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Title: The Pastoral Life Past and Present
Author: John Arthur Barry
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 1302311h.html
Language: English
Date first posted:  May 2013
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THE PASTORAL LIFE.
PAST AND PRESENT.

THE BIG MEN AND THE LITTLE MEN.

BY JOHN ARTHUR BARRY.
(Author, of  "Steve Brown's Bunyip," "Red Lion and Blue Star." "The Luck of the Native Born," "In the Great Deep," etc.)

Published in the Australian Town and Country Journal (NSW)
Wednesday, April 19, 1905

The pastoral life for both employer and employed has within the last few years altered radically, and altered for the worse. At one time a youngster, energetic, active, and with an average supply of common sense, added to a liking for the bush, might, with fair confidence, look forward to something of a career. From jackaroo, or even from the men's hut, in exceptional cases, to overseer, from overseer to manager, while with the prime of life yet some distance away, was nothing unusual. And the salaries were very different at the top of the tree then, to the beggarly pittances now offered. Most of the stations were owned by the individual, as against the company. Also, the seasons were, on the whole, better; nor were the multitudinous pastoral plagues of the present day nearly so much in evidence as they are now. There was more room and fewer fences, and, consequently, stock, both large and small, throve better, and paid better. In those spacious days a drought in  one district, in place of, as now, meaning decimation to those concerned, meant simply an emptying of the stock on to more favoured portions of the State; any State, to "travel for grass and water," until better times came on the afflicted runs. Nor, so far as could be seen, was anybody much the worse for the proceeding. Now, however, what with travelling stock routes, of ridiculous inadequacy of width; permits, declarations, applications, and a mass of red tape, generally a man hesitates ere allowing his stock off his run, not to look for grass or water, because that would be looking for the impossible, but merely to travel to market, if it happen to be a distant one.

At the present day it is extremely difficult to place a youngster on a station, with a view to having him taught a knowledge of stock and station life. The old-time squatter had no objection to having half-a-dozen or so of these young men in the "barracks;" but his modern prototype, the "Company," or the "Bank," has little or no use for pastoral cadets of the kind. They require quarters, a servant to wait upon them, and are thus a source of extra expense. Besides, since "station" has given way to "estate," the hundreds of thousands of far flung acres to the consolidated blocks of freehold, a manager and a working overseer, with three of four men, all of them paid at the lowest rates, are made to do the work of the old-time big staff. Five and-twenty or thirty years ago, however, station life for the neophyte was a pleasant enough experience. No matter how green he might be, he took his share in the work from the very jump. Ignorant of the saddle though he were, he was at once put on a horse's back—and often as promptly off it. He assisted in mustering; lamb-marking, burr-cutting, fence repairing, branding, and all the rest of the ordinary station work. Then, after a few years' experience, if smart, he might probably find himself offered a billet as assistant overseer on some large property, should there be no room on the one he had been "serving his time" upon. The work was often desperately hard, beginning with the sun, and ending long after the stars were shining. But the fare in the barracks was good, and plentiful, and now and again, when the busy seasons were over, would come long intervals of comparative leisure, during which the men who intended to stick to the business read the best authorities they could get hold of on stock; studied the Land Acts of their State, even becoming more complicated and bewildering, and otherwise fitted themselves for what was then looked upon as the highly responsible and honourable position of station superintendent.

This cadet system bred good men, and in an infinitesimal proportion it still does so. But so poor is the remuneration now offered for station management that there is not much incentive to any preparation for it as a possible career. To make it worth one's while to go through the mill now, there should be a future prospect of being able to also go on the land for oneself. Without some such prospect the initiation nowadays to a pastoral profession means, at the end of it all, perhaps, for a first-class sheep overseer the magnificent sum of £80 per annum; or a managership at double the money—and lucky to get either position. Of course, there are some still in receipt of large salaries. But they are, as a rule, travelling inspectors with under their charge a group of perhaps a score of company stations, whose managers it is their duty to supervise, and whose noses, it is requisite in the interests of shareholders, should be kept very close to the pastoral grindstone. And it would be very easy to count these highly-paid persons throughout Australia on the fingers of both hands, and, then, perhaps, have a few digits to spare.

To parents, however, who can afford to pay a fairly stiff premium, a pastoral cadetship for their sons is, in many instances, still open. Otherwise, and lacking influence or relationship, it will be found extremely difficult to exchange an apprenticeship for "tucker" and lodging. The institution once known as  the "barracks," a building specially set aside for the youngsters, is fast disappearing; hence there is nothing available between "hut" and homestead. The first for the gently nurtured is impossible; the second, is seldom available. In fact, the jackaroo is vanishing with his one time employer and patron, the squatter, per se. There is little room for the species; and there will be less as station and squatter continue to merge faster into "pastoralist" and "estate." However, as has been said, the life is to be had yet in places. And a little of it will injure no boy. Rather do him much good; for it is an open-air, hearty, wholesome existence, and one that is no poor preliminary for the battle of life in other fields. But as a means to an end, to the embracing of the pastoral calling, it, without capital, can lead absolutely no whither.

It would be somewhat difficult to say how many men are to-day managing their own properties, with an altogether free hand, untrammelled by financial obligations, unharassed by ever-increasing overdrafts, able to do exactly as they please with stock or land. But the percentage of large holders in this country so situated is a comparatively very small one. For the most part, "black care" sits behind most of the Crown lessees of the present; and even if they are still allowed to retain the management of their properties, they only do so on sufferance, and must show themselves amenable to all orders from "down below." By which term is meant, not the nether regions, but merely the capital of whatever State the property may be situated in. But the life of the "untied" man is idyllic. It goes without saying that his property is fully improved; probably the greater portion of it is freehold. Unlike his less fortunate contemporaries, he is not forced to "stock up" against his better judgment, as to the carrying capacity of his country. Therefore, the worst droughts find him, as far as possible, prepared to meet them, and his losses are comparatively small, while the runs of his overstocked neighbours are turned into boneyards. Throughout, too, he is making money by the sale of what in ordinary seasons would be known simply as "stores," but which now are fetching the prices of "primes." There are still men left, individually owning great estates, who are in this happy condition of independence. But, as has been already remarked, they are not to be found everywhere. And for the most part they, too, have had their earlier hardships and struggles; have seen the time when the dreadful overdraft was growing ever larger and larger; times when it seemed impossible to keep their heads above water much longer. Then perhaps would come along a succession of good seasons, everything they adventured throve, and finally, pulling out of the slough of despond, they emerged triumphant on to firm footing. With all of these men, however, the personal equation has had almost as much to do with success as the fortunate run of the seasons; competent management, and the foresight that is a sort of instinct, are just as much required to work a station properly and remuneratively as they are to ensure prosperity in any other sort of business.

A quarter of a century ago, a writer on pastoral subjects would have had little to say of the small holder, who at that period had not obtained the grip on the land he now possesses. Even in those days there was much talk of "bursting up the big estates," but few people regarded the idea as other than an idea, and a visionary one. The free selector was fighting desperately for a foothold on the land, and his defeat by the great tenants of the Crown appeared almost certain. But though the struggle was a long and a bitter one, the big battalions won through at last; the might of squatterdom was broken, and the appropriation of the wide-stretching areas began, and has been going on ever since, until now there seems to be little or nothing left of them worth the taking. They have all been absorbed by conditional purchase, homestead lease, grazing farms, or some process of a similar kind. And there can be no doubt that, on the whole, the policy of closer settlement has been a wise one for the country, whatever it may have proved in many instance for the individual. The men who originally took up small selections, and kept adding to them and improving them as occasion offered, are now, the majority of them at any rate, well to-do. To their sheep-farming they have added the cultivation of wheat, with miniature poultry and dairy farms as minor adjuncts. The later settlers, as a rule, do not thrive so well as the older ones, who have borne the heat and burden of the day, and have emerged scarred but triumphant. They lack experience; and many of them go under, devoured by the local storekeepers, much in the same fashion as aforetime were their foes the squatters, by financiers on a much larger scale. But always others spring up to take their places, to rekindle the fires on the empty hearths, to re-stock and re-plough the waste paddocks: Throughout the country it is eminently the day of the small holder—once laughed to scorn, harried and worried by his big neighbour. And it is to him as a class that in the future Australia will have to look for much of her prosperity. Already his first rude slab "humpies" have given way to neat weatherboard cottages; and they, in their turn, in many instances, have been superseded by houses of stone and brick, solid, enduring, the houses of a people who have felt their feet, and have come to stay. Late and early, year in, year out, they have tolled incessantly, to make a not too responsive earth yield up its fruits, wet and drought, fire and flood, have destroyed their crops and their flocks, their very homes even. But ever the stubborn Anglo Saxon strain has conquered in the.long run. To go on the land in Australia in these days is no picnic; it is a struggle of the toughest, ending in the survival of the fittest. And those who survive the ordeal, and achieve success are very fit indeed.

The pastoral life on a large station is like an open-air life elsewhere in other countries, consisting of much the same unvarying round of familiar duties. Incident of any kind is rare; each season has its appointed work, among the stock; lamb-marking, weaning, breeding, shearing, as the case may be. On far-out properties, the arrival of the mail is the main event of the week; and should it and Saturday night chance to arrive together, then so much the better. Sunday is the day for reading, and bar bush fires, the one specially set apart for "pulling up the back news," both in the "House," "Barracks" (if there are any), and in the "Hut." Sometimes visits are paid to neighbouring homesteads; but generally station people, who have been in the saddle all the week, prefer to "lie back," and take it easy on the seventh day. At shearing time, the great yearly wool harvest, there is, however, very often no Sunday at all; and at times the work keeps all hands going nearly night and day. It is a season of strenuous endeavour and toil for every soul in the place; and there is but little rest for homestead or hut until the last great waggon-load is on its way to the nearest railway terminus, and the last shearer and rouseabout is paid off.

Now, however, that the shearing contractor has come so much to the fore, the yearly event has ceased to cause, much stir. The station hands do the mustering, and bring the sheep to the shed. The contractor does everything else; he takes the wool off; rolls it; presses it; and, if necessary, would doubtless deliver it to the city firm to whom it is consigned. Thus the pastoralist and his executive have all the trouble and worry of the business taken off their hands. The small holder at one time shore his few hundreds of sheep anyhow and anywhere. His press was a square hole in the ground, around which he suspended his bale, and then jammed the fleeces in with a spade. But now, although he may not shear by contract, he sheers his sheep by the thousand in a fine woolshed; presses his bales in the most up to-date press procurable; consigns them to his own agent—and places the resulting cheque to his own credit.


THE END

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