National Geographic : 1966 Feb
"Things will get better," insists cattle man Bill Waudby. Accustomed to periodic drought, cattle-station managers normally anticipate only one good year in five. But the current drought began in 1958. Some cattlemen, located near scenic attractions, now cater to tourists by providing guest houses. A few operate dude ranches. Specter haunting the Centre, a dust squall rips into Undoolya station. It gob bles up topsoil, containing grass seeds wait ing to germinate, then redeposits the load in arid wastes elsewhere. Dust storms may occur every few days during droughts. "We have to work a shift system," Mick explained to me. "We can't just leave the mob. At least two or three of us must always be on our horses, keeping watch. We have special horses trained for night work. These cattle have never seen anybody but us, and they're easily scared." The stockmen listened silently and settled among their packs, almost blending into the bush-at home here and quietly competent, ready for anything. Bush flies flocked in from nowhere, as they always do, and settled on men's and horses' faces, and in their eyes. Accustomed to this from birth, neither man nor beast paid much attention. The shadows lengthened and the fire crack led for the simple evening meal of kangaroo 254 stew and unleavened bread called "damper," baked roughly in the wood ashes. The stew smelled good. The damper tasted wonderful. It wasn't hard to brush the bits of ash from it. The stars began to come out, lovely in the dark velvety blue of the tropic night. We yarned along, about dingoes and kangaroos, about the aborigines' life. Mick didn't volun teer anything, but he answered questions well. The others said nothing whatever. In the lull I thought I heard voices singing. Singing? I was fooling myself. Singing out there, in the wilderness? But someone was-chanting,sometimes in a way I'd never heard before; sometimes humming, quietly and continuously. Who and why?