Rough bush living for early Jimbour Station shepherds
AS THE large sheep stations around Dalby developed in the 1840s, one of the keys to their success was the shepherd.
It was well before fences and, in any case, sheep needed personal attention.
It must have been a lonely and monotonous life with little reward for their long hours on the job.
Jimbour Station employed a lot of shepherds to control its vast flock of sheep.
Some were married with families but the majority were single men who, after long years on their own, became a little demented.
One time a shepherd became lost and, after three days, was found on the top of Square Top Mountain, near Kaimkillenbun. He was quite all right as he had killed a sheep for food and was carrying a leg of it when found.
Although two men were employed as dog poisoners, the shepherd had to yard his flock at night as dingoes were always present and they had to give an account of every sheep that died.
They were paid 40 pounds ($80) a year, with rations provided.
Most had a flock to look after but the married ones often had two. Rations consisted of 16lb of meat, 8lb of flour, 2lb of sugar and ¼lb of tea and were delivered to the shepherd's hut weekly.
The energetic ones had gardens where they grew such vegetables as cabbage, shallots and china beans.
The non-gardeners depended on pig weed which grew luxuriously around the sheep yards.
Shearing was always a big job at the woolshed and sometimes lasted two months. Shepherds brought in their flocks and as many as 250,000 sheep would be put through.
As Jimbour Station progressed, they allowed shepherds to have a brood mare each and free use of a sire.
Some made money from the sale of the progeny.
Richard Routley arrived at Jimbour in 1860 and, for nine years, was overseer of the shepherds.
He said most were elderly men and rather cranky.
He had a full-time job of finding lost sheep and seeing the watering places were in order.
Sometimes a shepherd would invade another's run then there would be fights and maybe bloodshed.
The sheep would all get boxed up and have to be taken to yards to be drafted.
Routley remembered the magnificent grasses and herbage on the great rolling plains in a good season.
The oat grass was up to two metres tall and it was possible to tie it across the pommel of a saddle when riding through it.
There were great fields of wild flowers.
"In later years the best and finer grasses were eaten out and eventually disappeared from large areas to be replaced by coarser varieties such as spear grass; these were not so desirable for sheep- breeding and wool production,” Routley wrote.
With the passing of years, the stations grew smaller and the era of the shepherd came to a close.
A few remain, in unmarked graves near the places where they lived their lonely lives.