At the end of last year Angus and I took our 12-month old son, a team of photographers and cinematographers, and some dedicated staff from here at Angus Barrett Saddlery to join a stock camp, droving along the Namoi River. We captured some precious scenes in the day to day life of Australian droving life, its harshness and its beauty; and we have distilled some of it for you in a series of four short films.
To complement our video droving series, we’re going to be interviewing some renowned personalities from the Australian droving scene; people who call on their horses and their horsemanship skills to negotiate the challenges of caring for stock in the Australian ‘long paddock’.
In the meantime, here’s a little bit about the background of droving and where it all began…
Droving in Australia first came about when the pioneers of the European settlement opened up much of the inland area of Australia to agriculture. The cattle grazing areas were vast and often remote from markets and so cattle had to be driven over long distances to roads or rail points. The first major drove over a significant distance occurred in 1836, when 300 cattle were moved from the Murrumbidgee River to Melbourne. As the industry became more established and experienced, more and more challenging drives were undertaken.
The movement of large mobs of stock was generally carried out by contract drovers. And it certainly would not have been possible without horses, including work-horses, night horses and pack horses. A standard team of contracted drovers generally consisted of around seven men and each of those men rode four or five horses during a trip.
Some of the most famous outback stock routes are the Murranji Track, the Birdsville Track, the Strzelecki Track and the Canning Stock Route, the last of which is often regarded as the most difficult, as it covers a track that runs from Halls Creek in the Kimberley to Wiluna in the mid west (WA). The Canning Stock Route is a total distance of approximately 1,850km, making it the longest historic stock route in the world. The Canning Stock Route is by no means the single longest cattle drove undertaken by Australian drovers though. One of the most renowned droving feats was completed in 1886 by the MacDonald Brothers who left Goulburn, NSW with cattle and bullock wagons and travelled across QLD, the Northern Territory and on to Halls Creek in Western Australia. They then followed the Margaret River down to Gogo Station and finally to Fossil Downs near the junction of the Fitzroy and Margaret Rivers about 230 miles from the port of Derby. The trip covered approximately 5,600kms and took approximately three years. It is regarded as the longest overland cattle drive in Australia’s history. And it wasn’t just cattle that were moved incredible distances. In 1882 Thomas Guthrie took 11,000 sheep from Rich Avon in north west Victoria to the Barkly Tablelands in the Northern Territory. The journey was 3,500km and took some 16 months. According to the Longreach Stockman’s Hall of Fame, this was the longest ever droving trip with sheep.
The achievements of Australian drovers are surely remarkable. Stay posted for more about this amazing practice, including stories from some modern drovers and the endurance of the horse as an integral part of droving life.