I’ve mustered a thousand cattle or more, during my life and heaven only knows how many sheep but I was never a drover.
Well, not a real drover anyway but there was a time …….
I think it was summer 1959/60 and I was 12 or maybe 13 then, and we’d run out of water on the place. There was still enough grazing for the sheep, barely, but cattle need water and we had none. Every dam was dry, the waterholes in the creek were dry, the seeps were barely enough for the sheep.
Was it a drought or only a dry spell, I never quite knew the difference.
What to do?
My grandfather had about 100 cows and at the time, most had calves at foot and the only water around was out on the stock route.
This was the last chance so grandfather had us – my two uncles and a few of us kids - drive the cattle out onto the road where we joined several other mobs traveling from one waterhole to the next, all under the watchful eyes of the PP (Pastoral Protection) Board.
The stock had to move a certain distance every day and be held in PP board paddocks overnight then let out as soon as it was light the next morning.
I remember the mob, about 800 head in all, would be allowed to linger where there was good water and feed but pushed along when it was scarce.
Some of the men with us were ‘real’ drovers, they knew the rules, they knew how fast the cattle needed to travel to avoid the ire of the PP inspectors.
The fun soon wore off
Each night someone from home would bring a meal out for us, something to chew on for breakfast, and a sandwich for lunch in the saddle. The younger ones were taken home before the first week was over.
Life on the road was a big adventure until the ‘fun’ wore off and riding dawn to dusk was only fun for a few days.
Being the oldest of the grandchildren, I was considered old enough to stay out with the cattle and my old horse, Combo, was up to the slow pace and easy days.
Turn around, head for home
It rained a few times, not heavy and not enough to run the creeks but it freshened up the dry grass and then we received word to turn around and head home. I think we’d been away for three or four weeks and it was nearing the end of the school holidays.
Our cattle were drafted out in yards by the road and we set out in the opposite direction. I remember the days were long and hot but the cattle moved faster and some days we covered two stretches instead of just the one we were used to.
With about a week to go, Combo and I were picked up, taken home and I was sent back to town for school.
Was that real droving?
I had it fairly easy and I know the old-time drovers did it a lot harder than I ever did but I learned quite a bit in those four or five weeks.
Firstly, only camp dogs were allowed. The last thing needed was a dog to rush in and panic the cattle.
Secondly, everyone, including the horses, needed one day a week off to do nothing or very little.
Just follow the mob
As I ponder those days, some 60 years later, I saw how the cattle, after a few days on the road, just wandered along, one after the other. They didn’t know where they were going, they just followed the mob.
Human beings, with the highest intelligence and the noblest of causes, allow themselves to drift along with the crowd. The road and the crowd around them fill their vision and the end of the journey is of little concern.
“Live for the day,” may well be the motto of sheep and cattle – and the majority of people as well, but where is the crowd going?
The road is wide and easy and there is plenty of company on the path.
There is another road but it is narrow, steep, rutted, and full of obstacles and few people travel on it.
Yes, we know one way leads to death, the other to everlasting life with Jesus.
We are warned again, and again, the way of ‘life’ leads through many testings and troubles but God does promise if we follow His way He will bring us safely through all of these obstacles. It is for us to decide which way we want to go.
As for sheep and cattle, they don’t know or care.
John Skinner served as an infantry soldier in Vietnam then the Tasmanian Police before taking up the position of CEO of the Australian Rough Riders Association (professional rodeo based in Warwick Qld). Before retirement to his small farm, he was a photo-journalist for 25 years. He is married with 3 children and 7 grandchildren.