Another bloody Pommie Jackeroo
For two hundred years, a steady stream of young Brits - mostly young men to begin with, but more recently young women too - have been making the 10,000 mile trip around the world to work on outback cattle and sheep stations in Australia. Nobody seems to be able to explain why they're referred to in Australia as jackeroos, but they are, and because they're from Britain, they're pommie jackeroos or jilleroos as well. Nobody knows what pommie really means either, but you can bet that it isn't entirely complimentary.
As the driver of the school bus from Bowen scathingly pointed out on the second to last leg of my three day journey into the bush, the last thing any cattle station owner in Australia wanted right then was another bloody pommie jackeroo. But I was very lucky. One owner did need someone who could ride a bit to help with an urgent muster, and trying to find a way to save the cattle on Cockatoo Creek from the drought added a vivid extra dimension to the already extraordinary experience of living and working on an outback station.
Water shortages have become an increasingly acute problem in many parts of the country in recent years, but in the vast and empty spaces between the tropical wetlands of the Gulf of Carpentaria and the icy waters of the Snowy River, Australia is one of the driest places on the planet, and drought has alway been a persistent hazard for everyone who tries to make a living from stock raising down under. The Australian outback is littered with the shattered dreams of hopeful stockmen and the bones of drought stricken cattle, sheep and horses in their unknown millions. There is always a drought somewhere in Australia, and wherever it is at present the station owners will be struggling to keep their cattle alive and praying for rain right now just as we did then on Cockatoo Creek.
Itís raining again today here in England. But the moment I think of Cockatoo Creek I can feel and smell the heat and dust of an outback evening as though I was sitting on a horse on the bank of our bone dry creek, watching a stampede of cows and calves hurrying anxiously towards the water troughs in the house yards, bawling and bellowing in the sudden tropical dusk,
It also introduced me to an outback legend called Sid Kidman, whose fame as the largest landowner in the world in the early years of the 1900s may have had something to do with luring young Englishmen out to see for themselves the vast open spaces where The Cattle King had forged an empire. Kidman started his working life aged thirteen with five shillings in his pocket and a one eyed horse that had seen better days, and forty years later he owned or controlled an area of Australia larger than the combined acreage of the whole of the United Kingdom.
The station I worked on would have been a mere horse paddock to Sid Kidman, and the efforts we made to overcome the drought would have been nothing to a man who was estimated to have lost over 100,000 head of cattle in the big dry of 1901 alone. But even half a century after his death I think he would still have recognised much of our way of life on Cockatoo Creek. He would definitely have recognised some of the wild horses and even wllder cattle I encountered in the bush, and a few of the old boys in the bar of the Noree Hill Hotel. I think he would have waved his hat as we went past with a mob of cattle bound for the yards, and he would have known the value of every one of them down to the last cent.
read more... A Good Place To Start