Late Thursday I left Brisbane to attend a Central Queensland country show at Marlborough. Driving in a Nissan Cattle truck we first went to ?Chudley Stud? in the North Coast hinterland to rest overnight and then load the Brahman Stud cattle early next morning for the 600 km trip to Marlborough. Why? Has the old soldier enlisted in the Cowboy Corps? No, but I once worked at Nudgee College, a local Christian Brother run private school. My two sons completed their secondary schooling there and whilst so associated I made some good friends. One of these, Brian, runs the Cattle Club where he takes young men and helps them with rural activities associated with cattle. These young men aren’t all country kids. About half of the class are city bred and the confidence building exercise in learning to care for, water, feed and show beasts weighing up to a tonne lifts them. Some boys are disadvantaged, some carry the burden of disabilities but they are all expected to pitch in and help. Some, like young Will from out west, the student President of the Cattle Cub, is going through the process of having adult-hood forced on him by the tragic, untimely death of his Father. AT 16, and in his last year of secondary schooling, he is the now heir-apparent of a large proportion of the earths surface in the form of cattle properties in Queensland. The normal life of a hedonistic, hardworking rural youth will now be tempered with responsibilities that few men take on in their lifetime. It’s a good guess that by the time he is twenty he will be responsible for tens of thousands of cattle and the financial security of a large Queensland family. Good luck, mate. The dinner conversation revolves around cattle prices, chances at the judging at Marlborough and the lack of rain. Chudley Stud owner, Rob Walker, reminds me of Hanrahan, the subject of John O’Briens poem Said Hanrahan
“We?ll all be rooned,” said Hanrahan, “If rain don?t come this week.”
“Ten years ago we averaged a hundred inches a year, said Rob. And now we’re lucky if we get thirty”.The grass is high and thick but I will admit the dams need a flush. The homestead is typical “Jolliffe” who’s drawings and cartoons died the terrible death of pollitcal correctness. His Lubra’s and cattlemen were an art form in themselves while his homesteads were all ‘zero-cost, labour-intensive bush-timber and 8-gauge wire constructions. Rob’s homestead is built from bush timber, the only tool – a chain saw and the only joins – Cobb and Co eight gauge wiring. It is an art form and just walking around and looking is in itself entertaining. Not only does Rob never throw anything out but he doesn’t let his neighbours throw anything out either. Hundreds of years of rural property history resides on his walls, floors, ceilings and in his yards. Note the rough timber ceiling joists and rafters. The walls are all “log cabin’ cladded. The local Mayor comes to the many parties Rob holds but they never, never discuss ‘Council Building By-Laws’ The after-dinner conversation stretches on as Rob, living on the property while his delightful wife back lives at their home in suburban Brisbane, grabs any company driving by, hog ties them to the railings and seduces same with cold beer and funny stories. By midnight, with the world beef prices stabilized, politicians advised of the correct manner of managing rural Australia and all the problems of the Middle East fixed we retired comfortable with the fact that the world was a better place at the end of the evening than it was at the start. It rained during the night. The sounds of rain on a corrugated tin roof have always lulled me to sleep but consider also, that in this ‘Saltbush Bill’ Homestead one could actually see the rain fall through the gaps in the log walls. Great night, great sleep. A Brahman. Imported from India, these beasts are tick resistant and able to handle the high temperatures of Australia The next morning we load 11 head, two with calves, for the 700 odd km trip to Marlborough. The ‘we’ is a royal ‘we’ as I cunningly managed to arrive on scene with only my good boots on. Couldn’t ruin them in the muddy yards, could I?. Strangely enough they managed to muster, halter and load without my help. Marlborough, some 100 plus km north of Rockhampton, is a typical small rural town half way up the East Coast . One pub, one shop and one servo (Petrol station). The one shop doubles as hardware, Post Office, Bank, Stock feed and equipment shop and any thing else needed. The Show Grounds are about half a km from town. We arrive late on Friday afternoon and select an area for camping and looking after stock. The stock is all unloaded, fed, watered and bedded down on straw. We have dinner, cooked by one of the boys. Jack, at 16 is an old hand at camp cooking and soon has the younger boys helping with the preparation. I’d bet some mothers would like to know his secret. Cattle fed, watered and settled. Boys fed, watered and unsettled with all the rural girls around, and now time for the men to continue working. Some woman, my wife included, refuse to acknowledge standing at a bar is working but we men know it is. Deals to be done, cattle judges to be sweet-talked, secrets to be gleaned from loose talk by other breeders and friendship developed for later manipulation. At the bar I readily and speedily confess I’m not a cattle man. Although dressed in boots, jeans, checkered shirt and Akubra hat, the hat is actually a slouch hat and has the Army ‘broad arrow’ stamped on the liner. Without missing a beat one cattleman say “fetch Striker” and within minutes I’m talking to ‘Striker’ Rea who, other than being a cattleman, also served in Vietnam with a sister battalion. It’s on. Within an hour ‘Striker’ and I are old mates and arguments are going my way with his support. He says to some local dissenting cattleman…you’re not going to win, we’re Infantry mates…I’m duty bound to back him. Most bar conversations are meaningless if you weren’t there but some very good advise stuck in my mind. When buying meat, the thick fat on one side or end of a piece of steak is body fat and is a big no-no. It doesn’t melt during the cooking process and it’s ability to damage the body is the stuff of nightmares retold by Vegans and Dieticians to their children as bedtime stories. In marbled beef, the marble effect is caused by intra-muscular fat. It is this fat that gives the taste and in cooking, melts at a lower temperature than body fat. Visually, this fat comes across as thin white lines and this is what you should you look for when buying steak. It melts onto the BBQ plate and while you don’t consume this fat, you do get the benefit of the taste. We wander back to camp and have the obligatory ‘one for the road’ after several ‘ones for the road’ at the bar. Tomorrow is serious stuff. A lot of money is made from ribbons won at shows. Get yourself a “best Female’ for the show and treble her calve prices. Sleep now, more tomorrow.