Cunnamulla

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“Having made my measurements and adjusted the boundaries to the satisfaction of the runholders I retraced my tracks as far as Eulo, where I turned off to Cunnamulla, en route to this eastern part of the district, where I had some work. I reached Cunnamulla in November 1874 and found it a lively and pleasantly situated township. Being on the intersection of two main lines of traffic – namely the road along the Warrego into New South Wales and the route from St George to Cunnamulla – a fairly constant stream of traffic was passing through consequent upon the travelling of stock, the cartage of wool and the delivery of station supplies, whilst an increasing occupation of the West involved the moving about of all classes and grades, from rich squatter to the swagman and bookmaker. The principal occupants of the place were the Huxley’s (who kept the Hotel, exceedingly well conducted), Fred Ford, a storekeeper, the local blacksmith and their contemporary, the sergeant of police.

Finding some instructions from the Surveyor-General to extend the survey of Cunnamulla I diversified my feature surveying by the marking out of a few sections of town allotments, which occupied me a week, during which time, putting up at Huxley’s Hotel, I met with many denizens of the West, representative men who had won their spurs as pioneers, and whose preliminary exploits have proved the foundation of the Commonwealth in this part of the continent of Australia.

From Cunnamulla I proceeded further east and affected the survey of Noorama and Widgeegoara Creek where stations had been formed by Mr Edward Brown, the Messrs Howie and Mr John Bignell, the latter in Widgeegoara Creek. He was married to the eldest Miss Williams of Coongoola, one of the first white women who entered the Warrego District and certainly one of the bravest. Some years previous to 1874, when just married and residing on the Upper Bulloo at Tintinchilla station, of which her husband was the manager, upon one occasion a blackfellow stealthily crept into the dwelling and was in the act of tomahawking here when she flew out the opposite door, which fortunately happened to be open, and reached within sight of the stockyard, where Mr Bignell and his men were working. The pursurer, unable to catch her, ran off to roam about until the native police terminated his career.

Upon reaching Mr. Bignell’s station on the Widgeegoara I found Mrs Bignell upholding the traditions of pioneering, for she was living in an improvised shelter of a few sheets of corrugated iron. However, she found means, even in those primitive conditions to extend the traditional hospitality of Coongoola.

The whole of the Widgeegoara and Noorama country was like a luxuriant wheat field, covered with Mitchell grass. The Widgeegoara and Noorama creeks are actually billabongs which run out of the Warrego on to an immense southern plain which runs along the boundary of Queensland and New South Wales, extending from the Condemine waters to Grey’s Range on the west of the Bulloo River. It is only in a very high flood like that of 1874 that the Warrego overflows into the Widgeegoara and Noorama so that until dams were made and wells sunk the waterholes would remain for years unfilled. A few hundred yards of the canal cut out of the Warrego into the head of the Widgeegoara billabong would obviate this serious drawback. In fact the billabongs which break away from the Warrego, Paroo and Bulloo might be utilised by the extension of canals to irrigate the immense Southern plain referred to.

These surveys completed my work for 1874. I had located and classified about 200 runs and in the classification had materially augmented the revenue for many of the runs had been held throughout as half unavailable, which meant the rent was only paid on the available portion.

Source: G. C. Watson Building the Commonwealth

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A Model Station

“Reaching Calwarro head station I found it in possession of its proprietor, Mr. W. J. Malpas, who renders me valuable assistance. I found in Calwarro water holes a resemblance to an inland lake, the wild fowls were in abundance; pelicans, swans, ducks, in search of prey, as the waterhole abounded with fish of all sizes.

In entering upon the survey of this run I found I had some intricate questions of boundaries to determine between Mr Malpas and his neighbours, Messrs Calder and Stephenson, of Thorlindah as well as Messrs Hood and Torrance, of Currawynya, as their respective runs had been applied for from divergent points, and some clashing had taken place. The country as I advanced increased in interest, as countless billabongs diverged east and west, ten, twenty and thirty miles, forming magnificent lakes in the backcountry some four kilometres in diameter; so that as we camped on the banks whereon the waves were beating we could imagine ourselves upon the seashore. It was plainly evident that the country should never suffer from drought, where Nature had already done so much of the engineering in rendering canalisation and easy process, and the outlet of the lakes practicable sites for effective embankments that would retain a permanent supply of water for many years. For although I was now witnessing the spectacle of well-filled lakes after the good rains of 1874, the same lakes, in protracted drought, had been known to be quite dry, so that horseman could canter through their beds.

I spent an exceedingly pleasant three months in the survey of Calwarro, Currawyn and Thorlindah and the backcountry thereof. Carrawynya had been formed by Messrs Hood and Torrance, of whom Mr Torrance was the leading spirit. He was ably assisted by the young Hoods, nephews of the part-owner, who soon became as proficient as their tutor. Mr Torrance died whilst upon an overland journey, about three months before the run was surveyed, so I missed the pleasure of meeting him. However, I saw his work, which was a marvel of practical forethought – no fortunes frittered away, nor embarrassments engendered by the building of ornamental woolsheds – but awaiting the growth of the clip, he met the necessities of shearing by the expedient of bough sheds.

 

Early dwellers built shanties for shelter and bough sheds for coolness. A primitive fridge was made by cutting a hessian bag down two sides and inserting two boards. This hung in the bough shed in the breeze and was used to set jellies and to keep honey and syrup away from the “hants”. Even meat and butter were kept in the bough sheds. A canvas water bag hung from one of the boughs and the water tasted good on a hot day. Lamps were made by stuffing a kerosene-soaked rag in a bottle.

Horses, cattle, and sheep or throve exceedingly well, horses especially. Much of the country was polygnum flats, whereon the cattle throve amazingly, whilst on the mulga ridges sheep found herbage and grasses adapted for their sustenance judging by the superior meat and wool grown there.

During my rendezvous at Currawynya the station property, consequent upon the death of Mr Torrance, changed hands being purchased by Mr Wilson, of Victoria, whose sons Hector and Norman duly arrived to take possession in 1874. I found them capable young men of business.

When Hood and Torrance formed the station they improvised such buildings as met their necessities for dwellings, stores and sheds; but within the year preceding my survey they had built a splendid mansion, with lofty rooms and also a detached, composite building for a store, dormitories, harness sheds etc.

Eulo Queen

She won the title of Eulo Queen for her habit of letting opal miners settle their debts with gemstones. After a brilliant and colourful career that made her one of the richest women in Australia, she fell in love with a handsome wastrel and died alone and bankrupt.

GRAY, ISABEL (1851?-1929), hotelier and storekeeper was the daughter of James Richardson, an army captain, and Priscilla Wright. On her first marriage certificate in April 1869 she was recorded as being born eighteen years before in England. When she married again in 1871 she claimed to have been born in Mauritius. Said to have been well educated in Switzerland, she was sent to Australia, probably in 1868. On 29 April 1869 at Warialda, New South Wales, Isabella Richardson married the 32-year-old Scots superintendent, James McIntosh. He died soon after. On 2 March 1871 at Roma, Queensland, Isabel McIntosh, widow and governess, married Richard William Robinson, station-manager of Spring Grove, Surat.

The Robinsons remained in south-west Queensland. By 1886 they were hotel-keepers at Eulo, on the Paroo River, an important staging post between Cunnamulla and Thargomindah and coach junction from Hungerford. Eulo was thus a gathering place for travellers and others. On 1 September 1889 Robinson acquired the freehold and hotel and billiard licences of the Royal Mail Hotel, Eulo. The Robinsons also conducted a store and butcher’s shop.

About this time the legend of the ‘Eulo Queen’ began. Although short, Isabel probably possessed some personal beauty with the physical sumptuousness so esteemed by contemporary males, and a complaisant husband enabled her to operate as a successful courtesan. Her bedroom was a scene of great activity. A stock of liquor there helped her to entertain groups of gentlemen with conversation and gambling. More intimate entertainment was available. Opals were the key to her heart; she was captivated by these fiery gems. She used them as currency and for adornment, including a fantastic girdle of alternate large opals and nautilus shells. Some say she styled herself ‘Queen of Eulo’, but others consider admirers conferred the title. The 1893 financial crisis and the 1896 failure of the Queensland National Bank reduced her wealth.

On 18 October 1902 Robinson died at Cunnamulla. On 31 October 1903 Isabel married, at Eulo, a 29-year-old Tasmanian, Herbert Victor Gray. The bride was about 53 but claimed she was 35. She recouped her fortunes and in 1913 went to Europe where she lived lavishly. On her return she quarrelled with Gray; he beat her, and was charged with assault, convicted and fined £25. Isabel paid the fine but thereafter she denied Gray her bed and board. He joined the Australian Imperial Force but died before going to France.

World War I ended with Eulo’s importance lost to railways and better roads, the opal industry in a deep recession and the young men away on war service, many never to return. The Eulo Queen’s remaining enterprises withered on the vine. By 1926 she was living in poverty at Eulo, the military pension as Gray’s widow her sole support. Later she was admitted to Willowburn Mental Hospital at Toowoomba and died there on 7 August 1929. Buried in Toowoomba cemetery, she left an estate of £30.

Isabel Gray could be hard in her business dealings but, if the mood moved her, kind to genuine cases of distress. Self-willed and self-indulgent she was, but the Eulo Queen will live as one of the characters of southwest Queensland history.

Eulo Lizard Racing

This is a land of ancient landscapes – grassy plains stretching to the horizon, rugged red ranges and the sweep of sand dunes.
The Eulo Lizard Race is a testimony to the belief that Australians
would bet on two flies crawling up a wall.

Passing through Tilbooroo, whereon was the situation the township of Eulo, I reached the unsurveyed Lower Paroo. Eulo had been an important centre, situated the direct route of travel to the West; it accommodated the travellers passing to and fro and was at the same time a nucleus for the thirsty bushman to quench their thirst, by the ‘melting’ of their cheques and the increase of the territorial revenue, as well as the emoluments of the public-house. An adjacent store was in readiness to supply all the ordinary station requirements. The public house, the store and a blacksmith’s shop constituted the original township of Eulo, which came into celebrity as the rendezvous of prodigal adventurers who professedly had settled upon the Paroo as graziers, but whose purpose was actually to squander their means in hilarious horse-play. In announcing at the Eulo Hotel the termination of their repast they would hurl tablecloths, dishes, plates and crockery on to the floor and indulge in the bravado of paying for the bill of damages. Exploits of this kind continuously bought their holdings into the hands of the land monopolist.

Below Tilbooroo run I found myself upon Calwarro run whereon the river runs into a succession of magnificent waterholes, of which the Calwarro waterhole is the principal. The Paroo River at this southern extremity is characterised by the disappearance of its distinctive channel; the waterholes are connected by low depressions and polygnum flats which a stranger may cross unaware that he has gone beyond the river he is in search of. In fact, such was the fate of an early surveyor, who in search of water crossed the Paroo and kept going onward in the backcountry, where he perished.

The Paroo River Region

The Paroo River is a network of waterholes, swamps and floodplains that flows, after the rains of summer, from near Quilpie in western Queensland, through to Wilcannia in western New South Wales.

“My work fairly commenced with the survey of Qulberry Creek; thence extending my measurements to the Paroo, I traversed it to its head. The wave of pastoral enterprise having set in upon Western Queensland, there was a large inflow of capital, principally from Victoria, for the taking up and stocking of a new country, which I was now surveying. The Upper Paroo had, however, been taken up by Mr Bullmore, so that being yet unoccupied, I had the experience of being the first to measure a long stretch of the wilderness that had not been trodden by man or beast. (Needless to say, Watson was not the first man to walk this area)

Paroo River from the air, Qld
Celebrate Rivers

After reaching the head of the Paroo I turned southward and passed through land that had been settled but abandoned and forfeited, which probably had been the means of saving many lives, from the fact that the stations had been formed upon the river with deep billabongs behind them, in places imagined to be above flood level. The flood of January 1874, which I had witnessed on the Langlos, had also proved a great eye-opener on the Paroo, where the water rose 6ft over the roofs of the abandoned stations; so that there would have been no escape for the inmates hemmed in by the billabongs. Upon the most elevated spots between the river and the billabongs, I could not reach the flood mark with a riding whip standing up in my stirrups.

Continuing my surveys southward I reached the Humeburn station a the junction of the Paroo River and the Beechel Creek. The station had recently passed into the hands of a Victorian investor who happened to reach the station just before the flood. Despite being built on high land the water made an unceremonious entrance into the homestead, compelling the proprietor, manager, stockman and cook to take refuge on the roof for three days.

I reached Humeburn in June 1874 after a protracted survey of the unoccupied country and appreciated the domesticity of pastoral occupation. The surrounding country, after its inundation was clothed with a luxuriant verdure and as the flood did no damage to the improvements the well-ordered arrangements had not been disturbed.

Beechel Creek being unsurveyed, I forthwith traversed it to its head and adjusted all the runs thereon. About twenty miles above Humeburn I came upon the station of Beechel, in the possession of Messrs Lyons and Playfair. Mr Lyons who accompanied me upon the survey of his country was from the colony of Victoria, a well educated young man about 30 years of age with a well informed and well-behaved mind. He had had some startling adventures with the blacks; on one occasion he was beset by a hostile and numerous tribe, but being well mounted he rode across the Warrego and reached Coongoola (Williams’s).

Passing out of the Turungllnnunbah Creek and plains I was gratified and surprised at the luxuriant pasturage and splendid country and the great future when water conservation should be availed of to nullify the occasional visitations of drought. Some few miles above the Beechel, a new station was being formed by Mr. Ridley Williams, one of the Coongoola family who was striking out for himself.

Completing the survey to the head of Beechel I returned to Beechel Station and after drawing plans for the work I resumed the survey of the Paroo River downward and I proceeded to mark out the backcountry.

I might observe here that I found there was a vast stretch of country, vacant Crown Land between the Paroo and the Bulloo. The ball was at my feet as there was nothing in the Pastoral Leases Act of 1863 to prohibit my acquiring a stretch of this country at the Crown rental and disposing of the same at a high premium, which was already being done by a class of speculators who were flourishing thereby. Upon full consideration, I would have nothing to do with it, as no man can serve two masters, and I had always had an antipathy to the land monopolist and had no ambition to join their ranks.”

Drovers Wives

“About seventeen miles below Claverton was the historic station of Coongoola, the first station on the Warrego formed by Messrs Williams and Sons as mentioned n Landsborough in the journal of his journey from the Gulf in 1863. Mr Williams, the senior, an old man-of-war’s-man, accompanied by five stalwart sons and three brave daughters, drove his cattle and horses into Queensland immediately after the discoveries of Burke and Wills, and, with sheer courage as well as indomitable perseverance, occupied the country whereon they prospered, surrounded by thousands of hostile savages, with whom they endeavoured to be friendly, but nearly forfeited their lives in consequence.

It happened on one occasion that the young Williamses, going out for a muster, never dreaming that their home would be in danger, had left only one man, together with a travellers; but as it happened to come on to rain they turned back, and on reaching the station were surprised to find it in a state of siege, surrounded by hundreds of blacks, creeping up through the grass, drawing their spears after them between their toes. The inmates of the dwelling, however, had barricaded it, and firing through the loopholes, kept their assailants at bay; but as their ammunition was nearly exhausted they would have been overcome and massacred had not the young men returned in the nick of time.

Each stockman, being armed with a revolver, and a good pouch of cartridges, the assailants precipitately raised the siege, and there was an exciting pursuit wherein the assailants obtained such practical experience of the prowess of their intended victims that it obviated any further attempt on their part to exterminate them. Shortly after this adventure the Williams family, finding themselves master of the situation, allowed the blacks to come into the station and make themselves useful. Upon one occasion they despatched a blackfellow on horseback to some outlying part of their run, but instead of performing his errand, he tied his horse up to a tree and went away hunting; whereupon the Williamses, having found the horse, interviewed him, and making him understand by the sun how long he had left the horse tied up, they tied the blackfellow to a tree for a similar period; whereby the nomads obtained a moral lesson upon the value of obedience, which was expected from them in return for food and clothes.

The Williams family, all working together, prospered through a succession of good seasons, during which their cattle increased. The sisters proved true heroines, accomplishing all their domestic responsibilities with such success that Coongoola obtained a reputation as being a stronghold of family devotedness. The Misses Williams were conspicuous in anticipating all their brothers requirements in the arduous working of stock, and the erection of stockyards and other improvements, whilst the brothers were most deservedly appreciated as excellent neighbours among whom brother pioneers found a ready welcome; and not a few deserving young adventurers had found such remunerative occupation among them as to obtain a good start to life. In those far off days – which may be called the good old times of the Warrego district – it was customary when an assistant had thrown his zeal into the development of the station to remember him a certain number of calves with a separate brand. These would depasture on the run, and in a few years accumulate at such a rate as to form a substantial inheritance in a few years.

About forty miles below Coongoola is the town of Cunnamulla, the nucleus whereof had been a public house, store, blacksmith’s shop, and watchhouses. To the pioneer outward bound as well as to the pastoralist of the Far West travelling upon a business to the metropolis it was ever a welcome rendezvous. South of Coongoola, down the Warrego, the dominions of James Tyson extended even over the border of New South Wales.”

source: George Chale Watson – Building the Commonwealth

The Drover’s Wife

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The archetypal Bushman celebrated by the Bulletin, and writers such as Lawson, Paterson, Miles Franklin, Joseph Furphy, and a host of others, was, of course male. Women are frequently absent, or at best are marginal figures, in ballads and stories of bush life which deal with the nomadic life of the swagmen looking for work, of drovers driving their cattle across hundreds or thousands of miles of sparsely settled country, of incidents which take place in the shearing shed, the pub or the bush camp. When they do appear, it is often in the role of the wife who is left behind while her husband goes off working, and it is this aspect of women’s lives in the bush which Lawson focuses on in his famous tale “The Drover’s Wife”.

While undertaking his surveys my great-grandfather, George Chale Watson met some of the indomitable women who pioneered outback Queensland. Mrs Bignell is just one of these.

“From Cunnamulla I proceeded further east and affected the survey of Noorama and Widgeegoara Creek where stations had been formed by Mr Edward Brown, the Messrs Howie and Mr John Bignell, the latter in Widgeegoara Creek. He was married to the eldest Miss Williams of Coongoola, one of the first white women who entered the Warrego District and certainly one of the bravest. Some years previous to 1874, when just married and residing on the Upper Bulloo at Tintinchilla station, of which her husband was the manager, upon one occasion a blackfellow stealthily crept into the dwelling and was in the act of tomahawking here when she flew out the opposite door, which fortunately happened to be open, and reached within sight of the stockyard, where Mr Bignell and his men were working. The pursuer, unable to catch her, ran off to roam about until the native police terminated his career.

Upon reaching Mr. Bignell’s station on the Widgeegoara I found Mrs Bignell upholding the traditions of pioneering, for she was living in an improvised shelter of a few sheets of corrugated iron. However, she found means, even in those primitive conditions to extend the traditional hospitality of Coongoola.

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The whole of the Widgeegoara and Noorama country was like a luxuriant wheat field, covered with Mitchell grass. The Widgeegoara and Noorama creeks are actually billabongs which run out of the Warrego on to an immense southern plain which runs along the boundary of Queensland and New South Wales, extending from the Condemine waters to Grey’s Range on the west of the Bulloo River. It is only in a very high flood like that of 1874 that the Warrego overflows into the Widgeegoara and Noorama so that until dams were made and wells sunk the waterholes would remain for years unfilled. A few hundred yards of the canal cut out of the Warrego into the head of the Widgeegoara billabong would obviate this serious drawback. In fact the billabongs which break away from the Warrego, Paroo and Bulloo might be utilised by the extension of canals to irrigate the immense Southern plain referred to.”

Source: G. C. Watson Building the Commonwealth