Old time drovers tell their tale

Story: Bridgetown Greenbushes Shire CEO Tim Clynch, Shire President Tony Pratico, Rick and Alison Wheatley, Development Officer Megan Richards, Don and Margaret Ferrell and Shire Librarian Kathy Matthews receiving the recordings.
Story: Bridgetown Greenbushes Shire CEO Tim Clynch, Shire President Tony Pratico, Rick and Alison Wheatley, Development Officer Megan Richards, Don and Margaret Ferrell and Shire Librarian Kathy Matthews receiving the recordings.

AN oral history recording has been made using material and interviews with a number of early farming families from Bridgetown, Manjimup and Nannup.

The families were involved with droving stock along the stock routes as the seasons changed and feed for the cattle was needed for them to survive.

The Oral History project was the result of an alliance between Comm unity Development Officers of three shires, Megan Richards (Bridgetown), Hsien Harper (Manjimup) and Louise Stokes (Nannup). 

It was made so the stories of the old timers who originally did the stock routes could tell their stories before they were lost forever. The project provided tape recordings, which are being burnt to a CD, as well as the transcript of the interviews.

Copies of each of these will be sent to the State Library, as well as Manjimup, Nannup and Bridgetown Libraries. Each of the families interviewed will also receive a copy of the taped interview with their family.

"This is an 'Add on' program which will support the setting up of the historic stock route trails used by the old time drovers and which are now being opened up for modern day treks as people follow the history of the State," Ms Richards said.

John Ferrell, a retired school teacher who was retained to carry out the interviewing, said it is great when work and pleasure can be combined and, for him, that is what history is all about.

"I love being involved with people and hearing their stories. The recording is a necessary part of this. I feel very privileged to be able to do this particular project, it has brought me in contact with a lot of lovely people with interesting tales about how they worked with their cattle and the hardships they faced as they tried to make a living," he said.

"From the beginning of European settlement, colonists used bushland pastures to raise their farm animals. Lightly grazed, the natural grasses, creepers and even native plants like xanthorrea, were able to sustain livestock. The use of bushland areas was regulated by the granting of leases for grazing, issued by the colonial authority and later by the State Government," Mr Ferrell said.

"Settlers in the south-west towns of Bridgetown, Manjimup and Nannup continued into the twentieth century to use pastoral leases along with some freehold blocks in coastal areas from Nornalup to Busselton. 

"Droving cattle to these areas became the device by which they could sustain economic numbers of livestock, especially over the summer months and into autumn, when developed pastures on their farms dried off. 

"Learning from their Aboriginal neighbours, the early farmers utilised fire to promote healthy re-growth in the scrub, regularly burning up to a third of their leases each year to provide continuing nutrition for their stock. With the first rains, stock could be returned to the home farms in time for calving. 

"The stock routes, although well travelled, still proved hazardous for much of the stock, with toxic plants growing along the way, together with dingoes present in large numbers and domestic dogs which had gone feral," he said.

"But despite such hazards, driving cattle to the coast continued until the latter half of the twentieth century. As forested areas were developed and traffic increased, droving on the highways became more difficult. In some cases, farmers trucked cattle to and from coastal runs, though this increased costs. So the late nineteen-sixties saw many families cease droving.

"In the course of the interviews, a distinct effort was made to canvass and elicit the role of women in relation to the cattle-drives which, on the surface, seemed to be a male-dominated preserve," Mr Ferrell said.

In his acknowledgements of assistance received whilst working on the project, Mr Ferrell made particular reference to the inspirational input of Thomas Muir, who made it possible to visit the coastal area and see firsthand what remnants existed of the drovers' occupancy.

The project was funded by a Lotteries Commission Grant to carry out the research, which was applied for and received by the Shire of Bridgetown Greenbushes, supported by the Shires of Manjimup and Nannup.

For further information, or to listen to the recordings, contact library staff in one of the above-named Shires.

This story Old time drovers tell their tale first appeared on Donnybrook-Bridgetown Mail.