First published in the Queanbeyan History Bulletin, March 1976.
I was about twelve when I first started to work with teams, and about fourteen when I started to drive them on my own.
The first trips I made were only just around here, carting wood with a slide, and when I was about fifteen or sixteen I carted wood for my aunt, Mrs Brown, who lived at Denahy's on Micalago Creek. One of the last big jobs I had was to take bullocks to Kelly's Plains, on Tantangra, in the late 1940s to haul timber for fencing. On the road home I sold the secondary leaders to Dick Brayshaw (he was about eighty then). The last time I used the team was in 1951 or '52, and I sold them after that.
Besides Cotters, other bullock drivers in the area were Jock Paul (who drove bullocks for years on Micalago Station until they changed to horses), Brayshaws at Bobeyan, Bert Reid at Tidbindilla and Thompsons at Parker's Gap. Alec Moore at Anembo had them pretty well as long as we did, and Phib Flint had some probably into the 1950s. Old Billy Hopkins was a bullock driver, but I don't know whether he drove at Michelago; I didn't know of any around Bredbo.
Bullocks were preferable to horses, which you could never cope with in really rough country, so there were no horse teams in the district, outside Micalago Station, although people might have had two or three horses. In the rough country bullocks were very good in bogs, because if you take a horse into quicksand it gets fri - ghtened and plunges, but we used to put cattle into the river to trample it and get it boggy because they just put one foot down and never got excited. It was the same way if you had them in a team.
The main bullocks in a team were your leaders - nearside and off - side. (In my experience I had a very good nearside bullock that could handle the team). The main bullock for pulling was the 'ring' or 'pin' bullock - or, as some people, referred to it, the 'tongue' bullock - hooked onto the dray next to the 'polers' that were in the pole attached to the dray. Polers were all-important, but the pin took the main strain and he could help steer the dray if you talked to the secondary bullocks (the 'leaders'). You could have eight or ten bullocks in a team, always including two pin bullocks.
Any good strong bullock could be put in as pin bullock. We bought a team of bullocks from Bert Broadhead, of Padja, when he got rid of his team in the 1940s and I think the price was only 110 a head, or something like that. The biggest bullock I ever sold -that was in the 'thirties - weigked 1300 lb. dressed and I think his price was only about - 10. There was no cost incurred in feeding them as they just foraged from the grass in the paddocks or in the bush, although you might cut them a bit of oak or give them a little hay if you happened to have some. Compared with a tractor, the problem was that you had to feed them for the twelve months of the year. You couldn't switch them off!
When you talked to the polers you would say "Gee off" (to go away from you), "come here", "gee back" - it wouldn't matter what you said as long as they could understand. That's where the whip was very important - not to flog them - for if you hit an outside bullock with a whip and sang out "come here", he'd move over, and if you kept it up long enough he'd move before the whip when you sang out "come here". It was the same with "whoa back", but it was very difficult to reverse bullocks; you'd hit them over the head a few times and then you'd only have to say "Whee, whoa back" ("Whee" was to stop). You'd hit them over the head with the whip - you wouldn't be hurting them or flogging them, but it would be some sign that you wanted them to stop. That's where the whip was important, not for just flogging them and making them work as a lot of people think. You could flog a lazy bullock all day and it would have no effect on him.
In naming dogs and bullocks you had to get something that would come out and ring, so "Saint" and "Sinner" were very popular names for bullocks; everybody had those. "Boomer" and "Bonny" were the two last leaders I had. "Speck" was another popular name, and they went for bushrangers too with "Dunn" and "Gilbert". We had one that was just plain "Billy" (he was a poddy), and I bought "The Devil", but "Duke" was named because he was broken in when the Duke of York opened parliament in 1927. There was "Hobby" (who broke the yoke) and "Blucher" that they bought from old Mrs Tong and that was still about in my time. One of the last I had was "Goldie", called after Ingold, one of my neighbours whom I bought him from.
The best breed of cattle that we had as bullocks was Shorthorn Jersey cross. Jerseys would be possibly the best working bullocks but they were too light, so if you cross them with Shorthorns you have more weight and they are bullocks that move very well. Black Polls were too slow and even Herefords were not as good as the Jersey Shorthorn cross.
In an old working team it was easiest to put in only two new ones at a time. You'd put the yoke on them in the yard, tie their tails together so they couldn't turn head to tail, get them used to working about like that and keep them in line. Some people used to pair a new bullock with an old one, but while it was all right with a lazy bullock a strong bullock would kill the new one. In one year you would probably introduce only a couple of new bullocks to your team, so I found it easiest to put two young ones together even though it was all right to put a young one with an old one just for working in the paddock.
Drydale, Michelago 17 January 1976
(For those readers who do not know Bill Cotter personally, it is necessary to explain that he is a repository of history, an engaging raconteur and a reciter of bush verse as well as a former bullock driver. The title of his article was inspired by W.T. Goodge's "The Melodious Bullocky")