The Unmarked Graves of Billiluna Station in the Kimberley Region of Western Australia

 

Deceased content warning : this paper contains the images of deceased Aboriginal persons.

Laws and attitudes : some of the language reflecting this era may seem harsh and callous today, but was the norm for the time.

 

 

Introduction

This paper is a desktop review of events that now happened nearly 100 years ago. It is thus not always possible to use the terminology required in today’s politically correct world when describing this history.

Two whitemen were killed on a remote pastoral lease in Western Australia, in 1922. Even today this location is some 200 kilometres by road south of the nearest major habitation of Halls Creek. Being on the edge of the Great Sandy and Tanami Deserts it is no less remote today than it was in 1922. Please refer to Figure 1 below. The men were then buried by their aboriginal workers, and subsequently after police onsite examination, but since that time their graves have rarely been located as far as it is known.

While the story of the murders made the printed media of the time its propagation has mainly been oral, relying on fallible human memory. In addition, mapping at the time was very basic and the names of many places were not shown as we know them today, and even if they were, their geographical relativity/interconnectivity was not necessarily correct. Nevertheless, from all the recorded narratives and documents there are reliable specifics. The aim of this review is to take original material along with spatial information of the era and today and try to relate it all in a modern framework.

Figure 1 : Modified map of the Shire of Halls Creek, WA at 2002 with the approximate location of the incident indicated by the red pin (courtesy WA Government).

 

Background

The Banjo Affair, by which the story of the murders is generally known, is documented in the references so repetition of the story is unnecessary. The commonly accepted facts appear to be that :

-

It was the first week, possibly the sixth of September 1922;

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Then Station Manager Joseph Andrew Condren (c1865-1922) together with the only other whiteman in the area Timothy Sullivan (c1892-1922), were at yards with their aboriginal station hands (Landgate, Western Australia, during a nomenclature investigation of the name of a nearby feature Sullivan Hill confirmed Sullivan’s name as being Sullivan and not O’Sullivan as in some documents);

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One of the aboriginal station hands named Banjo, shot and killed Condren and wounded Sullivan, who died soon after;

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At least one of the aboriginal station hands then went to the next station for help;

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John Francis Jack Barry, Manager Sturt’s Creek, alerted by Banjo’s messenger(s) around 13 or 14 September, went to the site and confirmed the incident in writing dated 17 September 1922;

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On 21 September 1922, Constable (Mounted) 943, John Franklin Flinders, OIC of Halls Creek Police, exhumed both bodies and observed Condren had been likely shot but drew no conclusion as to Sullivan’s cause of death;

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New Station Manager, Francis Joseph Dick Rowan, arrived from Halls Creek and accompanied Flinders to the gravesites;

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Flinders noted that it was fourteen miles from the station to the gravesite and the graves were 400 yards (350 metres approximately) apart;

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Before leaving Flinders made arrangements with Rowan to properly inter the bodies;

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When news of the murders reached Constable JJ Cooney, based at Turkey Creek, he went to assist and in his official report noted on 5-6 October, 1922, that he was at Billiluna Station and interviewed the new manager, Dick Rowan;

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On Friday 2 October, 1925, Michael Terry’s expedition visited the gravesites and his party along with then Station Manager Dick Rowan were photographed at both graves;

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Terry noted that it was four miles from the homestead to the gravesites;

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Much later in 1995, 1990 photographs of both Condren’s and Sullivan’s grave were published in the book Nyibayarri : Kimberley Tracker by Jack Bohemia and Bill McGregor.

 

Joseph Condren, Jack Barry and Dick Rowan in Official Records

From the Western Australian Post Office Directories (State Library of Western Australia, 2016) for Halls Creek, and the relevant Electoral Rolls for the Western Australia, Legislative Assembly, Kimberley Electoral District the following, significant information listed below, was extracted. The name of the station manager was only noted where it was specifically recorded that that person was indeed the manager. Any other persons’ or entities’ name(s) associated with a station was noted under Owner(s)/Occupier(s). Other information about the year is in the Notes.  

 

Year

Lease

Owner(s)/Occupier(s)

Manager

Note

1915

Flora Valley

Gordon Downs

Sturts Creek

Buchanan & Gordon Brothers

Farquharson Brothers

Vestey Brothers

 

 

AB Seaton

 

 

Media reported Ludlow J ffrench (sic) appointed Manager Sturt River (sic) in 1915

1916

Flora Valley

Gordon Downs

Sturts Creek

Vestey Brothers

Farquharson Brothers

Vestey Brothers

RR MacPherson

 

WE Richards

 

 

ffrench said to be Manager Sturts Creek also in 1916

1917

Flora Valley

Gordon Downs

Sturts Creek

Vestey Brothers

Farquharson Brothers

Vestey Brothers

RR MacPherson

 

L ffrench

 

 

After ffrench and before Condren, Ted Hesse said to have managed Sturts Creek

1918

Flora Valley

Gordon Downs

Sturts Creek

Vestey Brothers

Farquharson Brothers

Vestey Brothers

RR MacPherson

 

J Condren

 

 

Clarrie Wilkinson managed Sturts Creek from 1917, after Condren left for Billiluna

1919

Flora Valley

Gordon Downs

Sturts Creek

Vestey Brothers

Farquharson Brothers

Vestey Brothers

RR MacPherson

 

J Condren

Flinders, JF first listed as Constable in Charge, Halls Creek

1920

Flora Valley

Gordon Downs

Sturts Creek

Vestey Brothers

Farquharson Brothers

Vestey Brothers

RR MacPherson

JT Egan

J Condren

 

1921

Flora Valley

Gordon Downs

Sturts Creek

Flora Valley & Margaret Ltd

Aust. Investment Agency

Sturt Pastoral Co Ltd

Richard Laffin

Prideaux, Frederick J first listed as Postmaster & Magistrate, Halls Creek

1922

Flora Valley

Gordon Downs

Sturts Creek

Flora Valley & Margaret Ltd

Aust. Investment Agency

Sturt Pastoral Co Ltd

Richard Laffin

 

J Barry

 

 

Sturts Creek still part of the Vestey Group

1923

Flora Valley

Gordon Downs

Sturts Creek

Flora Valley & Margaret Ltd

Aust. Investment Agency

Sturt Pastoral Co Ltd

Richard Laffin

 

J Barry

Australian Investment Agency (AIA) another name for Vestey Brothers or the Vestey Group

1924

Flora Valley

Gordon Downs

Sturts Creek

Flora Valley & Margaret Ltd

Aust. Investment Agency

Sturt Pastoral Co Ltd

Richard Laffin

 

J Barry

 

1925

Flora Valley

Gordon Downs

Sturts Creek

Billiluna

Flora Valley & Margaret Ltd

Aust. Investment Agency

Sturt Pastoral Co Ltd

Billiluna Pastoral Co Ltd

 

A Manderson

J Barry

F Rowan

 

 

 

Terry (1927) reported Rowan as Manager Billiluna

1926

Flora Valley

Gordon Downs

Sturt Creek

Billiluna

Flora Valley & Margaret Ltd

Aust. Investment Agency

Sturt Pastoral Co Ltd

Billiluna Pastoral Co Ltd

 

A Manderson

J Barry

F Rowan

 

Terry (1927) mentions Manager Manderson

1927

Flora Valley

Gordon Downs

Sturt Creek

Billiluna

Flora Valley & Margaret Ltd

Aust. Investment Agency

Sturt Pastoral Co Ltd

Billiluna Pastoral Co Ltd

 

A Manderson

J Barry

F Rowan

 

 

Gordon Downs Pty. Ltd. and Sturt Creek Pastoral Co. Pty Ltd. companies in the Vestey Group

1928

Flora Valley

Gordon Downs

Sturt Creek

Billiluna

Flora Valley & Margaret Ltd

Aust. Investment Agency

Sturt Pastoral Co Ltd

Billiluna Pastoral Co Ltd

 

A Manderson

J Barry

F Rowan

 

1930

Sturt Creek

Sturt Pastoral Co. Ltd

J Barry

 

1941/42

 

 

 

Rowan no longer listed

1945-49

(last published 1949)

 

 

 

 

Billiluna no longer listed

 

The above table then indicates that Joseph Condren was Station Manager, Sturts Creek Station from 1918 to 1920. Jack Barry is then listed from 1922 to 1930 as Station Manager, Sturts Creek Station. There is no listing of a manager for Billiluna before 1925 after which Francis Rowan is listed as Station Manager, Billiluna. It is important to note that Francis Joseph Dick Rowan is sometimes formally referred to as Richard Rowan in the belief that Dick was the diminutive when in fact it was a preferred name. Further, the Post Office directory listing Rowan post 1938 is an oversight as Rowan died in 1938 as a result of injuries from a workplace accident (Wise, 2018).

Two other officials involved in this matter are also listed above. John Franklin Flinders, first listed in 1919 as Constable in Charge, Halls Creek, and Frederick J Prideaux, first listed in 1921 as Postmaster & Magistrate (and Coroner), Halls Creek. Spencer Arthur Doman (1891-1953) was closely associated with Billiluna in the mid 1950s and died tragically whilst overseas on 22 June 1953. Michael Joseph Dick Kilmartin, then prospector of Gordon Downs Station, first appeared on the February 1924 electoral roll. Kilmartin later became associated with Michael Terry’s 1925 expedition and died on 25 June 1953 at age 72. Coincidentally, page 22 of the Adelaide newspaper, The Advertiser, of Friday 26 June 1953 contains notice of both Doman’s and Kilmartin’s passing.

Land tenure, acquired through services of Landgate Western Australia (2017) information showed that Joseph Condren obtained tenure over nearly 380,000 acres of Crown Land in July 1920. The area comprised three leases; two leases being of 20,000 acres each around today’s Billiluna (Mindibungu) and nearly 340,000 acres straddling Sturt Creek in the region of Billiluna Pool. These three leases are indicated by the red stripes in the map at Figure 2 below. A few months later on 8 December 1920 the lease for the 340,000 acres, previously registered on 7 July 1920, was transferred by endorsement i.e. signed over, to the Billiluna Pastoral Company Limited of No.10, Bank of New South Wales Chambers, St Georges Terrace Perth. On 31 January 1923 the mortgage (760/1923) was taken over from the Billiluna Pastoral Company Limited by Robert Falconer of Walter Street Claremont. The mortgage was subsequently discharged on 19 August 1926.

An advertisement had appeared on page 15 of The West Australian newspaper of Friday 27 March 1925, stating that : In order to determine a deceased estate, Tenders are invited for the Purchase of Billiluna Cattle Station as a going concern. Thus, the Billiluna sale to Robert Falconer comprised the original areas previously leased by Condren, the Billiluna Pastoral Co Ltd, and the Sturt Pastoral Co Ltd. Figure 3 below shows the lease boundaries as depicted at 1924.

 

Figure 2 : Section of the circa 1920 Pastoral Map of the era, showing Billiluna Pool (highlighted by green flash), and the surrounding leases in the names of J. Condren (red stripes), the Billiluna Pastoral Company Limited (light green stripes) and Sturt Pastoral Company Limited (blue crosshatch).

 

Figure 3 : Section of the 1924, Map of Western Australia showing localities of Sheep and Cattle Stations by the Department of Lands and Surveys, Western Australia, showing lease boundaries as in Figure 2 above. Courtesy National Library of Australia nla.obj-229849268.

 

Historical Setting

Explorers Augustus Charles Gregory (1819–1905) and David Wynford Carnegie (1871-1900) followed the now named Sturt Creek as part of their respective journeys in 1856 and 1897. Between these years, the cattlemen had taken up the land, such that by 1903 pastoral leases extended south along Sturt Creek to around todays Mindibungu (Billiluna). More can be found in the article The Historical Locations of Billiluna Homestead in the Kimberley Region of Western Australia (Wise, 2018).

To get their cattle to the southern markets from this remote region of Western Australia, Government appointed surveyor Alfred Wernam Canning with a party of 26 men, constructed watering points along a stock route. Originally named the Wiluna - Kimberley Stock Route, it is today known as the Canning Stock Route (CSR). During the period 1910 to 1959 the CSR saw some 35 mobs (of cattle) use the route. Twenty-nine of these mobs were cattle from Billiluna station. The name Billiluna has aboriginal origins and is understood to mean water hole (Landgate, 2013). It was first recorded by Canning in his naming of Billiluna Pool and went on to be the name of a property and Pastoral Company.

In the 1950s to 1970s survey activities associated with Australia’s national mapping programs were undertaken in this area. In association with the Western Australia Lands and Surveys Department, the Royal Australian Survey Corps and Department of the Interior, astrofixes were observed to provide horizontal control for the uncontoured, national R502 1: 250,000 scale map series in the 1950s. In the Billiluna region, the astrofix sites were accessed by both vehicle and helicopter (Casey and Nelligan, 1956, Wells, 1961). The location of the 1956 astrofix observed by Patrick Francis Nelligan of the then Western Australia Lands and Surveys Department is plotted in Figure 7 below.

By the mid 1960s, the Halls Creek to Well 35 section of the geodetic survey of Australia had been completed. To provide horizontal control for the later National Topographic Map Series (NTMS), which was to be contoured, in 1969 a National Mapping Ground Marking field party operated in the Billiluna region establishing a total of eight mapping control stations. Coordinates for these control stations were later obtained following Aerodist (airborne distance measuring) field operations in 1971.

In the late 1960s, the vertical control network was initially established by Department of the Interior levelling parties and later levelling parties under contract to Natmap. In the Billiluna region the major levelling traverses followed the then Canning Stock Route between Halls Creek and Wiluna and the then Tanami Road via Balgo and Rabbit Flat to Alice Springs. In the 1970s, Natmap’s levelling field parties connected both Aerodist control stations NM/F/595 and NM/F/366 to the levelling network.

For generating the contours from aerial photography, the required height control points were extracted from terrain profiles. The terrain profiles were acquired using Natmap’s airborne Laser Terrain Profiler (or WREMAPS1) along predefined flight paths. Natmap’s terrain profiling field party with the laser profiling system mounted in its contracted aircraft VH-EXP operated from Halls Creek in 1973 and Balgo in 1974.

Maps produced pre and post this Natmap mapping survey activity have the location for Billiluna homestead depicted in different places depending on the date of the mapping. Wise (2018) found that historically, Billiluna homestead has been located in four different places as shown in Figure 4 and summarised below :

 

Homestead Location

Era

Billiluna at Billiluna Pool

early 1922 (1) – early 1923 (2)

Billiluna on Durbai Creek

early 1923 (2) – between September 1932 and March 1938 but before 1943 (3)

Billiluna at Stretch Lagoon

between 1932 and 1938 but before 1943 (3) – around 1953 (4)

Mindibungu (Billiluna)

around 1953 (4) – today (5)

(1) approximate date of occupation even though land was leased from 1920.

(2) following Condren’s death in September 1922.

(3) the lease on which the Durbai Creek site was located was forfeited in September 1932 and Rowan died in March 1938 so the Durbai Creek site could have been abandoned around or between these dates as Landgate only has Billiluna at Stretch Lagoon prior to 1943. 

(4) the homestead north of Stretch Lagoon was built about 1953 according to The CWA of WA (undated), Kimberley Division Historical Cookery Book.

(5) until 1978 Billiluna was a homestead before the land was sold to the Aboriginal Lands Trust and the Billiluna Community was established on this site.

 

Figure 4 : Map showing the four sequential locations of Billiluna homestead (after Wise, 2018).

 

Newspaper Accounts of the Banjo Affair

The most useful media accounts for this research was the Broome, Nor' - West Echo, article of 23 September 1922, found in Bohemia and McGregor (1995). This article stated that : looking at a map the reader will see, 112 miles south of Halls Creek (136 miles by the stock route), Billiluna Pool marked, and from there, N., S., E., W., pastoral leases in the name of J. Condren and the Billiluna Pastoral Co. Condren's homestead was at Billiluna Pool. The map referred to in this newspaper article is most likely that shown in Figure 2 above, although undated its circa 1920 date is inferred by the same boundaries being shown on the official 1924 state map as shown in Figure 3 above.

First reported in The Age of Friday 22 September 1922, on page 8 was the following from a former Condren employee. The employee, who was then living in Melbourne, told The Age that he had worked under Condren for a considerable time. He went on to state : that some months ago Mr. Condren, on behalf of the Billiluna Pastoral Company, took up a new run some distance beyond the company’s Sturt Creek property.

Some documents on the Banjo Affair quoted Charles E Gaunt’s article of 6 May, 1932. Published in Darwin’s Northern Standard newspaper under the banner of The Tragedy of Billiluna, Gaunt provided detail not found in earlier reports. In short, Condren and Sullivan, with the assistance of station boys, were at the yard. On a table at the camp, a short distance from the yard, were firearms. Banjo took one of the firearms and went back to the yards where he shot Condren and wounded Sullivan. A messenger was permitted to ride to the next station being Lower Sturt Station belonging to Vestey’s with Jack Barry as manager and report the incident. The station boys carried the wounded Sullivan up to the camp where he died shortly afterwards. It would seem at least one source for Gaunt’s additional information was the statement given by Flinders at the inquest into the deaths. Please refer to Annexure A. This inquest was held on 2 November 1922 at Halls Creek, by Magistrate and Coroner Halls Creek, Frederick J Prideaux (Bianchi, 2013).

 

Modern Mapping and Nomenclature

The digitised printed NTMS series has now been accessible for many years. Thus as the most readily available mapping, any location in this paper will be related to that shown in the geoMap 250K (Geoscience Australia, 2009) map series, as revised.

In the modern era, the names appearing on maps have been approved by the relevant State Nomenclature Board or similar. Landgate in Western Australia maintains the records for all of that State’s map names and were very helpful in providing historical information on the names of features in the area of interest.

As is detailed above, Billiluna homestead was initially at Billiluna Pool before being moved south-east to the banks of today’s Durbai Creek. Landgate’s file showed that the local name Butcher Creek was changed to Durbai Creek after Nelligan’s 1955 survey (Casey and Nelligan, 1956) and was approved in 1966. However, it would appear that in the 1920s it was not clear if Butcher Creek and a watercourse named Sesbania Creek were connected. The name Sesbania occurred from time to time in documents of the era.

Sesbania Creek was first shown and named by Carnegie in 1896-7. It was just a small but significant to map watercourse, which flowed south-westerly into the lagoons of the Sturt before it itself drained into Lake Gregory. Canning then showed it on his chart without name but it is unmistakably the same feature. Later a pastoral map of the era had a watercourse in the same location bearing the name Sesbania Creek. As discussed in Annexure B what came to be known as Butcher Creek and subsequently Durbai Creek was initially known as Sesbania Creek. As concluded in Annexure B, important to this investigation is that Constable Flinders’ reference to Sesbania has to be taken in the context of the 1920s location of Billiluna and not in relation to the 1950s mapping.

 

Terry Expedition 1925

The map at Figure 5 below shows the route taken by Terry’s 1925 expedition with enlargement of the region around Billiluna Pool and the then Billiluna Station. As part of this expedition Terry’s party travelled down Sturt Creek to the Salt Sea, today’s Lake Gregory. His two 1 ton model, Guy Roadless trucks carried hub-cap milometers and a table of mileages was provided in his 1927 book (Terry, 1927). The Terry expedition’s surveyor, RA Prescott, observed a number of astrofixes for latitude and longitude. Wise (2018) has already shown that the coordinates derived from Prescott’s Billiluna fix locates that position on today’s Durbai Creek near the feature now named as Old Homestead Well.

33 terry map 25 ed

Figure 5 : Map showing the route taken by Terry’s 1925 expedition with enlargement of the region around Billiluna.

 

By Monday 28 September 1925, Terry’s party was at Rowan’s Billiluna on today’s Durbai Creek. Terry’s vehicles had passed Kilmartin who was carting additional fuel for these vehicles and who was estimating his arrival at Billiluna Pool that same evening.

Terry (1927) wrote : while at Billiluna we made an excursion to see the graves of J. Condren and T. Sullivan…some 4 miles higher up Butcher Creek, on which the homestead lies, we saw the stock­yard where these men had been finished. More discussion on this aspect is later in this paper. Rowan provided four horses for Terry’s men and Terry with Rowan travelled on the AJS motorcycle with sidecar. This excursion took place on Friday 2 October as on Saturday 3 October, 1925, Terry’s party explored the area on the northern side of Gregory's Inland Sea (Lake Gregory). From Rowan’s Billiluna on Durbai Creek, Terry’s party drove 25 kilometres south where Terry recorded that : this main portion of the sea upon which we feasted our eyes is, according to the map, about 12 miles long and 10 miles broad. At its south-western corner a passage leads to two other smaller lakes. At the northern end of the second the Sturt flows in.

That night Terry’s party camped beside Salt Pan Creek, whose name is unchanged today. Terry observed : There appears to be slight confusion over the naming of the creeks in the neighbourhood of [Rowan’s] Billiluna. Some believe the homestead lies on Sesbania Creek, whereas Rowan assured me his home was alongside Butcher Creek, on which we saw the graves some miles higher up. The lagoon near the sea is likewise part of this creek. The watercourse shown on some maps as running into the sea well to the west of Butcher Creek is Sesbania Creek, crossed, I believe, near the sand-hills on the way to the Sturt. Salt Pan Creek rises somewhere near Mount Wilson and enters the sea just to the east of Butcher Creek.

As Terry himself is referring to a map the only likely one at the time with this sort of detail had to be Canning’s survey chart.

  11 awc chart annotated terry

Figure 6 : Section of Alfred Wernam Canning’s survey oriented to north using GPS coordinates courtesy Alan McCall (2019) and annotated to show; in red, the position of Rowan’s Billiluna homestead on Durbai Creek (from Prescott’s astrofix coordinates); in blue, Terry’s descriptions of features and their alignment with Canning’s own annotation; in green, how the watercourse near Rowan’s Billiluna homestead could have been thought to have been an extension of both Sesbania Creek and later Butcher Creek.

 

Sunday, 4 October, 1925, saw Terry’s party return to Billiluna Pool to refuel : at the gaunt uprights where the old homestead had been we found the precious benzene dumped by Kil­martin, neatly stacked beneath a thick covering of spinifex to shade it from the sun. Before leaving camp we went over to the bed of the Sturt, intent on seeing the pools marked "very deep." Down the western bank of the [Sturt] creek, it made a noticeable sweep to the sou'-east, then switched off in a sou'-west direction towards C 25. This is a series of three water-holes in the overflow of the Sturt which leaves the main channel just below Lake Stretch [Stretch Lagoon]. The actual point of separation is not fixed, for the level nature of the country allows the water to spread over a wide area, leaving no clearly marked course. C 25 was located by Canning who blazed a boree tree there with these letters. Three and a half miles on the south-west course towards Weriaddo there lay before us a large dry Freshwater Swamp. These details prove Terry was indeed using Canning’s chart as Terry is naming the features exactly as shown on Canning’s chart and his descriptions match how the features were annotated by Canning. Please refer Figure 6 above.

Terry was attempting to reconcile what he saw with what Canning had shown on his chart. For the most part Terry found complete agreement save for the confusion with the creek names and directions in the vicinity of Rowan’s Billiluna homestead. Again, important to this investigation is that irrespective of the name of the creek, Sesbania or Butcher, on which Rowan’s Billiluna homestead was situated or the creeks course, the graves of Condren and Sullivan were also alongside the same creek some four miles higher up. Even with the confusion of names, the creek itself is clearly identified by the coordinates of Prescott’s astrofix.

 

Which Billiluna?

Two reliable, yet seemingly contradictory reports exist as to the relationship of the Billiluna homestead to the site of Condren’s death. Constable Flinders recorded that : it was fourteen miles from the station to the site. Whereas Terry wrote : while at Billiluna we made an excursion to see the graves…some 4 miles higher up Butcher Creek, on which the homestead lies.

Flinders in 1922 was on horseback and accompanied by Rowan. Three years later, Terry rode his motorcycle and had Rowan in its sidecar. Despite the different modes of transport, Rowan being there both times indicated that the distances travelled, while not necessarily straight-line distances, were accurate for the mode of travel. As a ten mile difference in the recorded distances is thus highly unlikely by such an experienced man, it can only be explained by the homestead being relocated by ten miles in the intervening years. That is precisely what had occurred as shown in the summary above.

At the time of Condren’s death in 1922, the station as noted by Flinders was a bough shed at Billiluna Pool. By 1925 when Terry arrived, the homestead was now of corrugated iron and some ten miles to the south-east on then Butcher, now Durbai Creek. This location is confirmed by Prescott’s 1925 astrofix coordinates. Kilmartin told Terry in 1925 : You'll leave the Sturt and strike away east at the old homestead [Billiluna at Billiluna Pool]. There should be four poles standing there to mark the spot - the remains of Condren's bough-shed. Just above Billiluna Pool, Terry crossed to the eastern bank of the Sturt, and found the remnants of the old homestead. Further, Terry’s two 1 ton model, Guy Roadless trucks carried hub-cap milometers and from the table of mileages the distance from Billiluna Pool to Homestead (Billiluna on Durbai Creek) is 10.8 miles (Terry, 1927). Terry and Rowan then travelled a further 4 miles to the gravesite, a total of some 15 (10.8 plus 4) miles.

When Flinders referred to the station in 1922 however, Billiluna homestead was then a bough shed at Billiluna Pool. Flinders report at Annexure A recorded that : On 21 September, Richard (sic) Rowan went 14 miles south-east of Billiluna to Sesbania stock yard and found there, two freshly made graves, can be put into its geographical context. Flinders and Rowan travelled 14 miles south-east of Billiluna at Billiluna Pool to stock yards where they found the graves. Undoubtedly, Flinders and Rowan on horseback were able to travel the direct route to the yards, thus Flinders distance of 14 miles is remarkably consistent with Terry’s distance of 15 miles, via Billiluna on Durbai Creek. Having reconciled the distances in the reports it would appear that Flinders use of the term Sesbania is based on his knowledge of the then country in 1922. Terry clearly recorded, as quoted above, that in 1925 Rowan clarified the location of Billiluna as being on Butcher now Durbai Creek.    

Flinders’ and Terry’s reports of the location of the gravesites are now in complete agreement within the accuracy of the direction and distances travelled by the different modes. This is diagrammatically depicted in Figure 7 below where the radial distances from Billiluna Pool travelled by Flinders and Rowan (14 miles) and Terry’s approximate 10 miles (straight line) to Durbai Creek and then 4 miles east are plotted. When the 15 kilometre radial distance from the feature called Sullivan Hill is added the yards where Condren and Sullivan died could not have been at the yards near Bronco Waterhole. (Landgate’s files noted that Sullivan who, with Condren, was murdered at a stockyard some 15 kilometres west-south-west of Sullivan Hill). Also any of the yards along Sturt Creek towards Lake Gregory are too far away to now be a likely site. The most likely location for the gravesites, that fits the direction and distance parameters, is an area along Durbai Creek around Condren Pool.

Figure 7 : 1: 100,000 scale compilation material overlaid with satellite imagery with significant locations highlighted and showing them relative to radial distances quoted in relevant documentation.

 

Unmarked Graves

Almost exactly three years after the deaths of Condren and Sullivan, on Friday 2 October, 1925, Rowan took Terry’s party who saw the stock­yard where these men [Condren and Sullivan] had been finished. Rowan provided four horses for Terry’s men and Terry with Rowan travelled on the AJS motorcycle with sidecar. Please refer to Figure 8 below.

Based on Terry’s record above and photographs below, the group that travelled to the gravesites that day in October 1925 totalled 9 men; Terry’s party of five, Rowan and three aboriginal stockmen. In the group photographs below there are usually 8 men as one of the group is the photographer. Terry’s meticulous record makes no mention of Constable Flinders being there that day and close examination of the photographs appear to support that fact. It would thus appear that the photograph, please refer to Figure 12 below, which mentions Flinders being there that day has been wrongly captioned. Terry did record a meeting with Flinders, who at the time was accompanied by a Mr Giles, Manager of Gordon Downs Station. This meeting however, took place earlier at Sturt Creek homestead.

Two 1925 photographs of Terry’s party at Sullivan’s grave are at Figures 9 and 10. Although taken by different people, and with the motorcycle having being moved, the shadows indicated that they were taken soon after one another. From what Terry recorded, and the photograph at Figure 8, the man sitting in the sidecar of the motorcycle smoking his pipe is Dick Rowan. All the photographs of Sullivan’s grave as shown in Figure 11 were taken that same day in 1925, judging again by the shadows and the detail around the gravesite.

1 rowan at billiluna

Figure 8 : Photograph by Terry of Francis Joseph Dick Rowan. This photograph can be dated to Friday 2 October 1925, as Terry took Rowan out in the sidecar of his AJS motorcycle which can just be seen in the mulga behind Rowan. Courtesy of the National Library of Australia nla.obj-149088792. See also Figure A1 in Annexure A.

 

osullinan grave nla

Figure 9 : Rowan, in the sidecar of Terry’s AJS motorcycle, three of Rowan’s Aboriginal stockmen and members of the Terry expedition standing around Sullivan's grave, Western Australia, 1925. Courtesy of the National Library of Australia (nla.obj-149088571).

 

os grave other ed

Figure 10 :  Similar photograph to that in Figure 9 above with Rowan in the sidecar, Aboriginal stockmen and members of the Terry expedition around Sullivan's grave, Western Australia, 1925, in Smith (2016).

 

pg175 osull grave ed

Figure 11 : Photograph in Bianchi (2013) of Sullivan’s grave. After comparison with above photographs this photograph must have been taken with the others in 1925.

 

pg176 condren grave ed

Figure 12 : Photograph from Bianchi (2013) but investigations reveal that Flinders is not in the photograph.

 

As well as the graves, Terry’s party saw the stockyard, that October day in 1925. At the stockyard, Flinders stated in his report to the Coroner (please refer Annexure A) that he found the graves one behind the yard and the other behind a shed, about 400 yards from yard (sic). The photograph at Figure 13 below was simply captioned Stockyard with the [Terry] expedition AJS motorcycle in the foreground, Western Australia, 1925. The men in this photograph, can be matched from hats or clothing being worn, with those in the photographs above. In addition, from his clothes and with his pipe just detectible, is also Dick Rowan, sitting in the sidecar. Again, in the photograph at Figure 14 the men pictured in the shade of the bough shed can be matched with those in the previous photographs.

 

Figure 13 : Photograph courtesy of the National Library of Australia (nla.obj-149088463), captioned Stockyard with the [Terry] expedition AJS motorcycle in the foreground, Western Australia, 1925.

 

pg147 billiluna bough shed

Figure 14 : from Bianchi (2013) of a bough shed at Billiluna. After comparison with above photographs this photograph must have been taken with the others in 1925 not 1922.

 

From this analysis the photographs at Figures 13 and 14 can be dated to 2 October 1925. Based on the written and photographic evidence of Terry about when and with whom he visited the gravesites on that October day in 1925, the photographs at Figures 14 and 15 would now seem to be not just of any yard or shed but are of the yard that Terry said they saw and near where Condren was buried and of the shed near which Flinders reported he found Sullivan’s grave. Thus Terry appears to have not only photographed the graves but also their vicinities.

Seemingly, the last photographs of the graves of Condren and Sullivan were taken in 1990 as shown in Figures 16 and 17 below, as published in Bohemia and McGregor (1995).

 gr  osullivan 1990  gr  condren

Figures 15 and 16 : 1990 Photographs of (left) Sullivan’s grave and (right) Condren’s grave in Bohemia and McGregor (1995).

 

These last few photographs show why any evidence of the 1922 infrastructure in later years has been so difficult to find. Mostly natural materials were used in their construction. Wood susceptible to all the elements and even termites has a limited lifespan. From the 1925 to 1990 photograph of Sullivan’s grave the timbers have not survived so any other timber structures are likely to have suffered the same fate. Also, being cattle country, structures are more likely to get knocked over and trampled. There is also some evidence that over time more modern facilities were established on or close to the same site obliterating any evidence of any earlier construction.

Figure 17 : Satellite imagery of Condren Pool showing a plain just to the north similar to that used for stock yards near Bronco Waterhole and Billiluna at Durbai.

 

Historical Imagery

To appreciate what earlier structures might have been in the area and their location, historical aerial imagery was obtained. Monochrome aerial photography of this area was first acquired in 1949/50. Notably however, the R502 1: 250,000 scale map sheets of interest, the 1957 SE52-14 Billiluna and 1958 SF52-02 Lucas, were annotated to have been compiled from later 1953 aerial photography. Aerial photography acquired in 1971 was used for the NTMS series which is the basis for the current Geoscience Australia, geoMap 250K series.

Annexure C details the results of this analysis and confirms that any stock yards of the Condren era have long since vanished. Subtle traces however, of their location can be detected on Google imagery but would be very difficult to see at ground level. Of most interest was a section of aerial photography along Durbai Creek around Condren Well and Condren Pool. This area was identified above as that where the stock yards and bough shed were at the time Condren and Sullivan were buried. Please refer to Figure 17 above.

Most of the area around Condren Well and Condren Pool forms part of the extensive flood plain of Durbai Creek. As described in Annexure B from time to time this region is subject to extensive flooding causing the loss of infrastructure and significant environmental change. The result being that the yards and sheds of the 1920s have been washed away leaving little to no trace of their existence. Extensive visual and computer analysis of the 1949 aerial photography found no trace of any yards or their former footprint. Without such a landmark, further investigation was pointless.

 

Conclusion

It has been possible to consolidate the information surrounding the Banjo Affair to :

 

(a)

resolve that Durbai Creek was previously named Butcher Creek and known locally as Sesbania Creek before that;

(b)

reconcile the distance reported by Constable (Mounted) Jack Flinders with those recorded by Terry (1927) between the respective Billiluna homesteads and the gravesites;

(c)

correct the date of, and people photographed in, some of the historical photographs currently available;

(d)

conclude that two of Terry’s 1925 photographs are not of generic yards and shed, as their current captions suggest, but are of the yard that Terry said they saw and near where Condren was buried and of the shed near which Flinders reported he found Sullivan’s grave;

(e)

confirm that Timothy Sullivan’s surname was Sullivan and not O’Sullivan; and

(f)

determine that there is nothing in the materials reviewed that helps with pinpointing the location of the Condren or Sullivan gravesite. 

 

In a few years now 100 years will have passed since this tragic event. It is unfortunate that all this analysis was not able to pinpoint the location of the unmarked gravesites. The best determination is that the site is along Durbai Creek, some four miles upstream (east) of GeoMap 250K feature Old Homestead Well, in the vicinity of the unofficially named Condren Pool.

While sad to contemplate, it must also be considered that the relatively recent, extensive, periodic flooding of Durbai Creek has also desecrated the graves. In this case, Condren’s and Sullivan’s resting places may forever remain unmarked!

 

 

Acknowledgements

Customer Service, Landgate, Western Australian Land Information Authority, is acknowledged for their provision of nomenclature information, and Catherine Clement for her 2016 Timeline for Sturt Creek Station and adjacent Country, at Attachment 3 in Smith (2016). Alan McCall kindly provided GPS coordinates from his 2019 travels.

 

 

Compiled by Paul Wise, 2016-19

 

 

References

Anonymous (1922), Manager and Employee Shot, The Age (Melbourne), Thursday 21 September 1922, Page 9, accessed at :  http://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/205770448 .

Anonymous (1922), Police Party in Pursuit, The Age (Melbourne), Thursday 21 September 1922, Page 9, accessed at :  http://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/205770450 .

Anonymous (1922), East Kimberley Outrage, The Age (Melbourne), Friday 22 September 1922, Page 8, accessed at : http://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/205770847?browse=ndp%3Abrowse%2Ftitle%2FA%2Ftitle%2F809%2F192%2F1922%2F09%2F22%2Fpage%2F18788805%2Farticle%2F205770847  and repeated in Recorder (Port Pirie), Tuesday 26 September 1922, Page 2, accessed at : http://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/102725805 .

Anonymous (1922), A North-West Tragedy, Western Mail (Perth), Thursday 28 September 1922, Page 21, accessed at :  http://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/41695845?searchTerm=1922%20tragedy&searchLimits=l-state=Western+Australia|||l-title=101 .

Anonymous (1922), Murders by Aborigine, Kalgoorlie Miner, Tuesday 7 November 1922, Page 4, accessed at : http://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/93234071?searchTerm=billiluna%20pastoral%20company&searchLimits=

Anonymous (1953), Family Notices (Deaths), The Advertiser, Friday 26 June 1953, Page 22, accessed at : https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/48272757

Bianchi, Phil (2013), Work Completed, Canning, Hesperian Press, WA.

Bohemia, Jack and McGregor, Bill (William B) (1995), Nyibayarri: Kimberley Tracker, Aboriginal Studies Press, Canberra.

Bolton, GC (2012), Wise, Frank Joseph Scott (1897–1986), Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, accessed at : http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/wise-frank-joseph-scott-15616

Carnegie, David Wynford (1898), Spinifex and Sand : A Narrative of Five Years Pioneering and Exploration in Western Australia, C Arthur Pearson Limited, London, 1898; Project Gutenberg Australia e-books accessed at : http://gutenberg.net.au/explorers-journals.html .

Casey, John Newbery and Nelligan, Patrick Francis (1956), Land Classification and New Geographical Names in the North-East part of the Canning Basin, Western Australia, RECORDS 1956/106 accessed at : https://d28rz98at9flks.cloudfront.net/10082/Rec1956_106.pdf

Clement, Catherine (2016), Timeline for Sturt Creek Station and adjacent Country, Attachment 3 in Smith (2016), accessed at : https://www.flinders.edu.au/ehl/fms/archaeology_files/research/Kimberley%20Frontier/Sturt%20Creek%20-%20Final%20Report%20March%202016.pdf

Edinger, Daphne Choules and Marsh, Gilbert (2004), Reassessing the Missions : Balgo – Its History and Contribution, accessed at : http://www.kimberleysociety.org/oldfiles/2004/REASSESSING%20THE%20MISSIONS%20Nov%2004.pdf

Ford, Reginald Arthur (1979), The Division of National Mapping’s Part in the Geodetic Survey of Australia, The Australian Surveyor, June, September and December 1979: Volume 29, No 6, pp. 375-427; Volume 29, No 7, pp. 465-536; Volume 29, No 8, pp. 581-638, ISSN 00050326, published by the Institution of Surveyors, Australia.

Gregory, Augustus Charles and Gregory, Francis Thomas (1884), Journals of Australian Explorations, James C Beal, Government Printer, Brisbane, 1884; Project Gutenberg Australia e-books accessed at http://gutenberg.net.au/explorers-journals.html .

Gaunt, Charles E (1932), The Tragedy of Billiluna, Northern Standard (Darwin), Friday 6 May, 1932, Page 4, accessed at :  http://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/49490121?searchTerm=the%20young%20camp%20stockman&searchLimits= .

Geoscience Australia (2006), GEODATA TOPO 250K Series 3, a vector representation of the major topographic features appearing on the 1: 250,000 scale NATMAPs for GIS, on the GDA94 coordinate system on electronic media.

Geoscience Australia (2008), NATMAP Digital Maps 2008, Map Viewer and 1: 250 000 scale topographic digital maps in ECW image format on electronic media.

Geoscience Australia (2009), GeoMap 250K, 1: 250,000 scale topographic map coverage of Australia in PDF format on electronic media.

Geoscience Australia (2010), The R502 series of 1: 250,000 scale topographic maps on electronic media.

Landgate (2016), Geonoma information, Personal communication, www.landgate.wa.gov.au .

Landgate (2017), Geonoma information – Land Tenure History, Personal communication, www.landgate.wa.gov.au .

Mahood, Kim (2016), Position Doubtful : Mapping Landscapes and Memories, Scribe Publications, Melbourne.

McCall, Alan (2019), Personal communications.

McGregor, William B (1988), Jack Bohemia and the Banjo Affair, Meridian, Vol.7, No.1, pp.34-58. (Meridian was a publication of the La Trobe University English Department and ceased in 2008).

McLean, Lawrence William (2017), Personal communications.

McLean, Lawrence William and Wise, Paul Joseph (2012), Bill Moyle’s Track for the Old Billiluna to Well 45 Section of the 1964 Halls Creek to Well 35 Geodetic Survey Traverse on the Canning Stock Route.

Morton, Steve, Martin, Mandy, Mahood, Kim and Carty, John (2013), Desert Lake : Art, Science and Stories from Paruku, CSIRO Publishing.

National Library of Australia (various dates), Trove via http://trove.nla.gov.au/ contains many newspaper reports and other commentary on this incident.

Smith, Eleanor (1966), The Beckoning West, Angus and Robertson, Sydney.

Smith, Pamela A (2016), Purrkuji : Massacre on Sturt Creek - Report of the History, Archaeological Survey and Forensic Investigation, accessed at : https://www.flinders.edu.au/ehl/fms/archaeology_files/research/Kimberley%20Frontier/Sturt%20Creek%20-%20Final%20Report%20March%202016.pdf

State Library of Western Australia (2017), Post Office Directories, accessed at : http://slwa.wa.gov.au/explore-discover/wa-heritage/post-office-directories/

The Canning Stock Route Project : http://www.australia.gov.au/about-australia/australian-story/canning-stock-route

Terry, Michael (1926), Through Northern Australia: Report of the Terry Australian Expedition, The Geographical Journal of the Royal Geographical Society, London, Vol.68, No.4, pp.302-325.

Terry, Michael (1927), Through a Land of Promise : with gun, car and camera in the heart of Northern Australia, Herbert Jenkins Ltd., London.

The Spectator (1926), Through Northern Australia, Spectator Archive, 14 August 1926, PP.8-9, accessed at : http://archive.spectator.co.uk/article/14th-august-1926/8/through-northern-australia

Timms, Brian V (2001), Large Freshwater Lakes in Arid Australia: A review of their limnology and threats to their future, Lakes and Reservoirs : Research and Management, 2001, No.6, pp.183–196, accessed at : http://www.southwestnrm.org.au/sites/default/files/uploads/ihub/timms-bv-2001-large-freshwater-lakes-arid-australia-review-their.pdf

Western Australia Government (2002), Map of the Shire of Halls Creek, accessed at : https://infoxpert.hcshire.wa.gov.au/docs/Public/Maps/Shire%20of%20Halls%20Creek%20Map1.pdf )

Wells, Allan Thomas (1961), Explanatory Notes on the Billiluna Geological Sheet, Bureau of Mineral Resources, Geology and Geophysics, 1961/88.

Willey, Keith Greville (1971), Boss Drover, Rigby Books.

Wise, Paul Joseph (2018), The Historical Locations of Billiluna Homestead in the Kimberley Region of Westernc Australia.

 

 

 

Annexure A

 

Relevant parts of sworn statement given by John F Flinders, Constable 943, at the inquest held on 2 November 1922 at Halls Creek,

by Magistrate and Coroner Halls Creek, FJ Prideaux (Bianchi, 2013).

 

I am officer in charge Police, Halls Creek. On 19 September, my boys received information that two whites, Joseph Condren and Timothy O’Sullivan (sic) had been killed by station hand, named Banjo.

On 20 September at Billiluna Station, I met Richard (sic) Rowan, who said that news of the tragedy had been received in Halls Creek and that he had been sent down to render any possible assistance.

On 21 September, Richard (sic) Rowan, myself, Paddy the Flat and Paddy Cole, went 14 miles south-east of Billiluna to Sesbania stock yard and found there, two freshly made graves, one to a depth of about 20 inches and the other about 2 feet 6 inches, one behind the yard and the other behind a shed, about 400 yards from yard. A stake fence had been put around each grave and at each end was a sapling in the shape of a cross. I exhumed the bodies.…I, as a layman, could see, Condren had been shot…O'Sullivan's (sic) corpse was in a fearful state…it was impossible for me to tell what caused his death. On 26 September, Constable Hearn, Special Constable Ezzy and assistant, North at Jew's Soak, handed me two empty shells (produced) which Mr Barry, the manager of Sturt had picked up at stockyard at Sesbania, when he arrived there about the 14 September.

I identified on 21 September, the body of Joseph Condren. O'Sullivan (sic) was personally unknown to me.

I made arrangements with Rowan to properly inter bodies.

 

Signed: John Flinders, 943.

 

Figure A1 : Photograph understood to be taken by Constable (Mounted) No.943, John Franklin Flinders, Halls Creek Police captioned : R. (sic) Rowan next to gravesite of Joseph Condren.

 

 

 

Annexure B

 

Sesbania, Butcher, Durbai Creek

This Annexure attempts to resolve the naming of the watercourse(s) variously known over the years as Sesbania, Butcher and Durbai Creek.

Sesbania Creek is first shown and named by Carnegie in 1896-7. It was just a small, but significant to map, watercourse which flowed south-westerly into the lagoons of the Sturt before it itself drained into Lake Gregory. Canning then showed this same watercourse on his chart without name but it is unmistakably the same feature. Later a pastoral map of the era has a watercourse in the same location bearing the name Sesbania Creek, as does the 1921 map at Figure B1 below.

1921 sesbania sect nla       22 10m map sesbania 1922        1942%20doi%20durbai%20flow%20sect%20nla

Figures B1, B2 and B3 : Sections of maps of Australia published (left) in 1921 (courtesy of the National Library of Australia, nla.obj-233441153) showing Sesbania Creek as per Carnegie (1897), (centre) in 1922 (courtesy Times Atlas) unnamed watercourse or incomplete shoreline of Lake Gregory, and (right) in 1942 (courtesy of the National Library of Australia, nla.obj-234142901) showing unnamed watercourse flowing into the top of Lake Gregory.

 

As shown in Annexure A, at the time of Condren’s death at the yards in 1922 the nearby watercourse was known as Sesbania. Constable Flinders, who had been in the region since at least 1919 was taken to the site by the newly arrived Dick Rowan. Thus Flinders then knowledge of the location is on record and given the maps of the time, as shown in Figures B2 and B3 above, Flinders obviously believed Sesbania to be the name of the nearby watercourse.

Three years later in 1925 when Terry recorded his conversation with Rowan about the location of then Billiluna and the gravesites, Rowan would now have had a greater knowledge of the region. Terry wrote : Billiluna station was not taken up till 1922, as close observation of the vagaries of Gregory's Sea does not date back very far. There appears to be slight confusion over the naming of the creeks in the neighbourhood of [Rowan’s] Billiluna. Some believe the homestead lies on Sesbania Creek, whereas Rowan assured me his home was alongside Butcher Creek, on which we saw the graves some miles higher up. The lagoon near the sea is likewise part of this creek. The watercourse shown on some maps as running into the sea well to the west of Butcher Creek is Sesbania Creek, crossed, I believe, near the sand-hills on the way to the Sturt. Salt Pan Creek rises somewhere near Mount Wilson and enters the sea just to the east of Butcher Creek. For the time this was a fair description of the relativity of the features in this region and indicated that Sesbania and Butcher Creeks were considered separate features. Given the harshness of life and the ongoing brutality of the era the name Butcher Creek being given to the watercourse alongside Billiluna homestead and the gravesites, may have stemmed from the laconic and facetious reference to the watercourse near which Condren and Sullivan were then considered to have been brutally butchered. Thus, this was only ever a local name and in later times this name was never propagated by appearing on any map.

When Terry drove south-west of Billiluna homestead on Butcher Creek in 1925 he encountered a lagoon prior to the main bed of Lake Gregory. Please refer to Figure B3 above. This encounter along with the fact that Rowan had already said that the creek at Billiluna, that is Butcher Creek, was a separate watercourse, from Sesbania Creek, likely resulted in Terry’s statement that the lagoon [he had encountered that day] near the sea [Lake Gregory] is likewise part of this creek [Butcher Creek]. The 1942 map at Figure B3 indicates an unnamed watercourse flowing into the top of Lake Gregory. This is undoubtedly a depiction of the then belief that Butcher Creek did flow into Lake Gregory. The imagery at Figure B4 below shows how lagoons can be left as the country around Lake Gregory and the lake itself dried.

 

  13 sat im mosaic comp

Figure B4 : Comparison of imagery from (left) Geoscience Australia (2008), NATMAP Digital Maps 2008, Landsat mosaic and (right) Google Earth acquired October 2015, of the north-east region of Lake Gregory showing that the lake’s waters have receded leaving lagoons that could be encountered if the lake proper was approached, as Terry did in 1925, from the north.

 

A section of the 1955 sketch plan of the North-East Canning Desert by Patrick Francis Nelligan of the Mapping Branch, Lands and Surveys, Western Australia, is shown at Figure B5 below. The map base for Nelligan’s work is clearly Canning’s CSR survey in which Sesbania Creek is indicated and named. Nelligan’s plan also showed, what he termed river frontage (pink colour in Figure B5 below) yet no river name is shown. According to Landgate’s records however, this watercourse was named Durbai Creek by Nelligan and first shown by National Mapping in the 1960 Lake Mackay 1: 1,000,000 Australian Geographical Series. Durbai Creek was locally known as Butcher Creek in 1925 and runs for approximately 50 kilometres rising south-west of Balgo, to flow north-west before turning west to south-west and finally disappearing into claypans to the north of Lake Gregory. Looking at Nelligan’s plan it is not hard to imagine however, that Durbai and Sesbania Creeks might just be one and the same!

 

3423-117 NELLIGAN sect text

Figure B5 : Annotated section of coloured sketch plan of North-East Canning Desert, WA, by Patrick Francis Nelligan dated 28 December 1955.  Courtesy State Records Office of WA, Mapping Branch, Lands and Surveys, AU WA S50-cons3423 117.

 

The Western Australian Department of Lands and Surveys compiled the R502 series 1: 250,000 SF52-01 Cornish map sheet in 1959 from 1953 aerial photography. Before publication by the Royal Australian Survey Corps this map sheet underwent revision by ground inspection in 1966. As can be seen in Figure B6 below, the name of Sesbania Creek was given to the eastern arm of Sturt Creek which extended south into Lake Gregory. This interpretation for Sesbania Creek appears to have continued up to the post 1971 compilation of the 4357 Gregory Lake 1: 100,000 scale map sheet.

 

Figure B6 : Section of the R502 series 1: 250,000 1959 SF52-01 Cornish map sheet showing the Sturt and Sesbania Creeks’ courses to Lake Gregory.

  

The 2016 ASTER (Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer is an imaging instrument onboard the Terra satellite), imagery at Figure B7 below shows water staining and vegetation patterns on the country between Durbai Creek outflows and an inflow on the north of Lake Gregory to the west of Salt Pan Creek as well as to the west to Sturt Creek. These patterns appear to show that after significant rain in that region, as there has been in recent times, Durbai Creek could well have sufficient flow for its waters to drain both to the south and west and not just disappear into clay pans. There is also now evidence as to such historical flows.

In 1926, Terry wrote that the land had been drying since 1923 but had been wet for many years previous according to the local traditional owners. Terry further reported (Terry, 1926) that no water had flowed down the Sturt for three years and it had been at least ten years since Lake Gregory had been dry. Terry went on to say that following the exceptionally poor rainfall since 1923, the speed of establishing bores had been increased. In conversation with Rowan, Rowan told Terry that the four wells he had sunk gave a very good supply of fresh water at a depth of between 20 feet and 40 feet.

 

  14 water staining lk greg

Figure B7 : Early 2016 ASTER imagery mosaic of Lake Gregory region with areas of water staining and vegetation patterns highlighted to indicate that overflow from Durbai Creek appears to drain into both Sturt Creek and Lake Gregory.

 

Timms (2001) noted the three lakes that comprise Lake Gregory were dry for most of 1930-1968...while the 1993 flooding…was one of the greatest on record. Morton et al, 2013, wrote that the Lakes were generally dry between 1930 and 1968 and have dried twice since 1971. It is estimated that the system filled six times between 1896 and 1926, and it has since experienced a variable hydrological regime in response to rainfall variability. So in the early years of pastoral activity around Lake Gregory, creek flows could have been sufficient, many and varied to drain both south and west and also create large areas of swampy flood plain obscuring actual water courses. As creek flows decreased and clay pans formed the course of water features was revised by those in the area to fit what could now be seen.

Terry further stated that the watercourse shown on some maps as running into the sea well to the west of Butcher Creek is Sesbania Creek, crossed, I believe, near the sand-hills on the way to the Sturt. Salt Pan Creek rises somewhere near Mount Wilson and enters the sea just to the east of Butcher Creek. This conclusion is largely correct for below Billiluna Pool, Sturt Creek developed a number of channels and at the time there was no way or real need to establish which was the Sturt or Sesbania. As discussed above, the R502 series of national mapping made an attempt to identify the watercourses by indicating Sesbania as the east channel and the Sturt as the west channel. After the flooding of late last century in the area, channel identification became completely pointless. Even though Landgate still has Sesbania Creek as an approved map name the 2001 geoMap 250K, SF52-01 Cornish, does not show that name with the area just depicted as being perennial and swampy flood plain. It is shown in Morton et al, (2013) that Lake Gregory is the remnant of an historical megalake which was some twenty times the size of Lake Gregory. The successive flooding and drying of parts of such a vast area easily accounts for the incomprehension of actual watercourse position in the region over generations.

Irrespective of how it came about the conclusion is that over the years the watercourse in the vicinity of Rowan’s Billiluna homestead was known as Sesbania Creek, then Butcher Creek and today Durbai Creek. Important to this investigation is that Constable Flinders’ reference to Sesbania has to be taken in the context of the 1920s location of Billiluna and not in relation to the 1950s mapping.

 

 

 

Annexure C

Locations associated with Billiluna and Condren

1.       Stock yards south of Billiluna Pool 1949

Aerial photography acquired in 1949 showed two stock yards south of Billiluna Pool. Comparison with Google Earth imagery of the same area showed these stockyards had been replaced in later years and no trace of the 1949 yards was visible. Please refer to Figures C1 and C2 below.

bpool 1949 comb

Figure C1 : Section of aerial photograph showing two stock yards south of Billiluna Pool in 1949 with enlargement top right.

 

gebillpool2txt

Figure C2 : Section of Google Earth imagery showing indications of later stockyards and old airstrip.

 

2.       Stock yards near Bronco Waterhole 1950

Aerial photography acquired in 1950 showed a stock yard south of Bronco Waterhole. Comparison with Google Earth imagery of the same area showed these yards had been replaced in later years and no trace of the 1950 yards was visible. Please refer to Figures C3 and C4 below.

0 bronco waterhole 1950 txt

Figure C3 : Section of aerial photograph showing stock yards south of Bronco Waterhole.

 

0 bronc waterhole yards txt

Figure C4 : Section of Google Earth imagery showing later stock yards.

 

3.       Infrastructure at Billiluna on Durbai Creek 1949

Aerial photography acquired in 1949 of Billiluna at Durbai Creek showed a series of stock yards south of the creek. Please refer to figure C5 below. This aerial photography however, was not used by the Western Australian Department of Lands and Surveys to compile the R502 series 1: 250,000 1957 SE52-14 Billiluna and 1958 SF52-02 Lucas map sheets as noted above. Nevertheless the 1949 aerial photography is the earliest acquired and thus a reliable indicator of what features were there in the era. Sections of both map sheets are shown mosaiced in Figure C6 below. Before publication by the Royal Australian Survey Corps both map sheets underwent revision by ground inspection in 1966. As can be seen in Figure C6 the yards are still in existence at that time. These yards appear to have disappeared in later years and the infrastructure as shown in Figure C7 in this area today all appears to be of a significantly later era.

 

Figure C5 : Section of aerial photograph acquired in 1949 of Billiluna at Durbai Creek showing a series of stock yards south of the creek.       

 

Figure C6 : Mosaiced sections of the R502 series 1: 250,000 1957 SE52-14 Billiluna and 1958 SF52-02 Lucas map sheets. Yards south of the mill are clearly shown and were verified by ground inspection in 1966. The symbol N3 indicates the location of the 1956 astrofix by Patrick Francis Nelligan i.e. Nelligan #3.

 

Figure C7 : Mill, tanks and yards east of today’s road in the area of the old Billiluna homestead on Durbai Creek.

 

4.       Area along Durbai Creek around Condren Well and Condren Pool.

A section of an aerial photograph acquired in 1949 along Durbai Creek around Condren Well and Condren Pool is shown in Figures C8 below. Despite extensive visual and computer analysis no trace of any yards was found.

The yards at Billiluna on Durbai, Bronco Waterhole, Lungan Waterhole and Delivery Plain Camp all appear on the respective R502 1: 250,000 scale map sheets, which were ground inspected in 1966. No yards were depicted on the R502 map sheet in the region of Condren Well and Condren Pool. If there had been yards in this area it would seem that by 1966 that they no longer existed.

Figure C8 : Section of 1949 aerial photograph showing area along Durbai Creek around Condren Well and Condren Pool.