Last of the Explorers

10 April 1942 Cootamundra Herald

The Story of Donald Mackay, F.R.G.S. O.B.E. Historic Wallendbeen Station

Pioneering A Century Ago.

Travels All Over Australia the Exploring Expeditions

Frank Clune, the Australian author, added well to his list of publications when the 'Last of the Explorers' came off the press recently.

Telling the story of the thrilling ad-ventures which crowded the life of Donald Mackay, owner of Wallendbeen Station, of which his father, the late Alexander Mackay, took charge just a hundred years ago.

It was fitting that the story of one of his sons should be published in the year that marks the centenary of the elder's advent to this district.

Alexander Mackay was born, in the historic year of the battle of Water-loo, in the seaside village of Kildary, on the north coast of Scotland.

And he too, was avid for adventure. It is in the Mackay blood. At the age of 25 he was in the employ of Jardine Matheson and Company, shippers and traders, in Canton.

The head of the company, Sir James Matheson, liked Alex. Mackay, and, fearing the future of China after the opium war, decided to spread the company's investments in Australia, and sent him out to New South Wales to buy pastoral leases, and also look into the possibilities of tea-growing here.

After jackerooing for experience, at the same time "keeping his eyes and ears open and his mouth shut," watching for chances to buy well for his patron, he acquired, as agent, "Wallendbeen" - in September of 1842.

The original "squatter" on the area which was called 'Wallendbeen' was Ned Ryan, who claimed all the country which included the present towns of Murrumburrah, Wallendbeen, Stockinbingal, Cootamundra, and Bethungra, with his homestead at Galong, where 'The Castle" was built.

But that was too much country to hold; and it was yielded in "bits" to other squatters

In 1837 George Robert Nicholls took up Wallendbeen "by arrangement"; in 1839, John Hurley, from Campbelltown, picked out of it the Cootamundra Valley, with his home then at Congou Creek (later at ''Hurleyville," Cootamundra).

Nicholson took Mingay; Smyth and de Salis, Darbalara; Henry O'Brien, Jugiong.

The agent for the Matheson interests got the big chance in 1842, after the death, of Nicholls, buying from the trustees the lease of Wallendbeen, with 3000 sheep and 400 cattle, 24 working bullocks, plant, 500 bushels of wheat, two stacks of hay, and one of barley.

That was a slump year-one of the worst depressions in Australia's history.

Prices fell that year till sheep were 6d and prime cattle 7/6 a head, wool was down, and bank interest up - up to 15 per cent. O'Brien, of Jugiong, stopped the slump next year by boiling down sheep for tallow.

He found that a sheep worth 6d on the hoof contained 6/ worth of tallow!

The year 1844 saw the depression over, and the canny investors of capital in "clover." Wallendbeen, bought at bedrock, was followed by the purchase for James Matheson of Greg Greg, near Kosciusko, in 1845; Aston, on the Monaro, in 1846; then other properties.

And the proud agent found himself doing 1000 miles a year in the saddle, on the inspections.

Shipped, to him annually were 100 chests of tea, 200 half-chests, and 50 tons of sugar for the use of the stations under his management. Places he sold in 1848 were Marengo. Copperbulla, and Adjenbilly. Note the spelling of the latter two in those days!

Floods came that year. Wallendbeen and other stations north of the Murrumbidgee had been officially mapped in 1840 as belonging to the Lachlan Pastotal District; and Mackay had to fight for his boundaries as against objections lodged by James Fitzpatrick. of Cucumbla; Daniel Dacey, of Grogan Creek; Isa bella Barber, of Bellvale: Ned Ryan, of Galong; and John Hurley, of Gooramandera (the earliest cognomen for Cootamundra!).

Result, in 1849 the area of Wallendbeen was gazetted as 60,160 acres, with a frontage to the Murrumbidgee.

The 215 pastoral runs gazetted in the Lachlan included those of de Salis and Smythe, Junee, 150,000 acres; John Hurley, at Cootamundra, 50.000 with a further 40,000 at Houlahan's Creek; whilst Edward Ryan had three stations - Galong, 38,400; Burthong, 38,000; Grangle, 60.000.

James Thorne, at Wantabadgery, had 108 square miles, and John Walton, on the Bland, 100 square miles.

Yass was the big town in those days.

In 1849 the Barnes family had stores at Murrumburrah and Cootamundra; and along the roads, at 10 mile intervals, were grog shanties or teamsters', pubs.

"Old" Barnes that year came back from a trip to "The Levels," now Temora and Young, with, ore which he thought contained gold, lead, and copper respectively.

Next year gold was officially discovered by Hargraves at Bathurst.

The fifties and sixties saw the "gold rushes."

The year 1851 opened with a drought, and in April the farseeing Mackay bought Memmagong station, 20,000 acres, on Cudgell Creek, from John Dalton, for 65. Years later he sold it, stocked, for 20,000.

Floods came in October, and 23 per-sons were drowned in the Monaro and. Murrumbidgee districts.

When the gold fever was on, flour went up to 100 a ton, for there were no teamsters' or labor available, for everyone seemed to. have gone to Ophir or Turon, Bendigo, or Ballarat; but Mackay stuck to the sheep -and waited.

To replace the men away at the 'rushes,' Sir James sent out shepherds from the Isle' of Lewis, in the Hebrides, where he dwelt in Stornoway Castle, and also two over-seers, James Matheson Mackenzie and Alex. Mackay's brother Donald.

The former became overseer of Wallendbeen; the latter, of the Monaro property.

The township of Wallendbeen was gazetted 89 years ago - on 25th November, 1853; and application was made in the name of James Matheson for the freehold tenure of the homestead block of 320 acres at Wallendbeen station, under the Lands Act.

The purchase was completed on 29th August, 1855, at 1 an acre.

In 1855, after thirteen years' service out here for the Matheson interests, Alex Mackay, then aged 40 holidayed home to Bonnie Scotland, leaving overseers at each property, with his brother Donald as general manager, and residing at Wallendbeen.

He stayed at Sir James's castle, visited the village of his birth, and called on the Mackenzies in nearby Invergordon, where he met bonnie Annie, whom he married in 1856.

They returned to Wallendbeen in 1857. That year there were 19,500 sheep on Wallendbeen, and wool was 22d per lb.

It was boom time again, and a good time to sell Sir James's Australian properties.

Alex. Mackay got first offer for thee Wallendbeen station - the one he loved best of all, and the purchase was completed on 18th April, 1860, at these figures:- Value of the pastoral lease, 54,600 acres, 2000; homestead freehold, 320 acres, 320; 8017 sheep at 12/, 4810; 1384 store sheep at 10/, 692; 750 cattle, at 45/; 1687/10/; 15 horses, at 7, 105 -a total of 9614/10/.

The station boundaries were, defined as "on the east by Lyster's ' road/north to a plough track from Lyster's road towards Morris Hlll, thence to the Rocky Waterhole to Stockinbingal; west by a range at Hurley's Flats to the yards at Stockinbingal Creek; south by Barber's Creek and plough track running' to Lyster's road, which separates it from Demondril run."

Later, he owned Memmagong, Kildary, Milbey West, and other properties; but, the apple of his eye was Wallendbeen.

Two sons were born, both destined to play their part in Australia's history - James Alexander Kenneth, on 5th June, l859; Donald George, on 29th June 1870.

There were two daughters, one of whom died in infancy.

The pioneer Mackay died on 5th February, 1890, aged 75.

He was buried in Yass cemetery, next to the grave of his infant daughter.

Later the freehold of the station, or what was left of it after the selectors under the John Robertson Act had 'picked the eyes out of' it,' was split up between the two sons, Kenneth getting the 'Wallandoon' portion, and Donald 'Wallendbeen.' Kenneth Mackay became a horse-man, poet and author, soldier, orator; M.P. and State Minister.

He commanded the N.S.W. Bushmen's Contingent at the Boer War, was promo-ted to Colonel, at the conclusion of the Boer War was made C.B. and died with the rank of Brigadier General.

His books included "Styrrup Jingles." "Out Back," "The Yellow Wave.''

Donald Mackay lived such a full and varied and crowded life of one adventure after another that, as Frank Clune said in the preface to the "Last of the Explorers.'' it was "impossible to put it all in one book."

And this book about Donald has 300 pages, be sides 50 illustrations, as well as maps.

One of the maps outlines his marathon bike ride around Australia, 11.000 miles, when he was 28, in 240 days 7 hours 30 minutes, lowering Arthur Richardson's record of 243 days 4 hours, at the same time lowering J. Dennings record from Perth to Brisbane of 44 days to 40 days 6 hours 50 minutes, and also the record by Frank White, from Perth to Brisbane, from 53 days 7 hours to 48 days 4 hours 15 minutes.

Riding, as an amateur, he had beaten, all the professional records, including Alec. White's long distance record, 11,400 miles, by getting on again and riding back to Newcastle, totalling 11,600 miles.

Frank Clune makes intensely interesting stories out of Donald's Jackeroo days, and subsequent travels; the quests for opals and gold; and his athletic experiences as a pupil of Larry Foley, and as a sculler with Bill Beach, Later came the lure of the Orient, and getting- tattoed in Japan and elsewhere, till Donald was a walking art gallery.

Exploring in Papua had its excitements and privations, sufferings and frustrations.

Next, Donald bought a yacht, and cruised, in the South Seas, in search of an alleged hidden treasure. It had been burled where no man could find it in the shifting sands of time.

At the outbreak of the European war, in August, 1914, he enlisted, at the age of 44, "ready for more adventures", but, greatly to his surprise, the Army doctors declared him medically unfit, through a minor complication caused by his strenuous early life.

This debarred him from the first contingent of volunteers.

So he went, with his wife, on a scenic tour of New Zealand; and later, in 1916, he 'did' the Dutch East Indies.

By patriotic donations and other-wise, he tried to help the war efforts of those days, and when a fund was started in Wallendbeen at peace time to perpetuate the memory or the ninety then who served in the armed forces abroad, Donald asked to be allowed to bear the entire cost of the memorial which stands there - a graceful obelisk of grey granite, 36ft. high.

But his greatest contributions to Australia in general were his exploring expeditions between 1899 and 1937 - to the Peterman Ranges on camels, Arnhem Land on horseback, and the four aerial surveys, the maps of which were presented to the Commonwealth Government.

Nearly a third of the book is devoted to the details arising out of these costly trips to the hither to unknown parts of the inland of this vast continent: and it makes most arresting reading, as does the 'Story of Donald Mackay' all through his colorful life.

The last of the explorations was when he had passed his 67th birthday - the largest and most ambitious of his surveys.

Ahead of the planes were sent five tons of petrol and six tons of stores to, the main base camp at Tanami (in the granite regions of the Northern Territory), noted in his diary as ''the abomination of desolation"

Once more Donald is "settled down."

He and his wife (nee Amy Little) live amid salubrious surroundings at Port Hacking.

They come to "Wallendbeen" station' now and then (at shearing time especially.

In the book he says he pays this tribute to Mrs. Mackay, who accompanied him on some of the wanderings; "They say marriage is lottery, with more blanks than prizes.

Well in my case, my luck was in. I got a real good sport for a life mate.

After nearly forty years of married life, I can honestly say that getting married was the; most sensible thing I ever did In my life.

A fellow overlander, Gordon Buchannan, said of Donald Mackay: "Not much of a talker, but a dinkum doer - this great-hearted, open-handed Australian deserves well of his country".

And our scribe should like to say after being thrilled with reading of every chapter of the book, that a copy of it should be in every home in this district, for it can and will be read and re-read with renewed interest and ever-growing appreciation of the "last of the explorers" long after he has gone upon the last venture of all - into the Great Unknown