Stockman hangs up hat after 55 years in the saddle
THERE'S nowhere stockman Norman Hunter would rather be than in a saddle atop a horse that knows its way around cattle.
For 55 years Norman's home was out under the stars, working on Queensland cattle stations.
But now the 79-year-old is making a new home for himself in Gladstone's suburbs after finally deciding to retire.
Norman started working for Calliope cattle breeders, the Wilson family, in February 1961 at Balcomba Station west of Rockhampton.
Although the Wilsons were good employers, after a while Norman decided to branch out and spent a couple of months working for a different family.
He lasted two months before contacting Mr Wilson asking if there were any job opportunities.
That night he went home to his wife Audrey, who had been home schooling their six children, and told her they would be hitting the road the very next day.
"After seeing Mr Wilson he came back and said, 'can you be ready to leave in the morning?'," Audrey said.
"It was less than 24 hours-notice and we stayed up all night packing before loading everything we owned onto the truck."
In June 1968 Norman and his family arrived at Calliope Station with four children and two dogs on the back of the family's truck with all the furniture.
For five days a week, ten months of the year, for 48 years Norman was out looking after the Wilson's cattle at Calliope, sometimes doing odd jobs and fixing fences.
Even now he says there's nothing that makes him feel more fulfilled than being a stockman.
"Dad had done stock work when I was young and when anyone around the district needed a hand I would help out," Norman said.
"I just liked riding horses and being around cattle and that's why we settled at Calliope because it was 99% cattle work."
While Norman says he was ready to retire, he'll miss camp drafts competitions and sitting around the fire swapping stories with the people from that community.
During his 55 years on the job, Norman has seen good times and bad.
He said the 2013 floods were one of the worst and the recent drought didn't compare to the dry times during the early 90s.
The drought that gripped most of Queensland in 1991 was severe with the failure of the summer rains leaving most of the state bone dry.
"I remember we were hand feeding 400-500 calves during that period because the cows were feeling the effects of the drought so badly," Norman said.
"We would have lost them all if we hadn't hand fed them which we did for months until it rained."
Through the decades
THROUGHOUT the decades Norman has ridden his fair share of horses, but there are a few that will always stand out in his memory.
Buttons was one of those horses you can never forget, Norman says.
He was a Queensland Champion and a reliable horse, good at working with cattle and always seemed to be in the right place at the right time.
"You become in tune with them," Norman said.
"After a while you felt like you were part of them. Each horse was different but good at what they did."
Norman said he got as much of a kick out of watching Buttons take out the title of Queensland Champion with Neil Bryce, as he did riding her.