RON KERR – reminiscences of a working drover
Continuing folklore correspondence with Ron Kerr. Borroloola, NT. Aged 77.
Mr Kerr describes himself as ‘one of Australia’s oldest working ringers’. (Letter received November 2005)
(Some of the letters refer to questions I have asked or subjects where I have asked for more details. WF)
Ron Kerr as a young man on the track
“I like writing but never had enough schooling. Can get passed reading but spelling becomes a bit of hit and miss. Always need the dictionary to jump the hurdles. (I have made obvious corrections however I have tried to maintain Ron’s bush language wherever possible. WF). I wrote myself a book called ‘Kerr’s Country’. My sister in Sydney put it together, only two copies, one for me and one for herself. It included my poems. For me it is a diary. I won the ‘working dog stories’ prize that Angela Goode did for the ABC. They had over 2000 entries!
Following your letter I am sending you some bush yarns, old drover’s yarns, including the Galloping Ghan, The Busted Camp Oven, Corn bag Thompson, The Lignum Lair and the Fresh Water Admiral. Also some ‘pranks’ and what I call ‘water tank literature’.
As far as ‘singing to the cattle’ – it wasn’t to serenade the cattle. Singing was to let the cattle know the watchman was coming around the camping cattle, as not to appear out of the darkness. A sudden noise, like a horse breaking a stick, could set them on the move. Singing would cover the breaking of the stick etc
Warren, your letter about the Breeza Plains reminded me of a droving trip to Gunnedah sale yards. I was the cook for my dad (Roy Kerr). I was 12 years old and we were to camp this night in the trucking at Curlewis’s. I drove the wagonette with two horses in the pole and I pulled up near the trucking yards, unyoked the horses, and hobbled them out. I was collecting wood for the fire and got to talking to a young bloke (I think his name was Max Beard). We were talking about
Poddy riding when along came a steer about two year’s old. Max said it belonged to an old bloke in Curlewis. Anyway, the poddy steer walked into the trucking yard to a watering trough and then one of us mentioned that we should try and ride it. All we had to do was close the outside gate – as dad wouldn’t be along until sundown – so, with a halter rope to go around the steer, we jammed the steer into the corner with the other gate – it allowed us to pin him against the outer rail.
We had no trouble holding it in the makeshift pen and got the rope around its belly. Max climbed onto the steer while I pulled the rope down on Max’s hand and, at the same time, steadied the beast. When Max said he was ready I closed the gate and the steer bucked out of the corner. Max hit the dust in two bucks. Then it was my turn. Well, I never knew how I went as I woke up just as the owner of the sheep dad was droving, arrived. with my mother, from Quirindi. I woke up just as they arrived. I had to cough up to dad two weeks later – but I still don’t remember getting on that steer!
IN THIS SECTION:
- Working Drover
- Water Tank Literature
- Last droving trip
- Life as a Drover
- Further Correspondence
POETRY FROM RON KERR