Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Belshaw's World - sheep and shelter in a bygone era

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on 18 May 2011. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because the Express columns are not on line. You can see all the columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011.

I was tempted to follow up my last column, “New England masterchefs ponder regional dish” with another column on food because I have been asking questions of as many older Australians that I can find.

A squatter goes to town Still, I do like variety in my columns, so this time I am going to tell a story out of New England’s past. The narrator is my grandfather. This photo from cousin Jamie’s collection dates from this period and is simply inscribed a squatter goes to town.

The story begins.

"The start of 1915 ushered in a short but severe drought.

In February a neighbour and I moved our sheep onto “Hazel Grove”, a Tablelands’ property.

Late one afternoon we intended to camp on the stock route near Donegal Dam only to find the Ross Brothers of “Ard”, Graman, ahead of us with 5,000 sheep occupying the camp. They offered to lend us enough hessian to make a temporary break. We had 3,000 sheep between us and our outfit consisted of the two owners and a lad to drive the cart and supplies with 3 good sheep dogs.

Hastily summing up the situation, I proposed that we should move to a smaller break about 2 ½ miles ahead. Our sheep were strong and could survive pushing. There was little feed in the stock route and it was essential that we should get ahead of the 5,000 “Ard” sheep.

The upshot was that I took the cart and drove as fast as I could to the second break. To my dismay, a fire had swept through and left only the base logs. I worked like mad felling saplings and bushes to get the break sheep proof and then managed to get the tent erected. The fly, a heavy water-proof tarpaulin, was still in the cart when the sheep arrived.

Meanwhile a swift change in the weather had taken place. The sky had become black and as the last of the sheep were behind the hessian gateway heavy rain began to fall.

For 3 hours we hung onto our tent corners, taking it in turns to have a rest on a chaff bag about 1/3rd full. We had very good oilskin coats but were wet to the skin.

After 3 hours of incredibly heavy rain it stopped completely.

I argued that we should get out tent fly up and our gear under cover. My friend argued reasonably that we should have no more rain after such a heavy deluge, and we should get a fire going and make a pot of tea,

We got the fire nicely alight when the Heavens opened and we had another three hours of unmitigated discomfort. Finally the second deluge ceased and this time for good.

In those six hours 10 inches of rain fell to the north of us and Inverell to the south had 15 inches. It seemed certain that we had had 12 inches in the 6 hours at our camp.

A drover, finding like ourselves that the Ross Brothers were in possession of the Donegal dam site, camped 1,500 rams on the bank of the McIntyre River.

In the abnormal flood which roared down on him in pitch darkness, he lost all his gear. He cut the fences on the high banks and saved a thousand sheep, but the others stupefied and panicky with the heavy rain were swept away/

Telephone lines, fences and farm buildings around Inverell were also swept away."

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