‘I remember the long hot summer I spent droving with my dad’

Feb 10, 2019
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Source: Bernard Gagnon / Wiki Commons

The recent hot weather has brought back memories of days gone by. With temperatures in the high 40s in some parts of the country, and thoughts about the good old days, it struck me that these days we really have nothing to complain about.

When I was just 12 years old, my father had purchased several thousand sheep and they needed droving from where they were, back to our family farm. This was a distance of 30 miles (48 kilometres).

My older sister and I were the designated drovers. It was mid-January and the temperature was hovering around 110F (43C).

Dad borrowed an old Clydesdale and flat top trailer so as we could put our camping gear on it, as well as a few bales of hay for the horses and plenty of drums of water. My sister was designated driver, much to my disgust. I was sure I could have done a better job of it, but what Dad said went, no argument.

At 5am on the day, my sister started off with Old Clyde. The plan was to go through a couple of neighbouring properties, shortcut, and then onto the main road to the first small town. Camp would be made there for the first night.

I had to help Dad do a few jobs before I set off, so I was a good three hours behind my sister. All went well for a while. Dad insisted I had to use a saddle, something I did not really like as I always rode bareback. Again, Dad’s word was it.

After a couple of hours I had emptied my canvas water bag, it was mighty hot and my horse was thirsty. I veered off route to where I knew there was a small creek.

How cool it was near the creek. My horse drank its fill and I then noticed that the saddle girth had been rubbing on the horses belly. He was not used to saddles either.

What to do? I removed the saddle and leaned it in the shade under a nice gum tree. I then had a quick dip in the creek to cool off, even drank some filthy water as that was all there was.

I was really tired by this stage and thought I may as well have a bit of a rest. There were no mobile phones back then so I could not call Dad to tell him about the horse’s condition.

I must have fallen into deep sleep as next thing I knew I was being shaken awake by my father. He realised something must have be up when I did not catch up to my sister. Dad knew how us kids thought, he taught us survival skills, so he knew exactly where to find me.

He was not angry at all, he was pleased that I had thought of the welfare of my horse before anything else. We left the horse tied to a tree and went back to get a float to take him home again.

Mum was beside herself when we got back. “The children cannot camp out,” she said. She had heard on the radio of an escaped prisoner who was in the vicinity and felt it too dangerous for us to sleep out in the bush. Dad had to go back and collect my sister, who was more than annoyed by this news.

The following day saw me with a different horse and starting at 5am. I arrived at the town to meet my dad and sister and we continued our journey. There were no major hiccups that day, the temp was by now 115F (46C) so even hotter, but we travelled alongside a river and every now and again jumped in.

By nightfall we had reached our destination. We still had to go back home to sleep, but next day started the long drive home with all the sheep. The going was pretty slow as sheep are not known to be fast movers, unless of course you are trying to catch one. That night we made a bush fence and put the sheep in it. We tied the dogs around it and then went home to bed.

When we went back to continue our home journey with the sheep we discovered the blighters had broken out and gone back home. They could certainly run fast when they were headed to familiar parts.

There was nothing for us to do but to go back and start again. This time things went a bit better. Dad found a secure yard in a farmer’s paddock and there were no escapes that night. The days went well from then on and after.

Two more days, we were within a few miles of the farm so Dad allowed the little brothers and sisters to saddle up their ponies and come and help with the sheep. The little ones were excited. They thought they were real drovers and could not wait to get back home to tell Mum of their adventure. It was great to be together having a lot of fun despite the heat.

A week later, Dad took us all on a holiday to the beach. That more than made up for the discomforts of droving in the extreme heat.

Have you been experiencing the extreme heat in Australia? What’s the weather like where you are?

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