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