James “Jimmy” Darcy

Fred Burnett
Fred Tuckett, the Halls Creek Postmaster (Photo courtesy National Library of Australia)

The year was 1917, and it had been a long day in the saddle for Walter and Thomas Darcy. They drew first turn at the night watch, keeping the cattle contained on the river flats, while the rest of the crew slept.

A rider came in from Wyndham with terrible news. Walter and Thomas’s brother Jimmy, also a stockman, had fallen from his horse on Ruby Plains Station and had been taken to Hall’s Creek on a cart with severe internal injuries. 

The brothers wasted no time in going to Jimmy’s aid. Making sure the cattle were in safe hands they mounted fresh horses and rode for 140 miles before stopping at Turkey Creek for remounts. By the time they reached Hall’s Creek they had covered 250 miles without rest. The last 110 miles they smashed in just 15 hours. 

Finally, arriving at Hall’s Creek, they found that, with no hospital in the town, Jimmy was in the care of the Postmaster, Fred Tuckett. After a visit with their brother the boys were troubled. Jimmy’s lower abdomen was swollen and red, and he was barely conscious. There was no doctor for a thousand miles and the situation seemed hopeless. 

‘He looks like he’s dying Mister,’ they pleaded with the postmaster, ‘you have to save him …’ 

‘I’ve sent a telegram to Perth. They’ll send someone on the steamer.’ 

The brothers groaned. ‘That’ll be weeks. Jimmy could die by then. He needs surgery.’ 

Another telegram was sent to Perth. This time to a man who had instructed Fred in first aid a few years earlier. Was it possible that a surgeon in Perth could help with the patient via telegram? This novel idea bore fruit, and a back-and-forth diagnosis of a ruptured bladder, complicated by infection, was made. The pressure had to be released, and only Fred could do the job! 

While the brothers waited anxiously outside, the postmaster made an incision with a razor blade, then painstakingly stitched the wound back up, with a drain in place. The rudimentary operation helped at first, but over the following days there was little improvement. The Perth surgeon decided, via telegram, that a major operation was needed. 

By this time major newspapers across the country were reporting the story, and Dr Holland was making his way up the vast Western Australian coast by boat, still much too far away for the operation to wait. 

Again Mr Tuckett sterilised his razor, and with the wires running hot, completed a difficult operation that was basically successful. Australians all across the country, welcoming the respite from war news, breathed a sigh of relief. 

It would have been nice if Jimmy made a full recovery, but unfortunately his condition was complicated by the malaria he had been suffering from for months. Again he deteriorated until his life hung by a thread. 

Yet Dr Holland had by then arrived in Derby, and a team of experienced bushmen were standing by with a Model T Ford to carry him to Halls Creek. 

model t
The Model T Ford that carried Dr Holland (Photo courtesy National Library of Australia)

Walter and Thomas Darcy urged their desperately ill brother to hold on, that help was on the way. But the wild Kimberley landscape was not kind to motor vehicles. The Model T limped closer, plagued by engine trouble and flat tyres. 

Jimmy Darcy died the day before Dr Holland arrived. His grieving brothers laid him to rest in the Hall’s Creek cemetery. 

The events of those weeks affected Holland so deeply that he became a founding member of the Royal Flying Doctor Service, which would go on to save thousands of lives, many with similar injuries to Jimmy Darcy. 

Written and researched by Greg Barron. Sources here.

Whistler’s Bones by Greg Barron, the story of Charlie Gaunt, is out now. You can find out more about it here,  purchase a paperback copy here, or buy the ebook version here.

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