In the footsteps of Carnegie - Day 5 Murders, Mayhem and Manhunts (Billiluna Pool to Condren W/Hole)

Sunday, Jul 28, 2013 at 18:00


Sunday 28th July, 2013 - Billiluna Pool to Condren Water Hole on the Durbai Creek

Another day of drama and discovery as we explore the rich history of the Sturt Creek.

We were up early to finish packing away equipment and set up the quads. Al Mac had to fit off his boot guards so while he and Jaydub attended to this, Larry and I set off in an unsuccessful search for the original homestead.

Our objectives for the day were four fold;
1. Look for the remains of the Original Billiluna Station buildings or ‘Kilangkarra’, believed to havebeen built on the Billiluna Pool back in the early 1920’s by Joseph Condren.
2. Search for the Kilangkarra yards which are also in the vicinity of this waterhole.
3. Head south to Old Homestead Tank, site of the lower Sturt Station in the late 1920’s; and,
4. Seek out Bronco Yard, the site of the murders of Condren and O’Sullivan. Both men are believed to be interred at Bronco yard by aboriginals immediately following the murders.

On the previous evening, we had identified some stockyards on the Natmap sheet for the area. Largely indistinguishable from the icons representing surrounding clay pans we were convinced that the map symbol represented an old stockyard. When ready, the four quads headed out to investigate with Petey accompanying Jaydub. After three kilometres we located the dilapidated slot rail fences of a time ravaged stockyard. The construction reflected the 1920’s period updated in places with star pickets and weld mesh.

A distant hooting came drifting across the air, a sound I recognised immediately. I searched the surrounding plains and looked up to see a brace of Brolga flying in circles above us, talking constantly to each other. There were three pair with two other birds on a higher orbit trying their best to ignore them. Their hooting was a delight and conjured memories of Pete’s didge playing around the camp fire on previous nights.

Headed west from the yards we endeavoured to turn up ruins of a shed or buildings. There was a mix of countryside spinifex, laterite, clay and salt pans with all manner of flood and scrub plains. despite a few old fence lines, the remains of a hut or station building eluded us.

Arriving back at base camp on the waterhole, Jaydub located a track to get us back to our cut line with relative ease. With him leading on the quad, we headed out to the track with little scrub bashing required. Out on the main track, we waited for Larry only to realise he had an issue. One of his ARB fridges wasn't working. Jaydub went back to assist while we proceeded south east towards “Old homestead Tank”. The track was a classic example of what the Canning is all about. Corrugations of every shape, some sand, a few rocks and there you have it...a concentrated mix of conditions to delight any Canning purist.

Billiluna Station was a cattle station with a strong history attached to the Canning Stock Route. Joseph Condren was the first known cattleman in 1920 to build a homestead nearby called Kilangkarra. In 1922, together with Tim O'Sullivan, Condren was killed with his own rifle, by an Aborigine man named Banjo whilst they were branding cattle. This account: “The Tragedy of Billiluna “ by C.E. Gaunt, was published in the Northern Standard (Darwin) on 6th May, 1932. (Source; Trove)

“Amongst the blackboys on the station was a boy named Banjo belonging not to the Billiluna tribe of blacks, but the Kimberley district. Now this particular boy had a young lubra and Sullivan, the stock- man, became enamoured of her. He later on took the lubra away from the boy and when the boy remonstrated with the stockman he (the stockman) gave the boy a dressing down. That was the seed sown on the soil of the terrible murder which came off later on.”

“It was branding time and Condon and Sullivan, with the assistance of station boys, were at the yard. Sullivan was in the calf-pen branding while Condon was riding, the bronco horse pulling up the calves on the outside. On a table at the camp, a short distance from the yard, was a double-barrelled shot gun (barrels taken off the stock) and a rifle, with a box of cartridges alongside. Whilst the whites were busy at the yard the boy Banjo walked up to the camp, tried to put the shot gun together but failed, then picked up the rifle, loaded it, and crept down to the yard and got behind one of the yard posts close to the calf pen and took aim at Sullivan, the stock- man, who was stooping over a calf branding it. The bullet struck him on the inside of the thigh travelling upward. The blackboys and Myall blacks stood amazed, too frightened to act. Banjo then pointed the rifle at Condon on the horse, who cried out, "Don't shoot me." Banjo fired and shot him dead, Condon falling to the ground. The blackboys then got Sullivan out of the calf pen and carried him up to the camp, and shortly afterward he died from the wound".

"The leaders or head men of the bush blacks wanted the others to spear Banjo but he had the drop on them with the loaded rifle and they were afraid. Banjo then detailed two of the station boys to catch saddle and pack horses and proceed to the Lower Sturt Station belonging to Vestey’s, Jack Barry being manager at that time, and reporting the murder. The boys did so, and Banjo taking his lubra, rifle and ammunition, made tracks for the Kimberleys. In the meantime the station boys and bush blacks buried the bodies, of the two white men and put two sticks at the head of each in the shape of a crude cross. On Barry being notified he at once proceeded to the scene of the murder but could do no good".

"A party headed by Jack Flinders, (Mounted Constable) of Hall's Creek, got on the boy Banjo's tracks, followed them across the head of Christmas Creek and caught up with him between the Mary River and Louisa Downs (Billy Cox's station) and shot him.”

Of course the event was a little more complicated than that and an interesting first hand account of both the event and the manhunt can be found in the book "Nyibayarri – Kimberley Tracker", the stories of Jack Bohemia (Published 1995).

Wending our way south past Phibbs Hill we reached the tangled channels that form the Durbai Creek . The time was right to call for the nosebag so nudging the vehicles under some of the eucalypts, we prepared some lunch.The Homestead Tank site consists of a defunct windmill, a set of stock yards and associated detritus. We were keen to explore and post lunch wandered off. It wasn’t long before AK signalled he was looking at ruins of an old stockyard to the west of the main yards. I headed out that way and came across 4 posts around a stone cairn. It appeared as a grave site, possibly a double given the width of the posts. The central cairn consisted of a single large stone surrounded by a ring of smaller stones carefully laid out to mark something significant. It did fit our understanding of the Condren/O’Sullivan graves so if it is someone’s final resting place, they remain person or persons unknown.

The later afternoon activities were rougher as we negotiated a cross country path east to Condren Well. We saw some magnificent stallions strutting, prancing and posing along the way. Suze, travelling a little higher than the other vehicles, stumbled upon a feint track making things easier. On reaching the our destination, we halted the vehicles to allow the quads to perform a search. Larry travelling a bit behind the rest of the vehicles decided to travel in a burnt area off track with disastrous results - a massive stake in the front right tyre. Racing to his vehicle I could see was urgent movement and hear the rush of escaping air. Larry was picking the last pieces of timber from his tyre, the hiss of escaping air drowning out the noise of the Mog’s onboard compressor system vainly trying to keep the big Michelin up.Clearing the last scraps of timber from the wound, I sunk a few plugs into the wound ably assistance of my glue man, Jaydub. Thankfully it was on the edge of the tread so we didn't have to part any of the internal belts. Four plugs later the flow of escaping air was stemmed

We remained for a while to let the tyre cement cure. This allowed Jaydub and Al to check out locations on the northern side of the Durbai creek. They discovered a pool nearby and led us in. It was a muddy hole but water none the less. We camped on the banks of the Durbai against the waterhole that we believe to be Condren Pool. After setting up camp, Al and I searched the area for anything of interest. Sunset provided an opportunity for some great photographs across the muddy pool as flocks of corellas came in noisily to drink from the pool. A good day. A magic sunset, reflections across the muddy pool, comical corellas performing circus tricks in the branches above camp, and a great fire shared with good friends. Life is good.

''We knew from the experience of well-known travelers that the
trip would doubtless be attended with much hardship.''
Richard Maurice - 1903
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