"To spend time alone in the Australian bush is to experience our union with nature, it is powerfully reassuring." - Jack Thompson

Stock Route Wilderness

The Forbes Drovers

The Forbes Drovers

Forbes was a special place to drovers, they saw it as a water rich paradise. Drovers would descend on the Lake Forbes, watering the thirsty cattle and providing a well earned rest for the drovers who faced the continual challenge of finding up to 50 litres of water a day for each beast, often in drought conditions.

Many drovers chose to settle down in the water paradise of Forbes when they were not on the road. At the time of the last full time drovers in the 1950's one in three Forbes families were working as drovers. Droving was in the family passing down from generation to generation. The last generation of drovers continued to work with animals on the land moving on to become stockman, horse and dog breakers or jockeys.

The job of the drover

The drover's job was to control the movement of stock keeping them on track and on time. Drovers were paid for each head of stock delivered. The drover had to be self reliant, an excellent horseman with an amazing ability to read the landscape and predict the weather. The head drover had to know how to manage people as well as sheep, cattle, horses and dogs.

The drovers relationship with animals was extraordinary. Typically five horses were on route with the drover, some were pack horses carrying luggage, others were night horses who had exceptional ability to see into the night. Every morning before departure one drover would rise early to give the horses water and food before their journey. In dry hot periods drovers would travel at night to conserve energy and water.

Drovers would typically travel with herds of 650 to 1500 head of cattle or travel with sheep in larger packs of up to 10,000. Drovers kept the stock bound into a herd using dogs, horses and men to manage the lead, the rear and both sides.

Sheep dogs were used to round flocks of sheep. To part them in the face of oncoming traffic a sheep dog would jump on the sheep's backs, run over the top of the flock to the lead and split them in two on either side of the road. When traffic had passed the sheep dogs would return them into one flock. Forbes Drovers often make the claim one sheep dog could do the work of ten men.

Drovers travelled with horses, dogs, cooking gear and wagons or wagonettes. A wagonette was a wooden caravan that carried people and food along the stock route. A cook and a companion drover would travel ahead of the pack to set up lunch and camp for the night.

At night a watchman would stay awake to keep a continual watch over the cattle. A sudden noise such as native animals or thunder could trigger a stampede or "a rush" as they were known to drovers. Night horses were also skilled at restoring a stampede to calm. The night horse would lead the runaway cattle around in a circle then bring them back together again to stand in formation.

A Forbes drover shares how they used fencing to keep the sheep protected at night:

"When you want to camp at night, you had to put the break around the trees…the netting went all around the trees. We had to put up the break every night, then roll it up the next morning".

Stock Routes are still used in times of drought

The days of the travelling stock route are not a thing of the past, they are still used today in times of drought, fire and flood and as additional sources of feed. Stock routes are also visited by cattle owners who seek to relive the traditional drovers life and visitors who hark back to Australia's drover heritage.

In times of drought, with a shortage of feed and water, stock owners will return to the grassy expanse of the stock routes. In the Forbes floods of 2012 farmers once again turned to the safe haven of the stock routes.

Dogs, a drover's best friend

Not everyone can handle or train a dog, some drovers were better with dogs than others. The different whistles of the drover would give the dog instructions of what to do.

Just like every drover, every dog is different, some are all rounders, some work in paddocks, some like staying on the farm and in sheds, other dogs will only respond to their owner, while others will work with anyone. The descendants of drovers in Forbes today are often dog breakers, training sheep dogs to work alongside farmers on their sheep farms.

"I was working with a farmer once who had 2500 sheep, it would probably take four men to fill their shed up with them, if you had all the sheep in the yard, but when I started up there, I had these two dogs I could send in and they'd go up over their backs, come back through them, I never had to leave the yard out, they rounded them all up into the shed. All you had to do was close the gate."

Drovers were known to brag about their dogs competing with each other for the best dog and the most outrageous claims. Drovers were also known not to let the truth get in the way of a good dog story.

When two drovers get together the conversation quickly turns to their dogs and the stories of dogs phenomenal achievements, like the one of the dog going off looking for lost sheep and re joining the flock six months later.

Dog tales from the local droving families continue today, just ask a Forbes Drover how good is their dog and you are bound to hear a trick or two;

"I had a dog when we were droving who could do anything, I had him diving in the water, when you drove on the road, if a car comes along if you had the sheep in the way, you could send him over their backs and down through and over the car to come back through. He'd do that every time, he'd led the car all the way through".

Honest farming

Pick & Preserve Olives

The life of a Forbes Drover family

One droving family from Forbes, had eight children born in the 1940's and 1950's. Born story tellers, they often share their life on the road round the campfire, with visitors who join them on the Drovers Trail.

Travelling away for up to nine months at a time, drover children spent their childhood years up to school age on the road with their drover parents. Tommy, one of the children, tells of how he slept the first few months of his life in a fruit box.

"I was just three weeks old and an ugly big bull came up and put his head in and went "BRRRRR" said Tommy.

It was a long day on the road, drovers would go to bed with the birds and get up with the birds. Rain or shine the drover's journey continued. When rain came, the drovers would simply put a hat and overcoat on and continue on their journey. Flash floods were a big risk for Drovers on the road. Tommy shared how they swam with their horses through the flood waters.

"I remember when the big flood came, the horses went off and we found them where'd they swam through. They were good swimmers."

As children, the drover family slept in the wagonette, a wagonette was a caravan with big wheels pulled by horses. Underneath the wagonette the drovers would store groceries. Inside the wagonette the children, calves and baby lambs would travel. The drovers knew to keep the calves travelling on the wagonette so they could keep control of the mother.

"You might've had eight to ten calves, and you'd have to lift the calves up into the wagonette because they wouldn't walk. I've seen cows, the mothers, go back 10 or 15 mile looking for their calf. If you happened to leave a calf behind, you'd have to go back and get them."

"Once when they were having calves the mother got wild. Dad was on a horse flogging the cow away with a whip, while mum got the calf to put it away in a truck. They're ferocious if you try and take away their baby. I was terribly worried about mum when she came home, that happened every time they travelled. Mum had to drive up and let the calves out before the cows came."

Drovers drove wagonettes until they purchased trucks, sometime in the 1950's. Tommy's family wagonette was pulled by two big gray horses who would always follow the stock on route. As kids they would hold the reigns and think they were driving the wagon, says Tommy:

"Us children used to fight about who was going to drive the horses, but you didn't have to drive them. Dad knew that, they just followed the stock on the road. So when we were little we thought we were big time, driving."

Drovers typically cooked roast meals in camp ovens based on beef, sheep, or fish. Fresh vegetables were in short supply, and were picked up when the drovers stopped over at towns for supplies and mail.

"Dinner was usually a camp oven beef stew with anything chucked in, veges and beef. We put it on about three and just let it cook slowly."

Drovers used their stock as a source of food. Drovers ate the whole beast nose to tail and nothing was wasted:

"You'd kill a sheep and eat every part, you'd have the chops, salt other stuff, the rest of stuff you sold. We would hang it up in the cool of the night, it would keep good that way. You'd use the legs for a camp oven."

With no refrigerator, drovers learnt to use powdered milk and salt their meat to keep it longer. Salted meat is what is more commonly known as corned beef. Butter was kept from melting in a water bag, a big canvas bag, which hung on the side of the wagon with water supplies.

Marie, the daughter of a drover, explained the drover daily shower routine:

"While dinner was on, a tin of water is simmering away for bath time. The Drover's shower set-up, complete with small tub in the back of a trailer, it is a rare example of droving decadence. We just tipped out how much hot water we wanted then just carted it around and it went into the shower, whoever takes a bit out of it, tops it up for the next one."