The Drovers’ Prank – A Droving Reminiscence of 1879 on the Queensland and NSW Border

Group of Drovers on their Horses in the Gondiwindi Area, c. 1875. State Library of Queensland

Travelling south with a big lot of cattle about the end of ’79 I had, on approaching the N.S.W. border, to pass through a small township, consisting at that time of one pub, and one store, and no police protection, the town not being important enough, I suppose, to warrant any attention of that sort being bestowed on it by the Government. Another big mob of cattle off the Burdekin were travelling two days behind me, in charge of a drover whom we will call Johnston, and who was well-known at that time, principally, I believe, on account of his penchant for practical poking. It being race time he and I rode into town together in the afternoon, accompanied by a blackfellow. 

When we got in we found the racing pretty well over and everybody in a chronic state of ” booze.” Two individuals in a high state of blood and torn shirts wore having a “cut” opposite the pub., surrounded by a half-drunken crowd of assorted bush hands, all, evidently, eager to have a “chip in” if occasion offered. Knowing the danger of losing horses at festive gatherings of this description after dismounting we sent them back a quarter of a-mile or so to a clump of gidyea in charge of Quambo, giving him instructions not to leave them till we turned up. 

Having disposed of the “neddies” we entered the bar, which was being tended to by a huge shock-headed Irishman, whose florid face denoted the internal wetness of a racing day in that part of the world. Sitting on an upturned cask in a corner was a young fellow rather more than half drunk playing a concertina, to the time of which another chap, also well on, danced a breakdown. Inside the dining room adjoining a “buck set” had been formed, waltzing indiscriminately to any tune played by the man with the concertina. The only female at this corrobboree was a big lump of a Mullingar heifer, with arras likened unto raw beef, who had succeeded in dancing herself into a fever heat, as her red face betokened. I verily believe, exaggerative as this statement may appear, that for the time being we two drovers were the only sober men on the job. A high state of revelry reigned supreme till about midnight, when the assemblage, being pretty well kerosened up to their necks, began to seek their virtuous couches. They took up their quarters wherever they chanced to fall, where, but for the occasional stumbling of another drunk in search of a resting place, they slept till morning. 

Things being all quiet and sleepers strewn about everywhere, Johnson suggested we should go through the lot of them; so, entering into the spirit of the occasion, we slipped off our boots, and, wending our way amongst the sleepers, stripped them of every portable article — money, hats, belts, knives, pipes, tobacco, &c., and, in one instance, taking all the clothes off a big German, leaving him nothing but his hob-nailed boots. Truly, a veritable pair of artful dodgers, whom you might have thought had served a long apprenticeship with a few like Fagan. Having collected the proceeds of this robbery — a miscellaneous heap I promise you — we carried it round to the back and planted it under a big wash tub, after which we retired to the verandah and laid down, pending the advent of daylight. 

When it was sufficiently light, pulling our pockets inside out, we made a deuce of a noise, swearing we had been robbed, and as one after the other awoke to the fact that he had been robbed also, the look on some of the faces would, indeed, have been a study for Hogarth. I’ll never forget the big German who swore he would “kill der bloody theives who hat robt him of his togs.” He was not to be pacified, and persisted in going about till the discovery of the booty some hours later by a blackgin, in the full dress we had left him — hob-nailed boots and nothing else — in spite of the presence of the Mullingar Belle, who, however, didn’t seem to mind it in the least. After the looted goods had been found by the gin the scene was a perfect Bedlam, for every man claimed whatever caught his eye, in consequence of which several fights ensued. We, of course, joined in at the claiming, although having lost nothing had nothing to claim. 

Ultimately the landlord was called, but, as he still suffered from the previous days potations, which must have been pretty stiff, as he slept behind the bar, he did not improve matters much, but distributed the recovered goods just as they came to hand. Having seen things thus amicably settled and also the last fight we got to our horses and rode off to the cattle, and it is needless to remark neither of us showed up that way again for some years. The thing leaked out and we heard there were several stalwart bushies, amongst whom was the big German, looking keenly for our gore.

BULLAMAN.

Sources:

  1. Group of Drovers on their Horses in the Gondiwindi Area, c. 1875 (Picture) – Courtesy State Library of Queensland.
  2. A Droving Reminiscence (1900, June 12). The Western Champion and General Advertiser for the Central-Western Districts (Barcaldine, Qld. : 1892 – 1922), p. 13.
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