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Land of Contrasts p1

READERSVOICE.COM aims to find old and out of print books that are still worth reading. This issue highlights Land of Contrasts, a 1976 memoir by Edith McFarlane, about her life along Cooper Creek in far Southwest Queensland.

Ms McFarlane writes that at the age of 22, in 1925, she caught the train from Adelaide to Broken Hill. There she was met by a stockman who drove her to her governess position at Durham Downs homestead. Later she married the stockman. They eventually lived on Tanbar Station, farther north along Cooper Creek, which her husband managed. 

Cooper Creek is really a river that runs south for 1300 km through arid open country in far southwest Queensland. It’s like the Nile, in that it’s fed by other rivers and rain that falls hundreds of kilometres away, to the north. It brings life to a desert region.

Estimates say indigenous people came to the area about 20,000 years ago. Most people know Cooper Creek as the place where explorers Burke and Wills died in 1861. Then came the cattle stations. The Aboriginal civilisation was badly damaged, but it was still strong when Ms McFarlane arrived in 1925.

Ms McFarlane wrote that both Durham and Tanbar stations consisted of 3000 square miles, or two million acres each. But they safely carried only 15000 head of cattle. She said that in times before she arrived, Durham had not only carried 40000 head of cattle and the hundreds of horses needed for stock work, but also sheep: 100,000. She saw the remains of temporary sheep yards,

Water was supplied by artesian bores and Cooper Creek. In drought, the creek can be a series of waterholes. In flood it can be many kilometers wide. 

The author also writes of the Afghan cameleers who would bring six months of supplies to Durham Downs; the pointed stones of the ceremonial grounds of a rain god; the stone dams made by local Aborigines to catch fish; the first day trucks arrived, in 1927; the Perentie, which is the fourth largest monitor in the world; and many other facets of this strange ancient landscape. 

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