On their selection

Article text
The extended Cook family, Coovin
On their selection

By Paula Heelan

Of the 15 men whose names were drawn in the Kilcummin land ballot on October 8, 1957, not one could have imagined the epic quest that lay ahead. Nor could they have anticipated the scale of legacy they would create for those to follow. After laying the foundations of all they prized and loved, their children’s children are now enjoying the benefits of a fruitful land and a close knit community. While there is no town at Kilcummin, 60 kilometres north of Clermont in Queensland’s central highlands, it boasts a small school, an active community centre and is a leading cattle and grain district.

With the late coming of power, telephones, satellite television, Internet, bitumen roads, air-conditioning, trucks, machinery and flyscreens, life at Kilcummin has dramatically changed. Before the land ballot, the black soil and open downs country was a well established sheep district contributing significantly to the Queensland economy. But arriving to make a new life, the 15 men (some with families) aged from 21 to 50, began developing their allocated blocks of between 5300 and 13,300 acres to establish crops and cattle. There was much to do. And for the community, they needed better roads, telephones, power, a school and later a grain depot to service the increasing harvests. Recognising the value of working together and the need for social contact, the men and their families formed the Kilcummin Group Selectors’ Association (KGSA) and step by step, moving out of tents and basic structures, they built their community, their stations and their enterprises.

The journey was a mix of struggle and triumph. Against a background of colour and romance, they battled drought, floods, bushfires, soaring interest rates, fluctuating commodity prices and hardship. But with persistence, determination, helping and sharing the making of Kilcummin was never really in doubt. Spend some time today with any of the Kilcummin families and their sense of belonging and deep connection to the land is immense.

When Tom and Margaret Cook and their large family came to Coovin in 1957, they set up camp, bought sheep, tackled the fencing and ploughed land for a sorghum crop. With the billy constantly on the boil, Coovin was a popular, open camp. Today, the mixed farming operation, like the family, has expanded significantly (with the purchase of more land to run cattle) but the warm hospitality remains the same. Bernard Cook and his wife, Marie, now on Coovin with extended family members, also operate a registered cattle feedlot, run a feed mixing business and a hay making business. “One of the great things about the community when it began was the sharing that went on,” Bernard says. “We were all pretty broke, but there was always someone willing to help out, whatever the need.”

He says the district’s social life kicked off early. “Most of the activities we did back then are still popular today,” he adds. “We had woolshed dances, balls, KGSA get togethers, school events, rodeos and campdrafts, bush cricket, tennis and church.” In 2003 Bernard and Marie hosted a reunion at Coovin, celebrating with around 160 family members. “Mum, died in 1993 at 78, and Dad in 2006, at 88. Their 11 children, 59 grandchildren and 99 great grandchildren all made Coovin a part of their lives. Their dream to share their love of the land was certainly fulfilled.”

At just 21 years-of-age, Bob Clark drew his block, Mutation, and is the only original selector still living and working on his land. With a background in cattle, Bob set about to improve his pastures, bought heifers, cows and calves and was launched as a cattleman. With some crop farming included over the years, Bob moved from strength to strength. Today, the Mutation Brahman Stud, registered in 1964, is known for high quality Brahman bulls. Bob and his wife, Margot, raised two children, Mike and Anne at Mutation and like the Cooks, the Clark’s operation has expanded significantly.

When Robin Becker took possession of Tarvellon, a dry block, his first job was to find water – which he did in his first bore. Robin married a young widow, Jill, and they began life together on Tarvellon on Christmas Day, 1959, with Jill’s two children and later having three more. Running sheep until the 1969 drought, Rob then introduced cattle. But his passion was farming and he was one of the first to introduce wheat and linseed to the district. Today, Rob’s stepson, Dave Daniels, runs Tarvellon with his wife, Marg and the youngest of their three sons, Terry. “When Mt McLaren grain depot opened in the early 80’s, farming became a lot more attractive,” Dave explains. “No more grain carting to Clermont and no more line ups to get your grain through. We sold our cattle in the 1991-92 drought, but by this time farming had become the major part of our work. Over time we have changed to zero till and control traffic with GPS steering, reducing tractor hours considerably.”

Four of the Kilcummin blocks still remain in possession of the original families, and others have changed hands several times. At a recent 50 year celebration paying tribute to their huge contribution to the district’s heritage, family representatives of 10 of the 15 original selectors were present. These men and their successors have shaped the Kilcummin landscape, defined their character and underpinned the district’s economic prosperity.

For a copy of The First 50 years – Kilcummin, written by the Kilcummin community, call Peter Anderson on 07 49835262