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A modern style of droving
A drover in Australia is a person, typically an experienced stockman, who moves livestock, usually sheep or cattle, "on the hoof" over long distances. Reasons for droving may include: delivering animals to a new owner's property, taking animals to market, or moving animals during a drought in search of better feed and/or water. Moving a small mob of quiet cattle is relatively easy, but moving several hundred head of wild station cattle over long distances is a completely different matter.


Movement of large mobs of stock was traditionally carried out by contract drovers. A drover had to be independent and tough, an excellent horseman, able to manage stock as well as men. The boss drover who had a plant (horses, dogs, cooking gear and other requisites) contracted to move the mob at a predetermined rate according to the conditions, from a starting point to the destination. The priorities for a boss drover were the livestock, the horses, and finally the men, as drovers were paid per head of stock delivered. Drovers were sometimes on the road for as long as two years. The drovers who covered very long distances to open up new country were known as “overlanders”.

Traditional droving could not have been done without horses. The horse plant was made up of work-horses, night-horses and packhorses, with each drover riding four or five horses during a trip. The horse tailer was the team member responsible for getting horses to water and feed, and bringing them to the camp in the morning. A good night-horse was highly prized for its night vision, temperament, and its ability to bring animals under control when a “rush”, known elsewhere as a stampede, occurred at night.

The standard team of men employed to move 1,200 cattle consisted of seven men: the boss drover, four stockmen, a cook and a horse-tailer. Store cattle were moved in larger mobs, of up to 1,500 head, while fat bullocks going to meatworks were taken in mobs of about 650 head, i.e. three train loads. The stockmen will ride in formation at the front, sides and back of the mob, at least until the mob has settled into a routine pace. Cattle are expected to cover about ten miles (16 km) a day, sheep about six miles (10 km), and are permitted to spread up to 800 metres (half mile) on either side of the road. Occasionally mobs of horses were moved by drovers. A short camp is made for a lunch break, after which the cook and horse-tailer will move ahead to set up the night camp.

A continual watch is kept over cattle during the night camp, usually with one horseman riding around the mob, unless the cattle are restless when two riders would be used. A rush can be started by a sudden noise such as a dingo howl, a bolt of lightning, sparks from a fire, or even a bush rat gnawing on a tender part of a hoof. Drovers tell vivid stories of the totally chaotic conditions that occur when several hundred cattle start a rush at night. If they head towards the drovers’ camp, the best option may be to climb a sturdy tree (very quickly). Many drovers have been trampled to death in a rush, sometimes still in their swags. A good night-horse can be given its head, and will gradually wheel the leading cattle around until the mob is moving in a circle, and calm can be restored.

During long ‘dry stages’ extra care will be taken of the stock, and this may involve droving during the night to conserve the animals’ energy. About three kilometres before water is reached, the animals will be held and small groups will be taken to drink in order that the cattle do not rush and injure or drown others.


The first droving over a significant distance occurred in 1836 when 300 cattle were moved by Joseph Hawdon in 26 days from the Murrumbidgee Rivermarker to Melbournemarker, a distance of about 480 km. As droving skills were developed, more and more challenging assignments were undertaken. In 1863, boss drover George Gregory drove 8,000 sheep from near Rockhamptonmarker to the Northern Territorymarker border, some 2,100 km, taking seven months. Robert Christison overlanded 7,000 sheep from Queensland to Adelaide, a distance of 2,500 km, in the early 1870s.

The most famous Outback stock routes were the Murranji Track, the Birdsville Track, the Strzelecki Track and the Canning Stock Route. The Canning was regarded as the loneliest, the most difficult, and the most dangerous.

One famous overlander even claimed he had driven a swarm of bees from Ballaratmarker to the Murrumbidgeemarker.


The gradual introduction of railways from about the 1860s made some droving work unnecessary. However, the work of the overlanders and drovers in general fell away rapidly in the 1960s as trucking of animals became the norm. Road trains carrying large number of animals are today a common sight in rural and Outback areas. But during times of drought, taking animals onto the “long paddock”, the fenced travelling stock route, along a public road, is common practice even today, and droving skills are still required. The modern drover is now typically assisted with modern equipment, such as a motorcycles, all-terrain vehicles, a truck and/or trailer for the horses, if they are used. Caravans are commonly used, along with generators to provide extra comfort and convenience. Stock may be enclosed at night in an area that has been fenced off with a temporary electric fence.

Localised droving was common in the Kosciuszko National Parkmarker and Alpine National Parkmarker and High Plains areas, until the areas became National Parks. The drovers would often bring cattle from the lower pastures to the fresh green pastures for the summer months. During the summer months many of the drovers would often stay in mountain huts like Daveys Hut, Whites River Hut and Mawsons Hut.

Notable drovers

In 1881, Nat Buchanan, regarded by many as the greatest drover of all, took 20,000 cattle from St Georgemarker in Southern Queensland to the Daly Rivermarker, not far south of Darwinmarker, a distance of 3,200 km.

Harry Redford established a reputation as an accomplished drover when he stole 1,000 cattle from Bowen Downs Station near Longreachmarker in Queenslandmarker in 1870 and drove them through very difficult country into South Australiamarker, along a route now known as the Strzelecki Track.

It may be surprising to some that women have been noted as exceptional drovers. One of the true legends of the outback is Edna Zigenbine, better known as Edna Jessop, who took over a droving job from her injured father, and became a boss drover at 23. Along with her brother Andy and four ringers, they moved the 1,550 bullocks the 2,240 kilometres across the Barkly Tableland to Dajarra, near Mount Isa, Queenslandmarker.

Droving in popular culture

Much literature has been written about droving, particularly balladic poetry.

An idealised image of the droving life is described in the poem Clancy of the Overflow , and more realistically depicted in the historical film The Overlanders . Hugh Jackman played a drover in the film Australia.

See also


  1. Taylor, Peter, Pastoral Properties of Australia, George Allen & Unwin, Sydney, London, Boston,1984
  2. Coupe, Sheena (gen. ed.), Frontier Country, Vol. I, Weldon Russell, Willoughby, 1989, ISBN 1 875202 00 5
  3. Edna Zigenbine, a biographical sketch and poem by Jack Sammon
  4. Clancy of the Overflow. A.B.Paterson. Illustrations by Kilmeny Niland
  5. The Overlanders

Further reading

  • Willey, Keith (1982) The Drovers Melbourne, Macmillan, ISBN 0333 338308
  • Barker, H M (1994) Droving Days Carlisle, WA, Hesperian Press, ISBN 0859 051978
  • Harris, Douglas (1982) Drovers of the Outback Camberwell, Vic, Nan Rivett, ISBN 0959 367128

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