For the next decade Tom was raised by wild blacks, learning and honing bush skills that would become legendary. He also learned harsh laws of retribution and payback that would later in life lead to a shocking tragedy.
As stations pushed out into the scrub Tom found himself once more part of white society. With his lean frame and general toughness he quickly fell into station work. Some cattle stealing on the side saw a policeman ride out with an arrest warrant in Tom’s name.
Tom, however, had the “trap” in his sights long before he arrived, and shot the horse out from under him.
This, it seemed to Tom, was a good time to take a change of scenery up in Queensland where he worked as a ringer, dog-baiter, and roo-shooter. In his spare time he developed an interest in prospecting.
Tom was a striking looking man; tall with blue eyes and a blazing red beard. In 1890 he married Catherine Mongovan. The couple had two daughters and a son, living in the Clermont district, Queensland.
The turn of the century saw Tom droving with Ted Drewer in the Territory, taking a mob of brood mares to one of the vast Fisher and Lyons properties. When the mares had been delivered he headed for Darwin, intending to take a ship home to Queensland. The wet season had struck early, rivers were flooded and impassable all the way down the Top End and across the Gulf country. Riding home would have been impossible.
News hit Darwin of a droving camp near Newcastle Waters facing starvation and fever, cut off from the world. A desperate call went out for a volunteer to ride five hundred miles south with supplies for the stricken men.
Tom Coolon stepped forward, and with three riding horses and two packs he set out on a mission few men would have attempted.
Swimming the horses across flooded rivers he managed to cover an astonishing fifty miles each day.
Sadly that perilous rescue mission came too late, for the last of the drovers died on the day Tom arrived.
Tom was now a legend in the Territory, but back in Queensland things went bad. First, the Coolon’s twelve-year-old daughter Mary died. Then Tom took up a partnership on a station called Prairie Run, near Clermont, but the business arrangement degenerated into a bitter feud that included the odd gunfight.
Tom and Catherine took up the adjoining property, Spoonbill Farm, but Tom’s former partners, the Kirkups, were out to get him, framing him for the possession of stolen livestock, a ‘crime’ that saw him imprisoned for two years at hard labour.
When he was released Tom Coolon was a changed man.