‘TSR’ is a term that gets thrown around a lot when it comes to talking about the National Trail. It stands for Travelling Stock Reserve, which is, quite literally, a parcel of Crown Land reserved for Travelling Stock.’ These were established along routes for the droving of sheep and cattle during the early days of European colonisation and are often collectively referred as ‘the long paddock’.
The incredible thing is that there are around 6500 TSRs in New South Wales alone, and free’ to use if you have genuine travelling stock- ie those travelling the Bicentennial National Trail. Coming from the nanny state of WA, which lacks NSW’s long history of droving and often tends to view free camping as unhygenic, UnAustralian and unforgivable, the idea of the TSR was incredibly exciting to me. Theoretically, thanks to TSRs, one could acquire a few steeds, perhaps a little wagon, and take to the roads for, well, forever!
It is thought that many of these stock routes and reserves were derived from traditional indigenous travel lines, as naturally they make use of waterways and prime camping locations. Scarred trees, middens and artifacts have been reportedly been found in several TSRs. In fact, when we were camped in one by the Goulburn River, Z found a carved piece of rock, thumb hole and all, that we thought may have been used as some kind of grinding stone or axe head (We’ll get it checked out).
However, with the convenience of highways, feedlots and cattle trucks, the days of the long paddock are fast disappearing. Nowadays, TSRs see few genuine travelling stock, and so I got to wondering how it could possibly be economically feasible for the state governments to retain them. With all those acres of prime real estate locked up in TSRs, what a wonderful thing that they hadn’t been sold off years ago!
Alas, I was soon to find out that the humble TSR has caused no shortage of debate and controvery over the last few decades. Indeed, managing these huge tracts of land is largely unprofitable and provides few financial returns for the local Land Boards, so often these underutilized TSRs are leased to neighbouring farmers.
Now traditionally, the pattern of short, intense grazing followed by long periods of rest kept TSRs in optimum health, and the fact that they are often not as heavily cleared as neighbouring farmland helped foster plant and fauna diversity. They were also seen as common land for emergency use during times of drought, fire or flood. But now, those holding a lease on a TSR will often see it as simply an additional paddock for their stock, and the resultant continuous grazing has led to reduced flowering and seeding and an increase in weeds, not to mention hungry bellies for trekkers’ animals! While I am hugely grateful to have access to the TSR network, it is nonetheless disappointing to find it chock-a-block with cattle, grass nibbled down to bowling-green length.
Overgrazing is not the only modern-day threat to TSRs- there has been no shortage of pressure on the government to just sell them off and be done with it. According to the National Parks Association of New South Wales, construction of pipelines for coal seam gas along Travelling Stock Routes, as well as construction of other infrastructure, has been proposed and even encouraged by the NSW government. This poses a major threat to TSRs, because it requires significant clearing of vegetation along the routes. In the case of some narrow routes, clearing would result in the removal of almost all vegetation.
Fortunately, an alliance of drovers, graziers, and conservation groups have banded together to champion the long- term protection of TSRs. Organiser Robert Groth states, ” It doesn’t matter whether you’re trying to save stock in a drought, if you’re an apiarist, or Mum and Dad and the kids wanting to fly a kite on the river, if they get to the point where they close the routes, what will be left for the future?”
I can’t help but agree. It true that we can’t live in the past- while we might dream of it or even dabble in it, the days of the quintessential drover are long gone, for better or worse. But as country singer and TSR campaigner John Williamson states, the TSR allows all Australians a chance to boil a billy in the bush. It is a part of our unique cultural heritage. But it is also more than that. In our over-regulated society, the TSR is like a last taste of the freedom to wander across the land at one’s will.
In some Scandinavian countries, the ‘Freedom to Roam’ law gives individuals the right to access private or public land for recreation. As long as you aren’t running about in someone’s backyard or disturbing stock, you can camp, pick berries, and do what you will, anywhere. Many Australians would regard this as a bit extreme. But ironically enough, we are the only species born onto this planet that cannot live on it freely. Just food for thought…