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John Gilfoyle p3

Author John Gilfoyle talks about drovers, stock routes, saleyards and agents. And his new book You'd Better Bloody Believe It!.

READERSVOICE.COM: What was the system with drovers? Can you explain how they’d sign on for taking cattle to a railhead, how long they might travel for, what a stock route is, and where you met them on their journeys?

JOHN GILFOYLE: A Stock Route is a Government Gazetted “Lane” for the use of travelling stock. There are stock routes all over Australia and some even have names. A drover would be engaged on his reputation; some drovers worked for the same owner for 40 years or more. They would contract to shift the stock for a fee; so much a day or week, and the price would increase with the number of cattle (or sheep) as the more stock to control, the more men the drover would have to employ. With cattle, the drover is supposed to do 8 miles a day so a journey of, say, 400 miles would take about 7 weeks. Ken Wormwell took 1200 steers from Winton to Singleton in the 60s and that took 6 months. Bill Little took 1700 steers and heifers from from Cloncurry to Roma in 2010 and that took 5 months but he was held up by floods for three weeks.

RV: What role do drovers play now?

JG: Very limited but there are half a dozen, at least, good active drovers still operating.

RV: How did the Quilpie and Roma saleyards fit into the process? Did some stations just get drovers or truckies to take their cattle there and how did an agent fit into this process?

JG: Quilpie saleyards no longer exist. Back in the 60s they might have had four sales a year. Roma is the big centre, always has been since the 50s. Today it’s the biggest in Australia. To sell at Roma you must choose one of the eight agents operating there. Drovers used to bring cattle to Roma but today 99.9% would come in by road transport and the rest by rail.

RV: Where did you live when working as an agent in Quilpie? Did you just rent a house?

JG: I was the manager and the company provided a house on which we paid a small rent.

RV: Would you meet everyone in town pretty much and what did you do for fun?

JG: (a) Yes, pretty much everyone. (b) Drank too much beer and when the beer ran out, drank anything that was available. I gave up the grog when I turned 50!

RV: How did you get information about sales of cattle and contacts?

JG: At Roma? All such information was available to the Market Reporter from the agents and from the saleyard computer

RV: What are some of your plans?

JG: We have big plans for marketing this new book – You’d Better Bloody Believe It! and as it is for a worthwhile charity we expect to receive widespread coverage and support.

-copyright Simon Sandall