Farming was an important part of the settlement of Australia. The early pioneers saw a vast and empty land that they believed belonged to no one and was ripe for farming. But the land and climate was vastly different to their European farms and a new type of farming was required. So in the outback large acreage were needed to support livestock and so grew the empires of outback cattle stations, thousands of square kilometres in area, with the nearest neighbour being hundreds of kilometres away. Anna Creek station in South Australia is the world’s largest working cattle station. It is roughly 24,000 square kilometres (5,900,000 acres)
These cattle had to be taken to market, which was also thousands of miles away and in the 1800’s the only way to get there was to walk. So evolved a tough breed of man, the drover.
This double life-size statue pays tribute to the a drover as he moves from job to job with only his saddle bags, containing all his possessions. It is in Newcastle Waters in the heart of the outback, it has a rich, vibrant history as a gathering place for drovers on their gruelling overland cattle drives. It is at the junction of three major overland stock routes, and was an important source of provisions and a place to rest before drovers continued on their way as they took huge mobs of cattle along the droving trails.
It also had a reliable source of water and many birds pass through on their migrations.
It grew as a major township with a pub and store.
Now it is a ghost town.
The basic corrugated iron shacks that a family once called home are now deserted, the few meagre possessions left. Rough hewn wooden shelves draped with gingham to bring a scrap of colour. The large kettle on the wood burner stove. How hot it must’ve been in summer cooking on that stove with the sun beating down relentlessly. In winter the wind would howl and find every gap and crack to bring the bitter cold inside.
Aborigines had long played a big part in the cattle industry where they were competent stockmen on the cattle stations of the north. In 1950 it was legislated that the Aboriginal workers were now to be paid cash wages. Previously they had worked for their keep and their mob/family had been allowed to live on the station and provided with food. With the advent of railway and roads crossing the outback the cattle were moved by road trains and droving became a dying occupation.
In 1988 the bicentennial of Australia a grand plan was made to recreate the droving years with “The Last Great Cattle Drive”
On the border of Queensland and the Northern Territory is a small township called Camooweal. It was there that we found the Drover’s Shed. A large corrugated barn that has been dedicated as a museum to the drover and his life style. Here the droving era of Australia is being preserved for future generations and recognizes the contribution of drovers to the development of the nation’s cattle industry.
We had the pleasure of meeting the legendary Pic Willetts. Then took a tour around the shed with a retired drover who explained how tough the life was and had many stories of his time with the mobs of cattle.
A project is also underway to create portraits of the remaining drovers and collect their stories.
What is more iconic of the past than this sweat stained and battered Akubra hat.