Pop Dobbs

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 woundrous 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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Rob Silver reflects on family visits

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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Tennis at Boolburra

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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Boolburra flooding

There are no surprises in the fact that the land around Boolburra often floods

By Warren Nunn

Satellite view of the Boolburra district which is near the confluence of the Dawson River and the MacKenzie River which then becomes the Fitzroy River.

A cursory look at this satellite view should make it obvious there were many challenges for those trying to make a living from the land in the Boolburra district west of Rockhampton, Queensland.

While some of the river-front land offered opportunity for crops and cattle, the risk from flooding was significant because of the fact that two large river systems join nearby.

This is better understood by looking at the second map image (see below) that shows the huge area of Queensland from which water flows via multiple gullies, creeks and tributaries.

Ultimately most of the water flows into the sea near Rockhampton.

So the point in the landscape where families such as my grandparents farmed was periodically under water.

Because water from the MacKenzie River usually reached the confluence point first, the Dawson River backed-up and spread out across the landscape.

The years 1918 and 1954 stand out as the two most significant events but there were many other times that brought damage and inconvenience. A fuller history is recorded at the Bureau of Meteorology website.

Which brings me to an account of one of these published in the Central Queensland Herald on Thursday 15 February 1951. 

The Edungalba correspondent was a local, Mrs Olive Adams, whose husband Edward had property around Slatey Creek, right near the confluence of the MacKenzie and Dawson.

So the following report draws on that knowledge. The Norman Adams mentioned is her son. And, Mr A.Dobbs is my maternal grandfather, John Alexis Dobbs Coker, who at the time operated a dairy at Boolburra.


Now that the flood waters in the Dawson have subsided some estimate of the damage done can be made. As far as can be ascertained there was no serious loss of stock this side of the river, but many acres of good grass land were destroyed and miles of fencing were damaged. 

Bad roads and flooded creeks caused much inconvenience to settlers in Sandy Creek and Boolburra districts, where cream and other supplies had to be boated across flooded creeks to reach the railhead. 



At Boolburra the Dawson River rose to 48 ft 7 in. and Mr A. Dobbs (Post Office) moved his family out, but continued to visit the river daily and report the height to the Press.

At the junction of the Dawson, Mackenzie and Fitzroy Rivers, which occurs at Slatey Creek station, the full force of the flood was felt. Here the river reached the highest level since 1918. 

Approximately 15,000 acres of choice grassland were inundated and destroyed in Mr E. Adams' Slatey Creek and Mourangee properties and the cattle yards and dip were covered by 14 ft of water. Flood waters backed up to a depth of 18 in. under Mr Norman Adams' home at Slatey Creek, causing him to move his family to safety.

On the Mackenzie River one well-known stock owner reported that he had 1200 cattle trapped by floodwaters, but has since heard that all but 120 of them are safe. Many of these cattle had been swept 30 miles down stream and landed safely there. 

It is marvellous just how far grown cattle can drift in flooded waters without drowning. The greatest loss occurs with calves and weaners. Many of the former swim round their partly submerged mothers, until they become exhausted and are swept away and drowned.

During January, 1129 points of rain fell and February has so far yielded 96 points. Sandflies and mosquitoes are very troublesome. Smoke fires have to be kept burning in order to give the stock some respite from their attentions.

APA citation [?]LBA (1951, February 15). The Central Queensland Herald (Rockhampton, Qld.: 1930 - 1956), p. 23. Retrieved November 5, 2019, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article7557303

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Dobbs family ... some photos

Dobbs family ... some photos

What follows are some random images from a growing collection of memorabilia of the Dobbs family from Boolburra, Queensland.

John Alexis Dobbs Coker and Margaret Isabella Silver, known as Alex and Bella Dobbs, raised a family of four on a farm near the Dawson River.

John Alexis Dobbs Coker and Margaret Isabella Silver on their wedding day in 1925.
John Alexis Dobbs Coker and Margaret Isabella Silver on their wedding day in 1925.


Bella Silver about 1915
Margaret Isabella Silver about 1915.


Mavis Dobbs in 1927
Mavis Dobbs in 1927.


Mavis Dobbs with Goodwin cousins
Mavis Dobbs, left, about 1930 with Goodwin cousins Doris and Reg.


Dobbs children in 1932
Dobbs children Boolburra 1932; Mavis, aged 6, June, 10 months, Ray, aged 3.


Dobbs siblings Boolburra about 1934
Mavis, June and Ray Dobbs, Boolburra about 1934.


Dobbs siblings Boolburra about 1939
Mavis, Ray, June and Jim Dobbs, Boolburra about 1939.


Alex Dobbs around 1984
Alex Dobbs at Boolburra about 1984.


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