The Stockwhip

Stockwhips have been used in Australia for many years to work stock. They are not called stockwhips for this reason however, as many people seem to think. The stockwhip actually is formed of two parts; the handle, which is known as the stock and the plaited whip section. This is the reason they are called stockwhips. The stock was often made from cane or other available timber, but it was always important that this be clean breaking wood. Wood that could splinter into sharp shards could end up going through a stockman’s body if he experienced a fall from a horse and the stock broke at the same time. Many stockmen plaited their own whips and where suitable wood for stocks was not available, they could actually buy these through the old mail order system.

Some terminology:-
"Heeler" – Often referred to as a Queensland Blue Heeler or Australian Cattle Dog
"Eight Plait" – Plaiting is determined by the number of strands being plaited, anything from four upwards.
"Turk’s Head" – A knot formed from the lace being plaited or can be tied using leather lace for decorative purposes.
"Belly" – A tapered piece of leather which is rolled to form the inside of the whip.
"Fall" – A tapering piece of leather attached to the whip and increases the length. To the end of this the "cracker" is tied which is often made from horsehair, or commonly these days, haybind
"Keeper" – A piece of leather attached to the end of the stock or handle through which the whip is threaded and locked to form the complete unit..

A fire softly burning
A billy on the boil
A heeler sleeping quietly
Kangaroo lace tied in a coil

A drover, hands gnarled and wrinkled now
From years in the scrub with the mob
He plaits the lace from left to right
Around the whip handles knob

He finishes the handles eight plait
Ties off with a beautiful Turk’s head
Gathers his lace and sips his tea
Too early yet for bed

Rolling the belly of the whip
He makes it firm and round
For the balance is all important
Too make the loudest sound

Tying the coils of lace to the limb of a tree
Then placing the belly inside
Those old gnarled hands begin to plait the whip
The heeler still sleeps at his side

The lace comes together smooth and tight
As the whip forms tapered and round
Apart from the fire and occasional lowing of cattle
The night carries no other sound

With the plaiting complete he attaches the fall
The keeper is bound to the stock
The whip threaded through and pulled down hard
Now finished it forms a tight lock

The old drover surveys his handiwork
It took years to perfect this knack
Then standing, with a gentle flick of his arm
The stockwhip issues its first crack

© Ric Raftis – 16th July 2001