Hundreds of boss drovers at gallery

Published: 15 May 2019

Roadtrains have largely made boss drovers a thing of the past but 2400 of these seasoned stockmen and women are immortalised in a new exhibition at Artspace Mackay.

A massive interactive work comprising 2400 of Robert MacPherson’s boss drover drawings can be viewed in digital form in Gallery 3 from now until July 7.

A selection of the works – 200 original drawings – also adorn the walls and gallery visitors can even try their hand at creating their own boss drover portrait thanks to an interactive digital activity.

Cr Fran Mann said the works depicted so many bush icons and a slice of Australian history that was in danger of being forgotten.

“This exhibition immortalises some amazing characters,” Cr Mann said.  “Boss drovers like May Steele, for example,’’ she said.

“May, at 25, was drover with her husband Alex. She was driving cattle with her husband and two children in 1946 when Alex was badly injured in a stampede.

“Rather than call off the cattle drive, she took over as boss drover and delivered the herd of cattle to Alice Springs four months later. She then continued in this role for the next 30 years.”

Cr Mann said Artspace was hosting a free floor talk on the exhibition on Thursday, May 30, from 6pm and was putting the call out to local stockmen and women.

“Our region has a rich cattle history and some very experienced stockmen and women, so we’d love for some to come along and share some of their stories,” she said.

“There’s an interactive component of the exhibition, which allows visitors to search the complete collection of 2400 portraits by name. It would be great to find locals with personal connections and stories who could provide further insight into the lives of these iconic boss drovers.”

Simon Wright, assistant director, Learning & Public Engagement, Queensland Art Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art, will present the talk and will speak about why MacPherson made the portraits over two decades as his alter ego, Robert Pene, a Year 4 student at St Joseph’s Convent in Nambour.