A Story of Catumnal

AuthorMary Westcott
Time17 min read

In 1912, Herbert Spencer Westcott (who had been in the Merchant Navy, & was Acting Captain on some of Queensland’s coastal vessels)... was retrenched when there was a strike amongst sailors, & all shipping was tied up. He decided that with his brother Lewis Arthur Westcott (a mining engineer from the Ballarat School of Mines, who had managed Many Peaks & Mt Morgan mines) they should ballot for sheep country. They drew Catumnal in 1912 and traded as Westcott Bros. taking over the property on 5th November 1912. Bert Westcott had some grazing experience on Brookwood Station near Muttaburra, (where he rose quickly from Jackeroo to Overseer, because, being a responsible person, he was required to bring the Manager of the station home from Muttaburra, after drinking sessions)—so he took over the running of the property which they named Catumnal, after the area in Victoria from which they had come. Catumnal, I believe, means a happy home!

Herbert Spencer Westcott in his merchant navy uniform, circa 1905.

Herbert Spencer Westcott in his merchant navy uniform, circa 1905.

Bert married Elsie Gibson of Bingera Plantation near Bundaberg in 1916, at Bingera, supported by his brother Lewis, who earlier had married Elsie’s sister Kate. Two brothers had married two sisters. Elsie’s father, realising that his daughter would be going to live in the outback, had sent her on an overseas trip with two friends from Melbourne (where she had gone to school at the Methodist Ladies College) saying that she should see something of the world before she married!! She saw Egypt & the pyramids, and lots of churches in England amongst other things!

Elsie and Bert Westcott, circa 1916.

Elsie and Bert Westcott, circa 1916.

When things became depressed with droughts and low wool prices in the 30’s, the folk at Burnside would say, “Let’s go to see Mrs Westcott, she will make us laugh!” Elsie was a mimic and lots of fun! I remember that in those earlier days of depression, some properties had to have their store orders checked by the Bank before they sent them to Burns Philp or Cummins & Campbell in Townsville – and often the jam was omitted…a luxury!! Our stores came from Townsville. The mailman carried the stores to us from the local siding on mail day. At first the mail came from Corfield once a week – Thursdays the short way & Fridays the long way. A whole week of newspapers would arrive. In later years we changed our address to Stamford, and were able to get our mail twice a week, Wednesdays & Saturdays, with our local carrier Eric Bingley. Eric also carted our wool to Stamford. He was an adept hand at loading the wool. Now most graziers have their own trucks, and cart their own wool.

Lewis Westcott resigned from mining in 1916 & joined his brother Bert on Catumnal. A home was transported from Charters Towers, with all the timber marked for reconstruction, and was joined onto the home of Bert & Elsie Westcott with a wide midway (where the two verandahs joined). Many homes in western Queensland came from Charters Towers after the mining boom was over! The two families lived together at Catumnal for some years, with help in the house from two cousins, Nell & Jean Wilson, as well as having nephews from the south, who came to work as Jackeroos. Bert & Elsie had two children, Enid and Richard. Lew & Kate had five– Tom, Mollie, Cath, Helen & Bill. At a later date, Lewis Westcott returned to mining.

In those days, life moved at a much slower pace. To go fencing one would load up the dray with equipment, and if some tool had been forgotten, they would have to head home again, and start the work again the next day! Bread was baked, vegetables would come from the garden. Citrus from the fruit trees, and of course one killed one’s own meat, and the milk & cream was supplied from the diary cows.

In my day, in the 1950’s we received a bag of vegetables regularly from Pilchers of Pentland. They had an orchard on the banks of Cape River, and at Christmas time we ordered a box of grapes, and a bag of watermelons as well! We received our bread each week from the baker in Hughenden….. sandwich loaves, which lasted for the week. If they dried out, one dipped them in water, then put them in the oven to freshen up. Refrigeration was with kerosene refrigerators, which tended to smoke, especially when one went to town for the day. One had to keep the baffles clean – soot free!

I, Mary Drew, came to live at Catumnal after marrying Richard Gibson Westcott on 3rd April 1948. His vehicle got bogged coming into Hughenden before the wedding! Welcome rain, but those dirt roads!! He had two good friends to support him at our wedding….Doug Logan, who years before had lived at Cressy, & shared many boyhood days with Richard at Catumnal, & John Banning, from Tulmer, Winton, a school friend who attended The Southport School at Southport with him.

Richard & Mary Westcott, 1948.

Richard & Mary Westcott, 1948.

After spending our wedding night at Catumnal, we took the family car (an ex-Army Chevrolet Sedan) and headed to Southport (which is now part of the Gold Coast), for our honeymoon, relying on petrol ration tickets, some given to us by friends for the trip. In those days, with dirt roads, the trip was much longer than it is today, with bitumen roads and grids! We were held up leaving Catumnal next morning, because the carpenter was having trouble getting the bath into the new bathroom he was erecting, off the back verandah. He forgot to put the bath in before he put up the dividing wall!

Eventually we got away about 11am and headed through Muttaburra and Aramac to Barcaldine, where we spent the night at the Shakespeare Hotel. Found beautiful fresh fruit in the shops. There had been a train strike for some weeks, in fact we wondered if supplies would come through before our wedding. Motor transport then filled the gap and brought fresh fruit and vegetables plus essential items to our western towns. This was the beginning of the transport industry to our western areas. Later there came the transport of livestock! Prior to that, livestock had been walked from properties to the rail siding. (This could entail sleeping at night, on stony or uneven ground, when the trip took some days!)

On the second day we went as far as Morven. Some roads had gates, not grids as we have today, and children would run out from their little home near the gate to open it, getting a coin for their endeavours. Next stop was Dalby, where we met a Mr Tresillian who used to live on Broadford (a neighbouring property to our additional area of Jindaroo – aboriginal name for a frilly lizard), in partnership with a Mr Ryan. He sold his share to a Mr Vaughan, and went to live in Dalby where he ran a garage.

Next day we called on relatives who lived on a property in the Marburg area…..Cath & Ralph Heane. Cath was the daughter of Lewis & Kate Westcott, whose family had lived at Catumnal in those earlier years when both Bert & Lew Westcott lived there with their families. Cath and Ralph had three children, Kaye, Judy and Rob.

Then on to Southport, where Richard had gone to school at The Southport School between 1938-1941, after leaving Thornburgh College in Charters Towers. We stayed at the Anglers Arms for the first couple of night, before going into a flat, which was in the area where Sundale used to be. Now it is another big development. We had our friend Celia Price, from Hillview, Hughenden, who was nursing at the Mater Hospital in Brisbane, to stay with us over a weekend. Harriet Barns ran the Anglers Arms, and always had a wonderful lunch on Sundays — Roast Chicken & Vegetables, amongst other things. Chicken was not eaten very often in those days… usually one had chicken for birthdays, anniversaries and Christmas. In fact the only place one could get cooked chooks between Brisbane and Southport was at Rap’s at Slacks Creek! (Mark will love that bit, as I’ve often mentioned the fact to him on our trips to Brisbane!). Many visitors would come to the Angler’s Arms on Sundays, to have lunch there.

No sooner were we home at Catumnal, than Richard had to go looking for agistment, because of the drought. Droughts happened many times over the years. Richard had taught me to drive, so I was able to help him feeding out fodder for the sheep. It was interesting when I went to Muttabura to get my licence. The Sergeant asked Richard if he was prepared to drive with me, and Richard assured him that he was…. And so I was given my licence!!

Once Richard and I were established at Catumnal, his parents retired to Brisbane. Irene Sothmann, who had been a cook/housekeeper also left, and went to work in the Richmond district for Doug and Pearl Logan, who were then living on Richmond Downs. Pearl had been a teacher at Blackheath College, when I was a student there, and had been at school there with Doug, when he attended Thornburgh. After his return from the war (he’d been a spitfire pilot in England) they were married in the chapel at Thornburgh College, with Doug in his Air Force uniform

Then we were on our own, with just a station hand at Jindaroo to help us! Jindaroo was added to Catumnal as an additional area in 1935. The boundaries were ten miles apart, & the houses 18 miles. We had a small cottage at Jindaroo, & usually had a single man there to look after things. One such person, Jindaroo Jack, when away on a holiday, tried to sell the place!! Another put a dummy up in a tree in Lubra Creek, looking as though it was hanging…and frightened the wife of one of the neighbours! Another used to “lift” things when he was in at Catumnal…pillows, cutlery or whatever. When he left, they found them all catalogued, at Jindaroo!

These men would come into Catumnal to stay and help when the sheep from Jindaroo were brought into Catumnal for shearing. This entailed mustering the sheep into the holding yard at Jindaroo to be held overnight, then at daybreak next morning, they were walked into Catumnal. Mustering and droving was done with horses then….not the motorbikes we use today. We always had a vehicle to carry food and water, to be there for any emergencies, bringing up at the rear. Our children travelled with me in the vehicle when they were young. When shearing was over, the whole process was reversed, & the sheep returned to Jindaroo. Mr Vaughan would usually come in his vehicle to see us through Broadford, where there was no fence line to follow. He would go to the front of the mob, to make sure there were none of his sheep in the way. The children and I would feel he held things up a bit, so we would sing… “My name is McNamara, I’m the leader of the band!”

Over many years, drought was an ever present visitor, recurring many times, as it does today, and at times, there was the added burden of low wool prices. We had eleven years of drought & low wool prices, over one period. When we, at last, got a Floor Price for wool, our futures seemed to be more assured. Also, the Drought Bonds were a great help. Our friend Doug Logan was an instigator in getting these Drought Bonds approved by the Federal Government. Graziers could put some income away in good years, and bring it back in years of hardship. The bonds earned interest and weren’t taxable until the money was returned to the grazier. These bonds were later changed to Income Equalisation Deposits.

We had only sheep on Catumnal in earlier years. The downs country was sheep country, & it wasn’t until years later, after those very poor years of droughts & low wool prices, that Banks loaned graziers money – but to buy cattle. Then we had buyers coming in from coastal areas, cane farmers & such like, to buy properties & run cattle. The cattle that had been on Catumnal were milkers, which Bert Westcott, who loved his fresh milk & cream, had sold to Mr Charlie Winter of Waverley while we were away on our honeymoon, knowing that Richard was not at all interested in getting in cows & milking. As a boy Richard had to get the cows in! One time he took his Daisy Air Rifle with him. Unintentionally, he put a charge into the rear of one of the cows!!! Our children were brought up on tinned milk! We did try a small herd of Hereford cattle at one stage, but when things got dry we sold them to Alec McClymont of Inverness.

Many times Bert Westcott had tried to put down bores, as we did….unsuccessfully. There were dams put in around the run to help with the water situation. We got our main supply of water along a bore drain from Burnside, which had to be delved regularly. There were little bore drain dams to hold a supply of water, along the drain, which ended near Thornville Creek. We decided, when our other dams were low, to put in a couple of 5,000 gallon squatter’s tanks around the run, & carted water from the Burnside bore to fill them, with the water going into troughs. The children and our Governess Pam Ward did this job, as Richard was in bed with the Mumps! This was when we bought our Chevrolet lorry, so that we could cart the water. No Aga stove (slow combustion coke stove) for me that year. Instead we got a smaller Eagle slow combustion stove, which went out each night, & always seemed to have clinker problems in the grate. Later Doug & Pearl Logan took the stove to Richmond Downs, and burned wood in it, and it was much more successful!

Eventually, on 1st November 1949, Mr Knuth started on a 50,000 cubic yard dam east of the house, to be our main water supply for the house, one of the largest dams in the area at that time. His equipment & two caravans were something to behold when they arrived…tractors so big compared to any we’d seen, & the large caravans (probably specially made) were very well set up with one for accommodation, & the other a kitchen & dining area. The dam was completed on 21st November 1949. Later a Mr Stretton from Winton erected a windmill & pipeline to pump water to the house, into an overhead tank, & also into a large squatter’s tank (15,000 gallons). We were then able to discontinue our water from Burnside which had cost us a rental of 50 pounds a year!

In 1959 we put in a bore in the N.E. corner of Lower 1. This bore was 3,000 odd feet deep. Godfrey Bros., later Western Drillers were the contractors. At last our water worries were a thing of the past, and we were able to distribute the water around the run, with firstly bore drains to little bore drain dams, then in later years poly pipe was used. A large turkey’s nest was put in at the bore to hold the supply of water which was pumped up with a Pomona centrifugal pump (later a Mono pump) from the bore. Even though the house dam was so large, one year we nearly saw the bottom of it! With a bore drain from the bore to this dam, we were able to keep water in it. Many paddocks were fenced into this dam. (These days (2008) the water situation is so much improved. The water from the 15,000 gallon Squatters tank at the house, is pumped around the garden which is now an oasis, with lawns extending further around the house area to keep the dust down, & so many more trees planted. Drew & Kym are also improving the waters around the run, extending the poly pipe lines & putting in more troughs). Where would they be without the help of Drew’s wife Lois?

Richard & Enid at Catumnal. Richard in TSS colours blazer.

Richard & Enid at Catumnal. Richard in TSS colours blazer.

Living in the country, 88 miles from town, one relied on neighbours for companionship, & hospitality. The party line, (we had seven on the 11 line to Tangorin) was an easy way to keep in touch with neighbours, and the local exchange was a wonderful source of information. Very valuable during the fire seasons letting people know just where the fire was. That was always a worrying time, when the men had to load up the lorry with a large iron tank, fill it with water, & head off to fight the fire with hoses powered by a jetting plant, plus firebeaters (these were a square of canvas with a long wooden handle). Then came the era of the Brompton Rat, which a local grazier had adapted to pull behind a tractor, turning over the soil to make a furrow, to deter the fire – hopefully. Now, most graziers use their graders!

Travelling on the country roads was much slower. We had an 88 mile trip to Hughenden through Stamford, or we could go through private properties to the Hughenden/Muttaburra road. In wet weather one just had to stay at home. If there were storms about, one had to keep an eye on the weather, when in town, & be ready to leave quickly. When I was expecting our first child, Drew, we ran into a storm, & had to walk through the mud for at least a mile to Waverley, where we stayed the night with Mr & Mrs Charlie Winter.

Then there was the time when neighbours had to get together with their vehicles to meet Eric Bingley, our carrier & later mailman, who would head out from Stamford to bring our Christmas mail & cartage. Earlier than that we had Franki Hunt from Stamford come with packhorses to bring us mail and supplies when we had been cut off for some months. We also had a Proctor aircraft drop supplies at one time, (Mr Schulz from “Glentor” near Hughenden), when we had crutchers, Marnie Dean & his men. They had ordered flour & mixed fruit, which when it hit the earth, burst!!! One grazier I know used to get his rum, packed in a loaf of bread for dropping out of the plane!!

Christmas was always an exciting time once we had our little family, of Drew, Merran, Bruce & Mark. Very early awakenings during the night, to see if Santa had been! Can remember one slippery slide arriving, & Drew checking to see that Santa had landed on the roof! Santa always seemed to bring gifts that all the family could enjoy….the slippery slide, the twin swings, the see-saw, & the climbing ladder (from which Mark later fell & broke his leg!) The slippery slide was responsible for the broken leg of Helen Moore from Rockwood. Think she decided to run down the slide instead of the usual practice of sliding down! This happened on one of our tennis days.

The CATUMNAL sign at the main gate (with incorrect date). Image taken from a photograph of Bert and his horses at the first home he made at Catumnal. This tree still remains north of the present homestead.

The CATUMNAL sign at the main gate (with incorrect date). Image taken from a photograph of Bert and his horses at the first home he made at Catumnal. This tree still remains north of the present homestead.

Prior to TREB bringing power to the west, we had relied on a 32-volt electric plant for our lights, this was after the days of the carbide lights which were piped around the house…after that came the Wind light, which charged batteries to supply power. The ironing was done with a petrol iron (with the little tank of fluid, at the back of the iron…many were the times that flames came out the back of the iron. Before I arrived at Catumnal, they had graduated from Mrs Potts irons (a heavy iron which was put on the top of the wood stove to heat, then the handle was placed into the top of the iron to pick it up & then iron the clothes). Imagine my delight when, years later, Richard got a gas iron for me!! The old Mrs Potts irons were later often used as door stops!

Washing was quite a procedure. Before my time, Richard tells me his mother would get them to fill the tubs and the copper with rain water, on Sundays. The water which came down the bore drain from Burnside was rather a muddy colour, so we had a number of rain water tanks. Then everything would be ready to wash on Monday. Though if she thought it might rain, they’d wash on Sunday! There were cement tubs, with a ringer over one tub, to get the moisture out of the clothes and into the rinsing water. Clothes lines, which were of wire run between two posts, were held up with props…until eventually, we got the steel posts with moveable steel rods across the top of them, to which were attached the two clothes lines, one on either end of the T-bar. These could be raised or lowered by wires attached to the ends of the T-bar & attached to the support post. Later came the Hills Rotary Hoist, which is still used.

Having come from a home in Hughenden where we had an electric stove, I was not always conscious of having to put wood in a stove. We had a wood stove with a water tank attached to the side…..so there was a supply of hot water for washing the dishes. These were washed in a tin dish, with the dishes drained on a large round tray. We did also have a small sink in the kitchen, but there was no hot water over the sink! There was a large table in the kitchen, a dresser, where the plates were exposed on shelves on the top half, with cupboards in the bottom section. There was a bench along the wall, and pots were placed on a tall stand or hanging along the wall, near the stove. The kitchen and the mess room were separated from the main house by a covered walkway. This was perhaps in case of fires starting from the stove…..& seems to have been a feature of many homes in earlier days. Downstairs from the kitchen, at the back of the house was the laundry, the pantry & the tool room. Part of the floor of the large laundry was of flagstones, with a timber section at the tubs. One time we had to get a large green snake out from under the floor boards. I poured hot water onto the boards while standing in the tubs, & Richard waited to get it when it came out! Our cat had already kept an eye on the snake when I’d seen it in the yard!

Many things have changed over the years, with the old Fordson tractor being replaced by the Ferguson, and now even bigger tractors, and also the graders, which makes fire ploughing much quicker. Ride-on mowers now instead of the old push mower, (which was followed by the motor mower); motor bikes for mustering instead of horses; aeroplanes for aerial mustering in some timbered places. One thing that hasn’t changed is the rain or the lack of it! Drew & Kym have done some wonderful improvements on our land. We are looking forward to our Centenary at Easter in 2012.