Monday, 23 December 2013


Santa coming to a kid in the Australian bush still seems a novel idea to me, but he did or so I believed. A novelty song in Australia at the time called Six White Boomers, was based around the idea of Santa swapping his reindeers for six white kangaroos.  The reindeers would probably get heat stroke during the delivery run to Oz and were changed for the roos. I always thought that Santa should change out of his Santa suit into something cooler, say, singlet, shorts and flip-flops. All red of course.

My half-sisters ( they’re twelve and thirteen years older than me) and I always were thinking of Santa’s welfare. They had started the tradition of leaving out food and a cool drink for a hot and weary Santa. However, it wasn’t a glass of milk as you would suspect but a glass of beer. Folks, there’s nothing as refreshing as a cool glass of beer on a hot day. Why should Santa miss out? As we found out years later, Dad was the one that played Santa. He was the bloke that delivered the presents, ate the food and drank the beer. 
Christmas morning couldn’t come quick enough. I remember finding it hard to sleep as any kid would. The thought of Santa coming and the heat wasn’t conducive to sleep. I was ready to unwrap those presents at four in the morning but I was always told to go back to bed. I had to hang on until six. It was worth it. The tree had presents piled high around it. I tore at the presents like I was crazed. I think I opened everyone else’s also. I remember getting toy guns, cowboy and Indian ( with headpiece) suits and even a tepee for presents. Bush Santa was the greatest.

By the time Christmas lunch was ready the heat was intense. You didn’t want to go outside. I don’t know how my mother cooked a hot lunch during the hottest time of the year. As a result, she always looked a little tad stressed. It was tradition to have a hot English lunch. Dad always helped. He would bake and glaze a leg of ham, a tradition I still carry on. 

So on a hot day we sat down for a hot English lunch of roast turkey, roast chicken and roast ham with lots of stuffing and vegetables for at least ten to twenty guests. So much that  there was always leftovers. Dessert was a plum pudding with custard and my mother’s triple with a heavy taste of sherry. They were the greatest Christmases and every year I still try to emulate them (minus the cattle station and the gumtree).

Wishing you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. And I hope the weather isn’t too hot wherever you are. 

Sunday, 22 December 2013



85g/ 3oz light brown sugar,
115g/ 4oz  butter or margarine,
115g/ 4oz  maple or golden syrup.
115g/ 4oz sultanas,
 2 cups self raising flour,
 1 egg,
 ½ teaspoon bicarb soda dissolved in a little warm water,
½ cup chopped almonds,
2 tablespoons black coffee or coffee essence,
1 tablespoon brandy (if desired)

Warm the butter, syrup, and coffee stirring until melted but not hot. Allow to cool. Add the beaten egg, sift in flour, then add sultanas, almonds, brandy, and lastly the soda. Beat quickly and thoroughly. Spoon the mix in to a greased pudding basin or pudding steamer, smooth the mixture gently with the back of a spoon. Cover with a double layer of greaseproof or baking paper, then a layer of aluminium foil and tie securely with string. Set over a saucepan of simmering water and steam the pudding for 2 and 1/2 hours, adding water to the pan if needed.



 Preparation for Christmas started months before the festive day. If presents or foodstuffs were not picked up during rare trips to town, the mailman brought the rest. My parents liked buying treats like English biscuits, cheeses or marmalade jam from city department store catalogues. The mailman, Mister Riggs, brought most of it on his weekly trips. Unbeknown to me, he even brought most of my presents. Mister Riggs was like a bush Santa.
It was all very English. That's how it was celebrated then, even if the weather was always blazing hot. An English Christmas?  We liked to celebrate as if we are still in the old country; we imagined we were having a white Christmas; snow, pine trees and fireplaces.  Many of us dreamed about having a white Christmas in Europe.
There were not any fans or air conditioners at the homestead. Remember, this is the 1960's. The homestead did have fly screening. Without the screening the homestead would have been swarming with flies. There was refrigeration though; supplied by six kerosene fridges that sat in the kitchen which was the size of a small house. The only cooling agents available were beer and soft drink. A country pub probably did not not carry as much beer stock as Lornesleigh station.
The Lornesleigh homestead was also well stocked with food and good cheer. Mum and Dad loved having guests for Christmas, the more the merrier. The Christmas tree had been put up in the dining room a week before Christmas. The tree was not a pine tree but a heavily decorated gum tree that Dad has cut out of the bush. It was always hard to put a star on the top of a gum tree. Everyone pitched in with the decorations. 
Guests came and went. Some stayed. They were from the next door stations (next door means they are twenty miles away, at least), stockmen without families, uncles and aunts who lived on the other family stations, the mailman and his kids and my two older half-sisters who usually brought their friends from the city. Even strangers were welcomed. My half- sisters had been here for weeks, playing the record player, staying up late, laughing, dancing and swimming in the river.
I tried to join in but I was seen as an annoyance. I’m way too young. That did not stop me of course. If I got sent to bed I’d just get out again. Hey, it’s Christmas. My two half- sisters were accomplished musicians so the piano in the lounge room was given a good work out. More singing and dancing. Mum and Dad don’t care, they would join in.
 They did not complain when the modern music was played ( Beatles, Rolling Stones etc). My parents had their favourite music; Marty Robbins, Tom Jones. It was all played loud and everyone enjoyed themselves.
 To end the long day, Dad always played Christmas carol compilation records into the wee hours.  To be continued.                        


Wednesday, 18 December 2013


SLY GROG SHOP. Source: history up close.
As you probably are aware, the blog posts are about outback and colonial Australia. The posts always feature a family member and will continue to do so. My family are an interesting and notorious bunch, they’ve come in many shades;  pioneers, participants in history-making events, hard drinkers, horse riders, reckless, storytellers, making fortunes, losing fortunes, thieves, gentry, convicts, soldiers. Last but not least, entrepreneurial.   

My ancestor, Daniel Geary had been a convict, policeman and hero during his time, but in the next phase of his adventurous life, he was also an entrepreneur. Instead of sitting on his porch nursing his invalided shoulder, regaling visitors with stories of shootouts with convicts, Daniel went into business. Well, it was a business but it wasn’t legal. Daniel bought a farm and set up a sly-grogging business (moonshining).  He did very well even with a stuffed shoulder.
Gold had been discovered and the miners didn’t mind a drop. Daniel did so well, that the authorities were soon alerted to a “drink craze” going on in the district. When Daniel was tipped off that he was soon going to be raided, he shut up business and went into a legitimate one. He bought a pub.
GEARY'S GAP. Source:ozroads.
Daniel built the pub on the busy road to Sydney, at the top of a range, overlooking Lake George. The area is now known as Geary’s Gap. Calling the pub, The Currency Lad, he served many a thirsty traveller after they had reached the top of the range. They arrived on horses, on foot or by coaches. He certainly picked the right location. Geary’s Gap was also a great location for the bushrangers to ply their trade. Travellers were often relieved of their valuables by the bushrangers at Geary’s Gap. Daniel Geary didn’t mind as he also used to serve the thirsty bushrangers ! Who knows, maybe he even tipped off the bushrangers.

Daniel sold the pub after running it for ten years and became pound keeper in a place called Gundaroo (near modern day Canberra). Sadly, it didn’t end well for Daniel and his wife Bridget, as they lived out their days in an alcoholic haze, both succumbing to the effects of the grog. Ironic isn't it.

Next blog: a bush Christmas.        

Monday, 16 December 2013


 INSIDE ABERCROMBIE CAVES. Source: blayney-nsw.

By the time the rebels had reached the caves, their numbers had markedly reduced. Most probably saw impending doom but there was a hard core of fourteen still led by Entwistle, ready to fight it out. 

Resting in the Abercrombie Caves, the rebels continued to the top of a waterfall where they decided to camp. It was here that the troopers and the volunteers finally caught up with the rebels.
The gun battle lasted for over an hour. By the end of it, two troopers were dead and Daniel Geary (my great,great, great grandfather) was badly wounded in the right shoulder. The rebels retreated back to the caves, losing their horses in the process.
The troopers continued to follow, searching the dark labyrinth of caves; trying to flush out the rebels. The rebels eluded the troopers, escaping the caves and heading to a hill now known as Bushrangers Hill ( A bushranger is an Australian outlaw).

BUSHRANGERS HILL. Source:snucklepuff.

Unfortunately, this is where they met the soldiers who had marched from Sydney. Although vastly outnumbered, the rebels decided to go down with a fight. In the firefight, another two soldiers and two rebels were wounded. Eventually, the rebels were totally surrounded and arrested. The two wounded rebels died whilst being taken back to Bathurst and another three managed to escape.The remaining ten, including Entwistle were hung on the 2nd November 1830 in Bathurst at a spot now called Ribbon Gang Lane.


Source: bushrangers.abercrombiecaves. 

 As for Daniel Geary, he was invalided out of the police and granted a pension for life. As a result of his shoulder wound he was never able to again raise his right arm above his elbow. Call it bureaucratic madness, because he still had to report to a government doctor every year to prove it hadn’t got any better!  More about Daniel Geary in my next blog.  

Saturday, 14 December 2013



Ralph Entwistle was an unlikely lad to be leading a full scale rebellion. He was twenty-five, a bricklayer from Bolton, England and had been sentenced to life for stealing clothes.

The origins of the convict rebellion lay with Ralph and a mate having a “skinny-dip”. Ralph and his mate had been hauling wool on a bullock dray all day. It was hot and the two convicts decided to cool off in a nearby creek. Unfortunately for them, Governor Darling and his entourage were passing by on their way to Bathurst. The two nude convicts were spotted enjoying nature. The Governor was “affronted” and the two convicts were arrested. The punishment was severe. For causing “affrontment” to the Guv, each convict was flogged publicly, receiving fifty lashes each. That would have hurt.

Entwistle seethed for nine months and finally snapped. Ralph persuaded nine other convicts on the property to join him. Escaping one night, the convicts roamed the country for the next few days, stealing guns, horses and food as they went. By the end of two weeks, the gang had now grown to fifty.
 As many of the escaped convicts were Irish, they decided to wear white ribbons in their hats as a visible sign of rebellion. The convicts were imitating the Irish secret society known as the Ribbon Men. They were now calling themselves the White Ribbon Gang.

One morning, the convicts stormed a property of a magistrate seeking vengeance for his harsh treatment of the convicts. The magistrate wasn’t there but the unfortunate overseer was. When he refused to release the convicts on the property, the overseer was shot and killed.

The Ribbon Gang had now swelled to one hundred and thirty escaped convicts. The authorities in Sydney and Bathurst were expecting a full scale convict uprising. The convicts vastly outnumbered the free citizens of the colony. It would be a bloodbath.

ESCAPED CONVICTS. Source: halfacentury.

Two regiments of soldiers were dispatched from Sydney which was days away. Bathurst was closer, and the six local police troopers (Daniel Geary included) were on the spot. The police and the twelve citizen volunteers were soon on the trail of the convicts. The parties finally met at a place called Abercrombie Caves. In my next blog; the final shootout.                 

Thursday, 12 December 2013



Daniel Geary, son of Michael Geary. A wild, wild colonial boy. Daniel was so at odds with authority that he probably punched the midwife who delivered him. Daniel was born fighting. A true fighting Irishman.

Things were not helped much when he married a Bridget McLucas in the 1820s. She had a very interesting pedigree. Bridget like Daniel was born in the colony and also descended from convicts. The McLucas family were renowned in the colony as a family of thieves. They were also not shy in assaulting the police.  Sometimes I feel I’m descended from Australia’s first criminal family. Hold on, it does get worse.

In an altercation with a Thomas Campbell, Daniel Geary pulled a gun and shot him. Campbell survived but Daniel was sentenced to life for attempted murder. It looked like it was all over for Daniel. Poor Bridget was left behind with three children to raise in a state of dire poverty. Now this is something that the authorities don’t do anymore. Bridget petitioned the Governor (the Guv ran the colony) asking if she could join her husband in prison as she had no means to support herself. The Governor approved. So Bridget and the three kids soon joined Daniel in prison.
However, that didn’t stop Daniel Geary escaping. He escaped several times. Maybe Daniel wanted to get away from the missus and the screaming kids. But he was recaptured and labelled a “notorious character”. But the Geary family had connections because in 1824 Daniel had been released and was working for a John McArthur, son of James McArthur, the colony’s richest man and the founder of the wool industry (Australia is the world’s leading producer of wool). 

Again there is another change of fortune. One right out of left field. Geary became a police officer constable and was posted to Bathurst (an inland town from Sydney). He’s swapped sides? The reason for the change of sides is that a convict would have their sentence markedly reduced if they became a police officer ( too many convicts, not enough lawmen) . Constable Geary would be soon putting his life on the line. In 1830, fifty convicts rebelled and were roaming the district killing and burning. They had to be stopped.

Strangely, it was a rebellion that started when the subsequent leader of the rebellion was caught bathing nude in a creek. All will be revealed in my next blog. 

Tuesday, 10 December 2013


REENACTMENT. The Daily Telegraph. 2011.

THE VINEGAR HILL UPRISING. National Library of Australia.

By 1804, the young settlement of Sydney was ready for rebellion. There were one thousand Irish convicts in the colony, eight hundred of whom were political prisoners. They had been transported to Australia in the aftermath of the 1798 Irish rebellion in which thirty thousand people died. They had had enough.

The Irish were regarded as sub-human and disloyal by the English and received harsher treatment. The poor Irish could be flogged for just speaking their native language. The Irish had also had enough of the oppressive heat and flies.
FLOGGING. Mitchell Library. New South Wales.

All hell broke loose when one thousand Irish convicts stormed a settlement called Castle Hill just outside Sydney and burnt it to the ground. Weapons were seized from a government store. The Irish convicts were marching on Sydney. The plan was to kill the English soldiers, steal ships and sail happily into the sunset. So they thought.

Four hundred of the rebels were met by only sixty English soldiers at a place called Vinegar Hill. It didn’t look good for the English. Before fighting started a truce was called between the rebel leaders and the English commanding officer. During the truce the leaders were seized and taken to the rear, surprising the rebels. The soldiers quickly opened fire and the rebels fled. Fifteen rebels were killed during the uprising and nine were later hung. Australia’s largest insurrection was over.
Where was Michael Geary in all this? He was Irish. You’d assume he’d be on the Irish side. Michael Geary instead joined an irregular contingent of men loyal to the crown. They helped guard Sydney and later hunted down the Irish stragglers.

For proving his loyalty,Michael Geary was rewarded with a grant of land and allowed to draw cattle and beer from the government store on credit. What ! He betrayed his countrymen for beer? Michael Geary died, aged fifty-eight in 1820 not long after having his wheat crop ruined by flood.  

In my next blog: from villain to hero. The life of Michael's son, Daniel.   

Sunday, 8 December 2013


ESTHER GEARY. 1880's. Source: Personal Collection.

Wanted. Hard-working woman with initiative, required to live in isolated conditions. Local inhabitants could be hostile. Must be able to use firearms.

If John Clark had been advertising for another wife, Esther Geary would have fitted all of those key selection criteria. Esther who would become John Clark’s second wife was well known to the Clark's. She had been working for them as help for Jane Clark. In 1880, John and Esther married in her hometown of Gundaroo, New South Wales. He was forty-six and she was thirty-one. John Clark was marrying into one of the more “colourful” families in Australia.

Her great grandfather, Michael Geary (my great,great, great, great grandfather), had “immigrated” to Australia after stealing a watch in Cork, Ireland in 1793. The sentence was seven years. The ship was one of the first ships to bring Irish convicts to Australia. Most of the convicts, both male and female, were your usual motley crew of thieves but there was a Republican lawyer  named Laurence Davoren ( Davoren was fighting for liberty from England. In a rare gesture of goodwill, he was allowed to bring his wife and children) and three highwaywomen, I repeat women, who would rob travellers dressed as men.


You’d imagine the convicts been starved and flogged but they were well-fed and treated reasonably. There was beef to eat every day and there was oatmeal for breakfast. Of course, there was an ulterior motive behind the good diet; the authorities wanted healthy convicts to be able to do the hard work when they got to the other end. The voyages to Australia took four or five months and when the ship arrived in Sydney there had been only one death. In 1793, Australia’s European settlement was only five years old.

Several of the convicts escaped into the bush soon after arrival and two were speared to death by the Aborigines. Michael Geary was more a lover than an escapee. Soon after arrival he started a de facto relationship with an Eleanor McCarty alias Donovan. De facto relationships were then known as concubines and weren’t uncommon. Eleanor had also received a seven year sentence for stealing. Her journey had been a little more eventful as one of the convicts on the ship had been executed for planning a mutiny. 

Michael was freed in 1801. Eleanor and Michael settled in  Pitts Row ( now Pitt Street, the main street of Sydney) . More about Michael Geary in my next blog.   


Friday, 6 December 2013



When gold was discovered in the region in the 1870s, the canny Scot, John Clark seized an opportunity. Men were flocking from all over the world hungry for gold but also plain hungry. 

These mining men needed to eat, especially meat. John Clark quickly bought his first cattle station, Mount Pleasant, followed by Lornesleigh station, both inland from Bowen. He stocked them with strong and sturdy Shorthorn cattle.
The gold discoveries were happening further north, allowing the port town of Townsville to become busy while Bowen declined. John and Jane sold their carrying business and moved to Mount Pleasant. After the death of Mary Ann, Jane never had another child. It was probably just too painful for her to ever contemplate having another after already losing a child. John and Jane did adopt a baby girl named Mary Ellen. Mary Ellen’s parents had been killed on an outlying station (I’ve never found any records of how they died).

The Clark fortune was expanding; there was money in those hungry miners who lived in the squalid, filthy shanty mining towns in the bush, hoping to strike the mother lode. Most of them ended up with nothing to show for their efforts and they were the lucky ones. Frequently miners died from cholera, mining accidents and occasional fights in the grog shops selling rot gut alcohol. Even the alcohol could be dangerous; there were known instances of sly grog sending men blind.

Mister Clark was now in his forties but he had the energy of a man half his age. He was hitting his stride. Everything was now in John and Jane’s favour when another tragedy struck. Jane took ill in 1877 from fever and quickly died. She was buried next to her young infant daughter, Mary Ann. How would John Clark carry on?   

Wednesday, 4 December 2013


JANE CLARK DIARY. 1874. Source: Personal Collection.
The diary is Jane Clark’s from 1874. The picture on the cover is how Australia looked at the time.
 Then it was a loose collection of colonies, each running its own affairs but still overseen by Britain. Australia as a nation would not exist until 1901. The diary is a first- hand account of what it was like to live in primitive conditions on the frontier. Unfortunately, I can barely read it because of her scratchy handwriting style.

However, I did find another one of her diaries in a museum in Brisbane a few years ago written in 1871. I read it carefully waiting for a gem from the past. Unfortunately, most of it is taken up with mundane house duties. As I found out, Jane Clark was a fastidious cleaner (she especially liked cleaning curtains)  who liked to have a bath every second day.
 My great grandfather, John Clark is barely mentioned throughout the diary, probably due to his long absences operating the carrying business. When he is mentioned he is called Mister Clark or Johnny depending on her mood towards him.
At one point, Jane goes on a sea voyage to Sydney to visit her relatives. Most of the entries during the voyage just say, “seasick” or “seasick again.” Not actually riveting but it is a glimpse of the normal life for a woman in the 1870's.
It does get interesting reading in places. There is the mention of the murders of two men named Longfield and Lambton by Aborigines who had tried to recapture an absconding Aboriginal boy who had run away from their station. There is also an entry saying that she “hit Totty for not learning.”

 I don’t know who Totty is but I’m presuming she could be an Aboriginal servant girl. Poor girl. My impression after reading the diary is that the Australian frontier in the 1870's was a lonely and brutal existence.    

Sunday, 1 December 2013


A PAINTING OF JANE FARRELL. 1860's. Source: Personal Collection.

Mary Ann Clark, John and Jane Clark’s child was only 3 years 10 months old when she sadly died of scarlet fever in 1865.
 The death of children was an all too frequent an occurrence on the Australian frontier in the nineteenth century. You have to remember that there weren’t many doctors around. If there was a doctor they couldn’t do much for diseases such as diphtheria and typhoid fever anyway.

John and Jane left the station they had been managing and set up a hotel and carrying business closer to Bowen. Thus began the makings of the Clark fortune. If you can’t make money from a pub on the Australian frontier then there’s something wrong with your management style. That or you’re drinking all the profits yourself.

 While Jane ran the Euri Creek Hotel, as it was known, John ventured into the hinterland to carry supplies to the stations and return with bales of wool. At the time many of the early stations had sheep. Growing sheep for wool in the early days in northern Australia turned out to be a disaster. The local Aborigines saw sheep as an easy way to get a meal; a lot easier then chasing down a kangaroo. The sheep were also tended by shepherds who were so frequently speared that it became common for two or three shepherds to be speared every week.  In the end no one wanted to be a shepherd at any price. Homesteads were also attacked so often that many were abandoned. The first settlers savage reaction to the Aborigines will be covered in future blogs.

ABORIGINES ATTACKING A SHEPHERD'S HUT. Source: A History of Aboriginal Sydney.

John Clark would take a bullock wagon full of supplies out two to three times a year inland to the most distant station. A round trip was about 360 miles and a good trip took about three weeks. Yes, I nearly forgot, he also had to go over two mountain ranges. He always took Roddy with him so he could avoid being attacked.
BULLOCK DRAY. Source: ninglun.wordpress.

 A clever ploy that he learnt from the mail man who also travelled the same track, was not to sleep at the camp fire you built but to sleep somewhere else. If the Aborigines saw the campfire they would attack it. 

Friday, 29 November 2013


JOHN CLARK WITH WIFE AND DAUGHTERS. LATE 1890'S. Source: Personal Collection.

John, Jane and Mary Ann (their baby daughter) arrived at a staging post on the Queensland border three months after leaving the Hunter Valley minus the police posse.  For those who don’t know geography, Queensland is a state of Australia. It’s our version of Texas.

It was at the staging post that John Clark showed his bravery and canniness when he agreed to drive a mob of cattle (for a good price and the fact that no one else wanted to do it) north to a station near the settlement of Bowen. The town had only been established one year before. Was he crazy? After here, there were barely any settlements or roads for a thousand miles. Most of the land north had only just been explored by Europeans. Bowen was a long way away and the Aborigines whose land he would be passing through were known to be hostile.

 John Clark had such an air of confidence about him that several men decided to join his party. But John Clark had a clever idea about dealing with hostile Aborigines. Two local Aborigines, a male and female named Roddy and Billy who he had befriended, agreed to come with him. As the party travelled north, Roddy and Billy were able to negotiate safe passage through the different tribal lands they passed through.

Things did get a little sticky one night when they thought their camp would be attacked. Even Billy and Roddy were worried. Roddy apparently told John Clark to grab, “the stick that goes ha-ha.” (his exact words). Roddy was of course referring to a gun. John Clark fired a shot over the heads of the Aborigines and they quickly dispersed.
After several months on the road everyone arrived in Bowen alive and well.  Impressed by the good  condition of the cattle, John Clark was made manager of the station.

 As for Roddy and Billy? They would remain with John and his family the rest of their lives. Billy delivered several of John Clark’s children at Lornesleigh Station and Roddy is buried next to John Clark.  

Tuesday, 26 November 2013



All family history seemed to begin with my great grandfather, John Henry Clark.  Of course, you are going to give him a big credit.  He was the man that made the family fortune. (The disappearing fortune? There’s another blog in that).
 I’ve always been surprised that my surname isn’t Clark rather than Bell such is the impact of this man. Yet he remains a little bit of a mystery.

The family tales are that he was born in Australia. His father died when he was a child and he was sent to an uncle. The uncle was a tyrant and John ran away to make his own way in life at the age of thirteen. Never learning to read or write, he soon developed a canny nose for business and became a gifted horseman. At one stage he operated a stage coach company on the Victorian goldfields. Then in the 1860's, he decided to take wife and child put them on a bullock dray and head to greener pastures in northern Australia, all the way from the Hunter Valley, New South Wales. Well, some of it is true. Some isn’t.
Then I read some old newspapers and convict records from the 1850's. Isn’t the internet a great resource? The real John Henry Clark was born in Perthshire, Scotland in the 1820's. His family appeared to be farmers and weavers. Nothing more is heard of him until the 1840's, when he is tried in Glasgow for stealing. A sentence of five years transportation to Australia was the result.  

The convict system was becoming unpopular in Australia and would end soon. As a result, John didn't do it hard like many earlier convicts. He got assigned to work on a cattle property in the Hunter Valley, New South Wales. I guess, this was all useful experience for a man who would later be running a vast cattle empire. He did his time, became an inn operator then a butcher at a place called Murrurundi, New South Wales. He was probably a stage coach driver but never an owner.
In the early 1860's he met and married Jane Farrell, the daughter of the local policeman and the hospital matron. John was moving up the social ladder.  But strangely John, Jane and a baby daughter were heading north to the newly opened lands of north Queensland in 1861; a dangerous journey of nearly two thousand miles that would take months to complete. Not travelling on a train or on a ship but by means of a bullock wagon. Very uncomfortable.
 What I discovered was that the move wasn’t necessarily motivated by a thirst for fortune. It was also motivated by his mother in-law.  John Clark was in trouble again. Again.
Matron Farrell had gone to the police saying that her son in-law had been stealing cattle (one of Australia's oldest occupations). The police were closing in fast. To avoid arrest John grabbed his young family, hitched up the bullock wagon one night and legged it out of town .

The things a man will do to get away from his mother in-law.

Saturday, 23 November 2013


JOHN CLARK.1880. Source: Personal Collection.

I’ve mentioned my great grandfather, John Clark, in previous blogs. I’m going to write about his life over several blogs; an amazing life that ran for ninety-four years. He was an aristocrat of the Australian variety—which is a bit different to the English and European variety.
I have a confession to make—John Clark was a convict, a jail bird. He didn’t kill anyone or do anything particularly evil. He would have been hung for that or any of the other two hundred offences in the nineteenth century that carried the death penalty. It’s mind boggling that people were transported to Australia for seven years just for stealing a handkerchief. Most poor unfortunates committed crimes because of poverty. John Clark was a humble thief who got caught. Confessing this to you is probably going to set prim and proper Aunt Maud rolling in her grave.
Australians call convicts aristocracy because they founded this nation. Where once you never dared admit you were an ex-convict or descended from one, now we say it with pride. It’s no longer an insult. So there, English rugby and cricket fans!

CONVICT SHIP. Source: les-nuits-masquees.blogspot.

CONVICTS. 1860's. Source: blogs.smithsonian.

Australia can thank America for our convicts. Until independence, the British Isles sent their convicts to America. But from 1788 right up until the 1860's, convicts were transported to Australia. Most were male, but there were also female and even child convicts. While some were rebels and trade unionists, London’s East End poor, the rural poor and Irish made up the majority. Technological change was a bad thing for unskilled workers in those days too.
Being a convict could be tolerable if you decided to just get on with it and do your time. At the end of your seven years you got one hundred acres of land that you could call your own. (If you want to learn more, look up Wikipedia).
Not only was John Clark a convict, but his wife, Esther Geary, my great-grandmother, was descended from convicts. The Gearys were a wild, wild bunch. From attempted murderer to policeman, that was my great-great-great grandfather, Daniel Geary. 

More about him next time. So, you see I’m a true Australian aristocrat. You can stop spinning now Aunty Maud. You’ll only make yourself dizzy!

To be continued.           

Wednesday, 20 November 2013


Stock yards, Lornesleigh Station.

I used to love it when the stockmen came to Lornesleigh Station to muster. Usually only my parents and I lived on the station along with a sundry collection of pets. 

The arrival of six or seven stockmen meant a change from the isolation for me as we didn’t have visitors very often. For Mum and Dad it meant more hard work on top of what they were already doing.
 Most of Mum’s time was taken up with home schooling me ( she had her work cut out there) and keeping a large homestead operating. With the arrival of the stockmen, it also meant she had to cook two hot meals for the men and make lunches ( usually sandwiches) that they would take on the muster packed in their saddle bags.

 And for Dad it meant having to get up before dawn to wake the stockmen. After breakfast the horses were caught and saddled and the day began. It meant a long day in the saddle in all weather conditions, only stopping for lunch.  By late afternoon a cloud of dust could be seen, then the sounds of hundreds of cattle, cracking whips and shouting men as they came towards the cattle yards.
Unfortunately for my fastidious mother, the cattle yards, which held five hundred head, were located close to the homestead. As a result, lots of dust drifted into the house when they were being used. Poor Mum was always cleaning.

Bob Masso shoeing a horse, Lornesleigh Station.

I would sit on a fence post and watch the men and the cattle with awe as they pushed the cattle into the yards. To a young bush kid, the stockmen were heroes. I remember Dad galloping after a breakaway steer and pushing it back into the mob with several cracks of the stockwhip. Dad was a crack rider, like most of his family. Another time I saw my cousin, Neville Coleman (he’s twenty years older than me), gallop beside a steer, jump off the horse, grab it by the horns and pull it down.

When I look back on it now, I wonder how the stockmen weren’t hurt or killed all the time. I think not only was there a lot of skill and bravery involved but also a measure of recklessness. To be continued.

Sunday, 17 November 2013



You couldn't have more different worlds than the Australian bush and Buckingham Palace but a horse named Rupert experienced both of them.

Rupert was born in 1894 at Grosvenor Downs, a 550 square mile cattle station in the Australian outback. He was also the horse that carried King George V of England (the grandfather of Queen Elizabeth II) around during ceremonial duties for over ten years.

Before my great grandfather, John Clark, bought Grosvenor Downs, the station was owned by Alexander McDonald (a Scot) and his wife Isabella Clark (Isabella was my great grandfather’s half- sister).
For the horse enthusiasts, Rupert was a black Australian Waler, a horse breed renowned for their endurance, who stood at 15.3 hands. Walers are a combination of Arab, Thoroughbred and Timor Pony. Many were exported to India as cavalry remounts. The Waler became legendary in the Middle East during World War One when they were used as horses for the Australian cavalry. It wasn’t uncommon for them to go two days without water and cross hundreds of miles of desert with little rest then having to charge Turkish gun emplacements at the end of it. Truly amazing horses.

Thankfully Rupert avoided military service. He was exported to India in 1903 from Grosvenor Downs and was sold to a Lieutenant Boyd in the Horse Artillery. During a visit to India in 1906, the Prince of Wales (as King George V was then), took a shine to Rupert and offered to buy the horse. In the letter I have from the Royal Archives, the Prince bought Rupert but in the story I heard, the Lieutenant thought he would be breaching royal protocol if money was exchanged, and instead he gave Rupert to the Prince as a gift. Rupert returned to England with Lieutenant Boyd and was accommodated at the Prince’s London home, Marlborough House.

King George rode him in the funeral procession of his Father, King Edward VII and a review of Australian troops during World War One. The story is that he rode Rupert in the funeral cortege of his father, as he could sit higher in the saddle than his despised cousin, Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany. Families—don’t you love them?

Rupert lived a long, distinguished and comfortable life, and was sadly put down at the age of 26 on the 28th February 1920. 

Wednesday, 13 November 2013


WILD RIDER. T.J BELL.1913. Source: Personal Collection.
As I mentioned in my previous blog I had several relatives who went to India with J.S. Love. One relative nearly introduced monkeys into Australia and the other nearly caused an uprising.

Thomas James Bell or T.J. as he was commonly called was one of the wild and crazy members of the family. I will be covering his other escapades in future blogs. T.J. enjoyed telling his young nephews and nieces ( one of them was my Dad) of his time in India.

 He especially loved horrifying them with his story about seeing dead human bodies floating down the Hooghly River, a river that flows through Calcutta. As we know the placing of a body in a river is an Indian burial custom. I’m sure my Grandmother would not have been pleased with T.J.’s story. 

Before his return to Australia he decided to buy a monkey for a pet. As you do.  Thankfully only one, because Australia has enough out of control feral animals ( rabbits, foxes, cane toads, feral cats etc). Thankfully also the custom officials removed it from him on his return to Australia. I have a vision of monkeys gone wild in the bush and competing for supremacy with our koalas. I put my money on the koalas.  
A first cousin of Dad’s also went to India to break in horses. He was from Grosvenor Downs, a cattle station my great grandfather John Clark, had bought for his daughter as a wedding present.
The cousin and the other Australian horse breakers were returning home in a T Ford after a hard day when they were forced to stop. A cow was blocking the road. The impatient cousin jumped out of the car and decided to remove it. The men from the bush were unaware that cows are scared in India.

The cousin tried to scare it but without success. He then hopped on its back of the docile cow and started kicking it. Only then did the cow move slowly off the road. He couldn’t celebrate for long as the cousin was soon being chased by a mob of angry villagers hot on his heels. The cousin ran to the car and jumped in. Luckily for them the T Ford was faster than the locals and got away. Just.

Next blog. From the bush to Buckingham Palace.