Harry Garlick painted The drover in response to the ‘Federation drought’, which began in 1895 and reached its climax in the summer of 1901–02. Officially lasting until 1903, the drought had a devastating effect on the sheep, cattle and wheat-farming industries throughout much of Australia. Garlick had painted earlier responses to the drought, such as Drought stricken1902 (present whereabouts unknown). It is possible that The drover was painted in the Orange or Bathurst regions of western New South Wales where Garlick was born and lived until 1896. In the heat of the midday sun a drover leads his flock along an arid stock route, the artist’s use of perspective emphasising the distance between the drover and his flock and the hills on the horizon.
The drover is indicative of Garlick’s interest in pastoral scenes. As a young man he travelled each week from Orange to Bathurst to attend painting classes with Sydney painter Arthur Collingridge. After relocating to Sydney from Orange in 1896 he attended night classes with Julian Ashton, worked as a clerk and occasionally published drawings and cartoons in the Bulletin. Garlick was one of a number of artists, including Julian Ashton, Sydney Long, Charles Conder and Arthur Streeton, who visited Griffiths’s farm on the Richmond side of the Hawkesbury River on outdoor painting trips.