GoGo Adventures (part4)

© Janet Lane, 2024. Image: Paddock full of horses on Gogo Station, 1920. State Library W.A.

Day two was a long hot slog. Filthy hot. Open country with a barely a tree and that barely up to your knee. With no water and extremely thirsty, we pushed on. Late in the afternoon, yay, a large puddle left over from the flood appeared among some scanty trees. The horses went straight in and drank deeply. It was about the size of a house across, only about a foot deep. My mare drank, and her foal had the sense to as well, so Mum got a little break from providing life. I dismounted and drank beside her, pushing in a friendly way against one or two wild brumbies as in their thirst, they’d lost all fear. It was nice and chummy, all united in our thirst and I felt part of them all.

Idiot! Gopher managed to croak, it’s dirty water, you’ll die! Mmm I said, wiping my mouth, delicious! Just trying to cheer you up – if I die you can say I told you so!

Actually it had looked quite clean until hooves made it a bit cloudy, not even a dead animal in it. A calculated risk. I’d read how you’d push a dead horse’s hoof out of the way to drink out of a puddle, yep. Filled my hat and poured water over my head. God that felt good. Damp shirt. Much cooler. On we went, and a couple of hours later thankfully saw yards ahead in small trees. Gopher went straight in and had a drink of presumably clean water. Next thing we heard a chopper and looked around, our horses too tired and thirsty to react much – not yet in the yards – a big mob of tall rangy, thin horses that looked both terrified and exhausted, galloping along in that relentless stampede type of gallop that can go for days. He’s brought us some more horses! Croaked Gopher gleefully, you get these in and I’ll get them in. I was glad he wanted to get the new horses in. I got our tired horses in without any problems, there was a good fence acting as a wing which made it so easy. First fence I’d seen so a sign we were getting closer to the station.

With the chopper watching from above, Gopher galloped about in fine style and soon got this new mob into the yard. He really was a top rider and thoroughly enjoyed showing off his skills. I shut the gate.

The new horses milled about blowing and snorting, terrified. One tall rangy black one leapt the fence, and it was a very high fence. It took off and disappeared quickly. They were very thin from the way galloping and stress drops an animal’s condition incredibly. The chopper pilot must have had to bring them a long way or been unable to keep them at a steady pace, it would be almost impossible to do that without ground support. They looked like a pack of Thoroughbreds in racing condition in the 1940’s, overdosed to the max on strychnine and if you can’t see their ribs they’re not fit as the old dealers – sorry – trainers used to say.

Due to their poor state from being run, we called the new mob The Greyhounds. A night in the yard had settled them a bit. By now the others were like coachers, so that helped keep the mob together.

Landscape at Gogo Station, ca. 1957-1958, State Library of W.A.
Landscape at Gogo Station, ca. 1957-1958, State Library of W.A.

Another long hot day and in this area the trees were smaller than a person on a small horse, so no shade. Extremely hot. What’s a cloud? My mouth dried up. Then dried out. It was frightening, doing a perish they call it when you’re dying of thirst. I could feel the odd fly crawling around inside my mouth. Couldn’t swallow, talk or move my tongue. Had to keep trying to keep my mouth shut, funny how your mouth opens when you’re heading for the great divide.

Amazing how many mirages are in that country, beautiful stretches of shimmering water, trees, lush vegetation… just over there! And oh, over there too! Beautiful water…

Luckily there was a bit of a track to follow, and Gopher didn’t fall for any mirages, and I couldn’t mention them. Eventually a mirage got closer. Lush green trees. A glimpse of water. Why is Gopher taking us to a bloody mirage? Then I heard the birds. A mirage doesn’t talk. It must be real!

When we got closer, Gopher came up and croaked we had to push them through a ford, fast, or they’d crowd in to drink and drown each other. The poor little pony mare and her tiny foal were exhausted, and all were thirsty. You get to know every horse in the mob.

So as cruel as it seemed, on reaching the wide and deep-enough-they-had-to swim ford – the river being high due to recent floods – we kept them going. Swam across, foals too, without a drink and by a miracle, without any getting drowned or hurt. Some had to really battle the current to make it, as down from the ford the sides of the river were vertical and above that were trees and bushes.

Clamouring up the other side, out of the river, was a beautiful set of yards. Lots of green feed in there. Shade trees. Roofed areas for shade. Water in the troughs – no doubt cleaned and filled by the chopper pilot. We got them in. They all had a long drink. Unsaddled and gave our dear horses a drink and washed their sweat off. Left them in their own yard. The yards on Gogo were fantastic, well built, well designed and well maintained.

Cattle Yards on Margaret Downs Station (GoGo).
Yards on Margaret Downs Station (GoGo). Elders 2018

Turned for the river, I hoped I could swallow, and had a splitting headache from dehydration. It was a steep bank down to the river, Gopher jumped straight in – went under, came back up and was swept by the strong current downriver. Thankfully he had the sense to grab a root sticking out of the bank which stopped him being carried away. He stayed there looking pale and terrible. I eased myself into the water on the upstream from him and also grabbed a root.  Current was relentless. Every man for himself. And thought I’d die as expecting a cool river, it was hot. My heart had stopped and tried to get going again in protest, weakly. A hot river! When you’re already too hot! But I sloshed water into my mouth, carefully.

Good lord. This place isn’t my cup of tea at all. No way to drop your temperature although at least a bit of shade in the overhang of the bank and trees.

“There’s a bore tank over the other side,” croaked Gopher, waving his hand at it, we’d passed it on the way in, “don’t drink this river, it’s shit.”

So we struggled across, me floating and kicking, not being much of a swimmer, and fully clothed with riding boots on and somewhat off my game. Landed downstream. Hoping any snakes would ignore me, up the steep bank, through the dense vegetation back to the open. Gopher made it too.

Still unable to talk due to my mouth being dried up, despite having been in water and soaked in it, we struggled in the pounding heat to the bore tank, up on a high stand. Gopher climbed the high ladder and had a lot of drinks from his hand dipped into the water. Then I climbed up. It was foul. Rotten water, green, with floating green slime. Tank only half full. The odd decomposing bird body.  I shook my head. It’s fine! Said Gopher, no longer thirsty. Mutely I returned to the river, laid down at the edge, and sloshed it in my mouth to get it revived. Luckily, it did. Then drank heaps. It was a strange colour, the water,  light grey. Hopefully from a lot of tiny air bubbles from rushing along so fast and not from something dire, but hey. A person has to drink. But although very warm, it was water. Nice. Jolly nice!  I found soon I could swallow, and my senses were coming back. Yay. I made it back to the side of the yards, and had some more. And some more. Why not, there was plenty!  Soon I felt as if I’d swallowed a keg, and had a job to waddle along. Ah! Not thirsty now! Nice! Waddle waddle.

So we went back to the yards and separated some stallions off that were bullies (those without a herd). Gopher did most of it, so fast I hardly had time to hoist my tank-like self about to shut gates.  And next thing the 4WD arrived and took us back to the station. Evening had fallen like a swooping swallow.

State Library of W.A. Images: Gogo Station Homestead c1920; Tin hut on Gogo Station, ca.1919

Next day I went up to the mess as usual for brekky. No Gopher. Only me.

Harry came in. “Day off.” He said.

“What about the horses?” I asked.

“They’re fine, plenty of feed and water. Gopher’s in hospital.”

What? Turns out he had heat sickness. OK, I’d say a case of bad water! However, Harry seemed to think he’d be OK in a day or so. Harry had been in this country a long time and knew a lot, so I hoped he was right. A day off! Woo! Probably Gopher needed a break from me like I did from him, ha. In remote jobs if someone is giving you the pip, you just need to keep going. In some outback camps people are murdered over another person getting set on them, but the main thing is to just keep going and realise not everyone is going to get along all of the time.

“Well, enjoy your day,” said Harry, “seems you two aren’t getting along anyway?” he quizzed. A day earlier, he’d asked if we were a couple which I’d vehemently denied, not only that I was slightly scandalised! After all I was old enough to be Gopher’s mother. Harry had seemed a bit relieved too. Gawd. Who did he think Margarita was?! A baby snatcher?

I shrugged. No use giving my opinion ha, and no doubt Gopher had one the same for me. These things happen sometimes it’s just a matter of being polite and looking forward to getting the job over. “Nothing to worry about I said. He’s a very good ringer, actually.” And indeed he was.

“Well, I’m going fencing,” said Harry, “the flood took some fence away across a creek.”

“Would you like a hand?”

He looked surprised, “Yes, thanks Janet.”

OMG he said my name. Was that by luck, or what? But I felt even brighter.

We had a lovely time splashing about in a shaded creek that wasn’t too hot, straining up a fence. Chatting away about horses. And he kept remembering my name, lordy! Amazing! How did that happen? I didn’t get called Sue, or Mandy or Victoria or Henrietta once!  My opinion of the country vastly improved. If one could work at a nice steady pace and stay out of the sun a fair bit, it was fine. And what a beautiful creek, with proper trees along it. We chatted about horses and I learned that Harry had started the very first pony club in Sydney, years ago. He’d been a keen show rider himself and trained many showjumpers that were bought by the top names in show jumping and which became famous. He liked them really dirty he said, as they were always the best horses. I disagreed, as I wanted Walers to remain known for a good temperament, and that meant culling if necessary, in the modern era simply by denying registration.  Later I thought about it and realised what he meant. I’d made a living breaking horses too, and often found the ones rejected by others – the “problem” horses – were perfectly fine. Usually more intelligent, just misunderstood. So in a way, we did agree, only I was being stubborn, and he was set on the fact it was the horses, whereas I think it’s the person. Yes, there are some bad horses but far fewer than some people think, and they are no better or worse when it comes to performing, and the danger from them isn’t worth the bother.

He was keen to see a big irrigation project go in, in his area of the Kimberely, he held great affection for it and thought fabulous crops could be grown. He was a man of vision and had casually met with some VIP guests while we were there, I think the Premier and other influential people, to show them about and explain the project. A go getter. I was starting to admire him in fact, he was a self-made man and a tremendous horseman and that’s really something. And it turned out, simply a really good chap.

Ord Irrigation Project, Kununurra, WA, benchmarkprojects.com.au
Ord Irrigation Project, Kununurra, WA, benchmarkprojects.com.au

I managed to mention he remembered my name on the drive back, and he gruffly said he thought I’d die on this madcap adventure. He had a female chopper pilot on the station, he thought the world of her, but she put the chopper down and killed herself, an accident, but he didn’t want another female on the station as he’d never got over it, and he thought I’d throw the towel in, well there you go. She must have been a top sort, what a tragedy.

Read the rest of the story: Part1, Part2, Part3

Posted by Janet Lane

Rare breeds advocate, and Waler researcher and owner/advocate since the 1980s.