Mount Isa History column

Stock: Cattle grazing along Georgina River at Camooweal. Photo: Supplied.
Stock: Cattle grazing along Georgina River at Camooweal. Photo: Supplied.

This article was first published in The Border and Beyond – Camooweal 1884-1984 by Mrs Ada Miller (nee Freckleton).   It is reproduced here with the consent of Mrs Miller.

Camooweal has always been the home for drovers.

Fine horsemen and women, good cattlemen and women, excellent bushmen and women.

They were walking their mobs down the Murranji and across the Barkly Tableland to the Georgina Stock Route in weather fair and foul for well-nigh the first hundred years of settlement.

In those days Georgina stockmen could tell who owned the mobs long before they read the brands or earmarks.

They could tell them by their size, their horns, their colour and their conformation.

Early droving was by pack horse or dray.

The advent of the road train, that mechanical marvel of the fifties, that modern stockman on wheels, wiped out dozens of drovers just as the car in the 1920s had put hundreds of teamsters off the road.

The droving of stock over long distances with no facilities not knowing what lay ahead, no routes, and no road’s no medical help, no telegraph, no signposts and often very long dry stages called for a special grit, special knowledge, initiative and courage.

These were the ‘Knights of the Saddle’ living on a horse or in their swags.

They made little fuss about diet.

Corned beef and damper with sometimes dried fruit was their daily fare and a spud or two was tossed in to balance their diet.

They used pigweed for greens and a ‘duff’ for Sundays if they were lucky.

Drovers lived in fear of a cattle rush, they often had no sleep for days on end and if the women and children had a hard life following the teams it was certainly a much worse existence for the family droving these large mobs across the downs with children doing the work of men.

There were plenty of ‘crashes’ caused by the frightened stampeding stock.

Jack Clarke on the road with 1,250 Rocklands bullocks camped for a night on Smokey Creek and during the night six inches of rain fell so the Creek spread out over its banks.

Harry Nolan was the man on watch and as the ground was covered with water, he galloped into the creek trying to block the restless bullocks and lost his horse.

There were a week putting the mob back together again.

At Para Pituri Waterhole in the Georgina a man on watch had a similar experience.

He, however, swam right in behind the lead and steadied them on the other side.

For the reasons above most drovers recited Banjo Patterson or Henry Lawson aor sang around the cattle to soothe them down and keep themselves alert.

Just after the rabbit fence was erected, a drover was days getting his cattle through the gateway.

A heavy wind was blowing creating heavy dust ahead of the bullocks blotting out the gateway.

To add to his problems, the boundary rider was there for the two days to see that the irate drover didn’t resort to cutting the fence for which there was a heavy fine.

Late last century a drover delivered 1,000 head of fat bullocks from Rocklands to the boiling down works at Burketown some 240 miles from Camooweal.

Two of these drovers were Jack Carrington and Dick Teece.

Nat Buchanan (Bluey or Faraway as he was known), John Costello, Rankine Brothers, George and John Sutherland, the Gordon brothers, Harry Readford, Koop and Lawrie and dozens of others brought the stock out to establish the great pastoral holdings.

Remember, that in the main the Northern Territory was stocked from the Queensland side and that explains that the stock routes are east to west.

In those very early days when routes were uncharted the boss rode on ahead choosing the route, then the leader followed his tracks with the stock flanked by outriders following after them.

While they did the, the boss was moving up ahead scouting the next route.

In 1904, Blake Miller (Senior) for Sir Sidney Kidman brought the first mob of 1,000 cattle from Victoria River Downs west to east to Lake Nash Station in six weeks flat thus opening up the dreaded Murrangi Track which, as a waterless stretch of track, claimed the lives of dozens of hardy men.

In 1916, Miller came to Undilla Station near Camooweal where he was part-owner with Kidman bringing his wife and family from Innamincka Station in South Australia.

Mrs Blake Miller was the sister of Kate Warrington Rogers, known as the greatest pioneer woman of the Northern Territory.

As an excellent horsewoman and cattle manager as well as a crack shot with her Winchester, she rode the runs in the Roper area and further north on Bradshaws Run making Mrs Aeneas Gunn’s sojourn at the Elsey seem like a tea party.

Mrs Rogers brought cattle into Queensland from the Roper leaving her husband at home to manage the property.

When the homestead at Arafura Station was attacked by Aborigines and three of the Chinese staff were killed in the raid, she and the Chinese cook held off the Aborigines until help arrived.

She buried her only daughter at Urapunga Station on the Roper River.

That great lady gave 30 years of her life to the Northern Territory and died before the prices of stock made those properties viable.

For three years prior to her marriage, Kate had been Camooweal’s dressmaker.

Regarded as one of the greatest woman pioneers of the Northern Territory she single handily managed her own stockyards, mustered cattle and with assistance from her Aborigine workforce, drove cattle from the Roper to Camooweal.

Researched by Kim-Maree Burton  

The history column can also be found online at in the community section.

Land around Camooweal, over which the pioneer Drovers may have herded their mob of cattle.

Land around Camooweal, over which the pioneer Drovers may have herded their mob of cattle.

Mural celebrating the pioneering drovers on Camooweal fence.

Mural celebrating the pioneering drovers on Camooweal fence.