Fire setback for Dobbs family

By Warren Nunn

Before Charles Dobbs arrived in Boolburra, he lived both at Mt Morgan and Kabra.


Charles had met and married Elizabeth Aldridge in Mt Morgan where he was working with his future father-in-law Henry Aldridge.

Charles had arrived in Australia in 1888 with his parents William and Ann from Sheffield, England, where William was a brickmaker.

Charles and Elizabeth married in July 1896 and welcomed their first child, Elizabeth Helen (who was known as Nellie) in May 1897.

They had not long moved into a new house they'd built near Ganter's Gully, Mt Morgan. Based on that description it must have been on or near the present day Ganter St, Mt Morgan.

Added to that, Dobbs St is nearby and that is presumably named for the family. As well, both streets are near Shandon Hill where Harry Coker lived.

Harry Coker was my grandfather Alex Dobbs Coker's father but, of course, my Pop was raised by Charles and Elizabeth Dobbs.

The family's dog apparently upset a lamp that led to a fire that quickly got out of control.

They had no insurance and the house and contents and lost everything which must have been devastating.

Following is a transcript of The Morning Bulletin report of the event:

A very serious fire occurred here on Wednesday evening last, resulting in the total destruction of a new house, together with the whole of the furniture, the property of Mr. C. Dobbs, who had only been living there a few months.

Large numbers of willing hands were soon on the spot, ready to lend their assistance, but nothing could be done, and they had simply to stand there powerless to help.

The house had been built on the top of the hill, near Ganter's Gully, and as no water was available the work of destruction was completed in a very short time.

At the time of the fire Mr. Dobbs was at work at the new west works. His wife and little child were the only ones at home, and it took Mrs. Dobbs all her time to escape with the child. It is supposed that a dog upset the lamp, which set fire to the house.

The house and furniture were uninsured, and Mr Dobbs lost everything. Very general regret is expressed at his misfortune, and with a view to assisting him to make another start subscription lists are to be sent round.

MOUNT MORGAN. (1897, November 8). Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton, Qld. : 1878 - 1954), p. 3. Retrieved July 28, 2021, from

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June's big day.

Our mum turns 90

About 50 family and friends gathered in Rockhampton on Thursday, 10 June, 2021 to mark June Nunn's 90th birthday.

It was wonderful to see the love, well-wishes and support that our Mum received.

We five surviving siblings; Don, Denise, Warren, Kevin and Evan were there to enjoy the day. Not as many of June's grandchildren were able to be there as at previous milestone birthdays.

Tim was there from Don's family; Rebecca from Warren's; Liam and Chloe from Kevin's; and Julia and Isabelle from Evan's.

Evan, Wendy and Isabelle made the trip from Perth, while Julia and her partner James came from Canberra.

There were two cakes for the day, one of which was generously prepared by Dell Linnewebber of Proserpine who of course grew up at Boolburra.

She was one of the Hammond family who were represented on the day by Narelle and Olive. 

The Hammonds had a special, touching tribute which read:

90 today 10/06/21
Norma "June" Nunn
Best wishes to you family's greatest treasure
Your good deeds and support we can never measure
Much love the Hammond and extended families

Other Boolburra district neighbours who attended were Bruce and Margo McKenzie. Another there with a Boolburra connection was Vi Kajewski whose late husband's family had property there.

Three of Mum's Coker cousins were there; Rovena Rogers (Edna Coker's daughter), Evelyn Stewart (Archie Coker's daughter) and Dorothy Bailey (Roy Coker's daughter). 

Mum's brother's widow Jean Dobbs was there along with her son Gary and daughter Sue.

Pam and Len were there from her late sister Mae's family.

Several of the Nunn in-laws were there including Dad's sisters Clare and Helen and brother Dudley.

Clare's daughters Lyn and Chris were there; Helen's son Michael too; and Dudley's daughter Debbie and son Darren also came along.

Jenny and Carol represented Trevor and Laurel Nunn's family

Some of the lovely messages Mum received.

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Rob Silver reflects on family visits

Robert John Silver (1927-2016) was the son of my grandmother's brother John, or Uncle Jack, as he was known. Rob fondly remembers his growing-up years and summer holiday visits to Boolburra with his parents and sisters Jean and Peg.

Following are his reflections on those times:

"Bell and Alex ran the local post office and telephone exchange and so became the hub of the district. Alex later on ran the mail run to outlying properties.

His adopted parents Charles and Elizabeth lived on the property in a house built of slab timber. It was quite a common occurrence, when dining at their huge table, to see two rather large carpet snakes coiled round the exposed beams above your head. These were almost part of the house, as they kept any rats or mice in check.

One room of the old home, was once the local store. One Christmas, when our family was up there on our regular holiday visit, we kids had a ball digging in the dirt under the old store finding old coins which had fallen through the slab floor over the years. The old home had been pulled down, as Charles and Elizabeth had moved to "Avondale'', some distance away.

Silvers and Dobbs Dawson River
Some of the Silver and Dobbs cousins at the Dawson River, Boolburra, about 1940. That's my mum, June Dobbs, looking at camera. Although hard to identify or see features, Jean Silver is at far left, with her mum, Phyl, wearing hat. That could be Peg Silver to right of June and perhaps Mae Dobbs bending down. With backs to camera are Rob Silver and Ray Dobbs. Hard to know for sure who the other children are. Man in hat seated is either Jack Silver or Pop Dobbs.

Next door to the old home was the "Old Hall", which again was a slab structure, and was for many years the social hub of the district. Sadly over the years the population declined until only the Dobbs family remained. The hall became one large storeroom.

Boolburra was the regular Xmas holiday spot for our family. We kids reckoned the dirt, soot, and long steam train journey (no electric trains in those days) and eyes full of cinders when you poked your head out of the window (no air-conditioning), face and clothes black with soot, was all part of the fun to us city kids, because we were bound for the farm on holidays.

Little we cared about the prickles in the yard, we soon learnt to dodge them until our feet toughened up a little. The sandflies were quite a different problem, and those mosquitoes that rose in great black clouds from that Pepperina Tree, they could really bite. Our cure for these was to carry a smoky old cow-dung fire around with us, a smelly, but very effective repellant for the pests.

The home at Boolburra was initially a church, which had been raised and built in underneath. Access to the upstairs bedrooms was by outside stairways, and many was the night we kids slept on mail bags on the earth floor in the kitchen, as it was too wet to go outside to go up to bed.

Auntie Bell usually brewed up a batch of homemade ginger beer at Christmas and used to store it under a long form in the kitchen. One night during a particularly vicious storm, for some reason these bottles started to explode and cause a hasty evacuation of the kitchen. After the storm we would all rush out to see what trees had been blown down.

Here at the farm were things that we city kids never knew. When the morning train (the 10-Up as they called it) blew its whistle down the track, we all raced for the station. While the engine took on water, the empty cream cans and any other freight was unloaded, and the Mail Bag was collected from the guard of the train.

After the train had gone, the old place really came alive. The district farmers all came in with their full cans of cream, collect their empty cans, and to receive and post their mail. The mail then had to be postmarked, sorted and the bag sealed ready for the train (the 49-Down). Many a day the cry went up, "She's on the Bridge", and then there was a mad rush to get the mailbag ready.

Silvers and Dobbs cousins
Composite image that features the Silver and Dobbs cousins at the Dawson River, Boolburra, probably around 1940. Standing, from left, June and Mae Dobbs, Peg Silver, Jim Dobbs, Rob Silver and, seated, Ray Dobbs. The middle image is of Phyl and Jack Silver and the colour image is of Rob and Heather Silver.


Boolburra was a watering station for the old steam locos, and many an hour was spent watching Tom and Jim Cross operating the pump down by the river, to fill the water tanks up at the station.

The road past the farm, was the only road out, and crossed the Dawson River just down the road. Once the water level at the crossing reached 18 inches (45cms), Uncle Alex had to winch them across on an old wagon which he had modified and installed for that purpose. At ten shillings a car he had many complaints, but it was hard work, and he deserved every penny of it.

The passenger train to Longreach two nights a week was a highlight for us kids. All those bare feet sticking out of the windows were a temptation for us youngsters to tickle with a small stick. (our country cousins taught us that).

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Thank you, Pop Dobbs, for having patience with me

By Warren Nunn

In reflecting on growing-up years, it's worth remembering those who influenced you and what they did and said that had a long-lasting effect.

My Pop was the grandparent who touched my life in a real, tangible way. He was patient with a wilful, impetuous, bad-tempered young boy.

My Pop, Alex Dobbs

My Pop, Alex Dobbs.

There are few people who are so forgiving and understanding.

That's not to discount the influence of all four grandparents. My paternal grandfather, George Nunn, was a quiet man who didn't connect with me.  He probably didn't have much to say because my grandmother, Winnie, usually dominated the conversation anyway.

Winnie was great fun to be around, always had a joke to tell and, when I grew older, I had more opportunity to spend time with her.

George and Winnie lived in Rockhampton and I frequently visited them, particularly during summer on the way home from cricket practise.

Farm life was so different

But spending time with my mum's parents was a completely different world. Alex and Bella Dobbs had a farm at Boolburra about 60 miles from Rockhampton on the banks of the Dawson River not far from where it joins the MacKenzie River and becomes known as the Fitzroy River.

Some of the Nunn children would spend school holidays at Boolburra and it was just the place I needed to be.

I loved it and it's only 50-plus years later that I can dissect the "why" of that.

Just being with my Pop, whether it was joining him on the weekly mail run or playing cribbage for hours on end, was to me a wondrous experience. 

I didn't like having to go home and back to school. I would rather stay on the farm with Pop. That  also included being around Grandma, and, of course, Uncle Jim.

I guess it was part of a care-free existence we embrace as kids. We are attracted to such a life because it's so natural. At least, that's how I saw the world.

Discipline: Pop's style 

My Pop probably saw the worst of me and he would, on occasions, suggest I should have some discipline administered and he was happy to do it.

However, he never did and he chastised me in such a gentle way that I was never threatened by what he said. Rather, it had a constructive effect and it made me love him more and want to spend more time with him.

In my case, perhaps Pop should have effected some of the corrective actions he suggested.

I was always a slow learner, particularly on what is the best way to treat people.

There are many within my family (and outside) who could give accounts of my actions and they would not be exaggerating.

And neither could I deny what I did and said.

Pop Dobbs at Boolburra telephone exchange

Pop Dobbs operating the switchboard 
of the Boolburra telephone exchange.
The equipment was in a room at the
front of the house.

Patience, patience and more patience

In the almost 43 years that Pop was in my life, I am profoundly grateful for his patience.

He could have been much more forceful in correcting me, but it was his gracious acceptance of me and willingness to overlook my wild ways that arguably stopped me from going even further off course.

Pop was not raised by his parents, but rather his mother's sister Elizabeth and her husband Charles Dobbs adopted him. He did not have an easy upbringing and it seems that Charles Dobbs wasn't exactly a model father.

But he told me he was grateful for the family life he did have.

It seems that my Pop, John Alexis Dobbs Coker, was blessed with an outlook on life that transcended his circumstances.

To me he always seemed to enjoy life and sometimes Grandma would let him know he had overstepped the mark, so to speak.

In later years, we continued to play cribbage and added in smoking cigars as well. Sometimes a beer or rum too, even though he wasn't supposed to drink because of his diabetes.

And the ash tumbled down

Pop would sit with a smouldering cigarette between his lips while he worked on telephone exchange paperwork or something.

The cigarette burnt, but Pop rarely inhaled the smoke. The ash remained intact for a time but gravity of course took over. 

The ashes fell on to his papers mostly via his shirt which either left a stain or even burnt a hole.

His paperwork was messy enough and the cigarette ashes added another layer to Pop's organised chaos.

On other occasions he would beat out a rhythm on the table, flipping one hand over and back.

All these memories make up a picture of my Pop. He left us in 1987 and it only seems like yesterday that I last played cards with him. 

So yes, Pop Dobbs, thank you for your patience.

Did you know?

For those of you who didn't know, Pop grew a moustache to cover a considerable scar on his lip.

He told me it was caused when a rooster attacked him. I never did question whether it was true.

Or was he just pulling my leg as he was prone to do? 

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How tennis brought communities together

By Warren Nunn

Tennis was a great outlet for my grandparents and their small community at Boolburra.

Pop set up a court near the house and it was still in use, although a little worse for wear, in the early 1970s.

The following report of a "tennis party" at Boolburra in 1951 underscores how it was embraced by those in the district.

Tennis parties are always popular and many have been staged recently on various private courts. One of the most interesting matches was played on Mr A. Dobbs' court at Boolburra, between Mr D. Smith's Riversleigh team and a team selected by Mr Dobbs. Play continued throughout the day. Many sets were closely contested and though Mr Smith's team won by 11 sets to eight, only 11 games separated the teams at the close of play. Source: Central  Queensland Herald (Rockhampton, Qld. : 1930 - 1956), Thursday 30 August 1951, page 23

The Smith family also hosted matches at their property as did the Kajewskis.

There is a report the following year of another match at Boolburra.

A team of tennis enthusiasts from Rockhampton visited Boolburra recently for a match on Mr Dobbs' court. The visitors were no match for the local players, who defeated them by 23 sets to one. Source: Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton, Qld. : 1878 - 1954), Monday 13 October 1952, page 2

I reckon the images tell a great deal about how much neighbours enjoyed themselves in what was a gentler, less complicated time.

Pop Dobbs
Pop Dobbs at a tennis court. This is not at Boolburra.  The insert image was most likely taken at the Smith family property. My grandparents, Alex and Bella Dobbs  are at left. The other couple are  most likely Mr and Mrs David Smith. 
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