The trip to Australia in late March was courtesy of my brother
Bob. My sister Audrey lives Down Under and had gathered the clans
from three continents to celebrate the beautiful South Pacific
and Bobs 60th birthday.
Audrey booked three large condos on North Stradbroke Island off
the Queensland Coast and stocked them with food. Then 18 descendants
of Hadleys (some might say too many) assembled for a week on
the beach. Seeing my brother and sister and their families together
was a rare and lovely treat.
I wouldnt have missed that vacation for a free trip to Gstaad
with Tommy Lee Jones but there was something else I didnt want
to missthe bushso I took a detour to Longreach and the Stockmens
Hall of Fame. After 32 hours of travel from Reno, I escaped the
last plane in Longreach to 115 degrees and excessive humidity.
Its moister than usual, mate! a young Aussie chirped.
At the Hall, I learned about the droving days, bush squatters,
bullockies (teamsters), and notes left on bleached bones out on
the track. One was written in pencil on a horses skull and said,
A quiet nag who did no kicking, ridden to death by Tom McMicking.
Aboriginal drovers helped the new bushmen to find reliable sources
of water. When wood ran out dry cattle dung was used to boil the
billy for tea. Bullockies took arduous journeys across the outback.
Some food would go rotten but as long as the weevils were healthy,
the flour was considered still usable. Goods and supplies from
Sydney often didnt arrive for almost a year.
Shearers traveled hundreds of kilometers between sheep stations,
which started when the Australian colonies passed laws creating
pastoral leaseholds. Individuals could lease Crown lands for up
to 99 years to raise livestock. They paid rent for it, much like
a grazing lease on public lands in the American West, only for
longerand more reasonableperiods of time.
I practically staggered around the spectacular Hall then moved
into a motel and was about to pass out from fatigue when I got
a call from a local tour operator (who heard an American journalist
was in town).
Wed like you to go to a whip cracking show in Ilfracombe, a
Wheres that? I whimpered.
About 40K south. Youll like it. Theyll be working ducks with
Queensland heelers and border collies, youll get a free dinner
at the Wellstone Hotel. Well send you a cab.
They did. I did. And it was perfect. The star of the show, Andrew
Hitson, owned the Wellstone and a sheep station on the edge of
town. The hotel had a history. No ceiling space was unhatted.
When the drovers used to come through here with the big mobs
theyd want a drink, said the whip cracker. If they didnt have
money, they paid with their hats. Hitson claimed that one mob
was 435,000 head, which means lots of hats and drovers.
On the second day, the tour group took me to Winton, 70 miles
north. We passed emu, kangaroo, parrots, tumbleweed, and lots
of green grass. This is unusual, mate, said the bus driver.
Its been wet here lately.
It was the end of summer, the sky bright, dotted with cotton balls.
Wintons wide main street was shaded by eucalypts but it was
even hotter than Longreach. While the latter had the Hall of Fame,
Winton claimed the Waltzing Matilda Museum and sculptures of the
jolly swagman and bush poet Banjo Paterson, who wrote Waltzing
Matilda and The Man from Snowy River.
That afternoon, Hamish Webb, age 17, took me out to his familys
Weewondilla, thanks to Brian Marshall in New South Wales and
Allan Savory in Albuquerque. (See page 38.)
With a station as big as Weewondilla, the best way to muster,
to check for problems, to search for dingos, to find family members
who get stuck in the mud, is by plane. As Graham musters sheep
from the air, Boyd gently pushes them by dirt bike on the ground.There
are no herders at Weewondilla; no lambing sheds. But there are
15,000-25,000 merinos scattered across the station. Ewes lamb
in the bush. The sun shines hard. There are numerous bores dotted
about the place, plus pipelines and artesian springs, some so
hot that when a thirsty dog jumped in it scalded the beast and
singed his hair. Boyd raced it to another cold spring several
miles away to cool him off. Hell be right, he said, although
you could tell he was worried. Hell just be out of commission
a few days.
* * *
In the center of this issue you will find The West 2000, a special
resource handbook written by investigative reporter Tim Findley.
Included are facts on ranching, farming, logging, mining and recreation.
You wont like some of these facts but we need your help to spread
the message. This is a must have document for local politicians,
enviros, academics, libraries, and anyone who cares about the
rural West. Buy 10 or more for a buck apiece and get the word
The West has no champions capable of standing off the gang alone,
said Findley. We MUST make ourselves understood, at least as
much as the organized cadre of urban and suburban well-doers who
misunderstand us all.
Findleys right. And we dont have much time left. Come summer,
before the candidates are named, we should gather for a mother
of all barbecues and let them know that we also have a voice and
that its time they listened. Do we have the support? Sponsors?
A place? Do we have the courage?