© Tom McIlveen

Winner, 2012, ‘Beef Week Poetry Competition’, Rockhampton, Queensland.

I met them in the sixties, after years of constant drought;
each working out at Bowmans as a shearing roustabout.
They’d gained a reputation spreading west to Narrabri
as stockmen and as drovers – both were valued in the dry.

When things were tough their skills were sought to face the daily grind
of saving starving stock – they left their normal jobs behind.
The farmers with their paddocks bare and cattle skin and bone
had placed their hopes on harvests out of seeds already sown.

They came from where the drought had struck, from places near and far,
and drove and trucked their cattle into yards at Barraba.
They’d come to Jim and Clarry for some help and sound advice;
these grim-faced men were there to make a final sacrifice.

The steers and weaners chosen would be moved to yards at hand,
then drafted, fitted out with tags and marked with red-hot brand.
Good ‘doers’ were selected for a long and trying trek,
then both would look them over for that final vital check.

Young Jim was partly Irish and the rest Kamilaroi,
reputedly a stockman since he was a little boy.
Adopted by a widow who was country born and bred,
she’d raised him in a shack behind old Bowman’s shearing shed.

He knew that hard hoofed animals not native to these shores,
upset the fragile balance and disrupted nature’s laws.
The farmers had repeatedly abused the western plains–
their greed almost insatiable, in search of greater gains.

The constant over-grazing and the stomping trampling feet
had soured the native pastures that had once been lush and sweet.
With cattle slowly moving and as wily drovers know,
the seeds have time to germinate and pastures time to grow.

Our mother earth, cruel mistress was relentless in her plight;
a woman scorned so furious, sent Old Man Drought in spite.
Invaded by rapacious fools who only ever take,
she claims her toll, extracts her debt and leaves them in her wake.

Jim knew the Namoi Valley’s restoration would be slow;
Kamilaroi had roamed this land, ten thousand years ago.
He knew the nearest waterhole, lagoon and billabong
and where to find the sustenance to keep his people strong.

He knew the sweetest grasses which would fatten hungry stock
and nurtured and controlled them as a shepherd would his flock.
It’s true that he was gifted – Clarry often said as much.
Domestic cattle loved him and responded to his touch.

Old Clarry said his kelpie dogs could handle any mob
and Jim was worth at least a dozen drovers on the job.
He said the Koori stockmen were the finest in the land
and with his Irish breeding Jim was always in demand.

They’d take them north to Bingara before the creeks were dry
or south to Tamworth saleyards where the price was always high.
The drover is a special breed, he knows and understands,
the future of this country lies in Mother Nature’s hands.

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