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.
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