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The JC

The JC

In the late 1860s pastoralist and adventurer John Costello rode west from his holdings on Kyabra Creek, exploring the Channel Country out to the Diamantina. One night he camped beside a small creek, where he stripped back the bark of a bauhinia tree and carved his initials, JC.

That tree became a popular stopping place for travellers, and when an enterprising hotelier built a mud-brick pub on the site, he called it the JC Hotel. The government surveyor was sent in to lay out a town, but he refused to call the new town JC because it wasn’t proper. He named the place Canterbury instead, but to locals the name never changed.

In the mid-1880s the pub was being run by two men in partnership: Manners and Dalton. Not only did they spruce the place up, but apparently Mrs Dalton was a popular figure behind the bar. A visitor in 1885 reported that nearly thirty men sat down to eat breakfast at the hotel.

The owner of nearby Waverney Station, a man by the name of Gibbs, built a store next to the pub. It was apparently “fully stocked with all the requirements of a country store.” A post office was opened in 1891, and ran for a couple of years before being downgraded to a receiving office.

In 1893 the pub was being run by George and Elizabeth Geiger. Their son, also named George, was not quite two and a half, playing in the yard when he wandered off. One story goes that he had a pet lamb, and when it was taken by a dingo, he followed.

Every available adult, including some capable trackers, were enlisted to find young George, but the flock of goats kept by the family had obliterated his tracks, and the mulga scrub made it hard to see more than a few yards. They found him in the end, much too late, and the dingos had finished him off. His grave still stands in the small cemetery there.

The pub was the venue for regular dances, and an annual race meeting. Most importantly it gave travellers a friendly place to stop between Windorah and Bedourie. The beer flowed for another half century before the manager of Waverney bought it for a pittance and shut it down. He was sick of his stockmen spending their free time there and riding home drunk.

Story, research and photographs by Greg Barron.
More Australian history stories in the book available from:
ozbookstore.com/item/gallopingjones

The Capture of the Kenniff Brothers

The Capture of the Kenniff Brothers

Kenniff2 (1)_edited

It was April the 2nd 1902 when Queensland policeman, Constable Doyle, closed in on Patrick and James Kenniff at a rugged mountain hideout called Lethbridge’s Pocket. With the manager of Carnarvon Station, Albert Dahlke, and a tracker called Sam Johnson for company, Doyle stealthily approached the camp.

Wanted for horse stealing, Jim and Patrick had been in trouble with the law before, and both had served time. Born and raised in New South Wales, they moved to Queensland one step ahead of the bailiffs. Then, from a base in the Upper Warrego area they raced horses, ran illegal books, and stole livestock at night. When police arranged for the lease on their land to be terminated, the brothers became outlaws, and rarely rode unarmed.

Dahlke and Constable Doyle got lucky at first. Patrick managed to slip away, but they chased Jim on horseback and rode him down. When tracker Sam Johnson was sent back to fetch handcuffs he heard five gunshots. Patrick had returned for his brother, with deadly result.

Sam was forced to ride for his life, but he returned later with a man called Burke. In two pack bags they found the charred remains of Dahlke and Doyle.

A huge manhunt followed, but the two brothers stayed on the loose for more than two months before they were tracked to a ridge just south of Mitchell called Bottle Tree Hill (pictured above). Four policemen; Constables Tasker, Scanlan, Meston and Cramb surrounded the camp, and waited until sunrise when they were able to surprise the sleeping men. Patrick and Jim both fled on foot.

Patrick had no time to locate a weapon, and was easily ridden down by Constable Cramb. Jim fled with both loaded rifles, but was captured on the road back towards Mitchell, near what is now called Arrest Creek.

The brothers were placed on trial on Brisbane, and found guilty of wilful murder. Public sympathy, however, was on the side of the Kenniff brothers, in part because of a groundswell of anti-establishment feeling at the time. Jim’s sentence was commuted to life imprisonment, but Patrick was promised an appointment with the gallows.

Four thousand people marched outside Brisbane’s Boggo Road Gaol to protest the execution, but the government held firm. Patrick had his neck broken by the rope on the 12th of January, 1903, still protesting his innocence.

Below are the words to one of several ballads in circulation at the time. They are believed to have greatly boosted public sympathy for Patrick and his brother, who served only twelve years of his life sentence.

THE EXECUTION OF PADDY KENNIFF
by John Creevey 1867-1912

With head erect he left his cell, he needed no man’s aid,
He walked upon the scaffold, and this is what he said:
“My name is Patrick Kenniff, I am condemned to die,
As witness of my innocence I call my God on high.
To my few friends I bid farewell, the last farewell I’ll say,
My time has come and soon I’ll be a lifeless lump of clay.
I wish to thank the warders, who have treated me so well,
And the Rev. Father O’Riley, who saved my soul from hell.”
Then forward came the noble priest, and shook poor Paddy’s hand,
“Paradise is yours,” he said, “when you quit this sinful land.”
The good priest then began to pray, he prayed ’till all was o’er,
The lever wrenched the scaffold sprung, poor Paddy was no more;
He may have died an innocent man, ’tis very hard to say,
There were other men in Killman’s Gap, upon that fatal day;
Then let’s not judge lest we be judged, by him who judges all,
And never despise your fellow man, if he should chance to fall.

 

Story researched and written by Greg Barron. Photo by Greg Barron.

Galloping Jones and other True Stories from Australia’s History now available at ozbookstore.com
Click here to view Sources used in this article

The McGree Brothers of Taylors Arm

The McGree Brothers of Taylors Arm

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John, Michael and Patrick McGree were raised on their parents’ farm on the Mid-north coast of NSW. All three answered the call to arms in 1915. The ANZAC battalions were forming up, and the brothers were determined to have their chance at glory.

Their mother, Bridget Sullivan, had married Irishman James McGree in St Augustine’s Church, Longford, Tasmania in 1874. The young couple moved north and took up a selection on Hickey’s Creek near Kempsey. Life was tough, but like most good Catholics they welcomed children, bringing twelve boys and girls into the world over a twenty-five-year period.

Patrick, the oldest of the three McGree boys who served, was a born adventurer. He headed off to New Zealand at an early age, living in Waiapo and Gisborne. He kept in touch with his Australian family via mail and occasional visits.

In 1914, when war broke out, Patrick was 31 years old, yet he signed on with the Wellington Infantry, New Zealand Expeditionary Force. Michael crossed the Tasman Sea to join his brother, but was waylaid by an unscheduled love affair. He married his Kiwi girl, Nellie, just before heading off for intensive training in Egypt.

John, still at home on the farm outside Taylors Arm, was 22 when he joined up in 1915. He was a small, wiry man, weighing just 58 kg, and of average height. In fact, none of the McGree boys were tall, but were all as tough as nails, with brilliant blue eyes and Irish charm. The doctor examining Michael for his enlistment described him as having a “grand constitution.”

Patrick and Michael, though assigned to different units, both took their place amongst the bloody heroes of the ANZAC landings at Gallipoli. Both survived the early days of suicide charges on the well-entrenched Turks, but natural attrition took its toll. Patrick was killed on August 8, 1915, in the defence of a hill called Chunuk Bair.

Michael was wounded in the last days of the Gallipoli campaign, and was evacuated to the Fulham Military Hospital in England. His recuperation was slow, and he endured hospitalisation for almost six months before being returned to his unit, judged as fit to serve in the hellish trenches of France.

On the 28th of July 1916 that “tough little bastard” John McGree was one of thousands sent in human waves against the German trenches at the Battle of the River Somme. He was shot in the chest and back. He was still alive when he reached the field hospital, but died within twenty-four-hours. He was buried at the nearby Warloy-Baillon Military Cemetery.

James and Bridget received the usual telegram from Base Records in Melbourne informing them of John’s death: a message just fourteen words long. Losing one son was hard enough. The loss of a second must have been hard to bear.

Bridget penned a desperate letter back to Base Records.

Dear Sir

Please could you give me any information about the death of my son Pte John A McGree No. 3888, who died of wounds in France …  I would like to know the name of the hospital where he died, also if he was seriously wounded or what caused his death. What were his last words and where is he buried? Please send reply as soon as possible

B. McGree,

Taylor’s Arm, via Macksville

Five months passed before she received any additional information: a kind letter informing her of the nature of John’s wounds and the name of the hospital and cemetery. John’s personal effects also arrived in the mail: one religious medallion, three handkerchiefs, two brushes, a cap comforter, one photograph and a notebook.

By July 1918, the surviving brother, Michael McGree, was a veteran of three years of the most terrible warfare mankind had ever known. On the morning of July 18, 1918, just months before the end of the war, his company were ordered to attack a fortified German trench at Gommecourt Wood, France. Running into a hail of lead, Michael was killed in action, just a few kilometres away from the site of his brother John’s death, two years earlier.

Their father, James McGree died at the age of 86, in 1928. Bridget lived on until she was 87, a highly respected local pioneer, and a matriarch of the Laverty, Brock, and McGree families. She died in 1940 and was buried in Macksville cemetery.

The strength she must have had to shoulder the grief of three lost sons is a testament to the spirit of not just the Anzacs, but their families.

 

Written and Researched by Greg Barron

Get the book, ‘Galloping Jones and Other True Stories from Australia’s History’ at ozbookstore.com
Click here to view the sources for this story.

Nat Buchanan

Nat Buchanan

Portrait of Nathaniel Buchanan

 

The greatest drover the world has ever known was an unassuming Irish-born Australian 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 Buchanan 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.

Nat’s family originally settled in New England, New South Wales, south of Armidale, but after an abortive trip to the Californian goldfields with his brothers, he headed for Queensland and the vast frontier. His first real foray into the wilderness 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 near Rockhampton. 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 around Burketown, looking for suitable pastoral country for his partners in Bowen Downs. By 1867 he had struck out on his own again, heading south for a year or two on a Bellingen River (NSW) selection. Catherine must have thought he’d grown roots, but his adventurous years were barely getting started.

Moving Catherine and their son Gordon north again, he managed Craven Station for a while, then took on his first big droving contracts. He was the first white man 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.

Charlie Gaunt, (the subject of my new book, Whistler’s Bones) later wrote that Nat Buchanan had four characteristics that made him great: bushmanship, organisation, observation, and initiative. Yet it was his sense of direction that impressed Charlie and his contemporaries the most.

Charlie relates a story from when he and Nat travelled from Eva Downs Station to Powell Creek in the Northern Territory.

On the open downs with not a tree or bush in sight we got off our horses to have a short spell and a smoke. It was between Bundara and Monmona Creeks. After a smoke we got on our horses and resumed our journey. After a time I discovered I had left my knife (a splendid cattle knife) when we got off for a spell. I mentioned it to Nat. “That will be alright,” he said, “We’ll get it on our return journey.” I thought to myself “A forlorn hope.”

On our return trip back to! Eva Downs, although we did not follow our tracks, and just rode aimlessly along, when we reached the spot, Buchanan pulled up his horse and pointing to the ground said, “There is your knife.”

Charlie never forgot it.

Nat’s great grandson, 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.

Nat Buchanan’s rules on cattle drives were inviolate:

1)   Travel at speed. This was a technique he referred to as, “giving the cattle the gooseberry,” or just “the old gooseberry.”

2)   No alcohol in camp. In 1883 when he took over a drive to the Kimberley for W.H. Osmand and JA Panton, his first act was to tip out the demijohns of rum he found hidden in the drays. He was a teetotaller himself, and knew well the effect of grog in cattle camps.

3)   Never let wild Aborigines into a camp, male or female.

4)   No man should be left in camp alone.

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, relaxed these last two rules. Some very insistent Aborigines who knew a few words of pidgin talked their way into the camp. This error was compounded when Bridson 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 plan now was to bring the 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 major problems.

Nat, by the way, was known for a generally conciliatory approach to Aboriginal people, and was spoken of fondly by Aboriginal workers in oral histories from the region. Cattle, fences and men were not welcomed by traditional owners, and conflict was a fact of the frontier, but Buchanan was never party to the “shoot on sight” mentality of some frontiersman.

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 Catherine. He died two years later and his gravestone still stands in the Walcha cemetery, along with a plaque commemorating his life.


Written and Researched by Greg Barron.

This post appears in the book ‘Galloping Jones and Other True Stories from Australia’s History’ by Greg Barron. You can get it at all good bookshops or at http://ozbookstore.com/item/gallopingjones
Click here to view the sources for this story.

The Town on the Flood Plain

The Town on the Flood Plain

Gundagia

Gundagai Flood 1900: National Library of Australia

 

Australia’s worst flood drowned one third of the population of Gundagai in 1852. The town was originally built on low-lying areas around a natural river crossing and Morley’s Creek. The inhabitants were used to being cut off by floodwaters, taking refuge in their lofts when the water rose.

Yet on June 24 1852, the rain kept falling and the river kept rising. By late that night, two metres of water had inundated or swept away many of the houses and huge floating trees were pummelling what was left.

When the sun rose the next day, eighty-nine people were dead, and dozens more were left clinging to trees and rooftops. Rowboats were useless in the swift water.

Yarri, Long Jimmy and Jacky Jacky, local Aboriginal men who had been warning Gundagai residents for years that their town would be washed away, launched their bark canoes in a desperate rescue attempt. Over the next two days, with the river now one mile across where the town used to be, at least forty, perhaps sixty more people were saved by the efforts of these Indigenous boatmen. Long Jimmy died from exposure after his efforts on the flooded river. Yarri and Jacky Jacky were rewarded with bronze medallions.

The town was eventually rebuilt on higher ground, but it still suffers from the occasional inundation, with water entering the main street in 2012, thankfully without loss of life.

 

Written and Researched by Greg Barron.

Get the book, ‘Galloping Jones and Other True Stories from Australia’s History’ at http://ozbookstore.com/item/gallopingjones
Click here to view the sources for this story.

The Capture of the Kenniff Brothers

The Capture of the Kenniff Brothers

Kenniff2 (1)_edited

It was April the 2nd 1902 when Queensland policeman, Constable Doyle, closed in on Patrick and James Kenniff at a rugged mountain hideout called Lethbridge’s Pocket. With the manager of Carnarvon Station, Albert Dahlke, and a tracker called Sam Johnson for company, Doyle stealthily approached the camp.

Wanted for horse stealing, Jim and Patrick had been in trouble with the law before, and both had served time. Born and raised in New South Wales, they moved to Queensland one step ahead of the bailiffs. Then, from a base in the Upper Warrego area they raced horses, ran illegal books, and stole livestock at night. When police arranged for the lease on their land to be terminated, the brothers became outlaws, and rarely rode unarmed.

Dahlke and Constable Doyle got lucky at first. Patrick managed to slip away, but they chased Jim on horseback and rode him down. When tracker Sam Johnson was sent back to fetch handcuffs he heard five gunshots. Patrick had returned for his brother, with deadly result.

Sam was forced to ride for his life, but he returned later with a man called Burke. In two pack bags they found the charred remains of Dahlke and Doyle.

A huge manhunt followed, but the two brothers stayed on the loose for more than two months before they were tracked to a ridge just south of Mitchell called Bottle Tree Hill (pictured above). Four policemen; Constables Tasker, Scanlan, Meston and Cramb surrounded the camp, and waited until sunrise when they were able to surprise the sleeping men. Patrick and Jim both fled on foot.

Patrick had no time to locate a weapon, and was easily ridden down by Constable Cramb. Jim fled with both loaded rifles, but was captured on the road back towards Mitchell, near what is now called Arrest Creek.

The brothers were placed on trial on Brisbane, and found guilty of wilful murder. Public sympathy, however, was on the side of the Kenniff brothers, in part because of a groundswell of anti-establishment feeling at the time. Jim’s sentence was commuted to life imprisonment, but Patrick was promised an appointment with the gallows.

Four thousand people marched outside Brisbane’s Boggo Road Gaol to protest the execution, but the government held firm. Patrick had his neck broken by the rope on the 12th of January, 1903, still protesting his innocence.

Below are the words to one of several ballads in circulation at the time. They are believed to have greatly boosted public sympathy for Patrick and his brother, who served only twelve years of his life sentence.

THE EXECUTION OF PADDY KENNIFF
by John Creevey 1867-1912

With head erect he left his cell, he needed no man’s aid,
He walked upon the scaffold, and this is what he said:
“My name is Patrick Kenniff, I am condemned to die,
As witness of my innocence I call my God on high.
To my few friends I bid farewell, the last farewell I’ll say,
My time has come and soon I’ll be a lifeless lump of clay.
I wish to thank the warders, who have treated me so well,
And the Rev. Father O’Riley, who saved my soul from hell.”
Then forward came the noble priest, and shook poor Paddy’s hand,
“Paradise is yours,” he said, “when you quit this sinful land.”
The good priest then began to pray, he prayed ’till all was o’er,
The lever wrenched the scaffold sprung, poor Paddy was no more;
He may have died an innocent man, ’tis very hard to say,
There were other men in Killman’s Gap, upon that fatal day;
Then let’s not judge lest we be judged, by him who judges all,
And never despise your fellow man, if he should chance to fall.

 

Story researched and written by Greg Barron. Photo by Greg Barron.

Galloping Jones and other True Stories from Australia’s History now available at ozbookstore.com
Click here to view Sources used in this article

The Man with a Mission

The Man with a Mission

Australian Inland Mission Southern Patrol car with Reverend John Flynn leaning against the back tray

The year was 1882, and the sheets were wet with blood and sweat as the young woman fought to deliver her third child. The baby was born sickly and weak. Even worse, the midwife could not stop the new mother from bleeding. It was soon obvious that she was dying.

A two-year-old boy was brought into the room, so his dying mother could see him one last time. He must have been deeply affected, although seemingly too young to understand. Who could have guessed that one day this child’s achievements would see his image gracing Australia’s $20 note!

The boy’s schoolteacher father was unable to cope after the loss of his wife, and the boy was sent to be raised by his aunt in Sydney until he was five. At that age he returned to his father in Snake Gully, near Ballarat.

“Good to have you home John,” said his father, ruffling his hair. “Us Flynns have to stick together.”

After leaving school, John followed in his father’s footsteps, enrolling as a pupil-teacher, but also studying theology through the Presbyterian Church. His first appointment as a pastor was to Dunesk Mission in the Northern Flinders Ranges, and his affinity for the bush led to the Church commissioning him to visit the Northern Territory and assess the needs of the people who lived there.

The result of that report was that Flynn was given responsibility for the newly formed Australian Inland Mission. He organised “patrols” of ministers on horseback, based in Oodnadatta, Port Hedland, Broome and Cloncurry. He set up nursing hostels in Port Hedland, Hall’s Creek, Maranboy (near Katherine) and Alice Springs.

John was desperate to help solve the “tyranny of distance.” A badly injured drover at Wave Hill, for example, faced a journey that might stretch to weeks to reach medical help in Katherine, by which time they were often dead or suffering from gangrene.

Two relatively new inventions were rattling around the back of John’s mind. One was the aeroplane, and the other was the two-way radio. After a long testing phase, and years of gathering support from various state governments and the church itself, the Australian Aerial Medical Service was born.

Busy to the point of obsession, John also found time for the good things in life. He was a passionate photographer, and though he had no time for romance in his early years, he married his secretary, Jean Baird, at the age of fifty-one.

The effect of the Flying Doctor on inland Australia can’t be overestimated. Thousands of lives have been saved, many of them the children of remote families. Even today, the Royal Flying Doctor Service operates sixty-eight aircraft, and assists a quarter of a million people each year through clinics, telehealth services, and emergency visits.

John Flynn died of cancer, in 1951. Speaking at the funeral his former senior padre, Kingsley Partridge, said, “Across the lonely places of the land he planted kindness, and from the hearts of those who call those places home, he gathered love.” Not a bad epitaph for a man who saw his mother die in childbirth and pursued a dream, believing that medical help could reach every Australian, no matter where they lived.

Researched and written by Greg Barron.

Click here to view the sources for the story.

Learn more about Galloping Jones and other True Stories from Australia’s History by Greg Barron.

Charles Fisher – Cattle King

Charles Fisher – Cattle King

Glencoe SLSA
Glencoe Station Homestead (Photo: State Library of South Australia)

Most Australians know the names of our biggest cattle kings, Sidney Kidman and John Cox. Charles Brown Fisher was in the same league, building an empire of land, men, cattle and sheep when things were much tougher.

Charles was born in 1818, in London. Feeling restricted by city life, as a young man he moved to Northamptonshire to work on his uncle’s farm, loving country life. When his parents and eight siblings decided to emigrate to Australia, the young Charles couldn’t get on the ship quick enough.

Settling with the family in Adelaide, Charles and his three brothers joined their father as stock agents and carriers, but that was never going to be enough for Charles. He was soon running sheep and cattle along the Little Para River, then stocked a large tract from what is now Parafield Airport to the meatworks at Gepps Cross.

After taking control of a swathe of properties, in 1856 the Fisher Brothers partnership sheared 115 000 sheep, and sent an unknown number of cattle to the slaughterhouse.

Charles’s mother, Elizabeth, died in 1857, and just two years later his brothers George and Hurtle were transporting three racehorses on a coastal steamer, Admella, when it struck rocks off Port Macdonnell. Hurtle and George paddled together in the water, clinging to debris, waiting for a rescue ship that came too late. George slipped beneath the cold waters while his brother watched helplessly on.

By then Charles was living mainly in St Kilda, Melbourne. He was a regular at Flemington Racecourse, his own horses winning regularly on the track. Around this time he wooed and married Agnes Louisa Peckham. They had just one child, also named Charles.

Meanwhile, Fisher was forging one of Australia’s biggest land empires.

He soon owned huge tracts of land across South Australia and Victoria, including some of the country’s most valuable racehorse studs. He had leases on sixteen Queensland Stations, and with new partner JC Lyon pressed on into the Northern Territory. Glencoe Station was the Territory’s first big cattle run, and Charles engaged the best in the business, Nat Buchanan, to drove 1200 cattle across from Aramac in Queensland. Later Nat would, on Charles’s orders, undertake the biggest cattle drive in world history, 20 000 head from St George in Southern Queensland to Glencoe. (NB: Charlie Gaunt was also on that drive)

Fisher’s ambition had no limits, and together with Lyon he obtained a lease on a huge area of land that became Victoria River Downs, at various times the biggest cattle station in the world. This was the jewel in the crown of Fisher’s holdings, then covering more than 40 000 square kilometres.

At the peak of his expansion Charles Fisher controlled more country than most European kings.

In the 1890s the empire fell apart. With beef sales in decline and general recession, the complicated financial structure Charles had built began to unravel. By 1895 he was declared bankrupt, though he was able to retain a residence and enough income to live on.

Charles’s beloved Agnes died aged 60, in November 1906. Charles lived on for another 18 months, passing away in his home on Albert Terrace, Glenelg. His grave still stands at the West Terrace Cemetery, Adelaide.


Written and researched by Greg Barron (Sources available here)

Greg Barron’s first book of true Australian stories, Galloping Jones and Other True Stories from Australia’s History, is available in all good bookstores and online from ozbookstore.com

 

Tom Kilfoyle

Tom Kilfoyle

Tom Kilfoyle
Tom Kilfoyle (Photo: Durack Homestead Museum)

Tom Kilfoyle, a cousin of the pioneering Durack family, was Charlie Gaunt’s boss for much of the 1883-6 overland drive from the Channel Country in Queensland to Rosewood Station in the Kimberleys. Tom was born in County Clare, Ireland in 1842 but became a highly skilled bushman. Interestingly, he later married Catherine Byrne, a close relative of Joe Byrne from Ned Kelly’s gang.

Charlie Gaunt described Tom Kilfoyle as:

“a splendid bushman, stockman and of strict integrity: almost puritanically so; bluff, quick of temper but with the heart and simplicity of a child.”

Tom died in Port Darwin in 1908, leaving behind Catherine and his son Jack, who successfully ran Rosewood Station, becoming an important figure in Western Australian pastoral history.


Written and researched by Greg Barron

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.

Charlie Flannigan and the Auvergne Station Murder

Charlie Flannigan and the Auvergne Station Murder

Flannigan
Sketch by Charlie Flannigan (Photo courtesy South Australian Museum)

 

September 1892. The game was cribbage for a stick of tobacco each hand. Four men whiling away a long night by the light of a slush lamp on Auvergne Station, near the NT/WA border. Even today, Auvergne is an isolated and dramatic locale; rugged mountains cut through by the Bullo, Baines and Victoria Rivers.

Among the men playing cards in a lean-to behind the kitchen that night was Sam Croker, the acting manager. Croker was an experienced stockman, having arrived in the Territory droving a mob of breeders from Queensland to Wave Hill Station for Nat Buchanan. A stockman called McPhee and a Chinese cook, Joe Ah Wah, were also at the table.

Another man playing cards that day was an Aboriginal stockman called Charlie Flannigan, also called McManus. Charlie had been raised by his white father in the Richmond Downs area in Queensland, and had also learned his trade with Nat Buchanan. He had arrived at Auvergne one week earlier, with just a horse, saddle, perhaps a few of the sketches of bush life he loved to draw, and a rifle.

Before the game started Joe Ah Wah told Flannigan that he didn’t feel like a game that night.

‘Best you play now,’ said Flannigan bluntly. ‘For you can’t play cards when you are dead.’ Joe agreed to play a couple of hands, and when they cut the cards to choose partners, Ah Wah and Flannigan teamed up.

Some reports of what followed cited an argument over the card game, but Joe Ah Wah’s testimony did not mention it. According to Joe, part way through the evening, Flannigan took a drink of water from a cask, then went out to the shed in which the men slept, a crude structure of poles with branches piled over the top. He came back carrying his rifle.

Taking up position at a tree near the lean-to, Flannigan raised the rifle to his shoulder and aimed it at Croker. The men at the table were oblivious to what was about to happen.

This, it has to be said, was not the first or last time violence had boiled over at Auvergne. The station had a chequered history in those days. As Charlie Gaunt later wrote:

In recording sketches of the olden days I cannot pass Auvergne Station on the Baines River, where more tragedies have been enacted than any station in the North.

I was stock-keeping on that station when Jack Skene was managing it. The manager before Skene, Hardy by name, was speared to death at the old station, down the Baines on the opposite side of the river from where the present station now stands. For years after you could see the stone spear head sticking inches in the door post where it passed through Hardy as he rushed through the door for his rifle.

But men weren’t the only hazards on Auvergne, according to Charlie.

Alligators … came up through the garden, tearing up pumpkin vines and into the beef house, once taking a quarter of beef off a hook.

Charlie went on to list a litany of tragedies, including more spearings, fatal riding accidents and murder. Most bloody of all was the day Charlie Flannigan took aim at his boss part way through a game of cards.

Flannigan fired once, and Croker slid to the floor, mortally struck in the chest.  According to the eyewitness report of Barney, a black stockman who was in the shed at the time, Croker called out ‘I am dead,’ after being shot the first time.

Flannigan walked up and finished Croker off with a second round to the head.

Joe ah Wah ran off into the bush, while McPhee helped Charlie wrap his victim in a blanket. Thirty-six tense hours with Flannigan in control of the station followed. Fearing reprisal he searched for and confiscated any firearms. He also forced the others to help bury Croker’s body.

So how did a normally inoffensive stockman come to commit murder? He was a good worker, generally popular, and loved to draw pictures.

Gordon Buchanan, who worked with Flannigan on cattle drives as well as on Wave Hill Station, described him as “… a fair horseman and stockman, and an expert in the drafting yards and branding pen. Illiterate, but fairly well spoken, he seldom swore.”

The key might be in something Flannigan said to Joe just after the shooting. “I have let him run long enough, six months now.”

Also, the next day, viewing the bloody, blanket wrapped body, Flannigan appeared to address the dead man directly.  “Well, old fellow, I’ve had the pleasure of sewing you up instead of you sewing me up”‘

So if this killing was just a disagreement over a card game, why did Flannigan later tell Joe Ah Wah that he had waited six months to kill Croker. Was this the result of a long-running vendetta? On the other hand, if there was an open grudge between the two men, why would Croker have allowed Flannigan onto the station. Let alone given him a job. The answer, it seems, is lost to history.

In any case, within two days of the murder, Flannigan extorted a cheque for his “wages” from McPhee and rode hard for the Western Australian border.

Flannigan2
Sketch by Charlie Flannigan (Photo courtesy South Australian Museum)

Friends at Ord River Station, however, convinced Charlie to give himself up in Hall’s Creek. Burdened by manacles that weighed close to ten kilograms, he was taken on horseback to Wyndham, then on the steamer, Rob Roy, to Palmerston.

In prison, Charlie had the time and the materials to pursue his love of drawing. He sketched sad images of the bush, the things he had seen. Even though he was illiterate, Flannigan copied words and letters, and some of his pictures seem to spell out words. He drew stockmen and steamers, homesteads and bush scenes. The full collection of these sketches is now held by the South Australian museum.

A newspaper article described how white man’s justice was served on Flannigan, the first man to be hanged in the Northern Territory

The execution of Charlie Flanagan … took place at the Fannie Bay Labour Prison at 9 o’clock to-day. Since his conviction the prisoner had maintained a cool demeanour throughout. His chief expressed desire was that he should not show the white feather. Although admitting the crime for which he was sentenced, he showed no contrition or desire to avoid the death penalty. He slept well last night, and breakfasted and smoked this morning, and mounted the scaffold alone. The whole arrangements for the execution were carried through successfully, and death was instantaneous.


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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