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 and 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 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

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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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Margaret Isabella Silver and Malakoff Road State School

Margaret Isabella Silver, first teacher at Malakoff Road State School 1913

Bella Silver in 1914 and 1925

Malakoff Road State School's first teacher Miss Bella Silver (left) with a friend most likely at Pialba, Queensland, about 1914; and on her wedding  day in September 1925 to John Alexis Dobbs Coker.

By Warren Nunn

WALTER Chamberlain was a determined man; so too were his neighbours and friends _ solid citizens like John Condon, Fred Campbell, John Tomkins, Stephen Wallace, John Hoefler and John Hunter.

Farming life in the early 1900s on the Darling Downs was relatively kind to these men and their growing families but providing education for their children was a far more difficult proposition.

It was a strain for the few who were prepared or able to afford to board children in the nearby towns of Dalby or Bell.

It seems strange now but 90-odd years ago travelling even a couple of miles daily was an arduous task for adults, let alone children.

Dirt roads, roving stock, the inherent dangers of the Australia bush; all these things concerned fathers and mothers alike.

Lobbying for a school building

From the public record of correspondence, it seems that Walter Chamberlain, whose property, Singer Dalla, was on Malakoff Road, north of Dalby, was the driving force behind a "building committee" lobbying the Queensland Education Department for a state school.

He was committee secretary and his first letter, dated 1 July 1912, read:

    "I shall be obliged if you will please furnish me with the conditions under which the Govt erect and maintain country schools. Full and detailed information is solicited, more especially with regard to the following points:
    (a) Number of children necessary to warrant the erection of a school.
    (b) Nearest distance of proposed school to any existing school to warrant erection.
    (c) Lowest age of children permitted to attend school."

So began the process by which the tiny one-teacher Malakoff Road State School came into being.

Malakoff Road State School students 1927

This image of the Malakoff Road State School taken around 1927 was provided by Mrs Helen Wilson, nee Campbell. She identifies the following people from left, John Hoefler (with bike), Heather Maynard (with slate ... possibly), Audrey, Daphne and Gladys Wormwell, riders Isabel and Helen Campbell, unknown, unknown, Ed and Alice Clifford and unknown. (Unknowns could be: A. Reid, Gordon and George Maynard or R. Twidale)

School days re-imagined

Malakoff Road State School sketch

Based on the 1927 image, artist Chris Souilijaert created this line drawing of children at Malakoff Road State School near Dalby, Queensland.


There's nothing that special about Malakoff Road but it represents so many other small schools that flourished for a time but disappeared when modern transport and economies took over.

But Malakoff Road is special to Dobbs, Silver, Bauer and Nunn families, because Margaret Isabella Silver, was its first teacher. It was special to her, too, because on 2 December 1913, Malakoff Road was where Miss Silver began her teaching career.

Life was never easy for Miss Silver boarding with families and having to move on to another district for the next several years. Born in Millmerran, about 160km (100 miles) from Malakoff Road, she was to teach at several other schools before being posted much further north to Central Queensland in 1923.

Even though the Malakoff Road school was approved and built within 18 months of Mr Chamberlain's first letter, there is sufficient evidence to suggest that the transition from idea to reality was not a smooth one.

What's in a name?

Even settling upon its name wasn't easy because two options -- Plain View and Hillside -- were unavailable. It came down to a choice between Cattle Creek and Malakoff Road.

Initially, the area did not have the required 20 school-age students until a new family with three children arrived.

Families represented when the school first opened included Campbell, Condon, Chamberlain, Tomkins, Wallace, Hoefler and Hunter.

It must have been a special day and exciting time for everyone that December when Miss Silver opened the school and held the first class.

Dairy entries

Her private dairy reveals she only arrived at Malakoff Road the day before, so she would have had little time to prepare. She appears to have boarded with the Condon family.

She recorded only a couple of entries in her diary of her time at Malakoff Road School.

They were:

    December 1, 1913: Travelled to Dalby & out to Malakoff Rd.
    Dec 2nd: Opened School.
    Dec 2nd-15th Taught school.

She was at Malakoff Road at least three years.

In the records that remain which are held at the State Archives, Runcorn, Brisbane, several letters in her handwriting give some insight to school life.

The first of her letters, dated 29 January 1914, gives details of a meeting for the purpose of electing the school committee.

The committee members were: Stephen Fountain Wallace (Chairman), John Condon (Secretary), John Joseph Hoefler (Treasurer), John George Tomkins, John Hunter, John Young Black, and Fredrick William Campbell.

Some improvements

In a letter to the education department, Miss Silver wrote asking for "enough iron to put on the west side and half way up the north and south sides of the school".

"The committee are willing to erect the same free of cost, if it is provided." The iron duly arrived and, on 25 May 1915, she again wrote to advise that the committee had completed the task.

Earlier, in January, Miss Silver requested gardening tools which were sent to the Dalby Railway Station. The consignment included 1 rake, 1 hoe, 1 fork, and 1 coil of 'K' wire netting.

Malakoff Road State School building at Dalby Soccer Club

In 2005, the Dalby Soccer Club was using the old Malakoff Road State School building. Note the large beer company sign.


J D Story, the department Under Secretary wrote that:

    "Your attention is directed to page 12 of the 'School Garden' which deals with the care of tools."

One can only wonder at how weatherproof the building was because after a storm in November 1915, Miss Silver wrote a letter advising that rain blew in damaging maps and pictures on the walls.

She also wrote that: "It also beat in so much that the children had to stand in the centre of the room to avoid getting wet."

It must have been a wild thunderstorm common at that time of year.

The following year a problem arose with horses getting into the area underneath the school, so a request was made for 25 yards of netting.

School days end

The school was closed in the 1970s but those who did attend naturally have varied memories of Malakoff Road.

There was no highway where the Dalby-Bell road now runs past the old school site.

In fact, it was on the black soil that school sports days were held.

One constant "observer" of all that happened at Malakoff Road was the enormous white gum that stands to this day.

Building now a boozer

The Malakoff Road school building was still in use in 2005; by the Dalby Soccer Club as its "refreshment" area.

Adorned with a large Fourex (Queensland's iconic brewing company) sign and badly in need of a coat of paint, the building that once housed eager young scholars was being put to a completely different use.

That situation could not have been further from the minds of those who were there in 1913 for the launch of the building for its original use.

How things change...

Malakoff Road State School site in 2005

Image taken in 2005 of the site where the Malakoff Road State School once stood. At the time the word 'school' was just legible on the sign.


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