“Those were the days”
Dave Hagger is a man of few words; words spoken quietly, almost apologetically. They contrast sharply with a rugged working life of sixty years lived around the Carnarvon Ranges of Central Queensland.
Dave was sixteen when he arrived in Australia from Essex, England. “I don’t ever tell anybody that,” he emphasises. Childhood memories of World War II are clear……sirens, planes flying over and running for the bunkers.
Arriving in “the lucky country,” coincided with a call up for National Service, followed by work on soldier’s settlers places around Deniliquin, NSW. “Then I came up here….. worked for an old drover, Jack Boggs, around Quilpie. We brought a mob of horses from Charleville to Babbiloora; walked and jogged them over twodays.” Satisfied, he says “I’ve stayed all around here since.”
Dave’s early years at Babbiloora, owned at the time by Sinclair Hill were spent “out in the mustering camp all the time, never came back in here much… only to get fresh horses or bring cattle in.” For twenty-eight years Dave was head stockman at the station… he loved the stock camp and camping out “You’ll get out of bed, have a feed, get on your horse and ride away”
In 1995, Kelvin Webber, Babbiloora’s manager, began work as a young ringer at the station. He’d been told “…you want to go work with this old fella at Babbiloora, you’ll learn a lot off him” Kelvin affirms it was good advice. “We always camped in the same place, like at a bore,” Kelvin recalls. “Dave’d roll his swag in exactly the same spot every time. You’d see him there, digging, chipping in the dirt with his boot, making his “hiphole.” No mattress, just blankets and a couple of tarps over the top. “My choice” says Dave. “Yeah, it’d get cold…. some mornings the swag cover was all white.”
Kelvin is ready to promote his old friend. “Dave did all the cooking. He’d muster and cook… do everything. He was a good camp cook; put a roast in the ground in the morning and when we got home, he’d chuck the veges in and stoke it up. If he had a cake in the ground, you’d see him run his hand over the top of the camp oven… he knew the heat.
“Dave’s dogs,” Kelvin wryly recalls, “were bits of rogues. They’d short cut it home and dig the meat out of the camp oven! Dave fixed that; he sat a half forty-four gallon drum over the camp oven… that stopped them eating our tea” Kelvin pauses. “He thinks the world of his dogs… talks to them like they’re people.”
For Dave those were the days. “You lived alright, eh?…eat fresh meat til it’s gone, then eat corned meat til it’s gone.” Then softly, “… haven’t done much camp cooking in a while.”
In the 1970’s beef depression, Dave and a mate, Dour Twist, trapped over three thousand horses off Carnarvon Station. “They were worth more than cattle and up in the gorges was a good place to trap’em. We’d make a little yard with bits of wings on it and put salt out.” The pair camped most nights in shearer’s stretchers, Cobb and Co’d in the trees close to the yard. They’d tie one end of a rope to the yard gate… the other end would be in the tree. “Most times the brumbies’d go in for the salt…we’d pull the rope and catch ’em.” The Carnarvons were also a haven for wild cattle and Dave describes one memorable muster as “a wild show…helicopters, bikes and us on horses. You’ve gotta have a good horse in the timber.” Dave’s first choice of country will always be gorges, gullies, steep terrain and timbered landscapes. “Don’t like that open country too much”, he informs. Dave’s son Pat is based at nearby Dooloogerah Station and his daughter Shannon is in Roma. Pat shares his Dad’s passion. “One thing that can’t be denied is Dave’s love for the Carnarvon Ranges, which he has passed on to me.”
Dave’s seasoned hardiness is well known in the cattle station community surrounding Augathella. At Bennelong,he lived in a bark roofed hut with an old Land Rover windscreen for a window and Kelvin remembers a night at Babbiloora when “it come in to rain and Dave didn’t want to get stuck. He was straight on his horse and rode the seventy miles back to Bennelong… jogged and trotted along and thought nothing of it. He still thinks everything should be done on horses.
And there’s a soft side. Kelvin continues, “when we’re mustering Dave’ll go back for missed cows and weaners and in the yards you’ll see him scratching the calves under their chins, patting them and talking to them. He’s the same with green frogs … no animosity towards animals.”
The tough, slightly built bushman has reached an eighty year milestone. Treacherous country has dealt him some busters; “lots of broken ribs, a broken shoulder and three, four years ago a broken leg and pelvis.” Currently Dave lives at Mt Tabor and still musters in the top end of Babbiloora. Any compliments regarding his longevity and accomplishments are brushed aside. “I haven’t done any more than a lot of blokes,” he objects. Half-jokingly, Dave confides, “s’pose they’ll be bushin’me soon, like them old cows.” Meantime, he’s confident. “I can still get around alright…. I think I’ll be right for a while yet.”
Image caption: Dave did all the cooking