The trips to the coast happened long before mobile communication and, once at the coast, the drovers were completely isolated. They had to be tough, self-sufficient and capable of dealing with any situation that arose.
Snakes, dingoes, falls from horses and quicksand were just a few of the dangers that they had to contend with. Some families had arrangements with nearby landholders that, if a bonfire was lit in a particular place, it meant that they needed help.
Sometimes there was no choice but to get back in the saddle and keep going.
Not only did the drovers have to look after themselves, they had to ensure that their precious cattle and horses returned safely to their home farms. They had to be ever vigilant of what the animals grazed on as plants like heartleaf poison and zamia could make the animals very sick.
One of the biggest problems for the drovers in the early years was coastie, a wasting disease that affected the cattle when they spent extended periods on the coast. The cattle would lose weight and condition, their hair would fall out and many died. In the late 1930s, it was discovered that coastie was caused by a lack of cobalt in their diet. Coastie could then be treated with a cobalt pellet that was put down the animal’s throat. It lodged in their gut and slowly released the cobalt into their digestive system.
‘the advent of using copper and cobalt was a wonderful situation. In fact, I ran the coast here with me cattle for five years and never lost a beast. Prior to that, we’d always lost two or three from coastie disease.’