Host: De Grey Station
Written by Mark Bettini, Owner – De Grey Station
Mustering pilots get to see many funny things – bike riders are always good for a laugh. When they stack it they quickly look around to see if anyone saw them. Once you have determined if the rider is ok I think it’s fair game to say something to make sure the rest of the crew knows and has a bit of a laugh at their expense. Something like “Are you a bit tired down there? lying down on the job?” That way we all have something to talk about that evening as we recall the day.
It can also get pretty dangerous flying when you are busy laughing at the misfortune of someone else. Not so much if you are an experienced pilot, as muscle memory and instinct takes over. However, if you are a rookie pilot you have to be really careful. The following is the best example I have found.
It was in 2007 that I embarked on one of my first musters as pilot in command of a helicopter. We were mustering Coongan Junction paddock, east of the Mulyie homestead, where the Degrey and Coongan rivers meet. This is not an easy paddock to muster – it’s full of silver wattle, tea tree, cadjebut and rubber bush. Due to its size and my inexperience we called in another chopper to help. The junction is a holding paddock for sale cattle and due to the challenging vegetation was home to quite a few rogue cattle which knew the game and frequently crawled through the boundary to our place and back depending on who was mustering. They were pretty good at hiding and sometimes you were so busy moving other cattle you would be lucky to see them.
So out we flew, myself and the other chopper (Pip fro RR aviation) along with my father John in a fixed wing Cessna 172. There was a horse crew and a few motorbikes, one of which was Bob.
Bob and his partner Cass were caretakers at the Mulyie homestead. He was a colourful character with a quick turn of wit, always on the ready to poke fun and have fun at everyone else’s expense… which he had turned into an art form. Bob was known by the locals as “Proper Grumpy”. Those of us who knew him well, knew his bark was worse than his bite.
I called him “Bushman Bob” as his inbuilt compass was faulty – he was always getting lost on the muster and taking the cattle the wrong way which is funny enough. That said, Bob had a heart of gold and would step up when needed and tried his heart out.
So this fine day I decided to take Bob out with me to the boundary and work back from the Coongan river to the 6 mile windmill. There weren’t many cattle up our end as most of the water was back towards the Degrey.
Despite that, I saw a few mobs and noticed that in one of these was a rather large bullock. I had a good look to memorise him so I could keep an eye out during the day. He was about 5yr old, 700kg, a Droughtmaster-cross with downturned horns, a white tag, red in colour with a small white dot on his forehead.
I worked these few mobs towards 6 mile and even though it was my first muster I didn’t find it that hard. The cattle were moving ahead and all I had to do was keep them in front of me and fly safely. An easterly wind had come in which did make things a bit harder, still I thought my flying skill quite adequate.
As we approached 6 mile I looked ahead and saw the mobs had come together and that they were entering the long silver wattle thicket by the mill. You could tell where the cattle were not by seeing them, but by the fact that as they moved the trees parted and waved as the mob crashed through.
Bob was following along, he wasn’t the fastest rider and knowing his innate sense for being at the wrong place at the right time I kept a close eye on him so he didn’t get too close to the bullock. I just wanted his noise to be behind the cattle to keep them moving when I was elsewhere.
I saw the mob break from the scrub heading north towards the gate near the mill and got a bit closer. Hmm…. no bullock… he must have pulled up in that thicket! I got down a bit closer to the ground in my search and sure enough the sun glinting off his horns gave him away.
I approached cautiously and a little erratically (as a rookie pilot does) and came to a hover above the wattle scrub just upstream of him and began to try to move him. The bullock shook his head at the chopper and I new it was time to call in Bob. So on instruction Bob came closer to the bullocks’ position and threw a stick at him to try and get him to move. The bullock saw the bike, got to his feet shook his head and galloped off downstream.
We continued further down the thicket looking for the bullock should he have laid down again. Bob mentioned he had to go to the loo. This was a pretty common occurrence for Bob as he suffered from a bowel complaint toilet breaks were frequent. There was always a rather large “dunny roll” clipped to the carry rack of his bike. After acknowledging this with the standard “Roger” I took note of where Bob was and made a mental note to stay away.
I had 20 minutes left of flying time before refuel so I started to plan for a good spot where I could get Bob to pull up so he could keep an eye for cattle running back to the south. I called to the other chopper and plane to let them know. Then all of a sudden I see the same bullock crashing his way upstream in the wattle running the wrong way. I descended and tried to get him to stop and turn around but he had that head up, straight line look about him. He wanted to run.
As I’d spent most of my mustering career riding motorbikes and horses I tried the only thing I knew and that was to try to bend him slowly as this bullock had everything his way a rookie pilot and a big long thicket with no ground crew.
So I flew low to his left and tried to make it his idea to turn the way I wanted, out of the thicket where I could have more effect on him.
To my surprise this worked and I got him to run out to the south-west onto some open flats. I continued to get a little closer while struggling to control the chopper and slowly turned him through the compass
West, north-west, then back to the north. It took a few minutes to do this circle and eventually I had him heading the right direction. I backed right off so he thought he was getting away. I hoped he’d join other cattle and settle down as the muster progressed.
As I got higher I saw the sun glinting off Bob’s bike about 400 meters ahead near a big Canjie bush. Bob had been out of contact and hadn’t moved so I knew he must be in the middle of some important paperwork (still wiping his arse!)
I radioed my dad in the plane and told him I had the bullock heading the right way but I would have to leave for fuel shortly. He radioed back to say he was coming to take over.
So up till now things are going ok, the bullock was trotting along, going the way I wanted. I looked at where Bob’s bike was, which was sort of smack bang where I wanted to take the bullock to keep him out of the thick wattle scrub. We were getting closer to Bob and I didn’t want Bob on the wrong side of the bullock so I started to fly on the west side of the bullock to bring him east, away from Bob’s position.
100 meters: now the bullock is twitching his head one way then the other assessing his options. I could tell he was getting hot and was angry. He was heading in a direction that would take him away from Bob and then…
I can understand why Bob stood up from his squatting position and shuffled over behind the tree but he could not have picked a worse time. The bullock happened to see the movement and thought, there’s an easy target! So from 100 meters out he was straight lining towards Bob.
I thought, “No! Surely not!” I chuckled a little at the thought.
75 meters: I kept out wide.
50 meters: “Come one bullock, turn away!” Things were getting close now. I really didn’t want that bullock getting any more upset and I didn’t want to fly Bob back to the homestead after being run over by a bullock while taking a crap! I came down close to the bullock and tried to wheel him away to the east, blowing as much dust, leaves and spinifex at him as I could.
That had no effect and he trotted right up to that tree where Bob was doing his business. This is where the flying got really difficult. Trying to hover over out of ground effect while in raucous fits of laughter is no mean feat. They don’t prepare you for that during flight training!
Bob stood to attention. His strides still around his ankles. Hairy legs and pale butt for all to see. This strange human with his strides down was a red rag for that bullock and in a fit of bovine rage came right up to Bob who was shuffling from side to side around the tree as the bullock was trying to get to him. Bob’s strides were acting like hobbles yet somehow Bob managed to avoid him all the while I was hovering above the both of them trying to give some sort of protection to Bob while dusting the hell out of both Bob and the bullock. I could barely breathe in laughter.
The bullock eventually had enough of chasing Bob around the tree. He decided that Bob’s motorbike, just 5 meters away was a better target. He charged at it, sent it flying, then dashed off into the scrub still going the right direction.
So I flew away (laughing), from Bob and his tree, climbed to about 150 feet where it might have been a little safer to fly. After about a minute I get a radio call from my dad in the plane but he could only manage about three words before he burst into laughter and then it silence on the radio again. After about another 30 seconds he came back on the radio and said something like “Did you mean to do that?” his words trailed by laughter. I realised he had seen the whole thing.
I looked up and saw the plane flying erratically. Dad was in a fit of uncontrollable laughter and calling on all his 25 years of flying to keep airborne. The rest of the crew began to ask questions and Dad and I started to explain and together we all enjoyed Bob’s adventure!
I then radioed Bob to see if he was not too traumatised by the ordeal. He replied, while laughing, “You prick! You’ve blown all me toilet paper away.”
And that was it we were again laughing the type of laughing that gives you tears and sore gut muscles.
We never did get that bullock to the yards that day. He chose to run back upstream again and this time he wouldn’t bend. I asked Bob to let him go. Bob didn’t hear the call. The bullock got his revenge on Bob for flashing him by knocking him off his bike. I didn’t get to see that one.
When we got home that night it was all we could talk about. Bob with his good humour saw the funny side. In his quick wit he congratulated me for Being such a good pilot to almost fly a bullock up his arse. In the coming years Bob was sure to warn all the new crew members about it “Be careful when you tell him your going to the loo. If you’re not watching, he’ll fly a bullock up your arse”
As for the bullock, we did catch up with him a few years later and he was sent south on a truck destined for slaughter he was rather grumpy.
So whenever someone is talking about funny things that happen on musters and the story of Bob and the bullock comes up it still gets us all laughing to the point of tears. One of, if not the funniest things I’ve seen mustering. I hope you get a good laugh out of it. The same goes to you Bushman Bob!
An example of a big bullock – not the one from this story though!
Mark, with another bullock.
Mustering on De Grey.