BACK in the early 1990s Ben Dark was droving a mob of cattle between Moree, Bingara and Narrabri, chasing feed during tough, drought-ridden times.
Just out of his teens, he’d brought the mob down from Dirranbandi, a cotton-farming centre about 80km north-west of Mungindi and a stone’s throw from rural behemoth, Cubbie Station.
Things were grim over the border. Green pick was thin on the ground, so Dark brought the mob south where pickings were better – not much better, but better nonetheless.
“My granddad had a place out near Dirranbandi and, on and off, I spent 10 years out there,” Dark said.
“I went through Moree as a young fella and was a drover around the area for about 12 months.
“There was no grass at Dirranbandi, so I grabbed all the cattle and hit the road. I had 12 great months going between Moree, Narrabri and Bingara.
“It was fantastic – Moree was very good to me.”
Fast-forward the clock
20-odd years and the bush drover turned national television celebrity is planning a return visit to Moree – and has he got a story to tell about those interim two decades.
Dark is now a well-known face on the Nine Network – he worked the Getaway travel show for more than 10 years – and returns to the blacksoil plains next week as a special guest of Moree Race Club.
The knockabout entertainer will talk at a race club fundraiser for Moree hospital next Saturday and attend the Moree Cup meeting the following day.
Dark’s career took its first tentative step after a chance meeting with well-known Queensland radio personality Jamie Dunn – the voice behind children’s favourite, Agro the puppet – at the Stockman’s Bar at the Brisbane Ekka in the mid-1990s.
“Jamie invited me on to his radio show to talk about what the Ekka meant from a country perspective,” Dark said.
“I really liked it, and thought ‘this would be a wild way to make a living’.
“For the next couple of years I thought about a career in radio. I pestered the hell out of them (at Brisbane radio station B105) and they eventually gave me a job.”
Dark’s radio persona “The Bush Pig” became a ratings sensation as he terrorised celebrities from across the globe including then-prime minister Paul Keating, The Rolling Stones and Michael Jackson.
“I did breakfast radio with B105 for two-and-a-half years,” he said.
Dark’s move to television came after meeting up with TV icon Ray Martin at a Lee Kernaghan CD launch in a Brisbane pub.
“I talked to Ray about doing television and not long after I started doing Ben Dark’s Australia, which was a series that involved following the footsteps of famous explorers,” Dark said.
“I did that for a year and when my boss at Channel 9 left to go to England he said he’d throw me in a travel show where I’d be able to hold my own.”
Dark did Getaway for the next 14 years, and along the way appeared as a regular on such shows as Outback Adventures, Celebrity Apprentice, 20-to-1, Celebrity Sale of the Century, National IQ Test and Who Wants to be a Millionaire.
“I’ve been doing television for near-on 20 years now, and when you’re part of a network you end up doing bits and pieces of all the network shows, I suppose,” Dark said.
The cup eve Moree hospital fundraiser and calcutta will be held at Moree racecourse on Saturday, August 31. Tickets are available from Moree Real Estate on 6751 1100 or online at www.moreeraceclub.com.au