The Never Never

9 12 2006

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.



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.”




6 responses

9 12 2006

such wonderful roots and poems seeds —
saddened a bit by the ‘wonderful’ things done
in the name of Christianity —
but your gre-grand obviously listened
to other voices as well — and what he surveyed
was just not of the land.

The Duuran

9 12 2006

It’s a dream of mine to see the min min lights one day- but the flies and mosquitoes was what astounded us when we first came from the netherlands to this brown and dusty land!

10 12 2006

It sounds so wondrous…. The Never Never, the Outback… to have been a naturalist in those days. Fantastic!

10 12 2006

I love the photograph and the sense of past in the writing. However I do agree with Duran (and further) with regard to what has and is still being done in the name of religion.

10 12 2006
Heather Blakey

These surveys and the development of Western Queensland were not propelled by religion but I agree that the worst of crimes have been done, continue to be done, in the name of religion. The impact of missionaries on the indigenous population continues to reverberate today.

My great grandfather not only surveyed the geographic surroundings but witnessed a gulf between the indigeneous population and those white pastouralists who settled in these areas. He leaves the reader in no doubt that the pastouralists and local police acted in an appalling way and that the rights of the indigenous were not only ignored but they were systematically murdered by the inhumane Eurpopean settlers.

I suggest if you want an account of what happened you watch a series like “Women of the Sun” which is an utter indictment of the events of those years.

10 12 2006
Heather Blakey

I should add that I am transcribing from actual documents that my great grandfather wrote, recalling his career in Queensland as a member of the Land’s Department.

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