Young drover blazed the trail
Edna Zigenbine was Australia’s first boss female drover. At just 22 years of age she drove 1550 head across the country
AT 22, Edna Zigenbine was Australia’s first female boss drover.
The year was 1950 and she and her father, renowned Northern Territory cattleman Harry Zigenbine, were to drove 1550 head from Bedford Downs station, near Halls Creek in northern Western Australia, more than 2000km to Dajarra, south of Mount Isa in Queensland.
It came as second nature to Edna, who had grown up on the stock routes of northern Australia. She was born in 1926 in Thargomindah, Queensland, the fifth of eight children, one of two to be born in a hospital.
Her family lived at Dajarra until her father went droving with Sir Sidney Kidman.
Edna left school at a young age, having only learned the alphabet.
A keen horsewoman, Edna broke in her first horse at age six.
As she got older she began breaking horses for her father’s droving team.
Edna’s journey is currently featuring in A Territory Story, an exhibition in the Northern Territory Library.
(The Northern Territory Library and Edna’s family supplied information for this article.)
At 16 years old, Edna followed her father to the Northern Territory, where she became a cook for the droving team.
“Dad left mum behind at Newcastle Waters one year, we went on with the pack horses and they said ‘who’s going to do the cooking?’ – poor silly me had to do it,” Edna said in a historical newspaper article.
“I couldn’t even make damper, by gee I got good, I had to.
“I was makin’ roly poleys and burdenkin ducks and bloody plum puddings.”
A few years passed and while on the 2000km trek from Western Australia to Queensland, Edna’s father fell ill and went to hospital.
“You take over, you’re the best man I have,” he told her.
Edna was reduced to two stockmen to continue droving the cattle.
“It was nothing,” she said. “I grew up with it and the trip went as normal.
“There were plenty of times I prayed, times I was afraid – when my father was sick or we were short of water.
“You get pretty close to God out there.”
The drove took six months and media from across Australia were reporting on the young “girl” droving cattle across the country.
“When those old bullocks went I really missed them badly, some of them had become like mates to me,” Edna told the media after the job was complete.
Not only did Edna attract the attention of Australia’s media but in particular, Australian’s men.
One ordered her a carved stock saddle from Brisbane and met her to present it to her.
When she returned to the Northern Territory letters poured in from all over Australia and overseas with marriage proposals but she was just happy to get home to the bush.
She gave up droving for a while and worked as a wards maid in the hospital and as a waitress.
Edna was twice belle of the ball at Tennant Creek’s St Patrick’s Day gala.
❝ There were plenty of times I prayed, times I was afraid ... you get pretty close to God out there.
— Edna Zigenbine
But eventually she went back droving.
She met her husband on a droving trip to Winton,
Queensland. She married drover Johnny Jessop but after a few years and the birth of their son, Jack, they drifted apart and Edna moved back to Mount Isa in 1960.
She battled different jobs, making sure her son had an education she didn’t have.
She joined Mount Isa Pony Club, teaching children to ride. In 1965 she became a pound keeper. Known as the Queen of Mount Isa rodeo, she would ride around the arena shifting stock and tending gear.
This year she was inducted into the inaugural Hall of Fame for the rodeo.
In an interview before she died on September 15, 2007, Edna said if she went droving again she would take a full team of women.
“They learn quicker and you can trust them better,” she said.
“A lot of women have more guts in the bush than men.”
For information about the exhibit visit www.ntl.nt.gov.au.
INCREDIBLE LADY: Edna Zigenbine was inducted into the Mt Isa Rodeo Hall of Fame this year for her dedication to helping the society.
INCREDIBLE LADY: Edna Zigenbine, Australia’s first female boss drover, features in the A Territory Story exhibition in the Northern Territory Library.
Edna Zigenbine had a talent for working cattle and horses.
Edna Zigenbine and her horse Pigeon.