“The Diamantina Drover” is a song about life in the saddle in outback Queensland written by Australian singer-songwriter Hugh McDonald (1954-2016). Hugh was probably best known as a member of the folk-rock group Redgum. From 1986 to 1990 he was their lead singer and wrote a number of the group’s hit songs, including “The Diamantina Drover”.
Hugh grew up in the small northern Victorian town of Kerang where, he says, he came in contact with many old bush characters. These somehow all morphed into one to become the character we know as the Diamantina Drover. But the person whom the song most resembled, in Hugh’s mind, was a Mr Brown who lived next door. He was well into his 80s and would sit on a stump while he chopped wood and told stories of logging on the Murray River.
“The Diamantina Drover” tells the story of a drover who leaves behind his family in Sydney and sets out to find work on Cork Station on the banks of the Diamantina River in the channel country of far western Queensland. He promises his family that he’ll return home when the droving is finished. But ten years go by and, despite the hardships of the drover’s life, he still finds it hard to leave behind the wide-open spaces and return to city life.
The “Diamantina” in the song title refers to the Diamantina River, one of several large Queensland river systems that make their way towards Lake Eyre, in South Australia. Because the Lake Eyre basin is located entirely in desert and semi desert country, the rivers flow only intermittently following periods of heavy rain. For most of the time, the shallow river channels are dry and dusty, and Lake Eyre is an expansive salt plain.
Cork Station is located on the east bank of the Diamantina River about 126 kilometres south-west of the town of Winton. It was established in the 1870s and was the local mail distribution point before Winton was established. As the homestead was often cut off by floods for several weeks at a time, the administrative centre of the property moved at the turn of the 20th Century. However, the families of the workers on the property continued to live at Old Cork until the 1980s, when it was finally abandoned. Today, some of the sandstone walls still stand, along with an outbuilding and a windmill on the riverbank. The ruins of the homestead are a poignant reminder of the pioneering history of Australia.
Versions are available for both SATB and TTBB choir.