Monday, March 30, 2009



My brothers and I spent our young years in the far north of Queensland where communication with the outside world was sporadic. The lifeline in these vast areas was the aeroplane. This is a small story of the influence of the aeroplane in the north and an introduction to my parents. Most cattle properties having their own airstrip and the people living and working on these savannah lands looking forward to the scheduled visits of these flying wonders.

After the war my father, an adventurer, what else with his formative years under the influence of his father, Ole Hell Bent , a drover, and hard man, eccentric, horse dealer supplying the overseas mounted empire armies, and Dad as a teenager working and living with Arnold Weinholt, a man with a secretive and adventurous life , big on Empire, who was eventually executed as a British spy in Ethopia.

Dad after a lengthy stint in the Northern Territory, mounted copper, dismissed for larrikinism, buffalo shooter, horse breaker, business entrepreneur, lugger crewman, fettler, army service, was employed as cattle station manager for Angliss and Kidman in the late 40's and early 50's on Vanrook Station a vast acreage on the Gilbert River in the far north of Queensland in the Gulf Country on the princely sum of five hundred pounds a year.

My mother trained as a nursing sister and when the war ended was sent to Richmond in the west of Queensland where she witnessed the destruction of the stockpile of gas at the military base outside of the town in the event of invasion. Accidents happened while destroying the gas and victims were admitted to the small hospital in Richmond suffering Mustard Gas burns. The glow from the destruction of this arsenal could be seen on the horizon at night on the vast plains of western Queensland.

My mother was posted to Croyden Hospital in the Gulf and from there to the Normanton Hospital on the Norman River for the life of adventure and freedom she craved after living her life isolated on a heartbreak marginal dairy block on the Burnett River and at the beck and call of an autocratic dour family of Yorkshire and Norwegian descent.

My father was impossibly handsome with black hair and green eyes, my mother blessed with the bones of her Viking ancestors. Invariably this pair met in Normanton, she noticed him in the middle of a rowdy two up game with five pound notes tucked into his hatband, always a lair, my Dad. My Dad was mischievous and wilful and enjoyed bawdy company, whereas my mother had never been in many social situations and was introverted and this unlikely pair married in Cairns in the mid 1940's.

Communication on the cattle station was by pedal radio and the weekly visit of the ANA DC3 aircraft, delivering mail, some supplies, the passengers disembarking and enjoying a cup of tea under the mango trees at Vanrook, was a highlight of life in the far north.

In the wet season the airstrip was too boggy on occasions for the big planes to land. A signal from the air sock pole was hoisted to allow the pilots to know, avoid the airstrip. A year towards the end of the 1940's the warning was hoisted, the pilots not concentrating, ignored the signal and were making an approach. My mother became agitated "Its going to land, its going to land, and the mail's not ready to go". Dad "Don't worry, You'll have plenty of time, it may land, but it bloody well will not take off"

The plane touched down and the speed dropped off dramatically until the aircraft came to a stop and tilted and fell over on its nose bogged impossibly.

Much excitement, red faced pilots, engineers were despatched from Melbourne to see what could be made of the mess, arriving importantly in a small light plane which took the two embarrassed pilots away for wrist slapping I suppose. . After days of struggle the plane was extracted from the mud, checked out by the engineers and the chief pilot, fresh from the fighter planes in the War, flown up from "down South" to get the aircraft up.. Remembering it was still the wet season and the airstrip still had boggy patches, the pilot took the towels that were located at the top of every seat where passengers rested their heads. The towels being white were dropped beside every boggy patch on the strip. The head pilot reckoned they could get the plane off if they zigzagged through the boggy patches. The gung ho pilot and Dad were kin, "Tony, if we anchor the plane with ropes and take her up to full throttle and you cut the ropes when I give you the thumbs up she should clear the trees", a man from Dad's own heart. The engineers then thought perhaps the undercarriage had been damaged in the boggy landing and the fall on the nose and the wheels should not be raised. "Naw", said the fighter pilot "she will belly land quite well at Normanton airstrip". The engineers would have been desperate to get away as Dad insisted on using the radio on the aeroplane talking to whoever and telling whoever he could on the air he was in "the call identification of the DC3" "on the ground and not about to get off as the stupid bastards bogged the plane", adding all the woes of the crew and their neglecting to heed the " keep off" signal etc. etc.". I guess they had to put up with him as he could be a headstrong man who would put up the dukes at a drop of a hat, and lived his life out of the annals of "Boy's Own Adventures" and was not upset by anyone lightly.

The plane was ready to depart, the whole station looking on wondering whether this ponderous machine on the ground, would make it into the air. The ropes cut at the appropriate time the cumbersome aircraft negotiating the zig zag, sigh of relief the big aircraft lifted over the trees into the blue after the perilous take off, to Normanton for refuelling and further checking. I imagine the engineers were relieved to be gone as well!

"Did I not tell you Jean you would have plenty of time to get the mail ready" observed Dad as the DC3 disappeared over the horizon.


Blogger diane said...

What a fabulous story and parents you had/have. As I said before you should write a book. I hope you keep copies of all these wonderful posts.
As others have said, take care of yourself. You can't do 24 hr care for long. Hope you can snatch some sleep during the day if not at night. (Are you a nurse?)
Your Mum and Dad sure were adventurous. Take care and watch the vultures.

March 30, 2009 at 7:10 PM  
Blogger Lizzie's Insomnia said...

I did have these stories up on BB until I had a nasty malware virus downloaded into my computer and in a fit of pique erased the blog,,,,sorry now as put a lot of work into the research but do have some of it and am, with this time at home, putting it together and have sent this story to the abc and have another written, just have to photograph the old photos. Can not at the moment as my camera is away being cleaned.

One of my brothers put things into time he said invite them down to the stables to view a new stallion you have just purchased and he would come in informing them he had just purchased a new harley!!!!Made me giggle which is the best attitude.

You are right I am up in the air with my future.....I have retrained in recent years in Community Nursing, Dementia, and High Care, at the bottom of the chain the working end not the decisions or administration pointy area.

Prior to that was a professional horse trainer and badly injured my knee, could not walk without pain for some years, put paid to my business and had to earn money somewhere and in this area of nursing they were willing to train me as the aged care nursing suffers a chronic shortage of staff.

New knowledge is always of benefit....

and thank you for your kind words....

lizzie b.

March 30, 2009 at 7:41 PM  
Blogger WILBO43 said...

Hi Lizzie,
Great story! You should write that story onto the ABC's website It's a site where Aussies can publish interesting stories about earlier life in Oz. The best ones will appear in a TV series they're making and I think this one definitely will be up there with the best.

March 30, 2009 at 10:31 PM  
Blogger whiteangel said...

Wonderful reading. Your parents, your dad's a character :) Your mum seems a lovely lady too, and so do you. It's good to know how people lived and how they got received their supplies way back then. If only more people told their stories we would learn so much more.

March 31, 2009 at 12:32 AM  
Blogger Lizzie's Insomnia said...

Thank you Bill. I saw the advertisement a couple of days ago on the abc and decided to revisit what I started on BB a couple of years ago.

March 31, 2009 at 6:51 AM  
Blogger Lizzie's Insomnia said...

Thank you for your words.....

March 31, 2009 at 6:51 AM  
Blogger JEANNE CLEMENTS said...

Hello Lizzie's Insomnia,
What a wonderful surprise to find your story. My 18 yearold daughter Amy is working on Vanrook Station at the moment and having an awesome time. I was looking forthe postcode for Vanrook and found you instead.
Amy loves riding and I don't think she want to return to the UK in September where she has a place at university. Who knows she may meet someone like your dad.
From Jeanne Maryport W.Cumbria UK

June 13, 2009 at 8:09 PM  
Blogger JEANNE CLEMENTS said...

Found your story because my 18 year old daughter is working on Vanrook Station as part of her gap year before going to university. She is having an '√°wesome'time and loves riding. I was trying to find the postcode for Vanrook Station and found you instead what a treat. Thank you. Jeanne in Maryport, West Cumbria UK

June 13, 2009 at 8:11 PM  
Blogger Lizzie's Insomnia said...

Jeanne, Glad to hear from you and do hope your daughter continues to enjoy her gap year in the far north of Queensland.

I have many photographs and stories of when I was a child growing up on this property and as that child did not realize there was an outside world as transport and communication was not as advanced as these days....

June 14, 2009 at 2:00 AM  

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