Outback droving families dying out as younger generations leave industry

Generations of droving families have been running cattle through outback Queensland, but that could soon end as young people leave the regions in search of other opportunities.

Key points:

  • Generations of drovers are still running cattle through outback Queensland
  • But an annual reunion was cancelled last year due to falling numbers
  • The Stockman’s Hall of Fame says there are still roles for different skills as the industry evolves

It’s not unusual to stop on the highways through western Queensland as hundreds of cattle block the road, on their way to sale or greener pastures.

Flooding in the state’s north in February has seen outback stock routes rejuvenated and cattle are being herded through the new growth areas.

Ronnie Creevey is a fourth-generation cattle drover and has been working since before he even started school.

But he could be the last of his line.

The 55-year-old and two other men are driving 1,200 head of cattle from Queensland’s Western Downs out to Winton and back.

His great-great-grandfather ran the same routes in the late 1800s.

“If you know what you’re doing, you keep your tail as good as your lead,” Mr Creevey said.

“It’s pretty well just keep them alive, that’s what the job is, keep them alive,” he said.

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Some things have changed with new technology, such as mobile phones and electric tape fencing.

But the stock still needed to be moved for feed and sale.

“Years ago there weren’t too many baths and all your meat was salted,” Mr Creevey said.

“Still, it was a clean way of living.”

While droving was in his blood, Mr Creevey was happy his 16-year-old daughter did not want to follow in his footsteps.

“I hope she doesn’t,” he said.

“She wants to be a vet, I really hope she goes and does something like that.”

Australia’s love of drovers

Outback drovers hold a special place in Australia’s cultural identity.

They conjure images of rugged men and women, battling the elements to move huge mobs of cattle across the vast landscape.

Australian Stockman’s Hall of Fame chief executive Lloyd Mills said it was tough but vital work.

“I think they are the greatest representative of the Australian bush and the Australian story,” he said.

“Without them, it didn’t happen.”

The Hall of Fame has held an annual drovers’ reunion for almost 30 years.

It’s a chance to come together, catch up with lifelong mates and share tales — some tales taller than others.

But as numbers dwindled, the reunions came to an end in 2018.

“It was a sad day for us,” Mr Mills said.

“The world marches on and people get older and our guys got older.

“And the younger generation haven’t been in the numbers that you’d have liked to see.”

While the old breed of droving families may be fading out, Mr Mills remained positive about the future.

As the industry changed and evolved he said there would always be roles for younger people to come back to in the outback.

“You’re going to need the drovers, you’re going to need the stockmen, you’re going to need the vets,” he said.

“They’re just getting a lot smarter about how they do things.”

As for Ronnie Creevey, you’ll most likely find him still out on the outback Queensland stock routes for as long as he can sit on his horse.

“While things are going good it is a romantic way of life,” he said.

“A cup of tea sorts everything out. I can drink 20 litres of tea a day, no trouble at all.”

A cow crosses the Landsborough Highway outside Ilfracombe in western Queensland

PHOTO: Fourth-generation drover Ronnie Creevey is happy his daughter has chosen another path. (ABC Western Queensland: Damien Larkins)

CREDIT: https://www.abc.net.au