The next morning Andy and I delivered the pump to Ray, a station a bit further down the track from Trinidad. They were in the middle of shearing, the sheep milling about in the yards under the hot sun.
Our timing was good – we landed right on the shearers’ smoko time – so Andy was able to arrange for the shearing team to come to Navarra in May, and I was able to cadge a half a toasted sandwich.
At Ray I met the Tullys – Mark and his son Rod were out at the sheds, and Sandra was up at the house. Andy and Mark go way back. Years ago, Andy put a motorbike on a raft and swam a flooded river to attend Mark and Sandra’s wedding; I couldn’t miss it, he said, I was the best man.
Fortunately Andy and I didn’t have to swim any rivers that day. The route between Ray and Trinidad seemed to exist more in Andy’s memory than in marks on the ground, and I was impressed at how unerringly we navigated the forking station tracks to end up exactly where we were supposed to be.
By afternoon we were back at Navarra, and Andy had to muster some weaner wethers that were due to be trucked out to a new life near Forbes.
‘How are your dirt riding skills?’ he asked me.
‘Depends what I’m riding…’ I said. No way was I mustering sheep on Beastie.
Andy soon had me set up on the old CRF230. This old girl had weathered one or two decades of abuse, chasing stock over jarring rocks, and was ready for more.
‘Now, I’ve only ever mustered chooks before,’ I told Andy, but he was unconcerned.
‘If you can muster chooks, you can muster anything,’ he said.
We headed out to find the weaners which were in a paddock adjacent to the house. It was only a small paddock too – about 3km by 3km. Piece of cake. Did I mention the rocks, though? Red, rolling rocks everywhere.
And yet, so far, so good: Andy gave me a little mob of sheep to walk up the fence, while he went out to gather in others that he would bring across to join them. No worries. I trundled along the fenceline, the rocks were mostly the size of gobstoppers and tomatoes and the rest were avoidable.
The sheep were fairly well-behaved, and we got along alright with a little bit of weaving through the bushes. I had no idea what I was doing, really – was I too close to the sheep? too far away? – and the sheep were only 5 months old so they didn’t really know either. All things, we did alright.
Once I’d taken that mob up the road, Andy met up with me and said to follow him back down the paddock, so that we could sweep the far half that we hadn’t done yet. I quickly learned that it was the other half of the paddock that contained the creek, the deep washouts, and the rocks like melons.
‘Yeah, it’s a bit of a mongrel patch up here,’ Andy said, as I held onto the bike with my knees and tried not to bite my tongue every time I hit a rock (which was all time). Andy seemed completely relaxed despite the rocks rolling and bucking under the wheels, but then, this is someone who shows up to do Finke in his work boots on an old mustering bike and does just fine.
By the time I was trying to run a good sized mob back up the middle of the paddock, I was sweating and the afternoon sun was at a cruel angle. The sheep were also in a fine mood now, and kept stopping under trees or breaking for freedom across the creek. I gently faceplanted a couple of times while looking at the sheep instead of where I was going.
We were running out of day. The light turned orange, then dusky blue. By the time we got the sheep all down to the road and started walking them towards the gate, I couldn’t even see the rocks and the fallen timber; fences were invisible and the sheep had faded to become nothing more than vague, fluffy, uncooperative outlines.
We got them through the gate.
I was knackered.
I’d assumed that it had seemed like hard work due to my lack of sheep mustering prowess, but Andy told me that I did fine, and that weaners are often difficult and unpredictable; they often won’t walk in a mob and behave themselves like older sheep.
Either way, I was done for the day. It was beer o’clock.
‘Do you drink beer?’ Andy asked me. We were clearly on the same page.
‘Yes,’ I said. ‘Yes, I do.’