I spent my formative years in the country. Yet I only learnt about TSRs a couple of years ago, when I was researching the streets of Kandos and studying Charting and Parish maps of the area. Sometimes I am amazed at my own ignorance.
For those of you who also missed this part of our cultural heritage, TSRs stand for Travelling Stock Routes and Travelling Stock Reserves, colloquially referred to as the Long Paddock. It is a complex web of routes throughout Australia, whereby mobs of sheep and cattle mainly, were moved across the country for long and short distances: from property to property, to better grazing lands, to stock sales, to the goldfields to feed hungry diggers, and to ports for overseas. TSRs went along roads, through crown land and over pastoral leases, ie private property. They were well established in NSW by the 1860s and they were the principal mode of stock movement till the 1950s, by which time truck and train haulage had taken over.
I discovered from my grandmother’s letters that my grandfather, my father and his brothers, often drove cattle around Lue and to Mudgee. In 1931 she wrote to her son Harry: Arthur is away today droving your sheep to Mudgee. He and Bruce are taking them as far as Mt Knowles tonight and on to Mudgee tomorrow. I think there is 260 and it had to rain again today the first we have had for a good while. It must have known your sheep were on the road.
It was such a revelation to me, who only has memories of my father in a motor vehicle, imagining him riding a horse and rounding up sheep.
“Saltbush Bill” by Banjo Paterson will probably, for some of you, bring back memories of school. But I wonder if you also learnt about the Long Paddock at that time. I obviously didn’t. Right there in the first two stanzas are rules for using the stock route: cover six miles a day and don’t let stock spread out more than half a mile when travelling through leases. It also shows the conflict between drovers and squatters, when drovers cheated.
Now 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;
They camp, and they ravage the squatter’s grass till never a blade remains.
Then they drift away as the white clouds drift on the edge of the saltbush plains:
From camp to camp and from run to run they battle it hand to hand
For a blade of grass and the right to pass on the track of the Overland.
For this is the law of the Great Stock Routes, ’tis written in white and black —
The man that goes with a travelling mob must keep to a half-mile track;
And the drovers keep to a half-mile track on the runs where the grass is dead,
But they spread their sheep on a well-grassed run till they go with a two-mile spread.
Regulation of the TSRs differs from state to state but in NSW their administration began with the Occupation Act of 1861. There followed a system of permits and fees; numbered Travelling Stock Reserves where drovers could rest, water and feed their stock for a day; holding yards; artificial watering such as dams, tanks and bores; health certificates; compulsory dipping stations to combat ticks; and inspectors. All TSRs were surveyed, mapped and gazetted. By 1895 there were 1300 miles of surveyed TSRs. And it is estimated that today the network covers 500,000 hectares in NSW.
So how did the TSRs develop? The first droving tracks followed the easiest paths topographically, where feed and water were available. In our myopic way, White Australia has always considered the Travelling Stock Routes as a pioneering creation, but in fact in early days they more often followed Indigenous pathways. Pathways which provided good food supplies and water for the Aborigines, but also cultural nourishment – places for ceremony and places related to Dreamtime.
It might surprise you to learn that TSRs are part of Kandos history. All the area on the eastern side of the railway between Clifford Street and Larges Lane was TSR, reserved in 1874 and 1888. Further south of the aerial ropeway were seven and a half acres of former TSR set aside for Kandos General cemetery, but later found unsuitable because of the hard, rocky nature of the land. At Cementa 2017, Wiradjuri elders Lyn Syme and Kevin Williams gave a tour of Rylstone TSR55 on the Bylong Valley Way, an event I pencilled in, then pulled out for some minor reason, and have always regretted.
That brings me to TSRs today. There has been a recent campaign, in the last decade or so, to pressure government to protect the TSR network in NSW through strong legislation and commitment to funding. Why? TSRs are still used to graze stock in temporary emergency such as floods, droughts and bushfires. But, I have learnt, they have greater significance in terms of our culture, history and bio-diversity.
Our Aboriginal and rural heritage can be found on TSRs, including rock art, fish traps, archaeological sites and sites of significance; fences, dams, gates, grids, stock yards and windmills; old campsites, river crossings, abandoned town sites, lone graves and survey trees.
In terms of history they carried the sheep on the back of which Australia “rode” over two centuries. They carried the drovers and stockmen about which Paterson, Lawson, Gordon and others wrote. In other words, they were the bedrock of our national economy and psyche.
They contain strips of native vegetation in heavily cleared areas, a haven for native wildlife. They are places for public recreation. Anyone can use a TSR for walking, picnics, swimming, fishing, birdwatching, horse-riding and cycling.
Have you ever visited one?
You can find a TSR near you by clicking https://www.lls.nsw.gov.au/livestock/stock-routes
Or you can download The Long Paddock: a Directory of Travelling Stock Routes and Reserves, produced by NSW Agriculture and Rural Lands Protection Boards in 2001, by clicking https://sites.google.com/site/thelongpaddockbook/download
The featured image is of Banjo Paterson, creator of the poem “Saltbush Bill”, who is memorialised on the ten dollar note.