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Reminiscences of "Charley" Thompson of Kulkyne - 1850s to 1920s

FROM KULNINE TO KULKYNE - Reminiscences of "Charley" Thompson of Kulkyne.



Set down by "Steele Blayde"




In the years before Mildura was established by the Chaffeys, the whole of the country lying between the Kulnine Station and Kulkyne Station, Kulnine 25 miles down river from Mildura and Kulkyne 15 miles up was purely pastoral, Mildura Station lying between Kulnine and Kulkyne. It was a wild remote tract, sparsely inhabited by a few white folk and a goodly number of blacks. Into this country in the sixties of last century came one Johnny Thompson, super bushman and father of the present owner of Kulkyne, Charley Thompson.

A true chip off the old block as are also others of the numerous family. Yes indeed, Johnny Thompson was a sterling type of the old style Australian bushman. Young Johnny arrived in Australia with his parents in 1836 by the ship Buffalo. By 1856 he was engaged in pastoral life with his brother James on Mount Arden Station.. At various times he made several trips to the Great Australian Bight with McKinlay the explorer and about 1866 he went to India with a batch of remounts for the Indian Service. A friend of Adam Lindsay Gordon, Johnny Thompson, then in the Mounted Police, was present when Gordon made his famous leap at Mount Gambier and ever retained a lively recollection of it, so say his family. This should help to settle the contention of some authorities that Gordon never made the leap.

In 1868 Thompson arrived at Kulnine, Victoria to enter the employ of Mr John Crozier, as head stockman. He remained with Mr Crozier for several years and then went to Kulkyne, contracting with Mr Seth Miller to kill the wild cattle then infecting the station. After fulfilling the contract he took the Mallee Cliffs Hotel and subsequently opened the Gol Gol Hotel . Still later Mr Thompson purchased the Strathmore Estate on the Darling River and resided there about ten years selling out to Mr Ormond of Tapio in 1886 and returning to Adelaide. At the age of 64 being then in very feeble health he accidental fell from the balcony of his son's hotel and was killed. having a family of sons and two daughters one of the latter Mrs Oatey, being chattelaine of Kulkyne for her brother in those days.


Taking up the story of his father's life and doings, Charley Thompson tells how, in 1862, Johnny Thompson was trapping wild horses under the big cliffs between Turks Station and Blanchetown. Traps were set under the cliffs where the wild horses came to water. the captured horses were forded over the Murray at Thompsons Crossing into South Australia and travelled down to Adelaide through Morgan and Kapunda for sale. Many hundreds were trapped.


At this time Johnny Thompson had mustering with him Jack Baker, the notorious bushranger. On one of the trips Thompson left Baker behind and coming back later Baker "shook" a police horse and went to Lake Victoria. Here he cooked for a shepherd and seeing the police came along one morning and no way of clearing out. he rolled himself in a wool bale and got under the table. The police rode up, dismounted and had a feed in the hut. Lighting his pipe on going out the trooper happened to look back and saw the suspicious looking roll under the table. He kicked it and out tumbled Baker. Baker was the arrested and served a term in S.A. but later stole another horse and came back to the Darling country. Here he procured his first firearms and continuing upriver toward the Queensland border commenced a career of sticking up hotels and stations. A partner of his arrested some years afterwards swore he had shot Baker and that the remains could be found in a certain cave. The remains found were not Bakers and, as a matter of fact, Jack turned up in Queensland and ran a pub there. Arrested and taken to South Australia, no case against him was proven.


When Johnny Thompson went to Kulnine in the sixties there were no fences and the sheep were shepherded, but the station was caused much trouble through wild stock and the principal job of Thompson soon became that of getting rid of them. He mustered a good number. Associated with him in this work was Jimmy Mattens, a wonderful stockman. It took a long time to get the wild cattle and settle the tame, and the life of the stockman was very rough.


The Mallee was a wonderful country in those days said Charley Thompson as we sat on a log in the bush and the story of old times went on. Bad seasons came but did not effect the country very much. Bush was very thick but grass was scarce owing to the thickness of the bush. Strange to say stock thrived on the bush in those days better than they do on the grass of today. Rabbits first appeared on the Murray hinterland about 1884 or 1885. They ringbarked much timber and destroyed the edible bush, so that the country has never been the same since.

An interesting fact was that though the rabbits destroyed the bush for game... etc, they improved the grass. From 1886 to 1887 the years were bad. Kangaroos, wallabies and emus died in thousands. Prior to the influx of rabbits, game seldom came in for water , but later, the natural supplies of the bushland being depleted, the wild game came in closer. The bad years were also a great attack on bird life.


Kulnine was fenced in 1870 and 1871 and shepherding was discontinued.


At Cowra in 1871, under Mr Elliot Crozier. In 1872, Johnny Thompson and family trekked to Kulkyne, a spring cart (one horse) being the means of transport for the wife and five youngsters. They crossed the famous Raak country en route and Charley Thomspon is positively convinced that his mother was the first white woman who crossed Raak. The trip was exceedingly severe. The new home of the Thomspon family was not at the Kulkyne station of today (although that was in existence) but was a commodious six-roomed house at Mournpool Lake. Here also was a woolshed and other outbuildings. A wonderful place for game and fish was the Mournpool country. In the heart of the lake series fed by Chalka Creek, and of which Lake Hattah is best known to the public. Remote indeed was Mournpool in those days of real pioneering and still is,the surrounding country full of bushland mysteries and a certain scenic beauty and weirdness. Telling the story of Mournpool days, Charley Thompson had a most attentive listener in the chronicler of the simply told stories for the chronicler also had experienced the weirdness of the lakes. What wonder that the Thompson boys absorbed the bush and that Charley Thompson became the naturalist he is.


With his home at Mournpool, outstation of Kulkyne, which itself may have been built in the fifties or sixties, we find Johnny Thompson working under Mr Ross, Mr Seth Miller's manager. Mr Miller himself was seldom at the station, but Mr Ross had his family there, and a Mr Leslie was book-keeper. Seth Miller, familiarly known as "Money" Miller was an Englishman. Now Johnny Thompson was always a flash dresser - a bit of a dandy in appearance - and at first Manager Ross thought him too flash to be the rough and ready wild cattle killer he needed. But Johnny, having already cleared up Kulnine, had made his reputation and a contract was made with him to kill the wild bulls at 12/6 per head, the skins to be delivered to the station. Thompson carried on this job for about twelve months and had killed some 400 head when Manager Ross got the idea of mustering a large mob of the wild stock for market. Mustering was arranged for #1 per head for everything over 12 months old and Johnny Thompson's mustering staff was composed of Clark (white man and cook of the outfit) Myrtle Pearce (half-caste) Pickle Tommy and Kulnine Sam (full-blooded aboriginals). True bushmen indeed were these - Johnny Thompson and his crew. Let them briefly be described.

Johnny Thompson we can picture as a well-set fellow, dandified in appearance, but of resolute heart, a thorough horseman and excellent shot.

Jack Pearce was tall, wiry, weighing 11 or 12 stone a wonderful tracker and a good horseman and a good shot in the saddle. Kulkyne Sam was small, wiry only about 8 stone in weight, born without a nose, just nostrils where it should have been Sam talked with a nasal twang. A fine old fellow with a good knowledge of wild cattle. Boss Thompson kept this worthy abo tailing up the mobs and he never lost any.

Pickle Tommy is described by Charley Thompson as the most wonderful black man that ever rode a horse in the Mallee. As a boy, Charley saw much of Pickle Tommy who was very well made, weighed about 11 stone and was exceptionally hardy. So hardy was Tommy that he would go out on foot and shoot bulls all day without a drink of water. As a horseman, well, wherever a horse could go, Tommy could ride him and in scrub riding he could lose any white man. In riding, Tommy let his horse pick its own way, never pulling it about. And Tommy never tore his clothes. It was really he who taught the then boy, Charley Thompson to scrub ride and Charley became as good, save for tearing of clothes. A clever fellow was Tommy in other ways. He knew the habits of all the wild bush creatures including insects and was a wonderful tracker. Did anyone want any conceivable thing to be found in the bush, in a short time Tommy would find it. Always good mannered and always ready to teach Tommy was invaluable as mate and friend and to him Charley Thompson pays high tribute as philosopher, guide and friend.


Following the death of Johnny Thompson, that historic wild cattle killer was reported as having shot a couple of thousand wild bulls with his revolver. His son Charley corrects this by saying that his father seldom, if ever, used a revolver. The weapon used by him was a shotgun, the barrel of which was cut off to a length of about 18 inches, so that the gun could be used in the scrub with one hand. The gun was a muzzle loader, but for celerity in loading a sort of cartridge was made. The cartridge was made of paper, the lead bullet gummed into it, the powder dropped in and the end of the cartridge twisted up. The cartridges were carried in the pocket, and when the shooter was galloping in the bush, he bit off the twisted end, dropped the cartridge in the barrel and one ramming did the job. If powder and bullet would have been separate, two rammings would have been needed. Capping the gun made for the most delay but the cattle-shooters became so expert that their speed in loading was marvellous. Those cattle shooters also had the old-fashioned "horse pistols" and Johnny Thompson had a breech- loading Whitworth rifle for foot work.


Pearce would gallop straight in on six or seven cattle found in the scrub and would shoot fast, killing one every 100 yards as they ran. The shots would be right behind the shoulder, scorching the hair. But, says Charley Thompson, if Pearce was wonderful, he could not equal Johnny Thompson, who single-handed was known to start 16 or 17 head and shoot them all before drawing rein. Ye gods, what a sight that must have been!


Skinning and carting was heavy work in the summer months. The skins were packed on pack-horses and conveyed to the main camp. They were stretched out on the level ground and wind-dried. By and by they were doubled over straight down the back, then each end was turned in and the hide re-doubled and took shape for transit. Packed on top of the other they were weighted down until fetched by the station carts.


When the great mustering for market was done, mallee yards were constructed on various favourable sites on the station. Having to stand great strain they were built very strongly. Big outer posts were set and were notched at every foot to take stout rails, then plain inside posts were set against them to hold the rails in place and the posts were lashed together with greenhide. There were four large yards - a race for drafting, a branding yard and two yards to hold the cattle when first caught. The cattle were kept in the yards a couple of days to settle them down. When steadied down a little they were taken out by the blacks in company with quiet cattle and were "couched" down or fed. When the original muster was made the wild cattle were usually found in small mobs and hunted in to where tame cattle were well spread. The wild cattle by that time were tired. The reason the tame or quiet cattle were spread was that if bunched up they might be missed and the wild cattle could not alone be turned and handled. When wild and tame cattle were mixed the mob would be headed for the yards. The same thing was repeated throughout the great muster.


On certain days branding was done. The cattle were very mixed - bulls, cows and young stock. Bulls up to any age were branded Circle K(the old Kulkyne brand Mildura Station at that time branded Circle J). Any strays in the mob were returned to their owners.


Mustering continued actively , but when a really good catch had been made a rest of a week or so would be taken. It would then need the whole staff to take the cattle out for a feed and keep them steady. The first mustering was started at Wymlet. After being steadied down the cattle were shifted to Ouyen district and kept there a month or two, then they were driven back to Wymlet for another muster. Later the shift was to Raak and more mustering was done until a total of about 600 head were got. Eventually the whole mob were taken to Kulkyne homestead where Mr Ross, the manager, took delivery and the blacks were set to holding them on feed. The cattle became very quiet and put on good condition. Finally the mob were sent on the track for Newmarket, Paul Clifford in charge. Clifford had been with Ross for some years and was a good drover. In going to Newmarket the big mob passed through Tiega to Pine Plains, hence through Horsham to Melbourne.

THE VENTURE A FINANCIAL FAILURE. The venture was a financial failure, as Johnny Thompson had been allowed #1 per head for the muster and the cattle only averaged #1 per head on the market. That ended the mustering of wild cattle for sale.


Mr Ross now determined to shoot all troublesome cattle left, and Johnny Thompson took the contract at 7/- for cows and 10/- for bulls. No less than 1200 head were shot on Kulkyne. Thompson then went to Mildura Station under Mr Hugh Jamieson and his family lived for a time at the outstation at Cowarp (now known as Carwarp) This outstation known as Coward Station was about where the location now known as Nangiloc stands. Thompson's job was cleaning up all the wild cattle at Cowarp


Charlie Thompson of Kulkyne well-remembers Hugh Jamieson, boss of Mildura in those early days. Jamieson was a very military Englishman, evidently an ex-officer. Tall, thin and wiry, he looked the thorough soldier type, and Mr Thompson thinks he went through the Indian Mutiny. He was a bachelor. Mildura Station, later known as "The Old Homestead" , was right on the river frontage near where Mildura Lock is now placed and the woolshed was straight west and stood where "St Anne's" (built by Mr Staughton and for long the home of the Bowring family) stands in these days. Mr Sandiland was Jamieson's overseer and Walter Strus was head stockman. Charley Thompson remembers Sims as a very good horseman, quiet and inoffensive and a thorough bushman. Sims favourite mount was a pony called "Tom Thumb" which was as good as a dog in holding stock. While Sims boiled the billy the pony would hold the cattle, reins tied up and would charge any fractious beast just as a dog would.At this stage, young Charley Thompson, then about 13 years of age would ride to Mildura with his father, Johnny Thompson and meet Mr Jamieson who took a liking to the boy and desired him to be his "coachman".


Having secured Charley, Mr Jamieson resurrected an old red uniform and clothed the boy in it. The uniform was much too large of course and sleeves and trousers were rolled up. The blacks laughed heartily at the figure cut by the boy, and this made him sullen so the practice of making him wear the uniform was discontinued. Charley remained with Jamieson as driver and rider for a couple of years.


Now there was a bad blackfellow on Mildura , a big, powerful, ugly-tempered chap called "Mildura Dick" One evening when Jamieson and Sandiland were having a friendly glass, Dick walked in and was allowed a drink or two, then was told to go to his camp as he was becoming a nuisance. Dick refused to go and wanted more drink. Jamieson said he'd better get out before he was chucked out. Dick defied his boss and Jamieson called on Sandiland to put him out. Dick proved too much for Sandiland and took possession. Getting up, Jamieson rushed to his room and secured his sword, but Dick was fly and as the ex-soldier came through the door snapped the sword out of his hand. Then sword in possession, the black sat down at the table and helped himself a-plenty to the liquor while the helpless whites watched him. But very shortly the right man in the right place appeared in the person of Johnny Thompson. He gave Dick one wallop and knocked him out. The whites then took the black to the stable and lashed him to a post and when young Charley Thompson, who had been a scared but interested spectator of the whole business went to have a peep in the morning, Dick was sound asleep. Later when unbound the black could not walk a step so he was laid out in the sun for a while. He rolled about and finally, clutching at the stable wall, got to his feet. Later he danced a jig to get his blood circulation going and eventually he staggered down to the bank of the river (later known as "Pinkie Bend") where was a camp of blacks, and disappeared. He was not seen again in Mildura for some years.


After mustering and shooting some 700 cattle on Mildura-Cowarp Johnny Thompson retired and took on hotel life, as stated at the beginning of this story.


Taking up his bush career young Charley Thompson went on Mildura run, living with Sims the stockman, and looking after sheep etc. Mildura run then ranged from where the Merbein distillery now stands, to what is now known as Colignan, a long river frontage with back country ranging 35 miles south. Came the taking over of Mildura from Mr Jamieson by Mr McEdwards. Young Charley Thompson was on the exchange muster. McEdwards ran the station from 1883 or 1884 , when rabbits and bad seasons became a handicap. At this time Mr J.J. Robinson, later of Kulkyne, was Mr McEdwards overseer (a relative of McEdwards he had come to him as a lad, and "Dick" Black was overseer, with Walter Sims remaining as head stockman.) Mildura carried from 40,000 to 50,000 sheep once on a time, but 30,000 would be the average in normal seasons before the bad times. In the bad times, after the rabbits came, the carry dropped very low. To the best of Mr Thompson's recollection it was about 1886 when Messrs Swan and Grant took over from McEdwards, the latter taking up country in Queensland with J.J. Robinson as manager. Black also left, going as manager of another station of McEdwards in Victoria. Not long after Mr McEdwards sold out in Queensland and took over Kulkyne from "Money" Miller installing J.J. Robinson there as manager.


Mr William Patterson became manager for Swan and Grant at Mildura and this firm also took over Mallee Cliffs station from Mr Robert McFarland.


About 1886, gave Mr Thompson, there arrived at Mildura station a mysterious individual who set all those not to the know, to wondering who he was and what he was doing, especially when he and Mr Patterson knocked about digging holes and bagging the earth from them - probably the very first soil survey of Mildura. By 1887 the Chaffeys took over Mildura from Swan and Grant and the identity of the mysterious stranger was revealed - He was Mr George Chaffey. The Chaffey family soon became well-known and Charley Thompson and Ben Chaffey became great pals - a friendship that has lasted. Later on Charley became a stockman for Ben Chaffey, travelling sheep and buying cattle in Victoria.


In the first days of change the old-timers (stockmen .. etc) had no time for the Chaffeys and their irrigation scheme. They predicted failure. Really, the old station hands did not want the change.


It was about 1885 that John Crozier (the Honorable John Crozier) retired from Kulnine and Mr William Crozier of Moorna took the station over and worked it in conjunction with Moorna, with Mr Arthur Crozier as full manager of Kulnine. Seasons were bad and a lot of stock were removed; 400 head of well-bred horses were mustered up for sale at Adelaide. The future great mare "Ruby" was in the draft, but Arthur Crozier, a fine judge of a horse, fancied her, took her out and put her in the stable as his hack. Later she was put in training and won the Flying Handicap at Wentworth. The following year she won the double on the same course and was sent down to Adelaide. There and in Melbourne she became famous as the winner of many races . When William Crozier died, Arthur Crozier took over Kulnine, but the country never regained its old-time pastoral value and of late years has been cut up to very largely form the Millewa wheat growing area.


The teller of this story of "old-timers" in the district of which Mildura is the centre, himself became, as time went on, a noted horseman and bushman. Really, during his early days, he absorbed all that the bush could teach him - the bush of the early-day whites, the blacks and the free stock and game. The best of his younger days were spent at Cowra , then managed by Mr Elliot Crozier . At this outstation of Kulnine the Thompson and Crozier children ran together and Cowra was Charley's home from 1868 well on into the eighties. William Crozier was the boy's great pal and Mr and Mr Elliot Crozier were his second father and mother. When the old people had passed away young Charley went to Kulkyne under Mr J.J. Robinson and here we will check the main story while he tells us of the blacks in the days when he was young.

In those early seventies when the Thompson family lived at Mournpool and Johnny Thomspon was shooting cattle on Kulkyne there were hundreds of blacks in the district. Charley remembers them as peaceful and fine healthy folk. Some of the blacks weighed up to 17 or 18 stone. With plenty of fish and game to eat, the blacks were fat and happy - fine looking people. There were so many fish in the lakes that the water was not too good for drinking purposes. Fish could be caught as fast as a line was thrown in the water. The big 1870 flood filled the swamps and in 1873 hundreds of tons of fish lay stinking in the small dry lakes.


The main food of the blacks was game, fish and yams of various kinds (later killed out by the rabbits) and at certain times the blacks would leave the lakes and travel widely, living principally on kangaroos and emus. They had no guns but simply reed spears and waddies; not even a boomerang, such as fiction, not fact, would give them.


Party number one - the hunters, would travel from the lakes (now well-known Hattah or Chalka series) into the Raak country. As they went they would kill game, and when killed , the emus or kangaroos would be cooked. Big holes would be dug as ovens, the game would be plucked and cleaned out and then set on hot coals at the bottom of the hole and covered with other hot coals. Finally the whole fire-hole or oven would be covered with earth, well-beaten down to prevent escape of heat and to exclude air. The food thus cooked was left in cache as it were, and this proceeding was carried out at every camp made. Travel forward was at the rate of about ten miles a day, with off-side hunting. From Raak the party would go to Wymlet, thence to Tiega where was good hunting country. Here they would stay about a week, from Tiega the journey would be toward Ouyen and later back to the lakes.


The second party would consist of the gins, picaninnies and old folk. These carried a certain amount of food at the start and would travel the same route, living mainly on the cached food. With each party, goannas ... etc were a fresh food consumed at once. The second party moved very slowly, a clothesless lot, and subsisting on the natural food of the country. These trips were mostly made during the winter.


The Kulkyne blacks were expert swimmers and canoers, and, strange to say, never interfered with the wild cattle. The blacks did all the work of fencing Kulkyne.


One Toby was a figure among the Kulkyne blacks, although not originally of them. He had a charge of buckshot in his back, a souvenir of the massacre of blacks at Rufus Creek. He was contractor for the fencing job - a big fellow over 6 feet in height. A joke on Toby at the station store was that he could never understand the word "ditto" in his bills. His joke on the storekeeper was that he demanded details. Toby had 30 or 40 blacks in his gang. He was very cunning and when going out on contract would ask the storekeeper, Mr Leslie, "What about mutton?" Mr Leslie would tell him he did not need mutton - there were plenty of possums .. etc. Toby would wink his eye and go out then, but if one dropped into his camp, one would find plenty of mutton there.


When any contract was finished Toby would march his tribe in for a square-up. He would draw about #2 or #3 for himself and the others might get #1 or 10/- apiece. The gang would then leave the station for the nearest pub, all smiling and happy. The nearest pub was just across the river at Mount Dispersion. There was also a wine-shanty a mile down river at Tapaulin. The blacks would spend a week on the New South Wales side and there would be plenty of fighting. They would knock each other about fearfully. Any grudge would come out during the drinking and the fights would be savage indeed. Always, after one of these big sprees, there would be two or three funerals. When the blacks came back to Kulkyne they would look a very sorry lot. But when out on a hunting trip again they would soon recover and look splendid fellows - fat on fish, ducks ... etc.


Blacks would come down the Murray from Euston in their canoes to the number of 100 or 200. They had fine large and small canoes made from the bark of the gum-tree, burnt and shaped. Whole families of up to 10 or a dozen would occupy one big canoe. The young fellows would have light canoes. The canoes would be strung out close to the river bank, the blacks pushing or pulling along and paddling. They only paddled when crossing the river. Mr Thompson has watched them time and again in his younger days an interesting and picturesque sight.

One of his observations was of the way cooking was done aboard the big family canoes. The blacks worked up a large bit of clay into the form of a basin. This was placed in the bottom of the canoe. Then they built a fire in it and would cook a lot of fish and ducks at one time.


With this food was always eaten a lump of pig face, green. No food was eaten without pig face. When asked by Mr Thompson why they did this, reply was "White phella eatum salt, black phella eatum pig face." When the water was squeezed out of the pig face, plenty of salt was found. Old blacks said that before the whites came pig face was always used as salt.


Pig face grew very thickly on Kulkyne and all stock and large game ate it. There were four varieties of it, one very fine, another very coarse . It grew along the ground as a creeper and put out pods also a large red flower. Where the flowers came was a large bulb about the size of a pigeon's egg. In this bulb was very fine seed and a rather sweetish water. The seeds were very nice to eat. Mr Thompson ate them himself as a lad. When the fruit or pod was ripe it was bright yellow and it was the pods that the black used as his bread and salt. All varieties were edible but the big coarse one was mostly used. Crushed it was like meal.


Nardoo was also much eaten. The nardoo seed was placed in a dish of granite and ground up with a small stone by the gins. These stone untensils, Mr Thompson thinks, came from the mountains. They were certainly not locally procured. Probably they came in exchange or barter with other tribes.


Travelling the river the blacks slept in their canoes wrapped in blankets and furs.


Throwing the "Wit-Wit"

The game of "wit wit", says Mr Thompson, was the principal game of the Kulkyne blacks. They made a small oval piece of hard white mallee, about three inches long. A hole was burnt in one end of this, and a supple twig of gum was inserted. To hold this in place hot sandalwood gum was poured into the hole and allowed to set hard, the twig being securely bound in with kangaroo sinews - a very strong job.

Method of Playing the Game

The method of playing the game was to hold the "wit wit" by the stem, overhead and swing it forward underhand, far out on the green turf. The loosened "wit wit" would often land 150 yards away and bounding on again would reach a total of 200 yards or more. He who achieved the longest distance was the winner.Mr Thompson has often seen at least 100 blacks laughing and jabbering over this game.


Contrary to popular belief the boomerang was not used for hunting purposes but for fighting and as a game. The fighting boomerang was a straight-made device which hit what it was aimed at and did not return to the thrower. The boomerang used in sporting was the more curved sort.


Turtle-hunting was a sport with a purpose. The black hunter would lie in the water until a turtle showed its head above the surface. Then the black would dive quickly and catch the creature by the leg. The method of killing was very crude. The black hunter would take two short pieces of wood and work them into the turtle's nose until it died.


It was not until 1890 that Charley Thompson caught what he believes to have been the first fox in the Northern Mallee. He was then trapping wild dogs at Ouyen. He gave the skin to Mr William Patterson, manager of Mildura Station, who most earnestly desired it. Later foxes became plentiful


It was in 1872 that Charley Thompson first saw specimens of the true Australian dingo at Kulkyne. They were rather rare, small and pretty - about the size of a fox-terrier. The hair was longish but smooth, the tail bushy. The head was small with pricked ears. The color was dark yellow. There were no mongrel wild dogs in those days. It was when the domestic dogs became numerous in the country that the larger type of wild dig began to appear. These were of all colors - including blacks and brindles. The owner of Tapio Station, Mr Brooks, used to send to Melbourne for dogs to be distributed among the rabbiters on the run, and Mr Thompson has known as many as 200 of these dogs to arrive at one time on barges in the river. These dogs were never tied up and therefore many went wild. Not many years afterward, #1 to 30/- a head was paid for the killing of the progeny. The original small dingo was not a sheep-killer by instinct or habit, though he might kill one occasionally, but not for sport.


Among wild games of those early days in the Northern Mallee were the kangaroo, wallaby, kangaroo rat, "Bildee" (a remarkable creature with a snout like a pig and a hop like a kangaroo and which burrowed like a rabbit and which was a creature of the night and very numerous in on the New South Wales side of the Murray) Kangaroos were red, blue and brown. Also there were the emus and wild turkeys, the latter alas, now wiped out. There were two kinds of wild turkey - the turkey of the plains and the turkey of the scrub. The latter was half the size of the former, light grey in color and hard to see in the bush. The turkey of the plains was a big handsome bird with a black cap, a white breast and a black bar across the breast from wing to wing.


Of the falcon or duck hawk there were two types. One says Mr Thompson was a true sportsman. He killed in the air, not on the ground. Heavily built, very strong of feather and massive of breast, this falcon had a light blue back and a grey speckled chest. He travelled swift and low and would shoot up under a duck in flight and strike it with terrific force under the tail, crushing its entrails. The duck would lose all control of itself and fall to the ground - dead in no time. The hawk might strike up to three ducks in one flock, so swift was his attack. Like as the old-time falcon-using sportsman in the old world the blacks thought much of this bird and utilised his kills. As Mr Thompson puts it; "This type of falcon was a good friend to us - as good as a gun." Particularly was the bird a great help to the blacks when they were getting ducks.A fast-flying flock pursued by a hawk would come down into the net, hawk and all. The hawk was gently got out of the net and let go. This variety, Mr Thompson says, was very plentiful in the old days, but is very scarce now. Very thick is the breast and practically armour-feathered over it was the bird and Mr Thompson has seen him strike a scrub turkey in the air and bring it down. No pigeon or cockatoo could escape him. He could fly up straight from the ground and strike as his victim flew from tree to tree. When any victim was cleaned for cooking purposes , the entrails would be found to be completely crushed.

The smaller falcon was compact with feathers less wiry. He was brown-backed with a grey ring low down on the neck and to the roots of the wings. Working different from the bigger hawk he would fly at ducks and hook onto them bear them to the ground and tear their heads off. Mr Thompson has seen him do this and also take pigeons off the ground. This smaller type of hawk is still plentiful along the river.


A thorough-going bushman - stockman when he came to Kulkyne to be under Mr Robinson, we find Charley Thompson on the taking over of Kulkyne in the early nineteen hundreds By the Australian Mercantile and Lands Co. made manager of the station. He took hold in 1904 with the effects of the terrible 1902 drought as handicap. Kulkyne then embraced a vast area of country including 120,000 acres of the Raak country and 60,000 acres of river frontage. The stock on the station then consisted of some 400 head of horses, 2000 head of cattle and 17000 to 18000 sheep. Mr Thompson managed for the syndicate until 1892, but the station area was decreased before that. In 1913 Kulkyne was cut up into three blocks, and these were put up and tendered for. Mr Harry Losile of Prill Park took all of the run on the south of the home station, including Slab hut, the lake country and the "island". The syndicate tendered for and secured the homestead block ... etc. This left the company with eight miles of river frontage and a back strip ranging 25 miles into the Raak country. This lease was held by the company until the farmers came in and the station lease was cancelled. the only bit of old Kulkyne left then was the homestead and the outback tanks. This was of no use to the syndicate so Mr Thompson bought the 320 acres of freehold including the old homestead and secured a Crown attachment of 1000 acres.


Long was Kulkyne famous for its horses. Sires were Suffolk Punch, Clydsedale and the thoroughbreds "Merry Sailor", "Euthol", Wishing Cup", "Collingwood" .. etc. These horses were generally used in common good, strong mares for the raising of hacks .. etc. Many of the progeny were picked for Indian remounts, and there were also some good bloodstock. Even after becoming the owner of the remains of Kulkyne, Charley Thompson went on breeding bloodstock and still has a few fine animals in his pastures.


Throughout the Murray Valley, Charley Thompson is known and respected as one of the best horsemen the valley has ever known, whether in the stock or racing saddle. He is also known as a bush naturalist of the most reliable kind; a keen observer who knows whereof he speaks. It is to know him at home on Kulkyne - still horse-lover, still naturalist, still the quintessence of all that spells bushman to know him at his very best. It is because his chronicler knows him thus that this setting down of some of his reminiscences as we sat on logs in the shadows by the river, has been a little labour of love.

Evening falls as I lay down my pen and in fancy I can hear Thompson calling to his wild-game pets, some possums that live in a tree overhanging his sleep-out: "Possie, come possie - come on possies!" And lo, the wild-tame possums come down the sloping branches to eat bread from his fingers, as unafraid of him as are his horses that come and group around him in the paddock at his whistle or call. The pass - those grey-haired sons of the bushland - aye they pass, but for long yet may Charley Thompson of Kulkyne" call up his horses from the pastures. I am proud indeed to have ridden with him and his kind and to be one of the family at Kulkyne when I go there. This is Charley Thompson's story but Charley's bushmen brothers, Bob and Alec, and his sister Mrs Oatey, belong in the setting of it as do also younger ones.

The wheat-growing farmers have trenched on the lands of Kulnine and Kulkyne until Mr Ken Crozier holds but little of the vast original Kulnine and Mr Charley Thompson holds but little of original Kulkyne, but in Charley Thompson's story we have echoes of the past. I for one have been glad to hear them.

(Thanks to Frank Tucker for compiling this information)