The future of the Long Paddock, the network of rural roads used by drovers to move stock since the 1830s, is up for discussion in New South Wales and Queensland and there’s a concerted campaign to preserve them.

Story By John Dunn

Robert Groth is a drover. Hugh Possingham and Henry Nix are professors. Cecile van der Burgh is a Wilderness Society campaigner. John Williamson is a well-known country-music singer. Allan Scammell is a ranger. Collectively they form what may seem a most unlikely alliance.

Despite such diversity, they are working together on a common cause – to protect the ‘long paddock’, also known as the travelling stock routes (TSR). For a century and a half this network of rural roads along which sheep and cattle are allowed to move has been, and remains, an integral part of the successful operation of those industries.

Initially the TSRs, as they have been dubbed in Queensland, were developed so that stock could be transferred to the faraway grazing lands, which were being opened up as the pioneers fanned out into the countryside from the coastal areas of the first settlements. The paths they took were chosen because they provided grass and water so vital to the movement of animals.

Later they were used in reverse to bring stock back to the markets of the south. In drought years pastoralists, mainly in New South Wales, also used these routes for grazing when their own holdings were eaten out and for emergency grazing following floods and bushfires. Hence the term, the long paddock. These routes stretched for thousands of kilometres, mainly across New South Wales and Queensland, and such was their importance to the people of the bush that they were soon incorporated into the nation’s folklore.

Banjo Paterson found them fascinating and wrote about them often, as in Saltbush Bill:

Now this is the law of the overland that all in the West obey -
A man must cover with travelling sheep a six-mile stage a day;
But this is the law which the drovers make, right easily understood,
They travel their stage where the grass is bad, but they camp where the grass is good...

In the 1950s use of the stock routes began to decline when motorised transport took over from the drovers. With good roads stock trucks, such as the big B-doubles in later years, quickly became a much more efficient means of movement. However, in recent times the stock routes have made a comeback because of the sharp rise in fuel costs and the prolonged drought, which has made their grass areas a valuable commodity.

This story excerpt is from Issue #65

Outback Magazine: June/July 2009