Sunday, December 6, 2009

Truth about Cullin-la-ringo

LADIES and gentlemen, little girls and boys! My apologies for breaking this blog away from the usual theme of my growing up, but an important mistake in our history was recently made by an Australian author named Alex Miller.
Miller was recently interviewed in Brisbane's Courier-Mail newspaper about his books and was quoted thus:
"In Journey to the Stone Country (2002), I had always wanted to tell the story of Cullin-la-ringo (near Rockhampton) where 19 of the strongest and best-armed white soldiers were killed by Aborigines.
"It's weird and strange that no one has written about it. The silence is partly due to an inability of Australians to see Aborigines as having strategic intelligence and yet they killed the lot in a couple of hours and there wasn't one Aboriginal casualty."
Now ladies, gentlemen, little girls and boys, let's set the record straight. I wrote a factual feature on the Cullin-la-ringo massacre in The Courier-Mail back in 1971 and these are the fair dinkum facts.
The Cullin-la-ringo massacre on the early afternoon of October 17, 1861, involved the murder, mainly by clubbing to death, of six children, two women, 10 men and a male youth - 19 white people killed, and all but one, the new sheep station owner, Horatio Spencer Wills, were unarmed.
Wills, a wealthy Victorian pioneer, grazier and member of parliament, had led his party of 25 on the 800 mile overland journey from Brisbane and had been settled at Cullin-la-ringo in tents for two weeks before the unexpected attack.
Wills had had great relations with his Aboriginal workers on his Ararat (Victorian) property prior to deciding to move to the brand new state of Queensland and develop Cullin-la-ringo. That faith allowed him to ignore local warnings to be careful of Aborigines in northern Australia.
He took them into his confidence, allowing them into the camp at will. He even gave them sheep to slaughter as a display of friendship.
He also had all the camp's firearms stored in his tent. He was in that tent when the Aborigines, strolling around camp, suddenly attacked. He heard the screams, picked up a pistol and raced out of the tent only to be clubbed to death immediately. He managed one pistol shot before dying.
Six kids, two women and four men and Wills died in the camp attack while another five men and a youth were murdered as they worked a little distance from the camp.
Only three of the men left in the camp area escaped. One of the luckiest was the cook, John Moore, who abandoned the cook tent to escape the heat and was taking siesta in the scrub several hundred metres away. He was awakened by Wills' shot, could see what was happening and took off on foot for Rainworth Station, 30 miles away.
Three others of the original overlanders, including Wills' cricket-famous son, Thomas Wentworth Wills, were away at Albinia Station, a round trip of a week, picking up stores.
They returned two days after the massacre, well after a rescue party from Rainworth had buried the dead and set about mustering the remains of the 10,000 sheep the party had overlanded from Brisbane. The sheep were scattered far and wide as the attackers had tried to butcher them for food.
The camp was looted of blankets, clothing, tools and knives. Surprisingly the firearms were thrown on to the Wills' party camp fires but were only slightly damaged.
Naturally the whites took revenge, and while it would have been severe, there are many figures of deaths from both sides, which vary considerably.
Reconstruction of the murders showed that Aborigines in small parties began entering the Cullin-la-ringo camp, which was then only a circle of tents, about midday until the number grew to about 200. The kids were playing in the dirt and the women in a tent sewing. About 2pm they struck and all in the camp were dead within minutes.
I have done a fair study of the massacre because my great grandfather, Martin Kavanagh, worked on Cullin-la-ringo for 20 years after arriving in Rockhampton by windjammer in 1863, two years after the massacre. My father, also Martin, was a stockman on Cullin-la-ringo in the 1920s after returning from the First World War.
Of course the tragedy took its toll on many, but none more so than Tom. While he stayed on to help establish the station for his young brothers, who had been at school in Europe at the time of the massacre, Tom Wills eventually returned to Melbourne where he had become famous for his cricketing talents.
Although born to pioneering parents in the Victorian bush, Tom Wills was educated at England's famous Rugby School where he captained the school's cricket and rugby teams. He went on to Cambridge University where he became the top cricketer and played for Kent.
On returning to Melbourne in 1857 a sporting hero, he was immediately asked to help Victoria beat New South Wales in the annual cricket matches, the forerunner to the Sheffield Shield.
Wills decided his teammates needed a winter sport to keep them fit and wanted a code of football - but not rugby union or soccer because he believed his cricket players could be injured. So he invented a non-tackling, kicking game - the game that today is Australian Rules football. Wills and his cousin, Henry Harrison, founded the Melbourne Football Club in 1858, with Wills becoming the club's first captain.
After returning depressed from the Cullin-la-ringo massacre site in the mid 1860s, Wills again returned to cricket and Aussie Rules in Melbourne.
But the massacre apparently never left his mind and he began drinking heavily. In 1880 in acute depression, at the age of just 44 years, Tom Wills stabbed himself to death with a pair of scissors.

If you want to read more of Tom Wills and the Cullin-la-ringo story, look for Les Perrin's great book Cullin-la-ringo. The Triumph and Tragedy of Tommy Wills. It gives the full history of the Wills family.
Believe me, ladies and gentlemen, little girls and boys, the real story of Cullin-la-ringo definitely ain't "weird and strange".
That title belongs to at least one author who needs to learn the difference between "19 of the strongest and best-armed white soldiers" and 19 unarmed women, children and men slaughtered as they sat quietly after lunch.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Trenches of Yeppoon

HAVE you heard of the Brisbane Line? No? Neither had any of the Queenslanders living north of Brisbane during World War II because the government didn't want to scare us out of our wits.
Why would we be scared if we knew about the Brisbane Line during the war, you ask?
Because the Brisbane Line gave all of Australia north of a line - roughly from Brisbane across to Adelaide - to the Japs. They were welcome to fly into that mass of northern Australia because the big wigs in the south thought they couldn't defend such a vast area and still feel safe down south.
I don't know if my old man, Martin Kavanagh, who ran Yeppoon's Railway Hotel at the time, had any prior knowledge of the Brisbane Line but he sure seemed to be well aware of the dangers because when the Japs started advancing on New Guinea, he sent my two big sisters and my big brother out to board at the Springsure Convent a couple of hundred miles out west.
Dad, the eldest of 14 kids, had been born and raised on his parents' cattle station, Vandyke, about 18 miles southwest of Springsure back in 1894.
With any luck I could have been a filthy rich grazier now, but Dad volunteered for the First World War and was badly injured on the Somme.
A couple of years after he got home he met Mum, a publican's daughter. They married and Dad left the horses, cattle and sheep to go into pubs ... damn it.
Anyway they kept me at Yeppoon because they reckoned I was too young to send to boarding school out west. During the war the whole Rockhampton, Yeppoon and Emu Park areas were packed with American soldiers. Tens of thousands of them.
Being a publican, Dad knew many, many Australian and Yank soldiers of all ranks and could have heard about the Brisbane Line - I don't know.
But Brisbane Line or not, most Queenslanders were ready for a Jap invasion. We had to make all glass windows and doors in shops and homes secure against bomb blasts sending shattered glass flying everywhere and killing people.
To do that we glued strips of material, mainly cut from old bed sheets about as wide as an average bandage, on to the glass. The strips were glued up and across the glass about six inches apart, looking like a design for a really big Noughts and Crosses game.
Up at the Yeppoon Convent, St Ursula's, they had dug big zig-zag trenches in the playground and every now and then the head nun would blow a tin whistle and we'd all dash from the classrooms and jump into the trenches, practising what we would do when we heard the Jap bombers coming to get us.
We would squat down on the trench's clay floor, but not letting our bodies touch the side wall because they told us we could get injured by concussion if a bomb blasted nearby.
They were funny days back in the war years of the early 40s. Everything was rationed, particularly food. Adults were given ration coupons to take to the shop to buy things like butter, tea and sugar and anything else that was in short supply.
These were the days before sewerage and septic dunnies - at least in town and country. We had the old wooden dunny - the thunder box as we used to call it - standing in the back yard.
Out in the country many people had giant dunnies, maybe 100 metres from the homestead, and you don't have to ask why if you know what those country dunnies were like.
They would dig pits, about three to four metres deep and oblong in shape perhaps two metres by a metre. The tin dunny house would sit on top of that hole and the seat was a long board with a big hole for adults and a smaller hole for kids. My cousins played in there sometimes, often hanging by their hands over the pit of poo through the big seat hole.
After a year or two when the giant hole was finally full of poo, they would dig another giant hole.
Not so in our back yard.
Our dunnies had big poo cans, about 10 gallons, which were collected by the dunny man, Mr Buckley, each week and taken away to be buried in a giant poo pit out in the scrub.
One day a local bloke was walking through the scrub and unexpectedly came across Mr Buckley's poo pit.
To the bloke's horror, Mr Buckley was in the poo pit up to his knees, madly shovelling through the poo. The bloke was aghast.
"Mr Buckley, Mr Buckley," he shouted. "For God's sake what in the name of Heaven are you doing standing in the poo pit?"
Mr Buckley stopped shovelling for a second and looked up.
"I've lost my bloody coat and it's in here somewhere," he shouted back.
"But you couldn't possibly wear your coat again after it's been in all that poo," the man said.
"I'm not worried about my bloody coat," said Mr Buckley.
"But my lunch is in the pocket."
And remember, those were the days before you wrapped your lunch in Gladwrap.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Jam tins for Spitfires

I’M getting too far ahead of myself with these bloggy tales about how I got into newspapers.
So I’ll go back to a time when I was just a little kid, a great little kid, in the 1940s in Yeppoon, on the Central Queensland coast in Australia.
In some ways it wasn’t a good time to be a kid in those war years because you couldn’t get lollies or chocolate or ice-cream.
Australia wasn’t producing much of that stuff because of World War II - and what was being produced was going directly to the thousands and thousands of American soldiers who were camped around Rockhampton, Yeppoon and Emu Park, waiting to be shipped off to war in New Guinea and Pacific.
It was so crook for us little lollyless kids that one of our convent classmate’s parents opened a home-made lolly shop in Yeppoon’s main street and did a roaring trade selling toffee apples and toffee lollies.
Us Yeppoon kids did our part in the war effort by pushing our billycarts around Yeppoon collecting scrap metal anywhere we could, but mostly from people’s back yards.
We were told that it was going to the big cities down south to be melted down and turned into army tanks, cannons and Spitfires, but for cripes sake a lot of the stuff my big brother, Marty, and I collected was rusty old corrugated iron. They told us it would be turned into armament in the war effort.
That’s what led to one of the most exciting times in my young life and which I still remember at least 67 years on.
I was about seven and had gone to Rockhampton with my parents to visit my uncle and aunt and my cousins.
I was playing in their back yard about mid-morning when a distant roar turned my attention to the southern sky. I didn’t know what was going on hearing motor noises in the sky because we didn’t hear or see any aeroplanes over Yeppoon.
Then suddenly over the southern horizon came a beautiful Spitfire fighter plane, the first I had ever seen. I had always admired pictures of Spitfires. But here was the real thing. A ridgy-didge beautiful Spitfire about to fly over me.
But … hold on. It was followed by another Spitfire … and another and another. I counted them - 13 beautiful Spitfires flying over Rockhampton on their way north to the war.
I tried really hard to see if any of our scrap metal had been used to build those beautiful Spitfires. Maybe some rusty corrugated iron, or maybe that bit of angle iron, or maybe that big old jam tin.
But I couldn’t recognise any scrap metal in those beautiful, beautiful fighters.
I knew then and there that I had to be a heroic Spitfire pilot in the distant future. If the war would only last long enough. That night I even prayed it would last that long.

"Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray The Lord my soul to keep.
If I should die before I wake,
I pray The Lord my soul to take.

And please let me become a Spitfire pilot. PLEASE!"

Looking back they were vastly different days for kids. No telephones (forget mobiles), no television, no toys, no factory-produced lollies. But if you were good you could sit with your parents and listen to the Seven O’clock War News on ABC Radio and sometimes even listen to Dad and Dave if you’d been extra good.
But you were never, never allowed touch the radio or turn the dial. That was the father’s sole right.
And what about toys? Well, you couldn’t buy them so you made them out of old pine boxes or any bits of spare timber you could find. I became pretty good at making all sorts of things.
Nearing my teens my brother and I made our two pushbikes out of worn, old bike parts we found at the dump after more than a year scraping through the rubbish. In my early teens I made a pretty good 11ft sailing boat.
About a year ago all those thoughts came back to me when I was showing my small grandson how to go about making wooden toys.
I had cut one piece of flat pine into an aeroplane wing and one into a plane body and was about to nail them together. I told him what I was doing.
He listened to me for a couple of seconds then said:
"OK! Grandad, you hold the nail while I hammer it in."
Not bloody likely.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

How football got the boot

MY attitude to newspapers and journalism slowly changed when I joined The Courier-Mail late in 1956, mainly because the paper had recently employed more than a dozen blokes in their mid to late 20s from newspapers in Sydney and Melbourne.
They were mainly a very funny bunch, big drinkers and one bloke, John O'Shea, was the funniest and most entertaining bloke I have ever met.
He had an alsatian dog, Blitzen, and often put the dog in the driver's seat of a mate's MG sports car with the the dog's front paws on the steering wheel and the hood down, then sat on the floor almost out of sight with one hand on the accelerator and one on the bottom of the steering wheel. He would fly around Brisbane with the dog apparently driving the car.
He was an excellent reporter but somehow tragedy struck and he ended up living dirt poor on the back streets of Sydney before committing suicide at a relatively young age. What a tragedy.
Mixing with those older blokes improved my attitude to newspapers and so did my appointment as a junior police roundsman, covering crime, accidents and fires but I was still mainly interested in playing rugby league for Brothers and maybe making it to the big-time. I made my Brisbane debut playing on the wing in Brothers reserve grade soon after moving to Brisbane in late 1956. But A grade looked to be a problem because Brothers were the premiers and they weren't likely to drop their premiership players for country bumpkins like me in 1957. The fact that I did mostly night work on police rounds wasn't much help because I rarely got to training but trained by myself during the day.
Then one mid-week, Brothers coach, the great Bob Bax, pulled me aside telling me he was going to give me a golden opportunity and select me in A grade for that Saturday's match at the Brisbane Cricket Ground.
I was tickled pink. This was my big chance. I really was on my way to the big time ... or so I thought.
That Friday night, The Courier-Mail chief-of-staff called me into his office.
"Mr Kavanagh, pick up a long-distance Holden from the garage on your way home tonight," he said. "I want you to go up north first thing in the morning because they're officially opening a new stretch of road that will give us bitumen all the way from Brisbane to Maryborough."
I blinked and stammered.

"But Mr Blakie," I said, "I've been selected to play my first A grade match for Brothers tomorrow. It's my big chance."
Blakie stared at me, frowning.
"What's it to be brother," he said. "Your football or your job?"
I was only just married and my wife, Jan, and I had spent all our savings on our honeymoon to Hayman Island, a few months before. There was very little money in football.
So I rang and told Bax I couldn't play, picked up the Holden and said goodbye to rugby league. My league career was over at the age of 21.
I was so upset I couldn't watch or listen to rugby league for the next three years and then I was forced back into it not as a player, but as the back-up league writer to the great Jack Reardon.
Prior to that, after giving up league, I had been promoted to junior police rounds. It was all night work, talking to police, ambulance officers, firemen and doctors and nurses.
Each night about 11 o'clock I'd pick up about two dozen first-edition Couriers and a coffee bottle of rum and deliver papers to the General Hospital casualty department, the fire brigade, ambulance, Roma Street Police station, the CIB and Water Police. The rum would be opened and shared at the CIB and finished off shared with the Water Police.
Police rounds got me interested in journalism for the first time but I wasn't too happy being taken off it and put into sport. But that soon changed when I started to be sent all over the place - Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide - covering tennis and all over Queensland covering international rugby league tours.

It got even better when they started sending me overseas covering Olympic Games and Commonwealth Games, rugby league tours and travel and feature writing.
It got better still when they asked me to leave sports writing behind and start writing Kavanagh columns about anything I liked. And better still when they asked me to write a Kavanagh's Queensland column by travelling around Queensland for up to five weeks of the year writing about outback people, places and history.
It couldn't get any better, I thought, until one day in 1990 I got a call from an old mate, the late, great artist, Hugh Sawrey, who was then living on his quarter-horse stud in Benalla, Victoria.
Someone sent him a couple of my Kavanagh's Queensland columns and he wanted to know if I was going to travel around the outback again in 1991.
Probably, why? I asked. He said he'd like to tag along to do charcoal drawings to go with my columns. I told him the paper couldn't afford to pay him the thousands of dollars his charcoals were selling for in those days.
Hughie said forget about that.
"The paper can pay for my food and grog and fuel for my 4WD, we'll camp out in swags and when its all over we can sell the charcoals and give the proceeds to the Flying Doctor."
Well, that led to four of the greatest newspaper assignments I've ever had, and that included Davis Cup challenge rounds, rugby league tests and Olympic Games.
For not only was Sawrey a great, great artist, he was great company and a very funny bloke who would stop his 4WD in the middle of nowhere to talk to kangaroos, horses, emus, cattle.
"How ya going mate?" he would say through the car window. "Getting plenty of tucker, eh? Don't worry about the water, mate. There's rain on the way by the look of those clouds."
Yep! I've been a pretty lucky bloke when you remember that journalism was the last thing on my mind when I was looking for a job way back in the early 1950s.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The accidental journalist

AFTER a lifetime as a journalist I'm often asked what literary studies or university degrees I took to become a top newspaper columnist and author.
It wasn't easy. I started in newspapers 57 years ago and if anyone else out there had a more unusual introduction to journalism, then let me know.
You see, I wanted to be an electrician when I just squeezed through my junior examination back in 1951 but couldn't get an apprenticeship in my hometown, Maryborough, Queensland.
All jobs were pretty scarce in the early fifties and there was no dole, but I survived by helping my old man restore an old house to sell for a small profit. I don't know what he made out of it, but he gave me five shillings (50cents) a week and board and tucker at the family home for nix.
One early morning, after about four months working on the cottage, Mum approached me with the local paper, The Maryborough Chronicle, smiling broadly.
"There's a job for you here," she said. "They are advertising for a cadet journalist."
"A what?" I replied.
"A journalist ... a reporter," she said.
"Don't be silly mum," I said. "I'm bad speller and a slow reader."
"I don't care," she said. "After breakfast get on your bike, go into town and apply for the job."
She kept at me and at me and then Dad joined in, so that morning I did what they said.
The editor interviewed me and sent me down to the Gardens on the Mary River and told me to look around and come back and write two foolscap pages about what I saw.
That I did, and handed it in. He told me he would give me a phone call at 6pm that night. But we were like most other people in Maryborough and didn't have a telephone. So he said to come into the office at 6pm instead and see the chief sub-editor.
I had no intention of going back but mum, and then dad, kept at me and to shut them up I got on my bike again and went into the Chronicle office.
I climbed the stairs and met the chief sub-editor, Ray Foster. We had a chat for a few minutes then he took me into a room with two teletype machines clacking away and told me to tear the typed paper off after every two or three paragraphs and glue it to copy paper, underline any capital letters, punctuate it and bring it in to him in the subs room.
I was astounded and asked him why?
"Do you want the bloody job or not?" he said firmly. "Just sit down there between the machines and do what I told you."
I was now absolutely astounded. I didn't want a bloody job where you had to be a good speller and a good reader, but I sat down and started tearing off the news as it rattled up via Country Press in Brisbane from the rest of Australia and the world.
It wasn't good money but better than the five bob I got from Dad. And at least I could still play rugby league, which was my favourite sport. I played for Brothers and when I was 19 I was selected for Maryborough against Bundaberg and Gympie and then for Wide Bay to play against France and New Zealand.
I had a future in rugby league, no risk, and that was a big blessing because I might one day make it to the really big time and get a great job as a car salesman or something better than journalism.
After playing against France and the Kiwis I got some interest from clubs in Ipswich, Toowoomba and Brothers in Brisbane so at the end of my four year Chronicle cadetship I applied to The Courier-Mail about a junior reporter's job and surprisingly got it.
(The editor, T.C.Bray, a truly great editor, said he would make me a D grade reporter as soon as I picked up my shorthand, which was terrible.)
There was very little money in it but I picked Brisbane because my fiancee, Jan Cridland, had won The Sunday Mail Sun Girl competition, won a Holden Special and was now a top model in Brisbane.
I had become very good friends with my boss at Maryborough, Ray Foster, mainly because he used to cover the league matches for the Chronicle, and was a mad keen rugby league supporter.
So when I was leaving for Brisbane he put on a small farewell in the comp's room, with a few beers, mainly for him and his mates, because I didn't drink back then.
Nevertheless I became a bit emotional to be leaving and just before I left I drew him aside.
"I've got to thank you Ray, " I said, "for giving me the job when you knew I'm a bad speller and a poor reader. But you must have seen something in me that made you pick me over all the other applicants."
Ray started laughing.
"Shit! No mate," he said. "You were the only bloody applicant. There was no one else but you."
So off I went to my brilliant career with The Courier-Mail in 1956, knowing the only way up for me would be to make it on the rugby league field.
More next week.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Lawrie Kavanagh blog launch

Kavanagh's Queensland will be launched online on September 27.