What lies within … Gigoomgan Station Records

Gigoomgan (gigum-dhan) 'a place of white cockatoos'

The records relating to Gigoomgan Station held at the State Library of Queensland are old, they are not in pristine condition, in fact some are only photocopies, but what lies within are the stories of those who lived and worked on this land, before – during – and after European settlement.

Map of Gigoomgan and surrounds, 2021

Commonly known as 'pioneer' records they also contain many associated stories –

  • The promise of a 'better life' for the settlers who came to establish farms based on their northern hemisphere knowledge  -  the great opportunities to be had [and lost] both in pastoral pursuits and the lure of gold and other valuable minerals.
  • Dispossession of the traditional owners of the lands - the destruction of native grassland, felling of ancient timbers, fencing off their food and water supplies and places of cultural significance; and yet for those who stayed ... their stories of adapting to slave-like relationships, overcoming and enduring violence and punishment and becoming valued workers for the station owners
  • Documentary footprints of South Sea Islanders – taken from their Pacific island homelands – to supply labour on sugar plantations and pastoral stations
  • Equally controversial, the employment of South Asian (Chinese and Indian) Coolie indentured labourers, underpaid and undervalued, who were expected to be docile servants, and work  outside of the laws, standards and rights that applied to white free workers at the same task.

Gigoomgan Station is located on Munna Creek, a tributary of the Mary River. Well situated between Gayndah and Maryborough in the Wide Bay region, it began its life as a sheep run of 16,000 acres, but the harsh conditions did not suit and the sheep failed to thrive. In their stead cattle were introduced and Gigoomgan remains today a prosperous crossbreed property running on over 9,000 acres [4000 hectares].

First occupied by the Scott brothers in 1848, it was next taken up by Henry Cox Corfield, (1823-1883) who in 1850 sold the run to brothers James and Norman Leith-Hay, who in turn sold to Peter Anderson and George Leslie.

The journal kept by Peter Anderson who took up Gigoomgan in 1854, begins with a powerful narrative describing first hand encounters with the people of the Kabi Kabi Nation as he and his partner George Leslie sought to clear more land and establish sheep and food crops; no doubt influenced by previous violent encounters with the infamous Henry Corfield.

There is little to be found in other archives in relation to the original inhabitants of this area, although it is thought there were at least four tribes: the Taribelang, the Korenggoreng (Gooreng Gooreng, Gureng, the Kabi Kabi (Gubi Gubi) and the Djakunda (Djagunda).

Later entries by Anderson's nephew George Mant, continue to document their lives through daily records of the climate, who they employed, the work they performed, the rations issued and supplies purchased.

Extract from diary written by Peter Anderson, who took up Gigoomgan Station in 1854

Letter books, station diaries, ledgers, journals, receipts and accounts record the names and activities not only of European labourers, but also those of Aboriginal, South Sea Island, and South Asian heritage, the latter two being imported into Queensland to try and meet the demands of the large-scale primary industries.

Mant developed interests in a number of operations, he was a partner in the Alpha Sugar Company and Alpha Dairy, located on Tinana Creek; he actively encouraged mineral exploration on his property, where prospectors delved for gold, copper and other valuable minerals; and he was a pioneer in the frozen meat export trade, delivering quality beef to agents for sale within the country as well as overseas.

Registers of South Sea Islanders held at Queensland State Archives, show that Harry Palmer a partner of Mant's on Alpha Sugar Plantation, employed 94 South Sea Islander men and women for the years 1880 to 1883; Reginald Clayton manager for Mant at Gigoomgan and Alpha Sugar Plantation, is also registered as an employer.

George and Ellen Mant, Gigoomgan Station.

George Mant, ca 1910-1913, Negative number 73403, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland
Ellen Mant (nee Palmer), ca 1910-1915, Negative number 73404, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland

A door to door bull sale ...

In 1912 after a number of years of severe drought, Mant sought the assistance of his son Charles Mant an agent for Dalgety's, on how best to sell his stock. They devised a plan to rail the cattle from Boompa to Clermont and undertake a "door to door" sale to pastoral stations in the district. 36 letters, statements and receipts detail the venture; the employment of a Mr Plummer as drover, who was then replaced by Oscar Von Stieglitz; who although he encountered 4 floods and 15 inches of rain, managed to complete his assignment with few animals lost. [See Item 6, R 448, Gigoomgan Station and George Mant papers]

There is much to be found in these collections, for those seeking links to pioneer settlers, but also to those who were displaced, or who found food and shelter of sorts working for pastoralists who sought to carve out a living from Australia's sometimes unforgiving climes. By describing and facilitating discovery of these collections we can in some way commemorate and pay tribute to the contribution of those whose efforts laid the foundations of development of the Wide Bay-Burnett region.

Read more …

  • Aboriginal tribes in the Woocoo Shire. Published by Woocoo Historical Society, F2220 Fryer Library, University of Queensland. [Request]
  • Indian Coolies on the Fraser Coast [blog]
  • 'Preserving the contract: The experience of indentured labourers in the Wide Bay and Burnett districts in the nineteenth century' / by Margaret Slocomb. Labour History, No. 113, Nov 2017: 103-132

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