Cowboy films have immortalised the railroad
towns of the old American west, such as Abilene and Kansas City.
Australia, as another great cattle-producing
country, also followed a pattern of railway building, although not as frenzied,
to tap the vast herds of the western plains and tablelands.
In the absence of an aggressive film industry,
railway cattle towns as Dajarra, Alice Springs, Kajabbi, Winton, Bourke,
Quilpie, and Marree are little more than names on a map to most Australiens,
yet each at some time has been a great loading point for cattle.
Following the Japanese threat to the north,
the small township of Dajarra 2.274 Km from Brisbane, and 938 Km west of
Townsville, became the major trucking point for cattle from the Barkly Tableland
and all points west during World War II.
When the war broke out about 40.000 head
of cattle were being railed annually from Dajarra. This number rose rapidly
until between 85.000 and 90.000 on average were being moved each year by
the war's end. This compares more than favourably with Abilene which, in
its heyday in 1868, only managed 75.000 head.
The herds moved to the railhead along such
famous routes as the Chrisholm and Abilene Trails, so the mobs of 1.500 moved
to Dajarra over the Murranji Track or down the Georgina River before turning
east for the final 158 Km.
Alexandria was perhaps the most popular station
with drovers. Cattle also came from Brunette, Anthony's Lagoon, Tobermorey,
Wave Hill, Roxburgh, Headingly, Lake Nash and Glenormiston, to name only
a few stations.
Big mobs of East Kimberley cattle also moved
annually into Queensland for fattening before tracking to meatworks at
Townsville, Bowen, and even Brisbane.
Drovers included Jack and Tom Laffin, Stan
Fowler, Jim and Claude Oldfield, Harry Zigenbine, and Joe Sowden with his
remarkable plant of all piebald horses. They often rounded off the year by
bringing in a mob of 500 fats from Marion Downs, Coorabulka, and other staions
to the south.
Harry Zigenbine's daughter, Kath and Edna
became famous during those years as, travelling two days apart, they each
brought in mobs of 1.500 head. It takes courage in a girl to ride watch around
such a mob on a pitch black night.
Five cattle trains a day, month after month,
each made up of a long line of K-waggons each carrying 20 beasts, or 18 fats,
pulled out of Dajarra to rattle through the balding hills eastward on their
The demand for engine power was so great
that 20 narrow-gauge locomotives were imported from America. Although the
long wheelbase on these was unsuitable for sharp curves on sections of
Queensland's tracks, some of these locomotives, operating mostly on wood
due to the coal shortage, were used to haul cattle from Dajarra.
The rails not only came to a halt there but,
to the weary drovers, Dajarra was a town with real live people, complete
with stores, post office, etc. and, until a hotel was build, four sly-grog
Due to the absence of trading banks, actual
money, both notes and coins, was scarce. Storekeepers mainly Neyan of Dajarra
and Fielding of Boulia, accordingly issued their own printed IOUs known as
"shin plasters", of five and ten shilling denominations. As banks would not
accept them they represented fairly dodgy currency.
Wherever men met in the cattle country the
talk turned to horses. As every drover had a horse or two that he fancied
as a Cup winner, it was inevitable that Dajarra managed to stage some remarkably
successful race meetings throughout the war years, with events carrying such
patriotic names as the Anzac Maiden, Stars and Stripes Open, or Free French
Each day's racing was followed by a ball,
a grander version of almost nightly dances when young, paid-off drovers were
in town. Instead of an according play, however, a ball rated a full orchestra
brought in at enormous expense from some far-away place.
Although a board of inquiry had recommended
a 385 Km extension of the line from Dajarra to Rankine, giant Roadtrains
began transporting cattle over new sealed beef roads to more and more loading
Dajarra, like Abilene, as a great trucking
center had had its day.