Station cook creates social media sensation
ON A wintry morning at Lawn Hill Station, near Normanton, Dan McIntosh took a photo of four indigenous ringers sitting proud on the top rail of cattle yards.
"It was on a real cold morning too, and they all had their hats on. I told them if I ever made a book one day they would be in it," Mr McIntosh said.
Turns out Dan is a man of his word.
As just a few years later, he became a published photographer with the top-selling coffee table book, Outback Stations.
And, yes, he is also the legend behind the Facebook phenomenon Station Photo's, which is at 100,000 likes online.
But back when Dan took the image of the four ringers on the rail, he was just taking photos for the memories and the love of it.
"I reckon every young fella in Doomadgee, up in that community where they were from, would have bought the book now," he said.
Creating country celebrities is something Dan has become accustomed to, as millions of people around the world now browse his Facebook site. Each day the images and content from the page reaches about 400,000 people.
He is a talented photographer with a knack of capturing natural and un-posed moments: the real and raw outback Australia.
"I started the page just to show (my family) where I was and what I was doing," he said.
"One of my mates said I should start a page that's just for photos.
"In the first week we had over 1000 likes."
That was in 2013. Today the much-loved page posts photos and videos taken on cattle stations, sheep properties, grain fields and dairy farms. The images come from people all around Australia.
Dan has managed to untie the rural industry, and the page has a huge international audience.
When the Rural Weekly caught up with Dan, he was between cooking meals on Nerrima Station, which is situated roughly 120km outside of Derby in the Kimberley.
Dan started working in agriculture young, and commenced his first full-time cooking job when he was 15 years old by chance.
He had just started out on the Quilpie property as a roustabout but the cook, who was looking after the shearing team, had gone to town and got locked up in the watch house. The boss then nominated Dan to head to kitchen.
"So I stood in for him that night. I cooked them a big roast mutton," he said.
"It just went from there. The cook never came back and the old shearing contractor reckoned if I could cook like that for the first night, well then, I would be right for the rest of them."
Dan said his mother was a wonderful cook, and when he started out he just made the dishes she had taught him to create in the kitchen.
At the moment, Dan said it was an "easy job" on Nerrima Station, as he only had about 10 mouths to feed.
LOVE FOR LIFESTYLE
Dan said there was much more to being a station cook than just being able to work in a kitchen.
"The station cook usually has to be the mother, the father, the doctor, the nurse and the marriage counsellor," he joked.
You can tell after only a few minutes of speaking to Dan over the phone that he has, indeed, been all of those things during his 38 years in the industry.
"When I first started off a lot of the young ones came from broken homes," he said.
"They would be homesick and the manager used to say to me, 'don't you bloody pander to them, they have to harden up'.
"But I thought that was terrible."
Dan admits that he has always been willing to take newcomers under his wing, and he still "spoils" them on their birthdays by making a big cake.
"I know what it was like when I was the same age, when you have to get out on your own and all of the sudden it's a big cultural shock," he said.
The majority of ringers on Nerrima have come from New South Wales, so they are all a long way from home.
"You can tell they are nervous in the first couple of weeks when they come out. They are not sure they want to be here or not," he said.
"I just say to them, 'it does get better. You just wait until you get to town or a rodeo comes up, you will be right'."
Dan is a kind man who makes everyone feel welcomed, and he has used those same principles when moderating his Facebook site.
Everyone who submitted a photo was entitled for their image to be shared to the masses, he said.
"There are some sites that will just select a few photos from what people submit, but we put them all up."
Now armed with a Nikon D60 Plus, a Canon D70 and even an underwater camera, Dan still regularly shoots photos of station life.
A lot of the time his subjects are unaware their image has even been taken.
"I had one young fella here, I took a photo of him while he was fetching the grader tyre. When he looked up I just clicked (the shutter)," he said.
"It was a one in a million shot the way it came out."
The photo, which was taken of station hand Will Nichols, had 1.8 million hits online.
"At first he thought it was a big shame job… but then it didn't take him long to change his profile photo on Facebook.
"I had people contact us from the Daily Mirror in England who wanted to run that photo."
Will is only a teenager, but the image made him look like he was in his mid-20s. The picture was a particular hit with the ladies, with many commenting on Will's appearance, Dan said.
"I said to him, 'you will have to answer all them, Will'."
FRIENDS FOR LIFE
As well as working as cook on remote properties, the Station Photo's Facebook page has allowed Dan make friends across the country.
"Around Christmas time I went driving around New South Wales. I got to meet some of the people face to face," he said.
As Dan works full-time, there are three other people who help run the page. Kate Keyte, in Clermont, is looking after the administration of the site at the moment, as the internet service in the remote Kimberley prevents Dan doing much of it himself.
Working as cook for almost 40 years means Dan runs into old workmates wherever he goes.
"The best part is when you go to rodeos and you run into them all," he said.
"They all say hello. A lot of them are grown up and have kids of their own."
Dan even runs into people when he is in the city.
"I was in Sydney at Christmas time and I went to that Kings Cross to have a look, and there were four ringers coming down the street and they were yelling out 'Cookie, Cookie'!
"I thought 'they must know me, there can't be another Cookie in Kings Cross.
"And I did know them, they were blokes I worked with up in the Gulf."