The McCormack family preserves a rich tradition of mountain mustering in the High Country near Mansfield, Vic.

Story Genevieve Barlow   Photos Cormac Hanrahan

For at least 100 years and four generations McCormacks have saddled up around December to drive their cattle into the mountains to graze over the summer and then returned 16 weeks or so later, in April, to bring them down again, when they draft off and wean the calves born up there for selling. No-one knows exactly when the family began this annual pilgrimage. It continues today, ostensibly for cattle mustering, but also so the family can do what they most love doing together – riding horses and camping out in the mountains.

“People say you could do the mustering on motorbikes,” says Jack McCormack. “But because the cattle have been up in the mountains for three to four months they learn where to hide. They know where the water is and they know where the good grass is. They’ll find hidden spots that we’ve never known.” That takes people on horseback, he reckons. And even if it didn’t, the McCormacks would still come by horse.

The family’s home property is Leonora, 243 hectares near Merrijig, east of Mansfield. It’s not viable on its own, so the nearby 2500ha Mansfield State Forest provides a good grazing adjunct. They lease 162ha of it. Summer can sear the home hills, but the cool mountains harbour enough native grasses to keep cattle content most years. The McCormacks used to also graze cattle in the Alpine National Park until it was banned. They still have access to the Mansfield State Forest, but it’s not enough to sustain the family. So, for the past 25 years, they have also run McCormacks Mountain Valley Trail Rides, taking guests on horse trail rides through Victoria’s High Country. 

Every weekend – and sometimes mid-week – from November to mid-May, Bruce and Deb saddle up to lead paying riders through the mountains and valleys of this magnificent bushland to peer out over country made legend in the film, The Man From Snowy River, and then to camp alongside rivers and in huts on valley floors. Rides can be from two hours up to seven days.

This story excerpt is from Issue #113

Outback Magazine: June/July 2017