Droving in long paddocks

In his immortal poem Clancy of the Overflow, Banjo Patterson captured the quintessential element of a bygone era. The idyllic lifestyle of a drover traversing the vast terrain of a picturesque rural landscape “for the drover's life has pleasures that the townsfolk never know".

Travelling stock routes capture our collective imagination, conjuring images of a romantic nomadic lifestyle—a drover caring for his stock while pitted against the power of nature. Following in the ancient footsteps of Aboriginal pathways, travelling stock routes were established across the length and breadth of rural Australia, some as far back as 150 years.

Crisscrossing the countryside these ‘long paddocks’, as they became affectionately known, provided a lifeline during periods of droughts, enabling skilled stockmen to shepherd livestock to greener pastures.

Today the drover’s horse has been replaced by the horsepower of modern transport. Trucks roll across great distances moving beasts from one locale to another and transporting stock to markets. Yet the environmental footprint from the past still resonates today. With the surrounding landscape cleared for agricultural pursuits, travelling stock routes provide corridors of grassy woodlands, a critical refuge, a sanctuary for endangered species in a modified rural landscape. As nature’s boarding house, majestic trees stand as sentinels where stockmen once passed.

Legislation passed in 1934 created long paddocks from Tharwa to Hall to Gundaroo, a pivotal link for farming families in the bush capital. A series of droving transport corridors were established, providing safe passages as stock were moved from one end of the Territory to the other and for rural communities to access the broader regions of Queanbeyan, Yass and beyond.

To enforce the conditions by which drovers accessed these routes, Agricultural Rangers oversaw the movement of livestock, issuing permits, maintaining infrastructure, patrolling on horseback.

A complex stock drive in 1976 highlights the Rangers’ role and the need for detailed logistical planning.  When drover Dave Carr needed to move cows with young calves at foot from Oaks Estate via Canberra Avenue, he enlisted the oversight of Rangers before skilfully guiding the stock under his charge across a busy highway, bemused motorists pondering the spectacle before them. It would be true to say the bush capital had a rural heartbeat that day.

Residential development soon brought into question the contemporary purpose of travelling stock routes. Our suburbs now dominate where stock once traversed. Those remnant travelling stock routes with significant environmental values are today incorporated into our conservation estate.

To glean more insight into this fascinating element of our rural past, visit Find of the month - ArchivesACT

Brett Mac

Brett McNamara - Regional Manager with ACT Parks & Conservation Service

Brett loves our national parks almost as much as the Gang-gang on his uniform. He is prone to using the word 'majestic' when referring to the bush capital. He loves talking. A lot. His favourite animal is the playful Platypus.

Article also appeared in The Chronicle