TURALLIN - GHOST TOWN
Wednesday, September 12, 1990
by Dan O'Donnell
Ten kilometres west of the beautiful township of Millmerran, on what was once the teaming stock route to NSW from Toowoomba, lay the former township of Turallin. Today, only faint traces of a flourishing township exist, and even these would probably lie hidden forever if not for the help of district pioneers such as Cecil Dooley.
During World War 1, Cec Dooley, a mere infant of 6, began school at Turallin, negotiating a frightening 5 kilometre trek to school through dingo-infested country from his father’s selection on the outskirts of Millmerran.
There was something special about those old schools and those ancient schoolmasters, men and women, that remained with their pupils forever. Cec Dooley, now 80, still recalls all his teachers with unstinted affection and respect, his recollection of Turallin in its heyday an invaluable record of our past.
What is remarkable about Turallin, apart from the lion-hearted spirit of its pioneers, is that in 1910 as the expected terminus of the rail link (not Millmerran), it actually boasted a higher population (350) than Millmerran, (300), today the capital of the shire. When the railway terminated at Millmerran in 1911, Turallin began to decline.
Across Queensland, the railway was supremely important in opening up virgin land. With the iron horse came the selectors and their families to join the hardy souls who had ventured into the wilderness along the proposed route. In the western Darling Downs, the pattern of settlement is clear: when the huge pastoral estates and Crown Lands were thrown open to selection, men (and women) of enterprise and immense courage ventured into the wilderness to claim their own piece of Australia. The railway provided the essential and comforting link with civilization, the movement of settlers pushing westward across the Darling Downs with each extension of the railway: to Pittsworth (1886), to Millmerran (1911). At Millmerran the line stopped abruptly, the proposed extension south to Goondiwindi never eventuating and the rosy promise of the township of Turallin withering from that very time.
Typical of the small selectors who helped to pioneer the district was Cec Dooley’s father, Edward. Mr Dooley senior had hitherto eked out a meager living on an 80 acre farm at Rossvale outside Pittsworth, experiencing at first hand the harsh demands of farm-life.
To supplement modest income from the land, he regularly sought out shearing work at Charleville and Cunnamulla, negotiating the vast distances by pushbike, while his wife and family held the fort back home. When the opportunity arose to move to Millmerran with the coming of the rail in 1911, Ed Dooley purchased a 640 acre property for the princely sum of 100 pounds. Turallin was the nearest school. Even today, Cec recalls with vividness the terror of daily trek, alleviated only a little when the family invested in a horse for him. It was appropriated by a female teacher while Cec trolled alongside on foot.
It was on account of the dingoes that the picket fences, a distinctive feature of Turallin still to be found in the locality, were built. Today, amongst the few remaining relics of the township are the picket fences, still in remarkably sound condition after 80 years or more. The dingo was by no means the only hazard faced by these hardy pioneers. There were other notable obstacles including the numbing isolation and loneliness, the absence of medical facilities, the incessant and backbreaking toil of pioneering farming. And, in these early years, there was the crippling problem of prickly pear infestation which rendered whole properties unproductive until the miraculous cactoblastus vanquished the scourge virtually overnight.
Turallin township itself in 1910 promised to blossom into the largest community west of Pittsworth. Already boasting a hotel, a well-attended school (48 pupils), a popular Anglican Church, St. Lukes’ (subsequently transported to Mt. Emlyn first as the Presbyterian and then as the Uniting Church), a post office with telephone exchange, a sawmill a store, and even a racecourse, its population was actually exceeded that of neighbouring Millmerran. Indeed, it began life at roughly the same time as Millmerran in the late 1880’s and grew apace with its sibling until the latter derived the hugh benefits attendant on becoming a rail terminus.
In May 1888, School Inspector A.S. Kennedy, later to become the Acting Under-Secretary of Education, had recommended that a provision school be established at Pine Creek, about two kilometres south of the eventual township of Turallin, and about six kilometres from the Domville Cheese factory. There was little doubt in the inspector’s mind of the school’s future since 11 of the pupils already attending the new Yandilla school at Back Creek would transfer to it on account of its closer proximity. The very first school in the district had been established at Yandilla Station, at the Lemon Tree, in 1874 and with its closure, the Back Creek School had opened some years later. This became the first Millmerran School.
The first Pine Creek (Turallin) school committee comprised Albert Sopp, C.M. Keefer, H.A. Thompson and Mrs. Brown, the degree of isolation of the outback community underscored by their advice to the far-off Brisbane Department of Public Instruction to send supplies and requisitions to “Back Creek”, via Pittsworth”. In Brisbane, the Under-Secretary was clearly perplexed by his youngest school, minuting on the original application: “I cannot identify the place. My map is not fully surveyed. It is about 16 years old.”
Within three months of the initial application, Turallin’s first citizens had actually constructed th building, furnished it, and organized the first-day pupils for the inaugural teacher, Miss Charlotte Bacon.
In the ensuing twenty years, Pine Creek School gave stalwart service, its distance from Turallin township only becoming a matter of concern with the growth of the town. The westward push of the railway from Pittsworth augmented the prospects of further growth in Turallin, and in April 1907, Albert Sopp, inaugural committee man and still Secretary of the school Committee, advised the Department of the need for a new building. Pine Creek school was by then 19 years old, and from its initial construction had been fully maintained by the local parents without cost to the Department.
The district appeared to be already in need of further schools with increases in settlement following resumptions. Dairy farmers had settled near the Domville Cheese factory, and portion of Western Creek Run had been resumed and opened up for closer settlement. Turallin itself had already been proclaimed a township.
It was not until 1912, however, that the Department acquiesced to the request to move the school into Turallin township, the deciding factors being the donation of one and a half acres of land by the jondaryan Shire Council (Pofrtion VII of the township), and the availability of local timber from Holley’s sawmill half a mile from Turallin. School Inspector C. Kemp advised the Department that the expected growth south of Turallin in the scrubland had not eventuated, nor had the anticipated surge of population between Millmerran and Turallin. The one obstacle he saw was the need for a paddock for the children’s horses since many had still to ride to school. This minor problem was overcome by the simple expedient of procuring four or five acres across the road from the school from the lessee, J. Murphy.
Of Turallin itself, the Inspector made prophetic observations: “there seems nothing at present to make Turallin more than it is,” he advised Head Office. “The scrub lands are too attractive which will leave the surrounding land for some years much as at present. On the other hand, the people now residing in the township are likely to remain there and are mostly property owners.” In actual fact, the decline had already begun. By 1916 W. Bell’s Turallin Hotel still prospered, along with J.R. Bacon’s butchery and post-office, and his store, but there was no further growth
Selectors in the immediate vicinity incouded J. Dahlmeimer, F. Ezzy, A. Fox, A Geizel, P. Leonard, E. Pimm, P. Phillips, Adam Stirling, C. Sopp, A.L. Thomas and W. Thomson. There were also local graziers such as H. Barr, Mrs. A.M. Maloney, J. O’Connor, J. Robertson and J.W. Vaughan. There were the large Stations including Avonmore owned by the Tennant brothers, Boonadandilla run by J.T. Doneley and J Williams, Callingan owned by B.H. Hagan, Dunmore managed by H.E. Antonio, and Western Creek managed by E.C. Butler.
Distant Brisbane evinced scant interest in the frontier township, repeated requests even for a fence for the local school totally ignored. In June 1914, Head Teacher Annie M. Smith appealed for a perimeter fence to protect her young charges. “The cattle have made a camping ground of the school property.” She notified Head Office “and it is very unhealthy for the children owing to the manure and the urine lying about under the school where they have to eat their lunches.” It was unavailing.
Head teacher William Honor procured an Honour Roll in July 1919 to pay homage to the gallant young volunteers from Turallin who risked all for “King and Country”. Sadly, no trace of this priceless memorial appears to exist.
Cec Dooley still recalls with affection and respect this former schoolmaster whose headship spanned over two decades.
In 1924, Mr Honor’s school grounds drew well-merited praised from departmental officials… “one of the best kept school gardens in this district”… an adornment to the town.
In 1926, Mr Honor was instrumental in relocating the town’s double tennis courts in the school grounds. Formerly at the town Reserve, the two antbed courts were lovingly re-laid with the school grounds largely as a result of Bill Honor’s initiatives. Today the faintest signs of the Turallin Tennis Club are to be found close to the site of the school.
In 1930, Mr Honor purchased a “Victor Talking Machine” for his school, in the process providing a glimpse into the Spartan education of the day. “Up to the present no singing is taught at this school” he informed Brisbane, “but is is my intention of teaching singing when the machine and records are purchased.”
Today Turallin is no more. There is but the dingo fence stretching for a kilometre or so before the home of Len and Nola Ward, Millmerran’s accomplished musicians. With that infectious self-deprecation associated with Henry Lawson, Len describes himself as Turallina’s (sic) “Mayor”, and his wife Nola the “Mayoress”.
The old township appears to be in very good hands, their property mainting that landscaping tradition begun by School-master Honor, that demanding taskmaster but good (to use Cec Dooley’s words). But what of its future? Perhaps the untapped coal treasures known to lie beneath the surface just south of Turallin might give it another chance at glory. It could well become another Moranbah, the mighty coal town of the Queensland Central Highlands."