Category: Inspirational Australians

Jim Roxburgh and his Stand against Racism.

Jim Roxburgh and his Stand against Racism.

I was lucky enough to know one of the main players in this little story from Australia’s recent history. Everyone knew that one of our English teachers at high school had played rugby for the Wallabies. We’d also heard that he’d done something special. It wasn’t until later in life, however, that I found out more about what he had done.

Jim Roxburgh was a big, shaggy man, wide across the shoulders and heavily bearded. Years earlier, in the late sixties, when Jim was playing for Australia, South Africa was a divided country. A minority white government, led by the National Party, was determined to keep the black majority and white minority separate. Also segregated was a third group labelled as “coloured.” This was an ugly system with an ugly name: Apartheid. 

In 1969, Australia’s Wallabies toured South Africa. Young Jim Roxburgh wore the Australian jersey with pride. He played prop, a relative lightweight against the hulking 130 kg Springbok forwards, yet playing with the determination and bravery he was famous for. 

But things happened on that tour that would change him forever. Rugby audiences were generally all-white, but on this tour, in an attempt to display racial unity, black crowds were rounded up and forced to watch and cheer. In Pretoria, one of the flimsy, temporary stands that were used to hold them collapsed, and the Aussie players helped carry the maimed and injured to ambulances while many of the white South Africans merely watched. 

During one game, the black crowd started cheering for the Australian team in a show of protest against the system under which they lived. South African police responded quickly. They used dogs, batons and sjamboks—hippo hide whips—to subdue the crowd, battering them into silence, while the Aussie players watched helplessly from the field. 

I still remember the English lesson when Jim told us this story. We were a bunch of rowdy country boys, but you could have heard a pin drop while he talked, choking up then, well over a decade after the event, trying to tell us something important in that slow, careful way of his. He told us of something that should offend all humanity. Something that never should have happened. 

Two years later, in 1971, the Springboks crossed the Indian Ocean to tour Australia. Jim joined six of his team mates in a stand that will go down in history. Seven national Rugby Union players: Jim Roxburgh, Tony Abrahams, Jim Boyce, Paul Darveniza, Terry Forman, Barry McDonald and Bruce Taafe, refused to take the field for the Wallabies against the visitors. Rugby’s “Magnificent Seven” as they have been called, would not play the representatives of a regime that not only didn’t consider non-whites for selection in any sport, but treated their own people with brutality and contempt. 

Our Prime Minister at the time, Billy McMahon, condemned Jim and his comrades as a “disgrace to their country.” They suffered abuse and catcalls from die-hard fans. They were blacklisted from playing Rugby, and only one of the seven was ever selected to play for Australia again. Their careers were over. Yet they folded their arms and explained that they saw playing against the Springboks as tantamount to condoning the apartheid regime. The “Magnificent Seven” stood firm. 

As I said, Jim was an English teacher, and a good one. But the main thing he did for me was much deeper than grammar. He inspired me, especially as the years passed and I learned more about what he did and how powerful a symbol it was at the time: almost certainly helping the Australian government towards a decision to officially sever all sporting ties with the South African regime in 1972. 

Every boy needs a hero, and moral courage is the greatest of human attributes.  

Greg Barron

Greg’s latest novel, Whistler’s Bones, is available now from Stories of Oz Publishing. 

Carrie Creaghe

Carrie Creaghe

Emily “Carrie” Creaghe

Women in the Victorian era were often sheltered and protected; dominated by strict male figures and lacking experience in the real world. Yet, not all women were like that. There were female outlaws, ship’s captains, drovers, and even the odd well-bred adventurer like Carrie Creagh, probably the first European female to cross the Gulf of Carpentaria.

Emily Caroline Creaghe, usually known as Carrie, was born in 1860 on a boat in the Bay of Bengal, India. Her father was a major in the Royal Artillery, and her relatives included a Marquis and State Governors. Moving to Australia with her family at a young age, at 21 she married station manager Harry Creaghe, who was jealous of his friend Ernest Favenc’s explorations across Northern Australia.

“Feel like going on one of Ernest’s trips into the wilderness?” Harry asked her.

“When do we start?” she said, and preparations began.

Over six months in the saddle, in the wild upper Macarthur River area and beyond, Carrie learned to love the bush. A swag shared with her husband each night was her home. The two fell deeper in love over time, though Carrie clashed repeatedly with Favenc, who she called “Grumpy.” It was a harsh trip, with conditions that killed at least one of the white males on the trip. It also earned Carrie the tag of “Australia’s first white female explorer.”

Returning to outback Queensland, Carrie gave birth to her first two children, Gerald and Harry Junior. Sadly, however, her husband died in a tragic accident. Not a woman to sit around grieving, Carrie found and married a new man, Joseph Barnett.

In 1899 she was on her way to New Zealand with her children, now five in number. The ship, called the Perthshire, broke a propeller shaft and drifted the seas for seven weeks. With the ship’s supplies of food and water soon exhausted, Carrie kept her brood alive until they were finally rescued.

Carrie bred half a dozen strong and adventurous children. Two sons served in France in the first World War. Only one returned.

Carrie died, matriarch of a loving family, in 1944.


Written and Researched by Greg Barron. View the sources for this story here.

Whistler’s Bones by Greg Barron can be ordered from the following outlets.



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The Big Australian

When boundary rider Charles Rasp stumbled on an interesting hill in far western NSW, with a fractured body of ore running right through it, he wasn’t sure if he’d found something of value or not. He consulted his battered copy of ‘The Prospector’s Guide’ to be certain. Within a few weeks he and six others had formed a company called the Barrier Ranges Mining Association, and pegged out six claims.

The partnership included two dam-builders; David James and James Poole, station owner George McCullogh, head stockman George Urquhart, bookkeeper George Lind, and jackaroo Philip Charlie.

Rasp and the others thought they’d found a reasonable prospect for tin mining, but things didn’t go well at first. The ore samples they mined and sent away for analysis showed only traces of tin. Conditions were harsh and necessities like water difficult to obtain.

“At the start it was very bad,’ George Rasp later told the Melbourne Argus. ‘There was no accommodation, water and provisions were scarce and the weather was very trying … for 12 months it was really doubtful whether we would make anything out of it.’

Lind sold his share for next to nothing. James Poole SWAPPED his share with Sir Sidney Kidman, for TEN COWS. George Urquhart sold his share back to George Rasp for £20.

We can only imagine how much Lind, Urquhart and Poole regretted their rash disposal of the shares, for new reports from the ore samples came back from Adelaide with exciting news. Silver! Some of the richest ore ever seen. All of a sudden the partnership of seven was one of the most talked about companies in the country. It was time for a name change: The Broken Hill Proprietary Company floated on the stock exchange in 1885.

George Rasp’s hill would go on to be the richest find of silver, lead, and zinc in the history of the world. The share George Urquhart sold for £20 in 1884 was worth 1 000 000 pounds just six years later. In today’s terms a one seventh share of BHP Billiton would be worth a staggering twenty billion dollars.

As for George Rasp, he married a waitress, and moved to Adelaide. He didn’t have too much time to enjoy his wealth, as he died relatively young, at the age of sixty.

Still, few people have made such a contribution to the development of Australia as did George Rasp.

© 2018 Greg Barron


The Incredible Life of Nat Buchanan

When Irishman, Lieutenant Charles Henry Buchanan and his wife, Annie, emigrated to Australia and took up a New England station called Rimbanda, they had no idea that their son Nathaniel would one day become known as the greatest drover the world has ever seen. Nat grew from a cheerful and adventurous lad into a competent man, with an even temper, incredible organisational skills and an unerring sense of direction. Nat ‘Bluey’ Buchanan was a bushman par excellence with a passion for new horizons. He single-handedly opened up more country than some of our most famous explorers.

In 1861, for example, Nat and his business partner Edward Cornish were out exploring in Western Queensland. Having taken up land to create Bowen Downs Station, they decided to poke around much further to the west. Penetrating all the way to the Diamantina River they discovered the tracks of a camel train. The tracks were, it turned out, made by one of the most expensive expeditions in the history of white exploration: Burke and Wills on their way from the Cooper Creek Depot to the Gulf of Carpentaria. That Buchanan and Cornish came upon those famous men and their entourage, while ‘poking around’ out west, with just one tracker and some packhorses, is a good illustration of the difference between independent bushmen and government-sponsored explorers.

A few years earlier, Nat’s working life had started out with the taking up of a station north of Guyra called Bald Blair, in partnership with his brothers Andrew and Frank. The trio also embarked on an unsuccessful trip to the Californian goldfields. When they returned, Bald Blair was laden with debt and had to be sold.

Nat polished up his droving skills, taking herds of sheep or cattle to the goldfields and interstate, following this profession for at least a decade before heading for Queensland and the vast frontier. His first real foray into Western Queensland was from Rockhampton with William Landsborough in 1860. Within a year they had formed Bowen Downs station on the Thomson River, and Nat was installed as manager.

Nat met the attractive brunette Catherine Gordon when by chance he rode into her family’s campsite, on the Burnett River near Rockhampton. According to Bobbie Buchanan, Nat’s grand-daughter, Kate was ‘a natural horsewoman, and an accomplished rider. ’ She was also a stunning young woman, and Nat was captivated.

The young couple were married soon after, and Nat took his bride out to Bowen Downs in a buggy.
Married or not, Buchanan had no intention of living a settled life. After checking out much of Western Queensland he started exploring the Gulf country around Burketown, looking for suitable pastoral land for his business partners.

The strain of constant travel did tell on him, and Kate was by then pleading for some normality. In 1870 Nat and his brother Andrew took up a selection of land on Deep Creek, near Valla, NSW. This was still wild country then, frequented by cedar-getters and fugitives. The brothers and their families built bark and slab houses on the river bank, where they raised goats and chickens, planted a few acres of corn and cleared land for cattle. The plentiful fish in the creek varied the diet nicely.

Essential supplies were purchased via a fifty-mile ride to Kempsey, and mail was delivered into a letterbox nailed to a tree on Valla Beach, accessible by a long row downstream. Kate must have hoped that her man had grown roots, but Nat’s adventurous years were barely getting started.

Pining for open country, and sick of the humidity, Nat moved Kate and their sons Gordon and Wattie north again. He managed Craven Station for a while, then took on his first big droving contracts. He was the first European to cross the Barkly Tablelands in 1877, sparking an explosion of land speculation. Most lease contracts, moreover, stipulated that the run had be stocked within two years. The owners were crying out for cattle and men to drove them.
Now in his fifties, Nat led the largest cattle drive in history – 20 000 head from St George in Queensland to Glencoe in the Northern Territory. He made the record books again a few years later, delivering the first cattle to the East Kimberley. One of his most harrowing achievements was the blazing of the bleak Murranji Track, from near Daly Waters to Victoria River Downs.

Nat’s descendant and biographer, Bobbie Buchanan, described him as a ‘confident, strong-willed and uniquely self-sufficient man of great integrity. ’ His organisational skills were legendary, and his ability to keep tough men on track and working together no less impressive.

On a drive through the Gulf in 1878, Nat was forced to head back to Normanton for provisions. He was away for some weeks, and the man he left in charge, Charles Bridson, allowed some very insistent Aborigines who knew a few words of pidgin to talk their way into the camp. Bridson then rode off and left another man, Travers, alone in the camp.

Travers was making damper, dusted to the elbows in flour, when a steel hatchet that had been lying around the camp cleaved deep into the back of his skull. The event set off days of drama and revenge killings. Buchanan, on his return, was understandably incensed.

Nat’s next plan was to bring his family together on one of the largest cattle runs in history – Wave Hill Station – one of several leases Nat took up in partnership with his brother. Unfortunately the skills that made him a great drover and adventurer did not extend to management. Distance to markets and attacks on stock by the local Gurindji people were the two most important issues.

Nat, by the way, was known for a generally conciliatory approach to Aboriginal people, and was spoken of fondly by Indigenous workers in oral histories from the region. Cattle, fences and men were not welcomed by traditional owners – the Europeans were invaders after all – and conflict was a fact of the frontier. Buchanan, however, was never party to the ‘shoot on sight’ mentality of some frontiersmen.

In the 1920s Territory bushman, and chronicler Tom Cole came across an old Jingali man on Wave Hill Station, who the whites called Charcoal. Charcoal had worked on Wave Hill and in droving camps with Nat Buchanan as a boy and young man.

During an attack by wild blacks on the station, Charcoal used his rifle to shoot one attacker out of a tree. Bluey Buchanan, or Old Paraway, as his men called him, was furious, Charcoal had never seen him so angry. ‘You shot one of the poor bastards dead?’ Bluey roared. ‘Jesus Christ! You shouldn’t have done that!’
Even at the age of seventy Nat was out exploring again, searching for a stock route from the Barkly Tableland to Western Australia. His health was poor by then, and in 1899 he retired to a small property near Walcha, New South Wales, with his beloved and long-suffering Kate. He died two years later, and his gravestone stands in the Walcha cemetery, along with a plaque commemorating his life. Kate lived on until 1924, at which time she was buried beside her husband.

The most fitting epitaph for this great man is perhaps the words some of his contemporaries wrote about him. Charlie Gaunt wrote: ‘Buchanan had the gift of bushmanship and location. He was a fine, genial companion to have; you only had to look at Nat Buchanan to see in his physique, actions and general appearance a thorough typical bushman with the face showing dogged determination and strong will power; one who would stand by you until the bells of eternity rang. ’

Stockman Billy Linklater, in his memoir, Gather No Moss, wrote of Nat Buchanan: ‘His willpower was indomitable, yet he was mild-mannered and of a most kindly disposition. ’

Finally, in the words of singer/songwriter Ted Egan:

Nat Buchanan, old Bluey, old Paraway
What would you think if you came back today? It’s not as romantic as in your time, Old Nat, Not many drovers and we’re sad about that.
Fences and bitumen and road trains galore.
Oh they move cattle quicker, but one thing is sure Road trains go faster, but of drovers we sing
And everyone knows Nat Buchanan was King.

Written and Researched by Greg Barron, September 2020

This story is part of the revised story collection: Galloping Jones and Other True Stories from Australia’s History, available here:

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