Roy Parsons' diary

03 Aug, 2013 02:00 AM
Elaine Campbell with some of the Coolawanyah diaries and photos she used to compile her father's history, Roy's Story, the life and times of Roy Parsons.
Elaine Campbell with some of the Coolawanyah diaries and photos she used to compile her father's history, Roy's Story, the life and times of Roy Parsons.

AUSTRALIANS are fortunate that so many of the nation's pioneers were keen diary writers, recording their trials and tribulations as they developed the country that we have been fortunate enough to inherit.

But we are doubly fortunate when these records are published, allowing a wider audience to appreciate the efforts of these pioneers, with the latest example being the book, Roy's Story, the life and times of Roy Parsons.

It was launched in Roebourne recently by Agriculture and Food Minister Ken Baston, who was a fellow pastoralist and family friend of the Parsons family.

The book was compiled by Roy's daughter, Elaine Campbell, from the diaries of her father and from Coolawanyah station records, in an exercise that not only caused her to become computer literate, but after reading it, showed it was a labour of love.

After service in the Royal Australian Navy during WWI and employment in the WA Lands Department, both before and after the war, in 1922 Roy Parsons and partners bought Coolawanyah station. Not many years later, Roy bought out both his partners.

Coolawanyah is in the Pilbara, about 160km east of Roebourne and at the time of purchase, it consisted of 120,400 acres (50,583ha).

Readers are able to follow Roy's career, his progress through marriage and fatherhood and the passing of the era of horses, camels and donkeys through to cars, planes, road trains and proper roads.

The flying doctor came in a De Havilland Fox Moth, which was really just a wide-bodied Tiger Moth.

It gave way to a sleek twin-engined DH Dove, while MMA went from the pre-war Lockheed - the ex-RAAF Avro Anson - to the modern Douglas DC3, which first appeared on November 3, 1947.

Drought and dingoes remained as the two consistent problems, as the early years of station ownership gave way to the realities of the depression and war, with the start of the Pacific conflict with Japan bringing war close to home.

The bombing of Darwin and north-west towns in WA caused Roy to prepare for the worst, with entries in February 1942 revealing that he had started hiding stores of food and essentials in the nearby ranges.

If the Japanese invaded, the family would retreat there, poisoning the water supplies as they retreated.

On the positive side, the need for aerial communications in this area of military operations, saw the RAAF survey Coolawanyah for an airstrip and helped in its subsequent construction.

Military acquisition of most transport caused problems, with a note on January 1943 stating, "first steamer supplies for two and a half months", which precipitated another comment, "had Christmas celebrations of January 3".

On August 11, 1945, in bold lettering, he noted "ATOMIC BOMB", then explained, "British contraption made in America and used on Japan".

The day's record finished with the note, "crutching wethers all day".

The end of the war saw wool prices improve and life became easier as improvements to the station and lifestyle not only became possible, but affordable.

The dingo problem persisted, with Roy stating in his diary in March 1941, that he had "decided to get rid of sheep and change to cattle", although he must have changed his mind as there is a photo of him with bale number 400 after the 1967 shearing.

Another major post-war change occurred in December 15, 1949, when "Mr (Ted) Lefroy and I agreed to buy Tambrey and Hooley stations and merge with Coolawanyah.

"Mr Lefroy and three sons, plus self and my family, signed up arrangement, to be known as Coolawanyah Pastoral Co Pty Ltd".

Mr Lefroy was to be chairman of the new company, which had grown to 424,800 acres (177,000ha), with Roy Parsons as managing director.

The company now leases Millstream station of 319,000 acres (133,000ha) from the Department of Water, making a total of 743,800 acres (301,000ha) under management.

Coolawanyah had a long association with the Lefroys and their Cranmore Park stud, for although Roy had long been under considerable pressure from his bankers, Dalgety's, to buy cheaper rams, he always refused.

As the quality of the flock improved, Cranmore became the preferred ram supplier, while Roy began supplying his neighbours with rams that he bred on Coolawanyah.

One entry from August 1949 revealed that they "topped the NW in the wool sale".

One matter-of-fact entry in the diary mentioned that the doctor arrived in the RFDS plane and while Roy's wife Ellen sat on the step of the car, the doctor removed a tooth and then left for his next call.

Although a story of a family property, little gems are sprinkled through the entries, with one stating, "killed and poisoned our very noisy, useless white cocky for fox bait".

One of the culinary delicacies was the wild turkey, now protected, with one entry revealing, "shot two wild turkeys, skinny like everything else because of the drought".

Like most country children at the time, the three Parsons children went off to boarding school for their final years of schooling, with Roy noting, "children always catching diseases, as no resistance built up due to isolation of station life".

When Roy travelled to Perth in December 1947, he mentioned that he had "left (son) Ted in charge with bread and ice cream recipes", while in 1949 he recorded, "sat up late enough to hear that Menzies had won election".

In March 1956, Roy's younger son Leslie (Les) officially became "Boss Man" at Coolawanyah and "keeper of the diary", while his elder brother Ted remained as manager of Hooley station.

On April 14, 1956, Roy and Ellen sailed from Fremantle on the SS Southern Cross to the UK via South Africa, returning on December 13, 1956.

By January 22, 1957, it was recorded, "Roy Parsons left Perth with new three ton Bedford truck at 8am".

"By February 1, was back at Coolawanyah and put up two railway iron posts for electric light plant".

At the end of October 1957, Roy and Ellen officially retired, continued to travel and make regular trips to Coolawanyah.

Anyone interested in WA history, pastoral history or just having a damn good read should beg, borrow or buy a copy of Eileen's book, and at $35, it is not only great reading, it is an absolute bargain.

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