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Female droving unit gathers interest -

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Female droving unit gathers interest

Reporter: Paul Lockyer

KERRY O'BRIEN: Throughout the driest parts of farming Australia hopeful eyes are being cast to the
heavens, after the first signs that the drought could be breaking. The weather bureau has declared
an end to the El Nino weather event held responsible for intensifying the dry conditions in eastern
Australia at least. It would take several years of above-average rain to ease the water crisis, but
any falls would offer immediate relief for drought-stricken stock. In the search for feed and
water, many sheep and cattle with their drovers have taken to the long paddock, the network of
stock routes running alongside the roads and tracks of rural Australia. Paul Lockyer reports on one
team that has brought a decided feminine touch to the droving game.

PAUL LOCKYER: Many of these cattle were skin and bones when they were taken on the road from
drought-affected properties nine months ago. During their long journey, they've grown strong and
healthy under the care of drover Susan Cutler.

SUSAN CUTLER: And you see these cattle when we started off and you see them now - huge difference.
And you feel very proud of it, yeah.

PAUL LOCKYER: The pride is shared by 18-year-old Trudy Picton and 25-year-old Tammy Hughes. They
make up a girls-only droving unit that's creating plenty of interest in the outback.

SUSAN CUTLER: We're just a feminine team. We have a lot of people wave to us. The mail man throws
the paper out to us. We're getting well known, me and my girls. "There's Suse and her girls!"

TRUDY PICTON: I'm the kind of a person that if I start something, I have to kind of stick with it.

PAUL LOCKYER: Trudy Picton, the daughter of a grazier, has just graduated from high school and will
spend this year in the long paddock before studying animal husbandry at university.

TRUDY PICTON: The only job really, that you can have dogs, cattle and the open road all in one, so
it's pretty good.

TAMMY HUGHES: Susan rang and said, "I need ya, I need ya" and I was like, "Rightio, I'll be there".
And I've been here ever since.

PAUL LOCKYER: Tammy Hughes has seen a lot of the long paddock. She began travelling the stock
routes with her family as a toddler.

TAMMY HUGHES: I did it when I was little, I did my correspondence, did that and did my schooling on
the road, so yeah, pretty much been bred in me.

PAUL LOCKYER: It takes careful planning and good stock management to care for a mob of almost 1,000
cattle, especially when the drought is burning off feed and drying up water holes. And here in
south-western Queensland, drovers must move their stock 10 kilometres a day to share the slim

SUSAN CUTLER: They're good rules because you don't flog the country out then and it's better for
the person behind you, but yes you just keep soldiering on. We'll find somewhere to go.

PAUL LOCKYER: Susan Cutler's first memories are of cattle mustering with her three sisters. She
took to the droving life, raising two children along the way.

SUSAN CUTLER: Well, my father had all girls so we just, meant nothing to us to go and do it. I went
out there and we used to crutch the sheep, I kept the kids at school by crutching sheep. Wherever
there was a job to be done, we went to it.

PAUL LOCKYER: Susan Cutler is now a grandmother, but feels the pull of the long paddock as strong
as ever and she believes she's put together the best possible team for the job.

SUSAN CUTLER: They're just more softer with stock like, you know, and care for stock.

TAMMY HUGHES: Instead of beating up on them, we look after them and they do us the favour in the
long run.

PAUL LOCKYER: Patience and perseverance displayed by the girls is applauded by the boss.

SUSAN CUTLER: They last longer, stick to it better. It is tough, like there's no TV, there's no
nice luxury showers or any of those things.

TRUDY PICTON: I guess living in luxury is not everything. We make the most of living in a truck.
All my friends are out going to parties and enjoying themselves and but, I'm not really worried
about that, so it doesn't really matter, I guess.

PAUL LOCKYER: There is the occasional night out.

SUSAN CUTLER: See, my destination was going to go from here, St George, Surat and Roma.

PAUL LOCKYER: This is the Nindigully pub in south west Queensland, where many a bushman has hung
his hat. Former drover Leon Schwarg believes Susan Cutler has earned her place amongst the
characters of the long paddock.

LEON SCHWARG: She always says her piece pretty well, so that's where she sort of fits in, what she
sort of thinks she says, so.

PAUL LOCKYER: In the truck they call home, there's nothing but loyalty.

TRUDY PICTON: We're rather spoilt, really. You get food and our dogs fed and our horses fed all
that comes into the wage, I guess. She's a very good boss, she's a bit tough sometimes.

SUSAN CUTLER: We'll try and give them a drink about 11 o'clock in the river down this end. Hey!
Come on.

PAUL LOCKYER: Before that, checking numbers to make sure that no cattle had been left behind the
previous day. With all accounted for, the meander resumes through the scrub, with the girls riding
herd. It challenges the stereotype of the rugged Australian stockman. The work being carried out by
Susan Cutler and her team has altered very little in the long paddock over decades, carrying out a
crucial role in the drought years, just as busy in the good times. When the pastures flourish along
the stock routes, the beef investors move in.

SUSAN CUTLER: As soon as we've finished this job and it rains we've been offered a job for 52 weeks
of the year if we want it. He wants us to do it to fatten his bullocks up so he can take them to

PAUL LOCKYER: And afternoon storm activity has provided some positive signs. The falls have been
fickle but they've brought welcome relief to pockets of the long paddock. It's with a sense of
satisfaction that Susan Cutler now pens up the cattle for the night.

SUSAN CUTLER: Well, this might seem funny but when you hop up in the morning and there's nice big
paddies in the yard that's the best feeling you can get because you know they're very full. Another
half hour they're all lying down, they'll be asleep and chewing their cud and that's the best thing
you can do.

(c) 2007 ABC