Bush Tucker Tales and Horse Riding with Traditional Owner Jerry Kelly in Tennant Creek

This bush ‘ere… he said, pulling up his horse and swinging his leg over its rump to step out of the stirrup and grab a handful of leaves

I show you” he muttered softly as he slipped his water container off from his back, poured a few drops of liquid gold onto the leaves and rubbed his hands together, opening them to show me the soapy lather that had formed in his dark coloured hands.

bush tucker soapbush

“This is soapbush”

He smiled.
Turned towards his horse ‘Cliffy’ and got back on. 

[Soap bush (Acacia colei) is a natural soap found in the outback and when rubbed together with water produces a soap like lather with antibacterial and antiseptic properties.
It will also deoxygenate water and stun fish]

Jerry Kelly

This was no regular horse trail ride!

I was in the bush outside of Tennant Creek (980km/600miles south of Darwin – 520km/320miles north of Alice Springs) horse riding in the Northern Territory, across the Barkly Tablelands with a local Warumungu man, traditional owner and experienced stockman.

horse riding northern territory

Jerry Kelly was born on Alroy Downs Station where his mother, who was a cook there, taught him his knowledge of bush foods.
Spending his childhood on Banka Banka Station, north of Tennant Creek, the older aboriginal stockman had shared their station skills, enabling him to get work on cattle stations across the Barkly region.

bush tucker

“This is like Vic” he said as he offered me a bunch of pale seedy headed flowers that he’d spotted on an innocuous little bush that my horse, ‘Spin’, had been about to step on.

I took it from him and breathed in deeply to smell the Vic vapour rub aroma!

horse riding tennant creek

With eyes constantly scanning the country for plants that would offer life giving sustenance, physical comfort or remedies for ailments, he was seeing a very different view of this environment – a view that my Western eye was ignorant and blind to.

Dismounting again he picked up a lump of spinifex resin from the sandy ground.

Spinifex resin

“This ‘ere keep you warm at night – On the station you use cattle dung – Out ‘ere you use spinifex resin”

Back in the saddle, the bush oranges we passed were at perfect horse height to inspect –
But they still had a long way to go before being edible –
I sensed him making a mental note for future harvesting!

bush tucker - bush oranges


We’d left Jerry’s property, Kelly’s Ranch on the edge of Tennant Creek, early to beat the heat.

Horse riding in Tennant Creek

And had set off down a red dusty track that was dry to the bone having seen no rain for months.

Kellys Ranch, Tennant Creek

However, his intimate knowledge of the country meant it wasn’t long before we’d veered off this man-made track and Jerry was leading the way across-country, delving deep into the heart of the bush.

horse riding northern territory

Picking our way across the stony plain our horses Spin and Cliffy occasionally kangaroo hopped to avoid the spiky spinifex grass from pricking the front of their legs.

When we’d set out, the country had been flat as far as the eye could see, but now red rocky outcrops were starting to pop up on either side of our trail.


An escarpment like ridge appeared rising ahead of us and Jerry turned to ask with a grin –

“You wanna see the view?”

horse riding northern territory australia

Loosening the reins, we gave the horses their heads urging them into a trot and then a canter to create the momentum to scramble up the steep rocky incline.
I lent forward over Spin’s neck to help her get us both to the top.

As we came over the brow of the ridge, Spin snorted to clear her lungs.
And I got my first glimpse of the view below, and out to the distant outcrops on the horizon.

horse riding tennant creek

At our feet was a shimmering carpet of alternating shades of glittering gold and then silver as the gentle breeze caught the long slender fronds of seedy grasses that rose above the spiky balls of ochre’y tinged spinifex.

We dismounted, spending some precious moments taking in the expansiveness of this outback landscape.

horse riding northern territory

Even Spin, who had seen it all before, pricked up her ears to peruse the view!

horse riding in the northern territory

It had been a wonderful few hours, on so many levels, but it was now time to head for home.

horse riding northern territory, australia

Jerry not only shares his outback knowledge of bush tucker and horsemanship with travellers by taking them on trail rides –
He can also be found at Nyinkka Nyunyu (pronounced ny-ink-a ny-oo ny-oo) the aboriginal art and cultural centre in the middle of Tennant Creek, where he shares his Warramungu history and ancestory.

And just as the older stockmen of Banka Banks had shared their skills with him, Jerry also offers his wealth of knowledge and leadership by running stockman skills programmes for the local indigenous youth

Jerry Kelly

I thought I was just going for a horse ride –

Instead, I got to not only experience the power of the NT outback, and learn about its arid landscape fruits…

But the best part?

Being in the company of a true blue local personality

If you’re passing through Tennant Creek, meeting Jerry Kelly is an opportunity not to be missed ~
And if you like animals you’ll love his dogs Billy Can, Quart Pot and cheeky Pannikin!

Do you love horse riding?
Or been on a trail ride in a stunning region?

Do share in the comments below 🙂

Post script Nov 2013: Here’s the latest project Jerry Kelly is working on with local indigenous school kids

Journey Jottings... highlights your holiday adventures

20 thoughts on “Bush Tucker Tales and Horse Riding with Traditional Owner Jerry Kelly in Tennant Creek

      • Hello Linda. Just read your post about your outback experience with Jerry Kelly.
        In 1971-72, I was “teacher- in-charge” of Banka Banka School. At that time Jerry was 11 and already an outstanding fellow.
        I’ve lived in Canada since 1978, but I reconnected with Jerry during a visit to Tennant Creek in 2003, and last year my son and daughter-in-law visited Jerry at the ranch.
        I’m retiring in a month and I have to tell you that your story has pushed another visit with Jerry to the top of my bucket list!
        Spending time with Jerry Kelly is certainly a most authentic Outback experience!

        • What a wonderful story!
          There’s a photo of Jerry in the nearby Cultural Centre in Tennant Creek – Nyinkka Nyunyu – taken of him at Banka Banka about that time, along with a replica of the cutest truck made of used tobacco tins and the like that were the types of toys the children out there, had to play with – Forever resourceful!

  1. I’ll make a new scan of the original 1971 pic today, plus one I took of Jerry in 2002 with a similar toy truck he made for me at the time of our 30 year reunion.
    Please email me so I can send them privately. Check out the URL I submitted to see what Jerry and his peers at Banka Banka inspired. Cheers. Peter

    • Thank you so much Peter for the gorgeous photographs 😀
      What you have done with First Voices in Canada is really wonderful –
      I can’t help feeling here in Australia we could do with something like that.
      But thats another story!

    • Hi Josie ~
      Yes, it was wonderful to hear from Peter and to see some of the photographs he took of the children living on Banka Banka Station when he was teaching there 40 years ago!
      Coming to the Territory from Tasmania I think Peter would have seen the beauty of everyday life on a working cattle station that those working there would have taken as everyday ‘normal’ and not worth photographing –
      Some of these photographs are now on display at Nyinkka Nyunyu, the cultural centre in Tennant Creek, and the remainder are in their collection for viewing upon request – So happily an important part of social history has been recorded for posterity.

      I’m pleased you enjoyed the post… and the ensuing comments! 🙂

    • It was a wonderful experience Nancy!
      Thank you so much for the invite to guest post on your equestrian blog – I wish I had more exciting experiences to share!
      Maybe I should ask Jerry’s partner Georgina if she’d like to write something for you – Being on the scene! 🙂

      • A guest post by Georgina would be fine, as long as it is not “advertorial.” My blog is about horseback riding holidays in all parts of the world. You should have my e-mail address via the comments. Thanks.

        • To my mind, no blog post should ever be advertorial – If I ever get a whiff of that… I click away!
          Georgina and Jerry live an interesting life with their horses, in a unique part of the world – I’ll pass your email on as the work Jerry does with the local indigenous boys teaching them stock-man skills so they have a future is wonderful 🙂

  2. Hello Linda. I was just reminded of our original encounter when the new comments on your Jerry Kelly post popped up in my email. Good memories. I kept a blog during my visit to Australia so thought I’d share it with you. Unfortunately my return visit with Jerry is still on my bucket list. Best wishes, Peter.

    • Thanks for the link to your travelling stories both in Oz and then Vietnam –
      It’s such fun to pick up a backpack again and hit the road – who’d have thought we’d get the opportunity to experience that joy all over again 😀

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