Journal of a Free Trapper’s Travels to Rendezvous in Queensland.
In my mind was that film scene from The Mountain Men – “Come on to Popo Agie. Plenty whisky and white women.” “Hell and Gone the other side of the Divide!” So it was and to Victorian folks the Millmerran Rondyvoo is the other side of the Divide and must be a thousand miles distant. Well, the decision made, its Millmerran here I come, so pack the mule (Ute) and by 9 am on Wednesday 1st July I was under way.
Pulled up at Narrandera for the night, then on to Moree by Thursday night, sleeping in the back of the Ute. An early start in the morning and I arrived at the Rondyvoo just after midday. Paused at the hall to register and the very first person I met was none other than Barry McFarlane, another Southerner, from Seymour BP Club and a regular attendee at the Western Districts Club annual Wet to the Arse shoot.
There were modern campervans everywhere but Barry directed me to the Primitive camp area. I selected a suitable site for my canvas tent, so busied myself setting up before gathering a good supply of firewood, finally fronting down to the Register post. It was here I met the Rendezvous Discipline chairman Don Robinson and his wife Jan.
By evening I was relaxing back at camp, just sitting, idling, doing a bit of thinking, had some tucker, a cuppa, and a sip of some nice port. The sun was gone and with the dark came the chill. In fact it soon became bloody cold so I went back to the mule to retrieve extra blankets. I stoked the fire a bit but decided it was still too bloody cold so jumped into bed for an early night’s shut eye. I had been told that temperatures around these parts often fall well below freezing in the hours after sundown.
Saturday morning had me stoking the fire again to cook breakfast and pour a nice warming mug of coffee. Next met up with Graeme Forbes who mentioned that there was a cannon shoot on today, so headed for the cannon range and take some interesting photos.
Got back to camp late afternoon, sat back and did some more of that thinking stuff. I figured I could really live like this, sun’s warm, cannon fire music in the distance, plenty wood, good fire, good coffee…truly what more does a Free Trapper want?
Saturday night, Barry called by so we go over to meet John and Des also from the Seymour club. Accepted a glass of port, as you do. The boys had won the cannon shoot so another port was sampled on the strength of that. It was starting to get cold again. More port! Eventually it plum got too bloody cold, so no more port, just a warm bed and sleep.
Barry shows up Sunday morning and we head off to the shower block. Hey Barry where’s this bloody early morning signal cannon I’ve heard so much about. He answers with a smile and says “You’ll hear it alright tomorrow morning, ha ha!”
The day was spent attending the long range shoot. Sharps, Rolling Blocks, High Walls and then there was Des from Queensland shooting a nice old Martini. Well done Des, I think I should have had a Sharps (Hi Tom). But they were all nice. Back at camp on nightfall a port seemed to be the right thing. Then another! I decide this port has definite bedtime therapeutic benefits and tames the night chills.
Monday dawned and as I lay in bed savouring the warm blanket wondering what event were to come when a mighty BOOM rent the air. WTF! When I came down from the tent ceiling I realised that all the talk about the wake-up cannon was true. Welcome to Rendezvous, it’s on!
Off to the Booshway’s meeting to learn the do’ and don’ts, regulations etc. First up starting the day’s events was a Volley fire and a minute of silence to reflect on absent Black Powder shooters now passed on.
Walked out to the range all set for 5 Gong, Keyhole, Turkey, Running Fox and Musket shoot., so started to take a few photos. Ran into Don, all smiles “Did you hear the cannon.” Heard it? I even felt the shock wave whilst tucked up in bed, good thing my tent pegs were buried deep in the sand.
Right, let’s do some shooting. Picked up the old 54 but no, had to do some scoring for the Running Fox. Then lunch. Back to do some shooting now. Club prepared shoots all afternoon. Finally when shooting over for the day – had some fine grub and quaffed some more port to fortify against evening chills.
Tuesday – that bloody cannon again. Off to the range for Keyhole shoot, 10 shots, not easy; good old Turkey shoot midday, having troubles with Lube. Funny, never had that trouble before. Running out of powder, running out of ball too. Must be having fun! Tuesday night, you guessed it – more port.
Wednesday – Just can’t get used to that bloody cannon first thing. Club shoot on today and Shotgun event. Also a V target Shoot for flintlocks only. You have a V target at 20-25 yards, 5 shots. Shot closest to bottom the V – 1 shot or 5. Anything in black of V is out – a best shot must be inside and closest to the bottom of the V.
I had a chat to Graeme Forbes about my lube problem. Graeme gave me some of his lube and the problem was fixed. Seems the dry Queensland conditions call for wetter lubes. Bought some powder from Don. Thanks Don, you saved me. Shotgun shoot in progress so took some photos. Two shooters on line. Some clays are green, some orange, but only yellow ones are to be shot.
Clays coming from everywhere. I counted 10 clays coming out for one team. Very funny – everybody had a great laugh. It was a fun afternoon. That’s what Rondyvoo and shooting is all about – having fun!
Wednesday night – went into Millmerran Township for dinner and a beer and to restock the depleted port.
Thursday – could have done without that bloody morning cannon. Had slight headache, must be the water. Shoots today included Running Fox, 5 Gongs, Interclubs. Flag shoot. Off to Running Fox, third shot I hit the little beggar – he is moving pretty quick, reload for sixth shot when pilgrim in front of me shoots the wire controlling the fox so the event called to a halt until fixed.
Then off to 5 Gongs shoot and then lunch. After that I watched the Club shoots. My thanks to Barry and Des for some spare round ball so I could do Mountain Man hunt and finish the shoots off.
Friday starts with a bang. Again! Last day, Musket shoot and Shotgun and to finish must shoot the rest of my shots at the Fox. But Fox not yet set up so wait and watch Barry at the Musket shoot. John Gio from Seymour wins the shoot using Barry’s musket.
Later Don explained that the Running Fox can’t be fixed so a count back will take place for the flintlocks. Two chaps had one hit out of 10 shots and I one hit out of 5 shots.
Saturday morning I was waiting for that last cannon wake-up boom. Well, we had a six cannon volley fire – Fantastic! Met up with Barry and lads. Meet Duncan and get talking Banjo playing. Then over to the hall for the presentations by Don and Jan.
Don explained the reason for the Running Fox count back and the winner is Murray. Hey that’s me. Bloody ripper! But wait, there’s more! The prize for best Primitive Camp. I look at Don and he says “Yes, you.” That’s great! I’m thrilled that my camp is the best Primitive for 2015. Then off to the barbeque and later on the dance.
Had some dinner and then visited at Duncan’s camper van messing around with my banjo. That was great, so finished off the port. Duncan said to me before I left – See you in two years at the next Rondyvoo and you can play me some tunes on that banjo. Duncan plays guitar and Smoke on the Water doesn’t sound quite the same on a banjo.
Sunday morning – not heralded by cannon and whilst laying in a bit, I thought about the past week and what a great shoot it has been. Arose and packed my mule and then call on Don and Jan and everybody to thank them all for the fantastic week. To all the organisers and all participants I say “well done” and I hope to be back in two years better stocked with ample round ball and sufficient powder and a goodly stash of port.
Once again I would like to thank Barry, John and Des from Seymour and Graeme Forbes. Thanks fellas for round ball, lube and various assistances. To readers of my journal I say – If you have not yet been to a Millmerran Rendezvous just get your arse into gear and go! It’s fantastic! I’m definitely going again in two years time.
Now it’s time to think about Western Districts Club annual “Wet to the Arse” shoot in August and then Spring Rendezvous at the Southern Cross Free Trappers in September. I’d better fix those soles on my mocs in preparation. The one thing I came away with from my week at Millmerran was that I could live like that – full time!
Wet to the Arse (the Journal continues back home)
Still pondering the possibility (and obstacles) of living the pre-1840 Primitive life style as a full time occupation, the weeks between Millmerran and Western Districts Muzzleloaders Club’s famous Wet to the Arse shoot quickly passed. It was early Friday evening when I arrived at the range just in time to share Peter Convey’s sausage stew. Washed down with a quiet splash of liqueur Port, would you believe?
Things got lively on Saturday morning as pilgrims started arriving from near and far. We soon numbered about 25 eager to start on the planned events. Among the participants were six members of the Free Trappers. Teams were soon organised for the Walk Through event. Dammit my usual partner was an organiser for the Walk Through and I couldn’t find anyone not already partnered up. Oh well I’ll just have to miss out this year.
Never mind, there were plenty of Range shooting events organised – a Mike Fink shoot, Gong shoot, Cut the Card shoot as well as Hawk and Knife going late into the afternoon.
Sadly, there would not be the usual “road kill” stew this Saturday night, as Goose the regular camp cook had to depart early. So it was “Hey Peter, we need another sausage stew tonight.” Then it was a combined effort, Don put roo in the stew! “Don is good.” The stew was Very good!
After dinner the shoot results were announced – Paul Rogers and Tim Broomby won the Walk Through, Charlie Timma and Peter Lucantonio came second. Just who came third I can’t quite recall – perhaps a little too much port? I bought ten raffle tickets but did not win a bloody thing. Ian had more luck and won four cans of warm apple cider!
Sunday morning and everyone is packing up to head home. We must all leave the Range by midday so that the tree harvesting operations can resume. The hardwood forest surrounding our range is being systematically felled and the continued lease and our future on the Range may be in some jeopardy.
All in all the Wet to the Arse weekend was grand! Now I’m looking forward to Spring Rendezvous with the Free Trappers.
Spring Rendezvous (the Journal concludes)
“Well Pasquinel, I think I shall go to Caveat for Spring Rendezvous”
“Better watch your top knot”
Thursday: So I packed my mule and away I went, loaded with traps and plews and a terrible thirst. I just gotta get me some port or I’m gonna die! Leaving towns and the mess of civilization behind I head off over South Pass coming cautiously down the slippery trail past Jim’s Folly and its new warning marker.
There it is – what a beautiful sight, visible through the trees and scrub– the half cabin, the white canvas tents, the cooking fires, happy folks calling. It’s rendezvous time. I get busy setting up camp before dark. Come nightfall we gather at the half cabin catching up on the months between meetings, telling tall stories, guitar picking and banjo plunking mingled with out-of-tune singing oiled with some rough port.
Friday: Well if we are to have many cooking fires burning all night, plus the usual roaring fire throwing its heat right into the depths of the half cabin, we had better fetch in a huge supply of timber.
Then with that chore done we spent the afternoon doing some shooting and just messing around. Nightfall saw us back in the half cabin, telling taller stories, listening to Ian singing accompanying his guitar and sipping some smoother port.
Saturday: Quite a few had not replied to our “Don’t ya go to rondyvoo anymore?” So me thought maybe some pilgrims have gone under or maybe lost their scalps. But a quick head count of those attending scored 25 folks all wanting to have fun, while a 16 ft brand new tipi was the star attraction among a dozen other white canvas shelters.
Trade blankets were laid out at each camp causing a human traffic flow from camp to camp and some good trades done. The younguns seemed to do particularly well scoring all sorts of treasures to keep among their collection of stuff.
Ian Convey conducted our Mountain Man Hunt which, for convenience and the health of a few old farts, was limited to six only possible scoring stations. Two points were allowed for each target sighted, plus a further eight points for hits on target. Paul (Le Reynard) Sly top scored with the maximum 6o points, winning the basket of vegetables and congratulations all around.
A blanket shoot was held in the afternoon. Seventeen shooters took part in a reversed playing card shoot taking the form of a poker hand. The cards favoured Jeff Clarke gaining first pick from the blanket but everyone was a winner anyway. Knife and hawk throwing was mostly for personal satisfaction. It was just a great day had by all.
At nightfall everyone made their way to the half cabin to enjoy the roaring fire, the retelling of the day’s highlights, the targets hit and missed, the lies and the pleasant sounds of song and guitar music. Sadly the banjo was silent due to broken strings.
The banjo player had to be consoled with libations of port. Then we had a good old sing-along and another tin cup of port. The small talk got louder and sillier. Charlie managed to stay on his three-legged stool while star gazing in the outer. Everyone had a poke of the fire to the annoyance of Jim and a grand time was had by all.
Sunday: After leisurely breakfasts some folks commenced breaking camp and by afternoon there were only six camps remaining with pilgrims sitting around relaxing in the sunshine. Some took up plinking again while the kids went off ferreting with Bernie. Such excitement and they got a pair of bunnies for the pot. The Rondy was over and our evening pleasure was the music of Father, Son & Friends.
Monday: The last camps were struck and the mules packed as everyone prepared to head back home and to the great mundane. I’m now looking forward to Easter Rendezvous. If you have not yet been to a Rendezvous, get your arse into gear and just go. It’s a great week or weekend. Keep your nose in the wind and your eyes on the skyline. Murray Convey
Changes to Around the Traps postings.
At our September Annual General Meeting it was proposed that we cease mail-outs via Australia Post to all readers with Email facilities. There is a small cost saving to the Club although this was never an issue. There are two or three members not on Email and we will continue to forward the standard hard copy news to these.
An alternate way to catch up with the Trappers is to view our website and it is recommended that you “subscribe” to receive free notification when new editions appear. Of course the site is freely available at all times. http://freetrappers.org.au/
A Pipe Brand butcher’s knife
Common butcher’s knife, Pipe brand, marked “Williams” & “Smithfield” in two lines & “London” in a half circle. Blade is 7 ½ inches, scales 4 ½ inches, full tang. As this knife lacks country of origin “England” in the markings can it be assumed that it predates the U.S. tariffs of 1890? Or did separate export batches with unspecified origin country continue to arrive in Australia after that date? Any thoughts – anyone?
A celebrated Pipe Brand knife:
In 1904, Harry Wolhuter, a ranger in Kruger National Park was attacked by two lions. Wolhuter was riding on horseback when the lions attacked him shortly after nightfall.
Toppled from his horse, one of lions seized him by the shoulder, and dragged him almost 100 yards, into the bush. At this point, the semi-conscious ranger managed to retrieve his sheath knife from his belt and stabbed the lion aiming for the heart.
The mortally wounded lion then dropped Wolhuter who managed to climb into a tree before the second lion came after him. Wolhuter believes he was saved by his dog, Bull, whose persistent barking at the second lion distracted it. Wolhuter’s native assistants then arrived, and carried him back to camp.
After resting a day, he was carried in a litter, to get medical assistance. The party arrived at Komatipoort four days later. Wolhuter was patched up by a doctor and then sent by train to Barberton hospital where he convalesced for several weeks.
Years later, Wolhuter told the story of how he “acquired” that knife. “One day, when I was in Komatipoort, I visited the shop of a friend, and on the counter was a big Dutch cheese, beside which lay the knife used for cutting it. I picked up the knife and examined it, as I was always interested in sheath knives. This one, I observed, was the famous “Pipe Brand,” and far too good a knife to be wasted on cutting cheese!
So I removed my own knife from its sheath on my belt, laid it alongside the cheese, and put the “Pipe Brand” knife in its place. This wicked theft was never noticed as the two knives were almost identical in form and size; and my friend never suspected until I told him years later, suggesting that “fair exchange was no robbery.”
Wolhuter’s knife and the skin of the lion he killed are on display in the Stevenson-Hamilton Library at Skukuza, Kruger National Park.