Sunday, October 16, 2011

Wyndham Drovers


We're on the road with Liddy with five hundred head of fats
We push them along on the stoney ground and wheel them on the flats
And when the evening stars come out with laughter and with song
We round the cattle up and camp by some quiet billabong

Our cook's a ball of muscle when he's rustling up a feed
And Bob Delaney's home and dry when steadying the lead
And if the cattle run at night there's one chap out in front
Striking matches on the bullocks horns a bloke named Georgie Hunt

And when we get to Wyndham there's Tom Cole with his whip
To take the cattle over the hill and get them on the ship
And when the mob is all on board we'll have some blasted fun
We'll get Bob Kelly with his car to take us for a run

We'll try and dig Pat Riley up then to that bag of tricks
The pub that's kept by Teddy Clark they call the Double Six
We'll sing again them droving songs we sang along the track
Have a show on the screen for an hour or two then off again outback

Lyrics and the following notes from Mark Gregory's Australian Folk Songs site:

From the singing of A.L.Lloyd. Printed in Australian Tradition , Oct 1971
Wyndham - port town in northern WA
Lloyd describes Liddy as a well known drover of the area and Liddy's is also known as a bottle tree near Cockatoo Bore, the other side of Kununurra Fats - road bullocks
Tom Cole - contract musterer and station manager who settled in Wyndham in 1924
Georgie Hunt - drover on the VRD, Victoria River Downs in the Northern Territory
Teddy Clark's wife ran a pub called the Six Mile in about 1923
Filmshows were put on at the meatworks in Wyndham in those days.

The illustration to this post is a photograph of Tom Cusack, taken at the Wyndham Meatworks in 1982. Some of the story of his life and work can be found on the Kent Saddlery site.

The following information about this song's origin has been kindly provided by Jeff Corfield:

The original was a poem titled "On the road with Liddy" written in 1927 by William Linklater (alias Billy Miller or Billimilla) - a knock-about station hand/bookkeeper/drover in the Kimberley and NT from around late 1800s to mid 1930s. Billy Miller composed many poems - some no doubt original and others adaptations of others he'd heard on his travels - as was the time-honoured bush tradition. In this case however local old timers I knew in the east Kimberley all credited Miller with composing the original.

When I lived in Kununurra in the mid 1970s I did some research into his and other bush worker songs and poems. During this time Mary Durack sent me copies of several hand written poems Billy Miller had sent to her in the 1930s from where he was working at Elsey Station (NT) to Ivanhoe Station, East Kimberley where she and her sister Elizabeth were living at the time. I still have them.

Miller’s poems had wide currency in the region and some were published in his biography "Gather no Moss" written in conjunction with his nephew (I think) Roger Linklater. Others appeared in the old NT Northern Standard and several small local Kimberley newspapers during the early part of last century and spread from there, mainly by the mythical “bagman’s gazette” (bush telegraph). In addition to the Bert Lloyd song version another of his poems "The Depot Races" was recorded by none other than Barry Humphries on an album of Australian poems back in the 70s or 80s I think.

Not sure how Bert Lloyd picked it up and where the tune came from as while the poem was still known in East Kimberley in the 1970s the tune wasn't. Bert Lloyd never worked in the Kimberley or NT to my knowledge but it is possible he could have picked it up from itinerant workers in southern Australia as it would have been around when he worked there. Most likely though someone sent it to him in later years and he simply put a tune to it, as indeed he did for many of his so-called originally "collected" Aussie songs.

Here is Billy Miller's original FYI

I am travelling down with Liddy
With six hundred head of fats
We string them on the stoney ground
And feed them on the flats
And when the evening stars come out
With laughter and with song
We round the cattle up and camp
By some quiet billabong

Old Gus is a ball of muscle
When knocking up a feed
Bob De Lucy home and dried
Whem steadying the lead
When the bullocks rush at night
There is one man out in front
Striking matches on the bullock's horns
A bloke called Georgie Hunt

Our journey is nearing to an end
Here comes Tome Cole with his whip
To take the lead across the hill
And put them on the ship
And when the mob is in the yard
By God we will have some fun
We will get Malony in his car
To take us for a run

We'll try and dig Bob Cooper up
Then to that box of tricks
A tavern kept by Tessy Clarke
What bushmen call the Six
We'll sing again the droving songs
We sung along the track
Show on the screen a day or so
Then off again out back

No doubt any changes from the original are due to time honoured folk process thanks to that mythical outback rag the Bagman's Gazette.

Re the term "show on the screen" it actually does not refer to going to the picture show while in town, though it obviously derived from the advent of the travelling picture show in bush towns like Wyndham. It actually means to "play up" or "put on a show" on the grog in town before heading back out bush. The term was still current amongst some bush workers when I was there in the 1970s.

Other references above are basically correct. When living there I went right along the old stock routes from the NT border and south of Kununuara to the Wyndham meat works. Drovers from east or south of what is now Kununurra brought cattle into the Wyndham town common or "Chimoorlie's paddock, where Wyndham drover Tom Cole would take charge of them to literally take them across a saddle in the Bastion Range just behind Wyndham down into yards near the port for shipment south or to Philippines (on the famous Manillamen cattle boats) in the early days, or later into holding yards for the new meatworks built around 1917 where beef was tinned export prior to the age of refrigeration / freezers.

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