Charlie Blake has spent his life with cattle and horses, droving mobs across Queensland, riding ‘pick-up man’ in rodeos and blacksmithing.

Story By Janette Jenyns

Charlie Blake sits among a vast array of leather goods, from harnesses to plaited greenhide ropes, stirring his own recipe for leather dressing – a concoction of beeswax, mutton fat and Sunlight soap. Packsaddles hanging from the rafters are testament to the magical brew; they’re as soft as butter.
When Charlie was born in the early 1930s his family lived on a share farm west of Chinchilla, Qld. “I loved the life out on the farm, but I’d never had much time for schooling,” he says. “Pretty soon I was skipping school and shepherding mobs of cattle for the local saleyards instead.”
At age 10 Charlie had his first steer ride at the Chinchilla Show Rodeo. It was a triumph beyond all of young Charlie’s expectations. He had found his calling in life and at 12 he secured a job at Maamaa Station, west of Jackson. For one pound, five shillings a week, Charlie yarded horses each morning at daybreak and helped with mustering duties. The 12- to 14-hour days were incredibly difficult work for a young boy but he stuck at it for six months, and then found a job doing what he truly loved.
Brian Rynne was a boss drover, moving cattle from Queensland across the border into New South Wales. Charlie loved the life of droving, the days and nights on the road, a horse beneath him and the wide, blue sky above. They could spend up to 22 weeks droving, their swags and tucker crammed into packsaddles, as they passed along stock routes and camped out under the stars.
On a trip from Goondiwindi to Miles, Charlie, at just 13, was left to bring back the horses. With three pages of mud maps to guide him, he set off with amazing confidence. His fear was not in handling the horses, or even losing his way on barely marked tracks, but of possible encounters with snakes and feral pigs.
Rynne was a hard but fair man, confident in his abilities, so when he counted his mob and found only 699 head, he knew without a doubt that one had strayed. Young Charlie was not convinced when he was sent him off in search of the missing beast. “Where did you look?” he asked Charlie on his return. “In all the likely places.” Charlie says Rynne fixed him with a glare and told him to go look in all the unlikely places. “Back along the track I found a broken-toed bullock, hiding in the shade of a wilga bush,” Charlie says. The boss drover won Charlie’s complete respect.

This story excerpt is from Issue #69

Outback Magazine: Feb/Mar 2010