Wednesday, 6 November 2013

STOCKMEN (Warning to those of Aboriginal descent. Following photos may contain images of deceased people.)

STOCKMEN. l960'S. Source: Personal Collection.







Australian stockmen are legendary horsemen; their feats of endurance and bravery in the saddle have passed into Australian folklore.  The horses they rode are also legendary. As the following story certainly shows.

It was in my grandfather Bell’s time, probably around the turn of the twentieth century. The stockmen or ringers as they are also called were droving a mob of cattle to the meatworks on the coast. These trips took about a week.
At the end of the day camp was set up, a campfire started by the cook, the men fed ( usually on corn beef, damper and tea),  and the horses were hobbled at the legs so they would not wander too far away. Swags were rolled out ready for the start next day at dawn. The ringers slept in shifts as they had to take turns keeping the cattle settled during the night. This involved riding around the cattle keeping them bunched together, keeping them calm.
 Cattle at night can be easily “spooked” by noises such as distant thunder or the howl of a dingo. So the ringers took it in two hour shifts. If that involved the stockman singing a lullaby to the cattle, speaking their innermost thoughts or playing a mouth organ they did it.  Just like the cowboy movies.
 A stampede or rush at night is the most dangerous event that can happen to a stockman. It’s not a pleasant way to die been trampled to death by a thousand terrified cattle as they gallop over you. 

Unfortunately, I can’t remember the stockman’s name but he was an older Aboriginal man who was riding that night.  As he rode around checking the mob ( there was about thousand head) he sensed they were restless. He tried singing to them but it wasn’t doing any good. Then he realised why. He could hear distant thunder.
 It was about two o’clock in the morning when the cattle snapped and all hell broke loose. The cattle took off through the bush at a thunderous pace, the stockman galloping hard to get ahead of the leaders and turn the cattle around before they scattered to the four winds ( remember this is night time). By hard riding he managed to get ahead of the mob.
 He then felt a strange sensation as if he and the horse were flying. A few seconds later the horse came down with a thud, the stockman still in the saddle. By this time the other ringers were awake, had grabbed their horses and had turned the cattle around. Disaster averted.

The Aboriginal stockman and the horse had indeed been airborne. Unknown to the stockman, the horse had jumped across a deep gully. When measured from where the horse took off until when it was landed it was a distance of 25 feet ( 7.6 metres).
 To put that into perspective, the longest jump ever by a horse has been 27 feet 6/4 inches (8.4 metres) done of course during the day.

This is a true story told to me by my father.