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Thursday, October 8, 2009

Roma, Queensland

Roma is all about cattle and the Roma Cattle Sales are the largest in Australia. Cattle get trucked in every day from all over the country. They have raised walkways around the yards, a great place to see what's happening and soak up the atmosphere. Farmers, buyers, agents, transporters, saleyard staff and lots of cattle. Sales are on every Tuesday and Thursday and start at 8am. Today Thursday, there were only 1000 head for sale, all going to the abottoir but Tuesday is a much busier day with an average of 10,000 being sold. There is a large elctronic display board clearly visible where you can see the weight, price per kilogram and average price per head as the cattle go over the weighbridge. Roma is still in the grip of drought but the cattle still look remarkably healthy. Visitors are most welcome.

St Pauls Church

Roma has an Avenue of Heroes, honouring the men from Roma who lost their lives in WWI. One hundred and forty bottle trees line the streets, each with the name of the man, his regiment and the date of his death. Bottle trees are not related to the Boab trees found in Derby in Western Australia, thought to come from Madagasgar. They are found naturally in scrub country and are sometimes felled for stock fodder because they are fibrous and very moist, their leafy branches are also often cut down for stock to eat.

I love the story about Harry Redford, the famous cattle duffer. Roma Court House is famous for what was considered to be a miscarriage of justice. A jury found Harry Redford not guilty of cattle duffing when there was overwhelming evidence to prove that he was. The judge was so shocked at the verdict that he said the famous words "What?" and then "I thank God gentlemen, that the verdict is yours and not mine".

By 1870 Harry was in Qeensland working on Bowen Downs station which covered 1.75 million acres. They were running about 70,000 cattle and Redford decided that they wouldn't miss a few. He also took a very valuable, imported white bull. He knew he couldn't sell them in Queensland or even New South Wales so drove them all the way down the Cooper Creek into South Australia, an incredible 1300 kms away, and sold them for 5,000 pounds.

But the Manager of Bowen Downs did notice that some were missing and on February 1871 Redford was arrested and brought to Roma for trial. The charge was "That Redford in March 1870, at Bowen Downs station feloniously did steal 100 bullocks, 100 cows, 100 heifers, 100 steers and one white bull, the property of Morehead and Young".

There hadn't been that much excitement in the bush for ages and the courtroom was packed. Redford's capability as a stockman and excellent bushman skills, combined with his outrageous daring had a strange effect on the locals, they couldn't help admiring the man. Forty one of the forty eight people called as possible jurors were dismissed, considered prejudiced. The white bull was lined up with others and identified immediately by the owner. The defence offered no witnesses. In April 1873, the Governor of Queensland was so outraged by the 'not guilty' verdict, he ordered that the criminal jurisdiction of the District Court at Roma be withdrawn for two years. Today, the courthouse where the trial took place no longer exists.

Redford would later purchase Corella Downs, a small property, but lost it through drought. Although a strong swimmer, he drowned trying to cross Corella Creek in the Northern Territory, which was in full flood.

Every year people from all walks of life come to join in the unique event of the Harry Redford Cattle Drive. Together with some of the best drovers in the country, you are invited to help drive 600 head of cattle starting from Lake Dunn, through Aramac and Bowen Downs, and finishing at Muttaburra, north of Longreach. The journey costs $275 per person per day and includes a horse, all meals, entry to local festivities and transfers to and from the camps. What an experience that would be.