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Talking history: M Japangka at McClaren Creek

November 1998

Land Rights News Vol 2, No 11 November 1988

I grew up with horses and cattle. I was working at Kurundi station.

I did everything - droving, branding mustering, breaking horses, fencing, making a yard, everything. It was no easy life, we were just using a shovel and crowbar.

And I'm still going. Its little but hard for people like me now, you know, getting older. We had no motor care before, no buggy, nothing. Just horses. We grew up with horses. That droving job was hard work. We were droving from Kurundi to Queensland and also to Alice Springs. It took 5 or 6 weeks to take them down to Alice Springs for trucking. It's a long way and you had to watch the cattle at night.

There was no yard and maybe five, six or seven hundred cattle and five men. You have to be a good man, understand man for cattle. We used pack horses. Pack them up every morning, pull them up for dinner and again at night to make camp.

And in the morning pack them up again. You've got to be a good man to ride horses every day. It's not fun. Big work and no money.

We been working just for tea, shirt and hat, that's all, no good money. I been working there at Kurundi for a long time - since I had no whiskers. George Birchmore was the boss then.

When the army came through (World War 2) we were working there. When the army finished, we were still working there. At Kurundi we didn't have houses. No houses, no sheet of iron, nothing like that. We just had humpies, grass huts, that's all.

The boss gave us a blanket and a campsheet to keep the rain away. We got very low wages. They had a shop at Kurundi and that used to take half our wages straight away.

So in 1977 we walked off Kurundi. We walked off easy way. We knew what was coming, this land rights law was coming, so we just walked off quietly. A good mob of us walked off with our families. We were sitting down over there at a place called Ngurrutiji.

That's my father's country. We stopped there when we come away from Kurundi station. In 1985 we bought this McLaren Creek station and you know when I first came to this place there was nothing. No cattle, nothing. Just place.

That was three years ago. No horses for riding, nothing. We came here with a Toyota and looked around, "where's the horses?" No horses to ride. "Where's the cattle?", no cattle, nothing. We had the old truck here from the station but one day they came up and took it away. So I looked all over for cattle.

The first time we were away for six days. We saw a few wild brumby that's all. I tried hard to catch them but I couldn't. So I came and talked to the old people and said "well what are we going to do?". And we said "o.k. we've got to trap those brumby." So I went back to Ngurrutiji.

We had a few horses there from Kurundi. Riding horses. You know they used to give us a little bit of money and horses. We'd tailed them to Ngurrutiji. We only had the one saddle, that's all.

We had a tractor and my brother Dick Riley he drove it and we rode the horses. We went across that way and saw a few tracks. So we made a camp and looked around. We found them all right. Might have been six brumby cattle, wild cattle.

We made traps too. Make the fence around the water there and make it so they can come in, but they get fat with water and can't get out. You've got to be a proper man to think about how wide it's got to be. Bullock size. People like me don't read and write, so you've just got to think it out good.

They fill up with water and got to stay there until man comes along to catch them. Sometimes we stayed away for two weeks looking for brumbies. We'd get four or five over that way, maybe six over there, maybe some more over the other side.

I also use the Toyota, the bull bar on the Toyota. Knock him down with the bull bar, tie him up with rope. Tie up the front legs and the back legs and let him lie down. Then we'd go and get the pen, put up a yard and let him stand up.

We'd keep getting them and bringing them back to McLaren and putting them in the yard for a few weeks - quietening them and feeding them. You have to leave them in the yard to get quiet. Otherwise if you let them go straight away, you'll lose them again. Quieten them down first.

We were just doing it the Aboriginal way, my old way. We're horsemen. The helicopter, we've seen it a lot of times before. It rounds them up ok, but they die later from too much galloping. The helicopter scares them.

I've seen them kill too many. We're not helicopter men, we're horsemen. Now we claim this country because it's our father's country. We've been working on stations all our life, working for someone else.

Now we can work for ourselves.

I've been working hard, battling for something. Getting our land back means we can carry on and our children can carry on after us. That's the way we want it - to look after everything and do a good job.

We're still doing it the olden time way.

Go around with the horses checking up the waterholes and fixing the bores. Now there's no whiteman looking after the bores, we've got to do it ourselves.

We've got a good few cattle here now. We've been grow them up all the way, nearly 200 head of cattle.

We had a meeting and they picked me to be the manager because I understand cattle. We've got to do all this fencing around the paddock now and clean it up and fix the bore then go and look for cattle again. You know, you can't do all that in one day.