With The Cattle King

Kidman: Yandama area.
Murra Curra July 1928
Observer (Adelaide, SA : 1905 – 1931), Saturday 14 July 1928, page 21

Overland To Norley
A Spell At Yandama
V—By Murracurra

How reflective one gets out in the quietude of the bush! I may be wrong, but I cannot but help thinking that we of the city live a somewhat circumscribed life, which tends to dwarf our vision. The problem is too psychological to dilate upon at length, beyond pointing out that the dwellers of the big spaces of Australia are used to looking far ahead in a double sense. If rain does not fall after many months of waiting they still look far ahead with philosophical patience; it will come next year, if not this. When we get a dry spell extending over a few weeks we become abnormally uneasy. What, then, would be our mental state if we, living in such well-favoured areas, had to wait for 20 months without rain? Well, that has been the experience of some people settled on the wind-swept country in upper South Australia, west of the border fence from the corner of New South Wales.

Saved by the Rain

After the depressing condition of Quinyambie Station we were relieved to find Yandama in such good heart on the New South Wales side. At one time this station carried between 40,000 and 50,000 sheep, but now it is devoted to cattle, of which at the present time there are 7,000 or 8,000 head, with an additional 2,000 head on the South Australian side, which embraces Tilcha. These latter will have to be removed. Yandama and Tilcha are worked conjointly under Mr. Winton’s able management, and it might interest the reader to learn that from Quinyambie border to the Queensland border the country extends for about 120 miles, and from the eastern boundary to Lake Collabonna for about 124 miles. It is, therefore, a really big station. Mr. and Mrs. Winton made us very comfortable at the homestead, which is built on the banks of the Yandama Creek. In front of it is a fine large dam, 10 or 11 ft. deep, the water in which will last for nine months, and keep going 1,000 sheep and 500 cattle, if necessary. This, in addition to another dam on the creek, has not been dry for 30 years. “What a blessing Yandama got the rain when it did,” Sir Sidney Kidman remarked to his manager. At the head station 220 points was recorded on February 16, and 105 points on April 1. Last year the total gaugings were 260 points at Yandama and 247 at Tilcha. In 1924, the total for the former was 171 points, which was made up of a few showers of half an inch and under. The average for nine years is only 4.09 in., so that this year Yandama has been well served with 3.25 in. to date.

Wonderful Bores

Mr. Winton told us that they would never have lived through the drought in that country but for the bores. Tilcha bore is wonderful. Completed in May, 1919, at a depth of 2,345 ft., it yields up to a million gallons every 24 hours, and the bore stream flows for 39 miles – a long distance for water to run in that country. There is a waterhole on Tilcha Creek half a mile long, and on one occasion Pat Kennedy – who until recently was Sir Sidney Kidman’s senior drover – came over from Innamincka with a mob of 500 cattle, and swam them across it. It is said that when the contractors were sinking Tilcha bore they expressed the opinion that a site should have been selected below this waterhole as they were dubious about the bore water filling it. It has not only done so, but has also run for 23 miles beyond it. Tilcha Creek is a great place for birds. and Mr. Winton said that about four years ago a party, consisting of Dr. Chenery (of Wentworth). Dr. MacGillivray (the noted ornithologist, of Broken Hill), and Mr. and Mrs. W. L. Heyvood (of Broken Hill) went out on a fortnight’s trip to Lake Callabonna, and noted nine different kinds of hawks alone on Tilcha Creek. We were discussing birds at the dinner table one night, and the manager of Yandama recalled a wild white cockatoo, which used to follow him about. This bird became quite tame, and would even bully the cats in the men’s kitchen. When Mr. Winton drove away in his motor car he would hold out his arm. and “cockie” would alight on it, and scramble tip on to the hood, the dear old thing! Once it went out to Lake Wallace and back with him – a distance of 54 miles. Later the cockatoo flew down and stayed a fortnight with Billy Stewart; a half caste drover, six miles from Yandama. When Billy went away poor old cockie died. I often wonder if these birds can be taught to chatter a few words of English, what they must be saying to one another in their own language the whole day long. Perched in pairs they look real Darbies and Joans. Reference to Stewart led Sir Sidney to remark, “When I bought Wilpena Pound years ago Billy was manager there. He has been droving for us for years. He was fetching cattle from Innamincka last year. I think he is on the Cooper now.” With all their distinctive beauty, these interesting birds are very troublesome. They not only find delight in mischievously nibbling the tops of the gum trees to pieces, but they also make a nuisance of themselves at the waters. Large flocks of galahs and white cockatoos come to the troughs in the mornings and evenings, and Mr. Winton supplied guns to his men, who have shot them at the wells by the hundreds, and burnt them. One has only to account for a few for a start, and the others will all scramble on to them in a sort of hysterical attack. However, one must not get too sentimental over this drastic procedure. These birds are responsible for damage which is too serious to tolerate in country where water is so valuable that it cannot be wasted. Gone are the hundreds of aborigines, who by raiding their haunts in the. breeding season, maintained the balance of Nature, and other means of keeping them in check arc necessary to adopt.

Around the Homestead

With no adequate supply of rainwater on the spot, Yandama is able to have a nice garden. A high galvanized iron fence on one side, and huge trees on the other, shelter the neat homestead surroundings from fierce winds, and fruit and vegetables grow well. We saw a pumpkin there which turned the scales at 45 lb. So far as moving about was concerned, we spent the most inactive day there of our whole month’s trip, but there was plenty to interest us. Mr. Winton took us for an eight-mile run out over gently undulating gibber country which was covered by annual saltbush and other herbage and grasses, all coming back after the rains. Yandama, although now carrying cattle, still has sheep paddocks, and provision was made in some of these for agistment for 5,000 sheep, travelling from Sr. J. Neil McGilp’s Moolawatana Station. ( Pronounced Mullawattenna)Now bookkeeper at Yandama is Mr. George Blarney, who formerly occupied similar posts at Nockatunga and Corona. Mr. Blarney wished to be remembered to his friends in Adelaide. Pottering about the garden was a well known identity in that country – Frank Dahlberg, more widely known as “Tilcha Frank.” An octogenarian, he is a real old character. Sir Sidney remarked to him in a playful sort of way. “How is it you have not made money like I have, Frank?” “Some of us has got to keep the roof over the pubs, sir,” was the ready rejoinder. Frank was in the American civil war, and served under President Lincoln. Three months after joining the American Navy he was made a captain’s cook. When the war was over he went to sea, and in 1867 came to Port Adelaide in the ship Hugemont. Frank has been to England three times since as a cook and steward. He subsequently left the sea, and along with several matos “humped his bluey” across country from Newcastle to the Mount Brown diggings. There were thousands of people there and at Milparinka then. Frank has been in that country ever since. “I am now 83 years years of age,” he gratefully said to me, “and through Sir Sidney Kidman’s kindness I am able to stop here for the rest of my days.” Over at the stockyards two men were erecting substantial gallows out of big bore casing, and making quite a good job of it, too. One of the men was Harry Stokic, a capable drover in the Cattle King’s employ. He had been in hospital for a long time, and the doctors could not find out what was wrong with him. He hereupon was given permission to go up to Yandama, and live there, and he is now in fairly good health. So much for the revivifying air of the bush. Everybody spoke well of the Government wild dog inspector (Mr. Jim Whitbread), whom Sir Sidney described as one of the best men at his game in Australia. He is very clever in detecting a dog’s tracks, and would be on a station week’s before you knew he was there.

Enterprising Serbs

On the morning after our second night at Yandama we heard the noise of a motor lorry approaching the homestead long before daylight. Driving it was a Serb, who had come in from 24 miles away to catch the Milparinka mail car which left the station at 6 a.m. This Serb, and three of his fellow-countrymen are erecting 30 miles of telephone poles out to Tilcha. They are great workers, and in order to get the poles over the soft sandhills, carry them in slings from the shoulder. This tidy young fellow had a good honest face, clear eyes, and spoke well. We had an interesting chat with him, and he told us that he had been in America for several years engaged in labouring work before he came out here. He certainly did not loaf about the city, for he got a job a fortnight after his arrival. Another of his companions went to night school at Broken Hill in order to learn English. These chaps do not seem to require any spoon-feeding, and if they work hard and earn good money, well, we cannot begrudge them their sevens. whether they be foreigners or not. They set an excellent example to the grumbling loungers of the city.