Australia

A drovers tale of drought

A drover talks about "long paddocks" and the drought

Alongside the roads of North West NSW, a quiet but tough rescue operation is underway.

As cattle in drought-stricken areas suffer, particularly in the Hunter Valley, they have been trucked up to the less affected regions where drovers are utilising historic routes, pioneered by the first white settlers.

These routes – “long paddocks” – are the tracks the first drovers made as they took cattle to markets on the coast.

Now, theyre being used by drovers as sources of feed – grass – for cattle which have been brought from where the ground is bare.

A drovers tale of drought

One drover, Zac Croker, is driving about 200 cattle along a route which runs alongside the Gwydir Hiwghway to the east of Glen Innes.

He told Fairfax that he had been driving the cattle from pen to pen along the route for a couple of months. He reckoned he would be doing it for another month before they get trucked back to the owners in the Hunter Valley to calve.

“They've all run out of feed and starting to get short of water. It's been bad down there for a long time and they've put them up on the road here to try to keep them alive.

“It's pretty bad down there they haven't had any rain to speak of for twelve months. The paddocks have been reduced to dirt.”

These routes are part of Australias history.

Zac said: “The long paddock is a name for the stock routes which covered New South Wales and Queensland and Victoria.”

They exist, sometimes alongside roads, but theyre not as plentiful as they once were.

“A lot of them have been sold off and leased off on permanent grazing rights which sounds good when the season's good, to make money out of the route when no drovers need it.

“But then, when it's dry like this, it makes it a lot harder because all of the routes are already short on feed when everyone needs to go out and use them.”

He comes from Inverell and drives the cattle on horse-back, sleeping in a caravan on the route. At weekends and school holidays, his family stay.

Darcy, his son, helps and says it has one advantage over school: “I don't have to do any maths”. His father thinks Darcy learns from the droving – “it gives him a work ethic” but school remains Darcys focus.

The cattle straddle and cross the highway and cars slow down. It is where the modern bumps against history – and bumps is sometimes the right word.

Zacs wife, Jess, urges drivers not to get irritated: “The cattle are here for survival. They have no feed where they're from so they're here to have feed and water.

“And people need to have respect for them. And slow down when they're driving through them. They don't need to blow their horns. And they can continue their journey. They don't need to bang their cars or yell out at them. They'll move.”

And a reminder: “They need to remember that they need to slow down because if they do hit a beast they'll have to pay for their own damage and they'll have to pay for the beast they hit.”

History lives, even as it bumps up against the modern world.

This story A drovers tale of drought first appeared on Daily Liberal.

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Nyngan Observer

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