Droving to Wingham

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Judy Lawrenson has recently had the pleasure (and the challenge) of capturing a piece of Wingham’s history through the lens of her camera. Judy and her husband took part in an 80 km cattle drive from Cooplacurripa to Wingham Showground, as cattle make their way to town for the annual campdraft. Judy’s produced a beautiful coffee table book titled Droving to Wingham, which highlights her experience through her amazing photos …

Hi Judy. Tell us about yourself … where do you call home, and what’s your family background? 

Hi Jo. I was born and raised in Taree and now live in beautiful Wallabi Point. I have spent my working years in Taree until my recent retirement, where I now have extra time to enjoy and pursue my passion of photography.

You’ve recently completed a coffee table book, titled Droving to Wingham.  Your photographs in this book give a pictorial account of the 2015 cattle drive from Cooplacurripa to the Wingham Showground for the annual campdraft event. What led you to follow this cattle drive with your husband – was it something you’d always wanted to do?

I heard of the cattle drive for the Wingham Campdraft many times and wondered about the photographic opportunities that it could present.

In 2015 it got the better of me, and through a friend we were given the contact number for Bill and Cecily Lyon. I spoke with Cecily about how I wanted to do more than take a few snap shots of the cattle drive; I wanted to be part of it and digitally document the drive, being of the view this could become another piece of Wingham and the Manning Valley’s history.

Cecily was encouraging, though said she would have to speak with Bill, as the cattle drive was his responsibility – a responsibility he did not take lightly. It’s not every day you are entrusted with driving Hereford and Angus heifers worth over one million dollars to take for a seven day, 80 kilometre walk from Cooplacurripa Station to Wingham and then the return journey following the conclusion of the campdraft. However Bill, with his quiet and pleasant disposition, agreed.

What can you tell us about the history of this annual cattle drive?

A number of years ago, members of the Wingham Show Society were discussing the expense of trucking cattle in for the annual campdraft. Local cattlemen, Bill Lyon and Rob Watson, thought they could do it cheaper by mustering the cattle in; and that’s basically how it’s been done for the last 22 years.

Each year local property owners, Bill Lyon, his son Dan and Daryl Spooner, with a team of dedicated drovers, horses and well-trained cattle dogs, drive the cattle from Cooplacurripa Station to Wingham Showground for the annual Wingham Campdraft. The Bydan Pastoral Company – Cooplacurripa Station, provide the cattle for the campdraft each year.

The drive is also an opportunity for younger riders to be encouraged and supported on the ride to hone their riding and cattle skills. The young riders come back every year, and now it’s not uncommon to see three generations on the road riding alongside each other for the seven days there and seven days back.

Roughly how many cattle took part in the 2015 drive … and what route did they follow to get to Wingham?

Approximately 1,000 head of heifers walked the 80 kilometres (one way) from Cooplacurripa Station to Wingham Showground and stayed in traditional stock reserves overnight to freshen up for the next day’s journey, averaging 12 kilometres each day.

The drove commenced from Cooplacurripa Station, Hikey Creek to be exact, where the riders had mustered cattle in from Kangaroo Tops prior to the drive. Leaving Hikey Creek, the cattle walked to McQueens Bridge for the first night’s rest. Then each following day they travelled to Rocks Crossing; Tiri; Connellys Creek; Wherrol Flat; Soap Factory Reserve, then the last leg of the journey to the Wingham Showground.

The 2015 drove had seen particularly good rainfall in the Upper Manning, with plenty of feed and water in the dams along the way.

What were the biggest highlights being a part of this amazing experience?

Being given this opportunity to experience, participate and being able to digitally document this piece of modern day history was a life highlight for me in itself. A feeling of self-satisfaction in being able to give these cattlemen a documented memory of their years of selfless hard work and dedication to the Wingham community was gratifying in itself. The drove also provided me and my husband with many fond memories to take away and cherish.

What challenges did you face (if any) along the cattle drive?

As no photographs were staged, I had to anticipate and be prepared to capture the moment as it happened. Horses had to be reshoed; cattle straying; cattle breaking through fences, which then had to be mended; the cattle travelled by day on normal roads, so everyone in the drive, including myself, had to be mindful of road traffic.

Another obstacle I had to deal with was the cattle being very shy of me, as they had had little exposure to horses, dogs and people on the remote and very large Cooplacurripa property.

Some days were longer than others – starting early morning and sometimes finishing late. The drove took myself, drovers, their horses and dogs, through rain, hot sun and dust, which added to the complexity of photography, especially the rain and dust, where I had to ensure my camera and lenses were kept water and dustproof.

Apart from your beautiful photos, what other information does your book contain?

Being a coffee table book, other than the photos it covers a brief history of this modern day cattle drive, along with some background on some of the riders, as well as capturing the day by day route travelled with insights into happenings along the way to get the cattle safely to their destination.

Where can people find a copy of your book … are they available for purchase?

Greater Taree City Libraries has two books, one in each of the Taree and Wingham Libraries for people to look at initially, and later they will be offered for borrowing.

I have books available for sale (16”x12”), currently at $85 per copy including postage, which can be ordered by contacting me via my email at judylawrenson@gmail.com

Thanks Judy.

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