Host: Kalyeeda Station
Written by Hugo Rikard-Bell – Stock Camp, Kalyeeda Station.
Note from Kalyeeda Station’s blog co-ordinator:
“One of the most exciting musters in the Kalyeeda calendar is the River Paddock muster. As the name suggests this paddock borders onto the river and consequently after a big wet season (like last year) the fences can be washed away. This means we can get a lot of feral ‘cleanskin’ cattle mixed in with our mobs. These cattle can be fully mature and have never seen a person, car, or horse before, making them stressed and angry.
In most situations having a few of these animals in a domesticated mob is not too much of an issue. The relaxed attitude of the rest of the cattle acts to calm the cleanskins and they will happily walk in with their mates and cause no dramas. Unfortunately some will not settle. They tend to be the young bulls. It’s a bit like having a meth addict rock up at a party when everyone else is a little bit drunk and emotions are high anyway. They are a catalyst to set off everyone around them. They tend to run around looking to cause fights everywhere and unsettle the whole mob. Worse – they often have a fair set of pointy horns and injure other cattle. This is not to mention the huge risk they cause to horses and bikes. They are simply too dangerous to have in the mob.
For this reason we use the ‘bull-catcher’ – a modified, armoured landcrusier with barwork and tyres on the front that can be used to pin down an overly aggressive animal while a brave ringer jumps out and straps his legs together preventing him from getting up and attacking – or from running away to cause chaos another day. We will then go and fetch a specially modified truck for the bull to be loaded onto to get them to the yards without compromising the rest of the mob.
An old picture of a bull held down by the barwork of the catcher and ready to be strapped by this brave ringer.
This is not a 100% fail-safe system unfortunately. Bulls are strong at the best of times – even more so when pissed off and have been known to get up and gallop and hook even while strapped. They need supervision. This generally involves a quick, strong individual literally sitting on the bull to stop them from getting up . . .
I have to say I have heard this story from a couple of different sources. When it was originally recounted to me our head stockman described asking Hugo to mind a bull he had strapped that had been causing chaos in the mob and attempting to gore the horses.
It was a sappy mickey bull – not overly huge but as the saying goes ‘young, dumb, and full of . . . attitude.’ 300kg at most – admittedly with a fairly pointy set of horns. Hugo tells the tale a bit differently and no one has managed to get any photos to prove or disprove the story so we will let Hugo have his way.”
“Righto Hugo, as soon as I reverse the catcher you dive on his back legs and hold him down.”
It’s a cool June morning on Kalyeeda Station and the sun is rising over the St. George Ranges. I’m staring down at the 600-700kg clean skin bull with a nice set of ivory hanging out of his head. He has just finished his second attempt to flip the old bull catcher – a modified 40 series Toyota Land Cruiser. I make a quick mental note that three pieces of toast for breakfast was probably over doing it.
“So yeah Hamish is going to help hold him as well isn’t he?” I say, attempting to project an impression of cool, calm, and collectedness. The attempt proved futile as I awkwardly shouted in a hoarse voice, my tone laced with desperation.
“Nah – Hamish is driving me over to the truck.”
Hamish the young, fresh faced hopper from the Hunter Valley, NSW was safely sitting in the catcher picking a scab on his hand and apparently oblivious to what was just instructed of me.
When I tell this story to any girl I meet I say, “I had a moment to mentally prepare myself.” However in truth for the entirety of my ‘moment of mental preparation’ I was in an internal argument with my bowls who wanted to add their scent to the already rank bovine odour that was emitting off the big mickey who was still chilling out under the catcher’s bull bar.
“You’ll be right . . . if he kicks you off just dive on his flank.”
“If he throws you off the flank don’t let go of that tail.”
“If you let go of the tail, run like heck (he didn’t say heck) for that tree.”
I turn to look at the ‘tree’ James Camp, the thick set head stockman – who is also Peter Camp’s son and therefore far more qualified to do this job than any of us – is pointing at.
It was a wattle bush.
Twenty metres away.
It was about then that I confirmed that three pieces of toast was an overly-confident and audacious choice of breakfast.
Hamish had now finished picking his scab and tuned in to our conversation. His look mirrored my feelings. The colour had drained from his face and his eyes resembled dinner plates until he realised he wasn’t leaving the catcher so he relaxed and started rolling a smoke.
With one final good luck (which felt more like a good-bye) James reversed the catcher and I dove onto the legs, wrenching them up and holding on with all my strength. He and Hamish headed away to the truck and all of a sudden it was just me, the bull, and silence. Apart from the sound of a branch snapping off my ‘safety’ tree after what must have been a particularly heavy brown finch had landed on it.
After the first two minutes, I started to feel like this wasn’t that bad. That feeling though was abruptly revoked as he kicked me off himself. He proper booted me – kinda like NSW seem to boot away State of Origin wins. Honestly, they had it and they lost it. With six minutes to go. I thought it was unbelievable ‘til now.
I did what James commanded of me and dove onto the flank with his tail still wrapped around my hand. I pulled up his legs and regathered my comfortable seat on his arse. As I was lounging on the prime grass fed, Fitzroy River bred rump I had about eight minutes to wait until James returned with the truck and Hamish with the catcher.
A few thoughts had started to bubble through my head. For example; “Why the heck (didn’t say heck) are my sleeves rolled down? I’m sweating like a fat fella after a feed.” And “Darn (didn’t say darn) my hat is tight. Way too tight. Tighter than a nun’s . . . (what rhymes with) hat.” And “I should be a better son. Tell my mum I love her more.”
After what felt like 12 years in a Balinese prison, James and Hamish casually rolled in and started to set up the truck ready to drag the big fella on. James then looped the chain around his horns, gained tension on the winch cable, and instructed me to hold the bulls tail until he was up the slide ramp and into the stock crate.
He was finally unstrapped and loaded with no major dramas when James came over wearing a big grin and patted me on the back.
“You did well mate, he was a bit pissed off. You know dad threw his first bull when he was 14? Anyway, we’ll have plenty more of those fellas to do the next muster.”
To be honest I was still on a bit of an adrenaline high as I watched James bound back to the truck leaving me with the keys to the catcher. Whilst driving the catcher back to the yards I was lighting my third champion ruby when it dawned on me that when I was 14 I was playing rugby and trying to work out how to delete my internet history.
It’s probably fair to say that Peter and I had different childhoods.
Me in the catcher – a bigger man for my experience.