Burketown

Rosevale is beautiful. The old one-teacher school (now closed) and the even older principal’s residence are set on top of a hill, surrounded by trees, with a view over dairy farms to Cunningham’s Gap. We lived in that house for the two years that Con was Principal of the school, but after that I wanted a change.

“Let’s apply for a transfer to somewhere up north. It would be exciting and adventurous. Not the Gulf of Carpentaria, though! I don’t want to go there. It’s probably hot, dry, flat and miserable in the Gulf Country.”

Burketown, a small, isolated town in the heart of the Gulf Country, was where they sent us. It was hot, dry and flat. But it was rarely miserable. Just different.

These days, there are conveniences in Burketown that were unimaginable when we were there: mains power, street lights, treated water, sewerage, a swimming pool complex, a coffee shop, even a green and shady caravan park.

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Burketown Caravan Park today. From its Facebook page

For us, shade would be a luxury.

We moved to Burketown in January 1973, with our two small children. The car and our pets went on the train with us from Brisbane to Mt Isa: the dog in the dog box in the Guards Van, cats in the luggage van in pet packs and our HR Holden on a flat-car.

From Townsville to Mt Isa there were no sleeping berths available, so we curled up on a couple of seats at one end of the Buffet Car, with people coming and going all night.

On the train we met a pink-cheeked Irish family, just arrived in Australia and travelling to work at Mount Isa Mines. Arriving next day, we all stepped out of the train into what seemed like an oven. I sometimes think of that Irish family and wonder how they coped.

A couple of days later, we flew to Burketown with Bush Pilots Airways in a twenty-seater Twin Otter. It was a mail run, stopping at Mornington Island and a couple of cattle stations, swooping over the station landing fields to chase horses away before setting down.

At Mornington Island more passengers boarded, a couple of them sitting cross-legged in the aisle. One woman was wearing a broad felt hat with a tape measure as a hatband. I was in southeast Queensland no longer.

At the tiny Burketown airport, the shire clerk met us, and he drove us into town. We left our suitcases in the principal’s house, a neat, new highset house of the style used all over the State for Queensland Government employees. Next door was the recently-built school.

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Burketown State School, with the Principal’s house in the background, 1974

Awaiting the arrival by road of our furniture, we checked in at the pub.

The Burketown pub, known as the Albert Hotel, was in those days a square concrete two-storey building. It had been built originally as Customs House for the then-thriving port on nearby Albert River. The sleeping areas were accessed via an outdoor staircase. We were warned that when the bar closed, the generator, which thumped away all day in the neighbouring shed, would be switched off, and there would be no lights until morning.

There is no quiet like that of a tiny town in the middle of nowhere when the generators stop.

Stars never seem brighter than on a clear night in a town with no streetlights.

There is no heat like that of a tropical night in the middle of summer without fans.

The publican also warned us that there would be no breakfast, as his wife, the cook, was away in Cairns. Next morning in the hotel kitchen I cooked bacon and eggs for us all.

In our three years in Burketown, we got to know the Albert Hotel well, along with its eccentric regulars, animal and human.

A sulphur-crested cockatoo named Whacko sat on top of the doorway into the bar, chewing the heads off matches.

Fishermen and locals spun endless yarns, not only to the new schoolteachers, but also to visiting politicians and media.

A film crew asked a group of locals playing euchre how long they’d been playing. “A couple of weeks,” came the laconic reply.

Once we found a large fresh-water crocodile tied to a post outside the door, like a dog waiting for its owner.

On our second evening in Burketown, when the bar was full and card games in progress, our furniture van arrived and pulled up in front of the pub. The card players offered to help with the unloading.

South-east Queensland had suffered a heatwave over Christmas of 1972 and into the New Year. Con and I had been busy during those hot weeks before leaving the south. Driving round Brisbane with little kids in the back seat, trying to buy a kerosene fridge and a thirty-two volt washing machine, had taken precedence over sorting our belongings. In the end, we’d instructed the removalists to pack everything; and so the blokes from the Burketown pub, in their footie shorts, singlets and thongs, carried electric heaters and winter coats into a house without electricity in the middle of a Gulf Country summer.

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Burketown general store, 1975. So hot inside, condensed milk would caramelise in the can

In our time, there was a hospital, general store, shire offices, fuel depot, school and hotel and not much more in Burketown, and barely a tree or blade of grass; but it was a friendly and welcoming place. The locals told us what sounded like tall stories, but I learned to believe the lot. Crazy things happened here all the time.

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Con and our children in Burketown

We never regretted the move to the Gulf, in spite of insect plagues, the trials of operating the thirty-two-volt generator, kerosene fridge and petrol iron, the scarcity of fresh fruit and vegetables, the rough dirt roads, the isolation. Sometimes it was lonely, though. I would stand on the verandah, looking north to where the Gulf lay, out of sight beyond endless desolate salt flats and mangroves, and feel sorry for Burke and Wills, who got this far and then turned back, to die of starvation.

It can feel like the end of the world, up in the Gulf Country.

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Looking north from the Principal’s house, 1974
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Black Soil

Flat land, straight road. I’m driving from Roma to Dalby on the Warrego Highway, following the railway line through tiny towns with enormous grain silos. The road has an uneven surface. It’s difficult to keep a road surface level in this landscape of soft, deep black soils, especially as road trains come this way. In drought times, as it is now, trucks haul hay to the dry farms to the west, and they haul cattle east to sale yards or agistment.

There are no passing lanes. I choose a good spot, take a deep breath and bowl past a truck hauling two trailers of cattle. East of Roma, that’s the limit: two trailers, up to 36.5 metres total.

West of Roma, road trains can have three or even four trailers and be up to 53.5 metres long. Passing them on a dual carriage road takes nerve for a city driver like me, although local utes and SUVs fly past them.

Road train drivers may be direct descendants of the drivers of horse and bullock teams that did the haulage a hundred years ago, on the gravel roads and dirt tracks of the time. George Lambert’s 1899 three-metre-long painting, the heroic Across the Black Soil Plains, is one of the treasures of the Art Gallery of New South Wales. The painting depicts a horse team straining to haul a load of wool bales across New South Wales plains country much like the country I’m driving through today. This ground is muddy, though. The horses and the teamster’s legs are muddy, and the load is leaning dangerously. The scene defines hard, frustrating labour.

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Across the Black Soil Plains, George Lambert. 1899. Art Gallery of New South Wales

After rain, this fine, black soil becomes notoriously sticky.

Con and I found out just how treacherous it can get when we visited a homestead in black soil country near Barcaldine. We drove there in our Falcon: a great car for long journeys on bitumen, but not so good in mud.

While we were having a cup of tea there was a shower of rain. We said our goodbyes and started to drive back to the gate, five hundred metres away. The Falcon went its own way on the slimy black soil and slid off the edge into the muddy paddock. A station hand in a Toyota ute tried to tow us out, but the car was too heavy. They hitched another Toyota to the first one, and both of them strained, exhaust fumes gushing.

Slowly, the car slithered its way down the muddy track behind the straining utes. They towed us across the road, facing back towards town. The Falcon had black mud up to the windows. The driveway into the station looked like a ploughed field – they would need a grader to fix it. There was nothing Con and I could say or do except apologise and head back, shamefaced, to town.

It took us hours to get the mud off the car – out of the wheel nuts and tyres, off the panels, the number plate, grill and headlights, the floor, even the seatbelts. Months later we were still finding pockets of black soil under the seats.

Here on the Warrego Highway, shiny-leafed brigalow scrub lines the road on both sides. Every so often a patch of prickly pear cactus provides a reminder of the heart-breaking scourge of these farm lands in the late 1800s and early last century. Prickly pear from the Americas was introduced in the 1800s, and soon it was choking the land. There were forests of prickly pear, and by 1920, 23 million hectares of land was affected.

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Prickly pear, Dulacca, 1910. State Library of Queensland: Picture Queensland

Con is looking at the map to pass the time while I drive.

“Wallumbilla, Yuleba, Dulacca, Miles: all these tiny towns. And Baking Board: that’s appropriate. Not a hill in sight. The only landmarks are the grain silos. But according to the map, believe it or not, the Great Dividing Range is just north of here.”

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This country is not flat, although it looks that way from the road. It is gently rolling downs country, rich agricultural land producing cattle, fodder crops and wheat.

East of Chinchilla, at the tiny township of Boonarga, we pass the Cactoblastis Memorial Hall. In 1925, as the result of government-sponsored research, three thousand cactoblastis moth eggs were imported from South America and distributed around the Chinchilla area. The larvae killed the prickly pear. Those larvae were local heroes. This is the only hall I know that was dedicated to a bug.

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Cactoblastis Memorial Hall, Boonarga

On the outskirts of Dalby, a road turns left to Jandowae. I lived in Jandowae, on the Northern Darling Downs, when I was a teenager. It was small and friendly, cold in winter and blazing hot in summer: a complete change from where my family had lived until then, in Nambour and Brisbane. We all loved it.

“I got my driver’s licence in Jandowae,” I tell Con. “It was easy – there was hardly any traffic, and lots of space, and the policeman who tested me was a family friend. There’s no hill for thirty kilometres, so I didn’t have to demonstrate a hill start. That was lucky, because I wasn’t good at hill starts. Nowhere to practise.”

Soft, deep, fertile black and brown soils make up a large part of Queensland’s geology. If you’re driving along a country highway and notice that the power poles and fence posts are slightly crooked, leaning at strange angles, you’re driving through black soil country.

It’s fine country for grazing and for cultivation. A great deal of Australia’s food comes from black soil country; and under the plains lie the priceless, ancient water reserves of the Great Artesian Basin.

Unfortunately, there are also huge reserves of coal and gas underneath this country. The Galilee Basin is said to be one of the largest untapped coal reserves on the planet, and nine huge mines are planned for the region.

I hope they know what they’re doing. It seems a terrible shame to risk ruining fine land and priceless water with gas wells and open-cut coal mining. You can’t grow food in a mine pit.

Horror Stretch

Murder.

Travellers shot in their cars or sleeping bags.

Frightening reports in the papers.

In the 1960s and 1970s, Central Queensland place names Funnel Creek, Lotus Creek and Connors River held a weight of menace. Across that decade, several travellers were murdered by strangers when pulled up alongside the Bruce Highway between Marlborough and Sarina. The Marlborough Stretch became known as the Horror Stretch.

In his 2002 book “Seven Versions of an Australian Badland”, historian Ross Gibson writes in detail about those random murders and the other violent acts that occurred in this region over the previous century.

He writes, “This stretch of country is an immense, historical crime scene.”

Gibson also describes its cyclones and floods; and it was because of floods that Con and I once found ourselves stranded here with our children.

In the early January of 1974, on our way north to Cairns, we drove the Horror Stretch, as we had done before; but this year was different. This year was very wet indeed. Later that month, Australia Day weekend, record floods would inundate Brisbane.

From our home in Burketown, we had driven down to Brisbane for Christmas – 2200 kilometres of bitumen and gravel, with two young children and no car air-conditioning. But we were young, and we were used to it.

In those days, the Burketown water supply was untreated. We had a rainwater tank for drinking, but our bath water came from a lagoon where the local kids swam. It is not surprising that when, over Christmas, I began to feel ill, a doctor diagnosed hepatitis A.

There was nowhere for us in Brisbane, with me suffering from an infectious disease.

“I could have you taken into custody,” said the doctor. “If you don’t undertake to keep yourself away from people, that’s what I’ll do!”

We had a holiday apartment waiting for us in Cairns, and so we set out on the three-day journey north, in spite of warnings of flood rains along the way.

We crossed Lotus Creek on our second day on the road, 120 kilometres north of Marlborough and driving through rain, dipping down on to the narrow, single-lane bridge, with swirling, brown waters close beneath its decking, then up past the roadhouse on the north bank.

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Lotus Creek Service Station after Cyclone Debbie, March 2017. Rockhampton Morning Bulletin

Twenty kilometres further on we crossed the Connors River, with even higher water; but when we reached Funnel Creek, we were stopped. Water was racing over the bridge and halfway up the flood marker.

“We’re going back,” called out one of the other travellers pulled up at the flooded bridge. “Connors River is coming up. If it goes over the bridge there, we’ll be stranded.”

Worried, we turned back too, crossed Connors River safely and spent that night in the car, parked beside the road, just south of the river. The rain poured down, so we had to close the windows, except for a crack. It was hot, and there were mosquitoes.

We locked the car doors and tried not to think of how many people had been murdered along this road. Fourteen months later, skydiving couple Noel and Sophie Weckert would be shot by strangers here at Connors River.

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Back row, 4th from left – skydiver Noel Weckert. South Australian Skydivers

Next morning, we drove further south, hoping to get back to Marlborough; but now the water was over the bridge at Lotus Creek. We were marooned.

There were a dozen carloads of people caught there, congregated at the Lotus Creek Roadhouse. The manager let us have an old caravan out the back for that night. It was broken-down and dusty, with grimy mattresses and no bedding, but it was more comfortable than the car. And it felt safer.

There wasn’t much food at the roadhouse, but we had our own supplies – including the only bread available for breakfast next morning. We shared it with other travellers, but the manager charged us for toasting it.

After breakfast, we drove north again and joined the queue waiting at the Connors River for the water to go down. It was a long, hot wait. People shared stories about floods, snakes and breakdowns. Some dozed in their cars. Our small children squatted in the gutter beside the car, playing with a toy truck.

The water was still over the bridge when cars began to cross. We took our turn, with a towel draped across the grill to minimize the wet coming in over the engine. As we drove up the slope on the other side, I bailed water out the window with an icecream container.

We did stupid things as young parents.

Having made it through to Cairns, a couple of weeks later we flew back to Burketown. The day Brisbane flooded, we were flying over the Gulf Country, across a sea of floodwater, the winding Carpentaria rivers marked only by the tops of trees along their banks. Our final leg home from the airstrip was in a tinnie.

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Gulf Country under floods

The highway doesn’t follow the Horror Stretch now – it takes a shorter, more easterly route past Saint Lawrence, and it’s a wide, well-made road and a pleasant, high-speed drive, with pasture and bush land, spectacular ranges in the background and station homesteads out of sight up dirt tracks and behind gates and grids. In a good season, tall grass stands golden along the road edges, bright against the blue mountain ranges.

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Many still remember the murders of the Horror Stretch, though; and there have been even more frightening outback murders in the fifty-odd years since. There’s horror in the idea of a madman emerging from the dark lonely bush to murder a stranger.

That said, more travellers have died when driving voluntarily through floodwaters. Crossing flooded Connors River with young children in the car is the memory that gives me nightmares.

Australian Stories

 

Most of us Australians left sacred sites on the other side of the world – the River Jordan, the Ganges, the Thames. Our ancestors who came from overseas brought the stories with them, but many of us still hold a yearning for the places. Ancient stories, the myths that bind us to the earth, are always attached to places.

Indigenous Australians who know their sacred places and the stories that go with them have a feeling of deep belonging that might elude the rest of us, no matter how much dust in our hair or dirt under our fingernails, or how many generations of our ancestors have lived here.

The mythology of Australia that we, as a nation, have taken most to our hearts is based on stories of foreign places: Gallipoli, and the battlefields of France and Belgium. In Canberra last week, I went to see the sixty-two thousand knitted red poppies that are flowing across the lawns surrounding the Australian War Memorial. It’s a beautiful sight, just like the poppy-strewn fields of France. The poppies stand for the Australians who died.

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At the Australian War Memorial

This striking display is there to commemorate 11 November 2018, the one hundredth anniversary of Armistice Day.

No one who fought in the First World War is alive now, and few who fought in the Second World War. My father was a prisoner of war in Changi and on the Burma Railway, and after he came home, he always attended the ANZAC Day Service at the Nambour Cenotaph. For him it was personal. He remembered the faces of the men who’d died and suffered around him.

The War Memorial at Kranji War Cemetery in Singapore overlooks the countryside Dad and his battered company fought across, in 1942, in the last days before the surrender. That story is not often told.

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The memorial in Kranji War Cemetery, Singapore

Now, for Australians, the iconic story of Australians in World War Two is the story of Papua New Guinea’s Kokoda Track.

In Australian culture, these foreign places – Gallipoli, the battlefields of France and Belgium, the Kokoda Track – symbolize all our deaths in war. The people who served in these places have become a source of inspiration – the embodiment of courage, toughness, sacrifice, and a dry and cheeky humour that we regard as our own.

These foreign places have become our own iconic places. Huge numbers of Australians make pilgrimages overseas to visit them; and at home, every town has its local equivalent: a war memorial. Here the ceremonies take place year after year, with symbols and rituals, music and costume, and the re-telling of uplifting stories.

For veterans and their families, war memorials and ANZAC Day commemorations are personal, not matters of mythology; and on most war memorials there are lists of names. In the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, there are more than one hundred thousand names on the bronze panels of the Roll of Honour, all of them people who have died as the result of war service.

The Western Queensland town of Roma has trees for memorials. Wide-trunked, beautiful bottle trees line the streets. By 1920, ninety-three had been planted to commemorate ninety-three local men who died in the First World War. Each tree had a plaque with the name of a soldier, date of his death, and the words “Lest we forget”. Most of the trees still stand, giving Roma’s streetscapes a unique dignity and charm.

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Memorial bottle tree in Roma

The War Memorial in Barcaldine is restrained and elegant – a granite and marble clock tower, standing in the middle of an intersection. It has four clock faces, each surrounded by a marble wreath, and the names of the two hundred and ninety-two locals who went away to fight in World War One. My grandfather’s name is among them. He was one of the lucky ones; thirty-eight died overseas.

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War Memorial in Barcaldine

 

My father’s name is one of the many on the National Freedom Wall in Mount Coot-tha Botanical Gardens, and on the Ex-prisoners of War Memorial in Ballarat.

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Looking out from the National Freedom Wall, Mt Coot-tha Botanical Gardens

I remember Dad’s few stories of the war, mainly funny ones. I also remember when, in his seventies and suffering from Parkinsons Disease, barely able to articulate anymore, he suddenly spoke clearly. He said, “It’s hard to burn bodies with wet wood.”

His mind had gone back to the days on the Railway, when cholera struck the camps and men who helped burn infected bodies in the morning could themselves be dead and burned by evening.

Stories. I remember them when I see his name on these memorial walls.

We can’t spread our thoughts over all of the suffering of Australians in time of war. Instead, we focus on the battles of World War One. When we take part in the events of ANZAC Day and Armistice Day, when we stand before eternal flames and war memorials, they symbolize the pain of all the wars. The stories and the familiar rituals bring us together, not to go shopping, or to eat or drink or surf, but to think about something bigger than the individual, something that encourages higher aspirations.

We should never let this degenerate into flag-waving, patriotic theatre, the glorification of war, or divisive, bitter discourse. We shouldn’t let politics or the marketplace intrude. They intrude almost everywhere else.

We should also acknowledge the wars on our own soil – the Frontier Wars that happened here in Australia from 1788 onwards, as Indigenous people fought for their land and lifestyle, and suffered the heart-breaking loss and destruction of their own ancient, sacred places.

My favourite memorial stands among trees, looking out over the sea, in a sandy park in Cardwell, Far North Queensland. It’s the memorial to the Battle of the Coral Sea, which happened right off this coast. This was a crucial sea and air battle of 1942, fought with bombs and long-range guns. People living in the North listened in awe to the rumble of artillery far out at sea.

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The Memorial to the Battle of the Coral Sea, Cardwell FNQ

This battle was fought in defence of our own place, our own stories. And not a poppy in sight.

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“It’s the Freedom!”

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Two powerful rigs at the Marlborough Roadhouse, Central Queensland

All the cupboard doors flew open on the way north. When we stopped for lunch, cans of baked beans were rolling around on the floor among plastic plates and cups and packets of biscuits. On the way home, the door fell off on to the road.

This was my first and only experience of caravanning. I was seven. It was a rented plywood van pulled by the family Vanguard, from Nambour to Yeppoon. The grey Vanguard: what an ugly car that was.

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Caravan holiday with Vanguard

We never went caravanning again. From then on, it was Dad’s old army tent, from Melbourne to Cairns, out west to Barcaldine and beyond. I remember nothing but pleasure on those economical tent holidays. I was hitched on road trips, but not on caravans; unlike so many other grey-haired people today.

One winter, Con and I took a trip to western Queensland and spent a night at Nardoo Station campground, north of Cunnamulla. At Happy Hour, twenty or so grey nomads sat chatting, drinks in hand, resting their feet on the warm stones of the fire pit. All of them were on long trips with caravans or motor homes.

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After Happy Hour – the fire pit at Nardoo Station

I spoke to people from all over the eastern states that evening, from the Adelaide Hills to the suburbs of Sydney.  When I asked them why they made these extended journeys each winter, they all said the same thing. “It’s the freedom.”

Freedom from family obligations, from work, from lawn mowing. It’s a fine thing to leave it all behind, liberated from routine and drudgery, and stimulated by new sights and sounds, friends and stories; perhaps feeling really alive for the first time in years.

Then Happy Hour was over, and everyone disappeared back into their campers and vans to watch television.

In the United States, retirees who migrate south for the winter are called snowbirds. Seniors from cold states leave home before the first snow of winter and travel to Florida or Arizona, to Palm Springs or Sun City. Thousands drive their recreational vehicles to the same RV resort each year. The parks advertise themselves as “Snowbird Friendly” and they attract so many large campers and caravans the shining roofs turn the countryside white.

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Snowbirds at Quartzsite, Arizona Photo from San Diego Reader

In Australia, the move is from south to north, from May to October. Thousands of units of all shapes, sizes and capabilities head up the main roads, many of them travelling on or over the speed limit, others cruising along with semi-trailers and work vehicles packing up behind them, waiting for a passing lane.

Caravans are fancier these days – friends of mine bought one recently and had to take it back straight away because the wine cooler wasn’t working – but not everyone wants a huge, luxury caravan. There are different cultures amongst grey nomads, and different values. Younger retirees call themselves adventure travellers, and tow sturdy off-road camper trailers. They tackle the Birdsville Track and Tanami Desert, and scorn cheesey camper slogans: “Adventure before Dementia”, or “Spending the Kids’ Inheritance”.

I met one such couple who had camped at the basic, unpowered campgrounds of Karijini National Park in Western Australia’s Pilbara, a most beautiful place.

Back on the coast at Karratha, they’d told other travellers about Karijini.

“It’s wonderful!” they said to a woman in a neighbouring van. “Are you going there?”

“No,” she said. “We don’t have the battery capacity.”

“Can’t you run the lights off the car battery?”

“Yes, but not the TV. I can’t miss ‘Home and Away’.”

Each year, travelling retirees bring millions of dollars to country town economies; but they are careful with their money. The most they spend in any one town may be a few dollars for groceries, a meal at the RSL Club, and fuel. Like backpackers, they watch every dollar.

There’s a story, true or not, of a couple of men going into the bar of a country hotel. They order schooners of beer. To their astonishment, the publican charges them only ten cents a glass. They drink their beers and order another round, and the same thing happens.

The publican explains. “I won Gold Lotto, and I decided I’d buy this pub and charge everyone just ten cents a beer.”

“What a great idea!” says one of the visitors. “But tell me, those blokes sitting at the end of the bar, they haven’t ordered a drink the whole time we’ve been here. Why is that?”

“They’re grey nomads,” said the publican. “They’re waiting for the half-price drinks at Happy Hour.”

The Immigrant Rose

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“I spent my wedding night there,” I tell my cousin Nadine as we drive past the Horse and Jockey Motor Inn.

“Really? Is there a plaque?”

We’re in Warwick, where our great-great-great-grandfather, Frederick Margetts, was for thirty-two years the medical officer at Warwick Hospital, as well as running his own practice.

We’ve learned quite a lot about Doctor Margetts. He was often involved in dramatic events that were reported in detail in the Warwick papers.

One day in 1878 he was called to attend a horrible accident: a five-year-old girl playing near a vat of hot tar had been scalded. He went at once, but there was nothing to be done – the little girl died before he got there.

The doctor attended many tragic accidents: men killed in falls from horses; people crushed by overturned drays; women burned in kitchen accidents, their long dresses caught in flames; snake bites, drownings, accidents to workers building the railway. There were inquests to be conducted into sudden deaths and suicides, and a time when he had the care, in the lock-up, of a man who had cut his own throat. Warwick was a wild town.

Everyone would have known the doctor, grey bearded and bushy moustached, driving out in his buggy to make a house call, visiting the hospital or walking down Albion Street to Church on Sundays with his wife and grown children. Not everyone liked him, though. His disputes in the Parish Council and feuds with local businessmen were also reported in the paper.

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Dr Frederick Margetts driving a buggy, probably outside his fence. State Library of Queensland

“He was pig-headed,” says Nadine.

“Very argumentative. Let’s find somewhere for lunch.”

Frederick and Ann Margetts hadn’t planned to emigrate. They’d lived for over twenty years in the small town of Ilchester, Somerset, in a house on the market place where Frederick ran his practice and their six children were born. Then, in 1862, middle-aged and, seemingly, settled for life, they moved to Queensland.

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In the market square of Ilchester, Somerset, with the Margetts house and surgery in the background – brown, with two doors

People left nineteenth-century England for lots of reasons – poverty, over-crowding, political unrest, a quest for security for their children – just as migrants and refugees do today. It takes courage and enterprise to move across the world for the chance of a better life.

Frederick and Ann moved for their children. Their eldest son George was consumptive, and the medical advice of the time said his best chance for survival was to live in a warm, dry environment.  The new state of Queensland was advertising in English newspapers for migrants, offering employment, land and a good climate; and Warwick was described as “the Garden of Queensland”. Moving to Warwick seemed a good idea for the whole family.

They embarked on the migrant ship City of Brisbane. Keen gardeners, amongst their luggage they took a rose bush. A white scrambling rose, it survived one hundred and forty days at sea to flourish in the new family garden in Warwick.

The move didn’t help George. He died the following year and was the first to lie in the Margetts plot in Warwick cemetery.

The family endured their share of troubles. In 1870, twenty-five-year-old Edmund was badly injured when his spirited young horse stumbled and rolled on him. Even then, there were reckless young men speeding in the streets of Warwick.

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The Margetts family house in Warwick  Photo courtesy of Helen Lees

“It’s a pretty town,” says Nadine. “Fine old sandstone buildings, and lots of flowers and trees in the main street. And they call it the City of Roses! We can claim some credit for that.”

The Margetts were among the first Warwick residents to plant shade trees along the streets, and in 1876 Frederick was one of the organisers of the first Warwick Flower Show.

He and Ann spent the rest of their lives in Warwick, and today many of their descendants live on the Darling Downs. It was one of them who told me, several years ago, that there is still a family rose bush to be seen, on what had been Edmund Margetts’s farm. I went searching for it.

On a gentle slope where kangaroos bounded away through the long brown grass and curious cattle wandered across the paddock to watch, I found a broken-down picket fence. A few stumps and an old tap show where the farmhouse once stood.

Nearby was a strong and healthy rose bush, two metres high, growing without fertilizer or irrigation, struck from a piece of the rose that travelled across the world in a migrant ship, so many years ago.

I took some cuttings, and now the family rose is growing in my Brisbane garden. Its flowers are sweetly scented and plentiful, but its thorns are vicious. This is not a modern, well-behaved, grafted rose. It’s a survivor.

You have to be, to leave your homeland and put down roots in a strange country on the other side of the world.

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Reading Queensland

I like reading books about places. It adds extra layers of enjoyment to my travels, in Queensland and beyond. They can be learned and literary books, or lighter romances and mysteries; but sharing in the experiences of others, especially when they’re good observers, helps me to get under the surface of a place.

These are just a few of my favourite books about Queensland.

Please add other titles in the comments section. I’m always looking for more.

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Fiction

  • “The Commandant”, Jessica Anderson. Fine, literary, perceptive novel of convict imagesBrisbane under Captain Logan. Brutality and death in the penal colony as observed by the Logan womenfolk. 

     

 

  • Affection”, Ian Townsend. 2010. Historical novel set in Townsville in 1900 when the affectioncity was under threat of the plague. Doctors enforce unpopular measures to prevent it. (Dilemma of scientists: if they succeed in preventing a threatened disaster, people will say it wasn’t a danger in the first place.)

 

 

  • “Carpentaria”, Alexis Wright. A magnificent literary saga of the Gulf of Carpentaria, written by an Indigenous Australian with a unique and fullsizeoutput_3e0caccomplished voice and an authentic image of the land, its people and its mythology. In the tradition of Xavier Herbert.

 

 

  • “The Birdwatcher”, William McInnes. A sweet, wise, grown-up love story set in Far 9780733632976North Queensland. Some ‘60s nostalgia, poetry, and lots of birds.

 

 

 

  • “My Island Homicide”, Catherine Titasey. Set on Thursday Island, this is a likeableimages romance/detective novel. Authentic language and background in a fascinating part of Queensland.

 

 

  • “Ryders Ridge”, Charlotte Nash. An enjoyable rural romance set inryders north-west Queensland. Red dirt, big hats, doctors.

 

 

 

  • “The Grazier’s Wife”, Barbara Hannay. 2017. A multi-generation rural romance setthe-grazier-s-wife on the Atherton Tableland. Cattle, rainforest, Singapore, antiques, a secret will.

 

 

  • “Boy Swallows Universe”, Trent Dalton. 2018. Enjoyable, scary, boy swallowsuplifting, suspenseful story of growing up in a crime-affected family in Brisbane. Darra and Bracken Ridge, Boggo Road Gaol and City Hall. Violence and love.

 

 

  • “Border Watch”, Helene Young. 2011. A FNQ romantic thriller Northern-Heat1written by an ex- airline captain and Border Patrol pilot. One of several novels by this author set in Queensland including “Safe Harbour”, 2014, and “Northern Heat”, 2015, which is set in Cooktown.

 

 

Non-fiction

  • “Lonely Planet – Queensland and the Great Barrier Reef”, and “Lonely Planet – Australia”. The first covers the tourist areas and the coast; the second covers the inland areas of the state. Lots of interesting local information.

 

  • “A History of Queensland”, Raymond Evans. 2007. Interesting scholarly in-depth account by a well-known historian ofimages Qld life and development from earliest human habitation to the 2000s. 

 

 

  • “Love in the Age of Drought”, Fiona Higgins. 2009. The memoir of a loveSydney woman who marries a farmer from Jandowae, on the Northern Darling Downs. Love, drought, life in a small town, the black soil plains west of the Bunya Mountains. I lived here as a teenager.

 

 

  • “Brisbane”, Matthew Condon. 2010. Affectionate, memoir-style look at Brisbane, its history, condon brisbanearts, way of life and unique qualities as a lively sub-tropical city, by a journalist who knows the city well: its good and its bad. (Part of the “Secret Life of Your City” series about State Capitals.)

 

 

  • “Birdsville”, Evan McHugh. 2009. Dust storms, bogs, sand dunes, race meetings, rescues,images locusts, building a golf course in the desert: a Sydney freelance writer and his graphic designer wife spend twelve months in Birdsville.

 

 

  • “Conspiracy of Silence: Queensland’s frontier killing times”, Timothy Bottoms. 2013. imagesHarrowing account of the acts of violence that accompanied pastoralists’/investors’ seizure of Queensland pastoral land from Aboriginal inhabitants.

 

 

  • Tom Petrie’s Reminiscences of Early Queensland”, Constance Campbell Petrie. tom petrieRe-published 2014. This important 1904 book details life in Brisbane and South-east Qld from 1837, when little Tom Petrie arrived at the convict settlement of Moreton Bay with his family. Local Aboriginal people, their foods, customs and language, as well as convict life and early white exploration.

 

  • “Cairns: City of the South Pacific. A history 1770-1995”, Timothy Bottoms. cairns-city-of-the-south-pacific-history-productInteresting, ambitious, detailed work.

Building homes for Brisbane birds

This is a great project for Brisbane wildlife, and applicable across the state.

Pollinator Link

By: Michael Fox

Building team - 12 Sept 2018 Home Building team: (l-r) Frank, Mabanza, myself, Andy, Salinda, Greg, Jackson, Dulcie, Ryan and Jack

Meet the proud team building new homes for Brisbane birds.

Yesterday, I joined Frank, Mabanza, Andy, Salinda, Greg, Jackson, Dulcie, Ryan, Jack and Chris Lockhart SQW Project Supervisor at the Hendra Pony Club site for our second workshop making nest boxes.

Skilling Queenslanders for Work project of the Nundah Community Living Association Inc. is training and inspiring participants in environmental habitat restoration.

Presenting SQW - 12 Sept 2018 Introducing Pollinator Link

A nest box building workshop for future habitat heroes is a great opportunity to share the Pollinator Link® vision.

I first introduced participants to the threat of urban habitat loss and opportunities for creation for of a new city wide wildlife habitat by providing Water, Food and Shelter in backyards, balcony gardens, school yards and council parks to complement the island habitats like Mt Gravatt Conservation Reserve

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