Fortunately this didn’t work out quite as hard as we thought it would be for 2 reasons. Firstly we managed to find most of the cattle reasonably easily and they came without too much trouble. They are trained to the dogs and horses when they are young, moved around just to become used to it. Secondly we lost a horse so there was one less mount than riders. A gate was inadvertently left open the night before we were due to start so the working horse decided to explore new pastures and not come back nor be found. Consequently, on that first morning we offered to do half a day each, sharing our horse, as we thought we may struggle with the intensity of the riding.
So my first job was to bid farewell to Roger and the others as they set off with the dogs and sat in the shade of the Koolibar tree with my book. I was entertained by some beautiful blue kingfisher type birds with bright orange undersides to their wings, dipping and diving, possibly in a mating ritual, but flashing brilliant colours in the reflected sunshine. I was ‘serenaded’ by the indigenous kookaburra, now that we know what that is. We had become aware of the sounds in the trees resembling a group of monkeys ooh, ooh, ooh, ahhing to an ever increasing crescendo. At Bodalla we asked Rob what this ‘monkey bird’ was as we had managed to confirm that there were none of the aforementioned primates in the vicinity, only birds. He was rather surprised and amused at our ignorance of this Aussie icon as he explained it being a kookaburra and even after our description couldn’t hear the resemblance. We were reprieved by our compatriots thinking exactly the same as us before we enlightened them with our new found knowledge. It may sound a little bit like the laughter of a ‘merry merry king of the bush’ but he must be slightly hysterical or even maniacal.
At lunchtime on this first day Roger and I swapped our, at that stage nameless, mount who transpired to be called Bungey. He was an excellent horse, a fast walker which is very important and a real worker. This was fine apart from the fact that he could have been somewhere between 18 and 20 years old. I had been told not to take him up into the high country but thought that the slopes he negotiated, amazingly steadily all things considered, were too steep for him but I was apparently being too soft. We were trawling steep hillsides which were cut with even steeper gullies which we descended and ascended with increasing regularity, sometimes not even being able to see any ground ahead of us as horse and rider plummeted down the slopes before jumping across the ditch at the bottom and leaping up the seemingly vertical wall on the other side. I quickly realised that the best tactic was to let him do what he’s good at and just make sure I stayed on. I’m quite proud to say that I didn’t even need to use the sh*t strap, so called as its requirement is usually when one is thinking ‘oh sh*t’! Obviously though these were not really photo opportunities for a rider of my standard but I did just manage this one on an easier gully.
Poor Bungey was given a reprieve the following day and Dallas had remained elusive. Ray’s daughter wasn’t joining us so we were still one horse down and guess who dipped out again as I had wanted to ride all day this time. I wasn’t too pleased at this as there were at least 2 other people, both complaining of aches and pains, who could have taken a turn to sit out but declined, so I missed the next morning’s ride. Fortunately Jamie went off with Ray to take the weaners in the truck back to his paddocks so we were back to the same number of riders as horses in the afternoon. I rode Quantum Leap who I should have ridden in the first place before it was determined that Shauna wasn’t quite as accomplished rider as she claimed to be. They were both experienced English style and arena riders but this wild/rough riding on stock horses was a very different method which Jamie has picked up quite quickly even if his cattle experience does only extend to 3 days unlike my 7 months! but that’s another story!
The cattle had to be sorted in the yards which Roger had done at Bodalla and in Canada last year but was new to Jamie however the 2 of them did seem to be able to take on a calf successfully! There was also a tiny calf who was struggling to feed as all 4 of mum’s teets had prolapsed and each was about the size of an udder, dangling rather close to the ground. The poor little mite couldn’t get low enough and certainly didn’t have a large enough mouth to latch on independently. This difficulty was compounded by the flap of loose skin these Brahman breeds have hanging from their necks, to aid heat loss, which is at the wrong end but suckling babies don’t seem to be able to differentiate back from front initially!
3 days of riding, mustering, searching and driving were interspersed with the yard work so we are quite relieved to find ourselves remarkably unscathed, if just a little saddle sore. We had a super time on the last day when we spent nearly 4 hours checking a paddock where there may have been some elusive cattle hiding out. We didn’t find them but enjoyed the ride, particularly when we were sent off on our own to check 2 fence lines. On return from that we went straight out into another smaller paddock and collected 172 (I had to count them in the sorting) head, not including calves, from that and an adjoining paddock before finally stopping for a break and well needed water. Roger has been lucky enough to enjoy a few canters on his new, fairly inexperienced mount, Star, and now has another equine shape engraved in his heart. In tyring to keep the cattle fairly calm and steady one does have to keep the speed down. Chasing after them just makes them run away faster and the terrain is so rough that a horse tripping at speed could result in fairly nasty injury so the opportunities to canter are few but grabbed when possible.
After more sorting and worming we drove 75 of them back down the lane into yet another paddock to join the 8 bulls which we had brought in the previous day. John’s only precaution with these huge beasts was to get the hell out of there if 2 bulls were sizing up for a fight. Fortunately we didn’t have to take this evasive action but were on our guard anyway. I had taken over the herding of a cow and calf from Ray as he would be more useful elsewhere. This particular pair were rather slow as the the little one had been attacked by dingos, not uncommon unfortunately just more rare that he survived. However he had a big abscess on the side of his hip and a chunk out of the top of his rump. We were heading up slowly, quite well behind the main herd when they all turned to charge us down, or so it seemed. What was actually happening was that the dogs were keeping them in a group whilst others joined them. As the cattle wont stand still in these circumstances the dogs keep them moving back and forth as a complete mass. This was a little disconcerting as I watched over a hundred head running straight towards us, quite spread out so there was no way I could evade them at either end so decided to stand side on (bigger area) and hope that Quantum stayed still. Fortunately she is an old hand and never flinched a muscle despite my probable tension. Anyway my charges were swept into the mele and were only disgorged at the end of the day when babe became separated from mum and had to be taken to the rest of the herd by transport, having his abscess lanced with a penknife (causing Shauna to vomit!) before being released for mum to lick clean. We aren’t going to think about what will happen to the little girl whose mum has the swollen teets 🙁