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Magazines - Inland Review

undefined undefinedSeptember 1969
CORK COUNTRY Story and Pictures by Clover F Nolan

Eighteen miles from Colston Station in the Winton District of Inland Queensland is a 50,000 acre paddock-full of surprises.
For here the 30-mile scenic drive around Merton, part of Cork Station, begins spectacularly as the road suddenly twists around the lip of a rough gorge edged with giant, tumbled, water-worn rocks with a glorious view of a hilly valley stretching away in the distance.

Cork Station of 572,000 acres, one of the oldest and the second largest in the Winton Shire, was taken up by John Francis Barry in 1873. His application for Blocks 1, 2 and 3 was refused and the land was sold by auction to Thomas McIllwraith and Smyth in 1875.

It went under the hammer again in 1881, sold to The Darling Downs and Western Land Co. Ltd. and was later transferred to the Queensland National Bank in 1896. It now belongs to the Propsting family who own several properties in the Winton and Richmond districts and who took it over in 1966. Cork runs both sheep and cattle.
The scenic attractions of Merton were discovered by Peter Knowles of Namarva and Eric Bryce of Colston who have spent an enormous amount of time and trouble clearing the track around the plateau by bulldozer. Where the Cory Range of Carisbrooke and the Tully Range meet, they had to survey and then came the arduous task of forcing a tractor fitted with a cutting blade through the thick scrub, picking out the clearer patches as they worked. In some places the points of the plateau are so narrow that a vehicle is forced to reverse before completing a turn.
This area of Queensland probably formed during the Cretaceous period in geological time; however, the Series is not always characterized by chalk common to this type of formation and everywhere is divided into Upper and Lower Cretaceous.

When the earth’s movements caused unconformity between the Upper and Lower beds in Australia, subsistence resulted in a great marine transgression. Then the land masses tilted and much of the sea rolled back, leaving a great Series of brackish lakes in which were deposited the Winton and Desert Series, outcropping today where there are desert conditions.

In Queensland, freshwater shales and sandstones developed called the Winton Series and it is in these that the Winton opal is found; this opal was probably formed by the deposition of silica brought up in the action of thermal waters.


The Cork is keeping its head above water on the dusty Diamantina

Homestead still stands as decay slowly moves in.

Report: Andrew McKenzie

Pictures: Ray Cash

It costs about $10 a hectare, is so big the boundary fences are checked with an ultra-light aircraft, has had a popular song written about it, and is worth about $2.5 million.

This is Cork Station, 120 km south-west of Winton in far north-west Queensland. 2310 sq km of downs and channel country with a 32 km frontage to the Diamantina River.

It achieved national prominence a few years ago with the popular Redgum song The Diamantina Drover.

The song referred to the vintage sandstone homestead Old Cork, one of the original properties in Western Queensland.

The present station manager, Arthur Wallis, and his wife Rosslyn, occasionally chuckle over the song when they hear it on the local radio station.

"Whoever wrote it had a bit of factual knowledge when he talked about the dray around Old Cork Station because there were three or four around here a long time ago," Mr Wallis said.

"But when it says the rain never falls on the dusty Diamantina  -  well it does rain sometimes. We usually get ten and a half inches a year."

The chorus of the song about a burnt-out old drover  -  written by Hugh McDonald in 1982  -  says:

For the rain never falls on the dusty Diamantina,
The drover finds it hard to change his mind,
For the years have surely gone
Like the drays from Old Cork station,
And I won't be back 'til the droving's done.

The property was first settled in the 1870's and became the local mail distribution before the establishment of Winton  -  the mail came in on a pack - horse from Muttaburra.

The administrative centre of the property was shifted about the turn of the century because the old homestead was often cut off for up to a fortnight by floods.

The new homestead was brought in two or three pieces from Charters Towers by teamsters after the gold rush.

That complex now also includes separate cottages for a bookkeeper and overseer, three buildings for men's accommodation, shearers' quarters for 25 men, a shearing shed and work and machinery sheds.

The families of farm workers lived at Old Cork for many years and until 15 years ago it was used as a night camp when mustering.

Then the station cook often set lines and nets in the large permanent waterhole to give the stockmen a feed of yellowbelly and bream.

The property Cork remains in good order despite the current drought but the Old Cork homestead is in as much a state of disrepair as the old drover in the song.

Much of the timberwork in the old homestead is rotten, the sandstone walls have started to bow and crack, and vandals with shotguns have broken the louver windows and peppered the antbed plastered walls.

A cedar sideboard, beyond restoration, still sits in the old formal dining room, sharing it with the carcass of a dead wallaby, now reduced to a pile of white bones.

A squatter's chair with a greenhide seat still graces one of the verandas.

The kitchen still has its wood stove and a hutch but a 6 m-long table that had been a feature of the homestead for more than 100 years was stolen a few years ago.

Mr Wallis said there had been a recent plan to dismantle the homestead and rebuild it in Winton as a tourist attraction.

The present owner, Mr Dudley Dunn, of Sydney, agreed to the move but locals reconsidered and concluded that the homestead would lose too much of its significance if it was moved.

Mr Wallis said that very little else was known of the history of Old Cork. The property had changed hands a number of times and many station books and records had moved on with the previous owners.

He said the property now kept him and five other workers busy maintaining 144km of 2-metre high boundary fence and kilometers of internal fencing.

It carried about 2500 head of cattle, although its carrying capacity in good seasons was nearly three times that.

Mr Wallis recently trained as an ultra-light aircraft pilot to give him more manoeuvrability about the property.

"The aircraft is an asset on this sort of property," he said. "It saves a lot of time checking the fences and spotting cattle. And it costs only $8 an hour to run compared with $200 an hour for a helicopter."

He said the first time he flew the ultra-light his stomach muscles "tightened a bit" but he was re-assured that the aircraft had a safety parachute.

Photo caption 1. Arthur and Rosslyn Wallis at the gate of their homestead on Cork Station, 120 km south-west of Winton beside the "dusty Diamantina".

Photo caption 2: Arthur Wallis with the plane which is used to check the boundary fences on remote Cork Station.

Details of paper unknown.