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

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.

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

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.