The Stock Routes by Mulga Pete

Painting By Max Mannix: “Stockmen Three”

The Stock Routes
by Mulga Pete

Overland, following the creeks, now dry, blistered and cracked. Trying to find the water at the next well. The stock routes are rigid, surveyed and numbered, but that doesn’t make the path any easier to travel. It’s 47°C in January West of Quilpie. The hot desert sun, with nothing for shade but your hat. The drover’s horse and his beasts lifting dust.

If you deviate from the stock routes over rock, dirt and red dust, the heat will take you down and the dust will cover you up. Like Burke and Wills, your future is certain, an expedition will be sent to find you if they can. Without water, your fate is sealed, nothing lives out here without water. We should get 15″ per year, we must have missed our issue a couple of times.

We pass sapling of Mulga, the desserts hardy tree, it’s rooted deep into the ground to survive the 40°C+ above. The Aborigines use this bush tree to make tools and weapons, a bunch of clever buggers to survive out here in this bush. A wooden shanty on the bank from a time when there was water. What I would do for some water now.

One more day to the Bulloo River with a water hole or two getting close. I was 16 when I left home and went droving in South West Queensland. Our only mode of travel was on horseback and usually leading a packhorse. There were three of us and the cook, (who had to look after the corned beef and damper as well as the plant horses.) We were responsible for the herd. We would pickup 600 to a 1000 fats from Mt Margaret, Eromanga and drive them to the rail head in Quilpie. From there they would travel to Tancred Bros Meat works in Beaudesert.

You don’t move at a fast pace with that many animals. Through the night we did shifts of two hours and forty minutes each. I had what we called the “pee and poo” watch around midnight. It wasn’t too bad because once the cattle bedded down for the night they didn’t move, which meant that I could doze on the back of my horse, and I think the horse slept as well. The station ran 6000 head of cattle and 80,000 sheep.

At tucker time we would sit around the fire, talk, eat and then sleep. Some of the stories they would tell. If I complained about the heat or how dry it was, the old buggers would always come back with “Nothing like the drought of 1904”!