Clover on the Cooper | Great Australian Story

Clover on the Cooper

Clover on the Cooper



The country that made the people and the people who made the country.


As I indicated in my first story, my grandparents and my father both worked for Sir Sidney Kidman. My father, Richard, was born in Birdsville in 1917, the second of three children to Henry Stevenson McCullagh and Emilie Morton, who were working for Kidman on Annandale Station.

Annandale had been purchased by Kidman in 1896 - the first property to be acquired in Queensland. Kidman later purchased Durham Downs and other properties in 1909 but suffered huge stock losses during ongoing droughts between 1911 and 1918, eventually selling Annandale in 1918 to cover losses. Henry, Emilie and family moved to Durham Downs sometime between 1918 and 1921

The lifeblood of Durham Downs is Coopers Creek. The Cooper – as it is known – is one of three main rivers feeding the Channel Country – the Diamantina, Georgina and Cooper all eventually flow into Lake Eyre, (with sufficient rainfall) -which is indeed a rare event. Coopers Creek is famous for having the watering hole where members of the 1860 expedition headed by Robert O'Hara Burke and William John Wills carved the DIG TREE and the FACE TREE. Above, in the slide show, is a photograph of the FACE tree, taken by my Grandfather and dated 1925, juxtaposed with one from 2016 from the internet, photographer unknown.

Growing up on Durham Downs in the 1920’s, Richard recognized the importance of the cyclical renewal of the Channel country by the Cooper, Diamantina, and Georgina rivers, this having a profound influence on his later life, with him speaking fondly and often of those times around the camp-fire at night while on a cattle muster. In the slide show above he is pictured making his way out of the Cooper after a swim – although he was likely thrown in, by the look of his face! The boat appears to have been constructed using saplings, cattle hide and thumb-tacks.

In 2011 I was invited by S. Kidman & Co to attend the Centenary celebrations of ownership by the company of five of the Kidman properties, held at Durham Downs, where I presented two of Richards poems to a large gathering of "Bushies". We camped on the banks of the Cooper (nowhere near the Dig Tree) close to the homestead, and of course I had to go for a swim myself. It was wonderfully refreshing; the mudslide in and out wasn't a problem!

During 1945 my father wrote a number of poems, some reflecting his life in the “Channel Country” and others his experiences as a stock-man. Here is the first of several, "Clover on the Cooper":

Clover on the Cooper

There’s clover on the Cooper, lads,
The scent is rich and free
So leave the dry and dusty roads
And come along with me.

The year has been a hungry one
On stock routes in the west
And now we’ve trucked the last mob down
We’ll give the plant a rest.

They’ve earned their spell, these nags of ours
They slaved from dawn to dark
To see us through until the end,
But toil has left its mark.

We’ve battled out across the plains,
Past Urandangietown
Then in again past Camooweal
And Boulia, further down.

We sometimes got the mobs a feed,
(Though it was stolen grass)
But like as not they went without –
The stations “saw us pass”.

This last trip in has been the snag,
With nothing on the way;
The stock we had got scarce a bite
From day to weary day.

We battled on to save their bones
From bleaching on the plain
And as we passed Windorah town
We struck a teeming rain.

It took us all our time to move
The cattle through the mire:
On watch at night we cursed the wet
To ease our seething ire.

But though we wished the rain would stop,
And cursed it high and low,
It fed a flood that broke the banks
And made the clover grow.

The clover grows there like a cloak
- A heavy velvet gown
That spreads itself across the flats
When once the floods go down.

It covers up the gaping cracks,
A blanket sweet and lush
And pushes green and juicy shoots
Through every lignum bush.

It makes the cattle rolling fat
That canopy of green
And places on the horses’ coats
A glossy satin sheen.

And though our nags are thin and weak
And weary of the roads
We’ll push them back to Cooper’s Creek
Before we drop the loads.

There’s clover on the Cooper, lads,
The scent is rich and free
So sling the packs, and head them back
We’ll give the nags a spree.

RINGER ~(Herbert Downs, 1945)~