Part 2: More reminiscences about the 1880s cattle musters of the Discovery Bay Coast near Nelson

Part 2: More reminiscences about the 1880s cattle musters of the Discovery Bay Coast near Nelson

Given the interest generated by the article I shared last week about the Discovery Bay Coast, I thought I would share another couple of reminiscences from the same era that I have also come across.

The first is an article by W.E. Holmes, also from 1937, that looks like it might have been inspired by the article by Bill Crowe (from earlier in the same year) I shared last week. As well as giving a more detailed account of the big muster, Holmes also shares an interesting glimpse of the nature of the coastal country at that time (albeit through the ‘rose-coloured’ glasses through which we all tend to recall our youth!):

“The country was then all protected by thousands of she-oaks ; the grass was green and clean, waving in the wind, and the coast was a picture from Nelson to Swan Lakes. Now and then a dingo would scamper out of sight.”  

While we know that the coastal side of Long Swamp was largely bare and drifting sand at the time of European settlement, the description of open, she-oak grassy woodland occurring along the inland side of Long Swamp is also consistent with early descriptions of other parts of the near coastal environment in this stretch of the Australian coastline. This is worth reflecting upon when considering the range of factors that have changed the hydrological balance of adjacent Long Swamp, which relies on lateral groundwater discharge from this same area (noting the direction of groundwater movement towards the coast), now that a large portion of this lower water-use grassy woodland environment has been replaced by higher water interception/use commercial forest plantations. Thankfully the restoration trial now underway at Nobles Rocks provides us with a practical tool that enables some of the combined hydrological impacts on Long Swamp to be more actively managed into the future.

The second article by “Old Timer”, is from a couple of years earlier, and gives a brief additional account of the annual cattle muster from the same era.

For these three separate accounts to have made their way into the Portland paper, 50 years after the fact, is a reflection of just how memorable this occasion must have been, for both the men on horseback and local onlookers alike.

Portland Guardian, Monday 4 October 1937

The start of the article from October 1937

Those Days of Long Ago. 

An Old Time Round-up.

Reminiscences by W. E Holmes.

“Wanted at the muster.” How those words thrilled little Tommy and little Teddy Holmes. McKee had passed the word along – “All hands assemble down by Bully’s Lake,” and like the general that he was, he issued orders – “You go with Billy Egan, and you with Noble Liddle. Bring in everything you see”; and as we laughed, “I do not mean the kangaroos.” Along came good old Sandy encased in a bullock hide, closely followed by big Adam, while Bob rode out wide. “To the yards, boys,” yelled Sandy. “Keep them on the run.” Now and then another mob was joined, chased by yellow, heeling dogs. John J. Kennedy, mounted on the good old Mullah Mullah, raced into a wombat hole, rose again and swore, and I, the youngest in the band, watched what Billy Egan did that day so long ago. There were roans, greys, bays and skewbalds, blacks and browns, all ridden by long-whiskered men, for razors were not popular and soap was very dear in those days, which yet seem to me as yesterday. Yet it’s more than fifty years since then. All the time, they worked them nearer to the yards those thousands of long-horns, wild-eyed Herefords, and clean and fat Shorthorns. What a day! Oh, what a scene! What joy that day recalls. Round the Hurdle Flats; round the back of Johnson’s ; up and down the hummocks and out on Bully’s Ranges. How they raced and sweated, as the whips and dogs drew near. In they came from north and south, east and west. It was a lovely sight to watch R.H. and Adam racing through the mob, their knees hugging the saddles and their whips flashing like lightning ; how the horses knew their job, and, with, their noses singling out the ones they wanted. MB/S, BJ/S, Spades and H/S son were rounded up in the yards and drafted. Meanwhile Sandy, gaunt and grim and grey, with empty whisky bottle, kept the wild-eyed mob at bay. The station cattle on the swing, went bounding into Barr’s with dozens in pursuit, to lie held by Bill and Noble, and the yellow-heeling dogs. Men were made of wire and muscle, and how they tussled ; how they rode on that never-to-be-forgotten day in the long ago. “Well, have a drink of tea,” said Harry ; “You, Tommy, gather up some sticks; Teddy, fetch the billies from the lake.” And the horses grazed around, some in hobbles, some without, while the musterers related how the mob had been found. “There can’t be many missed,” said Harry, “for you have more than 4,000 here.” Soon again they were all hard at it. Out came the OJ/S, JK/S, and H/S, H/C/S & and AML/S. Trebor Kittson and Sam Malseed were then just big fat boys, but they raced and shouted with the rest. Off went mob after mob, some to Drik Drik, some to Greenwald and others elsewhere. Next came the JME/S and JMJ/S and the S/S, and they went off to Nelson and Swan Lake, closely followed by Tom Wilson and others from the Cape, all yelling, flogging, sooling, and with the one thought “We must reach the Emu Flats to-night.” Then James and Argyle Kittson set sail with a mob of bellowing JK/S, while R. J. Holmes and Wm. Mullen collected up the WM/S and H/S, followed by Angus, senior, Angus junior with H/C/S and AML/S. There was movement. There was joy. Oh, how I miss those voices, urging the nags and dogs along. Many now are silent that did their duty to their country in those long-ago days. They were honest, they were sober, all those men of long ago. The country was then all protected by thousands of she-oaks ; the grass was green and clean, waving in the wind, and the coast was a picture from Nelson to Swan Lakes. Now and then a dingo would scamper out of sight. Mobs of kangaroos and emus sought cover further out. Thousands of old warriors, quite unconcerned, fat and lazy, would stand with folded arms and watch that racing, band of musterers. They were sons of pioneers who took part in that muster: They had no easy row to hoe ; no bed of roses – those men who blazed the track that we so easily follow. McFarlane’s mob of clean shorthorns grazed in the great, long paddock that ran from Bung Bung Lake until it hit the wild seal foam, where the river empties on its journey south. There were more men from Nelson and elsewhere whom I can remember – Mark Kerr and Allan Francis, looking for some stragglers of Brown’s and Billy Hanlon’s. Dozens of them now have crossed the border who were there that day. Many names I have forgotten ; many I recall. There was Dan Minogue, Edwin James and poor old Malcolm, flogging, sooling and hooling in their efforts to reach the range that night. It was a great day and a wonderful sight – one that is firmly wedged in my memory. All the cattle and horses sleek and fat and well contented. So much for the days of long ago.

Portland Guardian, Monday 16 December 1935


By “Old Timer”

A few weeks ago my thoughts went back to the days when H. D. Kane held the run from the Glenelg river down to Spring Creek and from Pannican Creek to Bully’s ranges. Roughly, the run took in the parish Warrain, portion of the parish of Kentbruck, and portion of the parish of Cobboboonce. The portion towards the coast was fairly good grazing country for cattle. At the time I am writing of Harry McKee was in charge, with Noble Liddle and Billy Egan as assistant stock-keepers. There were no fences, and the plan worked was to ride round the boundary and keep heading the straggling stock back on to the run. Once a year – about August – there was a big muster, and word was passed along that Harry McKee was starting to muster on a certain date. This notice meant that several Bridgewater lads would join the camp and assist in the muster, as quite a lot of Bridgewater cattle would be found in the mob after the round-up. The daily routine would be that McKee would separate his men and attach them to those who had come for the big muster. I well remember on one occasion, when three hundred 4 and 5 year old bullocks belonging to Kane had been drafted off and were to be released into a paddock prior to starting them off for Kalimbete. Someone called out, “Where is Jack Kennedy ?” The bullocks had stampeded, and nothing on earth could stop them. One of the party jumped up on a post, and there was Kennedy right in the centre of a galloping, surging mob of wild cattle. If he went down he would be trampled to death. Jack, however, kept his head, and by waving the handle of his stock-whip and gradually moving backwards, he managed to keep sufficient space to stand up in. Great was the relief to the onlookers when the last bullocks had passed and he was seen to be alright. The next thing to be done was to start this mob off to Kalimbete, where Mr. Kane had country that would fatten them. It must have been a fairly profitable business, for it was carried on under the same management for some years.

Mark Bachmann