Old Mate

I ran into an old mate the other day, he was sitting under a big old Morton Bay fig tree reading the race form.

He was born at on a cattle station near Mount Peter, a gold mining town in the Cape.  His father was a stockman and roustabout on stations in the Gulf and up on the Cape. Old mate followed him into droving and riding fences, he remembered those days droving cattle before roadtrains.

Many Aboriginal people worked on stations in those days. They worked for tucker and a few bob a week not much more than that. Exploitation is too nice a word, slavery is a better term. The station owner would give the stockmen his “quarantined wages”.  The term quarantining, used as part of the Northern Territory Intervention, was in use long before Brough and Howard and others  resumed the squatter oligarchy policy of treatment of Aboriginal people. Nothing is new he said, everything has been tried before, just given a new name .

The stockmen would get the megre handout, and head to town for the annual rodeo. That was the only time the station boss would let them off the land. When equal wages came in they could not get rid of them quicly enough and soon kicked them off their country.

I can remember, he said, one time when the rodeo was on in Mount Isa. There were stockmen and ringers from all over the Territory and the Gulf, they were camped in the Leichardt River all along the highway to the Kalkadoon Park Rodeo ground. The old Isa pubs were full of country men and women. They were rough times.  The white fellas gave them a wide berth, they were fit and hard and they could fight like Dave Sands.

When he got married he came to Cairns to have a better life for his family. He got a house and for years he still worked on the stations. Old mate was one of the lucky ones and got full pay as a head stockman and worked a few years at it and then got a job job working in the CTL sawmill. There were lots of jobs for Aborigines in those days.

We headed down to have a coffee, there was a time when it would have been a beer. We sat down, ordered our coffee, and we began to reminisce about old times. I asked him what he thought about the current situation with politics.

As he finished his coffee he said, I’ll leave that for another time, I could write a book, I will tell you next time I see you bunji. I gotta catch the first at Eagle Farm.

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