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With Wherrygirl to the outback and beyond

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    With Wherrygirl to the outback and beyond

    The story behind the pictures, both of which I hope you will enjoy.

    As a child, almost all I knew of uncle Will was that he went to Australia in 1912 and had had a small farm at Mundiwindi where he rode camels. Funny name, we laughed over it, but little did I know that one day in the future this was to be the starting point for an adventure that even my wildest dreams could not conjure up.
    My mother rarely spoke of Will and when she did it was with sadness for, although he had written “home” for several years, after she married they lost touch. Of 9 children he was the eldest and my mother, Ivy, the youngest. There were 20 years between them and when she was born she already had a nephew a few months older than herself, while a niece, Doris, was born 2 years later. As they grew older Doris and my mother became great friends, and when the family emigrated to Oz the closeness continued in their letters.
    I was going through “mother’s box” of photos and letters after she died and came across 3 or 4 of Will’s letters, the latest written in 1926, plus 7 from Doris. Wonderful letters, all of them, Will’s gave such interesting descriptions of the wildlife in Western Australia and those from Doris were full of charming young girl’s chatter – learning to crochet, leaving school, if only Ivy would come out to Australia, that’s all she wanted, had Ivy put her hair up yet, girls in Australia did not put theirs up until they were about 20. (In those days putting one’s hair up signified that the child had crossed the threshold and was now a young woman.)

    Two pages in which Will describes a cattle "rush" during the night.

    Letter from Doris

    Another of Doris’ letters contained the news that a baby sister, Elsie, had been born. She described her as fat as a little porker – they weighed the baby every Sunday after she had had her bath! Later letters gave news of little porker’s progress, first words, learning a little dance, drawing faces better than children who were at school. Not having known that these letters existed I sat there by the window completely absorbed, unable to put them down until every word had been digested. Coming to the end of the final page, I just sat there with a great longing – if only I had known this uncle and his family.
    Then I found the log. Carefully unfolding the thin brown paper protecting it, I stared amazed at the contents - page after page of Will’s fascinating account of the family’s journey in the SS Australind which had left Tilbury, England on Saturday 30 March 1912 en route for Fremantle, Western Australia. Details of life on board, watching porpoises, ships they passed, how he had helped organise games and entertainments for fellow passengers, most of whom were emigrants like himself, and even the daily menus! His account of the “crossing the line” high jinks had me grinning, especially when he described how he had turned the tables on Father Neptune and his attendants and had them all in the pool as well. Quite a chap, my uncle Will seemed. Oh, if only I had known him.

    First page of the log
    Last edited by wherrygirl; October 14th, 2010, 00:01.

    "To thine own self be true.......
    Thou canst not then be false to any man."

    I have a feeling this is going to be a very interesting thread.


      A few years after retiring I bought my first computer, a laptop, in ’98. I unpacked it, rushed up to the study and with great trepidation set up Windows, then took a deep breath and clicked on things to see what happened. Finally getting online it was not long before I discovered genealogical sites. And then it started. Could I trace Will’s descendants – there must be some out there somewhere? I tried all over the place but had no luck. I left a message on a “brick wall” site asking for anyone who had information to please contact me. Luckily I had plenty of birthdates, Doris’ letters had mentioned birthdays and ages, I had the date of Will’s departure and the ship. Also there was the “small farm at Mundiwindi” (with camels, although I didn’t mention them!)

      Five years later an email arrived from an Australian living in Perth. Also retired, he was researching the history of cattle stations in WA, had seen my note and had I more information about Will and Mundiwindi? I could only explain that it was just that that I was seeking myself and I had been trying without success to find descendants. Bless the good man, he undertook to see what he could do to help. That was in July 2005. In September that year he emailed “I have spoken to Elsie.”
      I stared, read it again, could hardly believe it, then wanted to rush out into the street and shout “He’s found the little porker!”
      Things snowballed. I rang Elsie, then aged 88, she was overjoyed and so was I. John, the Aussie, began to amass further information and one of the first things he discovered and Elsie told me was that Will was at this place called Mundiwindi because he was stationed there as a lineman, working on the telegraph lines then in their infancy in Western Australia. My mother’s memory had somehow run together two things – that Will had once bought a small farm holding near Perth soon after he went out and then later had worked at Mundiwindi. John set up a page on his website and together we began to build it up. Meanwhile, that longing to have known Will developed. I began to think….. “if ever I went to Australia…..” then “if I go to Australia…..” until pretty soon it became “when I go to Australia…..” I just had to get out there and see this land for myself.

      The plane touched down in Perth at nearly midnight, 23 August, 2007. I did not exactly kneel down and kiss the tarmac, but I was so excited - I had never before flown longer than 4 hours and it was hard to believe that my feet were on Australian territory, on the other side of the planet. Oh boy! was I on a high. I would be staying with Elsie’s married granddaughter in Perth for a while and then about 10 days later would fly up to Newman, in the Pilbara, to meet John and his wife Ruth. Why fly up there if they lived in Perth? Ah, well …..

      John, like me, was a great bird lover and belonged to Birds Australia. He and Ruth go on survey trips up north in the outback each winter recording bird habitats, and one day he had remarked that his favourite bird could sometimes be seen in Marble Bar, in northern Pilbara. Learning that I had decided to come out to Oz he said they must take me on a trip – perhaps down south to a conservation area which I would particularly enjoy because he had found that Will had also worked around that area. Doing his research with his usual thoroughness, he had also discovered the approximate whereabouts of the Old Mundiwindi telegraph station. One day I joked in a mail: “OK, take me up to Marble Bar to see your bird and we’ll do Mundiwindi on the way back”, as if I were talking about an afternoon outing. (The distance Perth-Marble Bar is little short of 800 miles/1300 km. as the crow flies.) Back came the reply: “Just working on the logistics of going to Mundiwindi to find the old telegraph station and then up to Marble Bar”. He was dead serious. Later came: “I have a sort of vision…” and he listed places all down the west coast that we could visit on our way back to Perth. Was I happy to camp or did I prefer to be inside? I had never camped in my life, but here was the chance of being under canvas in the Australian outback, not on a “proper” campsite but just wherever we could find a suitable spot. You can guess which I went for! I was staggered. Voice-mailing John I tried to express my overwhelming sense of gratitude and delight.

      I had arranged my trip to time with the ending of one of their surveys at a place only an hour or two’s drive from Newman, which itself is the nearest airfield to Mundiwindi. I had booked the local plane on the Net while still at home, and on checking 3 days before flying out to Oz discovered that Qantas had cancelled my Newman flight without telling me. Discovering that I had been rebooked on to the second flight I rang John, hoping he would still be at home, for they would be leaving for their survey any moment! Thank goodness he was still there.

      Newman was a company town until 1981, built in the ’60’s to house workers at the Mount Whaleback iron mine, the largest opencast iron mine in the world. On the plane up there I was glad that the young chap in the seat next to me had his nose in a book all the way, for all I wanted to do was glue my eyes to the tiny window and watch the land over which we were flying, land bare of human habitation, its dry, red soil barely supporting the scrub, going on and on and on.

      I was boiling over with excitement and also the strangest feeling of coming, not to an unknown land but to somewhere that called to me as to a long lost daughter.
      The moment came to fasten seatbelts and my neighbour, realising there was someone in the next seat, smiled and asked if I were staying in Newman. He must have wondered at this lone woman on board, the other passengers were all men and probably mine employees returning to work after the weekend. And Newman is no tourist trap! Briefly, as we descended, I told him the reason for my trip. As I related it, the young man’s eyes widened and glowed with delight. “You will love the Pilbara”, he said. Oh, how right he was.
      I had bought my tent on the Net from a Perth store, John had collected it for me and would be stowing it with the rest of their things when they set off on their survey. He and Ruth would be meeting me off the plane and, had I arrived on the first one at mid-afternoon, we would then have set off in search of somewhere nearby to camp. As it was, I landed about 6p.m.. It was nearly dark, the rumble of the plane’s engines died, and the only sounds were the soft murmurs of voices and the shuffle of feet as passengers collected their luggage from the benches over against the office. All this dissipated swiftly in the silence of the outback. It was magic. Even as I write I feel the old familiar lump in my throat as it all comes back to me.
      I recognised John and his wife from photos and, greetings over, we made our way out to the Toyota. Settling in, I noticed a broad grin beaming my way from one of two men approaching the next vehicle. It was the young man from the plane. They left before us, he waved and I gave the thumbs up. Then we moved off. As there was no way that we could go searching in the dark for somewhere to camp John had booked us in at the Capricorn roadhouse not far away.
      It had begun - Sunday, 2 September 2007
      Last edited by wherrygirl; November 7th, 2010, 20:35.

      "To thine own self be true.......
      Thou canst not then be false to any man."


        Monday, 3 September, 2007

        Next morning we went back into Newman to replenish food supplies and then had a look around the little museum. The outdoor section contained examples of the old machinery once used at the Mount Whaleback iron mine

        The 200 ton Haulpak. That van parked alongside is not a toy!

        Next, up to Radio Hill overlooking Newman. The girl in the local tourist offiice had said in an email to me that I simply must go up there for the view.

        On the way up

        That girl was right. The view from Newman to ...... ?
        Last edited by wherrygirl; November 7th, 2010, 20:46.

        "To thine own self be true.......
        Thou canst not then be false to any man."


          Then….. off down the Great Northern Highway towards the Jigalong turn-off. If anyone has read the book or seen the film of The Rabbit Proof Fence, it was from Jigalong that the aboriginal children were taken and to which they were trying to return. John had obtained a permit for us to travel across this aboriginal land and I treasure my copy. We stopped for a few moments at the bridge over the Fortescue River, got out and climbed down the bank, but not into water – there was none.

          Bridge over the Fortescue River

          The wide, dry river beds fill with water only when the cyclones out to the west come ashore, some of which cause severe flooding and raging torrents in what for the rest of the year are mostly dusty tracks stretching across the land. I stood in awe of the evidence of a climate so very different from our UK mix.
          Soon afterwards we went off-track into the scrub.


          "To thine own self be true.......
          Thou canst not then be false to any man."


            A riveting read Ivy, and that astonishing landscape captured in your photos –what a treat.


              The telegraph building – what was left of it - was somewhere on a cattle station not far from the Little Sandy Desert and John had ascertained that they would not yet be mustering so it would be OK for us to go on our search. The station owner had given John its approximate co-ordinates, though not having been out to it for years he could not say what condition it would be in. After an hour or two of driving over the rocky ground, down into gullies and back up out again, the Toyota tilting from side to side while I hoped I had shut my door securely, we suddenly emerged from a dense group of stunted bushes.

              There it was - tumbledown, windows long gone, doors hanging open, the Old Mundiwindi telegraph station. It was built on concrete pillars (termite-proof) but the veranda which ran around the building was unsafe, its planks broken or missing and I could not enter. Overwhelmed, I leant against it staring into the rooms, as if to burn them into my memory for ever. It was right in there, I kept repeating to myself, where Will had sat writing those letters which sat in my desk drawer at home, envelopes postmarked 1925 and 1926, Mundiwindi, the little dot on the map in the middle of nowhere which my mother and I had laughed over. And I was there, Monday 3 September, 2007.
              I could not shout Eureka, could not cry. I was just dumbstruck. John and Ruth wandered off, sensing my need to be alone. It is now, honestly, that I am again struggling with that lump in the throat as I write.
              Last edited by wherrygirl; November 7th, 2010, 20:41.

              "To thine own self be true.......
              Thou canst not then be false to any man."


                An old telegraph pole near the buildings. Had Will climbed it once to rectify a problem?

                Part of the old windpump lying prone.

                The pipes could be those which had carried water to the house

                Part of the structure of the windpump. The stencil reads "PM/MUNDIW...."
                Last edited by wherrygirl; October 4th, 2010, 22:03.

                "To thine own self be true.......
                Thou canst not then be false to any man."


                  After putting a poem on my “Patch” thread, I had no intention of ever posting more. But I’m putting one in here without apology. For those who have the patience to read it, I hope it explains my feelings on being there, how I knew just what held Will to work there and elsewhere in the outback away from his family in Perth, and also why my Aussie friend John always goes north to the Pilbara, never south to the lusher areas of Western Australia. That outback was no strange place to me, I was at home and at peace, as if I, too, “belonged”.
                  Skip the poem if you don't like such stuff, and move on to the following post!


                  The Singing Line is the aboriginal name for the telegraph line.

                  No track leads to it, none passes by,
                  just visible through the stunted bushes -
                  ramshackle building
                  half the planet I have crossed to find.
                  Over all, the blue – intense and clear,
                  at my feet the thin red soil,
                  the dust of which becomes a second skin;
                  a soil which, parched and dry,
                  yet grows the clumps of spinifex
                  bleached pale beneath the unrelenting sun
                  and bristling with their thin barbed leaves
                  to needle-prick and draw the blood
                  from unprotected flesh.

                  This was your country, desert land,
                  north of other worlds
                  where feet tread pavements,
                  eyes close at night between four walls.
                  For you the rusty Pilbara soil,
                  the canvas shelter camping in the bush
                  when out to check the Singing Line
                  that hummed with words,
                  linked other people far across the land.

                  Some echo of yourself you’ve left behind
                  in these old rooms,
                  the building raised, stone pillars hold
                  the termites’ work at bay.
                  I bend to see the tailbone of a roo
                  that lies beneath,
                  I lean against the balcony -
                  its planks adrift, unsafe to tread -
                  and look into the rooms, doors swinging wide
                  or long since gone.

                  I lean and listen,
                  do not fill it with the scenes
                  of men at work.
                  I do not see their ghosts,
                  I do not hear their talk, the tread of feet,
                  the pumping of the bore.
                  The stillness that enshrouds me
                  lets through the essence of this land
                  that held you here.
                  And that I’ve found.

                  Your letters home, the ink long dry,
                  spelt out your life
                  this far side of the world.
                  You penned them here.
                  When first I read, I wondered…..
                  now I know …..
                  it holds me, too.
                  Copyright IVY COLLINS

                  "To thine own self be true.......
                  Thou canst not then be false to any man."


                    Will had mentioned in a letter that one day he and some of his men were collected by his nearest neighbour (90 miles away) in the latter’s motor car to go off on a fishing trip to a nearby pool. From the scant details given, John had tried to identify this pool and had narrowed it down to two. That was to be the search for the next day. Meanwhile it was mid-afternoon, and turning our backs on the old buildings at Mundiwindi – they say “never look back” but my eyes held on to them until at last they faded into the scrub – we drove off towards Savory Creek, near which John wanted to camp. The early, quick nightfall always meant allowing good time in which to find somewhere for the night, a piece of ground that was flat, clear of the dreaded spinifex grass but where there was also some shrub cover for disappearing into as needed. There was also a simple supper to prepare and enjoy before turning in about 9 p.m. We were up about 5a.m. each day, waking to the spellbinding outback dawn, our voices lost in the great expanse of a land which few people, even Australians, knew.

                    Our first campsite near Savory Creek

                    Look carefully at the ground in the next picture

                    You can see where our feet had tramped around the vehicle, but can you also see just a little further up the picture, central, the outline of a square in a lighter shade of rust? Ivy was there! That is the outline of where my tent was. Might it still be there??

                    Next: on to find the pool where Will wrestled with the snake, then up to the diamond mine through the most wonderful scenery.

                    "To thine own self be true.......
                    Thou canst not then be false to any man."


                      This has been an awesome read, thank you so much Ivy. I can`t wait for the next part


                        Originally posted by ombugge View Post
                        I have a feeling this is going to be a very interesting thread.
                        Thank you very much, Ombugge, I really hope so. Also it is very much in your neck of the woods compared to "up here" in Europe.

                        And thank you to Cecilia and Bill for your interest. It is still riveting to me as I tell it, and think it always will be; just unforgettable, and I'm so homesick for Mundiwindi!

                        "To thine own self be true.......
                        Thou canst not then be false to any man."


                          Tuesday, 4 September, 2007

                          I had woken up that morning with a feeling of wonder - my first night under canvas, yes, but my first night in the Australian outback. However, no time to sit and dream and I set to, trying my best to wipe off the previous day's layer of dust. Water was to be treasured, drinking first, minimum amount for cooking next, and if you were lucky you might be able to moisten your face-flannel for the morning "cat's lick and promise". After the first day I thought nothing of being permanently grubby. Then, my tent packed up and stowed away, we had breakfast. About 7 a.m., still filled with "Is it really happening?" thoughts, I got into the Toyota and we set off to look at Savory Creek, about half an hour's drive away.

                          Last edited by wherrygirl; November 7th, 2010, 20:53.

                          "To thine own self be true.......
                          Thou canst not then be false to any man."


                            Inspiring story, very interesting...
                            With best regards from Jan-Olav Storli

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                              Twisted tree roots

                              "To thine own self be true.......
                              Thou canst not then be false to any man."