They take it in turns, look after [the cattle] all night, and then they got to sing a song, make 'em go to sleep.
Billy Patch (Mr P), Wiluna, 2007
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Head stockman. Photo: Axel Poignant, 1942
gelatin silver photograph
39.2 x 31.5 cm
National Gallery of Australia
The Canning Stock Route is the world's longest historic stock route, and it was reputedly Australia's most difficult.
From 1911 to 1931 only eight mobs of cattle made the trip to Wiluna. After the wells were reconditioned, on average just one mob of 300–800 head was driven down the stock route each year. Most were mustered at Billiluna and Sturt Creek stations.
The round trip from old Halls Creek station to Wiluna and back took about seven months, the return trip without cattle being faster. Droving teams travelled with 'plants', or teams, of about 15 camels and 50 workhorses, packhorses and night horses. Camels carried heavy loads and were used to draw water, a huge job given that 800 head of cattle, and a team of horses and camels, could consume over 30,000 litres of water at each well.
During this period the drovers fostered better relations with desert people, leaving meat and bones for the people they encountered.
On the Canning Stock Route, droving teams were always led by white bosses. However, their success depended on the skill of the Aboriginal stockmen and women, who far outnumbered the white drovers.
Long time ago, our father and our uncle all been droving to Canning Stock Road... They been handling the cattle all the way along, droving to Wiluna.
Yanpiyarti Ned Cox, Fitzroy Crossing, 2007
All the women were drover-men on Canning Stock Road.
Ngilpirr Spider Snell, Fitzroy Crossing, 2008
All that lightning and thunder. Bullock been run away. We been go back to Billiluna with 300 bullock we found with our camels, but 500 still missing.
Freda Tjama Napanangka, Footprints across our Land, 1995
Aboriginal stockmen and women, although not named in the mainstream history of the stock route, are remembered with pride by Aboriginal people today. Those listed below are relatives of the artists in this collection.
Women: Freda Tjama Napanangka, Biddy Chungulla, Manga Margaret Long, Tilly Stevens, Wakajiya Bieunderry, Jinamungkurr, Minyayi Nampitjin.
Men: Jamili Chum Lee, Peter Gogo, Tommy Bull, Pakala Gordon, Pilinti Flinders, Wimpingkil Roger, Harry Hall, Paruku George Wallaby, Rover Thomas, Karntakarnta Billy Thomas.
Cattle at Durba Springs, 2007
Mervyn Street, Mangkaja Arts, pencil and watercolour on paper,
29.9 x 125.1 cm
A lotta old people telling me 'bout [how] they used to drove from Billiluna straight across to Wiluna. But they're not in the photos, they got no name. Nothing. They got be part of this droving story.
This drawing of Aboriginal stockmen on the route was made at Jilakurru, where drovers would graze their cattle after the long trek through the arid north country.
Canning Stock Route, 2008
Mervyn Street, Mangkaja Arts, acrylic on canvas, 59.7 x 119.5 cm
Mervyn grew up hearing the stories of relatives who had been Canning Stock Route drovers. As a young man he worked as a stockman himself, at Carnegie Station near Wiluna, where he met many of the Martu people who had worked closely with, and were related by marriage to, his own family members in Fitzroy Crossing and Billiluna.
When I got to Wiluna I just look around and I couldn't believe I was in Wiluna. And I met them old people. They telling me all the droving story, 'We got family back in Wiluna, we got family right back in Fitzroy. We got a nyupa [husband or wife] from this way now. We got family'. And they been start calling their name [and I said], 'Ah! I know them old people!'
If this road never been happening in those days, we never [would have] been here to meet. People from Wiluna meeting people from Billiluna. This road made a good relationship to people.