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

Central and North Rural Weekly - - FRONT PAGE - CANDYCE BRAITH­WAITE Candyce.braith­

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

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.

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