Australian Screen

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A Big Country – The Drover (1981)

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The long paddock education content clip 2

Original classification rating: PG. This clip chosen to be PG

Clip description

Jack must keep moving this mob of sheep over the ‘long paddock’, as the open road is called, because the owner of the flock is still waiting for rain that refuses to come. The long paddock is part of Australian bush lore. Historically, the drover has the right to move his mob through towns and paddocks but he must keep them moving and is expected to cover six miles a day, by law.

Curator’s notes

A beautifully made sequence that shows how A Big Country so successfully brought the real outback into the homes of suburban Australia. Here we see magnificently shot, iconic images of rural life and meet a great character.

After 18 months on the road with this mob of sheep, Jack is familiar with many of their personalities, and can distinguish the leaders, the laggards and the lame of the flock. The filming is true to the character of the man, his way of life, and his laconic observations about living on the open road. The editing style effectively matches the slow pace of the sheep and the movement along the roads and byways as the mob, and the men responsible for their welfare, wait out the drought.

Teacher’s notes

provided by The Le@rning FederationEducation Services Australia

This clip shows drover Jack Tawney on horseback as he and another drover move a large mob of sheep along a travelling stock route in the Australian outback. Music accompanies Tawney’s voice-over in the opening scene of drovers at work. Tawney is interviewed by ABC reporter Stewart McLennan (not shown on camera) while casually polishing his saddle and explains that he is droving the sheep for a farmer who is waiting for rain back at the farm. Tawney’s voice and comments on his life continue over footage of the sheep being driven along the open road.

Educational value points

  • The clip depicts the pastoral work of the drover, one of the icons of Australian rural life, whose job is to drive stock over long distances along travelling stock routes, searching for food and water. The travelling stock route, also known colloquially as ‘the long paddock’, refers to an open road where stock can freely graze on long stretches of unfenced land. In 1975, the nationwide stock route network was estimated to cover more than 5 million hectares.
  • Travelling stock routes are public reserves and routes that have been used since the 19th century for the movement of stock on agistment, to saleyards or to feed in times of drought. Travelling stock routes have always provided a vital drought relief network for graziers, without which many farmers would lose their stock in times of hardship. In the clip Tawney says that the sheep’s owner is unable to feed his sheep at home due to both insects and drought.
  • The drover refers to the minimum 6 miles (9.7 km) he is required to travel each day by law in New South Wales and parts of Victoria. Historically the drover has the right to agistment on public reserves, so long as the mob moves 6 miles a day. The law is designed to spread the burden of stock grazing around in order that each area has time to recover and is not over-grazed by moving stock.
  • The drover’s detailed knowledge of individual sheep and the role they play in the mob is revealed in the clip. Tawney knows which sheep are the strongest animals that push their way instinctively to the centre of the group. Known as ‘bellwethers’, they lead the flock while the others are followers. The strong flocking tendency of sheep is a defence against predators and such behaviour makes it easier for a small number of drovers and their dogs to control them.
  • The film associates Australian identity with ‘the bush’ and the 'bush ethos’, including the drover, whose free lifestyle has been romanticised in popular film, poetry, music and literature. Writers such as Banjo Patterson in the late 19th century wrote about the pleasures of the drover’s life outdoors, free from the pressures and pollution of city life in iconic poems such as Clancy of the Overflow and Saltbush Bill’s Second Fight.
  • The unhurried life of the drover as portrayed by writers and artists and summed up in the words of Jack Tawney – ‘Time means nothing. I’m just looking for water and feed and it doesn’t mean a thing to me’ – is disappearing. Since the 1960s and 70s, stock has been increasingly mustered and moved to markets by trucks assisted by the all-weather roads built by government. In times of severe drought stock are sometimes shot and buried.

Jack Tawney and another drover move a large mob of sheep along a travelling stock route in the Australian outback.
Jack Tawney, drover (in voice-over) After all this time you do get to know the sheep because you see certain ones that are out in the lead, ones that might be lame, ones that are hanging back to the back and of a morning when you come out of camp, if you can see those individual sheep, well, you say, ‘Well, I’ve got – nearly got the mob.’

Jack is interviewed while casually polishing his saddle.
Stewart McLennan, ABC reporter Jack, how did you end up with this mob of sheep in the first place?
Jack Well, the owner got eaten out with grubs and he decided then to put them out on the long paddock for a few months and he didn’t get the rain as he expected so we’ve been longer than what we anticipated in the first place, really.
Stewart What do you mean by the ‘long paddock’?
Jack The long paddock – ooh, that’s an old Australian term for droving on the roads, just the long paddock. It’s as long as you want it. It’ll keep being a long one too, by the look of it. You got no feed up there at all. It hasn’t rained up there where he wanted so it looks like being a long one.
Stewart Is time important? Have you got somewhere special that you’re going with this mob?
Jack No, time means nothing. I’m just looking for water and feed and it doesn’t mean a thing to me. I just keep walking.

Footage of the sheep being driven along the open road.
Jack (in voice-over) On an average day, we do our six mile a day, which is compulsory in New South Wales and parts of Victoria. Some shires don’t push you at all but with good sheep you can do your six mile easy enough.

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