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A Droving Yarn
by [?]

Andy Maculloch had heard that old Bill Barker, the well-known overland drover, had died over on the Westralian side, and Dave Regan told a yarn about Bill.

“Bill Barker,” said Dave, talking round his pipe stem, “was the quintessence of a drover–“

“The whatter, Dave?” came the voice of Jim Bentley, in startled tones, from the gloom on the far end of the veranda.

“The quintessence,” said Dave, taking his pipe out of his mouth. “You shut up, Jim. As I said, Bill Barker was the quintessence of a drover. He’d been at the game ever since he was a nipper. He run away from home when he was fourteen and went up into Queensland. He’s been all over Queensland and New South Wales and most of South Australia, and a good deal of the Western, too: over the great stock routes from one end to the other, Lord knows how many times. No man could keep up with him riding out, and no one could bring a mob of cattle or a flock of sheep through like him. He knew every trick of the game; if there was grass to be had Bill’d get it, no matter whose run it was on. One of his games in a dry season was to let his mob get boxed with the station stock on a run where there was grass, and before Bill’s men and the station-hands could cut ’em out, the travelling stock would have a good bellyful to carry them on the track. Billy was the daddy of the drovers. Some said that he could ride in his sleep, and that he had one old horse that could jog along in his sleep too, and that–travelling out from home to take charge of a mob of bullocks or a flock of sheep–Bill and his horse would often wake up at daylight and blink round to see where they were and how far they’d got. Then Bill would make a fire and boil his quart-pot, and roast a bit of mutton, while his horse had a mouthful of grass and a spell.

“You remember Bill, Andy? Big dark man, and a joker of the loud sort. Never slept with a blanket over him–always folded under him on the sand or grass. Seldom wore a coat on the route–though he always carried one with him, in case he came across a bush ball or a funeral. Moleskins, flannel waistcoat, cabbage-tree hat and ‘lastic-side boots. When it was roasting hot on the plains and the men swore at the heat, Jim would yell, ‘Call this hot? Why, you blanks, I’m freezin’! Where’s me overcoat?’ When it was raining and hailing and freezing on Bell’s Line in the Blue Mountains in winter, and someone shivered and asked, ‘Is it cold enough for yer now, Bill?’ ‘Cold!’ Bill would bellow, ‘I’m sweatin’!’

“I remember it well. I was little more than a youngster then–Bill Barker came past our place with about a thousand fat sheep for the Homebush sale-yards at Sydney, and he gave me a job to help him down with them on Bell’s Line over the mountains, and mighty proud I was to go with him, I can tell you. One night we camped on the Cudgegong River. The country was dry and pretty close cropped and we’d been “sweating” the paddocks all along there for our horses. You see, where there weren’t sliprails handy we’d just take the tomahawk and nick the top of a straight-grained fence-post, just above the mortise, knock out the wood there, lift the top rail out and down, and jump the horses in over the lower one–it was all two-rail fences around there with sheep wires under the lower rail. And about daylight we’d have the horses out, lift back the rail, and fit in the chock that we’d knocked out. Simple as striking matches, wasn’t it?