Mount Isa History with Kim-Maree Burton

Some of the first old buildings at Camooweal were built of limestone and ant bed but none remain.

The early solid impressive stone buildings still standing at Rocklands Station (as of 1984) were built in 1889/90/91 and as ‘guardians of Lake Mary’ hold within their walls so many of our secrets.

They stand today as monuments to the ingenuity and industry of a previous generation ‘using the tools that lay at hand to do the job that had to be done’.

In Camooweal the original timber and iron building erected for what was to become Synnott Murray and Scholes still stands as does the ‘bond store’ now Freckleton’s main building.

These buildings have been classified by the National Trust.

The timber came from the saw mill at the Thornton.

The old billiard room in the main street was originally the school house brought from Mt. Cuthbert and was removed to its present site after 1928.

Most of the staked yards have gone but the stockyards which were built from solid timber posts and lancewood rails are still standing for the benefit of generations to come.

It was indeed hard labour digging countless holes by crowbar and shovel, keeping up that steady rhythmic flow all day long and swinging those heavy homemade timber gates.

Those early ‘doers’ walked the heavy plains not only beside the teams but surveying thousands of miles for fence lines, so very efficient and particular (once there were sure of their boundaries) about lining up each and every post and whenever I look at them I am reminded of people like Norman Miller who would pull out a post if it was 1/2” off line.

They were masters of resourcefulness, their first homes bough sheds, their stoves ‘camp ovens’ with a bush firebreak, banana boxes, kerosene cases and kerosene tins their furniture or their utensils.

For them no ‘Rosewood’ bedroom suite, just rawhide plaited across a timer frame with bags stuffed with grass or horsehair for a mattress and a hand or wall mirror for the vain.

For them no internal plumbing, a dish, a jug and a pinewood stand served to kep many a maiden’s complexion clean and clear and a chamber pot under the bed or an open hole shared with the cockroaches made going ‘down the back’ an interesting and dangerous past-time and staying there when the seat was hot galvanised iron or cold tin fairly unlikely.

The large round washtub on the floor in front of the fire filled with a bucket from the tap if you had one, served your needs for a bath ‘all over’.

They took their water like their rum ‘straight’ and who needed Max Factor when there was ‘Goat Lard’, glycerine and a few drops of rosewater.

When their straw brooms wore out they made ‘replacements’ from conkaberry bushes.

For them no social welfare, no educational allowance and the very thought of a supporting mother’s cheque would have given Grandma an attack of the ‘vapours’.

How far have we really come?

Although discovered some one hundred and twenty years ago (as at 1984), this part of north-west Queensland today is largely dormant, patiently awaiting some imminent happening it seems.

Did the hardy old pioneers and their courageous women endure so much in vain?

They drove their stock and tramped those vast ‘Plains of Promise’ and ‘Barkly Plains’ with such high hopes; they pushed their scoops to build earth tanks and chopped countless cords of wood to fire steam engines with some expectation of better days, some promise surely.

They used the skills and knowledge available to them as I expect each generation must do.

Geographical remoteness and financial drought have inhibited and frustrated everyone’s dreams ever since.

In proving the ‘those that sow do not always reap’ many were to be buried by the roadside.

They exported all their people and imported all their skills as Australia grew more urbanised and the declining bush numbers weakened their political muscle.

Towns like Camooweal have lost much of their pioneer spirit swallowed up by the larger centres, as mechanisation, transport and communications have altered the face of the country.

Perhaps it is true, the colonisation of Australia began at the wrong end.

Governments of every persuasion are at some time or other going to have to define their policies regarding these isolated townships.

Are they to be allowed to slowly die as service after service is denied their citizens in this supposedly ‘egalitarian’ country of ours?

Author: Ada Miller (author of The Border and Beyond - Camooweal 1884-1984) reflects on the past and the future.Photo: Supplied.

Author: Ada Miller (author of The Border and Beyond - Camooweal 1884-1984) reflects on the past and the future.Photo: Supplied.

Are they to be always ‘doubly’ taxed for education and medical facilities and denied access to others for the dubious privilege of living in isolation?

The ‘losers’ in this battle of the frontier have been in my opinion the people of the small isolated communities, those very communities that sustained and supported the early development of this tremendous North West Frontier.

This article was first published in The Border and Beyond – Camooweal 1884-1984 by Mrs Ada Miller (nee Freckleton).   

It is reproduced here with the consent of Mrs Miller.

Researched by Kim-Maree Burton

The history column is a weekly contribution to the North West Star by Mount Isa resident and historian Kim-Maree Burton.

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Camooweal's first Hall and J W Rodger's Store 1892 - previously J H Kennedy's Hotel.

Camooweal's first Hall and J W Rodger's Store 1892 - previously J H Kennedy's Hotel.

Freckleton's Store (circa 1984)  previously Synnott, Murray and Scholes.

Freckleton's Store (circa 1984) previously Synnott, Murray and Scholes.