One interesting northern pioneer who stuck it out against all odds was August Helling. He was to experience many failures in the north, but each time he managed to overcome the setbacks and start again. Helling was not an immigrant to South Australia. He was born at Burra on 20 May 1849, the son of a miner. At the age of four, young August made his first journey, not to the north, but to the south, to Adelaide with his aunt. In Adelaide he was to attend school on the Bay Road. When he finished this experience and was old enough he went north.
He gained a job as an ore dresser at the Kapunda
Copper Mines and stayed there for a number of years. This however was not really what August was aiming for. He had set his eyes on the land. Working and owning property, that was his aim. His first try proved unsuccessful and he returned to mining, this time to Moonta which offered far better prospects than the nearly worked out Kapunda mine.
August and Isabella Helling.
Next we find Mr Helling in the Northern Flinders Ranges at Blinman, not as a miner, but in a completely different kind of job. This time he had started a butcher business. Still he must have inherited some interest in mining from his father, for at the age of twenty-one he had become the owner of several shares in the copper mine at Sliding Rock. With the early success of this mine, Helling now moved his business to Sliding Rock to improve his own prospects and become financially and socially secure.
Apart from this business he also built an eating and accommodation house for travellers to stay, or for residents to hold meetings and community
functions. Four years later Helling made another important decision. When at
Blinman he had noticed a young lady and during his travels between Sliding Rock and Blinman he met her more often. Finally on 27 July 1874 the Rev. Carter performed the wedding ceremony between August, who was now twenty-five, and Isabella Johnson Patterson (19), daughter of Archibald and Catherine Patterson of Blinman.
As a butcher Helling often had to travel to the Beltana Pastoral station to buy sheep. Maybe it was because of what he saw there, or his wife's background, (Isabella's mother was a McCallum), or his desire for farming, that made him take out
pastoral leases. Whatever it was, in 1875 he and five partners took up a twenty-one year lease of Cowarie Station, along the Birdsville Track. Helling was later involved with W.J. Paull in 1878, with a lease of 700 square miles near Goyder's Lagoon. Both these leases were worked while the Hellings stayed at Sliding Rock. During this time the Hellings had three sons, Albert born in 1875, Arthur on 23 March 1877 (died 16 March 1878) and Walter who was born on 17 February 1880.
After their son Walter was born they all moved to Cowarie station. During that year August had leased an additional block near Cowarie, which made his holdings in that area quite impressive. During their stay at Cowarie, Isabella gave birth to four more children. Howard in 1882, Garnet Archibald in 1884 at Crystal Brook, where August was at the same time farming on nearby Roseneath, Julie in 1887 at Beltana and Mary in 1890 at the Cowarie Homestead.
Isabella Helling must have accompanied her husband many times on his travels, even at an advanced stage of pregnancy. She certainly was a great woman, who deserves as much credit and recognition, if not more, than some of
the male pioneers of the Northern Flinders Ranges. Isabella was neither afraid of new adventures nor of isolation. At Cowarie she ran the post office, catered for drovers on their way to or from Birdsville, the station workers, and the growing number of her own children.
This was all achieved without the benefit of female company or indeed
any other company, the nearest station being fifty kilometres to the east through sandhills. The nearest township (Marree) was 180 kilometres south. Her husband was away many times for extended periods either at Crystal Brook farming or on the mailrun to Birdsville, which he pioneered. Unfortunately for the Hellings and thousands of others, drought during the 1880s drove them out of the north, out of work, and often into bankruptcy.
In 1888 Cowarie station received only sixty-five points of rain, and by 1890, after the birth of their daughter Mary, the Hellings moved back to Sliding Rock. Here Helling once more acquired the licence for the Rock Hotel and continued the coach service between Marree and Birdsville, the driver
being Ted Steers. However in 1893 the Hellings were once again at Cowarie, where Isabella provided meals for travellers along the Birdsville Track.
One such meal was served at Christmas to Dr Hoche and his young family who had left Farina and were on their way to Birdsville to take up his new appointment. During the 1890s there was a slight improvement in the Helling fortunes. In 1894 Helling acquired a lease of Wilpena Pound and sold Cowarie Station a year later to the Kidman Brothers. On 4 April 1895 he took out lease no. 403 over 3,116 square miles with William James Paull for twenty-one years in the Cowarie area near his old station he had pioneered.
This last one was cancelled by the government three years later
for non-payment. In 1899 Helling tried his luck for a third time by taking up the licence of the Rock Hotel. Unfortunately it was not to be a case of third time lucky. This time the Hellings had had enough. After thirty years they decided to leave the North for good. It had been a hard time, but at times they had had a good life. Luck had not always been on their side. They had suffered droughts and mine closures but had doggedly - like many others - carried on. Now they were leaving it all behind and were going south to work on the land.
Helling secured nearly 60,000 acres at Tintanara. This, with the help of his sons, was going to be developed as soon as possible. Sadly though he died on 31 December 1905 at the age of fifty-six, leaving his wife and seven children to carry on. His obituary in The Observer stated that Mr August Helling had been a firm believer in the potentialities and possibilities of what until recently, was generally regarded as a great useless desert, and it was in large measure owing to his foresight and enterprise in the first instance that the value and magnificent prospects of the land were brought under the notice of the public...In more ways than one the circumstances of Mr Helling's death, are particularly sad. For years it had been his one ambition and desire to witness the opening up of the Tintanara country, and just when his hopes were about to be realised he passed away.
His obituary in the Advertiser of Wednesday 3 January 1906 gave a little more deatail and stated; Mr. August Helling died on Sunday. Mr. Helling was born at Burra in May 1849 and four years later came to Adelaide. Afterwards he went to Kapunda, and there he worked at the Kapunda mine as an ore dresser. After being there two years he began farming, but subsequently went to Moonta mines. For some time he was engaged in carrying between Blinman and Port Augusta, and in 1879 he removed to Sliding Rock mine, and entered business as a butcher and storekeeper. With a partner he next took up a thousand square miles of pastoral country on the Diamantina River, and spent several years on Cowarie station. He had a contract to carry the mails by coach fortnightly between Hergott Springs and Birdsville. Mr. Helling, in 1890, took over the lease of the Sliding Rock Hotel. However, the mine closed down, and as Tintinara had made a deep impression upon him, he secured about, 60,000 acres at a cheap rate. With the assistance of his sons he put down bores and wells, cultivated the land, and showed that it had great productive value. Sheep were fattened, and wheat, maize, and other products exhibited at the Adelaide show. Eventually the Triumph Plow Company took over nearly the whole of the land, and they are clearing and preparing it for cultivation. Mr. Helling left a widow, four sons and three daughters.