In 2014, Merv Wortley Snr. From Ruby Plains Station, Halls Creek, WA, was willing to share some vivid memories… revealing, interesting, sometimes humorous, sometimes sobering.
The two following yarns embedded inMerv’s memories come from a time when he was employed at Keeroongooloo Station, south of Windorah, Qld in the 1950’s. (for more details of this part of Merv’s life, go to the 2008 Kent Saddlery Catalogue’s station stories, “Merv Wortley Senior. – An Outback Life”
For Merv Wortley Senior, storytelling is as natural as breathing. Like story writing, introducing the story is the most awkward stage. “Now how do I start?” he ventures. “The only way I can tell it is the way I practically seen it.” A brief pause and he begins.
THE BULLOCK TEAM
“”That ol’ aboriginal fella was telling me… old Hupperdy was his name… only had the one name, Hupperdy. Don’t know how you’d spell it. And hewas there (at the station) all his life. Yeah, well he told me and also the previous manager and I seen it writ down in the big book there too at that time. But, well, where do we start off? Another brief pause follows. “Well, this is Keeroongooloo, say here,” Merv explains, indicating with forefinger tapping a spot on the table top. “Well, twenty-five mile straight down here to Pulpirie that’s the big waterhole and down at Pulpirie are old ruins there of a house. That was where this bullock team mob came up… I think they were on the road four to five days (four days at least)… this bullock team was all loaded up with wool and I don’t know where they were taking ‘em to… but… he (the driver) pulled up there and went inside there… talking to that woman there or whoever gave ‘im the drink of tea… probably a ladies man I ‘spose he was, those days… and well he went inside and he had a good drink of tea there. Well, a strong wind was comin’ off the waterhole. Four to five days them big ol’ shorthorn bullocks that they used (in the teams)… and they hadn’t had a drink and they were perishin’…
They smelt the water like that and went straight down and straight over the big high bank and down to the water level there… they just went straight over that bank and the wagon come straight down over them and they was never seen again. He (the driver) come out and looked around.” Merv dramatises by looking left, then right. “He looked like that and as he looked, well the tail end of the big ol’ bullock wagon was just going over like that and when he got over there… not a thing! A big deep hole yeah; very deep, never been dry. Never been dry.”
The account ends abruptly; other thoughts and memories, vying for attention, are given voice.
“Yeah well then, there’s that and then you go straight down the stock route (Merv pronounces it “rowt”) that’s goin’ down towards Mt Howitt Station… you been to Mount Howitt?” he queries. “Well you see then the road goes straight down the netting fence and well then you come to this first place, it’s the spell paddock… that’s the house there where the boundary rider used to live… and… you go past there and you come to this Marama Holdings; The State Government used to own all along that country many years ago, from way back and they got a chinaman cook there to change the horses on the stagecoach for the Cobb & Co that come across from Eromanga right around through there and back around. Well, the stage coach comin’ down this big hill and musta been gallopin’ a bit too fast and rolled and killed the passengers and the driver. That chinaman cook he knew the stage was comin’. Well then, he’s busy there waitin’ and gettin’ things ready and next minute he heard the noise and he heard the whip crackin’ and the bloke singin’ out.”
Merv digresses. “It seems funnybut… I don’t believe in ghosts meself but still it’s a hard thing to get outta ya head when something like that happens an’ ya see it writ down in different books and managers tell you and that ol’ Hupperdy was tellin’ me an’ that… he was there when it all happened.” Merv continues. “That chinaman thought he heard the stagecoach… he heard the wheels rattlin’….. you know how they’re rattlin’ as they’re comin’ in and he run out to see how many passengers there was so he could get the food ready. No one there!” Merv’s searching eyes once more re-enact the historical moment. “No one there! He looked like that… no one there! So then he packed up n’ he went! Never seen him no more!”
This yarn ends as suddenly as the first. Following a long pause, Merv adds, “That coach,would’ve been comin across from Mt Howitt. You can still see the stagecoach road comin’ across from Eromanga. And that’s what happened.”
“Well then,” he continues, “as the years went on and I was there (at Keeroongooloo), two other old drover blokes; well they heard exactly the same thing. So, I was there and I looked out and I… just can see someone ridin’ up an’ I thought, “Gee Whiz, its nobody from the camp, with no shirt on… unless they had a big fight down there… and when I run down here’s this ol’ bloke in his longjohns… no skin on his backside…. and he said “Where’s the manager?” and I said “I dunno, I dunno if he’s up yet… I’ll go up an’ get ‘im” and he said, “tell ‘im to bring some clothes down for me too.” “Poor ol’ fella, an’ we got talkin’ away there for a little while, an’ away I went up there then and the manager he come down… Klacy House was the manager… only a short man, but a very happy sorta fella… red face ol’ bloke he was and he went down to there an’ I heard ‘em talking an’ that ol’ bloke sayin’ that he’s not gonna’ go back down to that house an’ he told the manager what he’d heard. They must’ve been in their swags,” Merv explains. “ I’d say they was and they heard this noise and they said the same thing. I was there when he told the manager they heard the wagon comin’ rattlin’ n’ the bloke singn’ out at the horses and the whip crack and when they went outside, …well there was no one there, so that’s when they grabbed a horse each and shot through. That ol’ bloke he just mounted the horse bareback in his longjohns. . The manager said “Where’s your mate?” an’ he said “I dunno where he is, but he took off one way an’ I took off the other way.” Merv adds “It’s the most roughest country I’ve seen through there.”
“And while we were talking of this occasion… word came through to this manager, on the pedal wireless, there’s a call saying that this other ol’ bloke from down that place he lobbed in at Eromanga town, in his longjohns.” The policeman said, “Bring some clothes for this man… he’s only in his longjohns!” Merv’s chuckle is contagious.
“Well, around the road going down to there (Eromanga) is 65 miles; I dunno what it is through the hills, but it’d be heavy goin’… I’ve been all through there… used to run a lot of cattle in through there, but O… I dunno how that ol’ fella found his way… all I can say is that he’s a very good bushman.” Merv emphasises, “Well, that’s what I heard that ol’ bloke sayin’ to the manager “I ain’t goin’ back!” he said “I ain’t goin’ back! If I gotta go back there, you might as well shoot me.”
“Yeah, so… they must’ve got a terrible fright.”
Merv Wortley, Ruby Plains Station, Halls Creek, WA. 2014.