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DROVE ROADS

Many years ago the inhabitants of Europe drove large herds of cattle along broad grassy tracks which came to be known as 'drove roads'. Sometimes they traveled a long way in search of fresh pasture when their own land was not rich enough for their cattle to be fattened on. Sometimes they were going to distant markets when there were not enough rich people locally to buy their meat. The earliest routes followed the dry, high land, avoiding swamps and the danger of surprise attack. Later, the tracks ran along lower ground when people had settled at those levels and where springs were to be found.

Although large numbers of men and boys helped to drive the cattle, the true drover was the man with the overall responsibility to the owners. He had to take complete charge of the animals for the length of the journey. He alone was made answerable for large sums of money which came from the sale of the cows, and which he would eventually hand over to the owners. He was also answerable for any misbehavior of his men; for example, he prevented them from being cruel to the cattle, an offence which could mean imprisonment.

This movement of animals took place over vast distances - often hundreds of kilometers - and required much organization, which was the sole responsibility of the drover. A constant worry was providing sufficient quantities of food for the hungry cattle, which needed enormous amounts of fodder to sustain them through- out their journey. It was like feeding an army-except that the drover had no wagon train loaded with supplies to feed his 'army' of cattle; he had to rely on* the food that could be found along the way. He also showed great skill in maneuvering these herds which sometimes numbered as many as 200 animals, often spread out over considerable distances. Frequently, he had to ride ahead on horseback to check the wandering instinct of the cattle, redirecting them along the right track, or follow behind to urge them on or bring back stragglers which had got left behind. He had to be particularly careful that the cattle did not stray into private land to feed. Such trespass could be punished by the cattle being driven into a fenced enclosure by the landowner until the drover had paid for any damage they had done. Then, too, he had to be on the look-out for farms which lay on his route and blow a horn to warn the farmer of his approach, so that the farmer would have ample time to prepare. Imagine the confusion if the farmer's own cattle were to get mixed up with the traveling herd! Many hours would be spent in sorting them out and quarrels would break out over disputed ownership.

Controlling a large herd was sometimes a dangerous job. Cattle are easily frightened by sudden loud noises. For instance, a herd crossing a wooden bridge in which the planks rattled noisily would break away in uncontrollable panic and it would take hours to calm and reassemble them. The drover also had to cope with bands of robbers who might violently attack him for his money or drive off some of his cattle.

But it was the actual handling of the cattle that called for his greatest skill. He had to have an intimate knowledge of the temperament of his animals in order to judge how far and how fast to drive them. They must not be overdriven, for it was essential that they reach their market in prime condition. Rest days would therefore be necessary, because there would be keen competition between drovers arriving at an important market to get the best prices from the butchers, who could quickly assess the condition of the animals.

A drover needed close knowledge of the country through which he traveled, some of which was very wild and gave cover to robbers. If possible, he avoided the hard roads, which injured the cattle's feet, and their toll-gates where travelers had to pay money to pass through. He chose the broad green tracks. Along these the herd could move in safety, sometimes foraging through the scrub on either side, or sometimes stopping to graze. Above all a drover had to have honesty, endurance, patience, and courage. The progress of the cattle could be wearisomely slow, mainly because of their enormous appetites, and normally they traveled only about ten kilometers a day. At night, whatever the weather, the drover usually slept rough with the cattle.

The droves of cattle passing along the same routes every year influenced the life and industries of the land they crossed. At various points, tanneries could be found where hides were prepared for the tradesmen working in leather. As the animals were fitted with 'shoes' to ease the wear on their soft hooves, blacksmiths set up their forges to make thousands of iron shoes ready for the cattle that were to come their way. As droving was 'thirsty work', many villagers living along the route found that selling drink became a profitable business.

At times, the men would drink too much and offend the disapproving country-folk, but generally they were popular and their arrival would be welcomed, for they brought letters or news-sometimes of great events like famous victories or natural disasters. Their highly colored tales of the outside world were especially welcome in isolated communities and encouraged some of the bolder spirits to leave in search of fame and fortune. Sometimes the drover would pay rent for a field in which his men and cattle could stay for the night. The grass was usually closely bitten down by morning but, as a result of being heavily manured, the field was soon very fertile. Farmers willing to put up herds for the night sometimes planted clumps of high trees close to their farmhouses at a point visible a long way off. Local people, attracted by the shouting of the men and the bellowing of the animals, would often help to guide in the cattle; they were also, no doubt, encouraged to do so because the head drover usually bought helpers plenty of beer.

The drovers' lives were not all hardship. There was variety in their journeys. They could satisfy their curiosity and their love of being constantly on the move. There were frequent changes of scenery and unexpected adventures on the way. Sometimes, too, they would arrive in a village where a celebration was in progress. And always they were conscious of their special skills which they brought to their task and which set them above ordinary villagers. The cattle were an impressive sight as the huge herds moved slowly over the hillsides-and a beautiful one when, scattered over a large field, they grazed peacefully in the fading evening light. 

   
  Questions
   
      From paragraph 1 :
  1. (a) Why was it necessary for the men to drive their cattle long distances ?
       
    (b) In this paragraph the word 'rich' is used in two different contexts.
      (i) What does 'rich' mean in pink ?
      (ii) What does 'rich' mean in blue ?
       
    (c) Why is it dangerous for the drovers to go near swamps ?
       
    (d) What is the advantage of a high route when faced with a 'surprise attack' ?
       
    (e) Later the tracks were along lower ground where 'people had settled' and 'where springs were to be found'. What two benefits would the drovers gain from this ?
       
      From paragraph 2 :
    (f) Quote the sentence that tells us the drover was responsible for the conduct of his men.
       
    (g) Quote the phrase that tells us the drover was responsible for financial matters.
       
      From paragraph 6 :
  2. (a) The drovers preferred 'the broad green tracks' to the 'hard roads'.
      (i) What was the advantage of a broad track ?
      (ii) The tracks were green. What was the advantage of this ?
      (iii) Give one disadvantage of 'hard roads'.
      (iv) What further advantage would the tracks have ?
       
    (b) ' ... sometimes foraging through the scrub ... or sometimes stopping to graze'.
      What is the difference between 'foraging' and 'grazing' ?
       
    (c) Some of the qualities a drover would need are 'honesty, endurance, patience and courage'.
      (i) Which quality would be most needed when the 'progress of the cattle' was 'wearisomely slow' ?
      (ii) Which quality would he need when the slept under rough and uncomfortable conditions ?
       
    (d) How would the 'enormous appetites' of the cattle impede progress ?
       
      From paragraph 8 :
  3. (a) The people in 'isolated communities' liked the 'highly colored tales' of the drovers.
      (i) What is meant by 'highly colored tales' ?
      (ii) Why are the people in these 'isolated communities' attracted by these tales ?
       
    (b) Give three other reasons why these 'isolated communities' would welcome the drovers. Use material from paragraph 8. Number your answers 1, 2 and 3.
       
    (c) How did the farmers attract the drovers ? Mention one way.
       
      From paragraphs 7, 8 and 9 :
    (d) Give one or short phrase which has the same meaning as it has in the passage :
      (i) profitable;   (ii) generally;   (iii) visible;   (iv) curiosity;   frequent;   (vi) in progress;   (vii) skills;   (viii) scattered
       
  4.   The passage describes the difficulties encountered by the drovers in driving and controlling the cattle. Write an account of the problems the drovers faced and what they did to deal with them.

Use only the material from paragraph 3, 4 and 5. Your account which should be in continuous writing must not be longer than 160 words, including the 10 words given below.

The drovers had to overcome the problems of the long ...

       
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  Answers
       
  1. (a) -- in search of richer pastures
      -- to sell their cattle.
       
    (b) (i) fertile;   (ii) wealthy
       
    (c) The cattle would sink into the soft and wet ground.
       
    (d) It would give the drovers a better view/vantage-point of the attackers.
       
    (e) -- The drovers could buy food and drinks from the people.
      -- The cattle would have water to drink.
       
    (f) 'He was also answerable for any misbehavior of his men.'
       
    (g) 'answerable for large sums of money'
       
  2. (a) (i) The cattle could move safely.
      (ii) The cattle could forage through the scrub or stop to graze.
      (iii) The 'hard roads' would injure the feet of the cattle.
      (iv) There is safety from robbers.
       
    (b) 'foraging' means searching while 'grazing' means eating grass
       
    (c) (i) patience;  (ii) endurance
       
    (d) The cattle takes a long time to feed/graze.
       
  3. (a) (i) very interesting/adventurous stories
      (ii) The had no knowledge of the outside world.
       
    (b) 1. The animals would manure the land making it more fertile.
      2. The farmer would get rent.
      3. The drovers would buy plenty of beer.
       
    (c) They planted clumps of high trees.
       
    (d) (i) paying;   (ii) on the whole;   (iii) noticeable/can be seen;   (iv) inquisitiveness;   (v) many;   (vi) was going on;   (vii) abilities;   (viii) spread
       
  4.   The drovers had to overcome the problems of the long traveling distances. One problem was getting enough food to feed the cattle. They had to rely on food found along the way. Another problems was controlling a big herd over a wide area. They rode on horseback to check cattle from straying or getting lost. They must also ensure no cattle wandered into private land as landowners would impose fine. The drovers must be on the alert for farms to prevent mixing of cattle. They blew horns to warn farmers of their approach. Often, cattle were easily frightened by nose and the drovers had to calm and gather them together. Drovers also had to watch out for robbers who might steal their money or cattle. Furthermore, the cattle must be handled carefully so that they arrive in good condition and could fetch high prices. This meant no overdriving of the cattle and allowing sufficient resting time. ( 157 words )
           
 
 
 
 
 

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Comprehension 1

 

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