issues in Australia. However, it continued to be a going concern through the decades into more modern times.

Modern history at Davenport Downs Station

One of the more interesting events in the modern history of Davenport Downs Station happened in 1992 when feral cats infested the area. They presented a danger to the local wild bilby colonies, leading to the environment minister Pat Comben sending in sharpshooters. The shooters killed around 500 cats in a three day period.

Another memorable event at the station happened more recently. In 2019, a massive wet season flood benefited the team at Davenport Downs. The Diamantina River flood caused the water levels in the famous channel country to almost reach the record of 1974. At the time, manager Ross Myhill spoke about his pleasure at seeing so much water spreading out across the property.

It was the second year in a row that the waters had been good, but 2019 flood levels well surpassed those of 2018. The team at the station were ready for the water, and they were well prepared. They saw the potential of the water helping them to grow substantial amounts of feed in the middle of the channels.

This type of good fortune has helped Paraway to develop Davenport Downs homestead complex into the centre of its operations. The company, which began in 2007, owns 35 properties across 27 pastoral businesses. Overall, there is a capacity for 220,000 cattle and 250,000 sheep across these businesses. Davenport Downs has progressed impressively, from relatively humble origins to the centre of a large scale cattle and sheep operations business.

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