Not long after losing what I had thought to be the love of my life, I remember sitting on our veranda with Dad. We were discussing my future. He wanted me to find a career that was important to me, worthwhile. My solution, my answer, was probably not what he expected or really wanted for me.
I found an “Ad” in the “Weekly Times”, an Australian country paper. Why I bought that paper, I don’t even know. I can’t really remember exactly what the advertisement said, but it was something like, “Wanted, Jillaroo, able to ride horses, motorbikes, cook, and have an understanding of sheep and cattle”. Well, I could ride, and even though I may not have had much of an understanding of cattle and sheep, I did have an appreciation for them.
I called, and was accepted on trial for the job. Melbourne, Suburban girl, on you go, gallop up that lonely road away from all you know. Run away from your problems, run away from pain; isn’t that the solution you learnt as a little girl? Yes.
On the first day, I had to learn to ride a motor bike. The stock were actually sheep, 5000 of them. My house was to be a caravan on the side of the road and my only friends besides the old drover were 3 noisy and very alert Australian Kelpie Dogs.
The stove was splattered in layer upon layer of ancient grease. The floor was no better. On my second day, with no time for training, I was left to clean. I wondered if this was to be the breadth my role. I wondered at the reasoning behind my hasty move to the bush.
By the time Peter returned, the Caravan was spotless and gleaming. The day confined in this small, barely ventilated hot box had sapped me of energy and I tried to disguise the dullness in my eyes as I cooked a simple dinner.
Soon after, I crawled into my single bunk. Thoughts of Vorn and my family paraded across my conscious mind in prelude to the dreamscape awaiting me. Uncertainty plagued me and quietly I allowed the salty tears, inspired by my broken heart to seep into my desolate pillow.
The next day heralded greater promise. The sheep that had been mustered the day prior were to be taken off the property and onto the “long paddock” or stock route. These sheep were to be grazed along the side of the road between Deniliquin and Hay in the Riverina, NSW, before stopping traffic and parading down the main road on their way to the Hay Stock market.
By law, the travelling stock must travel “six miles a day” (approximately 10 kilometres per day). This is to avoid all the roadside grass from being cleared in a particular area by an individual mob. Bores, equipped with windmills and troughs, may also be located at regular intervals to provide water in regions where there are no other reliable water sources. A Travelling Stock Reserve is a fenced paddock set aside at strategic distances to allow overnight watering and camping of stock. Reserves may also be located on many roadways that are not the typical wide TSRs.
The travelling stock is driven by a drover and stockmen using Australian Stock Horses or vehicles. Other working animals include working dogs such as Kelpies, or their crosses which have been bred for working sheep and cattle. The stockman may also be accompanied by a packhorse, carrying supplies and equipment, or a wagon with supplies might follow the stock. More recently travelling stock has been accompanied by four-wheel drive vehicles and mobile homes.
The purpose of “droving” livestock on such a journey might be to move the stock to different pastures. It was also the only way that most livestock producers had of getting their product to the markets of the towns and cities. The beef cattle were transported to a rail siding or abattoirs “on the hoof”. The rigors of the journey, the availability of feed and water and the reliability of those “droving” the stock were all factors in the condition of the livestock when it was slaughtered.
We chugged along on our Honda 250’s at a gentle pace. The distance between camps was determined by a conservative estimation of the speed a healthy mob of sheep would travel. The award for the amazing and tireless workers of our team had to be given to the three Kelpie dogs that were skilfully directed by the old drover with a language consisting of strange whistles and an array of hand signals. The instincts of these intelligent dogs were a sight to seen as they adeptly redirected a stray sheep or a bulging face in the mob.
The most intense part of a day would be where traffic had to be stopped in order to cross the sheep over a bridge, drawing them together after a water hole and of course, directing the seemingly never ending line of Merinos through the single gate to the yards at the end of the day.
Generally, at the start of the day and once the sheep were feeding and walking at the expected pace, I would be left with my bike and the dogs, to keep the mob relatively tight, whilst the Drover would relocate the camp ready for the next evening.
The days were exhausting but satisfying, and sleep that comes from the daily counting of thousands of sheep came all too easily.