By Greg Blackmore
I can remember always wanting to be a Jackeroo and had my leather saddle bag and quart pot for a few years before I had even left school.
Raised on a small mixed grazing property near Rylstone and Mudgee in NSW, I rode a bike the 3 miles to Clandulla Public School, braving swooping Magpies and fitted with a Pith Hat, like the African hunters used. At age 10 my parents sent me off to boarding school at Kings in Parramatta.
Immediately after leaving boarding school in 1963, I attended a three week Outward Bound School FP27 at Fisherman’s Point on the Hawkesbury River about 10 kms upstream from Brooklyn.
We lived in Patrol Huts of 12 people, mine was called Mawson after an Antarctic explorer and the general intent of the school was to get you very fit, train you in team work and improve your character. From their “Information for Students” – “The course involves strenuous and protracted physical effort in all weathers” (My Journal of the School still exists and gives an insight into what transpired, including 90 push ups.) I was appointed Captain of my 5 man patrol for the final expedition by my peers, probably because they thought I had a fair sense of direction and was also a reasonable map reader.
Having now left school, in January 1964, Dad had organised to purchase a second hand Austin A40 utility for me, from McGuigan & Gough, that cost him about 131 pounds.
I secured my Drivers Licence from the Kandos Police Station and I set off for Queensland, over many black soil roads, to Jackeroo with E. P. S. “Peter” Roberts and H. B. “Harry” Brown Craig at “Minnel” Toobeah, just west of Goondiwindi. Harry Craig was a friend of Dad’s and he had lived not far from us at Rylstone before moving up to Queensland himself. They ran sheep and cattle and Harry also farmed for wheat. About the time I arrived, the partnership had been split up and each of them now had separate blocks, Harry’s being called “Talinga” There was another Jackeroo, (Peter Gardner) there at the time and we lived in separate quarters on our own not far from the homestead. We had our meals at the homestead and the manager was Bill Ayers, who had a military background, as was evidenced as he gave the mornings orders. Bill also walked very fast and I am sure a small dust cloud could be seen to follow him. There was also an overseer, called Talbot, that we worked with at all times and from time to time there may have been another station hand employed, including the overseer’s son Wally Talbot.
Our first job before dawn each morning was to milk the 6 or 7 cows into large square 5 gallon kerosene tins and take the milk back to the homestead to be separated for cream and to make butter. The manager’s wife, Leslie, had us then make our lunches before breakfast, and while we were still hungry, so that we wouldn’t go to work with insufficient lunch. One of the worst jobs on the property was the poisoning of Sandalwood trees with Arsenic Pentoxide. We would cut the small regrowth saplings and paint them with the mixture from a watering can, Before starting work we had to cover out hands with petroleum jelly or Vaseline so that the poison would not get into our skin. The CSIRO were conducting trials on the property at the time with 2-4D and this was later to be used to control Sandalwood. At the weekends we would invariably head into Goondiwindi or to some social event. For entertainment we would also go spotlighting kangaroo’s at night and then skin them and peg out their skins the following morning on a fenced dam bank to dry so we could later sell them for beer money.
On one occasion late at night I was returning alone from a tennis day at Nindigully and went to sleep at the wheel and ran into the substantial side posts of a stock grid. When I woke up there was a dent in the steel dash of the Austin and dust rising everywhere. Someone gave me a lift to the Tobeah store and the other Jackeroo was summoned to help. The front end had been severely damaged and to get the vehicle back to “Minnel” we had to Cobb & Co (wire) a piece of timber sapling across the front as a steering tie rod. Fortunately the grill was normally a long way in front of the radiator and although it was smashed in, the radiator was un-damaged. The bonnet must have been flung up as it was relatively undamaged and although the vehicle was fixed mechanically, the body work was never attended to and the bonnet overhung the front of the vehicle and had to be tied down. Peter Roberts paid for the repairs and never ever charged me. I have never gone to sleep at the wheel since that day.
I returned home to “Chester” for Christmas at the end of 1964 and was booked in to attend Marcus Oldham Farm Agricultural College, as it was then called, in Geelong, Victoria in 1965. Before setting off the vehicle had to be upgraded and Dad had purchased a second hand, red, deluxe, Volkswagen Beetle for about 645 pounds (just before the dollar) the previous June 1965, from Ernie Fountain in Kandos .
The old Austin Ute was transferred to my brother Bret for $160 and eventually cut down into a farm run about vehicle with no body. The drive to Geelong took about 10 hours and I travelled via Ilford and Sofala to Bathurst and then on the Olympic Highway to Geelong with a short cut from Seymour through Bacchus Marsh.
Whilst at Marcus Oldham, I started my flying training at Schutt Aircraft Training at nearby Grovedale airfield. After several hours and flying solo, I had to give this up as I was not keeping up with the theory side of my training. (I didn’t re-commence my flying training again for another 6 years in 1972 at Rockhampton Aero Club.)
I also joined the local Geelong Rugby Union and played halfback for the first grade team, testament to the fact that most of the Victorian population played Aussie Rules football. Many of the Union players were from local factories and industries and came from all over the world.
On one weekend a few of us worked up the courage to enter the steer ride at the local show, a feat that I later repeated at the local Rylstone show. On both occasions, I think I cleared the gravel perimeter of the show ground so that I would land on the grass.
Another weekend saw myself and Harry Bowman enter a car rally in the Red Volkswagen. We took along a female friend who had recently been in a bad car accident and thankfully completed the rally successfully and without incident. We managed to secure second place and, after we dropped the young lady off at her home, we were returning to the college when we were T boned at an intersection. The car hit us on the passenger side and Harry ended up sitting in my lap. We had not been drinking and no one was hurt, however, the VW passenger door needed some repairs.
After the first year at Marcus Oldham and during the Christmas break I went to Glen Innes for work experience with Pat Campbell at “Lochenfels” Deepwater. His son Andrew was also at Marcus Oldham and he had been to school with me at King’s They ran sheep for wool and mutton as well as some cattle. Glenn Innes at Christmas time was party time for young people in the district and we even drove as far as Gilgandra for a party.
After coming home to “Chester”, at Clandulla, from Marcus Oldham Agricultural college at the end of 1966 with a Diploma in Farm Management, I took delivery of a brand new beige coloured HR Holden Ute that cost around $2,290, also from local Holden Dealer Ernie Fountain of Kandos.
In 1966, Dad, Lew, had purchased “Clovernook” a 12,700 acre property near Moura to be utilised as a fattening block for Gregory Downs. (I was a very silent partner in the land purchase from Graham and Shirley McCamley, financed by funds that Dad had accumulated in a book account in my name through his tax minimisation planning. It is interesting to note that all my expenses at Ag College had also been deducted from this account. Later, my brother Robert “Bret” and I were to purchase a 5% interest in the Gregory Downs livestock, with these book funds that were later to be completely wiped out by the cattle depression in 1976 and leaving us both with a debt of around $70,000 each when Gregory was sold to Tancreds in 1979)
A family friend, Peter Evans and I drove up to “Clovernook”, for a few weeks work, either before or, just after that Christmas. Also around that time another school mate, Ian Rouse, joined me there for a while. Whilst Peter Evans was there, we had a Mice plague. I can remember shooting mice from inside the house, through the open doorway, with a .22, as they ran past the door opening. We also used to clean the wood fire stove chimney by throwing kerosene into the smouldering fire and waiting for the resulting explosion to do its work.
As 1967 was my 21st year, an early joint celebration over the Christmas period was held at the Leadville Hall, near Dunedoo, with Harry Bowman, who at that time lived at nearby “Ekaby”, Craboon. Harry and I had attended the Kings School and Marcus Oldham together.
In February, I drove up to Rockhampton and out to “Tartrus” west of Marlborough and on the Mackenzie River to start work for Graham and Shirley McCamley. As I drove into the property from the Marlborough Nebo Road which was then the Bruce Highway, I was blocked by floodwaters and had to camp the night by the road in my swag. I can remember that the sand flies were very bad and I used up all my after shave trying to keep them away.
At “Tartrus” the workers lived in a corrugated iron quarters and cooked their own meals on an outside fire. My system of washing clothes involved putting them straight into a tub of water with Nappy San at the end of the days work and next morning rinsing them out and hanging them up to dry.
I was only at “Tartrus” a short time as, unfortunately, on my 21st birthday in February, a horse reared up and I fell off over his back pulling him down on top of me with the reins and fracturing my pelvis. I then spent the next 3 weeks in the Rockhampton Base Hospital on my back wedged between 2 sand bags and not allowed out of bed. I had driven myself in to see the Doctor the day after the accident and I can remember holding my backside off the seat with one hand for the whole trip, which would have taken the best part of 2 hours. The Doctor that first saw me at his surgery in Tobruk House had been a flying doctor and knew Gregory Downs. When I arrived at the hospital outpatients I had to wait for hours to be attended to and then when they finally saw me, they would not let me go back to my Ute to get my things and put me straight into a wheelchair to be taken to the ward. The Ute stayed locked up on the street where it was parked for the 3 weeks.
After getting out of hospital I initially went back to Tartrus for a short time and then drove up to Gregory Downs in time for the mustering season and for about 8 months worked in the stock mustering camp. Billy Foster was the manager and the head stockman was John Moloney. My father, Lew, had requested that a bang tail muster (count) be undertaken to confirm book values of the numbers of cattle on the property. As well as to help mustering my job in the yards was to sit on the dip draining pen and count the cattle as well as read their year number brand, whilst it was wet. The numbers were well down on the book figures and due possibly to the tendency of some previous head stockmen to inflate the branding numbers to make themselves look good. We would muster each morning and dip and brand in the afternoon. The most dangerous activity at that time, that I can remember, was galloping after cattle in the Caroline Paddocks that had many devil devil holes that could easily bring a horse down.
After the 1967 mustering season, myself and a friend, Gordon Evans commenced fencing about 15 miles of boundary fence on the “Yeldham” and “Kamarga” boundaries This took about 6 weeks and the fence was a new style Hi Tensile 4 barb suspension fence that utilised steel posts and droppers with only a few strainer posts.
The Gregory manager, Billy Foster cleared the fence line in front of us with the station Cat D4D. What I remember most about the fencing was the extreme heat as we were doing it in November. We had been told that we should not work in the middle of the day but take the opportunity to rest and work at each end of the day.
This didn’t work out as we could not rest on our steel shearers beds and canvas swags as we were sweating too much. On many days we would travel to McAdams Creek for a lunch time swim.
One day we put a couple of posts in upside down (small end down) as the ground was so hard and stony then Billy Foster came along and made us turn them up the other way. Both Gordon and I became very brown and on most weekends, we were to be found re-hydrating at the Gregory Hotel.
Gordon and Peter Evans inspected the fence in 2013 and it is still standing and in good condition.
Both Gordon and I went both back home to NSW for Christmas that year.
Early in 1968, I drove up to Brisbane and had an interview with Bill Gunn Jr, of Gunn Rural Management, and secured a job at one of their northern properties on Cape York as an Improvements Overseer. From Cairns, I drove on up to Lakefield Station (about 7 hours via Mareeba and Laura). Lakefield Station was about 600 sq miles with about 200 sq miles behind wire utilised. 90% of the cattle were behind fences and totalled around 4,000 head. The country was mainly Tea Tree and very boggy in the wet. Gunn’s also managed another 600 sq mile property next door called Kalpower Station. Arriving at Lakefield, I was disappointed that most of the staff including the Head Stockman had just left due to disagreements with the management and organisation there. I decided not to start work there and to also leave immediately in order to get out before the wet season locked me in for 3 months. (Lakefield Station is now Lakefield National Park)
I drove back down to Cairns and on to Tully and tried to get a job with the King Ranch there and the Manager (American) offered to start me as a first year Jackeroo at $20 per week. Not quite the wage level that I was looking for so I declined the offer. Tully Station ran 12,000 head of cattle as well as 12 Jackeroos, so maybe not much chance for advancement – just cheap labour. I must have been annoyed at the $20 wage offer as I drove faster than I should have on the gravel road leading back into Tully. Coming around a corner I got into a slide and several fishtails as I approached a concrete bridge. I thought I was about to smash into the bridge abutments sideways but luck prevailed and I was able to straighten the ute up just prior to it crossing the bridge.
I then drove back down to Moura and Bauhinia Downs, travelling through flood waters at Home Hill and Proserpine where I placed the tarp from the old Austin A40 ute over the grill as well as applied Vaseline to the distributor and coil. At one time water came over the bonnet. I was also held up by flood waters at Funnel Creek south of Mackay.
I then started work again for Graham and Shirley McCamley, initially at “Oakland Park” near Bauhinia, west of Moura, managed by Walter Brown. I had previously been offered a job there but had not taken it as Dad was not keen on the idea as it was so close to “Clovernook” and it may seem that I was spying on the manager there. Any way in spite of Dad’s disapproval I took the job.
Not long after I spoke with Graham McCamley and he said that if my father was not agreeable to me working at “Oakland Park” then he could offer me a job back at their main property, “Tartrus” and I took him up on this offer and started there on the 6th February 1968.
This time I was employed as a plant operator and ploughed out Brigalow suckers, to establish pastures, in Melon Hole type country with a Shearer Majestic stump jump disc plough pulled by a Fiat AT7 crawler dozer.
In May 1968, I got married for the first time…
Many years later, from 1991 to 1993 I also worked for the Cattlemens Union (founded by Graham McCamley) as a Field Officer for Southern Queensland and New South Wales serving some 50 branches, with the most Westerly being Birdsville.
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