Internet service started by outback grazier now servicing some of Australia's largest cattle companies – ABC News


When Will Harrington’s electronics business started rapidly growing on his family’s remote north Queensland cattle station, his satellite internet service couldn’t cope. 

So to fix the problem he built a 50-kilometre wireless link to give the station faster speeds and unlimited downloads.

“That transformed our business,” Mr Harrington said.

That’s now his business — providing internet to some of Australia’s largest cattle companies.  

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Olga Downs Station(Craig Fitszsimmons)

Generational grazing family

While Mr Harrington’s achievements have become well recognised by governments and the northern cattle industry, his practical abilities emerged as a child in a very messy bedroom.

“After a while we realised his room was always a mess because it was that inquiring mind.”

Tight shot of Will next to tower
Peter Harrington (left) says his son Will’s practical abilities started when he was a child with a messy bedroom.(

ABC Western Queensland: Craig Fitzsimmons

)

Growing up with parents and two sisters on Olga Downs Station, north of Richmond, Will Harrington’s early childhood was spent mustering cattle and attending School of the Air.

“As he went to boarding school he found computers and that was a real awakening for him,” his mother Carmel said.

Tight shot of Will next to tower
Carmel Harrington says going to boarding school helped her son Will discover computers.(

ABC Western Queensland: Craig Fitzsimmons

)

Building an electronics company

Mr Harrington’s “inquiring mind” and interest in computers morphed into an engineering degree at Townsville’s James Cook University.

He moved back to the property and started an electronics company selling wands to scan cattle tags to trace their movements and cameras to check creeks and water troughs through a mobile phone app.

His father Peter said having the extra income was a big help.

“We’re only a small block here and we needed to diversify when William got married,” he said.

“The place wasn’t big enough to run two families.”

Tight shot of Will next to tower
Peter Harrington says his property was too small to support two families and the internet service has helped it diversify.(

ABC Western Queensland: Craig Fitzsimmons

)

But as the electronics business grew so did the size and importance of the station’s internet downloads. 

“I tried a lot of different things and in 2014 we decided, ‘Righto we need to do something about this.'”

Starting an internet service

Using the fibre-optic cable running through the nearby town of Richmond he built a 50-kilometre wireless link to his home, supporting unlimited and secure access.

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Olga Downs Tower(Craig Fitzsimmons)

While there was demand from other stations to do the same for them, making a profit was difficult with expensive infrastructure and licences.

In 2016, the local Richmond Shire Council helped.

“We were able to come up with an arrangement where we could provide them with internet as well,” Mr Harrington said.

“That helped us get the scale we needed to take Wi-Sky to the next step.”

Revolutionising the business

Tight shot of Will next to tower
Kacie Lord says the wireless internet revolutionised her family business, which owns six cattle stations.(

ABC North West Queensland: Eric Barker

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About 100 kilometres west of Olga Downs, Kacie Lord from Sutherland Station was one of Mr Harrington’s foundation customers.

Ms Lord said having unlimited data started having a positive impact on the business straight away.

“The boys could go to the cattle yards, load the cattle numbers onto the phone and the minute they came into wi-fi connection, the cattle numbers were downloaded onto my computer,” she said.

“[It] ended problems with getting cattle numbers off the boys and or having the numbers end up in the washing machine.”

Her family business can run about 15,000 head of cattle across six properties and she said it would often exceed the data allowances on satellite internet.

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New Internet towers(Craig Fitzsimmons)

Expanding the internet

Mr Harrington sold his electronics company in 2019 to focus on expanding the internet service.

He made a deal with the Cloncurry Shire Council, about 300 kilometres west of Richmond, to provide it and local graziers with internet.

Mayor Greg Campbell became one of his biggest advocates, successfully helping Mr Harrington lobby for a $1.5 million government grant this year. 

“To be able to get a world-class service in the north-west, delivered by a young bloke from the north-west, it’s a pretty good story,” Cr Campbell said.

The grant from the National Resilience and Recovery Agency is to build 26 new towers north and south of Cloncurry.

A bald man stands in the shade, leaning on a pole.
Cloncurry Mayor Greg Campbell hopes Will’s internet will help bring more people to the shire.(

ABC North West Queensland: Kelly Butterworth

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Will Harrington also received a $300,000 Federal Government grant in May.

The grants are expected to expand his footprint by more than 900 kilomtres – and support several new employees. 

Cr Campbell said with some of Australia’s largest cattle companies tapping into Mr Harrington’s network, he hoped more employees would reside in the shire.

“Stanbroke, NAPCo, AACo, Paraway, all the major pastoral houses have some the gems of their structures based in Cloncurry,” he said.

Tight shot of Will next to tower
Will Harrington hopes his towers will give people in rural areas the same access to internet as those in the city.(

ABC Western Queensland: Craig Fitzsimmons

)

Mr Harrington said fast reliable internet should be an option for everyone.

“All that we’re really trying to do is get access to an equitable level of service, the same as for people on the coast,” he said.

“We don’t want anything better we just want the same.”

Watch this story on ABC TV’s Landline at 12:30pm on Sunday, or on iview.



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