Territory Gold (Part One)


On January 18 1872, John Lewis, his brother James, Walter Soward, and a man called Petersen, set off from Adelaide, bound for the Coburg Peninsula, Northern Territory.

There may have been a sore head or two on that morning, for they’d enjoyed a loud farewell lunch the previous day at the Criterion Hotel on King William Street. The trip didn’t start well, for John had left their horse plant at a depot called Gum Creek with a “trustworthy” local.

On arriving at Gum Creek John found that his horse-minder had hidden all the horses and demanded a “reward” of £2 to “find” them. But John Lewis was not one to be crossed. As he later wrote:

“I gave him the reward, and something into the bargain.”

John was that rare type – hardworking, loyal and trustworthy – yet he expected the same qualities in others, and reacted strongly when disappointed.

Born in Brighton, South Australia, in 1844, he grew up roaming the sand hills and beaches. It was there that he first encountered Aborigines, the beginning of a life-long regard for Australia’s first people. In a minority amongst his contemporaries, he treated all he encountered with respect.

“One of my favourite pursuits was, when I got out of school, in very rough weather, to go and lie in the sand hummocks and listen to the breakers rolling in. Another thing I liked was to get into the blacks’ camp, and watch them making baskets and mats out of the rushes growing near the beach, and to see them cooking the fish which they secured, and eating what we call the native apple (mundo), which grew in a little bush along the sand hills. I was always very interested in watching what the aborigines did, because I thought they were such wonderful people.”

John ran away from home when he was fourteen, worked on farms for a while, then was an apprentice blacksmith. The bush called him, however, and most of his youth was spent working cattle and sheep. The summons to the Territory had caught him by surprise, when a friend arranged for him to be granted a parcel of land on the Coburg Peninsula.

It must have seemed like a tall order, to cross the forbidding interior for some land he had never seen, but John was an adventurous soul, and never shy of a challenge.

Finally, united with their horses at Gum Creek, the small group started north, at first over terrain they knew well, stopping at sheep and cattle stations for respite and company. Locust plagues, however, were roaming South Australia’s grasslands, denuding the land of every blade of grass. Stunned at the damage, John and his party skirted east of Lake Torrens and through Leigh Creek, into the Flinders Ranges.

Unlike so many earlier whites to travel through Central Australia, John Lewis’s party happened to strike one of the best seasons in years. They found good pasture for their horses almost everywhere. Waterholes were brimming full and alive with fish. Even the normally dry Finke River was flowing, and John described it as the best river north of Adelaide.

There were also people at regular intervals, bullockies carting poles for the Overland Telegraph Line, others droving sheep or cattle to feed the crews, and lone prospectors desperate to find that secret reef. John reported contact with numerous Aboriginal people, who he described as “friendly and harmless,” though pilfering of stores was apparently a problem.

They stopped at the newly built Alice Springs Telegraph Station, and spent time with some of the crews. A job offer from the Telegraph Company meant a chance to earn some cash and get to know the country.

At that time, with the line still incomplete, the telegraph line penetrated from Adelaide north as far as Tennant Creek, and from Darwin south as far as Daly Waters. In between was a three hundred mile gap. In order to get messages through, John was hired as a pony express, taking telegrams between the two terminus stations, to be re-transmitted at the other end. John’s employer, Mr Charles Todd (See “So who the Hell was Alice Anyway?”), apparently referred to the service as an “Estafette.”

During this time of running messages between the ends of the line, John and his men heard the first news of gold discoveries around Pine Creek. The idea of Territory Gold started to feature in John Lewis’s plans. With hundreds of hours of riding, or tramping beside a wagon to think, John put his mind to how much capital he might have at his disposal, and how it could best be deployed in the mining industry.

Finally, the last stage of the Telegraph Line was completed; a momentous occasion:

“I went with Patterson and Mitchell to a point a few miles east of Frew’s Ironstone Ponds, where the two ends of the wire were to be joined, connecting Adelaide with Port Darwin. We met with Harvey, who told us that the wires would not be joined until twelve o’clock; so we returned to the camp, then made for the last join, and arrived there at about twelve o’clock. At ten minutes past twelve on August 22, 1872, the wires were really joined. Twenty one shots were fired from our revolvers, and a bottle of supposed brandy was broken over the last post. (I think it was tea.) Among those present were Messrs Patterson, Rutt, Mitchell, Howley, Ricks, Hands, Bayfield, Hack, and myself. It had long been a desire of mine to see the wire connected between south and north, and I was glad I had seen this accomplished.”

The “Estafette” now redundant, John was free to head north towards the diggings.

Part Two next week.

This story in full, and many more, are available in the book “Galloping Jones and other True Stories from Australia’s history.” Available now from theozbookstore.com

Written and researched by Greg Barron
Photo of John Lewis from “Fought and Won” by John Lewis.
Sources: gregbarron.com/resources/sources

Galloping Jones and Other True Stories from Australia’s History

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Learn how Galloping Jones got his name, why a little boy’s parents used to bury him up to the neck in desert sand, why Tom Coolon shot four men in cold blood, and find out about the woman who gave her name to Alice Springs. Read the adventures of the man who won and lost a fortune chasing gold in the Northern Territory. Read about station owners, pioneers, drovers, and Aboriginal resistance fighters. These are the people who made Australia, and most of them you won’t find in any text book. 34 stories, 70 plus old photographs. Easy to read with a nice clear font. Australia’s past brought to life.

$15.90 plus $3.90 postage and handling in Australia

Click HERE to view the bookstore link.

(Image credit: PH0429/0189 Ted Morey near the Fitzmaurice River looking for Nemarluk. Northern Territory Library)



Galloping Jones and Other True Stories from Australia’s History


Learn how Galloping Jones got his name, why a little boy’s parents used to bury him up to the neck in desert sand, why Tom Coolon shot four men in cold blood, and find out about the woman who gave her name to Alice Springs. Read the adventures of the man who won and lost a fortune chasing gold in the Northern Territory. Read about station owners, pioneers, drovers, and Aboriginal resistance fighters. These are the people who made Australia, and most of them you won’t find in any text book. 34 stories, 70 plus old photographs. Easy to read with a nice clear font. Australia’s past brought to life.


Mary Watson of Lizard Island


The ruins of a stone cottage, once the home of pioneer Mary Watson, lie crumbling up behind the beach at Watson’s Bay on Lizard Island, three hundred kilometres north of Cairns.

Mary was born in Cornwall, and her family settled in Maryborough, Queensland, when she was seventeen. Both educated and musical, Mary easily won a position in Brisbane as a governess.

Mary’s employer, Mr Bouel, decided that her talents were wasted teaching children. He took her to Cooktown to play piano in a hotel he owned there, and in that wild frontier town she grew up fast.

Belting out popular tunes on the piano at the bar, Mary couldn’t help but notice when a handsome, fit man called Robert Watson swaggered in one night. Mary learned that he, in partnership with his mate Percy Fuller, ran a beche-de-mer (sea cucumber) fishing operation on Lizard Island.

Seduced, perhaps, by tales of one of the world’s most beautiful islands, Mary married Bob a few weeks later, and packed for the journey north.

By 1880, still just twenty years old, Mary was running an island household and a small farm with the help of some Chinese labourers. She kept a record of the trials and triumphs of her life in a journal, which survives to this day.

Within a few months Mary was pregnant, and she returned to Cooktown where she gave birth to her son Thomas. Once she felt confident of her abilities in raising the child she headed back to Lizard Island and the love of her life.

Bob, Percy and another man headed off to a distant island on a fishing trip. They had not noticed a fleet of canoes crossing the thirty-five kilometre stretch of water from the mainland.

With most of the white men absent, the local Dingaal people, who had fished and hunted on the island for millennia, attacked. Ah Leong, one of the Chinese workers, was killed, and another seriously wounded.

Mary, her baby Thomas, and the wounded man, Ah Sam, put to sea in a cut-down iron water tank. They drifted in terrible heat for eight days before washing up on an uninhabited island in the Howick Group.

The final entry in Mary’s journal reads: “No water. Nearly dead with thirst.” Their bodies were found three months later, and transported to Cooktown for burial.

Taking their cue from an outraged public, the local constabulary inflicted a terrible revenge on the Dingaal people. A sad end to a heart-wrenching tale.

Written and researched by Greg Barron

Photograph by the author

Sources: gregbarron.com/resources/sources



Nemarluk was a fighting man of the Daly River people who would not be tamed. Born in 1911, by the 1930s he and a small band of young men were waging an effective guerrilla war against interlopers on his territory.

The Fitzmaurice and Daly River areas had never been fully settled. With the region’s jagged sandstone gorges and winding rivers, pastoral pursuits were difficult, and supply routes subject to ambush. Nemarluk grew up in a time of conflict and, according to oral tradition, swore to keep his land free of outsiders, their laws, and their guns.

Three Japanese shark fishermen sailed their lugger into the Daly River near Port Keats. Their names were Nagata, Yoshida and Owashi. They anchored in a backwater and made contact with Nemarluk and his community, who were camped on the river bank.

Nemarluk was aware that the lugger was packed with stores, along with highly-prized iron and tobacco. He was also mindful of his oath to rid his lands of foreigners. He formulated a plan to attack and kill the Japanese without risking his people to their deadly guns.

The first step was to make the Japanese trust them. They brought food aboard, served by the most attractive young women in the group. Nemarluk then suggested to Nagata, the captain, that he might go ashore to a lagoon and shoot as many ducks as he wanted.

Nagata took up the invitation, and was delighted to find that the lagoon really was alive with ducks. He shot a great number, walking further along the banks as he went. Waiting until the Japanese captain was thigh deep in water, Nemarluk gave the signal. They attacked and killed him.

Nemarluk took the geese back to the lugger, telling the other Japanese that Nagata was attempting to shoot some kangaroos. Once they were aboard the Aborigines produced hidden weapons and killed the rest of the crew.

A frenzy of looting followed: more tobacco than they had seen in their lives, iron implements that could be filed down into spear points, along with blankets and vessels of all types. They also found guns.

It was rumours of guns in the possession of the group that provoked a strong reaction from the NT Police. Two parties were soon on the trail of Nemarluk and his comrades. The most feared of these was the mounted policemen Pryor, Birt, and the tracker, Bulbul.

Despite seeking refuge in the rugged Fitzmaurice region, most of Nemarluk’s comrades were arrested for murder and faced the death sentence. Months later their leader was also captured.

Even then, Fannie Bay Jail could not hold this wild spirit. Nemarluk escaped by swimming across Darwin Harbour to the Cox Peninsula, a distance of at least eight kilometres.
Heading back into his homelands, Nemarluk continued to elude the police for years. This article from the Northern Standard newspaper gives an account of his capture.

“Nemarluk was captured after two and a half years of continuous searching by officers and black trackers, who covered 21,000 miles of country. The capture occurred when Constable Birt was stationed at Timber Creek, in the western part of the Territory. Black trackers who were in his charge found Nemarluk at Legune Station in March, 1934. Constable Birt later escorted Nemarluk to Darwin to face a three-year-old charge of having been concerned in the murder of three Japanese at Port Keats.

“Nemarluk had been arrested after the murder, but escaped from the Fanny Bay Gaol, and was at large until Constable Birt’s trackers found him. Bulbul, the leading tracker, was also responsible for the recapture of Minemara, another escaped native murderer who had been concerned in the killing of the Japanese, and who was captured in June last year.”

Nemarluk’s exploits became the subject of a popular book by author Ion Idriess, who met the outlaw several times, and was impressed by his physical strength and demeanour.

The dust jacket introduced the book with the romantic assertion: “Here now is Nemarluk’s life story – the tragic adventures of the young chief who was a living Tarzan of the wilds.”

I doubt Idriess himself made that one up.

Written and researched by Greg Barron
Sources: gregbarron.com/sources

We’re just a week or two away from the release of a full paperback collection of Stories of Oz history posts, “Galloping Jones and other True Stories from Australia’s History.” Thirty-four stories are included, with a swag of extra photos and information plus many more stories you haven’t seen yet. Add your email to the list below if you’d like us to let you know when the books are back from the printers. https://gregbarron.com/24991-2/

Elizabeth Woolcock

Elizabeth Woolcock.jpg

Elizabeth Woolcock was the only woman ever to be executed in South Australia. Convicted of killing her husband by poisoning him with mercury, she was hanged by the neck until she was dead on the portable gallows at the old Adelaide Gaol.

A letter from Elizabeth addressed to a Reverend Bickford, who had been counselling her before her death, was handed to the Adelaide Observer after the hanging. They published it in full on January 3, 1874.


I was born in the Burra mine in the province of South Australia in the year 1847. My parents’ names were John and Elisabeth Oliver. They were Cornish. They came to this colony in 1842 but they went to Victoria in 1851. 1 was left without the care of a mother at the age of 4 years and I never saw her again until I was 18. My father died when I was 9 years old and I had to get my living until I was 18 and then I heard that my mother was alive and residing at Moonta Mine. She wrote me a letter asking me to come to her as she had been very unhappy about me and was very sorry for what she had done. I thought I should like to see my mother and have a home like other young girls so I gave up my situation and came to Adelaide.

My mother and my stepfather received me very kindly and I had a good home for two years. My mother and stepfather were members of the Wesleyan Church and I became a teacher in the Sunday School for two years. At the end of that time I first saw my late husband Thomas Woolcock.

I believe my stepfather was a good man but he was very passionate and determined. My late husband was a widower with two children. His wife had been dead about eight months when I went to keep house for him against Stepfather’s wishes. I kept house for him for six weeks when someone told my stepfather that I was keeping company with Thomas Woolcock. He asked me if it was true and I told him it was not but he would not believe me. He called me a liar and told me he would cripple me if I went with him any more.

I, being very self-willed, told him that I had not been with the man but I would go with him now if he asked me. This took place on the Thursday morning. I saw my husband in the evening and he asked me what was the matter and I told him what had taken place the following Sunday. He asked me to go with him for a walk instead of going to chapel.

I went and my stepfather missed me from the chapel and came to look for me and met us both together so I was afraid to go home for he had said he would break both of my legs. I was afraid he would keep his word as I never knew him to tell a wilful lie. So I went to a cousin of my husband’s and stopped, and my husband asked me if I would marry him and for my word’s sake I did we were married the next Sunday morning by licence after the acquaintance of seven weeks.

I was not married long, before I found out what sort of man I had got, and that my poor stepfather had advised me for my good. But was too late then so I had to make the best of it. I tried to do my duty to him and the children but the more I tried the worse he was. He was fond of drink but he did not like to part with his money for anything else and God only knows how he ill-treated me. I put up with it for three years, during that time my parents went to Melbourne and then he was worse than ever.

I thought I would rather die than live so I tried to put an end to myself in several different ways but thank the Lord I did not succeed in doing so.

So as he did not treat me any better and I could not live like that I thought I would leave him and get my own life. So I left him but he would not leave me alone. He came and fetched me home and then I stopped with him twelve months and I left him again with the intention of going to my mother. I only took six pounds with me.

I came down to Adelaide and I stopped with my sister. I was here in Adelaide six weeks when he came and fetched me back again. But he did not behave no better to me. I tried my best to please him but I could not. There is no foundation at all for the story about the young man called Bascoe. He was nothing to me nor did I give the poor dog any poison for I knew what power the poison had as I took it myself for some months.

I was so ill-treated that I was quite out of my mind and in an evil hour I yielded to the temptation. He was taken ill at the mine and came home and quarrelled with me and Satan tempted me and I gave him what I ought not, but I thought at the time that if I gave him time to prepare to meet his God I should not do any great crime to send him out of the world.

But I see my mistake now. I thank God he had time to make his peace with his maker and I hope I shall meet him in heaven for I feel that God has pardoned all my sins. He has forgiven me and washed me white in the precious blood of Jesus. I feel this evening that I can rejoice in a loving Saviour. I feel his presence here tonight. He sustains me and gives me comfort under this heavy trial such as the world can never give.

Dear friend if I may call you so, I am much obliged to you for your kindness to a poor guilty sinner, but great will be your reward in heaven. I hope I shall meet you there, and I hope that God will keep me faithful to the end so may be able to say that live is Christ but to Die will be gain. Bless the Lord he will not torn away any that come unto him for he says come onto me all ye that labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest. I feel I have that rest. I hope to die singing victory through the blood of the lamb. I remain sir, ours truly a sinner saved by grace.

Elizabeth Woolcock

Steele Rudd

Steele Rudd2

“It’s twenty years ago now since we settled on the Creek. Twenty years! I remember well the day we came from Stanthorpe, on Jerome’s dray – eight of us, and all the things – beds, tubs, a bucket, the two cedar chairs with the pine bottoms and backs that Dad put in them, some pint-pots and old Crib. It was a scorching hot day, too – talk about thirst! At every creek we came to we drank till it stopped running.”

So begins the first-ever published story by Arthur Davis, better known as Steele Rudd.

Born in 1868, Arthur Davis was six years old when he and his brothers and sisters, walking beside a cart piled high with furniture and farm equipment, arrived at “Shingle Hut” on the Darling Downs, there to make their fortune. “Dad” had arrived a few weeks earlier and knocked up a rough slab hut. Before long, through drought, flood and very occasional plenty the family had swelled to thirteen children.

The young Arthur, was, according to a much later recollection by his son Eric; “six feet tall—active and athletic—his carriage was erect—also his seat on horseback. He had a ruddy complexion with twinkling brown eyes—keenly alert and observant, with wrinkles at his temples which lent a humorous outlook. Kindness was one of his virtues, and he was generous to the extreme.”

At the local school, Emu Creek, Arthur was quiet and hard working. There was one little girl who liked to sit with him in the playground, and talk about horses, dogs and books. Her name was Christina Brodie, always called “Tean” for short.

By the age of twelve Arthur had finished school and was earning a living ‘picking up’ at the woolshed on nearby Pilton Station, and honing his skills as a jockey at the local picnic races. After a stint as a drover “out west” his mother arranged for him to apply for the civil service. His application was successful and he soon found himself in the foreign world of turn-of-the-century Brisbane.

His first job was with the office of the Curator of Intestate Estates, and a later book called “The Miserable Clerk” gives a clue to what he thought of this particular job. A flatmate, however, got him into reading Charles Dickens, and his interest in rowing led to him writing a series of articles under the pen name “Steele Rudder,” later changed to “Steele Rudd.”

After a few years in the city he missed the bush life so much that he began to read everything he could about the outback. Eventually, he had a go at writing his own stories. His first sketch of life growing up in his boisterous family, “Starting the Selection,” was published in the Bulletin Magazine in 1895, championed by J.F. Archibald, the force behind so much great Australian literature.

That same year, Arthur headed back home and asked his childhood sweetheart, Christina, to marry him. She was full of fun and good sense, and had a keen editing pen. It was “Tean” who first read and helped hone Arthur’s early stories.

“On Our Selection” was published in full by the Bulletin Magazine in 1899, followed by “Our New Selection” in 1903. Both won popular and critical acclaim. Two of the main characters, Dad and Dave, became part of Australian folklore.

Partly because his bosses were jealous of his success, Arthur was retrenched from his public service job, and responded by moving to Sydney and starting his own magazine. Nothing could keep him down. As his son Eric later said of him: “He was always a man’s man, tough, testy, a good friend.”

All was not well with Tean. The lack of a steady family income tested her disposition. The magazine slowly dropped in sales, then was forced to close, making her state of mind worse. Believing that a big change might help, Arthur took the family back home to the Darling Downs, settling on a property called “The Firs,” where he bred polo ponies and entered local politics, becoming head of the Cambooya Shire Council.

During World War One their son Gower was badly injured at the Somme, and Tean’s “frailty” became full blown mental illness. The family were forced to sell up and move to Brisbane where she could receive special care. She was hospitalised permanently in 1919, remaining there until her death more than twenty years later.

“Steele Rudd” never stopped writing until his death in 1935, but made little money in his later years. A grateful nation endowed him with a “literary pension” to the tune of twenty-five shillings per week, for which he was apparently grateful.

Arthur published many other books and stories over his lifetime, including his ill-fated magazine, and but nothing ever approached the freshness and honesty of his first two works, On our Selection, and Our new Selection. They are true classics, and an insight into how life was, “back then.”


You can get this beautiful new edition including On our Selection and Our new Selection by Steele Rudd here: http://ozbookstore.com

Written and researched by Greg Barron Sources: gregbarron.com/resources/sources




Jack and Kate (Conclusion)

PL Station 1917

The incredible Kate Rogers, who had faced down charging bulls, uncountable lonely nights on the track, and wild Top End cyclones, fell to a microscopic bug in her lungs. She died in Brighton, Victoria at the age of 45, and is buried in the cemetery there.

Kate’s obituary in Darwin’s Northern Standard newspaper read:
(Kate) was a woman of exceptional ability, and she will be remembered in the outback parts of the Territory for her skill and courage in everything pertaining to the management of the station, and for her generosity and great kindness of heart.

Heartbroken, Jack returned to the north with his son, operating Roper Valley Station and Urapunga before selling the latter station. For a while his heart went out of it, but he had to think of his son’s future.

In 1925 Jack and John were among the first NT pastoralists to ship live bullocks to Indonesia and the Philippines. Jack was also, by nature of his importance to the Roper area, appointed as a Justice of the Peace by the Government Resident.

As he neared seventy years of age Jack was still a fearless horseman and consummate bushman. In 1927, he was droving one hundred head of fat bullocks, single handed, to the butcher supplying crews who were laying the railway line from Katherine to Daly Waters.

Jack’s horse tripped and fell, trapping him underneath and breaking bones in his leg, thigh and hip. The cattle wandered off, leaving him alone, an old man, with crippling injuries. Yet, Jack’s unerring sense of direction told him the nearest place of safety: the Presbyterian Inland Mission at Maranboy.

For five days he crawled towards his destination, fighting off dingoes and kite hawks that waited for him to fall. Somehow, through determination and strength of mind, he got there, and a Dr Kirklands was dispatched by train to treat him. Unfortunately the injuries left him partially crippled, but he was still vital and thirsting for life.

Official obituaries don’t mention this fact. But Jack found love again, from a local Roper woman. In around 1930, well advanced in years, Jack became a father for the third time. This girl child was healthy and vital, and must have been a comfort in his sunset years.

In 1931 Jack purchased Urapunga Station for the second time, a brave move for a seventy-four year old. His holdings were then around three thousand square miles on both sides of the Roper River. But the Great Depression was sucking the life out of every enterprise, in every nation. Cattle prices dropped to uneconomic levels.

Close to bankruptcy, in 1934, Jack sold Roper Valley Station to the Royallison Pastoral Company for a fraction of its value. He was finished, riding away with just a horse and the clothes on his back. How that must have hurt after being the boss man for so long! He farewelled young John, who had his pick of job offers on other stations, and went to the Mataranka Hotel to drown his sorrows.

In 1935, at the age of 78, still at Mataranka, Jack borrowed a rifle, and shot himself in the head. The wound was not immediately fatal, and that tough old man took sixteen hours to die. Dr Clyde Fenton, the Territory’s first flying doctor, arrived in time to issue the death certificate.

Jack’s obituary in the Northern Standard Newspaper stated:
The passing of John Warrington Rogers at Mataranka on Tuesday morning last at the age of 74 (sic) removes from the ranks of the northern pastoralists one of nature’s gentlemen with a history of fine achievements in the development of the Northern Territory.

Sadly, this tragedy of Jack and Kate had one more act to play out.

Their son John was mustering on Victoria River Downs Station in 1943 when his horse fell and rolled on him, leaving him with severe head injuries. He died three days later.

Jack’s daughter, who I won’t name for cultural reasons, became an elder of her people, living at a Roper community. She died just nine years ago, in 2008 and I was lucky enough to meet her in the 1990s. She is survived by her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.
Written and researched by Greg Barron. Image of Paddy’s Lagoon Station in 1917 courtesy Sydney Mail May 16 1917. Sources: gregbarron.com/resources/sources

We’re putting the final touches to a full paperback collection of Stories of Oz history posts, “Galloping Jones and other True Stories from Australia’s History.” All the stories are included, with a swag of extra photos and information plus many more stories you haven’t seen yet. Add your email to the list below if you’d like us to let you know when the books are back from the printers.

Jack and Kate Part Two

Paddy's Lagoon Territory Storieshttphdl.handle.net1007039462

Undeterred by the closure of Arafura Station, Jack formed his own run: Paddy’s Lagoon Station, on the Strangways River southeast of Mataranka. This was drier, more forgiving country, with some excellent pasture. While they were there Kate gave birth to a daughter, but unfortunately the little girl passed away on the same day. The small grave did not remain alone for long: Jack’s brother Harry, who came to stay with them after the collapse of his business interests, died of typhoid fever there in 1909.

Jack became known for forming and stocking new or run-down stations, then on-selling them at a profit. After Paddy’s Lagoon he set up Maryfield, then later, Urapunga Station on the Roper. He was a talented cattleman and sharp businessman, always with an eye for opportunities.

Kate continued to run the station cattle yards, horse paddocks and drove “fats” to market. For many years she was assisted by a capable Aboriginal woman known as Princess Polly, and as he grew, her son John, who could ride before he learned to read or write.

Kate was not only as capable as any man in the yards, but she was also a sympathetic woman who formed a genuine love for the Aboriginal people of the north. While living with Jack at a new acquisition, Hodgson Downs Station, she worked with Archbishop Gilbert White on the formation of the Roper River Mission. This was not merely a paternalistic gesture. The Indigenous people of the region were shattered and cowed from years of violent confrontation: leprosy was common, with a weekly truck shipping sufferers up to a colony at Channel Island. Addiction to opium, imported and sold by the Chinese, was also a problem, more usually back near the railway line and mining areas. The mission was an attempt to protect and consolidate the people of the Roper Valley before it was too late.

Possibly under the influence of Jack’s father, young John was eventually sent off to private school in Melbourne. And with only five mail deliveries on the station each year, contact with their son was rare. In 1914, at the height of the wet season, Jack was away when Kate received a telegram from ‘down south’ stating that their son was seriously ill, and asking for his parents’ permission for the doctors to operate.

Knowing full well that every creek and river between home and Katherine, including the mighty Roper, was in flood, Kate was determined to reach the telegraph station there. With a couple of loyal horsemen, and fully-laden packhorses for the journey, Kate set out on a journey to save her son.

That trip to Katherine must have been a nightmare: fighting humid heat and mosquitoes, fording swollen rivers and driving the packhorses through driving rain and bogs. It was two weeks before they swam the horses across the flooded Katherine River. By then more than a month had passed since the original message was sent.

Waiting for Kate at the post office, however, was a new telegram telling her that the doctors had operated regardless and that young John had fully recovered. It was a wasted trip, but Kate’s smile must have been a mile wide as she took the opportunity to buy stores and meet old friends.

Before long, John’s schooling was over, and there was no question of a fancy career for him. It was the station life he wanted, and the small family were soon together again.

As the new decade, the 1920s arrived, Jack sold Maryfield Station and, flush with cash, announced a family holiday. Jack, Kate and John steamed south on SS Bambra. What was meant to be a pleasant interlude, however, turned into a tragedy.

While in Victoria, Kate grew sick with pneumonia. Jack remained at her side, praying for her not to die, wondering how the hell he could possibly live without her.

Part 3 next week, or you can download the full story with more pictures now for free at http://ozbookstore.com/categories/featured

References: gregbarron.com/sources/resources

Jack and Kate (Part 1 of 3)

Urandangi Store 1890
John Warrington Rogers was the eldest son of a politician and QC from Tasmania and Victoria. Young “Jack” as he was called, was sent “home” to England to attend an expensive private school, but he wanted no truck with balls and banquets.

As soon as he returned to Australia, he saddled a horse and rode off for the outback, setting in train a fifty-year story of bush life, cattle station management, a real-life love affair, and a series of tragedies.

In Queensland Jack soon proved himself as a top cattleman. Not surprisingly, as he was a strongly built man – six feet tall, and was taught to ride not long after he could walk. He loved horses, wide open spaces and adventure in equal measure, cutting his teeth in tough Western Queensland stock camps.

Meanwhile his younger brothers followed carefully planned careers in law and the military. Jack’s brother Cyril was a Lance Corporal in the Imperial Light Infantry, fighting in the Boer War. He was killed in action at the Battle of Spion Kop at just twenty-one years of age.

War, however, seemed a long way off when Jack was stringing cattle along the Georgina River. There he met Catherine Matilda McCaw, the eldest daughter of James McCaw, station owner, of Urandangi, Queensland. Nineteen years younger than Jack, Catherine was known universally as Kate, blue eyed and full of life.

Jack invited her to a dance in Boulia. Kate replied that she’d rather just get on with it, and why didn’t he just ask her to marry him straight off?

Kate proudly took her father’s arm as he led her down the aisle in Camooweal. It was 1901, the year Australia became a nation. The few members of the Rogers family who made the trek lent a fashionable air to the proceedings, with their dark suits and the latest dresses.

Arafura Swamp

When Jack headed to the Territory, and up into Arnhem Land, to manage Joe Bradshaw’s newly formed Arafura Station, he couldn’t have had a better woman beside him. Kate Rodgers had grown up on the land. She was a born horsewoman, great with a rifle, and an expert at managing stockmen of all personalities and backgrounds.

The Northern Territory Times and Gazette reported, on their arrival, that Kate was “generally regarded as a better cattle manager than Jack.” And Jack made no secret of his plan to appoint her as head stockman.

Glenville Pike, in his book, Frontier Territory, described Kate as:
“An expert in the stock camp or on horseback, she was also a crack shot with rifle or revolver. Old timers have told of Kate Rogers’s everyday life — dashing through the timber and long grass on a galloping horse, skirts flying and with stock whip thundering, horse and rider moving as one, as she wheeled a mob of wild long horned cattle.”

Arafura Station was no picnic, operating on a scarcely believable ten thousand square miles of what is now East Arnhem Land. Wetland cattle management was difficult in the Dry Season, impossible in the Wet. The station homestead was located on the Glyde River, not far from the present day settlement of Ramingining. Mosquitoes, cattle-spearing locals, humidity, heat, crocodiles, and rain all counted against the station’s success.

The homestead came under determined attack several times. On one occasion two of the Chinese gardeners were speared, and Kate was forced to barricade herself inside, armed with her ‘73 Winchester. She was supported by the station cook, who sported an ancient blunderbuss, holding out until Jack and the men came home.

Their son John (also nicknamed Jack) was born in 1902, but Kate didn’t let him slow her down – she’d carry him in a sling around her neck while she got on with station duties. Later, while Jack was busy running the station Kate would leave her infant with a nanny, and, with a plant of horses and half a dozen men, drove a mob of bullocks to Camooweal.

Like Florida Station, operating on pretty much the same area some twenty years earlier, Arafura Station was ultimately abandoned, and the remaining cattle transferred to another Bradshaw property. The country was just too harsh and too remote, and the Traditional Owners, justifiably, fought too hard to keep the whites and their cattle out.

The first chapter of their lives was closed. But the impact of this remarkable couple on the Northern Territory pastoral industry was only just beginning.

You can read the rest of Jack and Kate’s story in “Galloping Jones and Other True Stories from Australia’s History” available now at:


Researched and written by Greg Barron. Image of Urandangi Store, Hume Collection UQP. Stockmen at Arafura Swamp, Public Domain courtesy Territory Stories References:gregbarron.com/sources/resources