My Experiences at ‘Catumnal’

AuthorReg Locke
Time8 min read

My Jackerooing days spread from 1918 to 1920. When Bert Westcott visited my family in Sydney early in 1918, he suggested to my father that he would give me a job as a Jackeroo. I was sixteen at the time, and was most attracted by the offer, and accepted. In July 1918, in company with Uncle Willie Westcott (of Ballarat), who was to go to Catumnal for a holiday, we set out from North. Sydney to Brisbane (via Toowoomba) by train, then Boat Train to Gladstone. Sailed in the Mail Steamer “Bingera” via Mackay & Bowen to Townsville, train again to Hughenden & Stamford, where Bert kindly met us in his 1916 Dodge. The fifty mile, two-hour drive between Stamford & “Catumnal” I got to know well during my stay, for on one occasion after heavy rain, a small group of us took 18 hours to cover the same distance, so I remember the track well.

On arrival at “Catumnal we were met and warmly welcomed by not only Aunt Elsie, but Kate & Lew Westcott and their families. An additional house had been joined to the original “Catumnal” homestead with the midway verandah as the general meeting place for both families. In addition to the family were the Wilson sisters (Nell & Jean) who assisted in the household. Altogether we were quite a household.

I am sure I was the greenest bit of jackeroo material in Queensland on my arrival, for I went straight from a Bank job to the property. Bert, however, was most understanding. I look back on my period at “Catumnal” as one of appreciation for the good and useful training I received and have valued all my life.

“Catumnal” at this period was a 20,000-acre property, divided into two main paddocks, with two or three small paddocks near the house. The only permanent water came from an auxiliary mill from a deep bore at “Burnside”. This water flowed to the property via a bore-drain. My first job at “Catumnal” was to delve the bore drain. Later, during drought periods, it was my job to sleep beside the pump shed at “Burnside” and keep water flowing, when the wind refused to blow.

To be able to ride a horse was naturally necessary. “Catumnal had some interesting and some good hacks. Bert was, & rightly so, attached to a mare “Trixie”. This fine mare had a beautiful canter and it was one of my delights to be allowed to ride her. There were two ponies, “Peter” and “Trixie”. “Peter” was the pony for all beginners. A comfortable hack to ride, easy to handle by children, and a family pet. On one occasion in the shed, I noticed a quantity of wheat missing. “ Peter”, being the family pet and often in trouble, was the suspect. He was found just about to drink at the dam. No water for 48 hours was his sentence, & fortunately, he lived.

“Dick” the other cream pony, was hard in the mouth and would bolt if given the chance. I used him a lot as a hack and he was useful in the sulky. On one occasion I remember, Vernon Flynn and I were mending the telephone line from “Catumnal” to Tangorin, on the” Rockwood” boundary, When “Dick” the pony, took into his head to bolt in a 20,000-acre paddock of “Rockwood”, just at dark. The outlook was grim, but fortunately, he stopped after running half a mile with the sulky and equipment intact. Two other hacks I remember were “Bluey” a tall grey horse, and in my day, a young filly “Half Portion” who at times provided some more lively riding.

Life on the property in my days was never dull, but a very distinct change from the city. No electricity, which of course meant no ice. The Drip Safe, kept in the midway, was the only means of keeping food cool. Butter in the summer came in cans and was little better than a summer drink. Lighting was the pressure gas system in the main rooms of the house. The beer was only obtainable when someone went to town. Then it had to be lowered into the 400-gallon sunken ships tank, near the back door, to cool. When required it was hauled to the top on a string. The mail arrived (in the dry season) once a week in a model T Ford utility. The mailman had the contract from Corfield to Corfield, and it took him a week to complete the run. On washing day, one of my jobs was to turn the handle of the hand powered washing machine. No wireless or television. During the 1918 war period, at 7 pm each weeknight the war news would be read over the telephone. Tangorin P.O. ringing all its twenty subscribers. The all line system was also used during bushfire emergencies.

On the other hand, we made and had a lot of pleasure amongst ourselves and our neighbours. Elsie & Kate were both musical. There was tennis on the Sundays when it could be arranged. On occasions, we have driven to “Lerida” and “Mahrigong” for a game. I very much appreciated being warmly accepted into the family. I had a great admiration for both Bert & Lew. However, whilst on “Catumnal”, Bert was my boss. He was as straight as a die, quick-tempered, but never bore a grudge. One story I like to tell was of the time the bull & most of the milking cows got into the precious vegetable garden when all were away from the homestead. Bert arrived in the car to see them. He jumped out of the car & raced at them. Elsie saw a fork stuck in the ground in Bert’s direction. She called out as he grabbed the fork on the way, “Don’t kill the bull….sell it!”

Two contract workers I remember on “Catumnal” were an Irishman, Mick Flynn and his son Vernon. Bert decided, after a long drought, to try and get some more permanent water by putting down some sub-artesian bores. The Flynns contracted to do this at so much a foot. Unfortunately, no water. Their next job was to build an Overshot Dam across Thornville Creek. I was lent to them as an offsider. I spent about 3 months with them on this job. (I regret to learn that in later nears it was washed away.) We all thought a lot of Mick, & when I went home on leave, he came as far as Brisbane, to undergo an eye operation. Mick was a great example of a Western Queensland all-rounder.

Bert, during my stay, invited my mother Alice, to come up for a holiday. How she managed it with my father & family I do not know. However, she arrived during the 1919 winter, & brought my young brother John, then aged about seven, with her. Ralph Broad (Ethel’s oldest, now in Canada) was staying at “Catumnal” also. The two boys were playing in the shed, the pony “Dick” tied to the sulky. The pony got a fright, pulled on the sulky, & the wheel of the sulky crushed John’s finger against the shed post. Quite a situation! The nearest Doctor 90 miles away in Hughenden. Further to the difficulties, the rain had fallen on the “Catumnal”/Stamford road, & horse-drawn lorries had been using it. Bert patiently motored mother & John on this ploughed up road, & the Doctor met them a few miles from Stamford. He set John’s finger on the road, & made as good a job as possible of the thumb. Bert left Mother at the Hughenden Hotel, & John in Hospital. I was sent in after about 5 days to bring them back to “Catumnal”. Other than this, Mother enjoyed her stay in the West.

Dealing with rain & mud reminds me of the story of two Methodist Clergymen (one the President of the Qld Methodist Conference) who were doing a tour of N.W. Queensland, when they became hopelessly stuck in the mud not far from “Catumnal”. We rescued them with horses, & because of heavy rains, they were stuck at “Catumnal’ for a week. They were very cheerful, useful guests. Both men were very musical, & in their spare time tuned both Kate’s pedal organ and Elsie’s Piano. So for a few days, we had a musical feast.

One more mud story. After a long period of dry weather, and at the finish of shearing, Bert sent me into Muttaburra with the Wool Classer, Bert Kent, then working at “Catumnal”. On arrival at Muttaburra rain commenced falling, at this stage only lightly. After an hour or so trying to make our minds what to do, we decided to try to return, leaving Muttaburra about 5 pm. The rain kept falling. All was well in the timber belt, but in the black soil we were in trouble, & by 9 pm. we were well & truly stuck. We spent a cold night in the car, & next morning walked 6 miles to “Hillview”. The owners of “Hillview” were batching, but as usual in these parts, warmly welcomed us. After 6” of rain & an enforced weeks wait, we managed to get the car going & drive to “Catumnal”. Bert was not impressed, & this was putting it mildly! The 1919 Buick, was nearly new, & in those days ripelin painted, was not a pretty sight after spending 2 days in rain & 4 days in the beating sun. He repainted the car himself, & from memory, made a very good job of it.

I think my “Catumnal” ramblings now should cease. First of all, typing is not my speciality, but much easier to read than my handwriting. I very much enjoyed my stay at “Catumnal” & would like to have remained in Queensland, but it was not to be. With Bert’s help, I balloted for land (one “Cambridge Downs” at Richmond)but was not successful. However, I received a tremendous education which has been so useful to me in later years, especially when I gladly managed a property in Miles Qld., in the depression years.

Things I remember vividly at “Catumnal” were the stock work, I also learned to milk; grass fire fighting (of which there was plenty in late 1918); Dam & Bore sinking; crutching & jetting (with Coopers Dip for flies); learning to drive a car, under most favourable circumstances; painting & carpentering & plumbing; all so necessary, even in the city; and of course boundary riding and fencing.

We had good neighbours in the Andersons & Father Moffat, and also the Hopes & Maynes of “Lerida” & “Mahrigong”

Dick, I’ll finish this by expressing again my warm appreciation for the general education, & for home privileges extended to me whilst at “Catumnal” by your father & mother.

REG LOCKE (31st July 1979)