In my recent search along the ancestral trail in the outback and beyond, I wanted to find an old uncle who featured prominently in my life until his death in 1972.
Young Tom Hourigan was only 21 years old when he came up to the Haughton District from Dalby on the Darling Downs in 1914. He knew the Lyons family from when they lived at Dalby and he agreed to help Cis run the farm whilst William went off to war. For the duration of the war, Tom lived with the family and that is where he met Cis’ youngest sister Nelly, who would eventually become his wife.
Now the story of Tom and Nelly’s romance is another story that is somewhat cloaked in mystery. The reason for this is that those who knew them during their courtship are no longer here to reveal the story. I knew them as an elderly couple who lived close by and it was on their farm of Burwood that my sisters and I learnt to ride horses. I remember my Mother saying that they were married late in life, hence they had no children. I never had any reason to question their relationship, thinking they actually met later in life. That was until I grew up and looked at old photos in which both appeared.
Then a few years ago, I had access to some old letters written to my Grandfather’s brother Ron. In one letter, Nelly mentions that she didn’t care much for any members of the Hourigan family (meaning Tom and his brother Bob). Then, Tom wrote about a weekend that he and Nelly spent in Townsville, and he went on to tell Ron how they had such a great time. Now back in the 1920’s that was quite a risqué thing to do, but nothing would surprise me of my Aunty Nelly as I imagine her to have been a thoroughly modern girl. She often amused my family with risqué sayings and ditties that flowed from her vintage mouth. Her lady like appearance belied a young girl with spark.
In their youth, I imagine both Tom and Nellie to be quite a couple. Whilst Nelly was at home in the saddle of a horse galloping the paddocks that surround Horseshoe Lagoon, Tom was more at home racing around the back roads of the Haughton on his motor bike or fast cars. There are a few stories bandied around about Tom that involve his love of speed and his readiness to go all out for a dare.
On one such occasion, Tom and my Grandfather wished to attend the races. However, with a paddock of cane to cut, load and send off to the mill, that seemed impossible. So, they worked through the night loading cane onto bins that were allocated to another farmer in order to achieve their goal. Whilst they enjoyed their day of fun at the races, a few farmers were not impressed. Those were the days!
Tom and Nelly were actually officially married in 1935 which was the year Nelly’s Mother died. Her Father had died in 1929, so now they found themselves alone at Burwood. Perhaps they went off and got married to stop the tongues along the banks of the Haughton wagging up a storm. Whatever the case, they knew each other for 20 years when they actually got married.
From my memories, Uncle Tom was an interesting character. There was the farmer dressed in khaki drill work clothes, who I remember crouched on his haunches beneath the shady mango tree rolling his own cigarettes and drinking tea from a billy can. Then there was the smartly dressed racegoer who religiously attended Cluden Racetrack in Townsville every Saturday afternoon. We’d wave as his little blue Hillman car drove along Hodel Road to his “church”. Sometimes when returning from Townsville on a Saturday afternoon, we’d follow his little car as it made its wandering path home. Uncle Tom was fond of a beer or two at his church.
Both Aunty Nelly and Uncle Tom were stone deaf, which made conversation quite difficult. On one occasion, Aunty Nelly was away and my Mother told Uncle Tom that she would cook dinner for him. We arrived at Burwood to find the house all locked up. Through the glass in the front door we could see Uncle Tom, with his back to us, watching TV. We yelled, we knocked on the glass, we knocked on the walls and we jumped up and down on the timber verandah floor. Nothing could arouse his attention. So we went back home and ate dinner without him.
Finally, in his early 80s, Uncle Tom passed away in 1972. Aunty Nelly had him cremated and according to family, returned his ashes to his sister Daisy who lived in their hometown of Dalby. So, whilst in Dalby, my intention was to find his final resting place, however, our search of the Dalby Cemetery was unsuccessful. We did, however, find two graves bearing his surname ‘Hourigan’, and according to the man at the cemetery and the receptionist at our motel, there are still Hourigans living in town.