Composed and shared by Ceduna Old Photos, Sue Trewartha and Erica Bodger.
WCS. 20 May 1959. Streaky Bay. Oldest resident, 93 year old Mr Michael Joseph Allen, who died in hospital last Wednesday was one of the Far West’s oldest pioneers. He landed at Fowlers Bay 74 years ago and remained in the area until he retired to Streaky Bay in 1949. Born in Queenstown, County Cork, Eire on 12 December 1866, he came to Australia as a small boy with an uncle who was migrating to this country. He did not have the opportunity to visit his native land again but some 80 years later received first hand news of his old home and members of his family from Rev Father James Dunne who visited his people in Ireland in 1956. Members of the Allen family were still living in the same old home at that time, although those of our subject’s generation had all passed on.
For the first two years of his life in Australia the boy Michael Allen attended Con Foley’s private school in Adelaide. Still as a youngster he took his first job on Karrata Station, Kangaroo Island. It was owned by Taylor Brothers, of Hindmarsh.
It was in August 1886 the year of the greatest shearers’ strike in this country that Mick Allen sailed from Port Adelaide in the 200 ton brigantine, Woolami, for Fowlers Bay. He was one of a team of 60 shearers and rouse-abouts who were going to Yalata Station. They had been recruited in Adelaide by the late Alick Poynton who was afterwards the Member for Flinders. The secretary of the Shearers Union and 200 strikers who were on the wharf when the Woolamai sailed, abused the volunteers and an effort was made to stop the ship as she passed the Semaphore. The master, Captain Tulloch refused to turnabout when a launch intercepted his ketch and continued on the voyage. Later there was a courtcase over the matter. Also included in the complement for Yalata was Mr David Boxer, who it is believed is the only surviving member. Senior to Mr Allen by several years, Mr Boxer is the oldest person on Upper Eyre Peninsula. He is at present living with his daughter and son in law, Mr and Mrs Bert Marks at Coorabie. At that time, Yalata, owned by Messrs Swan and Smith was the largest pastoral holding in the far west. The property later owned by Mr G Murray, carried some 145,000 sheep and the annual lambing figures were from 25,000 to 30,000.
Upon their arrival at Fowlers Bay 20 of the shearing gang went to Penong, an outstation of Yalata, managed by Charlie Godley, and the rest were employed on the station proper. The adjoining station was Nullarbor, then owned by Willis Brothers and Brown of Melbourne and Fred Beard who owned the store at Eucla was the only other pastoralist in the area, he ran only 800 or 900 sheep mainly for ration purposes. At this stage Yalata employed some 50 white men and tribes of natives. Wool was about six pence a pound and shearers were paid 15/- per 100. Rouse-abouts received 15/- a week and their keep. Some 40 men were employed at the important telegraphic repeating station at Eucla. The station was divided down the centre, the west side being manned by Western Australians and the east by South Australians. Michael Ryan and a man named Dawkins were the respective postmasters. Land in the far west in this era was a cheap commodity, leases were obtainable at one penny a square mile and there was no limit to the areas. The growing of grain in the area was frowned upon by the pastoralists and when on one occasion Mr Godley grew some wheaten hay at Penong his principals ordered him to destroy it as soon as they found out. However in 1886 a parcel of land was cut up into a number of farms of 2000 to 3000 acre areas and settlers came from Yorke Peninsula where grain farming was a failure until the advent of super in later years. Most of the farmers cleared their own scrub but those who could afford it employed axemen at 5/- an acre to do the job. Some fairly good crops were grown over the first few years. Water was always a problem. There were wells which provided fair stock water, but water for domestic purposes often had to be carted as far as 20 miles. In dry years water was carted to Yalata homestead from Sand Hill Well in Fowlers Bay, some 6 miles away. Conditions on Yalata improved considerably when the property was purchased by Mr George Murray who was known as a fine, straight forward man of few words and many good deeds. He paid 1 pound a head for the 40,000 sheep which were on the property when he took it over. Mr Murray paid and fed his men more generously and saw to it that the natives employed on the station were properly treated. The latter were always well fed, being given plenty of meat, flour, tea, sugar and tobacco from the station store, in payment for their services. When the wild dog came, boundary riders were paid a pound a week and one pound a scalp. Every white man employed on this work would be accompanied by a team of natives who combated the invasion of the outer borders of the property. Kangaroos which were present in droves, were comparatively tame in the early days and roo meat was the main diet. Until the arrival of the fox and the dog, wild turkeys were plentiful and provided an appreciated variety. Wombats and emus also featured prominently in the wild life of the area. Mick Allen and Dave Boxer were employed on Yalata mostly as musterers and drovers. They were afterwards partners in a kangarooing venture which paid off handsomely. Employing a large team of natives for tobacco and tucker, they went into the hunting project in a big way. Luxmore and Coombs, who were the buyers, paid up to seven pounds a dozen for skins and native hunters brought in an average of from four to five dozen skins a day when they were on the job. Pastoralists paid six pence each for roo scalps. In addition to their payment of tobacco and food the Allen-Boxer partnership provided cotton dresses for the lubras and shirts for the native men employees. The ladies did all the work concerning the skinning and their men did nothing but hunt. Their white employers took it in turn to cart food and water to the camp. While one was engaged in carting the other read books in the base tent. When distances were not too great, horses were used in the carting, but camels which cost up to 100 pounds each, had to take over when distances of 30 to 40 miles were involved. All provisions were purchased from Fowlers Bay, flour by the ton, black sugar by the quarter or half ton and tea in large chests. For a time kangaroo hunting was a prominent and prosperous industry in the far west. Most of the skins at that time were being purchased by the USA where the leather was used for lining railway carriage seats. In some instances during this period, hunters made brush yards into which the kangaroos were herded like sheep for slaughter. There was a large 10 ft high yard near Koonibba with wing fences leading into it, several miles in length. On 11 February 1892, Mr Allen was married to Miss Minnie Harriet Sprawl, in St Patrick’s Church, West Terrace, Adelaide. He had sold his share in the kangaroo project to his partner. For the next twelve years Mr Allen ran the Fowlers Bay- Eucla mail service, a distance of 230 miles with a big express buggy and four horse team. He changed his horses at Nullarbor and the trip took a week each way. Most important in his Fowlers to Eucla freights each trip was the large consignment of liquor which the repeating station staff and the 30 or so other residents of Eucla were all vitally interested. Before Federation, duty was collected on all goods which crossed the border from east to west. The customs officer was Arthur Sheard who was a co-operative official and most interested in the kegs of rum which were important features of the moving merchandise. There was no duty charged on goods going from west to east. Coolgardie was going strong during this period and fortune hunters by the hundred, crossed the Nullarbor from east to west. Some travelled on camels and many by foot, pushing wheelbarrows containing their possessions. Every kind of individual was on the long trek, even blind men and mad men. Many perished along the route until the law prevented foot travelers from passing Eucla until the rains came. Mr Allen himself caught the fever and went to the mining town some two years after the big strike. He failed to win a fortune on the fields but made money in horse and cattle trading along the route. Among the overlanders to Coolgardie were Frank Schlink, Henry Campbell and Dick Larkins, of Streaky Bay who travelled per camel caravan. Schlink and Larkins both died of typhoid which was raging in the mining town. Ceduna did not exist at this time and the only sign of habitation there was provided by three Government water tanks, near the site of the present Ceduna jetty. Among the first of the early settlers in the far west were the McKenzies, Tudors, Nielsens, Lowes, Freemans, Shipards, Leopolds, Schmidts, Mahars, Grays, Laws, Nichollses and Dunns. Mr Spencer Young owned Glen Boree, the country ajoining the head station of Yalata. Wookata was owned by the Ifoulds and this was afterwards subdivided for closer settlement. Mr Allen who was himself also a pioneer farmer, first took up land six miles from Fowlers Bay in 1892. He later sold this tract to the late Harry Darby, then publican at Fowlers and afterwards acquired further land eleven miles west of Fowlers and three miles from Coorabie. He developed and retained the latter until his retirement to Streaky Bay in 1949. Four Englishmen, the Hobbs brother, W Gribble and C Isles took up 2000 acres of the Wookata country and cleared a large tract of it but the first bad year finished them. Another Englishman by the name of Kingsley also lost his land in the same area after having spent much labour in its development. White Well was owned by the Johnson brothers, Canadian boring contractors and the surrounding land was good sheep country. Nullarbor extended 55 miles west and 15 miles north to Koonalda. A man named Brigg was the manager. The Government paid lease holders for all improvements, such as fencing in those days. The first settlers in the Kooringabie area included the Winters, Litsters, Joneses, McManuses, Wheadons, Adkinses and Hardys. In the late years of the century Mr Tom Kelsh and his sons, Arthur, Ted, Harry and Frank took up land at Charra for several years but the venture was a failure and shortly afterwards returned to the Streaky Bay district. David and James Dunnett took over all the abandoned land around Charra, which became known as Charra Station, James Dunnett eventually died of a heart attack whilst driving a poison cart and Dave transferred to WA. The latter took up Condilippy Station and encircled it with a vermin fence before selling it to the Dunns. For a time several groups of men took sandalwood from White Well to Eucla, from whence it was shipped to China. They were paid six pounds a ton for the wood at the Eucla jetty. The Government eventually stopped the enterprise as the trees were rapidly being killed out. Fowlers Bay was the central hub in those days and the hotel built by Jim Riddle was the popular meeting place for the pioneer settlers, pastoralists, sandalwood cutters and hunters. On many occasions men started out from their camps with big cheques to visit Adelaide, but they seldom got further than the popular hostelry at Fowlers. The late Michael Allen was prominent among the colourful characters who contributed to the early history of this vast far western area and his death has removed one of the last two links between the past and the present. The remaining link is Dave Boxer. Mr Allen’s wife died in August 1918, at the age of 42, children of the marriage were Jack, deceased, Alice, Mrs C Tomney, Kathleen, Mrs CJ McEvoy, Bob, deceased, Eileen, Mrs L Tomney, Shiela, Mrs Harry Phillips, deceased, and Nora, deceased. At the age of 72 Mr Allen married Mrs Caroline Matilda McDonald at Coorabie on 7 May 1937. She died at the age of 68 in January this year. During the last ten years of his life Mr Allen was known as the grand old man of the town. He enjoyed the affection and admiration of all who knew him. Scarcely knowing a day’s illness in the whole of his long life, the old man, up to the last few months was physically quite active and mentally very alert. He had a most retentive memory and took a delight in reminiscing on bygone days. It was only after his wife became ill and subsequently died, that his own life began to run down. He possessed a keen sense of humour and a deep interest in local and world affairs. An avid reader, he greatly enjoyed poetry and for many years himself, wrote volumes of verse on numerous subjects. Many of his poems have appeared in the Sentinel over the past years. Mr Allen attributed his longevity to a clear conscience and a contented mind. At 7am last Thursday, prior to the funeral which left at 9 o’clock, three requiem masses were said in St Canute’s Church, the first by the Bishop of Port Pirie, the Most Rev Bryan Gallagher, the second by Monsignor Coffey of Minnipa and the third by Rev J Dunne, of Streaky Bay. Pallbearers were Messrs Dan, Charlie, Leo and Joseph McEvoy, Gerald Beinke and Clarrie Roberts. The service at the graveside was conducted by Rev Father Dunne. Mr Allen’s three surviving daughters and his granddaughter, Colleen, Mrs Beinke, were present at the funeral. (The details of the far western history in this memoir were all subscribed by Mr Allen in talks with the Sentinel some two years ago, Ed.)