Cook's tour of the Tanami

Lauren CelenzaCountryman

Rob Cook is one man in a wheelchair who won’t sit back and watch life pass him by. In 2008, Rob was left a quadriplegic from a helicopter accident on his family cattle station in the Northern Territory.

During a routine flight, the helicopter in which he was a passenger fell 200 feet out of the sky.

Rob spent nine weeks in intensive care at the Royal Adelaide Hospital and, after seven months in rehabilitation, he was finally well enough to return to Alice Springs.

Despite his disability, Rob has never stopped trying to have a normal life with his family.

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Now he is attempting to cross the Tanami Desert in a bid to raise money for his Nuffield scholarship where he hopes to study innovation and technology in the beef cattle industry. He wants to lift efficiency and lower our cost of production for his fellow producers.

To complete his Nuffield scholarship, Rob needs to raise about $250,000 to cover the expenses of having three full-time carers.

This venture will also make Rob the first person to cross the Tanami Desert in a wheelchair.

He will start from the homestead on Suplejack Station and is hoping to finish on June 15, in Alice Springs — travelling some 730km in his wheelchair. But his overall aim was to have a normal family environment and to get back to work.

“Everything I am doing is to reach that goal. That is the ‘be all to end all’, I want to get back to work in an industry that I love, ” he said.

Facing challenges

Rob is 99.5 per cent incapacitated, which means he cannot control his body or its functions, but he still has his mind.

“Each day I work towards my aim through study, challenges and technology, ” he said.

“When my kids are 18 and they are asked what they think of their dad, I want them to hold their heads up high and say, ‘Even though our dad had his ability to move taken from him, he got out there and worked’.

“Even now, throughout this challenge, my oldest son Braxton says to me, ‘What are we doing tomorrow dad? You going back to work?’. I reply, ‘Yeah mate, back on the road again’.”

Rob describes his wife Sarah as his angel on earth.

“Most people pray for an angel. I married mine eight years ago. When most husbands upset their wives, they get sent to the dog house for a night; Sarah parks me in a corner and turns my machine off. I am not as cheeky to her now as I use to be.”

Because of his injury in the helicopter accident Rob needs to find new ways to do his old job.

Rob is working with David Kortholt from Quad Quip Solutions to modify a John Deere Gator 4x4 which will give him the ability to get around the farm. He will also use the Gator to work with cattle dogs.

Rob is working with Gary Stark, from Warwick Cattle Crush Company, to create a voice-activated cattle crush and calf cradle.

He also wants to create a network for injured farmers so they can work together to find avenues for them to continue working in the rural communities.

Rob’s transport is a 4x4 wheelchair — specially modified so that he can use it in all terrain.

During the previous muster, his wife took him out on the station grudge (go-cart) where he followed along behind the cattle when moving them to the yards. For Rob to go from point A to B, it is easier for him to stay in his chair rather than being lifted out multiple times a day.

His family uses the station forklift to lift both Rob and his chair onto the back of the ute in one.

Even though Rob can’t physically help his family on the station, his studies will enable him to contribute to the business side of running the station.


Suplejack was founded in 1964 by Rob’s grandparents Bob and Lillian Savage.

It was named after a drought-resistant desert tree called the suplejack.

Rob’s grandparents bred a Shorthorn herd for 30 years before introducing Brahmans in the early 1990s.

His parents, Bill and Letty Cook, joined the partnership in 1997, introducing Rob and three young siblings, Brad, Cam and Loretta, to the real heart of Australia.

Suplejack boasts 8000 head of Brahman-Shorthorn cross cattle targeting both the live export trade out of northern Australia and the domestic market in South Australia.

Suplejack is often referred to as being situated in the northern Tanami, southern Kimberley, eastern Pilbara and middle of nowhere.

It has no adjoining neighbours and National Geographic refers to it as Australia’s most isolated cattle station.

Rob’s dad was a reputable all-round cowboy who competed in events such as the saddle bronc, bareback bronc and bullock ride.

Rob’s love affair for rodeo started at the age of three in the poddy ride at the Blair Athol Rodeo in Queensland.

To read more about Rob’s inspirational story or to donate, visit robcook.com.au

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