The Battle of Balaclava – ringer style

Host: Kadaitcha Pastoral Company
Written by James Christian

Though they are clearly worlds apart, there are faint parallels that can be drawn between mustering wild animals on horseback or motorbike, and the Charge of the Light Brigade as immortalised by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, in his poem of the same name.

It was during the Battle of Balaclava, in the Crimean War, that a breakdown in communication occurred between ambitious British officers who had a bitter rivalry between them. The Brits were commanded by General Somerset, 1stBaron Raglan, a decorated soldier who lost his arm in the Battle of Waterloo, and who was perched up on a ridge that overlooked the valley below. The cavalry was under the eye of Lieutenant General Bingham, Lord Lucan, and was made up of a brigade each of heavy (armoured and slow) and light (unarmoured and fast) cavalry. Bingham’s brother-in-law, Major General Brudenell, Earl of Cardigan, ran the light brigade.

Lucan and Cardigan did not see eye-to-eye.

To cut a long story short, Raglan gave an ambiguous order to Lucan for the cavalry to do a job. Lucan took his time doing it, and the game changed. Consequently, from his vantage point, Raglan could see the Turks lost control of some little forts on the side of the valley, and the Russian enemy forces were about to pinch the British guns the Turks had borrowed. So, Raglan gave another order, and dispatched Captain Nolan to hand the order to Lucan. Nolan was a fantastic rider, considered himself to be the next big thing when it came to battle tactics, and didn’t think Lucan or Cardigan were much chop.

Nolan took it upon himself to change Raglan’s message in the order because he thought he was the best thing before sliced bread, and he completely misdirected the traffic. Instead of the cavalry riding to ensure the Ruskies didn’t make off with the captured British guns as originally ordered, Nolan told Lucan to attack and capture the Russian guns at the far end of the valley. He’d looked at the scene from on high, but he hadn’t seen the point. Ego clouded his vision.

Lucan subsequently ordered Cardigan and his light brigade to charge at the Russians, and didn’t dispatch the heavy cavalry to help. This could be because Cardigan made the fact he didn’t like Lucan marrying his sister very public very often. Payback is a bitch.

So, “Into the valley of Death, Rode the six hundred.” Nolan overtook Cardigan during the charge – either because he was showboating or because he realised his mistake and was trying to head off the charge, – and was killed by cannon fire. It was a completely futile exercise, having unarmoured horses galloping at cannons, and is firmly ensconced in history as a complete and utter disaster that could have been avoided if egos were removed and communication was better.

It’s not completely different to pastoral life, really.

The station manager gives an order: “Catch the feral cattle hiding in the scrub. Coax the bastards out, and bring them home.”

“Ahh roger rogerrrr,” say the crew, nervously contemplating horns in the guts, the baking sun, chafe, and being thrown into prickle bush, as they get going with the task.

The panel yard gets built. The hessian goes up. The helicopter takes to the sky and starts putting the mob together. The cook starts preparing a sumptuous dinner for the weary workers.

The manager sits back in the airconditioned office, filling out paperwork and dreaming up the next scheme. The pilot watches things unfold. Horses, bikes and buggies manoeuvre themselves into position. The pilot barks orders at the ground peasants; the horses, bikes and buggies bark at the cattle. All is normal.

The mob progresses towards the yards, and the manager would be pleased, because things are going as was expected. Naturally, though, something goes wrong. The leading hand in the buggy doesn’t see the sharp stick dropped on the path by the ringer with the ten gallon hat, who’s had enough of the campfire heroics from the man with the pay book. The heavy cavalry has stalled. A bull shaped like a D10 with horns like Captain Cook’s anchor gets away, and others in the mob turn their heads and trot. The radios go flat, and there’s no water left in the camel packs.

“Wheel them back!” screams the leading hand into his dead radio. An ambitious young ringer, sick of the pissing contest between his superiors, hoons across the flat on his back wheel, rollie hanging out of the corner of his mouth. He disappears into the scrub in pursuit of the four-legged wrecking ball and his bad-mannered mates.

The youngster eventually catches the bull, who’s pulled up for a breath behind a tree. He resists the initial attempts to be dug out – pressure, revving, dirt squirting, circle work, rocks – so the ringer takes things a step further. In his pocket is the last set of fireworks he’s got left over from Territory Day (that great celebration of freedom to do what you want with your money; where hungry, cold people willingly watch their money go up in smoke). He was going to jam it between the stock camp’s pissing contestants later that evening to put the frights into them, but has found a great new use. “I’ll get you, you bastard,” he says through gritted teeth. “Smoke them out, or piss off home. Can and will do.

He aims the fireworks roughly at the bull, and straps them to his handlebars with a bit of duct tape. The helicopter flies overhead, sees what’s going on, and chuckles to himself. “Ringers. Can’t live with ‘em…

The ringer lights the fuse. The bull moves. The ringer repositions, but as he’s shifting he doesn’t notice the tree branch that adjusts the firework tubes. Instead of shooting rockets at the bull he sends them straight into the hull of the chopper.

Luckily the radios were flat and nobody heard the stream of abuse.

The bull moved, though.

**Please note that this is a fictional tale and is not representative of mustering practices in Australia***