Outback MagazineOutback Magazine


Queen of the road

Story Michele Helmrich
Photos John Elliott

ImageEdna Jessop has been a legend in Australia's north for half a century. Now in her seventies, her striking features may have felt the bite of age, but her spirit remains tough and unremitting.

Back in 1950, when the horizon-line for women was usually domesticity, Edna became a boss drover on some of the most difficult, if not infamous, stock routes in the north.
Born in Thargornindah, south-west Queensland in 1926, Edna was raised in droving camps with her three sisters and four brothers.

Two were born on the road. "Didn't worry us kids," she reflects, "but mum must have had hell on earth, bringing 'em up on the road." Her father was the legendary drover, Harry Zigenbine, and her mother, Ruby, was often the camp cook.

Even as kids, there was work to be done. "Dad left mum behind at Newcastle (Waters) one year," she recalls. "We went on with packhorses and they said, 'who's going to do the cookin'?' Poor silly me had to do it, because I was the youngest." She was sixteen.

"And Icouldn't even make a damper. By gee, I got good. I had to. I was makin' roley-poleys and Burdekin ducks and bloody plum puddings." Still, she remembers a few "piebald" dampers early on. "I left a few behind in the bushes where dad wouldn't find 'em. Wonder we didn't run out of flour!"

ImageIn 1949, Edna took time out with her mother to work at the Tennant Creek Hospital as a "wards maid". But her father, suffering kidney problems after a fall with his horse, called her to assist him.

They started with a mob of 1600 bullocks from Bedford Downs in the far north of Western Australia. Half way across the Northern Territory, his condition became serious.

"He got sick in the middle of the Murranji scrub. There was a hawker bloke camped with us that night, and I got him to take dad to Newcastle Waters. That left me and the men with the cattle. He never caught us up again until we're nearly in Dajarra." Edna was then 23. Story end

Full story: Issue 19, October/November 2001

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