Hawkesbury history: Final run of the Comleroy Road cattle drovers

Snowy Dubois camp drafting cattle near Putty. From the Snowy Dubois collection, reproduced with permission of the Dubois family.
Snowy Dubois camp drafting cattle near Putty. From the Snowy Dubois collection, reproduced with permission of the Dubois family.

1953 was the end of an era for the drovers of Comleroy Road. For 130 years, they had herded mobs of cattle 150km from the Hunter Valley to Riverstone.

Then came the historic day when Snowy Dubois and Bill Gosper of Upper Colo drove the last mob of cattle along this route.

They mustered 110 of Bill's cattle near Putty and set out on horseback, with packhorses and six faithful dogs. Snowy remembers an earlier drive with 1000 cattle that ate all the bracken fern and dried eucalyptus leaves on the rough track as they walked along. "They were just like vacuum cleaners!" said Snowy.

The cattle were only driven 10 miles per day. Snowy and Bill's first overnight camp was on a property called 'Fleetwings'. After counting the cattle into the yard, Snowy and Bill set up camp. On the road, the drovers usually slept under a tent fly or in a cave. They would make a drover's damper in the evening and enjoy dinner, a cup of tea and a bit of a yarn around the fire. The horses were hobbled at night, each with a bell on a strap around its neck. The drovers liked to be able to hear the bells all night - if they could not hear the bells any more, the drovers hurried to investigate because this spelled trouble.

On they continued, with overnight camps at New Yard Stock Reserve, Upper Colo Reserve and Wheeny Creek Reserve, then along Comleroy Road. As the cattle plodded slowly past Upper Colo Public School, the noise was so intense that the children could not do their lessons.

The last big hurdle was herding the cattle across the Hawkesbury River bridge at North Richmond. What a sight that must have been: 110 cattle bellowing as they shoved their way across this narrow bridge. It can only be imagined the chaos such an event would cause today.

Finally the drovers halted the mob at the old Hawkesbury Agricultural College.

After all the whip cracking and the barking of the cattle dogs had died away, and the dust had settled, they rested the cattle in a laneway overnight with a drover camped at each end holding the cattle. Snowy and Bill's hard work was over. Riverstone Meatworks stockmen came and took the cattle on from there.

For Snowy and Bill, this was the end of an era. As the stockmen gathered around in the morning sun, the last big cattle drive along the Comleroy Road stock route was over. Modern trucks have now taken over the jobs of the drovers; but to the old timers, the rumbling of the cattle echoing down the valleys and the cracking of the drover's stockwhips as they pushed the cattle forward, will stay in their memories as if it were yesterday.

Based on an interview with Snowy and Joan Dubois in 2005.