Chapter 6 THE WILDERNESS AND SOLITARY PL AC E
FAR ACROSS THE LONELY PLACES OF THE LAND HE PLANTED KINDNESS, AND FROM THE HEARTS OF THOSE WHO CALL THESE PLACES HOME, HE GATHERED LOVE.
These words were Kingsley Partridge's memorial tribute to the treasured place John Flynn filled in the lives and homes of the pioneers of 'the wilderness and solitary places' of Australia. Isaiah chapter 35, with its poetic outpouring of eternal love, compassion and promise for those who dwell in the wilderness and solitary places of the earth, was one of John Flynn's favourite readings. Significantly it was a letter written from a solitary place on West Arm, Port Darwin on the 3rd. June 1909, [a month and a day after my birth,] that stirred the heart and gave John Flynn his vision for the wilderness and solitary places of Australia. This letter was written by the grand pioneer woman of the North, Jessie Litchfield:
'I am eighty miles from town by land, twenty by sea, three miles from the nearest white woman. There are three Churches in Darwin, C of E , RC and Methodist. The Methodist Minister paid four visits to West Arm last year. This year no one will come. There are no other ministers in the N.T.'
Jessie Litchfield described the results of drugs, alcohol and debauchery prevalent in a church forsaken 500,000 square miles of the Northern Territory. This letter was given to Flynn while he was still in the Theological Hall. Under the direction of the Australian Presbyterian Home Mission Board Flynn arrived in Darwin on 3 July 1912 and left 8 weeks later:
My travels carried me as far south as Katherine River.... west to the Settlement on the Daly River, 75 miles from the Railway; east among the small mining camps out of Pine Creek, and again round from Darwin by sea to Adelaide River; and north to Bathurst Island. Darwin (formerly known as Palmerston) is built mostly of iron. In a town of 978 inhabitants there are - 374 Europeans, 81 Japanese, 442 Chinese and 81 other nationalities. The total white population of Northern Territory is 1729 of whom 456 are females [A CALL TO THE CHURCH by J.FLYNN ]
Flynn prepared two reports to the 1912 Presbyterian General Assembly - a 45 page document, of which the above is an extract, to the Home Mission Board and the second. on the plight of the Aborigines to the Foreign Mission Board. Flynn published his Aboriginal photos and a stinging article on their neglect by Church and Governments in Vol, 2 p.22 'INLANDER' magazine.
THE LIFE OF A PATROL PADRE
You may well ask, why this introduction? This sixth work experience marks the point of my departure for the rest of my life, from the centrality of Church administration. I have never forgotten the 1949 impact of my only long conversation with John Flynn. The significance of his vision and his empathy with the solitary in nature and human spatial isolation awakened my sub-conscious childhood awareness of both when we broke bread with families in remote Cattle Station homesteads and camped under the stars in solitary beauty. During my first three years in the north, I spent approximately one third of my time in Darwin, a third with the Congregations from Woomera to Nhulunbuy and Broome, and a third visiting the Katherine Patrol Cattle Stations. Jean and I drove down to Kununurra quite early in my first year to consult with Gordon Ewin about the western boundary of the Katherine Patrol. There were fifteen N.T. Stations, eight of which had common boundaries with his Patrol in WA. and seven others almost as close. These Stations are all within fifteen to forty minutes flying time from Kununurra. Moreover for most, Kununurra, NOT Katherine was their town.
In my significant conversation with Flynn in 1949, I asked him how he determined the location on which he based his patrols. He told me that after local enquiry he based each patrol on the 'Port' that served the area. Yes, Port Hedland or Broome or Oodnadatta or Alice Springs, because Flynn's 'Port' was the town through which most of their supplies came and supplied other needs and services such as his bush hospitals. This was the basis on which Gordon and I agreed upon this revised boundary, and I believe it has remained so ever since.
In the four years I contacted over 35 Cattle Stations in the Katherine Patrol, a few only once but made several visits to most. Grant Dempsey, the Manager of Northmeat Pasture Farm and Treasurer of the Katherine Congregation, helped me with names of Owners and Managers of Stations in the Katherine region. I wrote to a number introducing myself as part-time patrol Padre during the vacancy. Fred McKay had told me of his friends, Ray and Margaret Easey of Kalala Station, Daly Waters, so on a return trip from Alice Springs Jean and I visited Kalala. There was no response when I knocked on the front door so seeing a white woman with a number of Aboriginal women outside the Station store I headed in that direction to be met half way with the greeting, 'I'm Margaret Easy, welcome to Kalala'. I introduced myself and said it was my wife, Jean in the vehicle. That was the beginning of friendship that continues to this day. We called frequently over the years and occasionally I went with Ray on a muster and yarn with his stockmen. At the end of that first year we were invited to the Daly Waters afternoon Christmas Party and Carol Service. Father Christmas [Ray Easy] arrived in the back of a 4 wheel drive Toyota Utility and a grand time followed. The children all belonged to the Katherine School of the Air.
Kalala was not typical of all initial visits. Having knocked on the front door of Killarney homestead, I heard footsteps approaching from within and a woman's voice, 'It's an anthropologist, a cattle gent or a parson'- to which, when she opened the door, I gave the appropriate answer. Then, not a welcome, but a statement. ' I'm an atheist so you are wasting your time'. To which I replied that we might have a lot in common. After a moment of disbelief she replied, 'well - come on in and we'll have a cup of coffee' Over the coffee she wanted to know what we had in common. From something she had said I asked her if she knew of the French existentialists - Camus and Satre - to which she replied, 'They are too bloody pessimistic for me'. So I suggested that what she and I had in common was HOPE. After a philosophical and personal discussion on our understanding of 'Hope' I suggested that the name of the God she rejected was Hope - the source of all human hope giving us the will to keep on living whatever the trials. In the years that followed June Tapp and I maintained an unthreatening association with, I think, mutual respect.
There were two Stations on the Roper River, where like the Easeys our friendships have continued over the years. On the road into Moroak the first gate had the usual 'Please Shut The Gate' then the next showing some exasperation, said, SHUT THE GATE, but the last one exploded into rude [or crude] Latin, NON ILLIGITIMUS CARBORUNDUM, which translates as 'Don't let the bastards in [or] wear you down'! The loneliness of the outback was rarely physical due to the constant arrival of Government officials such as geologists, anthropologists, School of the Air teachers, Aboriginal Affairs, Health Department, Works and Water Resources officers, along with stock agents, free-lance evangelists to off-beat tourists; all consuming precious time and free beer [except beer for a Jehovah Witnesses.] The worst are 'gun-happy' idiots who put bullets through water tanks and road signs and shoot Brahman stud cattle thinking they are wild buffalo. They were all a stark contrast to the Padre who makes no demands and when accepted becomes a friend with the rare privilege of sharing in their human concerns of mind and spirit. Les MacFarlane of Moroak bred stud Brahman bulls and cows for cross breeding with the British breed to produce tick resistant three quarter or seven eights Brahman cattle. It was like walking on holy ground as Les introduced me to his most prized stud Brahman Bulls. It was also interesting to see that he harvested the extensive growth of Flinders grass growing on the flood-out flats of the Roper as baled hay. Flinders is the finest native grass in the North but only common on suitable soil. Moroak Homestead is above flood level on the bank of the Roper River. Peg MacFarlane's tropical garden won the homestead garden prize year after year in the Katherine Show. Peg created a tranquillity and warmth of friendship for us at Moroak.
George and Marion Westmacott of Elsey Station, also lived on the bank of the Roper, over-looking another beautiful stretch of the River upstream from Moroak. This is the third Elsey homestead site. The first was on the Warlock a tributary of the Roper, and the second down stream from the present homestead and close to Red Lily Lagoon a flood-out swamp from the Roper. Marion is a fine water colour Artist and when we were there she was painting rare Territory flowers for the Conservation Commission. Jean has one she entered in one of the Alice Springs Art Competitions. George was the first class Cessna pilot in whose flying I had absolute confidence. Earlier years in West Queensland, George had an aerial mail run and I was told by a friend who knew him that George would fly down the only street in small township and drop the mail bag in front of the Post Office. I presume this was on rare occasions when the landing strip was too wet, but I don't doubt the truth of the incident. One day I went with George to locate the bullocks for the current muster. They did have some fenced paddocks and this one was about 160 square Km. He prepared a map on which he put varying numbers of dots as we flew over the 160 sq. km to indicate the whereabouts of the cattle. We then flew back to the stock camp and dropped the map tied with a rubber band in a rolled up in newspaper. The the head stockman radioed George to send down the carbon copy as they could not find the original. The copy had NO carbon paper so George flew round and round over Red Lily Lagoon doing a map from memory. By this time the Cessna was almost clipping the tops off the lilies. All was well this time. and the cattle easily located and mustered. On another occasion I went with George to an Elsey Stock Camp. Because I had been a 'bush' worker myself, I always found it easy to sit and have a good yarn with the stockman and enjoyed their company.
My first visit to the Cattle Stations in the famous Victoria Downs region was during the 1971 above normal heat wave. Travelling west on the road from Katherine it was so hot when I reached the Victoria River, instead of using my favourite spot with the sunrise view, I crossed the new bridge and drove on a construction track down to the waters edge under the bridge. Safe from view, with a careful eye for crocodiles, I stripped of and sat in the clear shallow water to bathe my hot body. This was the evening I tried to count the thousands of flying foxes passing me to camp [upside down] in the jungles upstream. In the fifteen minutes the 'fly-past lasted I estimated the number at about 10,000. Next morning I visited Fitzroy Station where the Catholic family gave me a cordial welcome and then set out for Bullita Station on a station track running south from the main road. Reaching the boundary fence the so-called gate, known in the days of my youth as a Mallee gate, consisted of three strands of barb-wire strung between two short poles. One end was 'hinged' to the gate post by wire loops, top and bottom. At the opening end the pole was hooked into a heavy wire loop at the bottom of the gate-post while the top of the 'gate' was tightly closed by a 'fulcrum' pole pulled around the gate-post and back about a metre along the fence and held to the top barb-wire with a wire loop. The 'fulcrum pole' was the trunk of a thick sapling and wondered how Mrs Berlowitz could handle it. When I arrived Mrs Berlowitz gave me a cheerful welcome while trying to complete the Stations Income Tax returns. I learned that she and her husband had recently purchased this small station and because of its beautiful situation and good fishing on the East Baines River their Darwin friends had all arrived at an inopportune time. When I arrived home about 12 days later, she had been to Darwin on business and called on Jean to leave a gold presentation ball-point pen I thought I had lost.
After leaving Bullita, I camped at Jasper Gorge on the road from Timber creek through Victoria River Downs [V.R.D.] to Top Springs where it meets the Buchanan Highway to the Stuart Highway near Dunmarra. Following the correct procedure, I called at the 'Big House' and introduced myself to Ian Michael the manager. He had, with him, an officer from the Animal Industry Branch who was at V.R.D. in connection with an experimental dingo eradication program. We three drove to the stock yards where two men from the Department were using a big cement mixer filled with chopped-up beef dosed with 10-66 poison. The cement mixer stirred the poison through the meat. The temperature must have been in the high forties yet these men in gum-boots and plastic clothing worked through the long routine as though it was an average hot season job. Climatic records conducted over a long period by C.S.I.R.O. at their Kununurra Research Station have proved that the area from Wyndham, Kununurra, Top Springs to V.R.D. has the highest annual combined temperature-humidity levels throughout Australia. I did not doubt the facts that day. The bait was dropped from helicopter in the dingo infested areas. I was invited to stay the night and shared a room in the Guest House with an official from the Water Resource Board. He was a keen fisherman and the V.R.D. Homestead was on the banks of the Wickham River, the major tributary of the Victoria. Long before piccaninny daylight, he and I were scrambling through thick undergrowth to his favourite down-stream fishing spot. We survived struggling through thick underbush, snake-bite and falling and, after all of this, he caught no barramundi but the scenery was beautiful in the dawn light. I was glad to get back for breakfast.
From V.R.D. I went on to Killarney, Bill Tapp's new show place. The road entered an open ended rectangle with a fenced arena and small 'grand-stand' used primarily for Stud Cattle sales and next, the adjoining cattle yards, a sophisticated 'crush' and scales for weighing bullocks and the usual drafting gates and finally a small fenced paddock for two magnificent old V.R.D. Bullocks of such size and length of horns that it was impossible to weigh them. The right side of the rectangle included the staff mess buildings and bunk house, a row of cottages for the Head stockman and married 'Ringers' including an aboriginal stockman, then accommodation for the mechanic, electrician and finally the school room and store. The new Homestead [usually known as the Big House] and Bill's Office was at least 200 metres from the entrance in the commanding open setting at the far end of the rectangle. Every building was in brick and every one air-conditioned by the stations own power house. The cost for diesel fuel, salaries, and maintenance alone, on the big Cattle Stations is beyond a Southerners comprehension. This was the occasion, recorded above, of my first meeting with Bill's wife, June.
In 1973 my brother Fred and his wife Jean, having completed two years on the staff of St. Philip's College, Alice Springs, came to spend several months with us in Darwin. I had several projects ahead that needed time, so I decided to use our caravan so that we four could have an interesting time together while I attended to my rural objectives with Kununurra as my first. It was time for me to make another visit to the Congregation and at the same time sit down with Gordon Ewin while we did some forward planning for the future re-organisation of a more effective organisation for the United Church Patrols. The roads had been graded since 1969, so the caravan gave me no trouble. We returned to V.R. D. through Jasper Gorge. The Homestead was in a village community with school, hospital and large store. The caravan now gave me the opportunity to make community contact.
In my time V.R.D's 12,369 square. Km and Brunette Downs 12,251 square. Km. each ran on averaged 80,000 head of cattle making them in every respect the biggest Cattle Stations in Northern Territory. In a direct line it is over 200 Km from the N.E corner of V.R.D. to the SW. boundary and much longer on the winding station tracks. The Station is crisscrossed with many of water catchment streams of the Victoria River. It has several permanent 'Out-stations', the furthest being Mt. Sanford over 100 Km to the south, and two registered landing strips in addition to the major airfield at the Homestead. The Hooker Corporation purchased V.R.D. in a run down condition in 1960. Jock Makin, the author of 'The Big Run' [Rigby], was told that when Hookers made the purchase the original Shorthorn herd was so inbred that in three years all the bullocks that could be mustered were driven in mobs of 1,500 across the 1200 Km route to Queensland for sale; a total of over 16,000 while another 2,700 bulls and bullocks were dispatched to various meatworks. The net return was under $20 per head. The upgrading began using stud Poll Shorthorn bulls followed some years later with the introduction of the tropical Bos indicus breeds. In my travels I asked each station owner or manager his opinion of the suitability of Brahman and Shorthorn cross breeding or the Santa Gertrudis and was told the suitable degree of Bos indicus blood varied with nature of their country. This was also true on V.R.D. where the distinctive differences in soil and rainfall over such a vast area, Brahman hybrids suited one and Santa Gertrudis another. To handle a station of this magnitude, Jock Makin stated that Ian Michael had, in addition to various technical and other staff at Head Station, an Overseer, four Head Stockman and about 50 white and 75 Aboriginal Stockmen. There would be a Head Stockman' and a number of the stockmen at each 'Out-station'.
We parked our Caravan in a beautiful spot on the banks of the Wickham River about three kilometres upstream with the 1923 A.I.M. Hospital building between us and the V.R.D. township. I had my big projector with me and one evening using the big slides I screened the places and work of the United Church from Arnhem Land across the Territory to Broome. We enjoyed a delightful evening dinner party with Ian and Margaret Michael. My brother Fred, excelled himself as an after dinner conversationalist. It was good for me to see my brother, who never had my opportunities for travel, demonstrate his own wisdom and quiet wit in this gracious company. The next day Ian took us to the stations irrigation farm where sorghum was grown mixed with cow peas as green fodder for stud stock, then to a dry farming area for the production of fodder for storage.
In 1974 when Jean and I made our last visit to V.R.D. Ruary, Lynette, Tara and Fiona drove there with us in their Range Rover. Once more we camped upstream and I made my final round of visits. We were there during a big muster using a Helicopter to flush-out mobs of wild cattle that avoided horse mustering from the dense jungle along the rivers. Ray Easy had the same problem in the dense thorny 'bullwaddy' areas on Kalala Station, but he was able to trap them at the watering places. These V.R.D. cattle along the rivers had all the water they needed and were hidden in the jungle where it was an impossibly to round them on horses. The Helicopter roaring overhead drove them from areas where they could evade the best stockmen. Ian Michael had erected a mobile stock-yard in the area of the muster using steel posts, steel panels and a ramp for loading the cattle into their road train transport. We were delighted when Ian took us out to the muster camp. I do not remember the distance but it was a long way. The yards were in a shallow valley typical of the undulating lightly timbered grass country of much of V.R.D. The entrance to the yards had a long wing fence on our side and a shorter on the far side in the shape if an ever widening V. Ian advised us to drive up the low hill overlooking the valley where we would see the helicopter handling cattle and the role of the stockmen. When we drove on top of the gassy rise we disturbed about ten of the Australian Bustards commonly known as the Plains Turkey. Their usual habitat is an open grassy plains. They are a stately large bird standing a metre of more in height, and due to their weight take to the air with a spectacular flapping of wings. Regrettably they are good 'tucker' which has a negative effect on their survival in any numbers. Within ten to fifteen minutes we saw the helicopter in the distance performing its remarkable gymnastics as it herded about four hundred of the wildest cattle I have ever seen all trying to break away in every possible directions. The 'copter' was then joined by a number of Toyota 4 wheel drive utilities rounding up break-aways as the mob were being compressed into the fenced V. It was not only a remarkable spectacle but the noise of bellowing crazed wild cattle, truck engines in low gear and the helicopter outdid that of an Australian football final. As soon as the mob had been yarded we returned to watch the drafting and loading. The articulated road-trains were already waiting to line up at the loading ramp while the 'Ringers' [ it's was easy to see why stockmen are so named ], were having a hectic and at times dangerous job. The wildest and most recalcitrant bullocks had managed to evade the drafting gates till last and then the drama began in earnest. Electric prods had little effect and again and again a ringer had to leap for his life up the high steel rails. Some of the wild bulls and bullocks had spectacular horns - a throw-back to the pre-poll Shorthorns blood stock seen in the two old warriors at Killarney. I remember one red-eyed maniac with its head down pawing the ground and snorting with such violent anger that the dust rose in two distinct columns from its nostrils. Every animal was finally loaded. Neither Jean nor I can remember the circumstance, but we have a presentation copy of Jock Makin's book THE BIG RUN inscribed, In appreciation and thanks for lending us your house whilst in Darwin - Margaret and Ian Michael. We not only valued their friendship but learned something of their role in human relations in the management of one of the biggest Cattle Stations in Australia.
Our other major base while we had Fred and Jean with us in the Caravan, was Elsey Station. Leaving the Van there, we made several day visits to other Stations including Roper Bar. Best of all we were able to spend time at Elsey without any extra work for Marion and her household. Fred and I came to her aid the morning she was confronted by a venomous snake in the detached station laundry. Having executed the first we were confronted by two more but having grown up in similar situations at Clifton we managed to dispatch all three - the third while it was trying to out-distance. My work, not the snakes compelled us to return to Darwin.
In 1972 that a Katherine girl made arrangements with me for her marriage with a young man who was working with the Government Works Department about 400 Km away on road construction near the mouth of the Roper River. I organised a Cattle Station visit to the area and finally met him at his road camp on the banks of the River. This stretch of river from the mouth to Roper Bar can be navigated by small ships and was used during the construction of the Overland Telegraph Line to land material at the Bar for cartage by wagon to the Line construction party. I not only 'signed him up' for his marriage, but enjoyed the baked barramundi he cooked for our evening meal. In that remote area far from the tourists, the barramundi were so plentiful the men were living in luxury. Next day I headed back through Katherine to visit a Cattle Station managed by a Yankee. The day was, to put it politely, 'stinking hot' and humid. Due to road work I drove long distances on side tracks where the 'bull-dust' constantly came up in clouds over the windscreen repeatedly compelling me to switch the screen-wiper on and off. Under these conditions I could neither use the Air-conditioner nor drive with a window open.
The Daly River country was my other major patrol area. As early as July 1971, I wrote to Fred McKay telling him that I had established a 'beach head' at Daly River Crossing. This is the area John Flynn visited in 1912. In 1971 there were thirteen farms on the river. They were surrounded by the Tipperary Land Corporations four Cattle Stations - Tipperary, Litchfield, Elizabeth Downs and Fish River. In addition there were several United Church members on the staff of the Daly River Catholic Mission. Jean and I went there one week-end for a special purpose. We camped on the river bank, and on this Friday evening held a Service in the home of Frank and Kay Steele and baptised their youngest child, baby Brian Calvin Steele. Next day we visited the Catholic Mission. Having week-ends free for this nearer pastoral ministry is an advantage. 'I am finding that Sunday still means something to some people. I must add that none of this nearer pastoral ministry is closer that 250 Km'!
In August 1971, I went to Tipperary Head Station to conduct a Marriage. The couple both worked at the Station and had come to Darwin and signed the Notice Paper within the required time. I told them that they must secure their birth certificates immediately for without them, I could not legally marry them. Jean could not come with me but Ruary did. We arrived during the morning of 28 August to find that she had NOT received a copy of her birth from the Queensland Register of Births. The atmosphere changed from pre-Wedding excitement to despair. In all my long Ministry, not only had I never been in this predicament, but here I was 250 Km from legal advice. However I found that her father who also worked there was prepared to swear and sign an affidavit declaring the date of her birth was correctly recorded in their family Bible. Secondly that Arch McGill, the Manager was a Justice of the Peace. So with my un-legal looking hand written document on a page from a writing pad and duly signed and witnessed by a Justice of the Peace for Northern Territory, the marriage went ahead. It was held in the 'Big House' in the presence of Mr. and Mrs Arch McGill. This special visit was followed by others Jean and I made during which we discovered we had a common interest with Arch and Jean McGill in Indonesia. Tipperary Head Station consisted of a 'village' almost as large as V.R.D. and like the latter had a school and school teacher. On one occasion having spoken to the children on the Katherine School of the Air program I arrived at Tipperary that afternoon for a school visit to be greeted - 'Mr. Bucknall we heard you this morning on the School of The Air'. I also visited the family on Litchfield, during which I took time to drive to the edge of the very extensive wetlands where I saw water birds in the profusion we had seen between Mudginberri Station and the East Alligator River in 1969.
In September 1974, Harvey Perkins the Methodist overseas Secretary contacted me concerning a proposal he had discussed with Dr. W. Lalisang, the Director of the Indonesian Council of Churches Development Centre, to bring two young Indonesian men training in cattle management to Northern Territory. I told Arch McGill of the scheme and he expressed interest in participation in the project. This involved me in correspondence with Dr. Lalisang over a long period sorting out all the details. Finally on 14 November, 1974, I was happy to inform him that the United Church in North Australia would sponsor the visit of Silvanus Linting and Matheen Abeneno and that we were ready to receive them as soon as they completed their travel arrangements. As I would not be in Darwin when they arrived, my son, Mr. Ruary Bucknall, would met them and arrange their accommodation until they were taken to Tipperary. Arch. McGill, the Station Manager had visited Indonesia and had a great interest in this kind of exchange between our countries. He would not only give them experience in open range cattle management but would arrange for them to visit Government Experiment Farms and Research Stations. They arrived soon after at Tipperary and were known in Australia as Silas Linting and Martin Abeneno.
In December 1974 they went up to Darwin to join the Indonesian Community for Christmas and were caught in the trauma of Cyclone Tracy. Silas Linting made his was back to Tipperary but Martin broke the terms of his visa by joining one of the 'refugee' planes to Brisbane. While Jean and I were in Darwin after Tracey, we took time to drive our new 4 wheel drive Toyota to Tipperary to check on our Indonesian lads, and learned that Martin had 'skipped' the country. Arch McGill spoke well of Silas and of his enthusiasm for his training. Jean and I had never seen Tipperary with such lush tropical growth. Arch took us for a drive around the expansive improved pasture paddocks measured by the square kilometre. I have never seen such a magnificent sight as the rolling country lush in tropical green with great herds of Brahman cattle grazing on grass up to their bellies.
My involvement with the Kimberley region of was usually by car. When Jean was with me we often drove through to Innesvale Station the first day and stay the night at Innesvale with Ian and Myrtle McBean and family. During this time, Margaret, the eldest of their children, went to live with friends to attend the Nightcliff High School. Ruary had been promoted and transferred from Darwin to the Nightcliff Staff and was able to help Margaret settle in. She was a lovely girl in looks and character. I took a colour transparency of her with her youngest sibling, a small boy, with their pet donkey. It was a beautiful study and was reproduced as an A.I.M Christmas Card. Shortly before we left Darwin Ian and Myrtle separated and Myrtle went to live in Katherine. The children lived with their mother during the school week and were back on the Station most week-ends and all the holidays. Myrtle eventually built her own life as a Kindergarten Assistant. She was a very dear friend and we admired the way she developed under the stress of her situation.
Dean and Ginny Brooks were the appointees when we first visited Broome in 1972. Dean had a shared responsibility for Derby plus a small patrol along the northern coast from Broome to Cape Leveque and another to the Cattle Stations as far as the Fitzroy River. We went with Dean and Ginny on the Cape Leveque trip to the Bardi Aboriginal Community at One Arm Point. One Arm Point faces east opposite Sunday Island at the entrance to King Sound. Dean visited this community about every three months and using a portable lighting plant showed them films on the beach. We carried sleeping bags with the intention of sleeping on the beach after the show, but 'NO' said the aboriginal women. 'there are crocodiles near here and they might get you'. So we camped on the concrete floor of a shed used for a special shell-fish [I think] storage. Ginny was 'great with child' and had a more uncomfortable night than the rest. Next day we visited his white parishioners, the Brown family the owners and operators of their culture pearl industry in Cygnet Bay. This beautiful bay, inside King Sound, is believed to be the place where William Dampier made his first land-fall in Australia. It is certain his opinion of the local Aborigines differed from the almost hilarious time we had with group we met the previous night. The Browns had a very close contact with the Japanese pearling industry and one of the brothers was married to a young Japanese woman. Ginny returned home safely and their next son was born soon after.
On my last official visit in 1974, I asked Dean to take me fishing. He took me to his favourite Inlet where he always caught fish - except the day he took me. We were back for lunch and decided we would all go down to the big Jetty in Roebuck Bay for a picnic lunch while Dean and I had another try. Dean caught none, another man one and I caught three, the largest provided a feast for 12 people next day at Mowanjum. On a memorable trip with John and Gwen along the Gibb River Road, we saw something of the dramatic wilderness and solitary places where the Cattle Stations Homesteads of the Gibb River region of the Kimberley experience an isolation beyond all except a few such as Suplejack Downs and Andado in Northern Territory. The Kimberley wilderness contains gorges, waterfalls and places of incredible beauty where Geikie Gorge is one of the few easily visited by tourists. Jean and I will never forget our visit to Geikie in 1969 before it became a tourist mecca. Sunset on the red rock of the gorge reflected in the still water of the river, the silence of the night enhanced by night birds and an absence of human intrusion. Yet it was the people of the 'lonely places' who gave meaning to our journeying through the wilderness and solitary places and from whom we gathered love.
THE WILDERNESS AND DRY LAND SHALL BE GLAD Isaiah 35 [N.R.S.V.]
We had just set up camp in the Diamantina Shire Council Camping ground on the Burke River at Boulia in far south-west Queensland when the 'Old-timer' Caretaker said, 'Where are you headin'? 'To Djarra and across to Urandanji to get to Manners Creek and Tobermorey in Northern Territory' said I. To this, the old chap replied, 'I've lived around this country all me life, and I know the Council sent a contract Grader-driver to grade a track across from Glenormiston Station straight through to Tobermorey, and that'll save yer a couple of hundred miles, but in any case check at the Council Office in the mornin'. It has been claimed that Diamantina is the biggest Shire in Australia. It shares its western boundary with Northern Territory from Poepell Corner northward but how far beyond Boulia, I do not know, nor how far east. Though the driest area in Queensland, it is known as the Channel Country because it is crisscrossed by the Georgina, the Burke, the Diamantina Rivers and all their tributaries. On the rare occasions when the Inland rivers flood, the Station folk would understand my title to this chapter. This Shire was an important part of Fred McKay's 1936-41 Patrol.
Why were we in Boulia in May 1975? We had just taken up my five year appointment as the Centralian Patrol Padre. Having missed two months leave due to Cyclone Tracy, I took time to make a quick trip to Rockhampton to see my sister Lorna and invalid husband Hugh. We returned west via Longreach and Winton to Boulia to commence my Patrol at Manners Creek and Tobermorey. Yes, I inquired at the Shire Office but unfortunately the Shire Engineer was away. However, the three staff believed that the contract had been completed. I topped up the petrol tank of the 4 wh. drive Toyota. In addition I always carried 120 litres in 6 Jerry Cans, so with our food and water supply adequate for a week, we set out the 100 Km to Glenormiston Station Homestead on the Georgina River. The Georgina was dry as a bone with a sandy bed very little lower than the surrounding country. Having crossed the first we found this was only one of about five channels before we came out on higher ground to the Homestead. Jean and I introduced ourselves to the Lady of the house who confessed she had never had a visit from a Patrol padre. The men were not around to ask, but she thought the track from their N.W. boundary to Tobermorey had been completed. Before reaching the boundary gate we travelled on a Station track which appeared unused in the last few kilometres. At the gate, the grader driver had turned around and gone home! Using the afternoon sun as a guide I drove N.W. across flat, long dry grass black-soil country with cracks so large and deep for the next 40 Km, I was rarely in top gear. Then I picked up wheel tracks that led us to a rough gate and a well defined track that led us to heavy gate with a prominent sign on the opposite side: THIS IS NOT THE WAY TO BOULIA.
Strangely, we were at a T. junction with one track due south and the other due north. Using the wisdom my father taught me, I reasoned if Tobermorey was north and I went south I would finish up in the Simpson Desert. If the homestead was south and I went north, I would come to Manners Creek, so we went north and soon crossed the dry Pituari and up a rise to the Tobermorey Homestead. One of the Anderson sons greeted me, 'Where the hell have you come from'? We had arrived from Boulia via their horse paddock. He told me we had travelled on the Donohue Highway. I thought my eyesight was as good as his so how did he know this non-existent track existed. The answer was simple. Some years earlier a serious grass fire sweeping across the country was stopped by a man named Donohue who graded a firebreak from Tobermorey to Glenormiston. Long after my time a gravelled road was constructed between the two stations and named, DONOHUE HIGHWAY. This is now the shortest route from Alice Springs to Longreach via the Plenty Highway and the Donohue Highway to Boulia.
There were 29 cattle stations in this North East area of our Patrol. The number after a station name is the area in square kilometres. We were invited to stay the night at Tobermorey . Next morning we made a quick run to Manners Creek , also an Anderson station but they were leaving later that morning for Mt. Isa. On returning to Tobermorey, one of the men asked me if I had a Transceiver Radio linked with the R.F.D. Base Station in Alice. As my answer was negative, I was reminded in blunt terms that had we broken down on that trackless unused route from Boulia, it may have been weeks before we were found. The Victorian Presbyterian Men's Brotherhood donated my new Transceiver. The Andersons gave me directions to Marqua Cattle Station owned by bachelor Mick Brown. We followed the Plenty Highway, which in those days ended at Tobermorey, until we saw the sign pointing to Marqua  some 40 Km south. We were puzzled when we arrived at a deserted brand new house with a Diesel Generator running and not a soul to be found. Several kilometres further on we came to a modest mud brick house, and close by another partly demolished. Beyond these we saw a Caravan and an old Bus. As we drove up a woman emerged from the Bus and gazed suspiciously at me. She relaxed when I turned and opened the Toyota door and Jean came with me as we introduced ourselves. She told us she was often alone during the day and about two months earlier she received a fright when three strange men came in from the Simpson Desert. The bus had been converted into a kitchen with gas stove etc. and dining area and the Caravan was the bedroom.
During afternoon tea, Mrs Shepley told us that she was Mick Brown's sister and her husband, Doug, worked for him on Marqua. They had a son and daughter, both married and each with two children. Two were with her when we arrived. They had been many years on Marqua and moved from the mud brick house when it was beyond repair. While we enjoyed the welcome cup of tea I asked why they did not live in the new house with electricity, Cool-room and Freezer etc. She said it was Mick's but he did no want to leave his old mud-brick home. 'Why don't you live there'? 'No, its brother Mick's' - so neither lived there but used it as their food and refrigerator storeroom. Mrs Shepley soon warmed to Jean and assured her she enjoyed the solitude and was happy living at Marqua. The towns had no attraction but they drove the 500 Km into Alice Springs once or twice a year to see their son and to Mt. Isa more often to see her mother and their daughter. I recognised that she was uneasy about our accommodation, so we assured her that we travelled completely equipped for sleeping and meals. I had a small tent made to order with the open end fastened to the high roof rack and the rear supported by two poles and four guy ropes. The tail board was the kitchen bench and depending on the locality we cooked with gas or on steel mesh over a narrow trench camp fire. The back seat of the Station Wagon was permanently turned up to accommodate six Jerry Cans, a small Engel electric 'frig', our 'swags' and food boxes. When we camped at homesteads, the food boxes went into the tent and the tail board became our kitchen bench. Finally we rolled our swags out in the Toyota with our pillows on the tail-board. The tent gave us privacy for a sponge bath and dressing. In our bush camps we never used the tent and enjoyed the magnificent night shy by moonlight or starlight. We were completely independent so that no one need be embarrassed, as in this incidence.
Doug Shepley arrived home in time to help me remove the big tyre from the split rim on the Toyota wheel and mend a puncture. Next morning was a Sunday with Mick also home. Jean had invited Mrs Shepley to visit our Camp for morning 'smoko' [bush term for morning tea]. We had not long finished our breakfast when to Jean's delight Mrs Shepley arrived for morning smoko - which lasted till noon!. We were no longer visitors and experienced a friendship not measured by the few brief hours. She told us that she did not remember how long it was since she had seen either a white or black woman at Marqua. When I asked her how long since a Patrol Padre had visited her, she responded with an excited account of a very special occasion. Years earlier the family were indoors sheltering from a howling dust storm when they were surprised to hear a knock at the door. Her son opened the door, and for a moment she thought she was seeing a vision as a beautiful young girl was swept in through a veil of swirling dust. It was the Patrol Padre's wife, Betty Ewin, followed by Gordon. They had not long been married and she believed their first patrol was an extension of their honeymoon. She was so happy she invited them to stay the night This visit was twelve years before ours, yet her 'memory bank' enabled her to recall details she had treasured ever since as clearly as though it happened yesterday. When I asked her about earlier visits by a Padre, I really opened the floodgates of treasured memories. She grew up with her parents on Roxborough Downs station, upstream on the Georgina River from Glenormiston. Yes, the young Fred McKay was their Patrol Padre and his visits were highlights in her young life. She remembered sing-songs around the piano and hymns they sang, but most of all how Fred had given her the sense of direction and belonging in a fellowship that transcended spatial isolation. This was the key to her peace of mind in a lifetime of remembering the only two Padres she had known. As we finally took our leave she thanked us by saying, 'It's wonderful the way the A.I.M looks after us bush folk' This was spoken from the heart of a woman whose faith was nourished by the few crumbs so meagrely offered by the Church. Jean and I were humbled by this remarkable women of The wilderness and solitary place, whose 'memory bank' enabled her to hold to a faith conviction on such fragile links. We never saw her again for Mick sold a half share in Marqua and the Shepleys left the Territory.
After leaving Marqua we were welcomed at Jervois  by a Selkirk Scot on behalf of the Morely family due any time from Alice Springs. Soon after Rick and Sandra Morely returned home, John and Audrey Turner arrived from Jinka, the station 'next door'- 50 Km was next door. Following a barbecue, we all gathered in the big family room. Rick and Sandra had previously asked me if I would baptise their two year old little daughter, so we sat in a big circle with Rick and Sandra beside me. With the water in a bowl on a low table in front of me, I remaining seated, with Lisa on my knee while I baptised her. Following the Declaration, Lisa leaned over and put her index finger into the water and, unconsciously, made a childish sign of the cross on her forehead. We all remained seated, in a silence pregnant with awe and reverence. This was a moment in time unique for me in a Baptism. Rick was managing Jervoise for a close relative who later sold the lease and our new friends left the Territory.
Macdonald homestead, Bundey River , the lease adjoining the abandoned original Macdonald Downs established in 1924 by Charles and Cora Chalmers. In her book, BEYOND THE FURTHEREST FENCES , Margaret Ford tells the story of their incredible two year trek from northern N.S.W. to the Bundey River. The Chalmers story was known to us many years before we met their eldest son, Mac, and wife Rose. Mac Chalmer's association with the AIM went back to the day his father received one of the early Pedal Transceivers, an association with the Patrol that has continued ever since. As I knew him, Mac was a big man in stature and character. A man of few words and almost as fluent in the local aboriginal language as English. The Elders in a small tribal group living near the homestead were Mac's friends from his boyhood days. Rose supplied their basic medications from their Royal Flying Doctor Service [RFDS] medical cabinet. To avoid mistakes when a prescription was given over the Transceiver, all medications were numbered and quoted on Air.
I was on a patrol in November 1976 when I saw the smoke from a big bush fire. in the vicinity of Chalmers' homestead. I arrived at dusk to find Rose on her own. Mac and sons, Cameron and Charlie, were out on the N.W. boundary of the station fighting the fire. Mac returned later that evening with the intention of returning at dawn to re-join Cameron and Charlie who were camped on their newly graded firebreak. The record breaking 1975 wet season had left a density of spinifex and bush in excess of anything Mac had ever seen. He told me he had never experienced a fire of such intensity - there was worse to come. Next morning I was out of my swag at piccaninny daylight. Mac's concern would not let him wait for the chops Rose had cooked. As I climbed into the Land Rover, Rose handed them to me wrapped in grease-proof paper. We crossed a dry watercourse that would have been a running creek 10 months earlier, and followed the station track into light mulga and a small bushy trees known as the turpentine tree. To Mac's concern we were confronted by flames blazing across the track from the turpentine trees and spinifex. When he stopped and said, 'We can't get through'. I realised that this was a new experience for him. I said, 'It's only a short distance to the clear area on the other side, wind up your window and drive as fast as you can through the leaping flames'. We were through in seconds to safety and soon found Cameron and Charlie in a clearing mending punctured grader tyres. Mac and I turned around to return home some 40 Km for old tyres and tubes, then back again, with the chops still uneaten.
By this time the men had the grader mobile and had worked out the second line of defence that involved the four of us. Cameron and Charlie took the grader and followed the fire-break S.W. to head off the fire and cut a new firebreak back along the dry watercourse to our crossing. Mac took the bulldozer to the crossing and commenced grading a firebreak along the watercourse to the N.E. I waited in the Land Rover at the crossing for Charlie who returned to let me know that Cameron had succeeded in commencing a new fire-break. Charlie and I ate the chops then he returned to Cameron and I commenced lighting fires, known as back-burning, along Mac's graded fire-break. Interestingly, Mac asked me what I meant by back-burning. I had to walk for several hundred metres lighting fires then bring the vehicle to another safe spot. I had our drinking water in the Land Rover and from time to time I would catch up to Mac. Towards evening we were racing ahead of the fire and it was dramatic and at times alarming to see the sparks flying from the exploding turpentine trees over the break but thankfully with nothing to start a fire. As night fell our water canteen ran dry and when Mac produced a 10 litre container, he had filled at the camp, it was undrinkable, for he realised that it had contained diesel. By this time we were working in the light of the fire with Mac just keeping ahead. About an hour later I walked along the graded track and caught up with him well past the fire-front. He had turned the dozer around so I climbed up beside him. We were dehydrated and physically unable to do another thing. Our faces and hair were a deep red mixture of sweat and dust. I had left the Land Rover a considerable distance back on a burned out area. Mac parked the bulldozer on that safe area and we headed for home. By this time I was suffering from excruciating cramps. Rose had a hot meal still on hold but neither of us could eat more than a few mouthfuls - it was hot tea we needed and in quantities. My cramps kept me awake much of the night. Imagine our delight next morning to find our break had stopped the fire.
Arapunya , Peter Hagan's cattle station, about 300 Km N.E. from Alice Springs, was another like Marqua, where callers were infrequent. On our first visit Peter was absent and his wife was alone. She told us there was no one else resident at or near the homestead. Surprisingly, her early life was in Sydney where she qualified as a book-keeper. With a 'yen' for the great outback she applied for an advertised position as book-keeper at V.R.D. and succeeded. There she met and married the Senior Stockmen, Peter Hagan. With their combined assets and Peter's qualifications their application for Arapunya, a new Lease, was approved. All cattle stations in N.T. were held on a long term Crown lease with renewal subject, amongst other things, to the improvements added by the Lessee. New Leases were created through forfeiture or sub-division. However, unlike the Shepleys, we had heard Mrs Hagan's praises sung by an Alice Springs friend. We knew she subscribed to Presbyterian Life and other Church magazines and enjoyed comparing the different translations of the Bible. We had been told of her support with articles she made for sale at the John Flynn Church and Old Timers Fetes, and the incredible story of the birth of her first child. Due to the impossibility of travelling by motor vehicle on the bush tracks when unseasonable rain fell, the pregnant women on the more distant stations came in to Alice Springs at least a month before the baby was due. This was essential prior to the advent of gravelled roads, 4 Wheel drive vehicles and station landing strips for light aircraft. Well before the anticipated date of the birth, Peter had to leave for a distant part of the station to meet the contract date for the muster and loading of cattle for market. This was a dawn to dark operation based at an 'on-the-spot' stock camp and completed in weeks not days. Her husband returned home greeted by napkins on the clothes line and his new-born son. His wife had delivered her own baby! We found her to be a serene, well read, intelligent person and a contented home-lover who rarely went to Alice Springs. On each visit we shared Communion with her. Though I had a small Communion Set for sick visiting in the Parish, I never carried it in the bush. I had a conviction I should use what ever the lady of the house should offer. I have used port wine, half & half port wine & water, sherry and cordial. Every bush celebration was a significant communion. On our final visit to Arapunya, her husband was home. I knew he had been baptised Catholic and that he never had the opportunity to attend Mass. When I invited him to share in the Communion he responded by saying his wife's life had already prepared him and given him the desire to share in what he knew was central to her faith. Jean and I were conscious that we were part of a special moment in their marriage. They too have long since left Northern Territory.
Mt. Riddock  Webb Brs. - Kel Cleary was head stockman and we knew their children through St. Philip's. His wife was busy on the Transceiver when Jean and I arrived, so Jean sat under a shady tree with a book and I wandered over to the workshop for a yarn with two old timers. Having introduced myself one said,'I'm Quin and this old character here is Alf'. As that didn't give me a clue as to who they were, I asked them how long they had lived in the Territory. Both told me all their life, then Quin admitted he was born in Oodnadatta and Alf that he was a little kid when he arrived. I asked Alf if he ever knew any of the Padres and he implied the only one he knew was the one who rode the camels. I congratulated them on how fit they were for their great age so after a good laugh we each admitted to our age. I was the eldest. When Bruce Plowman made his first northern camel patrol the Webb family were living at the mining community of Arltunga. Webb senior was away at Mt.Riddock struggling to establish this station Lease. Mrs Webb was the only woman then living in the Arltunga township. Plowman baptised Quintin and his two brothers. Tragically, about two years after I met him, bachelor Quintin was murdered by one of a group of teenagers escaping in a stolen car.
Alf's father, Fred Price, was the Alice Springs Overland Telegraph Station Master for an unbroken eight years 1916-24. The family then went on two months leave in Adelaide during which time Fred died. His widow, Isabella fulfilled her husband's retirement dream and returned with the four children, the eldest being girls of 13 and 16 who walked 200 sheep from Oodnadatta. She was the only woman to establish a Centralian station - an unimproved Lease which she named 'Woola Downs'. The next time I met Alf he was living in the small cabin he built at Eldorado Bore where he maintained the station Bores and Windmills on Mt.Riddock. We had a few memorable evenings sitting around our Camp fire with Alf yarning about the early days. After Quin's death we persuaded him to retire to Old Times. His sister Pearl, the 13 year old who helped drive the 200 sheep from Oodnadatta to Woola Downs, married a battler and they established Bushy Park, another undeveloped Lease. Their son Fred Bird, a third generation Centralian, was upholding the pioneer tradition on his Indiana station.
In September, 1976, I wrote my initial assessment of the Patrol.
AREA: The patrol covers an area of 215,000 square miles, the longest axis being from Suplejack Downs, 445 miles N.W. from Alice, to Oodnadatta - a distance of about 800 miles. [ 1300 Km ] The patrol area includes three widely scattered stations across and in the Tanami Desert. and one remote station deep in the Simpson Desert. Apart from the Aboriginal Reserve in the West much of the remainder of the Patrol area is under Pastoral Lease and represents about 90 cattle stations of which 9 are in northern South Australia between Oodnadatta and the Territory boundary. To date, I have visited over 100 families on 70 Cattle Stations. The majority of these have been visited at least twice since April last year. In Addition to the stations and NOT including Aboriginal Settlements in the Reserves such as Yuendumu, [ all of which have resident Chaplains ] there are three Police Stations, 5 Rural Schools, 2 large Tourist 'Ranches', 7 Roadhouses of which 3 are conducted by cattle station families, and the small communities of Finke and Ayres Rock and a shared responsibility for Oodnadatta. Quarterly Church Services are held in Finke [ Aboriginal ] and Oodnadatta A.I.M. Hospital. Ayres Rock has a resident population of 80 persons, the only stable element being the 15 Reserve Board Rangers., most of whom have been there for a number of years and the Senior Ranger Derek Roff and wife Bobbie for 8 years. In N.W. South Australia, our southern neighbour is the Pitjantjatjara Regional Church with Rev. Bill Edwards as area Chaplain and in the north the Tennant Creek/Barkly Patrol with Neville Place as Minister and Padre.
Patrol Schedule: This year I have managed at least two weeks most months on patrol and usually three Sundays in Alice when I am responsible for one Service three times a month. This makes an intensive work load with sick visiting, reports, vehicle maintenance, with rest and sermon preparations the chief victims. The change I wish to make is for occasional Sunday worship at Ayres Rock. Our usual plan, for Jean is with me on almost every patrol, is to arrive at a Station Homestead by 4 pm, and after our greeting, set up camp so that we are free for the evening with the family. We normally plan to leave after morning 'smoko'. By leaving home early Monday morning and returning Saturday evening we manage between 5 and 6 visits in the week. For the remote areas we are away for 13 days, and on two occasions were away 19 days for very long patrols.
Effectiveness of patrol visits: An evaluation cannot be made on the analogy of urban congregations. However, there are some basic requirements that are obvious, such as the competency of the Padre as a communicator of the 'Good News' in language they can understand, the regularity of visits, ideally twice a year, and a long association. The enduring mark left on this patrol in 21 years by the late 'Skipper' Partridge bears out these three observations. Any deficiencies of mine are more than compensated by Jean's presence with me on patrol and her relationship with the people. We recognise that we are fortunate in being able to share this rewarding role. Our response to each family or individual is as varied as the circumstances in which we find them. Already there is a small but growing number with whom we celebrate a simple meal-table communion in faith when I am asked to say grace. We underestimate the significance we can give to eating together 'in the name of' with the awareness of the presence of the 'other than man'. Surely this is the least complicated expression of Christian faith and fellowship in act rather than words. I believe that with the decline of rural congregations in the more settled parts of Australia and the increasing inability for them to maintain a professional Ministry, the role of the Itinerant Minister as a resource person training and complementing the Elders will be a new feature of rural Church in the future. The process of socialisation of urban and outback people differs vastly. Those who grow up and live all their lives is physical isolation with wide horizons are not constantly under pressure from competing options all clamouring for priority in their thinking and value systems. Due to their limited 'options' the bush people develop a 'memory bank' that can make occasional happenings or experiences memorable and effective in developing their own value systems. Dr. Robert Guthrie, the Senior Sociologist at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, and I have already begun a study on the effects of social isolation in the decades 1920 to 1979 on children and adults in Centralia Australia. [End report]
The Eastern MacDonnell Ranges: On a 1976 patrol along the southern edge of the MacDonnell ranges I learned, at Ringwood station, that an unknown woman lived beyond the eastern end of the range. I knew there was no homestead so decided to see who did live there. I found a track turning north from the Nummery track and met young Peter Bloomfield from Atnarpa driving the opposite direction. I asked Peter who lived at the end of this track and all I got from him was, 'Mary and the old man at Limbla Bore'. I came to the Hale River which rises in the MacDonnells and an ends in the Simpson. Desert. The river was a clear running stream. The late afternoon sunlight on the abrupt end of the range, the magnificent redgums dappling the water and fine Hereford cattle coming in to drink, was magic after the hot, dusty dreary country I had left behind. I crossed the shallow stream and turned west along the Hale. I soon came to a gate made from the head of an iron bedstead. I walked through to the simple but attractive cottage where an older woman was sitting at her sewing machine on the verandah. I introduced myself to her and her husband. 'Mary and the old man' - who were they? They knew who I was so my only hope depended on their answer to my question, 'How long have you lived here? The man said, 'All our life', a statement the lady corrected with several 'foot-notes' which gave me my clue and I said, 'You are a grand daughter of William Hayes and Ted Hayes is your brother'. She smiled and said, 'How did you work that out?' I told her that I had already commenced my research on Centralian pioneer history and had read the story of the Hayes grandparents, and knew Bruce Plowman's association with the Hayes and Bloomfield families during the first world war.
I now knew that I was talking to Harry Bloomfield who married Mary Hayes, the girl on the adjoining station, and whose sister, Jean, married Ted Hayes. Limbla Bore is on the eastern end of Loves Creek Station [ 3970 ] and Harry and Mary enjoyed their semi-retirement in this beautiful secluded cottage. It was a son and his wife I visited at Atnarpa, and grandson, Peter, I met that afternoon. I knew Gil Green's stories of Harry's adventures in the Simpson Desert. In the early years before boundary fences, rain in the desert tempted his beloved cattle to follow the new growth of short lived succulent vegetation far into the desert. From his boyhood Harry, with his instinctive sense of direction, would ride through the trackless desert sandridges to retrieve his cattle from starvation and death. As I listened to Harry talking about his cattle, I knew that the risks had been governed, not by economics, but the love he had for each animal. He did not need modern ear tags to indicate blood line, for his incredible memory enabled him, even in big mobs, to recognise individual animals. Amongst my cherished memories are the words that remarkable bushman left with me when he said: I love living here where I can walk down to the Hale in the evening and talk to my cattle as they come in for their evening drink.
Harry Bloomfield, a great pioneer bushman and son of Lewis Bloomfield would have been embarrassed if I had told him he had the soul of a poet. During several years prior to his tragic death, Jean and I had been welcome visitors with another son, Strat Bloomfield and his wife and children. We were shocked by his tragic death. I was touched by the trust placed in me when the family and Father Adrian Meaney asked me to share in Strat's funeral service in the Catholic Church. Funerals are one of the few time bush folk make the effort to go to Church.
The North and North West patrol area 27 Stations. Suplejack Downs . Bob and Lil Savage are surrounded by desert on every side and theirs must be the most isolated cattle station in Australia. They are 700 Km from Alice, Hooker Creek is over 160 Km to the north and Mongrel Downs, also surrounded by desert but nearer to Alice, is far to the south and abandoned, while the nearest station in West Australia is even further. The track from the Stuart hwy passes Yuendumu Aboriginal Community then crosses the Tanami Desert past Rabbit Flat to Tanami where it leaves the Halls Creek road and turns north towards Hooker Creek. We arranged our first visit there during the school holidays to help the parents by bringing the two youngest boys back to St. Philip's College. The Tanami track had not become a tourist route in the seventies and after leaving Yuendumu, we never met any other travellers, either then or on returning from Rabbit Flat where Bruce and Jacqui Farands own and operate the Road House.
The Suplejack modest dwelling was shaded with fine trees providing a very pleasant out-door living area. Bob came in from stock camp, leaving the two eldest sons with the cattle. This property of almost four thousand square kilometres, encloses an area of slightly undulating loamy soil differing from the sand and low acacia and other ground cover of the Tanami. However it is the good bore water that makes it viable for cattle. Next morning after an early breakfast, Bob left for stock camp. Lil was worried because he was suffering from abdominal pains. When she could not raise camp on their two-way radio, I suggested we drive out and see if he was O.K. The 40 Km was a pleasant drive through this part of the station. All was not well, - Bob was lying on his swag in great pain, and their two-way radio had packed-up! Using my set, Lil called up the RFDS Doctor who was satisfied that Bob should be evacuated immediately. However the first question to which the Base required an answer, 'Did Suplejack have a registered landing strip'? The answer was no, but assurance was given that a well know local pilot had landed his twin-engine Beachcraft recently and was happy with the surface and length. However the RFDS plane was on a mission south of Alice and by the time it returned there would be insufficient daylight for the long flight. The RFDS then chartered a private single engine Cessna to fly the short distance from Tennant Creek to evacuate Bob to the Tennant Creek Hospital for transmission next morning to Alice Springs Hospital. Lil, Jean and I took Bob on a slow and gentle drive the 40 Km back to their landing strip to wait for the Cessna. A Hospital Sister was on board to care for Bob. Lil radioed Alice Hospital next morning to learn that Bob was safely there. After lunch we packed up camp, collected the two boys and a mate holidaying with them and set out on the long track home.
There was a saying that it took two dusty days to reach Suplejack in the dry and two months in the rare wets. We stopped at Rabbit Flat for a yarn with Jacqui and Bruce who had been very busy previously. Jacqui is French and came from Paris in answer to a job advertised on Mongrel Downs, met Bruce and settled 'next door' at Rabbit Flat. We dropped the boys mate off at Yuendumu at dark and reached St. Philip's at midnight. When Bob and Lil visited us in Alice for a meal, I discovered Bob's fund of good bush stories.
Newhaven , Alex and Rosemary Coppock and teenage son, Clayton, were the sole 'staff' on their lease 120 Km beyond Central Mt. Wedge. The carrying capacity of a Centralian leases is NOT governed by area but by type of country. Bond Springs  in the MacDonnell Ranges could carry five times or more cattle than Newhaven. Alex and Rosemary both came from Centralian pioneer families. Alex did not possess Newhaven but this section of semi-desert, possessed Alex, a fact Urban folk do not recognise. We admired their courage and enjoyed their company.
Mt. Wedge . Bill Waudby and I first met in 1975 as members on the Alice Springs RFDS local committee and developed a friendship cemented by our good time patrol visits at Central Mt. Wedge. It was two years after my retirement before I met Bill again and received from him a greeting I dearly treasure. The colourful Territorian language can carry a message not always appreciated by southerners. I was late arriving at an invitation gathering and as I walked through the door of a crowed room, big Bill Waudby spotted me over the intervening heads and called out, 'Graeme, you old bugger, where have been all this time'? There was very genuine affection in that greeting. We met a few times later at the Alice Show.
Derwent  The young Morton couple from Victory Downs, at whose marriage I had officiated, took over the management of Derwent. We had a delightful visit there which culminated with the baptism of their first baby son.
Mt. Allan  'Did' and Dawn Smith. Before our only visit to Mt. Allan, one of our Rural Health Sister friends sent a telegram to the Smiths advising of our arrival that afternoon. Dawn was expecting us but Jean realised that she was uncomfortable about something. With obvious embarrassment she explained why she could not provide separate bedrooms. Jean thanked her and said that we had our own bunk in the Toyota, adding, 'My husband and I enjoy our own camp'. Dawn's troubled face changed to smile as she gave us the wording of Mary's telegram: 'Rev. Graham and Mrs Bucknall arriving Mt. Allan late afternoon'. She had wondered if the Church had succumbed to de-facto relationships. After dinner we went as observers at a Camp meeting where the local Aboriginal Community were meeting with a hard-line black advocate. Speaking in their own language, and in words that became increasingly vitriolic, he urged them to lay claim to Mt. Allan station. Unaware that young Stephen Smith had grown up with them and knew the language, he was set back when Stephen told him that the local community knew that some of his statements were far from the true situation. A year or so later Did's father sold Mt. Allan to this Aboriginal Community. As in this area, many of the stations we visited are not included in my biography due to the necesssity to limit the book size.
South West Patrol area - 12 stations was the smallest, but included the large Ayres Rock Community which we visited two or three times a year. This enabled us to visit all the stations in easy proximity. Tempe Downs [ 4815 ] was the exception. In Plowman's day it was the most isolated and difficult to reach. The name came from Ernest Giles, the first white Explorer who named a beautiful gorge in the ranges, Vale of Tempe. The first permanent stone homestead was built in 1918 by Jack Williams who constructed the stone work for Adelaide House - Flynn's 1926 hospital. From the hill behind the homestead I took some of my best scenic transparencies and on the bush track across the treacherous sand of the dry Palmer River I survived my first and only altercation with a feral bull camel on heat. It ambled along the lonely bush track and each tine I blew the horn it only increased it's pace a little more. I was running-in a Suzucki for the Finke Sisters which it could have crushed. Finally I had it at a gallop when it took a sudden right-handed turn into the mulga. I stopped and could no see a sign of it. Later Jean and I had several un-threatening meetings with wild camels. They can stand motionless and merge unseen into the mulga.
Derek Roff, born in Yorkshire, drove overland to Kenya in 1947 where African wildlife became his particular interest. After some years as a member of the Kenya Police he came to Northern Territory, where in 1968, he became a Park Ranger at Ayres Rock. Here his compelling interest led him to study the ability of the Yankutjatjara and related Pitjantjatjara people to survive in the desert. This with his knowledge of their sacred rock art, coupled with his study of the flora, fauna, rock and landscape led to the publication in 1979 of his authoritative text and outstanding photography of AYERS ROCK & THE OLGAS. When we first met him in 1975 he was Senior Ranger, and the cordiality of his welcome, and that of his wife Bobbie, led to a friendship that extended long beyond our patrol years. Lofty Zanker conducted tourists around the Rock, entertained them with his fund of knowledge and bush tales, and collected money for the Old Timers Village in the Alice. Only once did Lofty ever mention his family and this was with some excitement when a relative from South Australia discovered his existence at the Rock. He came to Alice Springs as a young man working on the construction of the 1927-9 railway from Oodnadatta, drifted around on station jobs and eventually made Ayres Rock his 'vocation'. A serious illness placed him in the Alice Springs Hospital. One of his sisters came from Adelaide and stayed with Nancy Lamb at Old Timers. As the end drew near I leaned over and put my arms around him and this old battler relaxed and drifted into his final coma. His funeral was a tribute to the esteem in which he was held and a great comfort to the sister who found her lost brother in time to be reunited.
Curtain Springs  The carrying capacity of this Lease was on a par with Newhaven so Peter and Dawn Severin, who became our close friends, used their homestead as a Roadhouse providing food and petrol. Being strategically placed about 100 Km on the bush track [now Lassiters Hwy] from Ayres Rock, they also provided accommodation and camp sites.
South-east Patrol area - 22 stations and 2 townships - Finke and Oodnadatta. There are three tracks to Andado. The longest goes via Kulgera and Finke crossing the Finke River at New Crown. The shortest passes through Santa Teresa to Allambi, but we used the track via Deep Well to Allambi for this enabled us to visit both stations. Deep Well  Billie and Jan Hayes were on Deep Well and they were my first contact with the Hayes family and a memorable baptism. No two baptisms were ever alike. Jan's early life was in Mansfield, Victoria. Allambi  The Andrew Smith family, like the other two Smith families, always had a special welcome for both of us which we both valued and still do.
Andado [10,886] Mac and Molly Clark and family. Andado is enclosed on three sides by the great sandridges of the western Simpson Desert and on the south by the Finke River on the border with South Australia. The station boundary encloses many areas of sandridge country which are useful after rain. The viability of Andado lies in its black soil plains, impassable in the wet, the considerable areas of open plains around the new homestead and good herbage in the flood-out country of the Finke River. All these areas are interspersed with great sandridges and large swamps. The swamp areas, dry for years, produce wonderful herbage when they dry out after the rare very wet years as in 1975-6. On 31 December 1975, Jean and I in our Toyota, Molly Clark in her Toyota and son Philip and wife Dulcie in a normal drive utility set out at 1 pm from Alice to Andado. This was the summer WET, the like of which the Centre had not known for decades. The main road to Andado was then via New Crown station where it crossed over the bed of the Finke River after which the 'main road' to Andado wound around and through intermittent red earth flats, either hard as rock or quagmires, then low sand ridges for the final 40 of 100 plus Km from Finke. The Finke River was running and impassable so we travelled east of the old Ghan rail via Deep Well and Alambie and thereafter more or less south with not another station in the remaining 275 Km to Andado. Molly had tried to radio Mac and towards evening made contact. Mac told her that most of the track from the Andado black soil plain was underwater and to keep to the edge of the long sandridge on the west where two of the men on motor bikes would meet us in the morning as guides. From the northern boundary it is 150 Km of bush track to the homestead. A relatively short distance after crossing the boundary, the track crosses several sand ridges then continues along the low 'valley' between the same two sandridges for the next 65 Km. It was on this good ground between the sand hills that we camped. Next morning when the track emerged from the mulga to the black soil, the whole plain directly ahead, was under water. Molly headed for the sand but hit a rotten spot and her Toyota went down to the axles in what looked like water filled crab-holes. Using three linked steel tow ropes to keep me out of trouble, I hauled her back to better ground. This was the only place the light utility did better. Philip raced across the few hundred metres to safety. It was very slow crawling along the water-logged sand with Philip needing a few more tows. At the end of this long sandridge, Graham Clark and his mate, riding motorbikes, met us and guided our convoy around the sandridges and finally, home. It is about 80 Km by road from the black soil to the homestead, but on that day it took us 8 hours and I do not remember how many extra kilometres following the bikes around the sandridges to the final few Km on the original road home. After a hot wash followed by clean apparel, we all sat down to our evening dinner and celebrated New Years Day 1976
Mac Clark owned a small Cessna plane from which he had plotted our route along the sand hills. Next day, he took Jean and me for a flight over much of Andado to show us the extent of the water. There were lakes even between many sandridges, but the largest extended for almost 20 Km along the western side of the very high sandridge between Old Andado [then unused] and the new Andado homestead. This also cut the track we should have followed on our arrival, and it remained under water for two years. When the water finally evaporated the whole swamp area was covered with a rare indigenous herbage. I later saw the same growth on flood-out country on the Palmer River where it had been harvested and baled like hay. It looks a little like lucerne. Two years later, Andado fattened about 800 bullocks on this remarkable swamp growth. Near the end of our flight, Mac was doing some low flying to show us his prize Brahman cattle when the engine momentarily misfired. Nobody said a word but worse was to come. Several minutes later as Mac had the Cessna in a steep climb to reach safe altitude, the engine again cut out for a frightening moment. While a forced landing could have be relatively safe the first time on clear swampy ground, this was the critical moment, for in ascent, the plane would crash before the pilot could get the nose down to glide to earth. Mac reached his elevation and was descending to his landing strip when it misfired momentarily for the third time. And the cause - the breather to the fuel tank was blocked with a wasp nest. The engine was suffering from air-starvation. Strangely, I have no recollection of my thoughts at the critical moment of our ascent, but three thoughts flashed through Jean's mind. If we are both killed the family will only have one lot of grieving, I hope Hugh and Meredith don't postponed their wedding, thank goodness I hadn't bought my new outfit !
New Crown  On Saturday morning Mac radioed Bob Smith at New Crown to see if we were able to cross the Finke. The river was down but the gravelled causeway had gone forever. One of their 4 Wh drive trucks had just made a safe crossing further up stream and the Bucknalls should get across by following these tracks. As I discovered later, the hazards crossing the Finke after floods are treacherous water-logged quicksands. I was nervous but we made the long river crossing but got bogged getting out. We enjoyed our first meeting with Bob Smith and son 'Boof' [Francis] and wife Karen and the three young boys. After a welcome drink of tea, Bob and 'Boof' extracted our Toyota We continued on to Finke for my quarterly visit and Communion Service with our Finke Aboriginal Congregation, - then an out-post from Ernabella. Monday we left for Kulgera then headed south across the border to visit the McQuie's at Granite Downs and on Tuesday the Abernethy's at Wallatinna. We returned via Fregon where I Commissioned a new Community worker and were back in Alice for my Sunday Services and the 1000 Km service on our new Datsun 240 K in preparation for the drive to Melbourne for Hugh and Meredith's Wedding.
Brief Interlude. The floods on the Finke had washed the old Ghan railway line away and the Planes were not flying in or out of Alice. We left Alice on Monday 12 January unaware that after we left, more heavy rain had fallen in northern South Australia and that the Stuart Highway south of the border was officially closed. We did wonder why we were the only car on the water-logged highway, but this made is possible to drive slowly and safely through the almost endless clean water. By the end of the second day we were thankful to find a camp on hard ground beside an old stone quarry which was almost full of clear water in which I had a bath. One of our memories of that peaceful journey in warm sunshine, with the road to ourselves, was the profusion of Sturt Desert flowering to the very edge of the road. This trip south was the completion of the two months I lost after Tracy, so we did not return until mid-February, by which time the Stuart Highway had returned to its normal corrugated dusty condition as a punishment to driver and vehicle alike. Four weeks later we resumed our patrol in the Finke River area. One evening we turned off the highway and camped a few kilometres along the track to Idracowa. This was memorable because of the profusion of multi-coloured rabbits. Some tourist had abandoned or lost a fancy breed which introduced these remarkable variations in the common grey bunny. I had been to Idracowa the previous year but this was Jean's first visit.
Idracowra  Leo and Judy Murphy. When we arrived we found every one at the stock yard with the two girls, who were as competent as any male 'ringers', helping Dad. The eldest Murphy girl was married and the two boys were still at St. Philip's in Alice. Pam, the second daughter was the one we always met at Idracowra and for whom we developed a warm regard as we did with Judy and the family. A few years later while I was at New Crown, Karen told me that 'Boof's cousin Greg Crawford and Pam Murphy had announced their engagement, so on the last leg of this patrol we made a detour to Idracowra to give Pam, Jeans and my best wishes. I asked Pam the date for this happy occasion. She smiled and said, 'You can tell me because I hope that you will marry us'. Her sister was married as a Catholic and I had made a wrong assumption. I already knew Greg, and their wedding was, and still is, one of the happiest marriages in my Patrol and led to a continuing family friendship.
Horseshoe Bend  Dick and Pat Morphett and son Peter and wife Libby. Before we left Idracowra light rain set in and gave us a slippery drive the 90 Km to Horseshoe Bend. The homestead is on the eastern and high side of the Finke and we arrived at the crossing to find the river running. I was a bit concerned because I could see that the cutting up the opposite bank was a quagmire. There were tyre marks up the steep bank so if some one else could make it, so could I. In low ratio and lowest gear I drove out of the water and climbed half way up before slipping back into the river. Second try we nearly made the top but on the third try the Toyota slipped sideways into the quagmire and came to rest almost on its side. We climbed out my door and scrambled up the bank. This was our first visit and having introduced ourselves to Dick Morphett I told him of our plight. While Jean went in for the welcome cup of tea, son Peter backed his big tandem axle cattle truck along the bank and with me in the Toyota in low gear, hauled me out with a long steel cable. It was a comfort to my pride to learn that the tyre tracks I had followed were made by their tractor when Peter used the same cable to haul it out of the river. We enjoyed the first of many happy visits to Horseshoe Bend and after showers and a typical generous station meal, slept in a warm bed. Peter and Libbie have remained in our friendship. The rain had cleared by morning so I asked Dick if there were any hazards on the 50 Km station track to Lilla Creek. He warned me to take care crossing a 100 metre clay pan on the far side of the only creek that would be running. I approached this creek in low ratio with minimum engine power to avoid going into a spin. Half was across the clay pan we came to a sudden halt with all four wheels down below the axles in a slight depression which had turned to a quagmire. It was a Friday morning about 8.30 am. and within the next half hour the rain set in again and did not stop for twenty four hours. I tuned my transceiver into the cattle station frequency and listened to Bob Smith and Mac Clark discussing the good rain and hoping that it would rain all day. When this appeared to be the case I sent a RFDS telegram to Finke saying, 'Held up on road will not be there for Sunday evening Service'. We had no option other than keep dry inside the vehicle so Jean who was always prepared for such occasions produced her crochet and reading matter. I crawled over the front seat into the back to organise our emergency cold rations.
We carried a weeks supply of tinned food in addition to our day to day camp-fire supplies of meat and vegies. I was awake at dawn and watched two dingoes walking past in the surrounding water. They stopped for a moment but decided we were harmless and continued their un-hurried crossing. A Padre who radioed for help when bogged would lose all respect from the bush folk. I had a 4 wheel drive, and as they did, I sat it out until I could get myself out by my own skill. The rain had now ceased so I climbed out to assess our situation. There was a low sand bank on the left side of the track which diverted the slow moving water around the rear of our cramped temporary residence. I saw that the creek turned at right angles down stream from the track and then dropped about half a metre to continue on its way. Except in the depression holding our vehicle, the water on either side of the track had remained about 10 centimetres deep. I decided to build a levy bank from the 'mainland' along the right side of the track and around the rear to link with the existing sand bank and enclose the vehicle in this pond. I finished this late Friday afternoon, working in water up to my ankles. I then dug a deep canal through the sand bank at the 'dry land' end and into the creek below the obstruction that reduced the flow. It was a good moment when I opened the outlet and watched the water flow from the pond. By sunset, I was walking around on a sticky surface confronted by the four wheels deep in their own wells of water almost 40 centimetres below the drained surface. The solution was obvious - dig a deep well inside the drained pond into which I could drain the wheel-holes. By dark Saturday evening this too was finished and so were my boots and so was I. Sunday morning dawned with bright sunshine and a warm wind. I worked all the morning digging the wet mixture of clay and sand from around, between and in front of the wheels then joined Jean searching for solid bits of broken dry branches under the few big gums some distance away to pack in front of the wheels. It was impossible to use a jack and lift the wheels up. By lunch time I thought it should be dry enough to try and drive out Monday morning - much earlier than I originally thought. Jean went gathering wild flowers on the nearby sand hills while I went to sleep under an acacia on the warm sand. To my joy, by late afternoon the sun and wind had done wonders. The water was still safely flowing outside my dry pond, but to my surprise my dry wheel trenches appeared much drier than anticipated. Would I spin the wheels deeper if I tried too soon or was it safe now if I took it carefully. I warmed up the engine for about five minutes and then let the clutch in gently and felt the wheels grip and out we came. I was the last to use that crossing - Peter Morphett cut a new track around this clay pan and the signs of my engineering feat remained as my memorial. We called at Lilla Creek then to Finke for a shower and sleep in a bed.
Oodnadatta was the common boundary between my patrol and Clive Morey's northern South Australian, and by agreement we each visited the Frontier Services Hospital and I usually conducted a community Church Service. On occasion, with the day temperature in the high forties, a bachelor from a Station about 100 Km away called in and remained to enjoy the company. He was a chain smoker and the evening meal in the kitchen hardly interrupted the chain. George was born and had lived all his life in the outback. As we finished the meal I told George that we were holding a special kind of Church service in the Living Room. Would he like to come in with us or would he rather wait in the kitchen ? George made no comment, so I went into the Living Room to prepare the Bread and Wine. George joined us, another cigarette in his mouth and carrying his ash-tray. Would our Lord turn away a stranger who came to him with a cigarette in his mouth? I had just commenced the Service when the wife of a railway worker came in the front door saying: 'I left my beer here, hope nobody's drunk it' I broke the silence saying that we had just commenced a Communion Service and invited her to join us as it had the same meaning as her Catholic Mass. 'O no! I couldn't, I'm in my night dress'! I replied that we didn't mind and again invited her to stay and when the bread and wine were passed around to take both and share Communion. Reassured she sat down and George continued his chain smoking. With this strange 'prelude' to Communion, I sat in silence before continuing: A long time ago a man called Jesus had a wonderful concern for everybody, especially those who seemed to suffer more than their fair share of sickness and trouble and even those who never went to church. Rather than give up his work of compassion he let the authorities kill him on a Cross. Before the Church and political authorities had him condemned to death, he shared a special meal with his helpers. He told these friends that every time they broke bread together and shared the wine cup, not only would they remember this occasion but even more importantly know that he was closer to them than ever before. This would give them strength and joy to continue his work of compassion and hope for the world. As I turned to the elements, Jean noticed that George had quietly stubbed his cigarette. As I repeated the words of the Institution of the Lord's Supper a silence settled over the room, and the meaning of this incredible mystery seemed to possess us all. George's cigarette and the neighbour's nightdress and the missing beer had become part of our communal life we bring before the Lord who supped with such as us. The Catholic lady did not take the bread and wine but George did, and both were very much part of one of the most meaningful communions in my life. The experience was pregnant with a mystery and meaning that words cannot ever define. The Spirit of our Lord achieved a human bonding of opposites that no human engineering could accomplish. Our lives had become a response to a living situation, and for the Catholic woman in particular who made this significant comment while we were having a cup of tea: 'Now I can see why this hospital is here and why these lovely nurses choose to stay on in this hole'. Is this a communication parable for the Church?
Tieyon [S.A.] We met David Smith at his boundary gate with a demand for my name and reason for driving into his station - it was NOT a through road, it was his track. Having given him my identity, he grinned and said, 'I was away when you were here last year - go and talk to the Misses, I'm an atheist'. We already had a warm relationship with both families at the homestead, so I looked forward to meeting the Boss later. As is the custom on the bigger Centralian stations, I was having a drink with the men on the verandah when David suddenly said to me, 'Graeme when I said I was an atheist the truth is I can't stand parsons'. I told him I also had some problems with a few I had known. In front of his stockmen he then proceeded to tell me why Jesus Christ was the greatest. In the eyes of the religious snobs he mixed with all the wrong people, he had compassion for outcasts, never turned any one away and healed their rotten diseases and he would not turn his back on the likes of me - might even have a beer with me'. I had rarely heard a better extemporary statement about Jesus than this one by a self confessed atheist! Then after another Scotch, he added, 'But I can't understand this Son of God'. I told him that neither could I for this is a mystery beyond the human mind, but I did know that Jesus revealed the truth about life and love and the Eternal we name as God. Here was a young third generation Centralian whose appraisal of Jesus was his personal discovery from the only possible source - reading the record. I never asked him what triggered his interest to find out. When I answered questions I learned more than by asking questions for that could break mutual trust.
The Bush Race meetings The great social gathering for the out-back families is the annual 'Bush Race Meeting'. A classic example was our first experience in 1969 of the Negri Race Meeting in the East Kimberley.
The Hartz Range Race meeting, on Mt.Riddock station, was held on the first Monday week-end in August to coincide with a Northern Territory Public Holiday. I was on patrol on my own prior to the first meeting I attended. As usual I called at Eldorado Bore where Alf Price had built his comfortable 'Shack' and developed his orchard and fine vegetable garden. Alf boiled the billy while we yarned about the early days. No, he wasn't going to the Races because the last time he did he didn't know anyone. Yes, that year over 800 people paid to come through the gate plus those who parked in the bush and walked in anywhere else. Most of the Hartz Range competitors brought their horses several days earlier so, being on my own, I went along and joined John Turner's camp and had time to yarn with the men. The horses were all station bred. Registered race-horses and registered Jockeys are excluded. This whole establishment is quite remarkable and included a small 'grandstand' and large general purpose galvanised iron Hall with a concrete floor. It is situated in a beautiful valley miles from anywhere in a remote park-like area in the Hartz Ranges. On Race weekends it is enhanced by colourful tents scattered through the open bushland. To qualify as a Registered Race Meeting races must be held on Saturday and Monday - the latter being Cup Day. Sunday afternoon is for Children's' sporting events. The station thoroughbred horses with their 'Jockeys' wearing the owners colours parading past the 'grandstand' to the starting point gave a touch of grandeur to the Cup. Thereafter the multitudes departed on the long drive back to Alice Springs. I remained overnight to share with the men and women who made this grand occasion possible, the tedious job of the massive clean-up. Jean joined me the following year and suffered damaged hearing due to the loud band music reverberating between the galvanised iron roof and the concrete floor.
The William Creek Meeting, near Oodnadatta, was a Gymkhana at which fun events were as significant at the few straight horse races. This authentic community gathering was the annual Fund Raising event shared between the Oodnadatta Frontier Services Hospital and the Royal Flying Doctor Service. It was unique because Anna Creek Station supplied all the horses which were 'sold' to the highest bidder as his or her horse for the races. I never found out if the most expensive horse-for-the-day won the Cup, but the bidding was a genuine money raising tradition. The Gymkhana events included horsemen racing down the track with a wooden lance in right hand to collect a ring hanging on a hook. Then there was the hilarious event where a rider would race down the track to the point where his female companion, or vice versa, had to leap up behind and make it back to the finish. Jean and I had a wonderful day there meeting old friends from the southern end of our patrol and were glad of the opportunity to show our support on behalf of our Frontier Services Hospital. It was a heart-warming experience when one of the young station women came up to Jean and putting her arms around her said; 'You and Graeme are here - you really do care for us'. Since those great occasions at William Creek, the South Australian Medical Service has taken over the Oodnadatta Hospital - this grand old lady, the first A.I.M Bush Hospital. The transfer celebrated seventy years of service and Jean and I were 'winkled' out of retirement to visit the South Australian Synod to be a part of the Thanksgiving Service. We remember that gracious invitation with warm appreciation. We also remembered, Rolland, Flynn, Mitchell who laid the foundations without 'preference for race or creed'.
The Finke Race Meeting In the seventies, the Finke Race Meeting was held at Kulgera. Jean and I were in Finke on the Saturday that the Committee met to make all the arrangements for the next Easter Races. The Committee consisted of the station folk and locals willing to do the work. Jean was drafted into the meals preparation department. Race stewards, handicappers, tote managers etc had all been appointed except the barman. Max, the Finke Police Officer, was then asked by the Chairman if he would again run the bar. He agreed as long as he had an assistant, but everybody else was fully employed - except the Padre. I said what better combination for the bar than the Law and the Church. This was greeted as a joke on my part and there the matter rested. I was at Kulgera on Good Friday so wandered into the Kulgera Police Station to report for duty next morning. I knew Max and some of the Committee were there finalising some details. They looked at me and Max said, 'You really mean it'? 'Yes. I meant it then and mean it now'. That sealed the offer and I was appointed Assistant Barman for the three days. Saturday we did not open until after lunch. There was a cyclone fence enclosing the 'Members Paddock' containing the Bar in the southern end on the left side of the Admission gate. Then on the right, the large galvanised iron Hall with concrete floor and wide doors opening opposite the finishing post. Next the food preparation room with a counter opening into the enclosure and another to serve those outside and finally the tote [50 cent tickets only] and the jockeys weighing rooms etc at the far end. The Bar also had a counter each way. Members Tickers cost very little and were available to black and white. Those who came for a days drinking, remained outside to avoid Max. Jean remained in our camp beside friends while I drove back to Alice in the evening to conduct the morning Easter Day Service. Returning, I called at Erldunda for Communion with a Church member. Monday was Cup Day and a number of non-campers arrived and doubled our numbers both in and outside. As a consequence, Max had to leave me on my own for long periods between 10 am and midnight.
This proved to be one of the most interesting days in my patrol experience.I planned my answer to - [a] 'how come you're here', [b] 'have one with me'. And my replies, with minor variations were: 'Max couldn't do it on his own and I'm his off-sider - any way don't you agree the Law and the Church make a good team'? [b] ' I appreciate you offer to shout me a drink, but I already have one', I picked up a long glass of water containing a small measure of Scotch. The few sips I needed to take in public enabled me to last the long day and night on three glasses, with honour satisfied. The interesting thing was the response from the men and the occasional woman. They were unfailingly good humoured, seemed to enjoy the experience and treated me with unfailing respect, and told some mighty funny stories in which I knew they had exercised a self imposed censorship and showed off with some remarkable hand-wrestling. Jean said the women in the food department became curious when they found the men behaving themselves remarkably well and finally decided it was the best bar they remembered thanks to the novice barman. I was of the opinion that the only thing I did was to let them see I was enjoying myself and their company, and they reciprocated.
From 1 January, 1979, my final year, Katherine, Tennant Creek and Alice Springs were transferred to Frontier Services as full-time Patrols. Due to Lloyd Shirley's accrued Long Service and Holiday Leave prior to his departure to Victoria at the end of '79, I was responsible for the Parish during what was also my last five months. .
TIME LIKE AN EVER ROLLING STREAM BEARS ALL MY TIME AWAY. This was a very good month, with twenty visits made, all of which were very meaningful. This whole year had shown a response to patrol ministry as a caring support for bush people who have growing anxieties regarding race relationship, uncertainties in the cattle industry, escalating costs of fuel in particular, and worries about children and drugs when they are down south for education. Jean filled a very important role with many women as a confidential listener and trusted friend.
Todd River  Recently purchased by David Weir of Derry Downs from an absentee owner. This enables him to enable him in drought to shift cattle from his home station to south of the MacDonnell Ranges. Manager, John Thompson, wife and two children, a good visit with a new family. Ross River is a small Tourist Resort lease incorporating the original Loves Creek Homestead of Lewis Bloomfield who established the station in 1908. Our long relationship with the owners - Gil & Bernice Green and their five children (one married) and brother Doug, wife Phil and their four children plus staff was expressed in a 20 hour stay. Loves Creek  Peter and Sandra Bloomfield and at the re-located homestead on the Atnarpa section of the Loves Creek lease. Sandra and the Governess home. Met eldest son Peter and mate on the station. We went on to Claraville which is part of Ambalindum and met Donald Cavanagh just back from stock camp for a short break. Wife Neva and children in Alice for children's education. Ambalindum [ 3366 ] Bill and Myrtle Cavanagh [ Bill is Donald's father ] also back from 4 am start at stock camp, so only stayed about two hours. Jean and I have stayed overnight at both homesteads before. The Garden  Jim and Ailsa Turner - only Ailsa and a friend were home. Later in the evening I went looking for Jim at the stock camp. Was overtaken in a heavy thunderstorm, found the stock yards but in the black darkness I could not pick up the track to the men's camp. The Turners are numbered in the long list of pioneer 'battlers' who developed the cattle industry early this century. Jim and Ailsa are Catholic, and like the other Catholic families, always welcome the Padre and appreciate the patrol support. Returned to Alice for the Sunday Services.
Atula  Monday morning we drove the 400 Km from Alice to Atula, which is south of Jervois and the Plenty Hwy. Cameron and Carmel Chalmers and children Kate and Callum with governess Anamarie, a good church girl from S.A.. The Atula lease follows the Plenty river for about 130 Km into the Simpson Desert with the desert as its boundary line, except for Indiana and Jervois on the north-west corner. I photographed Kate sitting at her radio transceiver in two way conversation with her School of the Air Teacher in Alice Springs. The evening was interrupted by a radio call for Cameron concerning a bush fire on his boundary with Jervois. Cameron left at midnight to meet Fred Bird from Indiana who drove his big grader 150 Km to the fire by 4 am. Fred was the zone fire control Captain. I left at 6 am to join the men. I drove Cameron's 4 wh. drive utility while he sat in the back with a fire-lighter igniting the spinifex to back-burn along Fred's grader fire break which ended at the wide dry sandy bed of the Plenty river. A successful operation.
Jinka  John and Audrey Turner welcomed us with the affection that has grown from our first visit almost five years ago. They, like John's cousins are Catholic but receive us as their bush padre. Eric and Leigh their, son and daughter, work on the station with the cattle. Indiana  Fred and Margaret Bird and five children. Fred is the third generation Centralian cattleman [as I noted above] through his parents and grandmother Isabella Price. Fred and Margaret's eldest daughters, Rebecca and Patricia, who had been students at St. Philip's College in 1971-3, were home and enthusiastically working as stockmen with their father. Catherine, David and Melanie were on the School of the Air with their mother as teacher. We stayed the night with this close knit family. During the evening, while I yarned with Fred, Margaret shared her hopes and concerns with Jean. Dnieper  In the morning we travelled on to Dnieper. Bruce and Nicole Chalmers, their three small boys and children's Governess. Short visit as Bruce was heading off to stock camp, Nicole, who had just returned from Alice, was obviously very busy. Mt. Swan  Charlie and Denise Chalmers and baby. There was no one home so continued on 'next door to Charlie's parents, Mac and Rose, where we met Charlie and arranged to call on our way back. We remained at MacDonald with Mac and Rose for the week-end. On Sunday morning at 7 am I set off with Mac to inspect fire damage to a boundary fence. They had just brought a two day fire on the station under control the night we arrived. I helped Mac replace burnt posts with iron star pickets and using a wire strainer we completed temporary repairs to about 5 Km of the barb wire boundary fence. Mac and I are now old mates when it comes to fire fighting and fence repairs. This will be our last visit with these pioneers with whom we have shared communion in act and friendship.
Left for Derry Downs. Derry Downs  David and Kathy Weir, sons Stewart and Lauchlin and Governess Margaret Ogilvy. Four years earlier our first visit to the Weir family was coupled with tragedy. We knew that they were expecting us so were surprised when we arrived to find no one home. Expecting them back that night we camped near the homestead not knowing that their Scottish Governess had been fatally injured that morning in a fall from a horse. She was evacuated to hospitable by the RFDS. The girl's father flew out from Scotland and we met him with David and Kathy for the funeral service which I conducted in the John Flynn Church. We arranged to return to Derry Downs several weeks later to share the healing process with them. Significantly it was Passion Week and Kathy who had been unable to talk with the boys, asked Jean to tell them about death and resurrection. It was not long before Jean discovered to her amusement how effective her lesson had been. Next day when the time came to say goodbye, young Lockie gave her an extra hug and said: 'Well I don't suppose I'll be seeing you again'. In some surprise Jean asked, 'Why is that Lockie'? to which he cheerfully replied. 'Well, you are getting awfully old and will probably die soon. But never mind I'll meet up with you again when I'm old and die.' This was a memorable Easter experience and each visit thereafter the boys accepted Jean as a kind of extra Grannie. As was usual, on this farewell visit we remained over night and visited the boys during their school of the Air. After our farewells we returned to MacDonald by lunch-time to learn that due to a break-down in the helicopter due at Mt. Swan for mustering, Charlie and Denise had to go into Alice Springs. Delmore  & Delny  Jessie Holt, Mac Chalmers younger sister, inherited Delny and the family run both as one station. The parents were living in Alice and son Donald and wife Janet and baby Eliza were on the station during the latter time of my patrol. However they were in Alice when we arrived but were expected back that evening. Jean sat in the Toyota and read while I spent the time with three men, two were Aborigines, 'pulling' the house water bore. They were not back by evening so Jean and I went a kilometre down the Bundey River to a beautiful camp spot we knew and were in our swags by dark. Still not back next morning but we met them on the road and in a bush tradition got together for an hours yarn where we met. Normally we would have returned with Donald and Janet but protocol required us to be home before next morning to entertain the Indonesian Consul and his wife. [End Report ]
Andado re-visited Our association with the Clark family at Andado excited our fascination with the extremes in desolation and beauty in the Simpson Desert. Following that remarkable wet season of 1975-6, the prolific regeneration of the Grevilleas, Acacias and flowering shrubs and wild-flowers is always wonderful but seen amidst the red-sandhills of the Simpson it is very special. I had seen the desolation years earlier in the Gibson and Victoria Deserts and it was easy for me to visualise the desolation on Andado during that drought. Cattle that could not be trucked away simply died by hundreds of thousands throughout central Australia. The Clark family survived their enormous stock losses thanks to Mac securing a contract hauling fuel to a French oil exploration group in the heart of the Simpson. Mac won the contract because he lived in the Simpson Desert and owned one of the few 6 wheel drive special Land Rover diesel trucks in Australia. For 18 months in the early sixties, he and a mate hauled fuel from the old Ghan rail across the Simpson desert to the French Depots. Because the prevailing winds blew from the west the easier slope up is on the west side of the great sand-ridges, with the steep side on the east. The big 6 wheel diesel crossing from west to east had the best gradient while loaded and the steep side while returning empty.
After that eventful first flight in Mac's small Cessna, I often went with him and one morning on our way to Finke, he said, 'Graeme. I need a some shut-eye, you drive her, just keep straight for that bald hill on the skyline'. No, he didn't ask me if I had ever flown a plane, he just shut his eyes and left me to it. I hadn't but had sat in the co-pilot seat so often that I did as he directed. I am almost certain he was watching me out of the corner of his eye but I was too busy to look at him. The boys were trucking cattle at Finke and wanted something from home, so back we went. Mac took-of and landed and I flew the Cessna three more times that day, and many times thereafter with Mac and in other Cessnas in other places, including Arnhem Land. I never learned to land or take-off but enjoyed relieving the pilot on the long and tedious flights over such long distances.
Our grief and shock can be imagined when on 12 July 1978 Mac Clark's Cessna went missing on the short flight from Finke to Andado. As he took off from Finke he contacted the Alice Springs Flight Service just after 3 pm that day. The Officer on duty knew Mac personally and called him back a few minutes later because he thought his voice sounded strained. Mac replied that he was O.K. but Mike was still troubled for he heard Mac drop the microphone several times. He called him again at 3.30 when he should have landed at Andado, but got no reply. The pilot must report his land time. Thinking Mac may have made a detour to inspect his stud cattle, he waited a reasonable time without response from Mac then called up Rex Lowe at Mt Dare. Rex received the call when he was in the Air himself and headed for Andado to see if Mac's plane was on the ground. It was not, so Rex followed the air route over the sandhills between Andado and Finke and at the moment he spotted the crashed Cessna he saw the injured Mac, who had regained consciousness, crawling out of the wreckage. Late in the evening the family using two 4 wh. drive vehicles found him in the wreckage and brought him back to the homestead. Late that night with flares lighting the runway Mac was evacuated by a private plane to Alice Springs Hospital where he died from a second heart attack the following day. This was not the end of Molly Clark's tragedy. Jean and I were in Melbourne attending the Second Assembly of the Uniting Church when we received a message from Molly in Adelaide telling us that eldest son, Graham, had been killed in a collision with a freight train near Woomera. His wife was in a car ahead, and returned to find their daughter unhurt. We left for Adelaide on the first available plane in time to stay with the family overnight and share their grief in the funeral service next morning. Soon after this the family were compelled to sell Andado but Molly still lives on her own small lease, Old Andado, telling tourists what it was like in the 'good old days'
Undoolya Station  was established in 1872 as the first legal station lease in the Northern Territory. The Hayes family purchased the Lease in 1907 from the Willowrie Pastoral Company and have owned in ever since. My first real meeting with Ted Hayes, grandson of the 1874 pioneer, William Hayes, was on the roadside. I was returning on a station track when I saw a man walking along the edge of the road pulling up weeds in the table-drain. Having exchanged greetings I asked why he was concerned about a few weeds. He had recognised it as Bathurst Burr which could become a major curse if allowed to spread. I suggested it was the responsibility of the Lands Department. He agreed but reminded me it was on his land and too serious to wait for action by a government department. I thought, you are like my father in your attitudes. This was the beginning of our friendship and common bond in pioneer history. During Jean and my five years of retirement in Alice Springs, Ted and I spent many days exploring the route of the original track from the Hugh River to Arltunga. I would drive out to Undoolya for our 7 am breakfast with Ted and Jean, then Ted and I would go for the day in his Toyota 4 wh. truck for a bush-bashing attempt to follow the original track to Undoolya.
Ted told me how much bush knowledge he had gathered during his childhood on Maryvale , from the local aborigines,
'We had aboriginal women looking after us as children and they were very good. In the afternoons when we went to get the cows with them they used to show us where all the bush tucker was and how to gather it'.
This was a significant beginning in his education for life in the bush and established a relationship with Aborigines which he never lost. His education at Maryvale depended on the availability of a Governess until his parents moved to Undoolya in 1922. The proximity of the homestead to Alice Springs enabled him to complete his education at Ida Standley's school in the township. During the 1983 Jubilee celebrating the name change from Stuart to Alice Springs, Ted claimed that it was Ida Standley who gave him the basic education that enabled him to fulfil his pastoral and community responsibilities. In 1937, he married Jean Bloomfield, daughter of Lewis and Lillian Bloomfield of Loves Creek. Following their marriage, they took over the management of Owen Springs  another Hayes family Station. In 1939 they moved back to Undoolya to manage for his father who contemplated retirement in Alice Springs. Ted purchased a one third share in Undoolya in 1947 and in 1953, when his father did retire, he and Jean became sole owners. In 1960 he purchased Deep Well and the family Company run the two stations as a single entity.
Ted's conviction that the arid environment determines the parameters of man's encroachment enabled him to achieve a delicate balance between modern technology and the environment. During his early years the station was mostly open range with limited natural water and this concentrated cattle close to water. Consequently this not only reduced stock numbers but eroded the areas around the water. Further, when there were no sub-divisions or paddocks, mustering was labour intensive. By the nineteen-sixties, Ted Hayes was subdividing, and building cattle traps at watering places with trap paddocks to hold the cattle for drafting. He maintained that unless cattle are subjected to regular handling they soon become as wild as feral animals. By the late nineteen eighties he had completed almost 600 Km of fencing and was able to handle all his cattle twice a year. By this time, Undoolya-Deep Well had sixty watering points so well placed that there is no area without a man made bore. The value in beef quality and the preservation of the fragile land surface is immeasurably enhanced when every beast is close to water. Much of the soil has a heavy natural crust which prevents easy penetration of rain. Ted noted the significance of grass growing where the hoof-marks of grazing cattle had broken this crust. This gave him insight into ways to improve re-vegetation of native and introduced grasses. Ted, not only achieved a remarkable degree of self education but had an analytical mind that enabled him to apply the practical application to his own beloved Undoolya. He not only knew Poll Herefords and land management but had the business acumen to hold a balance between income and expenditure that enabled him to survive the inevitable droughts and market fluctuations.
In the last thirty years of his life he doubled the carrying capacity of Undoolya-Deep Well and by his grazing controls and re-vegetation, enhanced the quality of the land. Ted Hayes knew his own mind and set his own standards. I knew him as a man with simple tastes, reserved with strangers yet warm in the friendships he developed. Ted died suddenly on 5 March 1988. His widow, Jean, and family arranged for me to fly from Melbourne for his funeral service in the John Flynn Memorial Church. The congregation of mourners, representing a cross section of the Territories multi-racial and cultural communities, paid its own tributes to him as 'a man for all peoples'.
What had I learned in the northern years of my ministry? The fundamental lesson I had always discerned dimly, was becoming as clear and refreshing as my childhood Clifton spring water. I realised that my patrol experience, in particular, led me full circle and enabled me to discern the meaning of that strange experience on the evening of first day of January 1932 when I experienced the compulsion to train for the Ministry. Yes, at the end of my ministerial pilgrimage I finally defined the roots of my own Theology. Theology must relate, without retraction, to living situations in the total life of every community. Theology is for the refugee from 'ethnic cleansing', for cattle producers, wheat farmers, factory workers and civil servants in forced redundancies and our youth who leave school facing a grim future. The love and the compassion of our justice are the two sides of the one coin. Unless you listen to their story, their hang-ups, their hopes and accept them for what they are and not what you think they should be, you do not really understand what Jesus was about in his relationship with the 'ordinary' people of his day and the meaning of his Cross.
Yes, at seventy years and eight months, I had exceeded the age for retirement. December 1979 was also the end of an era, for new roads, Telecom micro-wave telephones, video and television for school of the air, and mobile car-phones have replaced most of the transceivers. Two station women we knew shared a maternity hospital ward, met next when the baby daughter of one married the nephew of the other. Most weeks they heard each other on the RFDS radio frequency. They were part of a community that was heard and felt but rarely seen. Now the wilderness and dry land has returned to the pre-peddle radio silence thanks to technology.
We are thankful that all our experiences in North and Central Australia, beginning in 1969 until we returned to Melbourne at the end of 1984, was the most interesting period between the two eras. We lived through the last of the old era and saw the intimations of the new.
FAR ACROSS THE LONELY PLACES OF THE DRY LAND FLYNN PLANTED HOPE AND FROM THE HEARTS OF THOSE WHO CALL THESE PLACES HOME, JEAN AND I GATHERED LOVE