In Charlie Williams Country, part II

Bannockburn today. The central part of the house directly ahead is original. The section to the left is partly filled-in and partly more recent construction. This includes the kitchen, which likely was originally separate from the house.

Guest post: more from Susan Paxton’s recent trip to Queensland, Australia, in the footsteps of Flg Off Charlie Williams. Here she visits the home where the Williams family lived from 1933.  Text and all new photos by Susan Paxton.

When Horace Edward Williams lost his place as manager of Telemon Station, he had to act quickly. At 69 years of age, likely he had been looking forward to a pleasant retirement once his sons Doug or Charlie took his place, but any promises his former employer had made were now moot. Horace made Townsville, on the coast, his temporary base of operations, and set to work looking for a new opportunity. One day, he spotted this advertisement in a local paper:

Under Instruction from THE UNION TRUSTEE COMPANY OF AUSTRALIA LIMITED, Executors and Trustees in the Estate of William Charles Reed deceased; Solicitors to the Estate, Messrs. Marsland & Marsland, MESSRS. DALGETY &. COMPANY LIMITED, HUGHENDEN, in conjunction with the QUEENSLAND PRIMARY PRODUCERS’ CO- OPERATIVE ASSOCIATION LIMITED, TOWNSVILLE, will offer by PUBLIC AUCTION AT CENTRAL HOTEL LOUNGE, HUGHENDEN, on SATURDAY 21st OCTOBER, 1933, at 11 a.m.
SITUATED – Approximately 80 miles south-easterly from Prairie Railway

A long description of the property followed making it sound paradisiacal. Horace knew better. When he’d first arrived in Queensland as a 16-year-old immigrant he’d worked for his uncle James Tolson at a property adjacent to Bannockburn, Uanda. He was well aware that the area was arid and, unlike Telemon, extremely isolated. The nearest towns were Prairie and Torrens Creek – both specks on the railroad that ran inland from Townsville through Charters Towers and on west – to the north, and Muttaburra and Aramac to the south, only slightly larger and even farther away. Horace also knew that, run very carefully and with the minimum of paid help, Bannockburn could be made to turn a tidy profit. While too arid for lambing, wethers (castrated male sheep) would put on high quality wool eating the available forage. Organizing a syndicate with two friends who were in the shipping industry in Townsville, Horace assembled enough capital to buy the place.

For Charlie and Doug, any hopes that they had had of becoming station managers pretty much ended at Bannockburn. They became station hands, nothing more; the work of the place fell entirely onto them, with only one hired hand. Perhaps what it meant to Charlie in particular comes from his photo albums. His photos of Telemon are full of fun, of visits to and from neighbors, trips to Townsville and Sydney, parties, picnics, often with amusing captions. There are only four or five snaps from Bannockburn, all of them views of the house, with no captions at all other than “Bannockburn.”

The Williams family put a great deal of effort and money into Bannockburn and indeed almost immediately had the place earning its way and providing enough income to make further improvements. Horace had the small and bare homestead enlarged, added stands to the shearing shed, had new bores drilled, bought more sheep. But with the coming of war, at least one of his sons was more than eager to get away from the place and its unrelenting drudgery and tedious isolation. So it was in late January 1941 that Charlie Williams walked down the steps, into a car, and was off to the railroad station at Torrens Creek. He would never return.

Telemon today is a ruin; Bannockburn is a working station owned and run by Bill and Amy Dart, with their children Cameron, Malcolm, and Ruby. In the Williams’ day it was a sheep station; the Darts run cattle, sturdy Droughtmaster breeds.

While the interior of Bannockburn has changed a good deal, this is almost certainly original and gives an impression of the rather spare house the Williams family moved into.

The shearing shed at Bannockburn. The reason for the height of the building above ground is two-fold; it made it easier to load bales of wool directly into the bed of a truck, and if rain started during shearing the sheep would be driven under the building and penned in to stay dry, since wet sheep cannot be sheared.

The interior of the shearing shed, which Bill Dart uses today to store hay. The prefabricated iron construction is notable.

This single-cylinder diesel motor was used to turn the drive belts for the shears and other equipment. Although taken down, most of the pulleys and other equipment are still stacked around the shed.

The shearer’s quarters, now used for storage. The chimney marks the kitchen.

This old water trough dates from the Williams’ time. The remains of the tank it was once attached to are visible behind it. The bare patch gives an indication of the size of the tank; Bill Dart told me it takes decades for plants to regrow in this area when the roots have been killed.

The last sheep at Bannockburn! The Darts found this now-elderly resident on the road when it was a baby and they saved and raised it.

This monument in Torrens Creek remembers Jack Bunt, “A man of courage and integrity,” the local mailman whose long, lonely route took him every Monday to Bannockburn, where he delivered the letters Charlie Williams was writing home. The fence beyond marks the site of the railroad station from which Charlie left to report to the RAAF.

Once again, my visit was made possible by Helen Williams-Brown, who was my patient companion in my pilgrimage. Bill and Amy Dart and their children Malcolm and Ruby (oldest son Cameron was away at school) were our unfailingly pleasant and very interesting hosts for our overnight stay at Bannockburn.


2 thoughts on “In Charlie Williams Country, part II

  1. Robert MacLeod April 27, 2019 / 9:01 pm

    I would like to contact Mrs. Angela MacDonnold to inform her that our community concert band in Prince Edward Island is commemorating the Dambusters raid with a performance , on April 30th ,of the Dambusters March and a tribute to FO Vincent MacCausland who was from PEI and a bomb aimer on the raid. Any help would be appreciated.
    Thank You
    Bob MacLeod

  2. susanpaxton February 11, 2021 / 9:12 pm

    In the two years since I made my visit I’ve contacted a descendant of the Reed family, who owned Bannockburn before Horace’s syndicate bought it, and one of the Reed family legends is that Errol Flynn was briefly a station hand on Bannockburn before he took up acting!

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