Daylight arrived all too quickly and the sounds of Australian bird life seared my conscience like a hot poker through jelly. We have beautiful birds over here, however, the sounds of Galas and Cockatoos are raucous, indelicate, and a far cry from the tranquil twitter of blue birds that Cinderella or Snow White are known to wake up to.
Breakfast was a wholesome plate of eggs and bacon; it was going to be a monumental day. The 2000 head of cattle packed the Deniliquin sale yards, and when we arrived with our horses and dogs, their impatience for freedom was evident from their restless surging bodies and associated bellows, bleats and snorts.
A rough plan and route had been discussed with the team the night before; a team that now included my friend Denise who had recently secured a droving job with a friend my boss. It suited her to a tee as she was off the land and had grown up riding horses and working on her family’s dairy farm near Shepparton. It was amazing to have my friend to share these experiences with.
The route that we were to take the cattle via avoided the core of town as much as possible, but it was impossible to circumvent civilization completely. Our major obstacle was to be the bridge over the Edward River on the other side of town, but to get there we had to navigate the streets and traffic along the way. My mission was to ride at the front of the mob as the lead, giving the stock and stockmen a focal point to follow. Those that were bringing up the rear and riding along the sides of the mob were to guide and mold this surging, steaming mass behind me as if it were a single entity. Good luck with that.
Of course, the stockmen were supported by a multitude of dogs, eager to pat the bubble wherever it bulged and strained with the urge to pop and spill out of control. They made it an art, it was their art. Being at the front, I missed a lot of the action; dogs shooting off to curb in recalcitrant calves, whips cracking, shrill whistles and loud whoops. The cattle were hungry and easily distracted from our master plan and it took a great deal of skill and unity from the stockmen, dogs and horses to hold the fragile meniscus from rupturing.
At one stage, so Denise tells me, a frantic Hotel Proprietor desperately guarded his freshly cemented double driveway from an unwelcome re-texturing. Amazingly, and to his credit and the delight of onlookers, his antics paid off. By the time the cattle tsunami had subsided, no hoof prints marred his slab. His flapping arms, heaving belly, mottled face and bulging eyeballs would have been enough to terrify any beast into submission, by all accounts. Personally, I would have liked to have seen just a splattering of prints at the edge of his concrete as a tribute to day we drove our cattle through the thriving town of Deniliquin.