© 2017 by Owen Davies

THE GOATS

 

Throughout the pages of my diary there have been numerous incidents, traits and behaviour that have been linked to various goats.  It is likely that the reader might be curious to know about each individual goat.  Like people, they have their own individuality.  They have a degree of intelligence that exceeds most domestic four legged animals and would be on par with the smartest of dogs.

 

The first mob of packed goats that were employed on the test run in August 2011, were named after the rivers and creeks that make up the Lake Eyre basin catchment.

It seemed the appropriate thing to do as the whole concept was based on a trek that would ultimately end up in a 1000km walk that was to take me along a system that plays a major role in the filling or part thereof, into Lake Eyre.  Not all goats have what it takes to make a good packer, but out of the original nine I had on the first test run to Eyre Creek, 12 August 2011, I still have seven goats.  They all have their idiosyncrasy but all are magnificent pack animals.  There have been a few that have not made the grade and I will mention those later in the chapter and will explain why they were not suited to the task assigned.  The original seven have now completed the latest trek across the Victorian Alps.  They have walked [loaded] 1670 kms.  They have what it takes to do it.  My current team of eight are all very capable and I see no need to make any changes.  I am happy to retain them all and I intend to do more walks in the years ahead.  Most will be shorter walks though I have my sights on one more big one before I scale back.  On that note, let me now get you a bit familiar with the troops that have been loyal and mostly enthusiastic workers.

 

GEORGE

 

There is a bit of guess work on his age as he was fully grown when I acquired him.  He is probably about 7 years old.  As is sometimes the case he had known several owners prior to being part of my original acquisitions, sometimes referred to short, cut George, as he often chooses to take his own path but more often than not, cause some problems.  When it comes to creek crossings, I always select the shallowest but not necessarily the narrowest part.  George often thinks there is a better way and when he finds it and attempts to jump regardless of how wide, Sometimes resulting in dislodging his load, which is my backpack and swag.  He is the heaviest of all and capable of carrying between 17 and 22 kgs depending on the terrain, he usually of a non-competitive and lay back nature and is happy to walk all day at the tail of the mob, he rarely uses his voice except when separated from the mob which happens from time to time.  He is a heavy sleeper and has been know on numerous occasions to get left behind while the rest to the mob move off to graze in the afternoon.  The stress levels go through the roof once he realises he is alone but his feeble low volume call does little to let the rest know that he wants to be united with them.  He is crossbred with no particular resemblance to one breed or another, was easy to break in and suited to the traditional wooden pack frame.  Goats, like people, have their favourite mates and rest time, George and Ranken, will always be lying down in close proximity to each other.  His name was derived from the Georgina river.  Yes, that is a female name, nothing is perfect.

 

TEMPY

 

Tempy is the abbreviation for Templeton, it is a river that merges with the Georgina, latitude 21.15.000.  Tempy is the smallest of the mob and capable of carrying 10-12kgs.  He has probably still got a bit of growing to do and is a likely to be capable of carrying up to 14kgs in another year or so.  He is a British Alpine and pure black.  This is the goat that is seen by many as being cute.  He is fine featured and gentle with kids and adults and was the first goat to communicate his concerns when things are not going smoothly with the mob.  For example, if George is getting too far behind, it will be Tempy who will be calling.  Ranken will contribute to the calling.  If the goats are having a lay down in the shade, well away from camp and I choose to go and look for them, it is Tempy who always calls first to let me know where they are.  Over the course of time, several others have taken on the same trait and will give me a call at first sight.  He is an agile, sure footed character with a moderate sense of curiosity.  He has horns and is not afraid to use them to assert his level in the pecking order, though he will never make it to the top rung due to his lighter frame.

 

GIDYEA

 

Many people would be familiar with the word gidyea, a tree belonging to the acacia family that dominates much of western Queensland.  It is also a name attached to a creek that flow into the Georgina at latitude 20.54.000.  Gidyea could be described as not the sharped knife in the drawer; it is probable a bit of an unfair description that results from his flat, blank looking personality.  When it comes to crossing tricky spots such as mud and water, he has good look at it, before proceeding.  He often takes the lead when others have dropped back and is very good in the lead as he plods along, sometimes oblivious to the plants that have caused a distraction to the others.  He is pretty much of a not descript breed, though appears to have a splash of Angora, he is strong and carries pack that can total up to 18kgs of tucker.  Very calm in nature with the one exception, being guns, the sound of a bolt action being worked, sends him into a nervous frenzy, his call is weak and rarely heard.

 

EYRE [Eyre Creek]

 

Eyre is an Anglo Nubian dairy goat and has some traits that stand him alone from the rest, his curious nature and desire to explore takes him to the biggest log, the highest rock or the closest to the edge.  He is an expert camp raider and looks for every opportunity to get into the food packs or items left unattended for a few seconds.  Flour, nuts, dried fruit and muesli are some of the items that he has successfully raided over the course of the 55 day trek across the Victorian Alps.  He is not one to be all that vocal and carries about 12-14kgs.

 

MULLIGAN [Mulligan River]

 

Most Australians have not heard of the Mulligan River, it starts in the Toko Range near latitude 23.00.000.  and it runs down the Eastern side of the Simpson Desert to Eyre Creek.  Mulligan is another semi non- descript breed.  He has a percentage of African Boer and that alone stands him apart from the rest.  I had been told not to waste my time with Boer goats, as they are difficult or near impossible to train.  This bloke lived up to the reputation and is very lucky not to have lined the inside of a Harding 10inch camp oven.  On that very first trek to Eyre Creek, he became a major problem to catch when it was time to load the pack on.  At the sight of a lead rope, he would be on his feet and gone, and when I went after him, he would verbally protest as he would keep out of reach.  I would hobble him at night and day camp, which worked okay though it was causing some chaffing.  I then began to tie a dragging rope onto his collar that too, worked reasonably well but in the end I found the best approach, was to catch him while he was asleep.  I always got up well before sunrise and often in total darkness, that was the time to snap on the lead rope and tie him to a tree.  It was a long hard road but eventually he accepted that being caught was inevitable and that there is little point in resisting.  He still has a verbal protest at the sight of me approaching with a rope but it is rare to be anything more than that.  He is a strong goat and capable of carrying 16-18kgs.  With about 175 days of total trekking, and in excess of 1700kms, he has become a top pack goat.  He often takes lead position and calls out to me if I get too far ahead.  He is a great communicator and always calls when I approach after a time of no contact.  His voice is not loud but very distinct.  When it comes to looks he stands alone.  While Tempy might be at end of the scale, Mulligan is at the other end, anyway, he does the job well and that is what counts.

 

SNAZZA

 

Snazza Creek merges into the Georgina south of Urandangie at latitude 21.46.000.

Snazzer came on board for stage 2 of the Camooweal to Birdsville trek; again there was a trace of Boer goat in his breeding.  Never a problem to catch but could not get his head around the idea of being led.  He is good now [most of the time], but for a long time would put up a lot of resistance and pull back on the lead rope when it was time to load.  Goats need a pretty good fence to keep them contained and Snazzer has worked out that if you cannot get under or through it, then you jump over the top. He is the only one who can jump any fence.  He too is a great communicator and always calls when I approach from a time of absence.  His call is unmistakeable and of average volume.  He has been carrying 12-14kgs.

 

RANKEN

 

The Ranken River and Georgina merge at what is known as The Junction Waterhole at latitude 20.37.000.  I remember it well.  It was a hot day camp at 43 degree Celsius.  At that stage much of my walking was at night.  As was the case on this particular evening on September 27 2011.  [refer to diary entry]  Ranken, like Tempy, was a very young goat when I took possession of him, at about 5 months old.  He was quick to accommodate the lead rope and pack saddle and was barely 12 months old when the first test run was initiated.  Though only lightly loaded he would stop and lay down as a form of protest.  No one else would join him so he would be back on his feet and continue in preference to being left behind.  He is now a big framed goat with large symmetrical horns; he has worked his way up the pecking order and now has the ultimate authority over the entire mob.  He is head strong and dominate in nature and has the voice to match.  I have never known a goat that can bellow as loud as he does.  He calls to me if I get to far ahead and he calls to his best mate, George, if he gets too far behind.  He like Eyre is not a bad camp raider and is always on the lookout for a fault in my food security.  A strong and capable worker and often in the lead he is easily distracted by plants that favour his palate.  He has been carrying about 12-14kgs.

 

SYLVESTER

 

Sylvester Creek spreads out onto the Georgina flood plain at about latitude 23.55.000.

Sylvester is a pure bred saanin dairy goat and pretty much fully grown when I took delivery of him at the Mareeba monthly market.  His previous owner had at one stage planned to train him to pull a cart so he had been well handled and trained to lead on a rope.  There are a couple of features that stand out on this bloke.  He does enjoy the company of people and like a dog no amount of patting or scratching is enough.   So much so that it gets to the point that it gets annoying.  Unlike people he is not easily offended and will retreat when told to piss off, only to return a minute or two later.  Now goats are considered to be pretty sure footed animals.  Sylvester is the exception; if there is a creek or mud to be negotiated you can be sure that he will be the last one over as he fidgets about cautiously selecting every step.  He is not too good on logs either and I have seen him lose his balance and go off the side.  Most ungoat like. A tall and lean frame and carries spade, cane knife, map cylinder, billy, rifle, small backpack and dog chain.  Totalling about 14-15kgs.  His call is soft and rarely heard.  Like George and Ranken are good mates, so too are Sylvester and Mulligan and at rest will always share the same square meter of ground.

 

BUCKWONG

 

On Monday the 5th November 2012 I arrived at Tom Groggin station to start my trek across the Victorian alps.  I had acquired two new goats, that were at that stage still unnamed.  It seemed fitting that these two goats be honoured with the names that would relate to creeks or rivers that we would traverse along the way.  The first one being Buckwong Creek that flows into the Murray River near Tom Groggin.

Buckwong was one of those goats that are best described as a natural.  When I put a lead rope on him for the first time he showed minimal resistance and in a short space of time, was happy to lead along with the mob and to some degree without.  He showed nothing more than a sense of curiosity when the pack frame was clipped on for the first time.  He is very quiet and calm to handle but very assertive in the pecking order and often challenges Ranken for the number 1 position.  He has got little chance as he will never be the size of Ranken and his horns have been trimmed by the previous owner.  He is an excellent pack goat and carries up to 15kgs.

 

OTHER GOATS

 

The goats described are those that have completed the most recent trek, there are others that for various reasons have come and gone.  They are mentioned thru out the course of my diary entries so it is only fitting that I should also provide a description and explanation to their demise.

 

MITTA

 

Named after the Mitta Mitta River, this goat had an attitude from day one.  He was about 5 year old when I took possession of him.  He was well and truly accustomed to being tethered but as for being led on a rope, that was a different story.  His physical features suggested that there was Boer blood somewhere in his genetics.  Not only was he not receptive to training, he also had an aggressive disposition to all the other goats.  This was not in a way to compete for the higher dominating level, as it was more a flog everyone approach.  It soon became obvious that this bloke was socially dysfunctional in the goat world.  Ranken was the only one who would take him on.  It was interesting to observe one day when Mitta for no reason drove his horns into George.  Remember that I mentioned earlier that Ranken and George are good mates.  Well Ranken used his authority and drove his horns into Mitta and he quickly cleared the scene.  In other words, don’t go bullying my mate or that is what you will get.  He was a loner and often grazed away from the mob.  He also walked at the very tail while we were trekking.  At camp 22 his days were done.  Goats are intelligent enough to have and display emotions.  There was no grief amongst the crew on his parting from the present and the past.  To put it bluntly they hated his guts.

 

CINNAMON

 

A little goat with a big ego.  The first doe [female goat] that I was to take on, two and half year old and already named.  I had intended to rename her after one of the desert creeks.  It just never happened and the name Cinnamon stuck.  Having said that she got called many other spur of the moment names, but I will not bother to mention.  It is likely that I probably mentioned earlier that I sometimes referred to her by the name of

Caneater.  In goat society she was the feminine bitch and when introduced to the mob instantly claimed the number one position.  She carried a good set of horns and made sure everyone better get out of her way.  On that very first trek out of Birdsville, Gary nicknamed her, superbitch.  A goat would lay down in a patch of sand or next to the fire for warmth and she would drive her horns in, just because it felt good.  Her genetics are linked to African Kalahari Red, an extremely agile and well balanced goat and could out climb any other to get to the best leaves and flowers.  She took great joy in upending loaded goats and one occasion did such a good job of it on Ranken that he was unable to get back on his feet.  He let out a few good bellows until I could correct the situation.  In one afternoon she unloaded Sylvester’s’ load 3 times.  It was at that point I decided she was running on borrowed time.  Meanwhile we had a long way to go and I was to witness further trouble in the weeks that passed that concluded at the end of May 2012.  In about mid-October I advertised her in the local paper, it read as follows:  Give away to the right person, one female goat, good with kids.  I had about 15 calls, and she is now living in or close to Mareeba.

 

INCA and BUCKLY THE 2ND [THE TWO MT ISA GOATS]

 

After the 20 day test run to Eyre Creek it was straight to Camooweal.  I need at least one more goat and ideally two.  There was not much on offer apart from Boer crosses.  They have never been handled and to say they were a bit flighty is somewhat of an understatement.  About 2 weeks into the trek and with loads slightly reduced it was time to deal with a problem goat.  The wild side of Buckly was not improving.  She was difficult to catch when it was time to load and equally as difficult when it was time to be unloaded.  I know it sounds harsh or callous, but a goat that is hard to catch, is a recipe for disaster.  Her time was up.  Inca when on to complete stage 1 though she was never going to make a good packer.  In the end I traded her for the goat that was later to be named Buckwong.

 

BUCKLY THE FIRST

 

The Buckly River merges with the Georgina at latitude 20.24.000. 

This goat has probably been fairly well described in the earlier pages of my diary, so I will not go into a lot of detail here.  In spite of being a Boer cross he appeared to the making of good packer.  Well-handled and strong, I was wrong.  The 20 day test run would fail if it were to continue with the disruptions caused by this one goat.  At the end of day 7 I had no choice but to act.  It was a difficult decision to make but I, as an expedition leader, had a responsibility to put the interest and well fair of myself and my fellow trekker ahead of one troublesome goat.  The deserts of Australia have claimed many human lives.  Some can be based on bad luck but most are based on stupid decisions.  Things can turn bad at a fast rate.  Foolish decisions or indecision can cost human life.

 

CONCLUSION FROM DESERT SAND TO ALPINE SLEET

 

Today is January 6 2013.  It was January the 8th last year when the idea of going into the Victorian high country first entered my mind.  At that point I was yet to complete stage 2 of the 1000 km walk from Camooweal to Birdsville.  I cannot help feeling somewhat amazed to think that not only did I complete that trek but in the same year I was able to complete a 55 day trek across the Victorian Alps. 

Now you, the reader, will recall that this whole idea of going into the high country

 

BEAU DOG

 

Born, June 2004 Pungalina Station.  Always the star attraction.  Very much a one person dog and there are few places that I go where she does not come along.  After the desert walk she came with me on the 550km trek across the Victorian Alps.  She is a great passenger in the plane and has been on all three work related trips back to the Simpson Desert.  Most recently we flew to Darwin, then by 4 wheel drive to the North West Kimberly and back.  I always get a surprise look when refuelling at public airports and a dingo emerges from the plane for a sniff and a look about.

She lives a great life, and has a comfortable bed and always rides in the cab of my Colorado ute.  A mate so devoted, she deserves the best.

A couple of years ago I was invited to a wedding in North Melbourne, and to bring a friend.  I am sure anyone reading this can imagine the reaction when I turned up with Beau.  Sometimes it is a fine line between breaking the rules and pleasing the crowd.

Occasionally someone will make reference to me appearing to be a single, carefree sort of a bloke.  Sorry ladies but I am spoken for and I do make many sacrifices to look after my best mate.  She is worth it and I would not change a thing.  The following description may help the reader understand why.

My relationship with Beau Dog has the potential to exceed a distance that I have any woman.  Certainly differences of opinion have been less frequent.