Store cattle from Nelanjie! By half-a-hundred towns,
By Northern ranges rough and red, by rolling open downs,
By stock-routes brown and burnt and bare, by flood-wrapped river-bends,
They've hunted them from gate to gate - the drover has no friends;
This is part of the second verse from Will Ogilvie’s classic Australian droving bush-ballad, From the Gulf, first published in The Bulletin, 14 December 1895, and it sums up the life in the long paddock for drovers.
Drovers were once an integral part of the Australian livestock production industry – without the drover, the beef and sheep producers west of the Great Dividing range had no way of getting their cattle to markets or to inside country where they could be finished.
Alice Mabin’s stunning collection of images published under the title The Drover captures life on the travelling stock route and it also records for all to see, the 2,000 kilometre journey of about 18,000 cattle from the Northern Territory’s Barkly Tablelands to Hay in the south-western Riverina.
The cattle were bought by Tom Brinkworth, a farmer from South Australia, who must have some eye to history and another famous South Australian, Sir Sidney Kidman, in the midst of the severe drought in 2013. The actual transaction of $8 million for the cattle is recorded as the single largest transaction of cattle sold in history to a single buyer – another benchmark in this massive logistical undertaking.
Putting the Brinkworth mobs of cattle on the road caught the imagination of the media all over the country and the world. Alice’s photographs are so evocative of not only a bygone era, but of an important part of our heritage, as well as the country’s future as a provider of clean, green agricultural produce like our beef.
While you don’t have to swat the flies, or wash the dust of the TSR from your mouth after reading this fantastic book, it’s the next best thing and that’s part of the appeal of the publication. This fantastic imagery is timeless and I thoroughly recommend it for anyone who has an interest in this country’s heritage. Even if the reader is unaware of what a droving trip is all about, they’ll be captured by the timeless beauty of such a book.