Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Two Thousand and Nine/Ten.


Most of this period was very difficult for me and my nearest and dearest. Without ignoring the pain of Tanya's passing I feel I am ready to fully embrace the year of the Tiger. The close proximity of winter here at Halls Gap has seen our first frosts of the year and our first cosy fireside gatherings.
In years gone by this encouraged much conviviality and story telling and one hopes this will be embraced again and not just at the pub though there's nothing wrong with that.
Hopefully we can once again see our South Australian family and friends heading over for a break away to this wonderful part of the world. So too all of our rellies and friends from Melbourne, the first of whom will be knocking on the door shortly if I'm any guess. So I'll make an effort to post some pics of what to expect.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

My Darling Tanya.






On Tuesday 27th Oct.'09 my Daughter Tanya died. Share with me some fleeting moments in time.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Lilla Creek Horses

Lilla Creek Horses
By Wally Atkinson

In the early eighties Sandy Hancock owned Lilla Creek Station . Sandy had asked me to break in some colts there as he didn’t have a breaker on the place at the time. I’d just lost my stables in Mylor due to circumstances beyond my control and jumped at the opportunity to be involved in horses again. The station manager picked me up in the Adelaide Hills where I lived and we drove the 1300 or so kilometers to the station in a 10 tonne truck with the stock crate loaded with a Murray Grey bull from Sandy’s property at Ashbourne.

Lilla Creek is a tributary of the Finke River and as is the case with central Australian rivers is as old as anywhere in the world. The significance of this is that these magnificent old waterways are silted with sand to great depths and although the banks are lined with huge and ancient redgum trees not unlike the Murray or the Darling and certainly just as wide, the absence of surface water except in times of flood staggers the imagination. Silted to depths of 90 to 100 feet but still flowing beneath, this water resource is invaluable. Twelve bores on Lilla Creek were alongside these water courses and to my knowledge were never dry even in the longest of droughts.

The ever changing scenery never ceased to amaze me as we traveled along the road from Kulgera to Finke and turned left through the gate for the final 40 kms or so to the station homestead. With majestic flat topped Mount Gordon on the left and the winding dry riverbed of Lilla Creek ahead then incredible arroyos and gulches with massive amphitheaters where colossal downpours had carved their way through sand stone gullies on their way to the Simpson desert where the north and south running sandhills hid a variety of landscapes between them ranging from gibber desert to deep fertile sands lacking only water that when the rains came in their unpredictable frequency turned into veritable gardens of Eden.

I want to tell two tales out of the many I could because of the profound effect both of these experiences had upon me, one so positive and the other…I’ll let you decide.
The station Manager, and “no names no pack drill”, was training a couple of horses for the Oodnadatta races so I rode work on Captain Jack for a few days as I got the feel of the place. Now Sandy Hancock had not long bought Lilla and it was at the end of a very long drought and we were told that nearly all of the breeding stock had been sold or perished. You see, cattle have a limited range they can march to feed from water, and , although water at the bores was still available, the feed up to 15 mile radius around each of the bores had been eaten out and the dams were dry so the cattle that were still about were very poor indeed.

Anyway the north dam had only recently given out and I was asked to check for any remaining breeders out there on the edge of the Simpson and maybe into the sandhills for a bit . I traveled out the 90km on a 375 Suzuki trail bike and off over the sandhills without any expectation of finding anything, but to my very great surprise just three or four dunes in, there they were. Looking fat and sleek and ready for market! I thought I might be hallucinating in the 45degree Celsius late morning sun but no, it was for real, as they had been dining out on juicy paddymelons and a succulent type of pigface called Parakeelya if my memory serves me correctly.
So Sandy had the start of a breeder herd, there being the best part of a hundred head in the mob. And now it was time to go after the colts that needed to be cut and broken to saddle for mustering.

Sometimes luck runs with you and for sure this was such a time, as next morning we looked over the dozen or so colts we’d yarded for the days breaking. My eye was immediately taken by a chestnut around 15.3 hands with striking conformation and movement. Now I wasn’t really ready for just how fast they wanted these horses handled as at my stables in Mylor it would take three weeks of gentle stop start horsemanship to produce a well backed and educated pony. No such latitude here, they wanted this youngster to be ridden by lunchtime! So I dropped a rope over his head in the eight foot high cattle race and let him out into the roundyard. He’d already broken into a profuse sweat and was shivering with fear and excitement and I really did have to break all my old rules to continue. As he rushed to get as far from me as he could I headed out 90 degrees to his flank and pulled him around to face me and this action continued over and over for some minutes until he stopped and accepted that I was in control at least for now. Then quickly I went hand over hand along the rope and began to bag him down with a half blanket I kept for the purpose. After I had reached every part of his body head and legs with the bagging I slipped on the bridle and roller and attached the reins to the roller with rubber rings , then I went away to have a bite to eat while he worked out the snaffle bit. This horse hadn’t been handled before and was very naturally nervous and sweating to a lather. Not something I would or did do again as it worked out.

After a break I approached him again and was pleased to see he had gathered some composure and although a bit nervous stood his ground unflinchingly. With that I lumped him with a Barcoo Poley saddle and climbed on board.

At this stage it can go either way and I was certainly ready for anything but the chestnut colt stood quietly. Then I urged him forward with seat and leg pressure and just a hint of rein. What happened then surprised the hell out of me he stepped out beautifully balanced and on the hind as if he’d been doing dressage for years. You see horses normally are on the hind but as soon as a rider mounts they change their center of balance to the forelegs. This shift to the front can take years of training to rectify and some riders and horses never achieve it until the horse is moving fast and needs to turn or stop quickly and that change of balance is when both horse and rider are most at risk. Anyway this wild horse was answering leg and seat aids and subtle prompts as if he knew it all. And so feeling really pleased with myself and this wonderful find I serpentined down through the main holding yard walked trotted and cantered and finally halted back where I’d started glowing with pride at what we had achieved in less than two hours.
But as I dismounted whack, a cowkick that grazed my knee. We stood looking at each other and I decided right then to remount and get off again. Bang! He got me again and this time the knee was torn on my jeans though incredibly he still hadn’t hurt me. I went back over him with my hands just the same as if I’d been bagging him down and remounted. He was as calm as a kids pony. Off again and this time he drew blood but still hadn’t given me a real kick as I knew he could have. At that a pleasant aboriginal accented voice floated down from the fence where a few stockmen and ringers had been watching proceedings, “hey Waaally you take your belt off”. I stood there wondering what the hell difference my bloody belt could make. “Goo on Waaally.” I slipped the belt out of my jeans “now you bend him knee and put him on.” The penny finally dropped. I lifted his front leg until his hoof was up against his upper leg and looped and buckled the belt holding the leg there. Now he was on three legs and couldn’t kick without falling over allowing me to hop on and off both sides and over his rump several times without incident. “Thanks mate I sure needed that,” I called out with a wave to old Bindy ,you learn something new every day if you’re open to it.

As things turned out I only got to ride the chestnut colt a few more times as we needed to put horse matters aside for a while to attend to some maintenance problems that had cropped up. We had to get a grader onto the station roads and a bore run was urgently required and Sandy only had two people who could handle it me and the manager so for the next few weeks we shared this work in frying heat and dust.

Anyone who’s done this sort of station work knows that the rewards come with the extraordinary environment, sunrises and sunsets to die for and incredible scenery, the wildlife and at Lilla the birds. Huge flocks of cockatoos and parrots , red tail black cockatoos, Major Mitchels, Galahs, Corellas ,several types of grass parrots and budgerigars in their thousands, especially around dusk when coming in to the cattle watering troughs at the bores for a well earned drink. And each huge flock of whatever type escorted by hawks ,harriers , kites and falcons trying to create chaos screeching and whistling to the accompaniment of the enormous din from the flocks, formation flying as if being controlled by one master pilot.

To get the work done we toiled in the blazing heat right through the day and believe me when I tell you that the steel tools and equipment used on bore maintenance is often far too hot to handle. Each bore has dual operation, wind and diesel, the windmill driving rods with brass connectors deep into the ground and requiring the bore casing to be pulled up as well as the rods when the connecting fittings let go. A block and tackle arrangement up under the windmill platform used for this purpose. Anyway I digress as this tale is about horses but when you’ve lived this life and you reminisce it’s hard not to wont to relive all of it.

One day before heading out to yet another bore the manager told me he’d received a call from a neighbor about a brumby stallion on our north boundary and would I like to go out with him and have a look with a view to maybe driving him in to the homestead as he was a colored horse with unique markings.

Now not all brumbys are bays or browns because it had been common practice to introduce thoroughbreds, and heavy draughts and even colored horses with the herds over the years. So off we went on our 375 suzuki trail bikes the 90 or so miles to the northern fence line to see if we could spot this maverick. And find him we did but what a beautiful beast he was, almost evenly marked on each side with black islands on a white background he looked like he should have belonged to the Cisco Kid. At least 16 hands high as broad as a Percheron and commanding a presence as befitting an outlaw leader of brumbys throughout any territory he chose to be in.

On Lilla Creek we had released a 17 hand Thoroughbred stallion called Tin Town and this magnificent animal was seen as a threat to Tin Towns dominance as potential sire to the future progeny of the Lilla brumbys. We decided to try and tail him into the station cattle yards 90 miles away. As we drove him down the north south track I couldn’t help but fall head over heels for this amazing example of hybrid horse flesh cantering effortlessly with perfect conformation, stride and balance and without a sign of fear or submission on a journey that would have been too much for any other horse I’d ever known. And as the minutes turned to hours I called my partner and stopped for a while as we argued the toss over whether it wouldn’t just be better to let him and Tin Town work it out for themselves. I lost that argument so we pressed on. All the way to the cattle yards he kept up his even pace until at last we drove him into the holding yard but without a pause he effortlessly cleared the 7foot high iron railings into the only fenced paddock on the station, a 100 square mile horse paddock. Yes 10 miles wide by ten miles long with arroyos and gullies and creeks and semi-impenetrable scrub. So now the chase was well and truly on and what a ride it was through, over and around all of the above obstacles until we ranged up to this peerless equine alongside a 20 foot deep ravine where in one magnificent action he lept and double kicked my partner fair off his bike then thundered down into the ravine and along its floor. With adrenalin at full pump I stuck to him like a bindi-eye to a sock until at last he stopped and faced me.

I turned off the motor and propped the bike and headed for him before I even thought about what the hell I was going to do. By now I was close enough to have a really good look and I saw a clear eye and a trickle of blood from a nostril. He’d run a huge race but he’d gone about as far as he could go. Then in an incredible display of confidence and acceptance he stretched and urinated. I was overwhelmed with admiration for this beautiful regal champion of horses and tears were in my eyes, tears of joy at having witnessed this wild beasts composure in defeat when an angry hornet screamed past my ear and the noblest horse I’d ever seen crashed to the ground, killed by a single shot from a 30-30 rifle by an ignorant fool who in his own defeat didn’t have any of the dignity that that great horse displayed. I was mortified, my own rage welled up in me and unarmed I raced forward only to see the bike he was mounted on race off for the homestead. It took a long time before I could muster the strength to return myself and I could only pack my swag and start the long walk to the gate and escape from this maniacs domain.

A couple of hours later the roar of the diesel delivery truck coming up behind me broke my reverie and I accepted his offer of a lift into Finke from where I was able to get a further lift into Kulgera and eventually back to my home in the Adelaide hills.

And so it’s with very mixed feelings that I remember that particular time in the center but I was glad to return on other occasions and who knows maybe I’ll get around to telling more of the many tales of the great Australian outback ,its many wonderful characters places and experiences..

The End

Monday, August 10, 2009

Wattle, Silk, Sammy [cat next to leg] and Roady the corella.

Red Heart

Red Heart

The tree had seen an ancient tribe
camp down beside its huge canopy
and gather dried and discarded branches
to create the coals to heat the flesh
of creatures that had grazed beneath
or played among the shelter from
the burning summer sun.

The tree had seen the smoke approach
from fire, escaped from tribe’s control,
creating now its own strong wind
and fanned to heat so searing
as to shut down life outside of bark,
while red heart inside awaits cool rains,
drenching, flooding, life reviving.

The tree had seen the new creatures,
with the new tribe white and clothed,
march thru’ and cut and slash and burn,
digestion now a frenzy by mouth
and blade and plough and fire and noise.
When pain of saw and axe bit deep
thru’ sap wood, and red heart - crashed down.

The tree had seen thru’ life within
slow dying yet still living, giving, providing
for smaller creatures, many, gnawing, scratching,
still digesting, yet producing, earth to earth.
More fires now as many as the rains –
Then screaming saw and axe again, red heart
exposed to new tribe’s fires – red coals.


Wally Atkinson

Sunday, August 9, 2009

No More Hunting with Deerhounds.

The Hunting Debate

Until now I have avoided the debate on whether deerhounds need to be hunted to keep the breed specific to its original type.

It is no secret that I hunted with deerhounds, staghounds, greyhounds, afghans and cross bred pig dogs but gave up using my dogs for hunting years ago.

I do however run my dogs every day in an area that abounds in large wildlife including both fallow and red deer, kangaroos, goats, red-neck and swamp wallabies and emus.

Apart from occasionally running with some of these animals, out of sheer exhilaration and a need to “test” their speed, the dogs stay within the boundaries they have been trained to respect i.e. unsealed 2 chain roads when run from the “one-tonner” and the farm’s boundaries when escorted on foot.

Although there is plenty of timber and scrub, they are kept in sight at all times by voice command.

This behaviour does not happen by accident. The dogs are meticulously disciplined by methods employed from day one of their first run. Physical intimidation is not employed, however, restriction by long lead as pups is fairly routine.

The reason they do not attack the animals in the heat of the “run” is the same as that applies to the farm animals. They are familiarized as pups and disciplined to respect their right to be in the same environment.

Apart from a “kill” on these excursions the dogs are exercising all of their instincts, explosive sprints, unflagging staying power and negotiation of rough broken ground with fallen trees, thick scrub and high gates and fences. Their recognition by sight and scent of all of the animals around them is obvious by their alert and excited demeanor well before I get visual confirmation.
When a ten-point-red-buck’s worst nightmare bursts on the scene and is called to heel, the atmosphere is electric and the deerhound’s wistful expression says it all.

The dogs are run morning and night and if I’m a bit slack they let me know all about it. I have a specially adapted stock crate on the one-tonner both for the dogs’ safety and as I travel a bit, and a half-tarp on the crate assures that their comfort is guaranteed the crate never exceeding the ambient temperature, unlike an enclosed vehicle where temperature control is impossible in summer without the air conditioner turned on.

But the real beauty of a deerhound is its temperament and character and the subtle uniqueness of each individual. This extraordinary gift is wasted if the dog needs to be forever restrained by cage or chain because of an unbridled hunting instinct unnecessarily instilled by blooding young hounds in a world where the need has long ceased to exist.

I am well aware of the pride exhibited by a dog that has hunted well and do not have an axe to grind with those who hunt per se. However, I have been on both sides of the fence and can see no reason to believe the deerhound will be any the less for not hunting.

Wally Atkinson

A Letter To SILK.

LETTER TO SILK
R.I.P. 2002
Do you remember when first I saw you sitting in the weld mesh cage at Neuarpurr?

Six weeks old and all alone among a tangle of deerhound/wolfhound cross siblings that knew nothing of the pain and anxiety of the runt of
the litter
Do you recall the relief of recognition of your plight and the instant love and devotion - both ways - that would last your lifetime

Remember the climb of Mt. Steve at Dargo when you were 8 weeks old and wouldn’t be left behind? And how I carried you in my jacket
back down the mountain

And when I was saddling the buckskin colt at Panton Hill and you disappeared - 10 months old. Never been away from my side. And how I found you looking so contented? You looked like you could have been smoking a cigarette? And yes! You were pregnant!

Of course you remember.

Having those eight beautiful pups how could you not. And what a fantastic mum you were. Discipline? You bet!

How you did the city living bit in Melbourne for a year walking the streets with me at all hours of the day and night between shifts?

And what about Biscuit, the red staghound bitch you took hunting at Mt. Boswell and somehow got her lost? Never to be seen again.

For seven years your great mate Wattle? The tragedy of his early demise?


Remember Sammy? And how he climbed in your mouth to bite your tongue when he was a kitten? And how he always brought you and Wattle fresh killed rabbits?

What about the time I left you with the dog catcher at Eltham because I had to catch the train to the city and when I went to pick you up I found you trotting about with him while fifty or sixty other dogs had to make do with being locked up?

And at Monsalvat at the Jazz Festival when you “adopted” the two year old boy and when his parents turned up you demanded they back off until you had checked their bona fides?

And you never lost that maternal streak either, playing mother to joeys and lambs and kittens and kids of both persuasions and adopted pups. How even in to your fourteenth year you had time to shadow box for hours with Nelungaloo “Mick”?
‘Course you do.

And I remember you.

For fifteen years my sidekick.

I remember you.
Wally Atkinson.