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John Gilfoyle p2

John Gilfoyle talks about the hierarchy of jobs on a cattle station in Australia, and life as a jackaroo. Jackaroos and the more experienced ringers on cattle stations are the equivalent of cowboys working on ranches in the U.S..

READERSVOICE.COM: What sort of things did you learn when you became a jackaroo?

JOHN GILFOYLE: To ride a horse, shoe a horse, cook on a campfire, muster stock, brand cattle, mark lambs, erect fences … but the main thing was I learned how to mix with and get on with people of all shapes and sizes, rich and poor, educated and uneducated.

RV: Would you recommend becoming a jackaroo to younger people?

JG: Most definitely!

RV: What is the hierarchy of jobs on a cattle station and what do they do exactly, from ringers to head stockman to managers?

JG: The boss is the owner or the manager. He makes all the decisions. The overseer is his 2IC. The head stockman is in charge of the men, the camp, and he gives them their daily tasks. The men, the ringers, are there to do what they are told especially in relation to stock work – mustering, branding. On some stations there would also be a gardener, a cowboy who would work around the homestead – milking cows, cutting up the meat, offsiding to the cook, a station cook, a cook in the camp, and a horsetailer in the camp. The horsetailer looks after the plant of horses.
All this is a bit “old-fashioned”; that’s how it was in the “old days”. Today with helicopters, motorbikes and mobile phones, the ringers work from quarters at the homestead rather than in mustering camps and move about in trucks carrying them as well as the horses.

RV: Can you explain what a muster is and how agents come onto stations and act as go-betweens between cattle buyers and station staff?

JG: A muster is when the sheep or cattle are rounded up. Stations don’t have to use agents if they don’t want to; they can deal direct with butchers, meatworks or private buyers. Others prefer to use agents to do the leg work for them, that is find the stock to buy or find the best buyer to sell to. Agents provide a service for a commission.

RV: Your book Bloody Agents! has a lot of good stories about your days as a stock agent. Can you describe the cattle stations you would visit as an agent, and name the ones you visited?

JG: There are too many to name but I would have been on hundreds of properties in Queensland especially around Quilpie, Charleville, Roma, Richmond, Hughenden and Townsville. I also did some business in NSW and the Northern Territory on places such as “Lake Nash” and “Barkly Downs”. To describe them? They range from little places that run 100 cattle to big places like “Headingly” at Urandangi that runs 40,000 head.

-copyright Simon Sandall