About three times a year cattleman Neil Booth ventures into the wild Macleay River valley to round up his cattle.

Story + Photos Don Fuchs 

Neil owns a small property at Georges Junction, on the eastern escarpment of the New England Plateau, NSW, but also leases 2800 hectares along the Macleay River. It is here that most of his 400 breeding cows and some of his bulls roam free. No fences restrict their movement and sometimes the animals wander up to 30 or 40 kilometres upriver, deep into the adjacent Oxley Wild Rivers National Park.

When possible, the dedicated family man turns the muster into a family affair. Then three generations –the old man himself, his four kids Sarah, Emma, Ben and Tim, their partners and a bunch of horse-savvy grandchildren – set out from his family home for three days of work. “The kids are pretty damn good,” he says proudly. “I’ve been teaching them how to track stock. It’s proper bush around here.” On horseback, accompanied by utes, a battered truck and a large mob of cattle dogs, the family faces a gruelling task: to find the stock, strewn over a large area of steep rocky hills, lush rainforest gullies and hidden plateaus. “I rely on the dogs big time. And good horses,” he says.  

Neil started mustering with his father at the age of five and is an expert at finding the cattle. In summer, high temperatures, lack of water in the hills and buffalo flies keep the animals near the river. “In winter time you don’t see them. They are up in the hills,” he says. 

The muster ends up at his yards. After separating out weaners – the older calves go to the saleyards – spraying against buffalo fly, dehorning, branding and tagging, the herd is released again into the Macleay River valley. 

This story excerpt is from Issue #119

Outback Magazine: June/July 2018