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by [?]

BUCKALONG was a big freehold of some 80,000 acres, belonging to an absentee syndicate, and therefore run in most niggardly style. There was a manager on 200 pounds a year, Sandy M’Gregor to wit—a hard-headed old Scotchman known as “four-eyed M’Gregor”, because he wore spectacles. For assistants, he had half-a-dozen of us—jackaroos and colonial-experiencers—who got nothing a year, and earned it.

We had, in most instances, paid premiums to learn the noble art of squatting—which now appears to me hardly worth studying, for so much depends on luck that a man with a head as long as a horse’s has little better chance than the fool just imported. Besides the manager and the jackaroos, there were a few boundary riders to prowl round the fences of the vast paddocks. This constituted the whole station staff.

Buckalong was on one of the main routes by which stock were taken to market, or from the plains to the tablelands, and vice versa. Great mobs of travelling sheep constantly passed through the run, eating up the grass and vexing the soul of the manager. By law, sheep must travel six miles per day, and they must be kept to within half-a-mile of the road. Of course we kept all the grass near the road eaten bare, to discourage travellers from coming that way.

Such hapless wretches as did venture through Buckalong used to try hard to stray from the road and pick up a feed, but old Sandy was always ready for them, and would have them dogged right through the run. This bred feuds, and bad language, and personal combats between us and the drovers, whom we looked upon as natural enemies.

The men who came through with mobs of cattle used to pull down the paddock fences at night, and slip the cattle in for refreshments, but old Sandy often turned out at 2 or 3 a. m. to catch a mob of bullocks in the horse-paddock, and then off they went to Buckalong pound. The drovers, as in duty bound, attributed the trespass to accident—broken rails, and so on—and sometimes they tried to rescue the cattle, which again bred strife and police-court summonses.

Besides having a particular aversion to drovers, old M’Gregor had a general “down” on the young Australians whom he comprehensively described as a “feckless, horrse-dealin’, horrse-stealin’, crawlin’ lot o’ wretches. ” According to him, a native-born would sooner work a horse to death than work for a living any day. He hated any man who wanted to sell him a horse.

“As aw walk the street,” he used to say, “the fouk disna stawp me to buy claes nor shoon, an’ wheerfore should they stawp me to buy horrses? It’s ‘Mister M’Gregor, will ye purrchase a horrse?’Let them wait till I ask them to come wi’ their horrses. ”

Such being his views on horseflesh and drovers, we felt no little excitement when one Sunday, at dinner, the cook came in to say there was “a drover-chap outside wanted the boss to come and have a look at a horse. ”M’Gregor simmered a while, and muttered something about the “Sawbath day”; but at last he went out, and we filed after him to see the fun.

The drover stood by the side of his horse, beneath the acacia trees in the yard. He had a big scar on his face, apparently the result of collision with a fence; he looked thin and sickly and seemed poverty-stricken enough to disarm hostility. Obviously, he was down on his luck. Had it not been for that indefinable self-reliant look which drovers—the Ishmaels of the bush—always acquire, one might have taken him for a swagman. His horse was in much the same plight. It was a ragged, unkempt pony, pitifully poor and very footsore, at first sight, an absolute “moke”; but a second glance showed colossal round ribs, square hips, and a great length of rein, the rest hidden beneath a wealth of loose hair. He looked like “a good journey horse”, possibly something better.