Transferred to Mareeba

The QP and broad arrow brand. PHOTO: GLENN TESKE

Retired police officer Glenn Teske, who now lives in the South Burnett, shares some of his stories from his time ‘on the beat’:

On being transferred to Mareeba, one of the first jobs I was given was to muster some 350 head of cattle that had been seized from Gulf cattle stations some 12 months previously.

My instructions were to muster a paddock comprising of about 10,000 acres and yard these exhibit cattle.

Once yarded I was to process them as exhibits. This procedure involved photographing original brands and earmarks as well as the beast in question.

The exhibit beast was then ear tagged bearing an exhibit number and branded with the official police brand, broad arrow QP.

These photographs were then prepared in a manila folder for presentation to the court.

Due to the size of this paddock and the varying temperament and education of all these differing property cattle, I was permitted to hire two experienced stockmen, Brian Teece and Glen O’Donagh.

I had worked with both of these men at Lakefield and knew their reliability and expertise. The three of us were on horseback.

Syd Churchill, my Detective Inspector was in charge of proceedings and he had organised for the Cairns-based “Rescue” helicopter, a huge machine to assist.

Syd was to be a passenger in this chopper. I can only wonder of the thoughts that passed through the pilot’s mind when he was given this task as it certainly would have been out of the ordinary compared to his normal flying duties.

Brian, Glen and I arrived prior to daylight and started mustering with the “Rescue” helicopter joining not long after daylight.

We had a hand-held radio with which to communicate with Syd in the chopper.

The noise alone from the jet turbine machine was enough to get the mobs started towards the yards with us horsemen picking up stragglers and those attempting to break out of the mobs.

I do not know the pilot, nor his prior experience but he was working the various mobs into ever larger mobs with expertise making our job on horseback very easy in the thick timber.

As the mobs were grouped together becoming ever larger it of course became increasingly difficult to keep the mob together.

Getting closer to the yards and with just over 200 head in the mob, cattle that had been poorly handled and educated became even more troublesome with various cows at times making a break back into the scrub.

We horsemen on the ground had our hands full and we were becoming increasingly stretched and I feared that I would lose some of our exhibits as the mob were under increasing pressure the closer to the yards we got.

Getting within sight of the yards the mob realising they were going to be yarded, not surprisingly broke away attempting to escape.

In fact, the situation on the ground was becoming dire and we horsemen were struggling.

There goes some of our exhibit cattle I thought. I honestly believed that those that did break away would later have to be tracked down, located and thrown and taken to the yards by truck, a very daunting and time-consuming task.

Not for one moment did I believe that our chopper assistant apart from being a spotter and providing noise would be of any other benefit.

The pilot seeing our plight then commenced to throw that huge red and white helicopter around, at times below tree height blocking and pushing the cattle back into the mob.

He was flying the machine like a pro chopper-mustering pilot but in a machine 5 times the size!

I only found out later from Syd after losing communications that the pilot had thrown the machine around so violently at one point that Syd who was seated next to the open door lost his grip on the handheld radio which fell to earth. Despite our best efforts later on we never found the device much to Syd’s annoyance.

The cattle yarded, the chopper landed and after a brief talk with the pilot, I found that he had no cattle or mustering experience whatsoever!

He was obviously on a high with the adrenaline still flowing strong, repeated that this was the most fun and challenging flying he had ever had as a pilot, and this bloke was a “rescue” pilot.

I think that day will go down as one of his favourite memories, no injured people or stranded people to be rescued and taken to hospital, but just the sheer fun and adrenaline rush of flying a mustering helicopter, all but a huge one and not designed at all for that type of flying!

Cattle yarded the real hard work started. “Mothering up”, drafting, photographing, ear tagging and branding.

Completely expecting that just Brian, Glen and I would be doing this work you can imagine my surprise when Syd didn’t return to the chopper to return to Cairns.

Syd actually stayed with us and helped us process these exhibit cattle in his city trousers, shoes and shirt.

Taking him back to Cairns after sunset he looked a sight but by his banter, he was obviously on a high and had enjoyed himself.

You can understand my surprise when I dropped him off at the station to get his vehicle when he wanted to know what time we were starting in the morning as he fully intended to come and help.

The next day at daylight there he was, having travelled from Cairns to near Dimbulah, this time dressed in jeans, RM Williams boots and a country shirt & hat.

Having no real experience with semi-wild cattle we kept a watchful eye on him ensuring he didn’t get hurt.

There was no stopping him though and he was into the drafting, head bale, ear tagging and branding.

I offered him the safest job of photographing each beast but he very soon grew tired of that and gave the camera back to me.

Syd wanted to be front & centre where the action was.

Having a few stubbies with us when we finished I saw that both Brian and Glen were most impressed with Syd’s enthusiasm and willingness to be shown and told how things are done.

Just how many of us can say that our Detective Inspectors would not only take an interest in what their men were doing but get their hands dirty and place themselves in harm’s way to help their men?

Vale Syd Churchill, you were certainly a great officer, friend, mentor and at times a very funny fellow and need I say great company.