Saturday, 9 November 2013

A HARD WAY TO WORK

Above. Grandfather Bell 1930s/ Below. My cousin, Neville Coleman. 1960s. Source: Personal Collection.




Being a stockmen was a hard way to live, work and die. There are two graves of stockmen that I know of on the old family stations to prove it. Remember, that station is only one of many cattle stations in northern Australia. It would be interesting to know how many men and women died getting the meat to the table.

In the old days before cars and airplanes, where you died you usually got buried for obvious reasons. I was told of a stockman being killed after he was thrown from a horse at a place called Long Mick Swamp. The famous bush poem, The Dying Stockman could have been his epitaph:

“Wrap me up in my stockwhip and blanket
And bury me deep down below.
Where the dingoes and crows won’t molest me
In the shade of the coolibah tree.

Then there’s the sad tale of a young stockman who came from the city named Andrew Rutherford who drowned trying to swim across a river with his horse. His parents later sent a headstone which stood for many years over his grave on the riverbank where he was retrieved. 

I remember as a kid in the late 1960s, a stockman called Sam Gooley on the next door property dying after he crashed into a tree whilst galloping through thick shrub. The owner of the station, Bill Hatfield, later told Dad that he hadn’t seen injuries like that since his time as a soldier in North Africa.

As I know, stockman wouldn’t have wanted me to dwell on the dangers of their occupation. They were a fatalistic, hard-living, laconic lot with a dry sense of humour. I guess part of the Australian identity comes from them. So I’ll end with a funny story.
My Grandmother Bell was a good boss. So much so that she used to make pies for the men ( apple pies were her speciality) to take on their long mustering trips. The  dozen or so pies were carefully packed into pack saddles that were slung over the pack horse’s back. That day the pack horse wasn’t having any of it and before they could strap the saddles closed, the horse had bucked and thrown the pies all over the paddock.

 I have a feeling that horse wasn’t very popular that day.