If you don’t feel like a cowboy after this trip, something’s wrong
Just about every country town in Australia offers up some kind of horse trail ride for anyone who ever thought they knew how to steer a horse around a paddock… but there’s only one place that allows riders to experience what it’s like to take part in a real-life cattle muster across the Australian outback.
You just better be ready for it… because mustering isn’t for the feint of heart: you’ve got to be a cowboy or cowgirl deep down!
Run entirely by volunteers, the Harry Redford Cattle Drive has few luxuries. There’s no hot showers (or cold running water for that matter), hotel rooms or electricity sockets for your hairdryer… instead you’ll be sleeping in swags on the red dirt of Outback Queensland, washing only in the odd muddy dam or courtesy of baby wipes, and eating meals with local cowboys.
If you’re prissy about the toilet, watch out too: the only privacy you’ll have here is courtesy of the three walls holding a corrugated tin shed up – it houses a drum with a seat on it above a hole in the ground. You’ll have to wait your turn too, there’s often a line-up.
But people can’t get enough of roughing it up in the Outback. Each May visitors head to the Harry Redford Cattle Drive in droves to discover what it’s really like droving cattle on the land.
Located just outside the town of Aramac in western Queensland (near Longreach), the cattle drive was devised by clever locals who desperately needed to generate local income for their area. Money generated from the cattle drive goes directly into the community coffers, with everyone working on the drive offering up their time free-of-charge.
While the cattle drive’s a clever tourism idea, feeding livestock is the number one concern. You have to travel at least 10 kilometres a day or the cattle will strip too much grass.
Over 19 days the cattle drive will cover 200 kilometres – but few visitors complete the entire circuit; instead visitors can choose how far they wish to ride.
The name of the drive comes from 19th Century outlaw Captain Starlight (aka Harry Redford) who drove a thousand head of stolen cattle right through these parts.
You don’t have to be an experienced rider – you’ll be matched with a horse that suits your riding ability – though it helps to tell the truth.
I ticked the box for experienced horse rider because I knew how to canter so I figured I could control a horse – turns out making a horse do what you want it to do when it’s not following the same set trail ride every day is a completely different story. So take my advice and avoid a horse called Sneeze… at all costs.
While you’ll rarely break into much more than a trot, you’ll be part of a group effort to transport over 600 head of cattle to new feeding ground. And when you learn to take the initiative to bring back cattle into the herd you’ll soon learn how it feels to be a Queensland cowboy or cowgirl.
Fly from Brisbane to Longreach or Barcaldine with Qantas Link, check out qantas.com.au or call 13 13 13. You’ll be transferred from either airport by the cattle drive organisers.
The Harry Redford Drive will next run in 2017. Visitors can ride for a minimum of six days in the drive’s first week, then a minimum of three days in its second and third weeks.