A Rodent’s Romp in the Rocky Region (The Ballad of Another Bloody Southerner) Part I

Host: Glenforrie Station
Written by Ratty White esq. – Station Hand, Glenforrie Brahmans.

Two weeks into my time at Glenflorrie and the body clock was behaving itself, waking me in the dark a few minutes before the opening riff of The Beards’ song “You Should Consider Kissing A Bearded Man” burst through the pre-dawn quiet. Best alarm tone ever.

I’d begun to appreciate a great many luxuries that May in the Central Wheatbelt (where I’d departed from) wouldn’t allow; namely getting around in my Kalannie Footy Club shorts and shearer’s singlet, whereas all my mates would be rugged up inside jumpers with collars up and beanies down through moist, cold nights, keeping the wandering lights of airseeders meandering back and forth in thousand acre paddocks with centimetre precision putting in another year’s crop.

While the weary night shift driver would be watching the thin halo of white on the horizon turn to orange and gold over knee deep mist blanketing freshly turned earth, I was crunching down the rocky track to the homestead through cool, dry air, head tilted back, looking at the starry sky slowly returning to bright porcelain blue, to the tune of a thousand birds heralding the new day. Until, that is, I got within canine radar of the house. The three heelers would start up with a salvo of guard-dog barks, and just when you’d reassured them that you were not, in fact, an intruder intent on the theft of anything but the coffee required to kick start the grey matter, then the eight, two month old kelpie pups would echo the warning from their pen on the other side of the sweeping lawns. Albeit they mustered a substantially less intimidating barrage than the heelers’; it struck amusement into the heart of the detected would-be trespasser rather than the fear that I think they were aiming for.

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With brekky done and the day’s plans discussed, we were dispersed in our duties covering yardwork processing cattle from the muster a couple days before, to determining the origins of leaky troughs, flat tyres on buggies, and a slack wire or two on the laneway fence. Pretty much all the general maintenance that happens plus a little bit extra excitement that comes with mustering time. But, first things first – you may enter the homestead yard to the yipping of pups and ignore it in the pursuit of caffeine, but you can’t walk back out again without letting them out for a gallop around the lawns.

It was quite funny to see just how distracted a handful of ‘adults’ could become in the presence of baby animals. You could watch the pups for hours, from the rough and tumble sibling fights complete with tiny grunts and growls and wrestling moves that perhaps lacked the intended finesse and execution, to the cuddles from the smallest ones who just wanted to curl up ever closer into your lap until they were half wrapped up in your shirt, always finding the most ticklish part of your torso to plant their cold wet nose on. The ensuing involuntary laugh for some reason incites excitement and vigour from the rest of the pups whose pack instincts kick into gear, so as the victim of the initial tickle, you soon find yourself covered in puppies, hanging from shirt buttons, boot loops, fingers and more painfully, beard hairs. You’d have to be a pretty sour soul to not be able to laugh in the company of these characterful, clumsy, weapons of mass distraction.

The pre-smoko task was to mark the calves that had come in with the muster, I was to keep the lead up race to the crush full of calves whose brown noses could be seen poking out between the rails of the race, trying to spot their mums in the next pen who, with bellies full of hay, were laying about in the warm morning sun, their sleek coats shining and stretched over well-conditioned bodies. The only cows that stirred were the couple ex-pets who would stand right next to thoroughfares and man gates, in the complete knowledge that workers needed to pass them by, but it provided the box seat for nabbing the odd chin scratch from an idle hand.

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The one way communication from the calves was at times near deafening; I can only imagine how loud it would’ve been for one of the other calves with their huge ears that they hadn’t quite grown into yet. For those uninitiated with Brahman calves, they’ve got the ear-to-noggin ratio of a mouse that’s successfully had banana leaves grafted to their skull.

The calves proved mostly easy to work, except one who was too busy inspecting a butterfly on the lower rails of the force pen to notice that all his mates had progressed into the race without him. He looked up, saw me, turned to his mates who were nowhere to be seen, panicked, and decided there should be a gate somewhere in the left fence of the force pen. He came stopping and starting excitedly down the fence, head bobbing searching for the invisible gate, snorting in frustration until he came to a dead end – me standing next to the fence near the end of the pen, palms out at his eye level to make a visual block.

In the calf’s mind, this tall predator with iridescent white legs, a brightly coloured body and barely a coat to speak of except on his face, was blocking his way out. Mustering all the adrenalin in his bovine body, he pinned back his banana leaf ears, lunged forward, and used all the power in his fortnight old spindly neck and legs, eyes tight shut as his tough, Elmer Fudd head connected with the legs of his enemy who cried out in . . . pain?

I tried not to laugh too hard lest I bruised the poor little chap’s ego, as he stood at my feet spasmodically and unsurely rubbing his head furiously against my shin, exhaling with gusto and rage, falling well short of the knee-crushing cranial attack he envisaged. I picked him up with an arm under his brisket and one under his belly, but he would not surrender yet! Instead of struggling or kicking, he instead drove his now-slobber-covered nose on my bare shoulder and began licking forcefully with his tongue as rough as a rasp, his head flailing maniacally as he sought to make good this last ditch effort at escape. I lost all control and struggled to walk, carry the calf, and laugh out loud all at once, until the little terror came to accept his fate (or his tongue ran out of juice, not sure), he looked around incredulously with wide eyes, astonished that he’d been vanquished despite his best brave efforts. Although when I placed him into the race, he bouncily trotted forward to his other mates, head held high and looking back over his shoulder as if to say “I’ve let you off lightly this time, human, next time I may not be so easy on you.”

Smoko at the yards is pleasant, though you do have to be on your guard not to lose pikelets, cakes, and biscuits to the circling pack of canines. All were watched over during smoko by Stroppy the bull who promptly presented himself on the first day of processing the cattle, to be counted, and then he waited at the gate leading out of the yards, subtly hinting that he did not need to remain with the commoners til he was let out to roam. Since then he’d been hanging around the yards, waiting out the day in the shade near the crush, chewing his cud when someone stopped to scratch behind his ear or under his huge gullet. He was a pretty tolerant soul, letting us put Mort’s hat and sunglasses on his hump for a photo, and wouldn’t get too excited if you tried to jump on his back. He spent the next few weeks around the house and workshop, making a cozy home between a pallet of mineral lick and the fencing ute in the shed.