Part 2 – A Rodent’s Romp in the Rocky Region (The Ballad of Another Bloody Southerner)

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

2Droving copy

After smoko the cows and calves were shifted to the laneway, ready to walk out past the six mile bore to a paddock called Susan’s where they were going to be living for now. We left the cows to start wandering their own way up the lane for a couple hours, allowing them to mother up and get a graze on, enjoying mouthfuls of sweet buffel grass that was prolific on this side of the station. We busied ourselves with other jobs, one of which was to handle the weaners, getting them used to being worked through the yards and putting them out to feed after. For this particular task Aticia’s dogs took the lead, having faithfully remained within a few metres of her quadbike all morning, very aware that they were at the yards for a reason, and absolutely champing at the bit to do what they enjoy – playing the psychological game of mustering by eye.

This brilliant team of kelpies were a dream to watch even when things weren’t going exactly right. It was as graceful as a ballet at times, but more often resembled a fencing match where canine and bovine fleshed out their nerves, each trying to predict the other’s next move, where a meandering beast intent on breaking the mob would be delivered a swift and measured riposte. I was completely enchanted to watch two of the dogs, Diddy and Chrissie, lead a group of weaners through the yard, both dogs lying flat in the churned up earth, appearing to an onlooker like a brown mat with ears and eyes the only visible breaks in the ground, looking up at the inquisitive cattle who would be bearing down to the last centimetre until told to “get off”, to which they’d quickly up, retreat several meters and flatten themselves motionless against the ground again, like two brown magic carpets, holding the lead animals and measuring the advance of the mob as a whole, making the job of moving these unlearned youths through the yards so much neater and less stressful on the cattle, as they now had something to follow – these two strange brown things that appeared inanimate until the last second.

Mealtimes in the large homestead were very much a family affair, like most things were here. I’ve been very lucky to work for a number of very genuine family units around the place in my time and this was amongst the most loving. A reciprocal relationship between everyone existed where you’d give freely and receive the sincerest thanks in return, all the while enjoying banter and laughs over the dining room table, then over the dishes, which sometimes progressed then into tea towel whip fights. I enjoyed having a family for a change; for a long time I’d been living on my own a fair way from my own blood, and to be surrounded by people my own age allowed me to be mid twenties again for a little while, as well as having Susan be my mum for a bit! One thing was for sure – you could eat your fill and then some here, this was “The Feedlot” and my return to reserves footy is still pending as I try to shake what remains of the spare motorbike tyre I put on while I was at Glenflorrie (that’s one excuse anyway)!

After lunch we fuelled up two bikes and two buggies, Cookie (Jen the Kiwi) and Murray were on the bikes, Big Maxy Walker (Max the Russian-Israeli WWOOFFA) was in the white wagon code named “the Maxy Taxi”, and I was in Unit 91, the black petrol short wheel based cruiser, stripped back and barred up like some mechanical gigolo. We got behind the cows and calves we left in the laneway and began rousing them from their midday sunning, carefully keeping an eye out for calves that had pegged out a little hollow or a patch of tall grass as their bed while their mums grazed. With ears as large as theirs it was amazing to be able to park Unit 91 next to them, which by no stretch of the imagination was quiet, with its lack of exhaust pipe just popping a tiny backfire every now and then, and the sleeping calf still wouldn’t wake up, until you’d roused it with a hand on the shoulder and a “C’mon wee calfie, mumma’s gone that way”. They’d awake with the bleary eyes of a napping teenager, blink a couple times before realising that they were in the presence of a human, then up like a ninja and galloping towards the nearest cattle, bellowing for Mum.

With a bike in the lead and three of us bringing up the tail, we made a lazy cloud of dust as the mob padded steadily, cows stopping every few strides to gobble a hurried mouthful of buffel, calves trying to suckle on the move, gaining little sustenance but instead gaining some pretty mean milk moustaches, or otherwise becoming distracted by such mysterious as objects like shiny rocks, or little leaves rolling occasionally in the mild autumn breeze. Calves were a lot like white girls, they could be focussed and intent, as long as there was nothing pretty or sparkly around. They would inspect each of these little wonders in their new world with dark eyes, parasail ears, and wet brown nose aimed intently at the object of interest, and sometimes even a tongue would venture hesitantly from under their snoz, confusing the absolute living daylights out of them when the light dry leaf or blade of grass got stuck between the nostrils; they could smell it, they could feel it attached to their snout, but they couldn’t see it, causing a moment of panicked head shaking, snorting and then snout licking, which was a pretty hilarious reaction to watch. Like Yoda said, “much to learn, you still have.”

Once we got to the three mile bore, one fence of the laneway stopped, and our formation had to shift a little. Murray was still in the lead, Cookie and Max were still at the rear, but now I had the job of keeping the unfenced flank in order, which only became slightly worrying when the mob began to stretch as the leaders started to pace out now that they had some room to widen their front a bit, testing Murray where they thought they could. Also after 5 kilometres of trotting along, some of the calves were slowing down a little, and one or two were convinced that their mothers were left behind and were making slow progress for Big Maxy Walker at the back of the mob. Not heeding the noise of the engine, I told Big Max to start using his pipes a bit, he started with some “Oi! Oi!” Nothing much happened. “Try Russian mate” I yelled, he said he can’t do that (he speaks Russian at home, and Hebrew when with his mates).

“Well tell ‘em to get a boogie on in Hebrew Max!”

He jumped out of the Maxy Taxi, running at the errant calves, arms flailing and at the top of his lungs “WALLAH! WALLAHHHH!”

The calves didn’t cause any troubles after that!

We paused at the Six Mile bore to water the cattle and have a quick cuppa, then there was a river crossing into Susan’s paddock, and just a couple more kays to the water point. I loved the rivers here – lined at the bottom with deep crunchy drifts of smooth stones of every colour and complexion. The amount of money people pay for rocks like these in landscaping beggars belief, and here I was standing in a million tonnes of it.

“I wanted to pick up every stone, wring the soil from it with an abrasive, knurled hand to expose the beauty in every one. To hold in a dusty fist of callouses a volume of time, telling its stories in whorls and seams, in crystals of colour and size that defined a world before life.”

After crossing the river, I noticed one of the massive, white-barked gums that stood in the soft silty loams of the river bank had an interesting mark of the past. Almost large enough to stand in was a spiralling hollow that half encircled the leviathan main trunk, an injury that had grown with the tree which could have been a decades-old burnt branch or lightning strike scar. I loved how the bush remembered the past like this, and that there was so much more to the landscape than just a few trees and rocks.

A pretty uneventful walk into the water point at Susan’s ensued, and once we were satisfied that the cattle would remain at the water, we embarked for home, the sun not far off going down. I waited back ’til the dust settled before following the others, stopping to look at a pair of wild dog tracks that followed the road. They’d left their footprints on the tyre mark of a buggy that had come out earlier in the day to open gates ahead of our mob. The numbers of dogs around at the moment was a bit concerning, although we hadn’t had many dog-bitten calves come through the yards yet. I looked up at the ranges a couple of kilometres off, the red rocky earth they were made up of was turning to mauve and burgundy in the sunset light. They were sparsely vegetated and had large rock piles, crevices, and caves just below the plateaued summits; all perfect homes for wild dogs. I imagined that right now there’d be a large dog sitting just within the shadow of his cave, looking over the land as it was steadily enveloped in darkness, looking at me, a colourful little speck on the plain.

Standing in the middle of a wide valley like this made the isolation come to the fore when you were alone. Right at that very moment, I wasn’t within earshot or line of sight of another human being. Insignificance and a definite humility can be felt when you’re the only person in a landscape, because to the nature around you, you’re just another animal. Anything could happen to you and the only animals there that would even notice would be crows, eagles, and dingoes, for their own reasons of survival.

Through the profundity of this train of thought, I got back on the track and took stock of what I’d learnt in a couple short weeks. I’d taken on so much, thrown out a lot of imagery in my head of what I thought the Pilbara would look like, and found myself quite a new person. I tried and failed to remember what was on my mind before I left the Wheatbelt; and had the epiphany that my worries had actually, in fact, left me. Quite a cliche thing to come to the realisation of, but this holiday had very much been exactly what I needed, the springboard of clear headspace that I could take back home with me. I’d learnt too much to return to exactly how I was; I’d connected with a completely different way of life, and experienced a far wilder and natural ecosystem than what I was used to. All this helped me to shake shadows of the past and come to the conclusion that I shouldn’t just be a “not bad”person, but to be actively good and selfless just like this crew, family, and country had been to me.

And I still had two weeks more to enjoy it!