Queensland: City slicker drovers come to town

By Tony Bartlett

The annual Harry Redford Cattle Drive across the open plains around Aramac began a decade ago and is now universally recognised as one of the greatest authentic experiences available in Australia.

The Queensland outback, the backdrop for the Harry Redford Cattle Drive. Photo / Thinkstock
The Queensland outback, the backdrop for the Harry Redford Cattle Drive. Photo / Thinkstock

It's amazing how 20 or more sore arses can unite a widely diverse collection of city slickers in the middle of outback Queensland.

We were from all over Australia, with one couple from Denmark and, like Banjo Paterson's Clancy, we had "gone to Queensland droving" - on horseback - with around 600 head of cattle.

The Harry Redford Cattle Drive caters for about 20 guest drovers each day and runs at capacity every year.

Those hoping to participate have found it wise to sign up well in advance; bookings for the 2013 drive are now open, and Barcaldine Regional Council has already filled 69 places.

Booking now for the 2014 drive wouldn't be a bad idea.

It's not hard to see why the experience is so popular.

It's a romantic image; spending your days behind the softly lowing cattle, gathering around a blazing campfire each evening and sleeping in swags under the stars.

Lines from Banjo's poem resonated with more than one of us: "As the stock are slowly stringing, Clancy rides behind them singing, for the drover's life has pleasures that the townsfolk never know.''

The fact is, the reality of the journey far outstrips the expectations people have when they arrive.

That's why so many return time and time again, to renew old friendships, tell more bad jokes and share tales about their exploits since the last drive.

While it is a tourist event, there's nothing artificial or contrived about it.

The Harry Redford is run by volunteers from the surrounding community, which benefits from the money raised.

Entire families combine with friends and neighbours to supply the cattle, and the horses, saddles, bridles and other gear essential for the drive.

Trucks haul the camp kitchens, food and water, with support vehicles backing up the saddle-sore guest drovers.

It's a huge and costly enterprise for a small community, done with a spirit of generosity and care.

And that's the secret to its success.

It offers those fortunate enough to be able to take part a genuine opportunity to truly share, if only for a week or so, the lives of the people of the outback.

Each year there are usually a handful of foreign tourists on the drive, but the vast majority who retrace the path of cattle duffer Harry Redford, also known as Captain Starlight, are locals.

Some come to rekindle the lost spark of country life, others to discover it for the first time.

There are some who were born in the bush, hungry for a taste of the lives they left behind, while others are city-slickers keen for their first taste of "the real Australia''.

Their abilities range from barely competent to seasoned riders, and there are usually a few who have never been on a horse before, or within arm's reach of cattle.

But without exception, year after year they find a common bond, and carry away memories which will last forever.

Christine Cooney, Susan Callahan and Leanne Duvall, originally from Ballarat, are sisters and it was Leanne, who now lives on the Gold Coast, who suggested the trip.

Her husband wasn't interested so she rounded up her sisters.

"I was quite willing to go on my own but it's great they came,'' she said as the four of us chatted under the shade of an Ironbark tree at the end of the third day.

"The first day was a bit of a shock especially the heat, and the horses know you're a learner and take advantage of that.

"But every day gets better and I'm really enjoying it now and by the end I won't want to go home.

"It truly is just like being a drover - it's been wonderful.''

Susan, who said she's game to try anything, was finding the experience more challenging than expected.

"It's harder than I thought it would be, a bit out of my comfort zone, but I'm enjoying it more as each day goes on.

"It truly is an authentic Aussie experience - I thought they'd have a truck with showers and toilets and so on and I'm glad they don't - you get a real feeling for how the drovers have to live.''

Life in the saddle was also proving to be a bit of a shock for Christine.

"Sunday was a fairly big day riding, I was exhausted and I thought, 'Oh, we've got six more days of this','' she said.

"I thought we'd ride for two or three hours a day and then kick back like we are now. I've ridden a horse twice in my life and that was when I was 12 or 13 for half an hour.

"I love looking at them and it was a very different thing getting up close with them day after day, but I was kissing one this morning. Old Baldy got a few good kisses,'' she laughed.

The day our week-long leg of the drive ended in Aramac, we all gathered at the local pub; it was Friday night footy and the Brisbane Broncos were playing Manly.

The boys around Aramac love their rugby league, and without exception back the Broncos with a steely fanaticism.

Myself and one other guest drover, Emma, were the sole Sea Eagles supporters in the pub.

Manly won.

The fact that we got out alive spoke volumes for the good hearted nature of the locals.


Getting There
Fly there with Air New Zealand Book now

Find out more at Australia.com


- AAP

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_a2 at 21 Apr 2014 15:19:16 Processing Time: 1200ms