Masters of Mustering
“There are only two breeds of sheep in the world,” Jim Murray of Glenmore Station at Lake Tekapo once told Irish writer and photographer Jamie Ball, who is based in Christchurch. “Merinos, and all others.” And each autumn for the past 15 years in the South Island high country, robust, leathery musterers have gathered to muster from the mountains the only sheep breed that matters. Driving sheep off a high mountain is much like driving a ball into the back of the net through teamwork. The sheep will default to zigzagging uphill and into the wind, falling back upon their primal instincts. Always let sheep think they’re winning and you’ll win, too. The close of each day is “mustered off” by driving the mob into territory it is unlikely to revisit anytime soon — the lip of a basin higher up, or the braided channel of a riverbed down below — before turning for the hut and the dream of dry feet, warm clothes, whiskey, feed and sleep.