The droving era may mostly have been passed but there is one place in Queensland where the flame still burns strong – the Camooweal Drovers Camp.
The flame is kept alive by Paul Finlay who with his wife Ellen runs the Drovers Camp – literally – as one of the first things he showed the North West Star was how to light a carbide flame.
Carbide lamps, more properly acetylene gas lamps, are simple lamps, Mr Finlay said that produce and burn acetylene gas (C2H2) created by the reaction of calcium carbide (CaC2) with water.
A chemistry lesson was one of the many surprises the Drovers Shed has in store for visitors but carbide lamps were in common use before properties had electricity.
Paul picked up toasting forks which on closer inspection were beautifully elaborately designed.
“An old fella in Charters Towers made these, if you pull wire back and forth it gets supple and pliable, so you get a couple of pliers and pull them back and forth, it’s a slow hideous job – but it’s a neat bit of work.
Paul said for visitors to get a sense of droving history at the camp, they had to do the tour.
“Otherwise you won’t know what you’re looking at, we’ve got old blokes here who can give a good tour,” he said.
Also pride of place was a big map of northern Australia showing the main droving trails.
“My wife’s grandflather Blake Miller took a mob from Victoria River Downs (NT) from Kidman and brought them down the Murrinji Track and he came down to Headingly Station in 1904,” he said.
It was important to get the terminology right when it came to stock routes.
“We call them stock routes (pronounced ‘rout’) not stock routes (pronounced ‘roots’),” he said.
The shed was built in 2005 though the drover’s festival has been going since 1997.
“Camooweal was always a big drovers’ town,” Paul said.
“We always had horses and cattle here and next thing you know it was all replaced by road trains.”
An important part of the festival, which happens on the last weekend of August, is the lunch for old drovers in the shed.
“They are getting less and less now, although some of their family are starting to come back now,” he said.
Paul said drovers really knew how to look after cattle.
“I’m not a drover, I used to take a few into Camooweal, nothing much mind, but my father and my three brothers were drovers and so was my grandfather,” he said.
“It might seem hard to people now but we didn’t know any better.”