This section is from the book "Robbery Under Arms; A Story Of Life And Adventure In The Bush And In The Australian Goldfields", by Rolf Boldrewood. Also available from Amazon: Robbery under Arms; a story of life and adventure in the bush and in the Australian goldfields.
'Now then, you boys!' says father, coming up all of a sudden like, and bringing out his words as if it was old times with us, when we didn't know whether he'd hit first and talk afterwards, or the other way on, 'get out the lot we've just branded, and drive 'em straight for that peak, where the water shines dripping over the stones, right again the sun, and look slippy; we're burning daylight, and these cows are making row enough, blast 'em! to be heard all the way to Banda. I'll go on and steady the lead; you keep 'em close up to me.'
Father mounted the old mare. The dog stopped behind; he knew he'd have to mind the tail -- that is the hindmost cattle -- and stop 'em from breaking or running clear away from the others. We threw down the rails. Away the cattle rushed out, all in a long string. You'd 'a thought no mortal men could 'a kept 'em in that blind hole of a place. But father headed 'em, and turned 'em towards the peak. The dog worried those that wanted to stay by the yard or turn another way. We dropped our whip on 'em, and kept 'em going. In five minutes they were all a-moving along in one mob at a pretty sharpish trot like a lot of store cattle. Father knew his way about, whether the country was thick or open. It was all as one to him. What a slashing stockman he would have made in new country, if he only could have kept straight.
It took us an hour's hard dinkum to get near the peak. Sometimes it was awful rocky, as well as scrubby, and the poor devils of cattle got as sore-footed as babies -- blood up to the knee, some of 'em; but we crowded 'em on; there was no help for it.
At last we rounded up on a flat, rocky, open kind of a place; and here father held up his hand.
'Let 'em ring a bit; some of their tongues are out. These young things is generally soft. Come here, Dick.' I rode up, and he told me to follow him.
We walked our horses up to the edge of the mountain and looked over. It was like the end of the world. Far down there was a dark, dreadful drop into a sort of deep valley below. You couldn't see the bottom of it. The trees on the mountain side looked like bushes, and they were big ironbarks and messmates too. On three sides of us was this awful, desolate-looking precipice -- a dreary, gloomy, God-forsaken kind of spot. The sky got cloudy, and the breeze turned cold and began to murmur and whistle in an odd, unnatural kind of way, while father, seeing how scared and puzzled I was, began to laugh. I shuddered. A thought crossed my mind that it might be the Enemy of Souls, in his shape, going to carry us off for doing such a piece of wickedness.
'Looks queer, doesn't it?' says father, going to the brink and kicking down a boulder, that rolled and crashed down the steep mountain side, tearing its way through scrub and heath till it settled down in the glen below. 'It won't do for a man's horse to slip, will it, boy? And yet there's a track here into a fine large paddock, open and clear, too, where I'm going to put these cattle into.'
I stared at him, without speaking, thinking was he mad.
'No! the old man isn't mad, youngster,' he said; 'not yet, at least. I'm going to show you a trick that none of you native boys are up to, smart as you think yourselves.' Here he got off the old mare, and began to lead her to the edge of the mountain.
'Now, you rally the cattle well after me,' he said; 'they'll follow the old mare after a bit. I left a few cows among 'em on purpose, and when they "draw" keep 'em going well up, but not too fast.'
He had lengthened the bridle of the mare, and tied the end of a light tether rope that he had round her neck to it. I saw her follow him slowly, and turn down a rocky track that seemed to lead straight over a bluff of the precipice.
However, I gave the word to 'head on'. The dog had started rounding 'em up as soon as he saw the old mare walk towards the mountain side, and the cattle were soon crushed up pretty close to the mare's heels.
Mind this, that they were so footsore and tender about the hoofs that they could not have run away from us on foot if they had tried.
After 'ringing' a bit, one of the quiet cows followed up the old mare that was walking step by step forward, and all the rest followed her like sheep. Cattle will do that. I've seen a stockrider, when all the horses were dead beat, trying to get fat cattle to take a river in flood, jump off and turn his horse loose into the stream. If he went straight, and swam across, all the cattle would follow him like sheep.
Well, when the old mare got to the bluff she turned short round to the right, and then I saw that she had struck a narrow path down a gully that got deeper and deeper every yard we went. There was just room for a couple or three calves to go abreast, and by and by all of 'em was walking down it like as if they was the beasts agoing into Noah's Ark. It wound and wound and got deeper and deeper till the walls of rock were ever so far above our heads. Our work was done then; the cattle had to walk on like sheep in a race. We led our horses behind them, and the dog walked along, saving his sore feet as well as he could, and never tried to bite a beast once he got within the walls. He looked quite satisfied, and kept chuckling almost to himself. I really believe I've seen dogs laugh. Once upon a time I've read of they'd have taken poor Crib for a familiar spirit, and hanged or burnt him. Well, he knew a lot, and no mistake. I've seen plenty of Christians as he could buy and sell, and no trouble to him. I'm dashed if the old mare, too, didn't take a pleasure in working cattle on the cross. She was the laziest old wretch bringing up the cows at home, or running in the horses. Many a time Jim and I took a turn out of her when father didn't know. But put her after a big mob of cattle -- she must have known they couldn't be ours -- and she'd clatter down a range like the wall of a house, and bite and kick the tail cattle if they didn't get out of her way. They say dogs and horses are all honest, and it's only us as teaches 'em to do wrong. My notion's they're a deal like ourselves, and some of 'em fancies the square racket dull and safe, while some takes a deal kindlier to the other. Anyhow, no cattle-duffer in the colonies could have had a better pair of mates than old Sally and Crib, if the devil himself had broken 'em in special for the trade.