The drovers [16 November 1926]

[Editor: An article about a train accident, some reminiscences of drovers’ work, and regarding cattle being transported by train. Published in The Federal Capital Pioneer Magazine (Canberra, ACT), 16 November 1926.]

The drovers.

By “Yarrum.”

“Possibly the first to be killed were two drovers. Poor chaps — they had been playing cards in the caboose at the end of the goods train, they were unrecognisable when picked up.” — Extract from description of the recent Murulla railway catastrophe.

* * * *

“In the caboose at the end of the goods train.” Whoever reported this item told it graphically. “Caboose” aptly conveys to the reader the rough vehicle the railway authorities provide for men who are in charge of stock. Unless sufficient stock are going forward to make up what is termed “a stock train” the trucks go forward in goods train, and provision is made in a rough hard seated, dim-lighted box carriage, termed by drovers “a caboose,” for those in charge of the stock. The city dweller will ask, Why have drovers when stock are going by train? The answer is that the careful drover saves thousands of pounds a year to stock owners.

The days have gone when a “swaggie,” down and out, wishing to get out of the back country into the city, could find out from the trucking yards who was the owner of the stock being forwarded, or which was the firm of agents, and apply for a job to look after the stock on the way, receiving a pass and the usual “twenty shillings for the trip.” In my time the pass was good for three days. But these “tourists” would not leave the caboose except to get refreshments, en route, at convenient stopping places; hence, the custom came to an end.

The genuine drover cares for his stock; a stay at sidings is arranged in order that the drovers may have sufficient time to look at every truck, and see if any stock are down, and, if they are, to get them on their feet. With sheep, this is an easy matter compared to getting cattle, or horses up, but patience and experience, and pluck, are the essentials in the work of a good drover. The old school of drovers took as much interest in the stock as though these were their own, and took a pride in their job. To be able to say, “I never lost a hoof” was to them the winning of the “D.C.M.” of stockcraft.

“Yarrum,” in his younger days when sheep were taking the place of cattle in the back country, had some rough experience of this. He knew what caboose travelling meant. The press report remarks, pathetically yet tragically, “two drovers poor fellows!” Simply drovers — they had been playing cards. Imagination helps one to think of them before the crash. They had, doubtless, tired of “swapping’’ bush yarns, and of recounting other stock trips. Trips to the Condamine, Cloncurry, Longreach, down the Barwon, or Namoi, to the Darling, on the Warrego or the Paroo, with the stirring night rushes of a strong mob of Queensland “Herefords,” in a mad gallop to head the leaders, over logs and brushwood under the glory of the everlasting stars.

Tired of yarning, one’s fancy leads us to think, suggests a game of cards — a pack is always in a drover’s baggage. All right, a game of euchre. The cards are dealt. They look at the hands, and, as each scans his cards, the dealer says to his mate: “What do you do?”

Another quick look at his hand, and he says, “I’ll go alone.”

Then crash! A ripping and smashing of timbers, and they both went — out!

The Federal Capital Pioneer Magazine (Canberra, ACT), 16 November 1926, p. 29

Editor’s notes:
D.C.M. = Distinguished Conduct Medal: a medal awarded for “distinguished, gallant and good conduct in the field” (the medal was awarded to soldiers below commissioned rank in the military forces of the British Commonwealth)

en route = (French) on the way

swaggie = swagman (also spelt “swaggy”): a roaming labourer who carries his personal belongings in a swag, or bundle, whilst traveling about in search of casual work; especially used to refer to itinerant labourers traveling around the country areas of Australia in the late 1800s to early 1900s

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