The Heart of My Country - 'The Golden Years'*
You cannot handle 10,000 sheep in one mob on Victorian roads, let alone anywhere for that matter. They would be too spread out – over at least three miles – and the last two-thirds would get nothing to eat or drink. The mob was broken into smaller mobs of between 2200 and 3300. The route went from Carisbrook to Newstead to Yandoit to Porcupine Ridge, which is on the North Eastern slopes of Mount Franklin. It was a very steep pinch here and the ute had to go via Daylesford to get to the top. From here we went on to Lauriston keeping to the south of Kyneton and crossed the Calder Highway at North Woodend. North of the Macedon ranges we passed Hanging Rock, Newnham and finally arrived at the Lancefield-Bulla road just north of Monegeeta. By this time we were 8-9 days on the road. Bulla was our next destination. On one occasion we had to fill in a couple of days near Greenvale before crossing over a little old narrow bridge at Broadmeadows. It took more than an hour to get the 3300 sheep across. From here it was all open country with over 3000 acres making up the Essendon Common. Half way across the common there was an old farmhouse with large sheep yards. A few sugar gum trees provided some shade. Here, for the cost of five shillings, we camped the sheep, dogs and ourselves for the night.
It always took about three days to get the mob settled. By then it was obvious that certain sheep were always in the lead and others were tailenders. If the mob were turned around it only took half an hour for the leaders to be back in the lead and the poor old dollies in the rear generally finished up as dog tucker at the rate of two per night. The remarkable thing is that we always delivered more than we started with, in one case 35!
Next morning it was across the common and over the Calder Highway again, travelling a mile to North Essendon where we delivered our sheep to a local drover by the name of Ralph Dixon. This was our last and largest mob. We helped Ralph finish the drove through a part of Moonee Ponds, along Ascot Vale Road, Racecourse Road, a short distance along Epsom road crossing the Geelong Road and into the Newmarket saleyards, delivering them to Angliss Meatworks.
My father Raymond walked behind the four mobs and all the sidetracking all the way to Melbourne. We estimated he walked about 600 miles in the seven weeks. Dad would set off with the sheep the first thing. I remained to dismantle and load the yards. When I caught up to him we’d have a bite to eat and a drink while still moving the mob. I’d go on ahead to find a place to camp and hopefully water the sheep. Later in the afternoon I would go on ahead again to find and set up camp for the night. Sometimes it was an unused side road. Occasionally we would have to get up during the night to let someone through. This is where we used the hessian across the road so the obstacle could be seen by motorists. In those days car lights were quite dim because of the blackout restrictions. By the end we had some very well educated dogs. One of them became the farmyard matriarch for the next 10 to 12 years. The average price paid for this large mob was three shillings five pence halfpenny (3/51/2).
Now whenever I am in the vicinity of Tullamarine Airport I am vividly reminded of those droving days and realise it was probably one of the last big droving jobs into the metropolitan area. Things were vastly different in thos days – only 7 million people in Australia and not many cars due to petrol rationing. Fifty six years later development has covered our footsteps.
Even with all the development I am still able to identify where the old farmhouse and yards were – south along Mickleham road, turn right just under the freeway to the airport. Immediately to the left there are a few of the old sugar gums still standing.
*This story was the second prize winner in the Benalla Festival’s writing competition in 2015.