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Territory business success story

Tom Curtain

Tim and Annabel Curtain with their horse and dogs

Some people laughed when Tom Curtain announced he was launching an outback show combining three of the great loves in his life - dogs, horses and singing.

The renowned country singer and songwriter feared the cynics were right when only one or two guests turned up to the first couple of 90‑minute performances.

But the Katherine Outback Experience shows are now packed.

Tom, who will release his fourth country album in November, says starting the business was nerve‑wracking.

“Some of my mates told me, ‘Be honest with yourself - this is just not working. Give it up.’

“Although not many people were turning up to my shows, those who did left buzzing. I knew it was just a matter of time and good marketing to get known. I was convinced people would start coming if the show was properly publicised.”

Tom trained horses for cattle stations for 15 years, but work fell off after the live cattle export ban was imposed.

He started singing three nights a week at Katherine Holiday Park where he would share stories about life on the land.

“People really enjoyed my stories and wanted to know more about training horses so I thought there was an opportunity for me to put on shows. It was very tough at first.”

Tom and his wife Annabel are succeeding because they are selling an unusual product - a family‑friendly outback adventure without having to drive to a working cattle station in the middle of nowhere.

“A lot of people drive up ‘the track’ and never leave the bitumen to see life on cattle stations. So we bring that life to them,” says Tom.

“I fly by the seat of my pants during most shows. I even start horses and ride them for the first time live in the show. It doesn’t always go to plan, I have been bucked off in shows but people love that because it’s real.”

The big break came when the performance - which includes songs, humorous stories, dog training demonstrations and a bit of horse whispering - was put on the Ghan itinerary when the train stops in Katherine for a few hours on its journey between Darwin and Adelaide.

The couple have had to learn many new business skills, including marketing.

Katherine Outback Experience runs from April to October - and then goes on the road.

“We have overcome the seasonality of the business by making the show mobile. This has enabled us to pitch to markets that generate higher returns, and also allowed us to tour over the Top End wet season when other tourism operations shut down.

“In providing an hour outback show and an hour of live music when touring, we have created a major point of difference and significantly broadened our market.”

Guests love the show.

One woman wrote on Trip Advisor: “My husband and I loved this experience. It was a pleasure to see how Tom interacts with the horses and dogs. His training methods are outstanding. The dogs were so beautifully behaved ... except perhaps Blondie, who was delightful anyway.”

Another guest posted: “This is a fantastic show run by down-to-earth, genuine people. It’s a real show - not overly scripted and was very entertaining. Both adults and kids, age nine and eight, loved it.”

Tom will present as a Territory business success story at:

The OBM Great Debate in Darwin

The OBM Business Dinner