Stinker’s History: Cows on the island

Blanch’s dairy truck.

TWICE a year, for around 50 years, Anna Bay dairy farmer Steve Blanch, born in 1885, drove his 25 to 30 cows from Anna bay along One Mile Beach, through the wetlands and across the Fingal Spit onto the island.

Here they would remain until another 30 odd cows were driven over to take their place.

Steve, who was of the opinion that the fresh grass on the island was healthy for his cattle and that a change of pasture increased his milk yield, had made arrangements with the appropriate government department to allow him to agist his cattle on Fingal Island.

Steve’s son George Blanch, born 1924, recalls, at the age of twelve years and accompanied by his brothers Herb and Arthur, a friend Oscar Robinson and later Mick Donnelly, riding horses from Anna Bay driving the cattle through the water board land to the scrub behind Fingal then down to the old dry trees just up from where the Surf Club is now.

The cattle, under the control of the horsemen, trudged down onto the beach and around to the Spit.

The cattlemen had studied the tides so that the cows could cross the treacherous waterway safely.

Occasionally however their plans went astray as cows were washed off the sand into the fast current of the deep water.

Fishermen on the beach quickly launched their boats, rowed out and lassoed the struggling beasts, floating on their sides and towed them back to the beach.

On rare occasions the water was so deep that the horses had to swim to get across.

To improve the grassland the Blanch family would light fires to burn back the scrub.

Sometimes, when it was high and dry, one or two cows would wander back across the Spit into the hamlet of Fingal.

Once one of the cows was found in a lady’s garden, which caused a commotion.

George recalled the days, “We left an old draught horse on the island, Tanglefoot.

“His job among others was to pull the cows out of any drains or deep crevices that they happened to fall into.

“We would tie a rope around the cow’s neck and around Tanglefoot and he would pull them free.”

I was told by a Fingal fisherman that one year when the cows were on the island the spit washed away and Steve couldn’t get the cows back for three years.

When the farmer finally could reach his cows on the island there were twice as many as he left.

There was a bull in the herd that year.

George can’t recall the occasion

During dry periods Steve would permit his cows to wander around Fingal town, Shoal Bay and Nelson Bay to feed.

No one seemed to bother – except the lady with the garden.

By John ‘Stinker’ CLARKE

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