Hidden History – Mickies and Polers Do we still have colourful by alendar


More Info
									Hidden History – Mickies and Polers

Do we still have colourful characters or do they exist only in the past, when
communities were smaller and society had room for the ordinary life lived
eccentrically, without compromise, endearing, picturesque, vivid. The Blue Mountains
has had its share of colourful characters but perhaps none more so than the men
and women who drove bullocks for a living.

From the building of the first road over the Blue Mountains until the early decades of
the 20th Century, bullocks were one of the main sources of draught power whether it
was clearing land, carting massive logs to local saw mills or carrying heavy loads
over the mountain passes, and although some bullock drivers never swore, relying
solely on gesture and whip movements; many were renowned for their strong
language. A language which it seems, like other less respectable parts of our history,
is now all but lost except as oral tradition. When taking steep hills or on narrow
winding roads, when the bullocks closer to the wagon, known as polers, risked
strangulation or a broken neck, the driver would talk continuously to the team, calling
each bullock by name to adjust its pace and effort. Talk that took the place of halters
and reins and we can now only imagine.
Unlike the horse, which is subject to erratic displays of emotion, the working steer,
known as a micky, tends to remain calm and collected and is more dependable in a
predicament. Competent bullock drivers developed a philosophical, sanguine
temperament, saving the strong language for the most difficult situations, otherwise
their swearing reserve would have been exhausted before it was really needed. At
the right moment the normally complaisant teamster would explode into profanity, the
sudden shock of the awful words provoking the bullocks to bore into their yokes, all
pulling together to overcome their load. The bullocky would then regain his usual
easy-going composure, reserving his store of swearing until the next difficult
Two of our well known bullockies were Bob Duff and Ted Duff. The Duff family has
been associated with the Blue Mountains for over 150 years. Robert ‘Bob’ Duff was
born in Hartley 1845, his parents having arrived from Scotland five years earlier. At
the age of nineteen Bob married sixteen year old Caroline Smith from Campbelltown
and the couple settled in the Megalong Valley, farming 1100 acres on the Cox’s
River. Between seasons Bob worked his team of bullocks, sometimes on the road for
up to five months. Physically he cut an imposing figure, standing 6’3” and weighing
17 stone. Bob Duff died in March 1893, killed while breaking in a colt, he was forty
eight years old and left a family of sixteen children. His wife Caroline eventually
moved her family to Blackheath where she died in 1942 at the age of ninety seven.

Perhaps it’s not just the bullocky’s language that may fascinate us; there is also a
lesson in self reliance in what was one of the most difficult and challenging of
occupations. One old driver remarked that when faced with the seemingly impossible
or extreme danger, you will have your doubts and will feel like not going on, but
remember to always look on the humorous side and never lose your temper for a
man who can drive bullocks can do anything.

Local Studies Librarian

Reference: The Bullock Driver’s Handbook, Arthur Cannon, 1985.

To top