Meet the Mates

The following is an abbreviated contribution from the legendary Ted Egan AO, and former Administrator of the Northern Territory. 

Ted EganOne of our great hopes is to get appropriate future recognition for the tiny town of Newcastle Waters.  It is not widely known that in the turbulent 1920s, it was decreed that the “Capital” of Northern Australia would be created at Newcastle Waters.  Although that never eventuated, Newcastle Waters retains an interesting place on our historic timetable. 

Being immensely interested in Australian history. I was lucky to be appointed Teacher at Newcastle Waters in 1965. My 22 pupils included three of my own, plus the remainder of Aboriginal kids from the nearby cattle station.  I also conducted Parent Evening Classes. It was a year of great fun, great achievement. I lived with my family in the wonderful old Police Station, which sadly was demolished after we left. What a pity. 

 In its halcyon days, 1880-1950, Newcastle Waters was the junction – the crossroads – for the various stock routes over which hundreds of thousands of cattle were “overlanded”, firstly to enable the huge cattle empires – called “stations” – to its north to be validated via stocking; secondly, to enable the stock raised on those stations to be walked annually, by drovers, to various southern markets. The very important pub at Newcastle Waters was called “The Junction” has been owned by many fascinating proprietors. The Northern Territory oversaw the biggest movements of stock the world has ever known. The characters involved in that movement were larger than life and they deserve to be recognised.

 The Murranji was the most feared stock route in Australia. Long, dangerous dry stages, unpredictable availability of water, “drummy” ground.  As I say in my song “Matt Savage - Boss Drover”:
                        We’re haunted by ghosts, on the Murranji Track
                        Dead men, dead bullocks, cursed outback!
                        Cattle dry staging, the boss drover’s raging
                        Hard times on the way into Queensland
But things get better......
                        The Murranji’s dry, but at Newcastle Waters
                        We’ll be dancing in the bar
                        With old Bulwaddy’s daughters
                        Back in the saddle
                        Keep pushing them cattle
                        Gotta take them along into Queensland.
So how do we enhance the place of Newcastle Waters in our history?  Krafty has initiated a movement called the Mates of the Murranji to enable that to happen appropriately.
I believe in long-term, serious planning. I believe in 500 year plans.  If we humans are to be enjoying life in Australia in 500 years’ time – the 2500s– we should start thinking, now, of what could be happening at that time. What is conceivable? 
In 2500 it is highly likely that air travel will still be undertaken. Helicopters will probably prevail, but who knows what else might be practicable?  There is already a first-class airstrip at Newcastle Waters, constructed for Kerry Packer’s (previous owner of the station) jet aircraft.  Road and rail travel to Newcastle Waters are available now, at first class level. A good bitumen road will accommodate motor vehicles of whatever size. An all-weather rail track is capable of handling trains at express speeds. Bring people from Darwin and Alice Springs, as well as international travelers. People love train travel. 
Hopefully, the world’s politicians will have come to their senses and responded appropriately to climate change challenges, to enable enjoyment of a climate similar to that which prevailed at Newcastle Waters 500 years ago, in the 1520s – cold winter, hot summer, six productive months, April to September. In 2500 we should be enjoying the limitless energy we have long since harnessed from natural forces.  
In today’s mindless world we run the risk of depleting or debilitating existing groundwater supplies by the lunacy of fracking.  I like to think that the entire dry region of Australia – 80% of our entire continent – will have reticulated water in 500 years time, to the point that we longer have the word “drought” in our lexicon.  
It seems likely that Australia will, 500 years hence, be a world favourite tourism venture, with dry, rugged Inland Australia having a unique appeal.  “Come and enjoy the solitude” is a good catch-cry – today and forever. Where else in the world can you see such stars? 
Tourism requires top level accommodation. There is nothing of consequence at Newcastle Waters today, other than a privately-owned cattle station.  Q. Why would tourists seek to visit such a place, let alone stay there? A. Because there is nothing to match it in the world. 
Romance?  Now we are talking!  We need to immortalise yesterday’s heroes, whose exploits revolved around the biggest movements of cattle in the world’s history. It happened in the period 1880-1960, led by the immortal Nat Buchanan – King Paraway –and his wife Kitty Gordon: 
            We camped out in our swags
            A thousand nights beneath the wondrous stars
            Saw the saffron sunrise
            Through the lace of ironwood trees
            We sang on watch together
            Walking cattle down the Murranji
            Smelt the rain a coming
            On a wattle-scented breeze...... 
The Vision Splendid (Ted Egan)
In the 1880s and 1890s Nat Buchanan and Kitty were accompanied by legendary characters like “Greenhide Sam” Croker, Paddy Cahill and Kitty’s brothers Hugh and Wattie Gordon, as they overlanded huge mobs of cattle to enable establishment of the new stations. In their biggest single movement of stock they walked 20,000 head from central Queensland to the Northern Territory.  Later on, we saw the Farquharson brothers heading north “up the Murranji” to establish Inverway. From the start of the 20th century, intrepid drovers walked the big mobs “up and down the Murranji” – names like Matt and Ivy Savage and their daughters, all drovers – Sheilagh, Noreen and Patsy; Harry Zigenbine and his daughter Edna, Bruce “21” Simpson, the Scobies, Byron Nathan, George and Hyrtle Lewis,”Pic” Willetts, Johnny Stewart; then – the last drovers on the Murranji, teenage brothers Allan and John Hagan, sons of legandary Kidman man, Jim Hagan.
How do we create a “romantic venue” at Newcastle Waters? The disarming reality is that there was nothing of consequence there originally, other than a police station, The Junction Pub, Jones’s Store, the OT Linesman and a few nondescript “houses”. The “town” so called could be isolated for months when the Newcastle Creek ran a mile wide after rain.  The heroics relate to the people, the environment, the cattle they walked. 
My suggestion would be to build a Sovereign Hill type re-creation of “Newcastle Waters”, located in proximity to the existing cattle station and the present-day remnants of the old town, but closer to the Highway than at present – ideally, on the eastern side of the creek, which can still flood two kilometres wide in season.  In this way, tourists/visitors could be invited to visit the region for various Festivals, based on music and cattle. There could be large residential units, motels, caravan parks, camping grounds, children’s playgrounds and a museum linking the First Australian heritage to the droving/overlanding era.
Cattle demonstrations and the opportunity to participate in normal Cattle station life could easily be organised. Bush race meetings and camp drafting are immensely popular, uniquely Australian.
Imaginative festivals could be planned and implemented. Tamworth showed the rest of Australia how to do it: Australians love to revere their “rural heritage” although most of us live in cities. It just needs planning, research, a strong willing team, a theme. Let us enrol as Mates of the Murranji! 
Ted Egan has written and recorded a lot of songs that refer to the Murranji Stock Route and some of the legends, of which you can download and listen to them here

If you are interested in purchasing these songs (as downloads or CDs) or related books. please visit Ted's website