In the Australian lexicon, stockman is the traditional name given to a person who looks after the livestock on a large property known as a station and owned by a grazier or a grazing company. They may also be the persons employed at abattoirs, feedlots, on live export ships or with stock and station agencies.
Station employees, including stockmen, who work at a number of different occupations within their work, are also known as “station hands”. Trainee station managers are known as "jackaroos" (trainee managers are known as "jillaroos"). Girls are now popular stock persons on many properties as they have been acknowledged as having a natural affinity for stock work. An associated occupation is that of the drover, who, like the shearer may be an itinerant worker, and is employed in tending to livestock while they are travelling on a stock route.
The term "stockman" was previously used in the United States and Canada as a formal term for a person who raised livestock, principally cattle, "stockgrower" being term in more recent use. The meaning differs from the Australian use of the word "stockman".
The employment of mounted workers to tend livestock is necessitated in Australia by the large size of the "properties" which may be called sheep stations or cattle stations, depending upon the type of stock. In the inland regions of most states excluding Victoria and Tasmania, cattle stations may exceed 10,000 km² with the largest being Anna Creek station at 24,000 km² (6,000,000 acres).
Stockmen traditionally ride horses, use working dogs and a stockwhip for stock work and mustering, but motorised vehicles are increasingly used. Sometimes the vehicles that are used are 4WD "paddock-bashers", which are often old unregistered utilities. These vehicles may also be modified by removing the top and fitting roll and bull bars for bull or buffalo catching.
Early stockmen were specially selected, highly regarded men owing to the high value and importance of early livestock. All stockmen need to be interested in animals, able to handle them with confidence and patience, able to make accurate observations about them and enjoy working outdoors.
The role of the mounted stockmen came into being early in the 19th century, when in 1813 the Blue Mountains separating the coastal plain of the Sydney region from the interior of the continent was crossed. The town of Bathurst was founded shortly after, and potential farmers moved westward, and settled on the land, many of them as squatters. The rolling country, ideal for sheep and the large, often unfenced, properties necessitated the role of the mounted stockmen.
Mustering is done with horses back or vehicles including ATVs, and some of the large cattle stations use helicopters or light aircraft to assist in the mustering and surveillance of livestock and their watering points. Cattle mustering in the Outback and the eastern ‘Falls’ country of the Great Dividing Range often necessitates days camping out in isolated areas and sleeping on the ground with a limited food choices. In these areas the days in the saddle are often very long as the cattle have to be mustered and then driven to yards or a paddock where they can be held.
Apart from livestock duties a stock person will inspect, maintain and repair fences, gates and yards that have been broken by storms, fallen trees, livestock and wildlife.
A number of equestrian sports are particularly associated with stockmen. These include campdrafting, team penning, tentpegging and polocrosse, as well as working dog trials. The sports are played in local and state competitions and are often a feature of agricultural shows such as the Sydney Royal Easter Show. Stockman challenges are also gaining in popularity across the eastern states of Australia. In this event competitors show their skills by whipcracking, packing a packhorse (to be lead around a course), bareback obstacle course, cross country, shoeing and stock handling competing in a single Australian Stock Saddle. The best will compete in a final with a brumby catch and stock saddle buckjump where they have to mark out carrying a stockwhip.
Two well-known songs commemorate the death of a stockman, the anonymous "Wrap me up with my stockwhip and blanket" and Rolf Harris's "Tie me kangaroo down, Sport".
Through the 19th and early 20th centuries the writing of balladic poetry was a favoured form of literary expression, and the public recitation of such pieces remains a feature of Australian folk festivals. The majority of the most popular ballads deal with rural subject and many are specifically about stockmen. These works include Adam Lindsay Gordon's "Bush Ballads and Galloping Rhymes" which includes the "Sick Stock Rider", and, most famously, Banjo Paterson's epic poem "The Man from Snowy River".
"The Man from Snowy River" was to become the source of three movies, one in 1920, and another in 1982 to be followed by a sequel. A TV series followed called "Banjo Paterson's The Man from Snowy River". In 2002 the story was shown as live musical theatre called "The Man from Snowy River: Arena Spectacular".
The inspiration for this musical performance came from the Opening Ceremony of the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, when the performance opened with 121 stockmen and women riding Australian Stock Horses in a "muster", (known in America as a roundup) and symbolising a gathering of people from across the world, in the same way as the stockmen "mustered at the station" in Banjo Paterson's famous poem. The muster took place to music written by Bruce Rowland, who composed a special Olympics version of the main theme for the 1982 movie "The Man from Snowy River".
A further tribute to the stockman derives from the fact that for a number of years the promotions of the Sydney Royal Easter Show have referred to it as "The Great Australian Muster".
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