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2-337 (Original)

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addressee author,male,Haygarth, H.W.,un
Narrative Discourse
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Ward, 1969
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Beyond the undulating plains which formed our district, lay a vast expanse of broken country, consisting of dry creeks, gullies, wooded hills, and grassy flats, jumbled confusedly together, so as to produce the most remarkable scenery, and fit for nothing but to afford a secure retreat for hundreds of wild cattle, of which mention has been previously made as being wholly irreclaimable, and perfectly distinct in their habits from the half-wild herds. In these almost inaccessible regions they have long bred, and never voluntarily venture out on the open ground. There they remain unmolested, except when any of the branded or domesticated cattle, having strayed from the level country and joined them in their haunts, attract thither the settler and his men in their pursuit; for, if they are not speedily sought and reclaimed, they soon become as intractable as the rest, and eventually past all recovery. [204] An occurrence of this sort, which usually takes place soon after the winter, the time when cattle are most apt to stray, would occasion a note something like the following: 
'Dear - ,
'Some of our cattle have been seen among the wild ones in the gullies at the back of our station, and I am going to take a turn at them tomorrow. They have been missed several months, and it is high time that they were taught the way out again. Will you join us? I dare say there are some of your own astray too. Come over in the evening, and bring a stock-keeper, with you. We can then arrange plans with "Amos". who will meet us here, and make one of the party.'
In a case of this sort it is not neighbourly to refuse assistance; so, on the occasions in question, as soon as we could catch our horses, we jogged down in the afternoon to answer the invitation in person.
Our arrangements were soon completed. It was decided that the most judicious, or, as Amos called it, the most 'judgematical' plan, was to go into the gullies that very evening, and encamp there during the night, so as to have the whole of the following day for our work. Our party consisted of five horsemen, most of them well qualified for the expedition; and my friend, the author of the note, as he threw open his enclosures at starting, felt confident that we should require the use of them on our return.
But our most powerful ally, our sheet-anchor, was 'Amos', a short description of whom, as a man 'sui generis' will serve to beguile the way, as we ride onward to the gullies. He was a native-born white, and had been a stockowner all his life. His parents had given him a few cows and brood-mares at his birth, and he was now, by dint of time and industry, the owner of many thousands of cattle. But though fully possessed of the means, he had no wish to alter his style of living for the better, or to rest in any way from his hard and laborious employment. He was, in fact, a man who could not be wholly domesticated; his slab hut was all that he required at night, and his home was abroad in the saddle, an article which seldom lasted him more than a year. Sparing of his speech, and possessed of little curiosity upon any extraneous subject, it was his maxim - a most excellent one - always to mind his own business; and though he was ever most ready to assist, he never interfered with his neighbours. His whole ambition seemed to be what he was an oracle upon all subjects connected with his own peculiar occupation, and the most fearless rider in the district, one who, let the animals pursued go where they might, had never yet failed to 'lead them', or refused to follow them down anything 'short of a precipice'. Every inch of plain, forest, and gully was known to him for miles round, and for months together he would pursue the same daily routine of life, mounting his horse at an early hour amid sallying Forth to all parts. of his 'run'; while his 'hut-keeper' had one reply to all inquiries- 'his master was out after stock'. [...] [205]
After about an hour's search, during which we had scarcely ever removed our eyes from the ground, or raised our bodies from a sloping position, a track was discovered on the side of a hill, but the long, wiry grass made it very indistinct, and we proceeded but slowly for some time, until in a dry creek we stumbled upon several other more 'likely' footprints making for the low grounds, and probably for the water, where we expected to meet with cattle; but no such thing. At last a flat in the vicinity of a narrow rill, rising out of some rich dark soil, known in Australia as a 'black spring', showed us innumerable footprints, crossing and recrossing each other in every direction. Farther on we came to a spot which had recently been the scene of an encounter, so frequent in the wild state, between two of the bulls; for the earth was torn up, and the grass levelled around it, but how long ago was the question, for the birds were flown.
'They were down here before daybreak this morning,' said Amos; 'that track's as fresh as paint. The best thing we can do now is to separate, and ride round the spring on every side, until one of us hits it off again.'
Wild cattle, I may mention, usually come to water by night, and not during the heat of midday, as is the habit of those herds which are in a more domesticated state.
After a delay of about ten minutes' duration, the track led us away down a gully so narrow, that two horsemen could not ride abreast; so we jogged on in single file, expecting every moment to come upon the chase, with a feeling of subdued excitement that was very invigorating. At length we stopped again.
'We are close upon them now,' said our leader; 'they were here not five minutes ago: one of them was basking there', (I looked at the place to which he pointed, but could see no difference between it and the adjacent spot); and, if they've not heard us and made off the other way, we shall be up with them in the crack of a stockwhip.
He had scarcely said the words, when we heard a deep tramping sound close to us, and caught a momentary glimpse of a number of cattle stealing rapidly away on the other aide of the ridge, above which their hacks and the tips of their horns alone were visible, and in an instant we were after them, helter-skelter.
Unpractised as I then was - for it was my first attempt at 'gully-raking', as it is called - I soon found myself completely thrown out; so, leaving my stock-keeper to do his master's share of the work as well as his own, I contented myself with keeping within a moderate distance of the scene of action, while I took a general view of the chase.
Cattle when pursued invariably make for falling ground, for which their formation peculiarly fits them; so much so, that, although an animal should be nearly exhausted on ascending a hill, yet if he can only just manage to surmount it, the weight of his own body carries him down on the other sides speedily as ever.
Down hill, therefore, went titan and beast. At the foot of the range there was a dry creek, in which, at a little distance on the left, the bases of two precipitous hills, nearly meeting each other from opposite quarters, formed a narrow pass; for this, knowing it to be their nearest outlet, the wild cattle, some fifty in number, shaped their course: unluckily it happened to lead in the wrong direction, and the race was, therefore, whether pursuers or pursued would get first to the gap. [206]
The range grew steeper and steeper towards the bottom, and it was very exciting to see the whole party going down it together, rattling the loose stones from under their horses' feet, plunging into it, and as suddenly emerging again, from the patches of scrub, scrambling over the fallen timber, and lowering their heads with great precision, to avoid being swept from their saddles by the projecting branches that occasionally crossed their way; while the action of the stock-horses, owing to the declivity, was at times more like that of a kangaroo than anything else: somebody, thought I, must surely be damaged before long; but I was quite a stranger to this sort of thing, and had not then learnt, what I was assured of on my return home, that 'it was only the way of the country'.
It seemed that there was a sort of rivalry between my friend's stock-keeper and our invaluable partisan 'Amos', and this was a fair field for their exertions. The open country was too easy for them. To get along fast in broken and falling ground is the criterion of horsemanship; so, from this emulation, the riding was perhaps rather more energetic than usual.
The tide of fortune hitherto seemed evenly balanced; but just as the wild herd neared the creek, a black bull, evidently no stranger to the locality, singled out, and, far ahead of the rest, made straight for the gap. He was a very noble beast, without a brand of any kind upon him, and his eye, full and round as a gazelle's, seemed to flash fire, as he pursued his mad career, dashing the foam from his lips. It was absolutely necessary to stop him at all hazards; for wheresoever one animal leads the way, the rest are sure to follow: but he had already gained a great deal of ground, and was now to near the gap, that his escape seemed inevitable.
One chance remained: a ledge of loose stones, so precipitous, that the bull, excited as he was, had turned aside from it in his course, opened a shorter cut. To this two men pushed their horses abreast, but one alone went down it, the other stopped and looked after him. The next minute a horseman stood in the gap; the black bull was seen making off in a contrary direction, and the report of a stockwhip, reverberating through the hills, warned the cattle that 'Amos' (for he it was) had reached the goal before them,
This was the grand event of the day, and our success had, in a great measure, hinged upon it. Thenceforth our work was comparatively easy. The cattle were 'steadied' for a minute upon a hillside, and as soon as the stragglers, of which we were in pursuit, had been clearly distinguished among them, the whole were hunted or rather guided homewards, for they wanted no driving, being apparently bent upon running as long as their legs would carry them; while our business was to keep them together, and always to be beforehand with them in reaching any creek or gully that branched off from the right direction. Now and then an animal would become exhausted, and, standing at bay, threaten death to any one who approached it; or, being nearly blinded with hard running, would take a line of its own, and refuse to go any other; but with these few exceptions we succeeded in driving the whole herd before us. [207]
'It's lucky we got them,' said Amos; 'there were "no flies" about that black bull.'