Meeting the Pastoralists of my Family

Before I take you back to the commencement of William Lyons’ career in 1890, I wish to impart my own memories of a trip I made many years ago into the heart of the land where that career began.  I am assuming of course, that he was involved in Shearers’ Strike of 1891.  He joined the Mackay Militia in 1890 and the following year 43 soldiers plus 9 officers were sent from Mackay to the centre of unrest.  To date, however, I cannot find any records of military personnel who were involved.

And if anyone who reads this post was with me when my story took place you are welcome to impart your own memories as comments and I apologize if my recollections of 37 years ago are inaccurate in any way. 

oOo

Stepping onto the tarmac at Longreach, I entered a world that was quieter than silence itself, and  into the expansive circling arms of an horizon that reached beyond infinity.  This was my inaugural visit to the Queensland Outback in 1978.  I was a young 19 years old who greeted this new world with wide and hungry eyes.

My eyes were transfixed to the window as my cousin Mary Le Feurve flew our small aircraft above the wide open plains that swept across the outback from Townsville to Longreach.  I had joined the flight along with Mary’s Mother Thera and cousin Johnny O’Brien. As Mary brought the craft bumping and thumping onto the dusty airstrip, we were thrown into a world where I had neither been nor seen before

A tall thin man, perhaps in his sixties was waiting for us on arrival.  His features, after all these years I cannot discern, but his dress, as it did on the morning of our first encounter, still clings vividly to my memory.

“Good morning, I’m Bartley.” he greeted us with a stiff lift of his felt squatters hat, followed by an outstretched hand that appeared from the sleeve of a jacket that was too formal for a simple trip to town. However, we were to learn that it was normal attire for a country squire.

Bartley Deane was my Grandfather’s cousin, a sheep grazier and he was our host for the weekend. As he drove us along the miles of straight dusty road to the station, we crossed a battle-scarred landscape that had been ravaged by nature’s wrath. Rains were scant that year and drought had been declared.  Nature’s refusal to give in to the desperate calls from the men on the land, left the sunburnt plains brown and lifeless; not a blade of grass could be seen for miles.  The paddocks were inhabited by poor skeletal sheep struggling to stay alive; the misery of some ended by the slice of Bartley’s knife right before our eyes.  These were indeed trying times for my relatives, the Deanes.

Despite the hardships that year presented, the grand old homestead of Bimba Station still clung to remnants of a very grand past.  In the evening we watched the sunset from the 20 foot wide verandah that circumnavigated the house, mingling with the spirits of those who inhabited the Deane Family tree. Bartley’s wife Kate told us stories of the glory days, when the house was brimming with faces of family, servants, cooks, stockmen, shearers and roustabouts.  She marvelled at how the verandahs transformed on Saturday nights into a ballroom, full of fun and gaiety.

“Neighbours and town folk alike came for miles,” she told us with pure joy in her voice. “You could see the lights of Bimba from afar.”

My attention clung to her every word as I pictured glamorous ladies sparkling from the jewels that fell from the necklines of satin dresses; their shiny tresses pulled up into French twists and held firmly with diamonte clips. There were mouth opening gasps as beautiful young ladies arrived on the arms of their handsome beaus.  Oh how I wished I could be a bird on the verandah rail to tap my foot to the piano’s jingling beat and await some handsome young farmer to sweep me off my feet….

“Yes,” Kate reminisced with a tear in her eye. “Those were wonderful times.”

In the living room, we sat alongside family heirlooms that graced almost every space. As we listened to Kate’s recollections, I found myself mesmerised as she resurrected a world that was a world away from the one that I knew.  Her constant stream of anecdotes pulled me further and further into that wondrous web of a heritage that wove the rich and colourful tapestry of her family.

I am forever thankful for my memories of that cold winter’s evening spent in the smoky warmth of the huge stone hearth.  Hailing from the farms on the coast, we had not been schooled in the etiquette of our Outback counterparts. Dressed casually in clothes for warmth rather than style, we felt inadequately dressed compared to our hosts.  I couldn’t help admiring Bartley’s brown tweed jacket, shirt and tie.  However, despite the appearance of a rich country Squire, he was neither boastful nor brash.  He possessed a quiet aristocratic reserve, his personality perhaps overshadowed by Kate’s effervescence that lit the floor with a sparkle I had never encountered before.  She was an enthralling storyteller, she possessed a gift that I very much admired.

“Dinner is ready,” Kate announced in the grandest manner, as she wheeled the first of a series of trolleys laden with silver domes from the covered walkway that joined the kitchen to the house.  My eyes were fixated upon the glittering procession which stopped at the end of the long timber table where Bartley, the perfect host, proceeded to carve the roast.  Yes it was a dining experience I will forever cherish in a world that no longer exists.  It was a fascinating evening spent time travelling in the company of rich family traditions; fascinating ancestors plucked from the Deane family tree and the wonderful characters that our hosts proved to be.

Times were tough for pastoralists in the year 1978.  The grand old homestead was listed with the National Trust, although neither they nor the Deane family had the money for improvements, and the enduring drought had reduced the garden to dust.

Wandering through the outhouses of the property that housed the shearers, in the season, I imagined the sheds echoing  with the hustle and bustle of sweaty men and buzzing shears tearing through pens of bleating sheep.  Running my fingers through remnant strands of soft woolly fleece I held some to my face, savouring the soothing scent of lanolin; trying to capture the essence of the world I discovered that weekend.

Despite the drought, there were no signs of the trouble that raged through properties like Bimba back in 1891.  Pastoralists like Bartley Deane, found themselves embroiled in a battle that saw Queensland on the brink of Civil War.  It was the year of the Shearers’ Strikes.  It also coincided with the beginning of the military career of Bartley’s uncle, William Lyons.

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