• 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

  • Boolburra races involved whole community

    Boolburra races involved whole community

    By Warren Nunn

    In the era before modern transport and communication, local events such as dances and picnic race days were often the highlight of the year for rural communities.

    My maternal grandfather, Alex Dobbs, grew up in a small community at Boolburra, about 100km from Rockhampton, near the Dawson River.

    His adoptive father, Charles Dobbs, ran a dairy, and Pop‑as we grandchildren knew him‑worked alongside him.

    Apart from the main house and the dairy, the Dobbs family farm had a tennis court and a hall building that was well used by the whole community.

    Only a few hundred metres from the house, the community fashioned a racetrack not far from the railway line and beside Herbert Creek, which was also a boundary to the Dobbs property.

    Picnic races were first held at Boolburra in May 1901. It was, of course, a community event and locals were very much involved. The long-time schoolteacher Patrick Murtagh (1883 to 1914) was clerk of the scales and Joseph Duffy was one of the stewards.

    The Dobbs family did not arrive at Boolburra until about 1915 having previously lived at both Mt Morgan and Kabra.

    In 1924, Charles Dobbs took care of the tea and soft drink stall at the races. Later that year, Alex Dobbs was clerk of the scales.

    After the races, festivities continued with a night of food and dancing at Dobbses Hall.


    Bella and Alex Dobbs in 1925
    My maternal grandparents Bella and Alex Dobbs in 1925.


    By this time, my grandmother, Margaret Isabella Silver, was teaching at Boolburra School and boarding with the Dobbs family.

    Love blossomed between Bella and young Alex and they headed off to get married and set up a business in Brisbane the following year. However, that venture coincided with tough economic times and they had to abandon their business and return to Boolburra.

    BoolburraRacingClubTicketThey raised their four children on the farm and, as a grandson, I grew up hearing the adults talk of their neighbours past and present.

    Duffy, Cagney, McKenzie, Walsh, among many others, were mentioned. They are all found associated with the Boolburra races.

    Picnic races filled the desire of amateur riders and equine enthusiasts to race their horses for the excitement and adventure of competition.

    The race day held on Saturday, 27 December 1924, is typical of how the community gathered and enjoyed such events.

    Some horses would race more than once on the same day as was the case with Ginborough, which won both the Boolburra Cup and the Edungalba Handicap.

    Ginborough’s owner, trainer and rider was George Tanwan who lived about 120km away at Banana. So it’s likely George would have ridden Ginborough to Boolburra as well. That would have been an adventure in itself along dirt tracks and through the bush, no doubt.

    Newspaper report of 1924 Boolburra Cup

    As reported in The Morning Bulletin newspaper:

    The win was a most popular one, and, on the horses returning to scale, Ginborough and his rider received an ovation, the cheering being continued for several minutes.

     The correspondent went on to write:

    While the winner was being decorated by Mrs P. P. O’Brien the applause broke out afresh, and order had to be called for while Mrs O’Brien handed the cup to Mr. Tanwan.

    Several weeks later The Capricornian newspaper featured several images of the race day. While the images are not that clear, the captions tell us the following:

    1. Horses parading for the Boolburra Cup. 2. Saddling up. 3. Waiting for mounts. 4. Mr. Tanwan and his horse Ginsborough, winner of the Cup.

    So, George Tanwan can be identified and those in the background are most likely to include my Pop, Alex Dobbs, who was only 23 years old.

    The last mention of the Boolburra races is in 1935. The event had resumed after a hiatus of six years and, it seems, it did not continue after this time.

    However, for several decades, people from “miles around”, as the saying goes, were drawn to Boolburra where they enjoyed a break from the tough life many experienced surviving on the land in good times and bad.

    NOTE: The image of the Boolburra Racing Club ticket was posted by Kay Cumming on Facebook.


    Area where Boolburra picnic races were once conducted. Image taken July 2020.
  • Boolburra school

    The rise and fall of education at Boolburra

    By Warren Nunn

    In 1874 when the railway bridge was being built over the Dawson River at Boolburra, the Queensland Education Department was approached to provide schooling for locals.

    A Mr Sinclair Sutherland wrote (31 July, 1874) offering his services, saying, in part:

    I have had some experience as teacher in the British Army having had a junior class in the regimental schools at Aldershot and Devonport. I have not passed any examination in Queensland but in the urgency of the present case, place my services at your disposal till the appointment and arrival of a permanent teacher.

    Building the bridge was a time-consuming task and the workers and their families accounted for a good-sized community.

    A letter dated 12 June 1874 from a William Robertson, noted that £55 had been raised by subscription from 41 people and that a committee of five had been appointed to act as trustees.  They were: Messrs William S Robertson, Robert Tait, William Reid, James Mulvany and James Duffy.

    In a letter of 26 July 1874, Robertson advised that £67 had been placed in the savings bank at Gainsford to the credit of the Board of Education in trust for the establishment of the primary school at Dawson Bridge (Boolburra).

    Robertson wrote:

    The committee will guarantee that thirty pupils will be in regular attendance.

    In a letter of 5 September 1874, Sinclair Sutherland wrote:

    I have the honour to inform you that I opened the provisional school at Dawson Bridge on Monday, 31st August, 1874. The first days attendance numbered 27. Having received several applications from parents of children unable to attend the day classes to open an evening class I did so on Tuesday evening 1st Sept. Will you kindly inform me whether the children attending this class are to be included with the day scholars and if the Board will allow books, etc, for their use. Those at present attending the evening class are fair readers; but are backward in the other branches; and I have only one fourth and one fifth book in the school.

    Queensland's school number 202

    Approval had been given for a provisional school to operate and so Boolburra became the 202nd public institution for learning to be opened in Queensland.

    There was no school building at this point but rather a disused building from the rail construction was made available as Mr Robert Ballard, the railways’ chief engineer on the project, was to write in September 1874:

    …there is a certain bark humpy, also a cook house of a similar construction unoccupied at the Dawson which the Rail Department is willing to place at the disposal of the Board of Education, and that I have inspected these buildings and can see no objection to them being occupied.

    Sinclair Sutherland wrote on 30 September 1874 that there were now 49 kids attending day school.

    By November, the committee was suggesting that the school would need to be larger than planned because of the number of pupils and that the cost would be £600. They also proposed a house for the teacher.

    In December 1874, after William Robertson had left the district, A K Pennyquick, the new secretary, wrote:

    I have to reply that the sum collected is £80 pounds and that this amount is all we expect to be able to raise. This would with the government grant amount to £240. We can erect a school here to suit the requirements of the place, weatherboarded and shingled for about £120. This would leave a similar sum for the dwelling house. The school house can be erected of similar material. The steam saw mills 7 miles from here delivers timber at 23/6 per 100 feet and a chapel large enough to suit for a school for 70 scholars but having no flooring or verandas has just been erected and completed for £83. Studs and weatherboards of hardwood and the roof of Hobart town palings. The difference in cost would be the addition of the 2 verandahs, windows and flooring which could be all done at the cost of £120 pounds.  This township is at present large and a great many inhabitants in the neighbourhood which rises from the railway works now in full operation. When the railway extension is open beyond the Dawson River, in about 18 months, a very small population will only be here, not sufficient I am of opinion to maintain a school for the reason that the country in both sides of the Dawson River is unsuitable for any sort of (indistinguishable word) being all scrub and most part bad soil and bad grass, the community at present is entirely made up from the number employed in the railway works. I have therefore from these explanations to leave the matter in your hands hoping you will do the best for our interest. A school and house of the sort referred to could be put up in a few weeks by carpenters on the ground here and if you can give us plans for buildings to suit for the number of scholars at the figure named. They could be erected without delay.

    This letter was extensively annotated by a department officer and included the observations:

    A provisional school is now in operation at Dawson Bridge and if the facts are as (Mr P) the writer states, such a school would suffice for the requirements of the place. It would be folly to erect permanent and costly buildings for the use of a population which is certain to melt away in 18 months. It would not be desirable to incur any considerable expenditure in the erection of buildings.

    Flooding takes everything

    Boolburra railway station
    This scene shows how devastating flooding was at Boolburra. The railway line runs between the tank and the other buildings. The tank was needed to supply water to the steam locomotives. This image is from 1954, long after the school building was removed. It was situated beyond the station.


    Boolburra apparently is an Aboriginal word meaning big water which, looking back, is entirely accurate knowing how the area floods.

    Sinclair Sutherland sent the following telegram dated 4 March 1875 to the secretary, Board Education, Brisbane:

    School house completely under water everything lost escaped with life only. W.D.S.Sutherland.

    In a letter dated 15 March 1875, Sutherland wrote about the flood and requested school materials.

    In April, Pennyquick wrote:

    from the disastrous effect of the late flood at the Dawson, the majority of the inhabitants (subscribers to the school) have left the place and are now settling at Herberts Creek 5 miles below the Dawson (at Edungalba) and at the 7 mile township, (Duaringa) 7 miles beyond the Dawson where will be permanent stations for the Great Northern Railway whereas no station will be at Boolburra.

    In July 1875, Pennyquick  sent telegrams seeking plans for the school for the contractor.

    By March 1876 there seems to have been a move to build a school at the 7 Mile (Duaringa).

    Pennyquick wrote:

    With reference to the erection of a school at the 7 mile with the funds subscribed at Dawson Bridge, I wish to add that it is quite evident a temporary place is all that is requisite at 7 mile. The railway is being extended at so rapid a rate that it will be beyond that place in a few months - the platelayers are beyond there already. For the time being the largest number of children will be located there (7 miles) and it might be more desirable on that you arrange for the transfer of the teacher from this place to there - as after this week the people will be well nigh cleared out of this place.

    By August, the idea for a school at the 7 Mile fell through “for want of anyone there taking interest in the matter”. Also, James Duffy who by this time was secretary wrote:

    the subscribers are anxious to know if their money will be returned by the board. The teacher, Mr Sutherland, had also gone. The old building is sufficiently good for the temporary purpose - we had it repaired and cleaned since the flood.

    End of days forecast

    Some correspondence from Ballard dated 25 September 1876 refers to only 18 children in the neighbourhood and that the population “is not permanent”.

    He wrote:

    I may state that the existing population there appears to be still lingering in consequence of the works in progress at the bridge. I am of the opinion that when the bridge is finished, or in about 12 months, Boolburra will become a thing of the past

    Ballard was right in one sense but it took more than 12 months.

    In March 1877, Duffy again wrote seeking a provisional school be established saying that fees from the temporary/unofficial one by Miss Mary Ann Simpson weren't sufficient to support her.

    On 13 August 1877 the provisional school was approved and Miss Simpson appointed teacher.

    A Mr/Miss D.Celvant (name indecipherable in original) was the second teacher followed in March 1879, by Mrs Mary Matson, recently widowed and with four children, appointed on a salary of £60. By December she had resigned and Annie Kehlet was appointed in her place.

    From 1883 until 1914 when ill health forced him to retire, Patrick Murtagh was charged with the education of a couple of generations of young country children.

    The money raised for a school by those railway workers who first lived at Boolburra had to be refunded. Those who remained had to go through the process again.

    They succeeded and a letter of 26 October 1892 gives details of the contractor, Francis Holmes, who built Boolburra School for £98 2 shillings and 7p. (Holmes also built other public structures such as the Emu Park railway station).

    Information on this is in various letters from the then school secretary, John Nally.

    Miss Maude A Gallagher replaced Mr Murtagh to be followed in 1915 by Clara Torrens and Daisy White, and in 1917 by Elsie Jelbart and Amelia Ridgway.

    In 1920, Belindea (an unusual spelling) May Walsh took over, and was replaced in 1922 by Eileen Delaney.

    Teacher-student dramas

    In 1917 there was a significant incident at the school when an irate Mrs Cagney, of Avondale Farm, marched into the classroom, confronted the teacher, Miss Jelbart, and demanded she apologise for calling her son, Norman, a liar.

    Mrs Cagney then wrote a letter of complaint to the department.

    Miss Jelbart’s defence was:

    Norman Cagney denied misbehaving and I was satisfied until his sister informed me that he was misbehaving. He then admitted his fault and then made use of the expression complained of and I punished him also for telling the untruth. Nor is it the first time he has been punished for this same fault. His mother told him to tell me to apologise to him and I refused. Mrs Cagney then came to me, at the school and in the presence of the children demanded an apology to her son and she abused me. Her manner was threatening also. Under the circumstance I could not apologise. In a way I feel sorry for the remark, but he really deserved it. Norman informed his schoolmates that his mother was going to make me apologise. The children have been told to disobey me in school and have been impertinent beyond endurance. To be candid, that family - the first people with whom I boarded - since I left their place, have done their utmost to make everything unpleasant for me, which is the outcome of bitterness. Accommodation with them was not suitable and I informed Mr Denniss, Inspector, of it and he advised me to leave.

    It was a most unsavoury situation which had a quiet ending when Miss Jelbart resigned soon after to be married. The file was marked with the comment that “no further action is deemed necessary”. Young Norman had obviously abused Miss Jelbart and copped a whacking.

    Ray Dobbs related the following story about Norman which may be the incident which led to the showdown between Mrs Cagney and Miss Jelbart.

    Going home after school one afternoon we found a koala up a tree. Norman found a long sick and started to poke it to make it cry. Just then the teacher, Miss Jelbart, came along on the other side of the railway line and yelled out at them. Norman took no notice so she started to cross the railway line so they took off. It did not help, as at school next day we copped the cane

    Accommodation woes

    When Miss Delaney left in October 1923, she warned the department of the poor state of accommodation:

    My present place of abode is rather rough. Until this year I was two miles away from the school and only that I was leaving I am afraid I would not have removed. Just recently I found out if my successor disapproves of where I am there is another woman will take her (or him) quite close to the school. I beg of you to keep this private as if the Boolburra people found this out if would be hard on me. In these little places one has to keep very quiet and only think.

    Where Miss Delaney stayed is not clear because when Miss Margaret Isabella Silver arrived to replace her, she boarded with Charles and Elizabeth Dobbs.

    It could be assumed that Miss Delaney had been boarding with the Dobbs family and that she was recommending her successor board with Miss Duffy. She wrote that she had previously boarded “two miles from the school”. This was possibly with the Cagney family at Avondale farm.

    If the accommodation were unsatisfactory, Miss Silver did not complain in the two years she stayed there. In fact, she ended up falling in love with the young man of the house, Alex Dobbs. She was paid a salary of £180 and in that time had to deal with low attendance, floods and epidemics. The worst was in August 1925 when mumps, influenza and measles swept the district in what was a cold, wet end to winter.

    In a letter to the department over the dwindling number of pupils, Miss Silver, wrote in May 1925:

    I have to honor to inform you that that the enrolment is now eleven, so I trust that the average attendance for the future will be over 9. The low enrolment for January and February was due to two pupils having left school and one being away on a holiday. The latter has returned and one new pupil has been admitted.

    The school was in its death throes when Ivy McLeod replaced Miss Silver for the remainder of 1925. Gladys Kidd took her place in 1926 and was appalled by the living conditions at Miss Duffy’s.

    Fight for survival

    In a letter dated 29 January 1926, which dealt with low attendance, she also noted:

    My accommodation here is very far from satisfactory - it being very rough. Should the school close, I would like a similar one on the Central Railway Line within easy reach of my home centre Emerald as my aged father and mother there reside.

    A few days later, the department received a letter from the school’s honorary secretary, Mr Arthur Goodwin:

    Miss G.F.Kidd advises me that she has wrote you that she cannot stay here as a teacher and that she had wrote to that effect. I don't know if Miss Kidd told you that the place she was staying at was unsatisfactory. I admit it is not the best place in the world but it is the only house here that would take a teacher in so we had no choice in the matter. I do no wish to leave here. I have a wife and nine children so it would be a big expense for me to shift. I am only a working man so you will see what a shift to me would mean and if I have to shift it would mean that school would never open again as 5 of the pupils are mine.

    Obviously fed up with the situation, the next day Miss Kidd sat down and poured her heart out over the situation:  

    I feel it my duty to write again, relative to the accommodation which I am forced to contend with here, and, as this is the only available place, I anxiously await your instructions. The accommodation is very dirty and I am unable to sleep at night on account of bugs. The food (cooking and eating utensils) are also far from clean, and one cannot fancy any food here such filth and dirt exist. How the late teacher (Miss McLeod) stayed here for 3 months I do not know. The place is also over-run by dogs and cats, which are fed at the same time and place as I am supposed to do. I trust you will treat this matter confidentially and urgently, as it is very hard for me to put up with these conditions and the secretary here agrees with me.

    Damning report

    A few weeks later, District Inspector F. Baker, came to Boolburra to see where Miss Kidd was staying. His report was damning and included the following statements:

    The matter was discussed with Mr A Goodwin, the parent most deeply interest in the continuance of the school. He informed me that there was absolutely no other place except Miss Duffy's. Accompanied by him, I visited Miss Duffy's place and was shown the room allotted to the teacher. It is large enough, but it did not seem clean, from what I could gather, I believe it to be infested with vermin. Miss Duffy is a woman of very low intelligence; in my opinion, she is mentally sub-normal and I was informed on what I conceive to be very good authority, that she is the mother of two or more illegitimate children.
    Finding: Miss Duffy's place does not provide suitable accommodation for Miss Kidd or for any other teacher. Though on the day of my visit the total number of pupils was present, the average attendance does not warrant the continuance of the school.
    Recommendation: That the school be closed, and that the present head teacher, Miss Kidd, who is a worthy servant of the dep't, be transferred to some school on the Central Railway. If no head teacher has yet been appointed to Blackwater it is recommended that she be appointed head teacher of that school.

    Within weeks, the school was closed and by August 1928 the building was removed from the site, purchased by James J Duffy for £20.

    It was the end not only for the school but also, symbolically, to a community that 50 years previously saw a substantial future for the area.

    The town plan was laid out but the area was flood-prone and it was destined never to be the riverside village that someone envisioned it could become.

    NOTE: I'm happy for anyone to reproduce this information. It is my own work and I would appreciate a credit thus - Original work of Warren Nunn, oznunns.com

    Boolburra school buidling
    Boolburra school building.
  • 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.


  • Growing up at Boolburra

    Ray Dobbs: How I remember my growing-up years

    Ray Dobbs
    Ray Dobbs.
    Raymond Dobbs
    Ray Dobbs as a baby.

    Looking back some 60 years I think how lucky we were; a family with not much money but a lot of love; no car, no TV or radio but had happy times; always something to do.

    We had very few toys, mostly the ones we made ourselves; a piece of board, four treacle tins; two bits of wire and a piece of string and you had a car. We built roads all around the creek bank.

    As we got bigger, we had to do jobs on the farm; taking the cows to the paddock, a job we liked as most days we got a ride home in a car with one of the farmers. It was wonderful not having a car of our own.

    Then we had to be feed the calves, up to 60 which used to take up a bit of time.
    We all learnt to swim in the river and most hot Sundays we spent there.

    Then the tennis court which gave more social contact with the neighbours who came in on a Sunday. A lot of very happy times were had.

    Christmas times with cousins

    Christmas was the best time of all with seven cousins coming then. With no children to play with near us, it was a wonderful three-four weeks but very lonely for the weeks after.

    But childhood days soon slip by; soon you are a teenager and more work was to be done.

    Granddad Dobbs passed away, Mavis left home to go to a job in Biloela, June and I had to do more, there were miles of fencing to rebuild by hand (no drills) and June got married and moved on. In the early fifties I left to make my own way in the world.

    Looking back I don’t think I’d like to change my childhood. We learnt a lot children don’t get today.

    Family tensions

    All the early ones to take up land were Irish and from the North and South, so there were fights on all the time. Old lady Duffy  (North) lived on her front verandah all day and watched everything that went on.

    Davey Walsh lived over the river and came to get his mail at our house. But as soon as he appeared, she would start to yell out to Walsh. Her husband Jim would dash out; jump on his horse and go to meet Walsh.

    Phil Kelly, who lived in a small hut, would got out and join in the fun. He used a walking stick. This day he got between the two riders and Duffy said, “get out of the way or I’ll run you down”. “Try it,” said Kelly. Duffy charged him, Kelly up with his walking stick poking Duffy in the midriff knocking him off the horse. The old lady was yelling her head off but the fun was over for the day.

    Putting things to bed

    Charles Dobbs
    Grandad Dobbs

    Grandad brought a new bed and it came up on the train. Phil Kelly was there. It was a new type and had cross webbing under to stop the sagging. He poked it with his walking stick and said to Grandad, “Charlie, that’s the best buck-jumping machine I ever saw.”

    Grandad gave everyone a fright one day coming up to get his mail in the sulky. The horse was a bit flighty; he had just crossed the railway line when the railway inspector started up the engine on his trolley. The horse took off around the corner on one wheel and headed for the river.

    Everyone started to follow expecting to pick Grandad up in a heap but he had managed to stay in and keep the sulky upright and run it into a gum sucker and the horse quietened down.

    Read the newspaper report of the event.

    Another story about Jim Duffy…

    One day after lunch he was having a shave, the mirror hanging on the wall when a black face appeared in it. He gave a loud yell and turned around and threw his razor at the window. He pulled on his shirt, went out to his horse and took off going in the opposite direction to the black.

    Timber for the bridge

    Near the end of 1941, they started on the Dawson Bridge about four miles from home. All the timber came by rail to here. Pop used to cart small things out and also do the pay run, as they could not cross the river. After Christmas it got too wet for trucks to move and he had to do more; the old Dodge used to love mud.

    A road gang moved in and started to clear the trees (no D9); it was all done by hand. Some very large trees took days to dig out. Quite a few of  this gang came from Bilo and returned there after the War.

    In the middle of 1942 a large gang arrived from the west. The CCC with lots of trucks, rollers, tractors and two large graders; there was two train loads and about 80 men. They took most of the day to unload and also a big bridge gang set up near the range. The Dawson road bridge was finished so that gang shifted off. Being Main Roads, the gangs left were CCC men.

    The CCC (Civilian Construction Corps) which was made up of private contractors and anybody who the army did not want, you were just put in these gangs.

    As the roads were getting finished a fencing gang was started. With some very hard placed to dig holes, they had to blow them. The crows were very bad in and their hundreds nearly driving the men mad.

    One day they had some holes to blow which were in the shade. So they had lunch there and they all left lighting the charges. As the crows flocked in there was a big bang, dozens of crows were killed and dozens could not fly. There was no more trouble with the crows; after that they gave the gang a wide berth.

    ArmyTrucks1942Army convoy Boolburra 1942. Could be Grandma Dobbs standing near the gate with daughter June.

    War years

    Things changed in 1940 for us; large convoys of army vehicles and a big flood all in the first four years. First the flood – 1942 – the river rose up high so we all left. The furniture, etc, loaded on to box wagons on the train, also Mum, June and James; they were to live in them for the next two weeks.

    Pop, May and I stayed to clean up; we had chooks to take out, a cat and a few other things. We had a horse and a two-wheel trailer which was loaded. May wanted to go out on the bridge to rescue a poddy calf which was truck there as there was cattle coming down by the dozens and getting caught; the water was live waves.

    Pop saw the water starting to break over the other side of the house so sent Mavis with the pushbike down the line and he and I with horse and wagon took off through the bush. The water was 2ft 6ins deep and running, I was carrying the cat in a box over my shoulder. It was a bit hard as I was only 12 and not real big but we got through  and only a few chooks got drowned. The water did not come into the house, so saved a lot of cleaning up.

    Then came the sandflies

    After the flood the railway line over the river was a mess, hundreds of yards washed away. In one place the line was stood up like a two-rail fence. Then came the men to repair; two or three gangs about 200 was camped near home, the sandflies were bad so two men with wheelbarrows were given the job to collect cow pats and had a large heap at the railway crossing so each man could fill his smoke tin going to work.

    With three gangs there a friendly rivalry went on who could get their trolleys on the line first, who could get home in the shortest time, which went on all the time. In the afternoon you heard a yell and a lot of cheering, you knew someone had copped it.

    Later on in 1942 the army started to move the Australian front with over 30 trucks which amazed us with their size. Then a few weeks later the Yanks with larger ones, tandem drive, also semi-trailers; we just stood and looked. One day 14 trucks and jeeps with three big semi-trailers arrived.

    BoolburraRailwayStationBoolburra Railway Station, near the Dobbs family home, during one of the many flood events. 

    There was 4ft 6ins of water in the river. They spread out a tarp, drove the jeeps on, pulled up the sides, and floated it over. The jeeps and small trucks went like that then they pulled their winch trucks through as each one got over they were got going so they could be used. Last came the semi-trailers.

    We thought they would wash away but a few ropes set up to hold them there was no trouble. It took them about five hours and they were ready to travel next morning.

    A bottle of beer

    There was an ammo dump about 14 miles from home and the Yank in charge used to call in home and get a drink of milk. He was very good, would get anything you wanted from Rockhampton; also Pop a bottle of beer (as it was not available to the public). Pop used to do a lot of things for them.

    The bombs going to the dump used to travel in cattle trucks on the trains; whole train loads. One night Pop and a friend were talking to the armed guard while the train took on water. They asked did he have an empty shell. He said no but would soon get one; poked his gun in the air and fired off two shots; they were tracers, so everyone could see them.

    We had a pony very frightened of guns; he was still jumpy next morning and for days. Any noise he would jump. A lot of funny things happened in those years, it would take too long to write them all out.

    Harold Cagney

    As told by Harold… 

    Going home after school one afternoon we found a koala up a tree. Norman found a long sick and started to poke it to make it cry. Just then the teacher, Miss Jelbart came along on the other side of the railway line and yelled out at them.

    Norman took no notice so she started to cross the railway line so they took off. It did not help as at school next day we copped the cane. Norman was always a bit wild buying a motorbike. He took his sister for a ride. A large bank of dirt was across the road which

    Norman tried to jump only to crash. His sister came down on the bike and carried the burn marks on her seat for the rest of her life.
    Back in the 1800s there were blacks camped on both sides of the river.

    This story was told by Tom Cross: One of the young blacks on the town side got a liking for a girl on the other side so would sneak over just before dark. This afternoon he was half way between the camps and the bridge when he was spotted.

    The whole of the camp took after him. This afternoon one of the local lads had walked over the bridge just reaching the end as this chase started.

    He thought they were after him, he took off, the black lad had crossed the river and was running through town like a flash; the local lad was no runner, but broke all records that afternoon.

    Stinking chooks

    As Grandma kept a lot of chooks and ducks, under the hall was the place for them to lay; only about 15ins off the ground. Someone small was sent under to clean out the eggs sometimes. A nest was made and when a dance was on they started to bust, sending up a nice stink.

    One day a bird died under there and a lad was sent to get it. On reaching it he said, “Come on you bugger, you are not dead, you only think you are.” Pulling the bird up under his nose he yelled out, “Shit, it stinks!”

  • 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? 

  • Rob Silver reflects on family visits

    Rob Silver

    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 Elizabethlived 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).

  • 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. 
  • The Boolburra family Bible

    Bible's message for the generations

    By Warren Nunn
    Updated 8 September 2020

    The cover of the family Bible handed down by James and Janet Silver to Alex and Bella Dobbs and their descendants. It's likely that the Bible was a wedding gift in 1892 from Janet Todd's parents when she left Scotland to come to Australia where she married James Silver in Brisbane, Queensland. Click for larger view.

    What to make of a small, rectangular piece of needlework into which is stitched a plaited lock of hair and on which is inscribed: “TOKEN (or TOKEII) A TO W S”?.... Or should it in fact read: "A TOKEN TO W S"?

    It is found in a large, heavy, leather-bound Bible with brass clasps that most likely belonged to my great-grandmother Janet Silver (nee Todd) who married James Silver in Brisbane, in 1892.

    The delicate piece was apparently crafted by my maternal grandmother Bella Dobbs (nee Silver).

    Those of us who spent time at our grandparents' farm at Boolburra will well remember the Bible.

    Many of us will have thumbed through it and read the few entries that included our grandparents' and great-grandparents' names along with later generations.

    Some of us added our own entries as well.

    Until recently (September 2020), when the Bible was given to me to care for, I was unaware of this wonderful piece of needlework. By the way it measures 11cm x 5cm (4.3 ins x 1.9 ins).

    What does the inscription mean?

    As nice as that is, the more puzzling thing is what the wording actually means... "TOKEN (or TOKEII) A TO W S"... or "A TOKEN TO W S".

    And does it really mean anything other than the seamstress was simply practising?

    If you have a look at the image above and, even better, if you click on this link and see the larger version on a separate page, can you determine if there is another way to interpret the letters?

    So who, or what, is W S? It doesn't represent anyone with the Silver surname, for instance.

    My mum believes her mother put the piece together for her twin sisters, Eva and Nettie. Eva lived to 98 but Nettie died just short of her second birth.

    Token to wonderful sisters?

    That being a possibility... how about it meaning "A Token To Wonderful Sisters"?

    The very interesting piece of needlework that includes some plaited hair and the inscription: "TOKEN (or TOKEII) A TO W S"... or "A TOKEN TO W S". Click for larger view.

    That could be the case given another of grandma’s sisters, Grace, also died before her second birthday.

    On that basis, grandma may have put the piece together in remembrance of the passing of her sisters Grace (in 1897) and Nettie (in 1901).

    We also have to ask why the hair was woven into the piece. The hair is either from one of the babies and may well be from Grace given that Nettie had blonde hair.

    All of that is speculation. If anyone has any other explanation they'd like to share, I'm happy to consider it.

    More than just Scripture

    Back to the Bible itself which is far more than a reproduction of the 66 books of the Old Testament and New Testament that Christians have read, loved and studied for generations.

    It is a study Bible, very common nowadays, but it would have been a special and treasured possession that young Janet Todd brought out from Scotland back in 1892.

    The first title page reads, "The Illustrated Family Bible With Explanatory, Critical And Devotional Commentary." The rest of the page has an illustration (click to view) with reference to the Cross and Moses and the serpents in the wilderness and quotes John 3:14: "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up."

    The explanatory notes are the work of Rev John Brown, an 18th Century Scottish minister whose systematic theology has stood the test of time in the eyes of many.

    Self-taught, John Brown rose to be a professor of divinity in the Scottish Presbyterian Church.

    Not surprisingly, my great-grandparents fellowshipped in the Presbyterian church, and James Silver, who was a carpenter, built churches as well as other public buildings on the Darling Downs.

    Wonderful illustrations

    Typically, the Bible contains various teaching and study suggestions including marginal references and timelines that Christ followers understand to be the true history of humanity.

    There are many wonderful illustrations that bring to life some Bible events such as Christ welcoming the little children, David playing the harp before King Saul, Christ calling Matthew the tax collector, and the tabernacle in the wilderness.

    The photo gallery that follows contains most of the images from the Bible.

  • The passage of time takes its toll at Boolburra

    The passage of time takes its toll at Boolburra

    By Warren Nunn

    In several trips to Boolburra over the years, I've photographed the site where my grandparents Alex and Bella Dobbs onced lived.

    From about 1995, the site was abandoned and all that remained were the shed, some tanks, the slab on which the house stood and the dairy.

    The dairy was the victim of a grass fire and the shed has, of course, steadily fallen into disrepair.

    The cab of Uncle Jim's International truck sits rusting away on the bank of the creek, the tennis court roller that Uncle Ray made stands, unmoved, nearby, a couple of water tanks remain, as does the septic tank that Jim, Pop and others, including my brother Don, put in place back in the 1960s.

    The photos are a reminder that although time takes its toll on the physical world, nothing can wear out our memories of the wonderful family times we spent at Boolburra.


    Looking towards the Boolburra house site and shed in 2000.


    The Boolburra house site and shed July 2020.



    Plaque in Uncle Jim's memory at Boolburra. Picture taken July 2020.



    The burnt-out dairy building, Boolburra, in 2000.



    Area near where Boolburra Racecourse was situated, not far from Dobbs house. Picture taken July 2020.



    Inside International truck cabin Boolburra July 2020.



    What remained of Uncle Jim's International truck at Boolburra, November 2017.



    Inside Boolburra shed November 2017.



    Avondale, Boolburra, to where the Dobbs house was relocated. Pictured taken July 2020.



    Swimming hole Dawson River near Boolburra Railway Bridge in July 2020.



    Railway Bridge over Dawson River at Boolburra in July 2020.



    The tennis court roller that Uncle Ray made. Picture taken July 2020.



    Taken from Boolburra house site looking towards shed November 2017.



    Front gate of Boolburra house site, November 2017.



    Looking towards Boolburra house site November 2017.



    Ryan's Paddock near Boolburra in July 2020.