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.

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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

droverswife.jpg

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

Abandoned Mangalore

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Setting out from Charleville and proceeding down the river in the year 1874, the traveller at a distance of forty miles reached Dillalah, then under the management of Mr. Frederick Walter. Being upon the main road, and no accommodation near it, proved a rendezvous, where, amongst other travellers, the squatter and the drover preponderated. Opposite to Dillalah stood the abandoned station of Managalore, where much capital had been expended in buildings and yards, and it was then in the market for disposal.

The growth of Mitchell grass illustrates the tangible value of the Warrego River country whilst the mulga ridges which comprise the backcountry are grassed with what is known as the Mulga grass, beside which rich herbage abounds so that the Warrego district is not inaccurately described as the garden of Queensland. In any case, it is one of the most valuable sections.

About seven miles below Dillalah was the station of Murweh, where a few years previously the owner was murdered by a notorious blackfellow named Dillalah Jommy, who pushed his head first into the waterhole, which had very steep banks, as he was drawing a bucket of water. Jommy had his hands stained with several murders, and, only a few weeks before my entrance on the Warrego had waylaid a boy riding his pony on the outskirts of Cunnamulla, exercising a diabolical cunning by breaking his skull so that it would appear he had been kicked in the head by his horse after being thrown.

The next station down the Warrego was Claverton, formed by Messrs Bigge, of Mount Brisbane, and Geary. A large amount of capital was invested in the formation of the station which carried both sheep and cattle. The reputation which this station held in the district for hospitality was indeed well merited.

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.

The Never Never

Never Never Land is a real place. My great grandfather, George Chale Watson, spent seven years surveying the Never Never.

The name was first recorded, in the late 19th century, describing the uninhabited regions of Australia – then called just ‘The Never-Never’. The more remote outback regions of the Northern Territory and Queensland are still known by that name. This is as much a state of mind and a folk-memory that recalls the pre-settlement outback life with fondness as it is a precise geographical location.

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By hut, homestead and shearing shed,
By railroad, coach and track-
By lonely graves where rest the dead,
Up-Country and Out-Back:
To where beneath the clustered stars
The dreamy plains expand-
My home lies wide a thousand miles
In Never-Never Land.
It lies beyond the farming belt,
Wide wastes of scrub and plain,
A blazing desert in the drought,
A lake-land after rain;
To the skyline sweeps the waving grass,
Or whirls the scorching sand-
A phantom land, a mystic realm!
The Never-Never Land.
Where lone Mount Desolation lies
Mounts Dreadful and Despair-
‘Tis lost beneath the rainless skies
In hopeless deserts there;
It spreads nor-west by No-Man’s Land
Where clouds are seldom seen
To where the cattle stations lie
Three hundred miles between.
The drovers of the Great Stock Routes
The strange Gulf country Know
Where, travelling from the southern droughts,
The big lean bullocks go;
And camped by night where plains lie wide,
Like some old ocean’s bed,
The watchmen in the starlight ride
Round fifteen hundred head.
Lest in the city I forget
True mateship after all,
My water-bag and billy yet
Are hanging on the wall;
And I, to save my soul again,
Would tramp to sunsets grand
With sad-eyed mates across the plain
In Never-Never Land.
by Henry Lawson

“Soon after the weather moderated we took our departure from Bucknall’s Station and crossed over to Middle Creek, the country held by a stalwart pioneer, Mr A.E. Bullmore, whose head station, Oakwood, was on the Ward River. Mr Bullmore accompanied me during my survey of Middle Creek whereon he had an out cattle station, a sign of civilisation that was welcome, for since leaving Bucknall’s we had only seen the out sheep stations near the head of Middle Creek. In those days fifty, sixty, and seventy miles intervened between the outposts of civilisation – if such it could be called – where a solitary shepherd or stockman endure their periods of isolation in a round of existence that can hardly be called life.

In the approach of the rainy seasons in those parts the experiences of the traveller and residents are very unwelcome as regards flies, sandflies, and mosquitoes that the only successful remedy found being that of smoke of cowdung. The flies will eat the eyes out of a horse’s head and when a dish of mutton chops are placed on the table the chops become invisible through the swarms of flies thereon: so that the unwary bushman, who fails to protect his eyes with a veil finds himself suffering from bung blight which often times develops into sandy blight and severe ophthalmic diseases. Sand bites will run horses fifty miles off a station and scatter them all over the country.

On one night our camp was overwhelmingly beset with mosquitoes, which bit through blankets and every other coverage except our boots. The country not being stocked there was no cow dung mosquito fuel available, and the atmosphere being calm the mosquitoes were the masters of the situation. At breakfast next morning I reminded my assistants that if John Wesley were present he would suggest that before eating those who had indulged in profanity at the mosquitoes should wash their mouths, in which one of them unhesitatingly replied, “I would like to have seen John Wesley encamped here last night without cow dung.”

Settlement in the Western districts in the year I commenced my surveys being so far apart the country was very wild: immense camps of blackfellows roamed at large; they had committed and were still committing some foul murders of unprotected settlers and travellers so that as a precaution our survey party was necessarily well armed. I expended about fifteen pounds in revolvers, guns and ammunitions, which, happily we never had the occasion to use. The sight of our weapons displayed on our saddles had the deterrent effect desired. Nevertheless the blackfellows had his rights; as we had taken their country without any commensurate recompense and our lawless whites had wreaked violence and outrage upon them, in some cases with wholesale iniquity. Not infrequently, when mobs of blacks were driven in by the dry weather to fall back upon their tribal waterholes for sustenance in fishing the pastoral occupants of the country would tell the police that the blacks were assembling for violence. The native police, who delighted in taking life would disperse them with unmitigated violence.”