Of Scottish descent, Bruce Forbes Simpson (1923-2019) was born in Brisbane and grew up on a small selection west of Mackay, where his father grew sugar. He was educated at a local school. In 1944 he obtained a job as a stockman on ‘Alexandria’, a station on the Barkly Tableland in the Northern Territory. After working on several stations in Queensland and the Northern Territory, he became a boss drover in 1951. His team brought cattle from northern Western Australia and the Northern Territory to the Channel Country in Queensland. By 1960 road transport was taking over and the long droving trips from the East Kimberleys came to an end. Simpson settled in Winton, Queensland, where he opened a saddlers shop. In his retirement he moved to Caboolture, near Brisbane.
Like many drovers, Simpson was familiar with the poetry of Henry Lawson, Harry Morant, Will Ogilvie and other balladists and he began to write verse as a young man. Under the name ‘Lancewood’ he had poems published in the North Queensland Register and later in The Bulletin. He has continued to write poems, was the first winner of the Bronze Swagman Award for Bush Verse, and has appeared at country literary festivals and folk festivals. Encouraged by Ted Egan, he later wrote books based on his experiences as a drover, including Packhorse drover (1996), In Leichhardt’s footsteps; more stories from the packhorse drover (1997), Hell, highwater and hardcases (1999) and Where the outback drovers ride (2005).
In 1990 Simpson launched the Drovers’ Reunion at the Stockman’s Hall of Fame at Longreach. In 1997 another reunion was held at Camooweal and it was here that Simpson first met the historian Bill Gammage (b. 1942), the author of The broken years; Australian soldiers in the Great War (1974), Narrandera Shire (1986) and other books. Together they came up with the idea of a Drovers Oral History Project. They recorded the first interviews at Camooweal in 2000. Gammage accompanied Simpson on all of his field trips and assisted him in planning and carrying out the interviews.
The collection was acquired by the Library between 2000 and 2006.
The Drovers Collection consists of 140 interviews recorded by Bruce Simpson and Bill Gammage between 2000 and 2006. Most of the interviewees were retired drovers, but there were also graziers, station managers, stockmen, ringers, station hands, shearers, teamsters, horse breakers, a bush showman and an author. A few bushwomen were also recorded. The majority of interviewees lived in Queensland and recordings were made in Charters Towers, Camooweal, Mt Isa, Cloncurry, Emerald, Mackay, Bundaberg, Caboolture, Nebo and Springsure. Other recordings were made in Alice Springs, Adelaide and Canberra.
The Drovers Collection is housed in the Oral History Collection at TRC 4599, TRC 5440 and TRC 5675. It has been catalogued at both the collection and item level. The recordings made in 2000-2 have been transcribed. Two binders containing photographs of most of the interviewees are held in the Oral History Branch.
Bantick, Christopher, Reminder of Australian spirit, Canberra Times, 5 May 1956, p. 20
Gammage, Bill, Oral history interview with Bruce Simpson, 10 July 2000, ORAL TRC 4599/10
Simpson, Bruce, Packhorse drover, Sydney, ABC Books, 1996