Story By Melanie Faith Dove
Almost 150 years before Victoria’s High Country became synonymous with the 1982 film The Man from Snowy River, the region was home to one of the state’s oldest forms of agriculture. It’s a practice that continues between December and April each year with cattlemen allowing their animals to roam through the Victorian Alps. When the weather cools, the cattle begin to make their own way home.
Bruce McCormack and Charlie Lovick’s families have been living and working in the High Country for generations. Every December they undertake a three-day journey on horseback to push 50–120 head of cattle off their properties near Merrijig and into alternate sides of the Mansfield State Forest.
Bruce is a fifth-generation cattleman and has been grazing cattle in these mountains for more than 50 years. “See that mountain over there? That’s Mount Cobbler,” he says. “We used to run our cattle up there. All that area you see up there is the Alpine National Park. We call it ‘The Sleepy Indian’.” The Federal Government recently banned grazing in the national park but, as Bruce explains, most people don’t realise they can still graze 2500 hectares of the Mansfield State Forest.
Awaiting Bruce’s arrival back at Pannican Creek Hut are his wife Debra, two of his three children, seven grandchildren and a couple of close friends who have joined them on the muster. As they gather around the camp fire to a lamb roast and a few cold beers, they reflect on the day just gone. They’ve faced torrential rains, thunder, lightning, hail and blinding fog. Bruce’s five-year-old granddaughter Cobie was the seventh generation to partake in the ride, alongside two young cousins.
The next morning, whips ring clear in the crisp mountain air and steam rises off the Angus cows and calves as they make another river crossing. The cows know the run and teach the calves, so knowledge is passed down through the generations in much the same way as the cattlemen teach their children.
“It’s the closest thing we’ve got in Australia to a natural herd migration,” says Charlie, 62. He allows trail riders to come along and the income supplements his Hereford and Angus operation. “I love the absolute sense of freedom,” he says. “Every day out in the mountains there is a new challenge and something new to achieve.”
This Story is from Issue #87
Outback Magazine: Feb/Mar 2013