Armed with a Mrs Mac pepper steak pie and a carton of iced coffee Sass and I left the Heartbreak Hotel and headed south down across the vast open plains to camp the night at the Barkly Homestead. The previous extended wet season left this country in good shape with plenty of feed so the stock were in forward to fat condition. Even the odd few water holes that exist along the track remained full enough to hold a variety of birdlife that would normally moved on well before this. Eventually we arrived at the Barkly Homestead and I pulled in beside another gooseneck horse trailer where the bigger riggs camp.The bloke who owned the rig was keen for a yarn and being close to beer time it seemed like a good idea. As it turned out we both knew many of the same people from the bush from all over Australia but for some reason we'd never crossed paths. His name is Bob Holder from down around Cootamundra way, he's managed stations, been a drover,a horse breaker, a live stock dealer and is now a real-estate agent for Elders. Bob is probably best known as a rodeo competitor and has travelled far and wide across Australia attending these events.Even now at the age of 81 he has just competed at the Darwin Rodeo in the team roping event, a fantastic effort and a great Australian character as well. Bob slipped away to feed up and on his way back picked up a bag from a nearby hanger, inside we discovered a Jeppeson Airways manual; it covered a trip from London to Sydney via twenty other countries. Some weeks ago on his way to Darwin Bob stayed here and met a bloke in a wheel chair who had flown an Ultra Light plane from London on his way to Sydney to raise money for the Royal Flying Doctor Service. I still have the manual and have been trying to track him down but to this point, no luck.
On the BarklyWeaners on McArthur River StationAlroy DownsBack on the road again next day we headed east across the Barkly to Camooweal for the drovers festival. I was surprised to see so many dingoes prowling about, the report is that their numbers are now out of control over much of Australia and giving the station owners plenty of grief. If I ever give up marketing our leather goods I think I'll become a wild dog stiffener. Back in the days before the road trains Camooweal was the starting point where drovers assembled with their men and plant to wait on word via telegrame for orders from the big stations in the top end and the Kimberelys to pick up mobs that would then be walked over to Queensland many via the the famous Murranji track to Newcaste Waters, from there across the Barkly to Camooweal and down to Dajarra to the then new rail head or on down further south to the channel country or to the Birdsville track and on to Adelaide. The last of the boss drovers living today gather at Camooweal each year for a weekend where the public and guests can meet these men and listen to the stories of the epic journeys they made over the years. We all know the stories about droving have been romanticised in verse and song but I can assure you it was nothing other than a bloody tough and hard lonely life. Sleeping in a swag on the ground for months on end, eating boiled beef and damper seven days a week, riding from daylight till dusk then doing several hours at night riding night watch can hardly be described as an easy and romantic life style. Conditions were always tough, lack of feed and water for the cattle, long hot dry dusty periods or weeks of rain with flooded rivers to cross and worst of all when the mob rushed off camp sometime during the night were all part of the drovers life. With over a thousand head in hand the boss drovers life had few pleasures and a massive responsibility in delivering the entire mob in good condition.
Stock-routs of Australia.The drovers.The Murranji BullThe other activities during the weekend included bronco branding, country music, poetry renditions, an art exhibition of paintings drawings and photography, an evening ball, the Camooweal street parade and an evening at the local pub with entertainment. Our leather good were on display and Noel Giles the blacksmith from Mackay turned up with an impressive display of product he'd made on the forge. I think Gilesy could be better described as an artist, but one who uses a forge, anvil and hammer rather than a brush and canvas, a great bloke and extremely talented.