FEW things are more iconic in the true sense of the word than south-east Australia’s high-country cattlemen.
Whether the occasion is a local cultural celebration or the opening ceremony of the 2000 Olympics, if a ‘typical’ Australian character is needed, horse riders dressed in flowing oilskin coats and cracking stockwhips are this nation’s automatic go-to.
Now, a hardcover coffee-table-cum-reference book by photographer-writer Melanie Faith Dove captures the contemporary lifestyle of these mountain graziers in a combination of informative, sensitively worded text and artistic images.
Faith Dove describes the working life of a “cattleman” – a generic, gender-neutral term that does not discriminate against the many women who carry on this generations-long tradition – in four main sections aligned with the seasons and rounds out her narrative with a fifth chapter, “Loss: The Next Conversation”, in which she summarises the arguments both for and against allowing cattle into the Alpine National Park.
While the author is clearly aligned with the families featured, she does an admirable job of presenting in a fair and balanced way the anti-grazing movement’s reasons for seeking to have the practice permanently banned.
The pages shine with portraits of the people, horses and dogs that together continue this mid-1800s heritage style of farming.
Retired state MP and former Mountain Cattlemen’s Association of Victoria CEO Graeme Stoney, a fifth-generation lease-holder at Merrijig near Mansfield, is pictured in action on the cover; the book’s foreword is by Geoff Burrowes, producer of the Man from Snowy River films and a member by marriage of another famous Merrijig dynasty, the Lovicks; and the introduction is the work of high-country historian and founder of the Mittagundi and Wollangarra youth eduction projects, Ian Stapleton.
Although the cattlemen featured by Faith Dove inhabit the Great Dividing Range and Tasmania’s Central Highlands, they might well be familiar to Bendigonians for their participation in Bendigo Easter Festival street parades.