A life in the saddle
Wik Mungkan elder Willie Lawrence has spent the best part of 60 years working as a cattleman across Cape York. At 78, and with sight in just one eye, he’s still in the saddle.
In Coen, Willie talks about his extraordinary life as a top cattleman, and why Rokeby Station, his homeland, is so important to him.
“My family would walk four days to come to Coen races or into town. We worked from daylight to dark, four in the morning til 10 at night. We’d get paid two pound per week and come into town to the Police Station to get paid. We’d get tucker and go back out to the station.
“We lived out on Rokeby homeland. When we lost our father in 1992, National Parks took over and we left and never went back. We rode for seven weeks to Mareeba.
“My brother Victor was fighting to get our land back and live out on the country but it was hard. I love my homeland and all my history all left out on the country, the burial place was locked in the National Park.
“I worked at Musgrave Outstation ringing. It was a good life, better than sitting around town. I took mobs of bullocks from Musgrave to Mareeba. We’d have to watch them all night; there were no yards, no helicopters.
“We had a big mob of horses, swags, tucker, 18 pack-horses, 85 horses in the camp, 22 drovers. We’d carry drums of flour to make damper. We’d drive 9,000 head of cattle- the biggest in the Cape. I love them days.
“It was a good life out in the bush. We wouldn’t come into town for two to three months, sometimes six months. I’ve worked on Dixie, Kolarta, Artemis Stations. I was single when I was travelling around – girlfriends here and there, on and off. I was about 30 when I meet my wife, Ella.
He laments some aspects of modern life, especially the grog.
“Watchin’ young ones walking around with the green bottle and the yellow can…” Willie says as he shakes his head.
“A lot of kids going to the big school and don’t learn anything — just lifting the yellow can. Too sad. As soon as they come home from high school—take ‘em out on country!”
“My grandson Patrick calls me like a Dad. I grew him up as a ringer from a small boy, put him on a horse when he was a baby.
“My brother left me to look after Rokeby Station and we are running it as a cattle station and we are joining with the other fellas from Merapah Station.
“We all work together to get back to country. All Kepples and Lawrences, no fighting, no arguing, all pull together. We are all the same languages, giving each other a hand, all the families together on homelands.”