While the Australian Stockman’s Hall of Fame and Outback Heritage Centre has been working hard to keep their memory alive in Longreach, the nearby town of Blackall this week helped honour the industry in a big way when it unveiled a Drovers Memorial Wall.
The brainchild of local identity, Stewart Benson, the wall sited at Blackall’s Ram Park tourism complex contains an astounding 70 plaques and well over 100 names of people, all from Blackall, who have had a connection with droving over the years.
It was unveiled before a crowd of hundreds attending the town’s 150th anniversary celebrations, among them the boss drovers, drovers’ cooks, horse tailers and shepherds whose names have been recorded for all time.
As co-organiser, Jane Scobie, said, “we now have a palpable memorial to those people and their families”, thanks to a response that exceeded all expectations.
Among the names on the wall is one of Blackall’s favourite sons, Keith ‘Beaver’ Dendle, who left school in Blackall at the age of 13, when his father needed a horse tailer.
For handling 50 horses, Beaver was paid 10 shillings a week, and he remembered buying a hat and some boots with his first wage.
“I started out on my own when I was 16, with a mob of 1200 bullocks from up north,” Beaver recalled. It was a life he lived for 30 years and he was pleased to see a permanent reminder in place.
Also in the crowd was Andrew Pont, whose great-grandfather, Boney Pont, holds a special place in Blackall’s folklore as the man in charge of the first mob of cattle on the Barcoo.
He took the mob west from Rockhampton along the Dawson River, over the virgin country of the Expedition Range and the Great Dividing Range, to the Barcoo River watershed, paving the way for many others following.
The unveiling was preceded by the spectacle of a mob of sheep being brought across the Barcoo River on the southern outskirts of town, a precarious operation given the crowd of hundreds watching on.
After a short rest on the open concrete bridge to pick up a couple of strays, Peter Avery and Mick Rigby, together with Mick’s sheepdogs, demonstrated their bushmanship skills and brought the mob through the onlookers to their destination in the middle of town.
The official opening of the wall was conducted by Longreach’s Rosemary Champion, who described it as a mecca for people to visit, and history that was essential to preserve.
Rosemary is one of those associated with the Eternal Muster wall at the Stockman’s Hall of Fame.
Now that Blackall’s wall is there for all to see, Jane Scobie expected there would be plenty more interest from others keen to add their own names or names of family members.
A lot of supporting information forwarded by families providing details for the plaques was also displayed on the day.