A tribute to a true bushman, Ian Michael

The late Ian Michael is remembered as a loving husband and father, bushman, stock inspector, station manager, real estate agent and auctioneer.

The late Ian Michael is remembered as a loving husband and father, bushman, stock inspector, station manager, real estate agent and auctioneer.

Ian Michael’s ancestors migrated to South Australia from England in the year 1839 and resided on a small property at Eudunda on the edge of the Barossa Valley. Ian’s father, Don served in the First World War and upon returning to civilian life returned to farming.  He was a local Methodist preacher and for some time was the state Member for the Electorate of Light.

Ian was educated at the Neale’s’ Flat Primary School for seven years and then the Eudunda Higher Primary School where he gained the Intermediate Certificate. According to Ian he was not a brilliant student and was frequently used by the teacher to test out his canes. 

Ian always had a burning desire to ‘Go up North’ and his father would borrow book from the Parliamentary Library for him to read.  He was fascinated by the book, ‘Cattle King,’ written by Ion Idriess and as a blossoming teenager saw himself as another Sydney Kidman.

1953 saw Ian fulfilling his ambition to go north.  He purchased a Land Rover and then consulted the late RM Williams at his store in Prospect Street, South Australia, where he was instructed in the correct bushman’s gear to purchase, including cotton duck for a camp sheet and bush blankets.

His first job was at Mt Willoughby in South Australia, a 3,000 square mile unfenced property, west of Oodnadatta where his bushman’s skills were fine tuned by the Aboriginal stockmen who taught him the finer points of tracking animals through the bush.

On one occasion Ian was suffering the effects of the flu and felt pretty lousy by the end of the day.  The cattle were yarded for the night, and were settled by the time he dismounted and attended to his horse, making sure his night horse was saddled and tied up for the night in case of an emergency. Ian rolled his swag out near the campfire but on the side nearest the cattle.  In drover’s terms an unforgivable sin?

During the night there was a commotion in the camp, the cattle had broken from the yard and were heading in the direction of the camp fire at a fast rate of speed and the aboriginal stockmen were yelling at the top of their voice.  Ian left his swag, and flew onto his night horse.  The herd suddenly swerved away, eventually being brought under control and settled.  At daylight an aboriginal stockman indicated to Ian just how close the cattle were to his swag prior to them swerving in another direction. Unwritten bush law says ‘never roll your swag out between the cattle and the campfire.’ He said the fright cured his flu but it was a method he would not recommend.

He was droving cattle with Aboriginal stockmen to the settlement of Finke when they heard the first atomic explosion from Woomera.  The Aboriginal stockmen were very frightened when the government made a big ‘DEBIL DEBIL’ noise.

In 1974 Ian was successful in being appointed a stock inspector with the Northern Territory, Animal Industries Branch, where he remained for a period of twelve years.  He married Margaret Mundell from Taroom, Queensland in the year 1960 and married life commenced with Ian accepting a position of manager of the Arid Centre Research Station, Alice Springs.

In 1966 Ian moved to Victoria River Downs, Northern Territory where he spent the next eight years - the first two years as Assistant Manager and then six years as the overall manager. 

At that time VRD was one of the largest cattle properties in the world.  In Ian’s time around 70,000 branded cattle were known to be on the property with approximately 20,000 unbranded head of stock – approximately 2,000 head of horses, many brumbies and thousands of feral donkeys. He was at VRD at the time of the ‘Wave Hill Walkout’ when the Gurindji people walked off the property demanding better pay and conditions.

Ian was the manager at Victoria River Downs at the time of the ‘Wave Hill Walkout’ when the Gurindji people walked off the property demanding better pay and conditions.

In the mid 1970’s the family moved to Bundaberg, Queensland where there were better educational facilities for the children.  It was at Bundaberg where Ian obtained his real estate and auctioneers license, enabling him to establish Michael’s Real Estate.

He was a foundation member of the Camooweal Drover’s Camp Festival and for many years made the long journey to that town for the annual event. It was at Camooweal, on the Georgina River, that the drovers waited for the call from the northern cattle stations to drive cattle to the southern railheads and markets.

It was during August, 2016 that Ian took sick at Winton while en-route to Camooweal and his health rapidly declined during the next four months.

His final farewell at the Bundaberg Crematorium on Thursday the 12 January, 2017, brought people together from many parts of Australia to farewell this highly respected and well known bushman. Ian is survived by Margaret, son Ross, daughter-in-law Tanya, grandchildren, Dee-Dee, Samantha, Kurt, Dan and Grace. Ian’s daughter Debra pre-deceased him.

- Laurie Pointing & members of the Michael family