One of the earliest properties to be settled on the frontier country along the Barcoo River in western Queensland, Portland Downs, has captured the imagination of retired engineer-turned-historical writer Ian Waples, who launched his book on the property’s history on Saturday.
As befitting a former sheep station that was taken up in 1865 and owned by people such as John Ellis, a nephew of the Duke of Portland, and John Govett, for a short time a Member in the Queensland Parliament, a black tie dinner was held to honour the book launch.
Andrew and Amy Petersen manage the property for the current Dutch-owned, Brisbane-headquartered GP Cattle, and welcomed around 40 people to dinner, including acting Longreach Regional Council mayor, Leonie Nunn, who said it was wonderful to see Ian capture all the elements of a property that had featured so largely in the foundations of the region.
Portland Downs Station: The Untold Story is the second book detailing the colourful history of the Barcoo River property, following the 1975 publication of Barcoo Saga, written by former manager, Graham Lilley.
Ian Waples said his 350-page book had expanded on Graham’s work, speaking with a wide range of people including former managers Peter Beavis and Andy McLean, as well as other station workers, including Hume Turnbull, now the manager of Lansdowne at Tambo, and Beryl Owens and her brother John Reynolds.
He also made use of a treasure trove of archival documents.
“I was at the Isisford show two years ago when Amy said, come and have a look at what’s here, and I became addicted,” he said. “I felt as though I was there when I was researching; people wrote such good letters in those days.”
Ian has already authored two books on the history of adjoining Isis Downs station and its famous shearing shed.
He said he’d put two years into research for the Portland Downs story, which he concluded with the property’s last shearing in 2009.
“The place was going up for sale then – it seemed like a good point to finish on,” he said.
Current manager, Andrew Petersen, who first visited as a Longreach Pastoral College student in 1992, assisting Dalgety agents with a livestock count during the property handover to Clyde Agriculture, has written a postscript.
Located between Isisford and Ilfracombe, Portland covers 99,957 hectares (247,000 acres) and has been running 6000 breeders. In its heyday it ran 60,000-plus sheep.
Sandy Troup, grandson of an early manager, Dundas Hamilton, travelled up from Victoria with his wife Jeanette for the occasion and said he was honoured to be there.
“It’s an area where my grandparents grew up and I feel such an affinity for it,” he said.
“My grandmother spoke of Portland all the time, about the Aboriginal tribe that lived here, and I feel it’s been a part of my life.
“She loved the Portland sheep stud too.
“If you write something down it’s there forever, so Ian’s dedication to this is something to be admired.”
Ian said that while big stations such as Portland Downs were never out of the pages of newspapers in their early days, it was the the ghost stories that he gathered that stuck in his memory.
He will be reading from the book at the Isisford Interpretation Centre this Friday.