Edna  Zigenbine


Edna Zigenbine photo.

Photo ofEdna Zigenbine shoeing a horse.

Photo of Edna Zigenbine.

Left to right: Picture taken  at the Tennant Creek hospital in 1949 ; when Edna worked at the the Kimberley, Barkly Tableland and Gulf Country ; and Edna Zigenbine Jessop, now in her 70s . (I had the pleasure and honor of speaking to Edna over the telephone. The photos  on this web page are presented with her kind permission.)


         by Jack Sammon

      Edna Zigenbine was born and raised on the stock routes of North Australia. Her father was a drover who contracted to drive cattle from all parts of the country.
       In the early nineteen fifties he got sick while droving fifteen hundred head of cattle from Bedford Downs Station in the Kimberley’s of Western Australia to the rail head of Dajarra in Western Queensland, a trip of around a thousand miles.  
Edna had to step into his shoes and take over from the start of the trip, no mean feat for a young woman in her early twenties, a woman who had never been a Boss Drover before. She was the only woman in a camp of Aboriginal stockmen. She says that she could not have done the job with out their help. 
After over six months on the road travelling through vast unfenced country that was scarcely populated, she delivered in Dajarra with out the loss of any cattle.
                          Jack Sammon


                                                   Photo of Edna Zigenbine on horseback.

Edna Zigenbine Jessup on horseback: Photo courtesy of Jack Sammon
                           and presented with permission of Edna Zigenbine Jessop


                  Edna Zigenbine  
  by Jack Sammon


On the road with Bedford cattle, they are walking down for sale,
    Three hundred miles to go before she puts them on the rail.
Five hundred miles behind her since she left old Bedford Downs,
    (Five hundred long and lonely miles with out the sight of towns).
She dry-staged through the Murranji with water far between 
And battled on the Barkley where the feed was sparse and lean.

 When Edna got the message she was working in the town,
    After years of living in the bush she at last had settled down.
Her father had an
accident, while droving on the track
     And needed her to take his place until he was able to get back.
Without a thought she rolled her swag and travelled to the west,
     Although only young, she could handle cattle with the best.

The Outback was a males domain in nineteen fifty two,
     To have a woman in charge of stock, well that was something new.
But Edna knew the droving game and she never had a doubt, 
She took charge of fifteen hundred steers and started on the route.
With a team of native stockmen and a pack horse plant behind
      Edna headed off to Queensland when the permits were all signed.

Droving days were long and hard, on the stock routes of the west,
   As Edna droved those Bedford steers she didn’t get much rest.
With blood shot eyes and weary, she watches the feeding mob go by
   As the choking dust is rising high up in a cloudless sky.  
Her thoughts are of the trip ahead and the challenges she’ll face
   And hopes that she’ll be good enough to take her fathers place.

 As Edna crossed the Jump up and she scanned the brooding sky
     She prayed to God that it wouldn’t rain whilst on the Murranji.
For drovers dread the Murranji when the storms come rolling in
     When the cattle rush off camp at night to the thunders deafening din
Where the dense and sombre lancewood scrubs cling to the track beside
   And onwards past the lonely graves, where several men have died.

When the lightning lit the heavens and the cattle rushed in fright,
   Edna raced her night horse to the lead on a dark and stormy night. 
To the sound of crashing timber and the hoof beats thunderous tread
   She trusts her horse to guide her through the dangers that lay ahead.
Through the thick and tangled branches, over rough and broken ground,
   She galloped madly up the wing to wheel the flying mob around.

 Now endless plains roll out before them, as the miles drag slowly past,
   The scrubs are far behind her and the steers have settled down at last
But Edna can’t afford to be complacent; there are still many miles to go
     And the plains still have their dangers, as all the drovers know.
She worries if there’s water at the windmills way up ahead
    Or maybe that she should have taken another track instead.

She takes her turn on night watch, when the Southern Cross is high,
   Riding around the cattle singing, the lonely hours creep slowly by.
Sitting shivering in the saddle as the night horse plods around,
   While the cattle are all sleeping as they huddle on the ground.  
Edna feels the cold wind blowing across the Rankin plain,
    With feet rattling in the stirrups and hands frozen to the rein.

The mob spreads out so they may feed as they slowly drift along.
     If Edna tries to push them hard, she knows it would be wrong. 
For the leaders always get the feed when travailing on the track
    And the tailers have to search for grass when walking at the back)
So she nurses the lame and laggard as they struggle on behind,
    As she try’s her best to feed them with what grass that she can find.

When Edna delivers at Dajarra and puts the cattle on the train
   She won’t have time to have a rest; she’ll head back out again.
For there’ll be another mob of cattle to bring in from the west,
   And Edna knows that she’s a drover who can stand up with the best.
Edna’s proud of her achievements, but no one would ever know,
    She doesn’t talk about herself or let her feelings show.

Edna took the Bedford’s over, her father was filled with pride,
      He taught her well in the ways of stock and taught her how to ride.
But Edna doesn’t expect his praise; she just has a job to do,
     To help him out when was ill; and to get the cattle through.
So I’ll dedicate these lines of verse to a dear old friend of mine,
     A woman of the Outback- “Edna Zigenbine” 

Jack Sammon  ©2000



 Edna Zigenbine Jessop .......a living legend-

                                                                               Early photo of Edna Zigenbine.
     How many cowboys are there still living who have conducted a cattle drive of around 1000 miles? There aren't likely any left in the United States.  Above is the picture of the pretty girl who did exactly that when she was in her very early twenties. She did it over some of the most forbidding territory....it took her around six months to do it.....and she did it alone as the boss driver, with only the assistance of native Aboriginals and her young brother, Andy, who served as the camp cook. (
Edna in a  recent letter says about him,"He was a good old cook".)  Edna Zigenbine Jessop is a true living legend...and not just of the outback but of the cattle industry worldwide. If there are any western heroines to equal her, I don't know who they are, do you? Hers is a story of valor and mettle, and an account of a cattle drive (conducted by man or women) with few equals.     

     Born in Thargornindah, south-west Queensland, Edna was raised in droving camps with her three sisters and four brothers. Two were born on the road. "Didn't worry us kids," she reflects, "but mum must have had hell on earth, bringing 'em up on the road." Her father was the legendary drover, Harry Zigenbine, and her mother, Ruby, was often the camp cook. Even as kids, there was work to be done. "Dad left mum behind at Newcastle (Waters) one year," she recalls. "We went on with packhorses and they said, 'who's going to do the cookin'?' Poor silly me had to do it, because I was the youngest." She was then sixteen.

     When she was in her very early twenties, Edna took time out with her mother to work at the Tennant Creek Hospital as a "wards maid". But her father, suffering kidney problems after a fall with his horse, called her to assist him.  According to Edna, "He got sick in the middle of the Murranji scrub. There was a hawker bloke camped with us that night, and I got him to take dad to Newcastle Waters. That left me and my young brother, Andrew, and the ringers with the cattle." Edna took over the delivery of the 1,550 bullocks; and her epic 2,240 km droving odyssey wrote her into the history books and made both domestic and international headlines.  Edna received a flood of marriage proposals from around the world.

    She later  married John Jessop, a fellow Australian drover. Edna then spent 8 years droving cattle with her husband.  After separating from John in 1960, Edna moved to Mt Isa to give her son Jack an education. For the next 30 years, she worked in the saleyards and as the local pound horse keeper. She is now in her late 70s and retired; but keeps herself busy doing leatherwork in the proud tradition of the Australian drover.  I had the honor of speaking to Edna on the telephone. She is a vibrant and fascinating lady.

      About her life and life as a drover, Edna said this:
  I have had a fairly hard life and things were tough sometimes. But the freedom of the bush and the countless nights under the stars, miles from cities, walking with mobs, seeing all the wonderful places and antics of animals and the peace and quite have made it all worthwhile and I would not change it for quids. Gone is the life forever and I wish some of the kids of today could have the chance have experienced the life I knew as a kid.

   Here is a photo  of Edna and Jack Sammon taken at a drovers camp festival (courtesy of Jack Sammon).
Newspaper photo of Jack Sammon and Edna Zigenbine.
Left to right:Jack Sammon, Edna Jessop and George Booth photographed at the Drovers Camp Festival in Camooweal,Queensland, July 2002.

 JACK SAMMON, the author of the poem, is himself a living legend who, like Edna Zigenbine, experienced the life of a drover ...a life that is gone forever.  For more poetry of Jack Sammon along with his bio and photos.......CONTINUED.......
(A click of the mouse will take you there.)