Advance Australia! Chapter 8

Wild Cattle

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The men on the station found hunting wild cattle to be the best sporting action available. Kangaroos, aborigines, wild cattle, off hunting, the hunt, another hunt.

Finch-Hatton laments the lack of sport in Australia ('sport' apparently being a synonym for 'hunting' in his lexicon). Kangaroos make very poor hunting:

On the whole, Australia is one of the worst countries for sport that can be imagined. There is no big game of any kind, except kangaroos; and after the novelty of a kangaroo hunt has worn off, it is very poor fun. Since the destruction of native dogs and eagle-hawks by the squatters who stocked the country with sheep, the kangaroos have not a single natural enemy left, and in some districts of Queensland they have increased to such an extent as to bring absolute ruin upon the runs which they infest. An Act known as the Marsupial Act was accordingly passed to encourage their destruction, a reward of so much a scalp being offered by the Government. In some places countless droves of them blacken the plains, eating up every vestige of grass, and literally starving the sheep off the country. Some of the squatters have gone to a vast expense in fencing in their runs with marsupial fencing, but it never pays.

Finch-Hatton strongly disapproved of the occasional hunting of aborigines:

Away up north an occasional raid after the wild Blacks enlivens the monotony of life, and there are some men who are brutal enough to enjoy hunting them down. But apart from the chance of getting a spear through his ribs, or a tomahawk in his skull, no one who has not lost every vestige of decent feeling could possibly look upon this as sport, or be induced to undertake it except in self-defence.

Wild cattle were about the only thing worth hunting:

Of the few kinds of sport which Australia does afford, undoubtedly the finest is hunting wild cattle. It is part of the legitimate business of a stockman, and a very necessary part too, for nothing is more injurious to a tame herd than the presence of wild cattle on a run. It ought, therefore, to be classed as work rather than sport; but anyone who has once been at it will own that it is a form of entertainment that is exceedingly bad to beat. Of course there are no wild cattle indigenous to the country, but in some places there are cattle that have been neglected, and that have bred wild for generations, and they are to all intents and purposes as wild, and twice as savage, as bisons. There was one corner of Mount Spencer run, on the coast-fall of the range, known as Black's Creek, the creek itself being one of the heads of the Pioneer River, and here the former owner of the station had allowed a mob of wild cattle to establish theselves. ...

Black's Creek was about as wild a piece of country as it would be possible to find in Queensland. Its course lay right among the mountains, which towered on both sides, sending rocky spurs down in many places right up the banks of the creek. The grass was frightfully long, for it was not once in two years that we could get it to burn, and in many places it was up to one's elbows as one rode through it. There were a few little open flats along the course of the creek, but the rest of the country was very heavily timbered, the banks of the creek and a good deal of the country being covered with dense scrub, for which the cattle made the instant they were disturbed.

The Finch-Hattons and some of their stockmen go on a hunting trip:

One day my brother and I settled we would make an expedition down Black's Creek, and hunt up some of the "clean-skins," as the wild cattle are called, in allusion to their never having been branded. We sent over to Haslewood for Billy Burgess, who appeared armed with an uncomfortable-looking sort of old musket, which he declared was a most reliable weapon if it was only held straight. My brother and I had a "Winchester" rifle each, and we provided Frank with an "Express," with which he was not half a bad shot. Rolling up our weapons in our blankets, which were strapped on to the saddle in front, we set off one afternoon in October, taking a black boy and some rations with us. ...

Just before sundown we got to the place where we meant to camp, on the bank of the creek. The creek was not running; but just here there was a small water-hole in the bed, full of clear water, with rocks all round covered with beautiful maiden-hair fern. ...

After supper we all lit our pipes -- except Frank, who did not smoke -- and lay down round the fire with a sensation of absolute contentment and peace that one must go and camp-out in the Bush to understand. The only single drawback to my enjoyment was that Frank did not smoke. There is always something uncomfortable about a man who does not smoke; but in the Bush, where one's pipe gets to be such a companion as it never does elsewhere, it was really quite painful to think of Frank setting off out on the run every day by himself without a pipe. ...

Next morning we all woke up just before daybreak, while the stars were still shining, the straw-coloured light over the hills to the east showing that it would not be very long before the sun appeared. The ashes of last night's fire were still hot, and the addition of a few dry sticks soon raised a blaze again. After a wash in the creek we lit our pipes, and, leaving Billy to boil the tea for breakfast, we sallied out to look for our horses. ... This time our horses had not gone very far, and we were back in the camp by the time that the tea was made. Breakfast did not take long, and the instant we had done, we loaded our weapons, and, clambering on to our horses, we set off down the creek to look for the cattle.

The hunt commences:

Sneaking silently along for about a couple of miles, we came to a crossing of the creek, on the opposite side of which was a small plain. As we emerged on to this, we came suddenly upon a mob of about thirty wild cattle, among which were six or seven bulls, one of them about the biggest I ever saw. The instant they saw us the whole mob charged, and cleared us out in every direction. The black boy's bridle came off, and his horse tore wildly into the middle of a mob of raging bulls, with him yelling murder and absolutely white with funk. Frank and my brother disappeared into the creek after the big bull and one or two others, and Billy and I tore across the plain after a small mob that were going like made for the ridges beyond. As we came up with them, Billy discharged his weapon at a young bull that was a little behind the rest, the bullet breaking his shoulder, and bringing him bellowing on his head. Away we went after the rest; but a little farther on Billy got a most awful buster over some rocks in the long grass, he and his horse rolling over each other in a most uncomfortable kind of way. Looking back over my shoulder as I galloped on, I saw him on his legs again, so I hit out like anything to get a shot at the rest of the mob before they got away into the ridges. Just on the edge of the plain I came up with them, and put a bullet behind the shoulder of a good-sized bull that was nearest me. He turned and charged, but my horse cleared out too quick for him, and after struggling on for about a hundred yards, he rolled over. The others were gone where it was hopeless to follow them, so I rode up and put another shot into him to finish him, and then turned back to see how Billy was getting on.

Fortunately he had landed clear of the rocks, in the long grass, but his saddle was smashed to pieces, and his horse's legs very much cut and knocked about. We rode back and finished off the bull that Billy had shot first, and then went over the creek to see what had become of the others. Following their tracks for about half a mile, we came upon my brother sitting upon a log all alone, smoking a pipe, and mopping the blood from his forehead.

"Hullo," I said, "are you hurt? had a buster? where's Frank? and what's happened to your horse?"

"Why, my horse has cleared out, and Frank has gone after him. He and I cornered off that big bull, and I rode up alongside and put a shot into him. I never saw anything turn as quick. He got me full on the ancle, and that kept his horn out of 'Darkie's' ribs; but the fool, instead of clearing, went into figures, and what with the cant I got from the bull, and the rifle, and one thing and another, down I went. It was all so mixed I thought the bull had upset me. 'Darkie' cleared out then, and left me on the ground five yards from the bull, on a dead level plain, without a bush for a hundred yards. I struggled on to my knees, and worked the rifle so as to load again; but before I could get it up the brute charged, and caught me full over the eye. Frank was yelling to me to lie down, but it's all gammon. I saw a bull the other day rooting up a daisy with perfect ease. I scrambled up again, and, the rifle being loaded, I put another shot into his shoulder, when he fortunately gave me best and left me. He's dead somewhere in the creek down there, I think. The 'Winchester' is good, and they always die of it, but the bullet is not stopping enough to prevent a charge. However, I've got off very well, with a sprained ancle from the first charge, and as to my eye, I think my head must be nearly as hard as the bull's, for, beyond cutting it open, it hasn't hurt me much."

"Well, hold on a minute," I said, "and I'll fetch you a pannikin of water out of the creek, if there is any here."

A little lower down I found a small pool of water, and having got my brother some, and washed his head for him, I set off down the creek to look for the bull. Sure enough, he was lying in the bed of the creek, stone dead, about a quarter of a mile below where my brother had last shot at him. Just then Frank reappeared leading "Darkie," whom he had managed to bail up amongst some big rocks lower down. Billy's horse was dead lame, and my brother's ancle so swollen that he could only just manage to ride; so we concluded to knock off and go home, and altogether, considering the frightful nature of the country, we had not done so badly to kill three of the bulls before they got away.

A later hunt provided even more excitement:

The next time we went down Black's Creek after the clean-skins we had a still more lively time. In the early part of the day my horse got badly horned in the belly, and not long after, while galloping after a beast, he went head over heels into a hole where the stump of a big tree had been burned out, and broke his shoulder. O'Donnell, the stockman from the neighbouring run, who came with us, came to fearful grief. He and his horse, and the bull that he was after, all went head foremost into a deep rocky gully. When we found them, the bull was lying in the bottom, among the rocks, with its neck broken, and O'Donnell on top of it, quite insensible. We got him out, and carried him home on a litter of saplings. For twenty-four hours he lay quite still, bleeding at the ears, and we thought he was away, but he came round, and eventually got all right again.The rest of us managed to get a mob of cattle, mostly clean-skins, into the yards; and about the gayest time that we had was drafting them. They exhibited shocking temper.

The worst of having wild cattle anywhere near one's run is that the tame ones go and join them, and become nearly as wild themselves. The country was so rough down Black's Creek that it was almost impossible to clean it up thoroughly, and we hardly ever went down there without crippling somebody. But there is no doubt that hunting wild cattle there was as healthy a form of sport as anyone could wish for.

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