ARTHUR Milson, a life-long western Queensland grazier, has died in Longreach a week or so into the New Year. For all his 93-plus years he was known to all family and friends as Lad or Laddie, a chance legacy of being the youngest of the three siblings. He was the last World War Two serviceman living in the district.
Tall and ramrod straight even into his 10th decade, he personified so many of the traits associated with outback life – loyalty, integrity, humility, resourcefulness and a warm-hearted willingness to lend a hand to anyone who needed it. “The right thing is never wrong” was an oft-repeated injunction to his children. His sense of humour and quick, gentle wit were by-words. When his newly-married son questioned his wife “sticking little black things all over the Christmas ham”, Lad jumped straight to her defence: “James, it’s cloves that maketh the ham!”
Lad had a unique gift for friendship. He doted on his family, loved people and a party and no one was ever left floundering in a corner – he would sweep them up into his company. Every taxi driver, tradesman, shearer or fellow passenger was engaged and invariably judged to be “a good bloke.” His son recalled his father walking into a tense shearing shed on one of his birthdays during a threatened industry tension in the 1970s. The hard-bitten crew immediately downed tools, cut the power, paused, and then burst into a rousing chorus of Happy Birthday!
And for a man of his generation, he had a genuine interest in and empathy with Aborigines. He grew up with them, liked them and judged them in the round as he did everyone. One of his sons-in-law recalls a stop-over in the Camooweal pub in the early1980s when Lad got yarning to a group of locals. After a while one of them paused the conversation and went to collect a few of his mates: “Come over here you fellas” he said, “this old bloke knows more about us blackfellas than we do!”
Lad was born in Winton in 1923, the second son of Arthur and Valerie Milson from Springvale, a 1200-square mile cattle station down the Diamantina which the family had taken up in 1879. Valerie’s father, George Morgan-Reade, was a local Winton grazier and a founding director of Qantas.
Lad’s was a typical bush education by correspondence until his early teens, an experience broadened and enlivened by all the delights of growing up on a station and sharing it with his brother Colin – horses, dogs, swimming and fishing in the waterholes, guns and stock work. He recalled being taught by the Aboriginals to achieve the no mean feat of catching ducks by gliding towards them partially submerged with a roly-poly bush on his head then grabbing their legs in a flurry of spray and feathers!
In 1935 he went off as a boarder to join his brother Colin at All Souls’ School, in Charters Towers. He wasn’t enamoured of academic work and used to joke that during his time the school produced two Rhodes Scholars “but sadly, I wasn’t one of them!” Sport was a different matter – he threw himself into football, boxing, swimming (colours) cricket and tennis. He was still playing the latter two well past his middle age.
After a brief stint working back at Springvale he enlisted in the Second AIF in 1942. He trained for the infantry and then the artillery but his already- encyclopaedic knowledge of machinery – mechanical and electrical - and fascination for how it all worked was soon noticed and he was transferred to the Engineers. He finished the war as a radar specialist.
Lad returned to Springvale and for the next decade acquired a solid grounding in pastoral work and management under his father’s and uncles’ tutelage, as well as being responsible for maintaining all the vehicles and machinery on Springvale and the family’s by-then two other Channel Country cattle stations, Diamantina Lakes and Cluny.
At a 1949 local bush race meeting at the Mayne Hotel north of Diamantina Lakes, Lad renewed a chance pre-war encounter on Magnetic Island with Alison Lindsay, daughter of Jim and Madge Lindsay from Camara, a sheep property outside Winton. They were married in 1952. Family friends of the Milsons for many years, the Lindsays were another pioneering western Queensland family, holding in addition to Camara both Mt Leonard at Betoota, and Arrabury on the Queensland-South Australian border, the latter taken up by the Lindsays in partnership in the late 1800s. Alison herself was a fine horsewoman with a formidable knowledge of stock and pastoral management.
In late 1955 they moved to Camara to gain experience with sheep before settling on Bogewong, with a double frontage of the Thomson River south of Longreach. Wool was the main game but they always kept a herd of Shorthorn. Lad grew to know his land intimately, and there was little he didn’t understand about the river itself - the tell-tale colours of water from each incoming creek and the implications of rainfalls upstream and how to manage his stock accordingly.
A true child of the Depression, he wasted nothing. If he took half a truck load of stuff to dump he’d come back with a full load. Old boots would be saved to turn into washers. No clock could not be fixed, and no carburettor couldn’t be stripped down and put back together. His children and then grand-children were introduced into the wonderful world of do-it-yourself. And there was always a back-up plan: No vehicle left the homestead without spare fuel, water, torches, tins of meat and a spare fan belt. “If I drop dead..”, became a standard prelude to some essential information needing to be imparted just in case, as in “If I drop dead the rego papers are in the glove box” or “..don’t forget there’s stock in the yard and the gate is shut”.
As might be expected Lad didn’t just look to his own patch. He had been variously a councillor for the Diamantina Shire, an active member of the (then) United Graziers Association and an early president of the Longreach branch of the Isolated Children’s and Parents Association. He was a JP since the early 1950s.
He and Alison maintained their strong links with family and friends in NSW. In time he and Alison bought the adjoining Kendal before selling Bogewong itself in 2000 and settling on nearby Somerset, where they stayed until semi-retiring to Longreach in 2003, their house a crowded and welcoming way-station for family and friends. Lad and Alison had four children, Ann Forster, Lyndel Owens, James and Jenny. He is survived by Alison and the children, together with 11 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
- Scott Milson