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Sandy Thorne p2

Writer Sandy Thorne talks about her days catching brumbies...

READERSVOICE.COM: Did you ever go travelling collecting stories, and if so where, and did you just stay at hotels and talk to old timers in pubs? Or did you just collect them where you were working on stations or performing around the country at places like Lightning Ridge?

SANDY THORNE: My yarns, anecdotes and jokes in my earlier humour books were all gathered either from personal experience, or from friends and acquaintances. I have always had a computer-like mind for storing such material.

RV: Years ago you were working on cattle stations in the Gulf of Carpentaria, catching brumbies, among other work. I was curious about how how long it would take, and what the process was.

ST: We rode as a team, usually four or five white ringers and four or five Aboriginal stockmen – some station-bred, some from Hopevale Mission. I was the only girl and had to do a lot of talking to be allowed to go, at first – until I proved I could keep up with them and not get bucked off or get lost.
When we spotted either wild cattle or brumbies, they would take off flat out as soon as they heard or sensed our horses. Much of the country we galloped across was thick scrub. You had to trust your horse – if it fell you were in big trouble. With brumbies, we would have made long wings from hessian, leading into a yard. The head stockman took the lead, but sometimes someone on a faster horse would end up in the lead to swing them round. With a mob of cattle that had wild scrub bulls running with them, the stockmen would pick out a bull, gallop after it ’til it steadied up to a canter, then jump off their horse, run and grab the bull’s tail. When the bull turned round to horn them, they swung with all their strength on the tail and the bull would crash off-balance to the ground (or they hoped he would).
Then the ringer would reef off his tying straps which were tied across his chest and quickly tie up its hind legs, then its front legs. He would quickly castrate it, then get a hornsaw from his saddlebag and saw its horns off. Then, he would cut a hole through his nose, thread a length of wire thru and tie him to a tree, then retrieve his tying straps, and maybe go after more bulls, sometimes leaving the bull tied up for a day or two.
Naturally they had to remember where they’d left it. We would go back to pick them up with a small mob of quieter cattle, but they were often still full of fight. I threw smaller bulls and any rogue heifers that kept trying to break away from the mob. I was very strong but realised I wasn’t as strong as the men, so listened to the head stockman’s instructions not to tackle the big bulls or really insane cows because if I was hurt, it would bugger up the whole muster, plus my horse could get horned to death as well. Getting an injured person to where the Aerial Ambo could land, might take many hours of scrub bashing over rough tracks.
It was the most exciting time of my life, being involved with catching wild cattle and horses. I was lucky to get the opportunity to do so, through a station manager who had advanced ideas about what females could achieve. The only adrenalin rush that has come close to those Cape York musters, was what I experienced marching into mayhem and mad Muslims with a riot squad, kitted up in riot gear, in the Illegal Immigrants camps at Woomera and Curtin, thirty years later.

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-copyright Simon Sandall.