Ride tall in the saddle and discover magic of the outback
HIS preferred mode of transport is horseback; he reckons a wash in a water trough is just as good as a hot shower; and the only form of sun protection he's ever owned is an Akubra.
When it comes to true blue outback Aussies, they don't get much more authentic than second-generation Aramac cattle grazier David "Chooky" Hay.
But even Chooky doesn't mind admitting some aspects of the Harry Redford Cattle Drive scare him silly.
At the start of May each year Chooky is part of a small group from Aramac, near Barcaldine, that musters up all of his horses to be used for the cattle drive, the last droving experience of its kind left in Australia.
Ranging from bomb-proof stock horses to champion ex-race horses, they are to carry up to 50 riders - some of whom have never touched a horse in their lives - across 200km of some of the most inhospitable, albeit spectacular, terrain over three weeks.
"That's the scariest part of the whole thing - finding quiet horses for the beginners," Chooky said.
"We're all about safety, but, at the end of the day, these horses have a mind of their own.
"Most of them are only ridden once a year for the cattle drive."
With this at the forefront of my mind I'm allocated my own horse, a lovely white mare named Sophie, and I leg myself into the saddle on the morning of day one.
Of the group of 20 amateur drovers,fewer than half of us consider ourselves competent horse riders - and I can see a few nervous faces around me.
But, after a short bonding session with our mounts we are soon plodding along behind 600 head of cattle.
The cattle drive, in memory of legendary drover and cattle thief Harry Redford, covers a minimum of 10km a day as per the Travelling Stock Route law.
Chooky, who in recent years took over as boss drover, said while the event took a lot of effort on behalf of the small community, it was well worth it to see how much guest drovers got out of the experience
. "We get a good variety of people - it's a different way of life out here for them," he said.
He's not wrong there - my fellow guest drovers include lawyers, retirees, medical professionals and corporate types, ranging in age from late-20s to their 70s.
We sleep in swags under the stars, enjoy delicious meals from the travelling camp kitchen and tell stories around a campfire.
While there are a few sore bums at the end of each day, we all know it's a small price to pay for such an authentic experience.
"We don't sugar-coat it in our advertising," Chooky said.
It really is an experience like no other and that's why they've received inquiries up until 2015.
About the same time Aramac comes alive with the cattle drive each year, Barcaldine is buzzing with the Tree of Knowledge Festival, a celebration centred on the town's colourful political past.
In 1891 the ghost gum outside the railway station was the founding site of the Australian Labor Party and later became known as the Tree of Knowledge.
Fittingly, one of the biggest events of the festival is the May Day Parade. Other highlights include goat races, horse races and a town party.
If you come along
Harry Redford Cattle Drive
- Adults $330 per day, under-16s $300 per day
- (discount of $30 per day if you bring your own horse)
- Limit of 20 places per day
- Included: horse, saddle and tack, three meals a day
- Swags available for hire
- More Details: www.harryredford.com.au
- Where to stay: Barcaldine Country Cottages, 5 Box St, Barcaldine, (07) 4651 1488
- Must-see: Australian Workers Heritage Centre and Museum, 94 Ash St, Barcaldine, (07) 4652 1579
- Must-do: Tree of Knowledge Festival, May Day weekend