A Model Station 1874

27 12 2006



Shearing the Rams by Tom Roberts
Born England 1856, Arrived Australia 1869, Died 1931

“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.


The Black Swan who graced these waters.

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 nad 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 back country some four kilometres in diametre; 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 cannalisation 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 back country 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.


An Historic Bough Shed

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 preceeding my survey they had built a splendid mansion, with lofty rooms and als a detatched, composite building for store, dormitories, harness sheds etc.


The Drover’s Wife

17 12 2006



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 life 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 effected 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.”

Source: G. C. Watson Building the Commonwealth

The Thunder Box – Oz Icon

15 12 2006



The Thunder Box
by Heather Blakey

The night was dark and dreary
The dunny (toilet) light was dim
I heard a yell
I heard a scream
By God she’s fallen in.


The earliest written reference to the disposal of human waste is more than 3600 years old and is found in The Holy Bible. “And you shall have an implement among your equipment, and when you sit down outside, you shall dig with it and cover your refuse…”(Deuteronomy 23:12-13). For hundreds of thousands of years before the bible was written, human beings simply squatted when they had the urge to relieve themselves.

When I was growing up in the country in Australia we did not have a flush toilet. Our toilet was in a small wooden building behind the garage, overgrown with passionfruit. Mum planted the passionfruit by the dunny because the passionfruit need plenty of fertiliser and moisture to keep growing strongly, and dunnies usually were pretty rich in both of those. Our dunny was painted a cacky yellow colour and had a corrugated iron tank nearby.

Visiting the dunny at night was a daunting affair. A chamber of horrors awaited as I stepped along the shadow filled path. The long fingered shadows reached out, threatening to grip me by the throat. The owl in the tree hooted. I was always hunched over, in a state of terror as I sped into the toilet and shut the door behind me.

Spiders gathered in the corners and I lived in fear that one would drop in to my lap or I would lift the lid to find a red-back lying in wait. In these days of backyard dunnies 80% of red-back victims were men using the toilet, which explains the popularity of Slim Newton’s song ‘Red-back on the Toilet Seat’.

But I digress! In the early hours of one dark and gloomy morning I had carefully negotiated the path, had managed to elude the fingered shadows, established that there were no red-backs and I was sitting quietly, not thinking about anything much. All was still. Even the cows that usually managed to cough nearby were silent and the chooks were all asleep in the nearby chook shed.

Imagine my shock when a deep voice said ‘scuse me Missus’. I leapt off the seat and pulled up my pants. As I looked around to see who was talking I could see a light shining below the seat. The night man had come early and was changing over the night can.

I screamed and ran into the house, waking everyone with my indignace.