“Mum”, Ken called from the back door. “Got something for you.”
Jessie took the batch of scones from the oven , placed the hot tray on the sink and went to see what her son wanted. “What is it?” she inquired as she opened the door to see him standing there empty handed. He pointed to the ground at his feet.
“Oh! Oh my goodness, where is its mother?”
“I found him still in the breeding bag; the cow must have died as soon as she got him out. Old girl must have spent all her energy pushing him out. Anyway, I thought you might be able to raise him.” Ken looked at his mother questioningly. “Wouldn’t like to knock him on the head after all that trouble the cow went to get him out alive.”
Jessie looked at the poor little red creature all covered with sticky mucus. She nodded. “I’ll get an old blanket and you can bring him in on the verandah; he’ll need a feed quick smart.”
Jessie knew from her experience with raising lambs that she was in for problems and her chances of raising this calf were slim. He hadn’t had any colostrom from his mother so would not have any immunity to infection. Then there was the added problem of not having a teat to put onto a bottle. The baby teats she used for the lambs would be too small for a calf.
When the calf was installed on the verandah where it would get the warmth from the slow combustion stove on the other side of the wall, Jessie made up a milk formula. To each pint of half-strength milk she added a teaspoon of brandy and several drops of Pentavite. She used a worcestershire sauce bottle which had a narrow neck and its smaller opening meant more control over the flow of the milk. The first feed of two sauce bottles went down well and Jessie repeated the feeds every four hours.
When Charlie came home that evening he told Jessie in no uncertain words that she was out of her mind. “You need your head read, Jess. Everyone knows you can’t raise a calf when it hasn’t had its first feed from its mother.”
“Well Charlie, we’ll see won’t we?” Jessie replied showing her stubborn streak. “If it doesn’t survive it won’t be my fault, and anyway it won’t hurt to try.”
She referred to the calf as Joe because she was superstitious enough to think she would jonah him by not giving him a proper name. He became weaker by the day with the continual scouring so in between feeds of her formula, she fed him water containing salt and sugar together with a little bi carb soda. Every morning she was surprised to see him still alive. She cleaned him up and provided fresh bedding and hauled him to his feet to feed him. Every evening after she had given him his last feed of the day she’d tell him he’d probably be dead in the morning.
He was about two weeks old when he began to rally. He was pathetically thin but his eyes became bright and he began trying to get to his feet when he heard Jessie approach. The scouring had stopped and now Jessie began to increase the milk strength. A few days later he was quite mobile and needed to be moved out into the yard.
Joey grew stronger by the day. He learned to drink from a bucket and spent his days out in the home paddock where there was plenty of grass. He romped with two pet lambs and the family dogs. At first light each day he was to be found at the side gate waiting for his bucket of milk.
Ken was delighted to see the pathetic little creature he’d brought home growing and glowing with health. He’d take time out each morning to play with him before he left to do his daily station chores. One morning Joey bunted him from behind as he walked away. Ken turned quickly and ‘charged’, feigning anger. Joey dodged. Ken charged again. Joey dodged again and stood looking curiously in anticipation. Ken turned his back and bent over, presenting a still target, calling “Come on Joe, have a go.” Joey put his head down and charged and at the last moment Ken moved aside.
The game became a morning ritual. Ken began feeding Joey treats. He’d always have pieces of apple or bread in his pockets which he’d produce after their morning game. Joey learned quickly and would try to help himself. When Ken’s pockets were empty he would bunt him like a calf bunting its mother’s udder for more milk let-down.
Ken introduced Joey to the fruit of a vine that grew and wound its way up into the mulga trees. We called the fruit wild banana but the aborigines said it was ‘alungua’. The vine stems and leaves had a milky sap and the fruit was cylinder shaped with a thick green skin. Inside was filled with white silk, the top part covered in flat green seeds. The silk exuded a sweet nectar when chewed and the seeds had a nutty taste.
Ken stood on Joey’s back in order to reach the fruit, stuffing his pockets as he gathered them. On the ground again he fed Joey and when his pockets were empty, Joey bunted him until he moved on to another tree.
Joey’s penchant for alungua caused the rest of us a lot of problems. He would not allow anyone else on his back so we were forced to climb the tree and throw the fruit down to him. When there were no more left on the vine, Joey refused to let us get down out of the tree. We soon learned to throw the last few fruits as far away from the tree as we could manage to allow us time to reach the ground. We also learned to put as much distance between us and Joey because he’d gallop after us and keep bunting us up the nearest tree.
The shearer’s cook became a target for Joey’s pranks and she was terrified of him. She made the mistake of turning tail and running for home when she first came across Joey in the paddock. He saw her in the distance and, always on the lookout for a handout, he headed towards her at full gallop. Alice made the hundred yards to the shearer’s house with seconds to spare as Joey skidded to a stop at the gate.
Alice ventured out into the paddock most days after she checked on Joey’s whereabouts. It seemed to us that Joey kept an eye out for Alice. We’d watch with some amusement to see Joey grazing peacefully in the paddock and as soon as Alice emerged from the house yard, he’d quietly move across the paddock. When Alice was a couple of hundred yards away from her safe haven, Joey would appear as if from nowhere. We would hear her screaming blue murder and see her streaking towards home with Joey keeping pace a few yards behind her.
We all agreed that Alice would have had no trouble winning an olympic medal under Joey’s coaching.
Joey was about fourteen months old when he was moved out to the bullock paddock, an area of some twenty square miles. Ken kept a bag of feed pellets in the back of the landrover and whenever Joey saw the vehicle he’d turn up for a handout.
At mustering times Joey stuck with Ken like a dog and soon learned what it was all about. He began helping to yard the cattle and then to separate the cows from the calves once they were yarded. In time he became an essential part of the muster and valued highly by all the station hands.
Drought struck the Northern Territory with a vengeance and all saleable animals were trucked and sent to market. Joey was now a big beautiful bullock. The boss owned and lived on a property in Victoria and it was arranged that the breeding stock would be transported to Victoria. Joey was sent with them, leaving Jessie and Ken with heavy hearts. They didn’t believe the boss would keep a pet bullock that would bring a considerable sum at the saleyards.
Joey, however, lost no time in winning the affections of the boss. He made himself more useful than a dog and became a valuable station worker. Although David often sent notes to say ‘Old Joe’ is doing well, neither Charlie nor Jess really believed he hadn’t been sold for steaks. A year or so later when Charlie was on holiday, he called into David’s property and saw for himself that Joey was indeed alive and well. He had grown into a massive animal weighing almost a ton.
While the Northern Territory remained in the grip of drought, Victoria was being deluged with rain. Joey’s weight now caused huge problems. He sank into the sodden earth and David was forced on two occasions to hire a crane to lift him out of the bog. Fearing that Joey would meet his end in a bog, David reluctantly sent him to the saleyards in Adelaide.
Metro Meats paid a few hundred guineas for the huge Caupaul bullock and made headlines because David had announced the proceeds would be donated to the Royal Flying Doctor Service. A reporter’s curiosity was aroused when he noticed a group of children in Joey’s pen. They were sitting on his back and patting his big gentle face. Photographs were taken and the reporter, sensing a great story, sought out the seller’s agent. David was interviewed and he provided the detail of Joey’s beginnings.
Joey instantly became famous. Children and adults kept a vigil by his pen so that Metro Meats were forced to announce his retirement to a lush paddock where he’d be available for weekend visits from his fans. The gentle giant bullock who’d been raised on milk laced with brandy and pentavite, spent his remaining years in the lap of luxury, doted on by all who had the good fortune to meet him.