Monday, July 25, 2016

A good day at Paddy's Lagoon

It is truly amazing what you can find if you happen to ask the right person at the right time.

Traveling from Cloncurry to Normanton recently I called in at Donor's Hill station and spoke to the manager there about any possible graves on the property. The manager, Dan, informed me that he knew of only one grave at the junction of the Flinders and Gregory rivers, that it had no identifying marks and that it was hard to find. So, I continued on to Normanton.

In Normanton I began asking around if anyone knew of any McDOUGALLs or BAXTERs. I wanted to find George Frederick BAXTER and his wife, Mary Ann BAXTER (nee JOHNSTON), both of whose death certificates stated that they were buried at Paddy's Lagoon, which is part of the Donor's Hill station. George died 30th of July, 1898 and Mary died almost six years later on 20th July, 1904.

I was told to go to the BP service station in town and ask for a Jack O'NEIL who was one of the oldest people in town. When I arrived there were three men sitting in the driveway chatting, one was Jack, another was Ron STURMFELS and Pat GALLAGHER was also there, along with Wayne REEVES, the owner of the station who was balancing a tyre. I sat and began chatting and when I mentioned that I was looking for any information about any McDOUGALLs or BAXTERs, Wayne replied that he had a photograph of a BAXTER grave. "Let me finish balancing this tyre and I'll go and get it for you."

When he returned, he showed me two photographs of the same grave.

To my surprise it was my maternal great grand father, George Frederick BAXTER. It turns out that Wayne once worked on Donor's Hill station mustering a couple of decades ago and when he saw the grave he photographed it. I asked if he would be able to tell me how to find it, to which he gave me directions but added that it would be hard to find because of all of the growth over the past couple of decades.

I set off from Normanton at 6am to search for George in the cool of the day. Paddy's Lagoon is one hours drive south on the Burke Development Road where I find a gate that opens to a one time graded track along a boundary fence. I travel about three kilometers along the fence to the lagoon, which is about one kilometer long and up to eighty meters wide. It has a good supply of water in it, only because of recent rain and there is a small variety of bird life, including a couple of pelicans and half a dozen brolgas. First off I traverse the whole of the eastern side but don't find anything and then turn my attention the the western side.

About half way down the lagoon I come across a number of old stumps, too many together, and too many in straight lines to be natural vegetation. I remember Wayne telling me that these gidgee (Acacia cambagei) stumps were all that remained of the hotel that once stood there next to the lagoon. If I can find where the hotel once stood, then George and Mary Ann can't be far away.

I continue further towards the southern end of the lagoon and half a kilometer later I find what I'm looking for, George's grave.

What a lonely spot. The death certificate for his wife Mary Ann BAXTER (nee JOHNSTON) says that she is also buried here, I do hope she is with George to keep him company.

I find myself standing here on the 24th of July, 2016, six days short of 118 years after George had died wondering what sort of a life he must have had in such a place. I wonder if George and Mary were living in and or running the hotel further up the track.

Paddy's Lagoon is a quiet restful place with a good supply of water. There were two pelicans and about a dozen brolgas along with some ducks and other birds. There were only two cattle in the area.

Finding George's grave has made the trip to Normanton worthwhile.