© Janet Lane, 2023. Image: GoGo Station Homestead, Walkabout Magazine, 1st April 1935
There was a set of yards shaded by a few little trees (don’t like to boast but we have trees in Tassie). In the yards were wild horses – they’d been mustered by chopper a day or two before. Yay! I thought we’d be poking about the wilderness looking for them. In good nick too, handsome horses. They looked the goods. About a hundred or so. They regarded us warily and shifted about. Restless. They looked ready to run. And run and run. Heckity heck. Enough to make you want a little sit down and day dream.
Gopher had arrived first and looked them over. I asked which ones were the stock horses? The chopper pilot’s eyes gleamed amusingly. No stock horses have been used on Gogo for years. You’ll have to pick one out and break it in, he said, any one you like. I managed to keep a straight face. Hecko. Well I’m off he said, I’ll be back tonight and find you at the next set of yards – they’re a day’s ride away – to take you back to the station for dinner.
We were to walk the horses all day to the next lot of yards, repeat each day until we got them all the way to the homestead yards, it would take two or three days but each night we’d be picked up and taken back for dinner and a good night’s kip, very civilised. Otherwise we’d be on manoeuvres. All yards had water, but there was no water in between and we weren’t certain if the stock water at yards was ok to drink either, having been in the sun for ages and gone a bit green. Or red. Or brown. Soupy. Dead things in it. And there were no clouds. There’s no weather up north I’ve found, weather always being a good topic of conversation in Tasmania, you don’t mention it up there or they think you’re mad. If you say “bit hot today” they look for the straitjacket.
The floods were receding. There was no water lying about that we could see, although big cracks all over the ground told there had been. Once you’re on a horse up there, there’s no shade unless you’re on a small pony, as the trees are a little bit little. Plus if you brush against them things fall straight down your shirt, like hordes of green ants, as one discovers. So riding in the hot sun it is.
“So if there are any old stockhorses here, that would be handy,” I said hopefully, “should I look for geldings,” – thinking this was some sort of test, just spot the stock horses among the brumbies. No point, said Gopher who used to work there, as when they’re run in to be branded, they’re also gelded. Just branded and gelded not broken, so how does that make them feel about people. And it’s been a while since that was done too.
I couldn’t see any branded mares although had a good look, it would take a while to find a brand as they were bunched up – but we didn’t have time. He was trying to see if he recognised any of the horses when he saw a nuggety bay gelding that looked back at him, it seemed to have little fear, so that was his choice. In no time Gopher roped it, threw his saddle on while it circled, bridled it and leaped on. A bit of jiggering about and a hop or two but the horse seemed quite ok being mounted. I admired his bravery. Now my turn. Ahem. I had to choose a horse. A nice grey seemed the go. She was starting to fade, so not young, perhaps broken in from the station’s horse days. Not too tall, not too short. That one. I approached slowly but Gopher wasted no time -after all time was precious – and roped it for me. Yes he had a stiff rope, an American lariat and he could use it. I was used to a floppy strong old ship rope, slung on a stick for wild horse catching but didn’t have it with me as we’d had to leave most of our stuff back in Fitzroy.
Saddled up and she didn’t seem that fussed, a bit lively but good, got the bridle on and I popped on expecting here’s the end of my brumby mustering expedition and much embarrassmont but she jumped about a bit and settled – clearly broken. Phew and phew. Good girl!
I might call her Silver Lining I thought. Gopher however came up with a name which I’ve forgotten now, anyway a good name. She was a really good mare. Then I realised why she seemed on edge and jumpy – she had a big foal, about 4 to 6 months old, a filly. “Better get off and get another one,” I said. “No, no time,” said Gopher, riding out of the yards, “get in behind and tail out as I know where I’m going. I’ll lead. We’ve got a long ride – it’ll take all day – and shut the gate after us.” Oh ok.
Well that was interesting. Off the horses went, very keen to be getting’ outta here, Gopher in front trying to keep them settled, and me with a big old gate that required dismounting to shut. So that was fun trying to remount with the mare anxious to join her friends and foal, but I passed that little test, le phew. Off we set.
Somehow, all the horses being fidgety, we managed not to let them out of a trot, trying to get them to walk and not go “hell west and crooked” that is, all over the place from a stampede hence becoming scattered and lost. Obviously I had to tail out and do both wings as Gopher needed to stay in front. It was ok as tailing out is usually the job for the old person, very young person, sick person or basically the crap rider, eating dust all day, I’d been on the front wing in cattle musters and droving so knew a few basics. Luckily.
Gopher knew which way to go, there was no track just bare ground with cracks, spindly grass – much of it quite green – and very small trees here and there. And yes, it was hot. Flies. A lot of flies. Flies, a lot. Hot hot hot. More flies than the rest of the world put together. Were my jeans black or were those flies? Put a hand on your leg and you realise your legs are solid flies. And your back. Head, Face. Arms. Hands. Horse. Reins. Why didn’t I think of insect repellent?!
Got to know the horses quickly. A very handsome deep red bay stallion without a hair of white stayed up the front with his beloved mare next to him, he kept looking for a break. Clever chap. And seemed good natured. Gopher kept him from dashing out in front. That was the stallion soon to be named Kimberley King Leopold, and there has not been a better stallion born. At that stage however, he was so eager to make a break for it I thought we’d lose him. A couple of nasties, vicious stallions which liked to boot and bite others near them, not to be bought, I noted and not good, but when a station hasn’t mustered for ages there’s been no culling for temperament either so it’s not unexpected. Some lovely little mares. Yes, some quite little, say 13.2 to 14.2 hands, a useful height. One little black mare under 12 hands that looked like a Timor Pony, how exciting. She had a new little foal and I was worried they’d tire badly keeping up with the bigger horses, we weren’t to leave any behind, but somehow they managed. At every opportunity the little mare stopped while her foal had a drink, and a little lie down. Poor darlings, my heart went out to them. I had to rouse it up and keep it going. Maybe a descendant of one of Grey’s. Or other Timors from earlier times in those parts. A miner coming over the Tanami lost his good Timor stallion, a creamy (dun or buckskin or palomino) when he got to the Kimberley, in the early twentieth century, he hadn’t got the hobbles on and it cleared out. Many others came there in earlier times. An old looking bay gelding and his close friend a brown gelding, observation showed one followed the other, often with its head resting on its friend. It turned out the handsome old bay was blind, from years of being used as a stockhorse with no fly veil, and its kindly guide and friend was going the same way, blind in one eye. You get to know each animal in a mob quickly. They were all healthy apart from those two with bad eyesight, although they too were in good condition.
We got about two thirds through the first day with no drama, the horses settling a little and learning to stay as a mob, when we crossed a big open area, small trees in the far distance and giant cracks in the ground as water had dried up, which needed to be negotiated; I was glad the mare was sure-footed. She was handy too, going after those that broke, and her foal coming alongside keen not to let Mum out of her sight. Bless them both. Gopher was out in front, using his hat to wave the red bay stallion back in line, our horses strung out a little crossing the plain – when I looked over to the right. A line of small scraggly trees and something moving. A row of big cattle moving out from under the trees, staring at us.
Mostly white Brahman types. Eek. Cattle that have only been mustered by chopper have no respect for people on horses. I can’t remember if I carried a stockwhip, probably not as I can crack them all day on the ground but am a bit useless on a horse, sometimes flicking its back legs which makes life interesting. Anyway they were staring at us and the horses fixedly, their floppy throats swinging wildly to and fro as they moved their looney heads about angrily.
Image: Elders 2018
I called out to Gopher. “I know,” he called back. “Don’t look at them and if they charge keep the horses together.” Yep. Doddle. After all, he had to stay in front as a guide for horses and me. By now the horses were looking at the cattle too, and getting edgy. They looked about to bolt. Who can blame them.
Three huge white bulls in a row suddenly pawed the earth madly, flopping their floppy bits, big brown dust clouds flew up. Only coward bulls paw the earth, someone told me once – oh-oh – what a time to discover that’s untrue. They charged, heads down. And not only those three. The whole line of cattle. Sideways on to our long line of horses – it looked as if each horse would be killed but instantly Gopher took off and the horses did too, flat chat across that little plain. Heckity heck. This is hell west and crooked and it’s not fun. The worst thing that could happen. How embarrassmont, how will I explain this to Harry? Oh they just sort of ran away. I hate brahman cattle. It’s too hot. We’re going too fast. The ground is naffed, all massive cracks. Will pony mare and foal be gored? Old blind horses? Any good horses? How many? Will the grey mare put her leg in a deep crack in the earth and take a tumble, and me snap my neck? This is not how or where I want to die. We were galloping madly, flat chat.
We galloped, and galloped, and galloped. And galloped. When horses go into a stampede they can gallop for hours and almost run themselves to death. How would we stop them? I tried slowing a little, staying with some slow mares and foals, but soon the others were getting out of sight. If they fanned out they’d disperse. What to do? The cattle had given up now, so I abandoned the mares and foals and the blind friends at the tail and kept galloping, moving up the left wing as some were veering that way and it seemed to go into a rise of rocky hills and trees. They’d disappear in no time. Got them heading back to the mob and next thing we were off the plain and into some trees, enough for a little shade, and there was green grass. But they’d disappear in there too. Mind you, it was a nice spot and I felt like retiring there, immediately. Wasn’t sure how much longer I’d last, to be honest. An insane stitch in my side. Mare in a muck sweat.
Then like the archangel Gabriel coming to our rescue, a tall slim man casually waving a big white hat walked towards us among the trees and the horses all suddenly stopped in a nice open glade, snorting like fury, utterly knackered. I’d gotten a super bad stitch in my side during the galloping and thought I might die of it. The pain was intense. Now we stopped it started to fade a bit. Grey mare’s foal had somehow kept up with us, poor darling. I turned the mare and went back for the mares and foals and oldies as Gopher made sure the others stayed together, now they had halted and were getting their breath, and he chatted to the tall lean man – the helicopter pilot. Goodness knows where his chopper was, I couldn’t see it. Soon I had the rest of the horses up to the mob, not one had been lost, a miracle really. Little black mare and foal were ok but utterly, utterly tired. My mare was blowing a bit, brave girl, she hadn’t put a foot wrong and it had been breakneck speed for a fair way. I’d have been a goner if she’d put a foot wrong on the uneven ground. What a good good good girl. The cattle were nowhere in sight. No doubt back under the trees chuckling over their little escapade.
The chopper pilot said he’d been up really high looking for our bodies as instructed when he saw the cattle charge, so he went well ahead and landed and turned off the chopper, so as not to scare them. He thought they might run where he was and they did. In fact I thought it was very thoughtful of Harry to send him to look for our bodies, as really, he’d have saved our lives if we really had had an accident.
So after that it was steady walking for the rest of the day until the night yards were reached as the light went, just in the nick of time we got there. And thank God the water looked ok. A kind soul had no doubt run the pump for us. As once we yarded the horses and separated a couple of savage ones, we desperately needed a drink. All day and not a drink and it was stinking hot. We drank from a trough outside the yards as the horses crowded the troughs in the yards. There was good green grass in there too. Thank goodness, I felt like jumping in the water trough. So hot. Should I? Gopher was busy doing something elsewhere. Our horses were unsaddled and rubbed off, we didn’t feel chatty. Next minute headlights, the station 4WD driven by the pilot picked us up and took us back to wash and have dinner.
He obviously noted we were keeping far apart, and didn’t even want to share the front seat of the ute. I got in the back. Not as if you’ll freeze, in fact the evening air was rather pleasant. Politely ate dinner, made a bit of light conversation, talked about various horses, Harry saying the blind ones should be shot, me saying no they’re looking after each other and think about it, them being fairly slow helps keep the others together, there’s a nice Timor Pony mare, who wants those, no-one Susan, well quite a few of them look a bit Timor in ancestry and there’s a mad black gelding if you want tall, he’d be over 16hh, he’d be the pick of them Mary, well he’s got a jumpers build but he’d kill someone and not often I think that about a horse, ha not a good rider he could be an Olympic horse… and so on. then off to bed. Shower, slept like a log. Up at dawn and back to the yards.