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.

Local Inhabitants

m_bilby.jpgG. C. Watson noted, when he surveyed the Langlo that the country had been abandoned and that he found only two settlers – Pettiford and Bucknall. But clearly, the land was not really abandoned at all. Apart from the native aboriginal population it was home to a graceful little bandicoot called the Bilby.

(An extract from Tim Flannery’s excellent book, Australia’s Vanishing Mammals, RD Press, 1990)

This graceful bandicoot is quite variable in size and, depending on sex, habitat and age can weigh anything between 800 and 250 grams. It has a head and body length of 290-550 mm, with the tail adding an extra 200-290 mm.

The bilby has long, silky, blue-grey fur with white on the underside, although seasonal molts may change the coat length and the colour to a fawn-grey. Its ears are long, largely naked and rabbit-like, and it has an elongated muzzle, the last 20 mm of which are flesh-coloured and naked.

In some specimens there is a faint indication of bars across the thigh fur. The tail is first grey near its base, and then black, and ends in a sharply defined white tip. A horny spur protrudes beyond the hairs at the extreme tip and there is a crest on the upper surface of the tail. As the bilby moves with its cantering gait it often carries its tail like a stiff banner. When the animal is cantering the hind legs move together and the front legs alternatively. It usually has white feet and may have blackish tips on the claws.

The bilby has strong forelimbs and claws and it uses these to good advantage when digging for food and when burrowing. Although most bandicoots do not make burrows, bilbies dig burrows with a relatively steep spiral to a depth of up to 1.8 metres and length of three metres. The entrance is often next to a termite mound or some shrubs, and is left open. However, when it is at home, the bilby blocks the entrance with soil which extends for some distance into the burrow.

Bilbies are basically omnivorous. They eat insects and their larvae, seeds, bulbs, fruit, fungi and, in captivity, meat and small vertebrates.

Some burrows studied appear to be grouped, suggesting that the animals may live in colonies. However, investigations and reports from Aborigines show that pairs of animals and their latest offspring may inhabit each group of burrows. Home ranges may be temporary in location and shift in response to food availability. Bilbies studied in the Northern Territory were found to stay within 100 metres of their burrows, although they used and visited a number of burrows.

The sudden and widespread contraction of the bilby’s range may be attributed to the effects of rabbit and livestock grazing, foxes and cats and a change in the fire regime implemented by Aborigines.