Toni Tapp Coutts grew up on one of Australia's most iconic patoral properties, Killarney Station about 270km west of Katherine. Now the Deputy Mayor of Katherine, Toni has a written a memoir, A Sunburnt Childhood, which provides a rare insight into what it was like to grow up and live through the rise and fall of a cattle empire.
Toni Tapp Coutts grew up on one of Australia's most iconic patoral properties, Killarney Station about 270km west of Katherine. Now the Deputy Mayor of Katherine, Toni has a written a memoir, A Sunburnt Childhood, which provides a rare insight into what it was like to grow up and live through the rise and fall of a cattle empire.

A cattle empire’s rise and fall through Toni’s eyes

IT'S the story of a cattle empire that was forged out of virtually nothing but the bare earth of the Northern Territory.

It's also the story of the slow decline of that very empire as it disintegrated in parallel with the downward spiral into alcoholism of its cattle baron boss.

It's a story told through the eyes of the eldest of 10 children which follows her life's path growing up on one of the Northern Territory's most iconic cattle stations.

Ultimately, it's a story of family, strength and the resilience of the type of people and characters that have made the Northern Territory what it is today.

As the Territory-born author of this story, Toni Tapp Coutts, told Rural Weekly, "it is a big story".

That big story is the book, A Sunburnt Childhood, Growing Up In the Territory, and the memoir is proving popular well beyond NT borders.

Since the book was published late last month, copies have been selling like hotcakes.

The response has surprised first-time author Toni who has found herself on the publicity trail after the book was published by Hachette Australia.

"It all feels really surreal and fantastic and I am amazed at the response the book has received," Toni said.

The publicity run has included trips interstate and within the Territory for book signings and promotions.

Toni also featured on the hour-long ABC Radio program Conversations with Richard Fidler, of Doug Anthony Allstars fame.

"Since the Richard Fidler interview I have had messages from all over Australia through facebook and phone calls.

"The responses have been things like people saying to me, 'I was in the Northern Territory in the 1970s' or 'I knew your family' or 'I met Bill Tapp at a bull sale'.

"But, most importantly, all saying that they loved the book and that they thought it was a true reflection of the times and the people."

 

Bill Tapp and Toni's mum June on their wedding day, August 2, 1962.
Bill Tapp and Toni's mum June on their wedding day, August 2, 1962.

And the people of those times included Toni's stepfather from a young age Bill Tapp who, together with her mother June, forged a cattle empire on the sprawling 2800 sqkm Killarney Station.

Located 270km west of Katherine, June and Toni and her two siblings joined Bill at Killarney in 1961. It was at the start of Bill's hard-wired dream to build his cattle empire.

At its zenith Killarney, under Bill and June's guiding hands, was one of the best-known cattle stations in Australia.

It was renowned for its innovative pastoral practices and techniques and the quality of its cattle and horses.

Bill and June had seven more children during their time at Killarney and the station's extended family provided Toni with all she wanted in her early years.

As Toni said on the back cover of her book: "My sunburnt childhood was full of love, fun, danger and adventures".

The book details all those wonderful times Toni had growing up on Killarney just as beautifully as it lays bare the downfall of Bill and the cattle empire that was Killarney Station.

"A lot of people know the story about Killarney and Bill Tapp but I still wanted to set some of the fables and myths revolving around it straight," Toni said.

And she is justifiably proud of her work.

 

Toni Tapp Coutts at one of her many book signings so far following the release of her book A Sunburnt Childhood.
Toni Tapp Coutts at one of her many book signings so far following the release of her book A Sunburnt Childhood.

It is a book that tells it like it is and does not shy away from detailing the good the bad and the ugly side of life on the land.

And there is a very simple reason for that approach.

"I wanted to have integrity and I wanted the book to be honest," Toni said.

"Having said that, I wanted to tell my story, through my eyes.

"Coming from a family of 10, I wanted to make sure it was my story."

Judging by family reaction so far, Toni has achieved just that.

"The family response has all been positive so far and Mum loves it."

It is a big story that stretches over more than 30 years of Territory history.

While the success of the book appeared on the surface to have come about quite quickly, nothing could be further from the truth, Toni said.

"It's taken me 14 years to write it," she said with a chuckle.

"It started when I entered some of it as a short story in 2002 Northern Territory Literary Awards which was short-listed.

"At the time one of the judges said that it was a story that really should be told and over the years I continually worked on it."

But it was a health scare that was the driving factor behind Toni finishing her story.

"I had breast cancer in 2013 and I had three things on my bucket list.

"They were to finish my book, put a plaque on Bill Tapp's grave at Killarney and to finish my studio at home in Katherine.

"I've done them all now so I can die happy," a now-healthy Toni said with a laugh.

Toni, who is the Deputy Mayor of Katherine, said she had always loved the process of writing.

"I have been a member of the Katherine Region of Writers for the 25 years it has been going and a member of the Territory Writers' Centre and I always take advantage of the workshops that are on offer."

Toni said she was now investigating other topics for books she would like to write.

"I would like to write about my days living in the Gulf Country and I would love to write the stories of the women in the Katherine region," she said.



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