Mundowdna Station, Far North of South Australia

Mundowdna

Some little known facts

The Aboriginal word Mundowdna referred to a waterhole and was visited in 1859 by the South Australian Governor Sir Richard MacDonnell. He wanted to see for himself what it was like in the far north of the colony which was in the grip of a drought that would last for several years. He also wanted to see some of the mines operating in the northern Flinders Ranges. Most of the time though, he and his small party saw nothing but desolation and locusts. They had already been on the track for many weeks and on 21 October reached Wilpena, where they were looked after by George Marchant. A week later they arrived at Angepena, where he had a look at the nearby Mochatoona mine the very next day.

On 10 November they reached the Mundowdna waterhole where E. Chapman established a run in 1860 covered by lease no 1678. During that same year it was visited by George W. Goyder on his surveying trip to the north. He was short of water and when he located some surface water it was surrounded by Aborigines. This did not bother him for he reported, 'I do not fear any mishap from them - they being the most arrant cowards breathing'.

During the early 1860s the Matthews Brothers were holding both St Stephen's Pond and Mundowdna. In 1863 they reported that the Aborigines were killing their stock. In 1868 G.W. Debney and Woodforde acquired the lease and 5200 sheep and 35 cattle running on the station. In September Mundowdna Station was attacked by a group of Aborigines from Lake Hope which resulted in the station going up in flames and two deaths.

Debney and Woodford informed the Blinman Police that 'an affray has taken place this evening between a party of natives and ourselves, which has terminated fatally, two of whom are lying here uninterred'. Both H.C. Swan SM and Trooper Gregory were dispatched to investigate the matter. They found nothing out of the ordinary or the two bodies. Therefore no action or proceedings could be taken against them. On 28 September their report was referred to the Crown Solicitor asking what, if anything, could be done against Debney and Woodforde. His advice was the same, no proceedings until the bodies are found.

John Parker Buttfield, Sub Protector of Aborigines at Blinman was of the opinion that Debney and Woodforde were not the aggressors and only fired in self defence. This resulted in the Attorney General deciding that further proceedings were unnecessary. However the Blinman police was instructed to make a search for the bodies.

This time troopers Porter and Curnow left for Mundowdna on 21 October. After some searching the grave was pointed out to them by a local Aborigine on 27 October. In their report it was stated that 'Upon exhuming the bodies, we found that they were in a very advanced stage of decomposition, it was impossible to discover in what particular spot the balls had entered the bodies'.

In 1870 the area of Mundowdna station was expanded when a 21 year lease was taken up over Lake Harry. Two years later William Knox Sims and Edgar Chapman had the lease over Mundowdna. Condition looked very promising with lots of rain and water everywhere. It was expected that there would be enough feet for the next 18 months. However in March it was reported that clouds of locusts 'had devoured all before them', leaving very little for the sheep or cattle.

The station remained an isolated spot with very few visitors, least of all women. To do something about it a lonely station hand placed this ad in an Adelaide newspaper in 1873.

Wanted, a WIFE, by a young
Gentleman 25 years of age. He is in a
good position, is considered good looking, he
would prefer one younger than himself. Money
no object, beauty indispensable. Those matri
monially inclined please enclose carte. Address
M.U.F. Mundowdna Station, North West.

Eventually women were employed at the station. In 1886 an Aboriginal woman was hired as a domestic. She brought her little son, Ben Murray, born in 1893, with her. Ben, was the son of Afghan father, Bejah Dervish, who had served in the Indian Army at Kandahar and Karachi. Ben soon had a job as well. Sitting on a horse he was to make sure that the animal kept going around and around to keep the water pump going. When the station became part of the Kidman empire, Ben who was now 15 became a stockman. He stayed until 1908 when he moved to the Lutheran Mission at Killalpaninna.

When World War I broke out Ben joined the army and took part in the landing at Gallipoli. He was one of the lucky ones and was taken prisoner by the Turks. He was released on 11 November 1819. After his return to South Australia he worked in many different jobs and lived to well over a 100 years.

Unfortunately this was not the case of some other employees at Mundowdna. George Tooth, a stockman died on 8 July 1877 at Hookina, aged 45. Thomas Brewer, also 45 years old and a teamster died on 16 March 1882. A year later Edward Hopkins, formerly from Scotland died at Mundowdna on 27 July 1883. In 1897 John Fitzpatrick died on 1 February. He was only 26 years old. As usual among the deaths were also young children. Charlotte Maud Lloyd died on 1 February 1900 just 5 years old.

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