More than a century ago, when the town of Eulo was a thriving centre on the Western Queensland opal fields, one of Australia’s most interesting women set out to make her mark. She was a short but striking redhead, spoke English, French and German, wore tight-fitting dresses over a voluptuous body, and had a fully-stocked bar in her bedroom.
Isobel Robinson, or the Eulo Queen, as she became known, was soon a legend from Quilpie to Lightning Ridge. Reputed to own the world’s finest collection of opals, she was also one of country Queensland’s biggest hoteliers, and boasted thousands of admirers. Every night she would hold court over the bar of the Royal Mail Hotel, carrying on with her delighted customers. Behind the fashionable gowns and diamond earrings, however, was a shrewd business brain.
Right from the beginning, Isobel had attitude. She was a crack rifle and pistol shot, a brilliant billiards player and apparently a shrewd card cheat. She also liked men, marrying three times. Her first husband died only a few weeks after the wedding. The second was a station manager called William Robinson who invited her out to the Paroo, and they leased their first hotel together in around 1886.
By 1902, when William died, they owned five pubs, a store and a butcher’s shop, but trouble was on the way. The Licensing Commission decided that Isobel was not a fit person to hold a liquor licence. She countered this by bribing travellers camped along the river to act as proxies, but when they decided that this entitled them to free beer, the writing was on the wall.
Both the town of Eulo and its queen were in decline. Isobel enjoyed several “round the world” trips with rich squatters, then married again, to a man twenty-four years younger than her. The Eulo Queen’s bad luck with husbands continued. He was killed in action during World War One.
Alfred Bourke, writing in the Sydney Morning Herald in 1951, remembered meeting the Eulo Queen in his youth.
In 1921, I, a smooth-faced stripling, rode into Eulo with other drovers and met this still remarkable woman. Her ‘domain’ was then only a ramshackle store down by the banks of the Paroo. No trace of her beauty then remained, but her keen business instincts and feminine wiles were still much in evidence.
Isobel died in a mental home in 1929, leaving an estate worth just thirty pounds.
Story and Pictures by Greg Barron.
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