While travelling around Australia, author Paula Boer and her husband spent three years working on different cattle stations in the Gulf country of Far North Queensland. Each of the two million acre properties run between 30,000 to 45,000 breeding Brahmans. Paula became involved in all aspects of station life, from cooking to fencing, butchery to bore running, and of course cattle and horse work. Here she describes a day mustering, which became part of the inspiration for Brumbies in the Outback.
A Day in the Outback
6:00am The kitchen gong rings and you head to the BBQ area for a feast of steak, baked beans and toast.
6:30am You head off on a trail bike to round up the horses in their thousand acre paddock. They race to the yards in the cool dawn. The non-working horses are drafted off and released while the others receive a feed, brush down and checks for sore spots or wounds.
7:00am After tacking up, you load the keen horses onto the truck. Squeezing in the cab with the head stockman and other riders, you travel to the drop off point.
7:25am After unloading the horses, you mount up. Walking and trotting the first few kilometres to a meeting place warms up you and your horse, one of three horses allocated to you for the first round of mustering. For the second three months you will get different mounts, maybe ones you break in yourself. You check your girth is tight.
7:50am The sound of a helicopter breaks the stillness of the morning. Cattle stream towards you, stopping when they see the line of riders. They walk to the river bank and lower their heads to guzzle. Your horse shifts position close to the stock to prevent them moving away.
9:00am Over a thousand cattle have arrived. Some stand and doze, others graze. Calves search for their mothers that ran ahead and mingled with the herd. The sun is above the scrubby treetops and the sky is flecked with circling birds of prey ready to pounce on creatures disturbed by the passage of hooves. One swoops and carries away a snake in its talons.
9:05am A couple of dozen cattle run in too fast. They don’t stop and a section of the herd leaps away with them. Your horse bursts into action, but the head stockman waves you back. Your horse frets at the inactivity but such a large number of runaways will require the helicopter to bring them back. You settle your fidgety horse.
9:30am Without dismounting, you remove your jumper and tie it on the back of your saddle. After extracting station-baked biscuits from your saddlebags, you wash them down with a long swallow of water. You prevent your horse from grazing in case a beast bolts.
9:40am Two impatient heifers drift from the herd. You walk your horse towards them and turn them back. An older cow tries the same thing further away. You’re not sure whether to leave your post, but no-one else is pursuing her. Asking your horse to spring into a trot, you return her then dash back before any other animals try to break.
10:00am The head stockman signals it is time to move. He appoints riders to their positions, placing you on the right wing. The cattle lumber along, well rehearsed at following horses. They spread out in a long line, the bulls pushing aside the steers to be near the cows.
10:15am A young bull breaks out in front of you and escapes. You take chase, dodging prickly bushes and jumping washouts. You duck to avoid knocking your head on low branches. Spider webs cling to your face and arms. Your horse reaches a clearing and overtakes the fleeing bullock who tries to dodge past. He is no competition for the experienced stockhorse spinning on strong haunches and barging with his shoulder. The beast is returned.
11:00am The helicopter continues to add cattle to the now three thousand strong herd. Both you and your horse are dripping in sweat from chasing runaways.
12:10pm The cattle turn along a fence-line, making it easier to guide them. You are repositioned on the tail of the herd to chivvy up the slower beasts. The easier work gives your horse a chance to relax.
1:20pm The herd reaches a waterhole. The head stockman signals for a rest. Still mounted, you tuck in to corned beef sandwiches with pickles. You let your horse graze while the cattle lay down and chew the cud.
2:20pm Time to move on. The cattle rise and plod along after the lead horses.
2:45pm You radio the support vehicle to collect a new-born calf that can’t keep up. You take the opportunity to refill your water bottles from the cooler on the ute, still in the saddle.
4:40pm The cattle approach the yards. The helicopter swoops low to ensure they don’t stop at the gates. Your horse pushes the stragglers up, keen to finish the day’s work. You’ve been in the saddle for over nine hours.
5:15pm You leave your horse to stand, with saddle, to ease his back. After untacking, you wash him down and check again for sores. He tucks into his grain while you feed the poddy (hand-reared) calves. The horses are turned loose.
6:30pm Time for a shower and a cool drink, ready for when the dinner gong sounds the end of a successful day’s muster.