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Community & Business

17 April, 2022

A true blue bush woman

BUSH pioneer, loving matriarch and accomplished horsewoman, Colleen Taylor of Dimbulah, just keeps on adding to her list of achievements.

By Sally Turley

Colleen and her husband Henry take a break while helping their son Kevin and daugher-in-law Shelly Taylor with their muster at "Ooralat Station," Mt Surprise in 2017.

In 2014, she wrote “A Commemorative Journal” Far North Queensland – Cape York & Tablelands Branch of Australian Stock Horse (1974-2014) and was presented last year with the 50th Year Anniversary of Australian Stock Horse Society, “Winner of the Open Section –Short Story – The Movers & Shakers Section”. 

More recently, she released a 410- page autobiography, “Cooee Cooee”, 15 years in the making, that is packed with memories, observations, photos and poetry, and pays tribute to those everyday heroes who populated the outback. 

Described by northern identity and author, John Anderson, as a “true blue bush woman,” she was born in Ingham on 27 August 1948 to Ted and Edna Johnson, who were descended from a Flemish family of wealthy cloth and wool merchants. 

They moved to London where they took to owning and managing farms in England and the Caribbean, so it was no surprise that when Colleen’s great-great-grandfather, Ralph Johnson, sailed for Australia in 1854, that the family ended up in the Queensland bush. 

Mrs Taylor’s great grandfather, William Johnson, went to work on “Kolonga Station”, near Gin Gin in 1864, gaining a lot of knowledge about cattle work and living working on properties as well as a couple of brushes with a local, mail-robbing bushranger known as the “Wild Scotchman”. 

From that point on, whether they were droving mobs of cattle to far destinations, taking up blocks or managing them for other graziers, every generation of the Johnson family has been closely involved with the north Queensland cattle industry. 

William Johnson wooed and married Jessie Collins from Thornhill Station in January 1877 after riding 145km the day before the wedding to gain written consent from Jessie’s trustee. The couple went on to have 10 children, of whom Colleen’s grandfather, Cholmondeley, was the third born. 

While Colleen enjoyed the luxury of being born in a hospital and taken home in a 4x4 Blitz truck, her parents were both born in the bush, delivered by a midwife before being taken to Ingham in a horse and sulky to be birth registered. 

Colleen’s nomadic life started early when, just back from the war, her father bought an army house at Black River. He pulled it down, board by board, loaded it onto an army truck bought for the purpose and shifted it over the Cardwell range, to their first property, “Boulder Hill”. 

After seven years spent establishing a home and a herd of cattle there, it was Colleen and her younger brother Eric’s need for an education that led her parents to take up a cane assignment west of Elphinstsone Creek in 1956 and enrol their kids at Abergowrie school. 

This move entailed pulling down the recently established army house, shifting it over Elphinstone Creek and re-erecting it about 1km to the west of the original wagon road that wound its way west from the port of Cardwell to the Valley of Lagoons and mining towns of Kidston and Einasleigh. 

“We weren’t flash enough to have an actual school bus back then. In the wet season we’d drive the little old Fergie tractor to Mrs Wilkinson’s place, where she would take us to school in the old 1 ton army truck,” Mrs Taylor said. 

There were many important things for Colleen to learn growing up, like how to run to the creek in a particular way to reduce the chances of being bitten by a death adder, how to open sack bags that may contain a scrub turkey, and how to listen for signs you were being hunted by a bull crocodile. 

Mail and bread day was always a weekly highlight for Colleen. She would get to ride nearly 2.5km on the saddle behind her father to a drum nailed to the side of a tree to collect the loaves of fresh bread and the local papers left by the mailman. 

Being taught to ride Jacko, the family’s old bay gelding, at four years of age by her father, who was described locally as a man who could “hold his own with what Queensland could produce in the way of rough riders”, was one of the greatest events of Colleen’s youth. 

Horse riding was always a big part of her life, competing at pony club and mustering with her father early on and later competing in campdrafts all around the north. 

Colleen and her brother Eric would often have to hold up a mob of coacher cattle in a clearing on their property, while their father galloped off into the bush in search of fresh mobs to bring to them. After hours of waiting, his “cooee” on approach was music to their little ears. 

In 1966, the Johnson family drove 1000 head of cattle up the Mt Fox range to their newly-purchased property, “Gilldale Station”, where they grew lucerne in the drought before selling the place and buying the 1036sq km “Amber Station” on the Lynd River. 

Bought on a walk-in-walk-out basis, including 600 breeders plus bulls, the Johnsons were on the road again changing the location of their 1200-strong herd to Amber, about the time Australia was changing its currency from pounds, shilling and pence to dollars and cents. 

Many trials, tribulations, births, deaths, marriages and relocations followed, including a stint in the lush rainforests of Millaa Millaa where, for a short time, they lived on the same road as three other Taylor families, none of whom were related. 

Having “fallen” for her husband Henry during a progressive barn dance at the Einasleigh Christmas party when, after a few beers, Henry actually lassoed Colleen’s foot, they were married in October 1968 and have lived and worked side by side for the last 54 years. 

Prepared to have a go at anything, they have managed and owned properties; Henry drove a truck for Tobacco Growers, Mareeba for 18 months; they have bought and run a saddlery shop; been tin mining; and even created a new subdivision outside Malanda in 1997. 

In June 2017, while camped at the Mount Surprise Recreational Grounds before the campdraft, Colleen told Henry, their son Kevin and grandsons, Morgan, Brodie and Darcy, that it was 50 years since the Johnson family first arrived there with a mob of cattle and camped in the middle of the racecourse for the night. 

Now living happily at Dimbulah, Colleen said that 50 years on, the Johnson circle was completed when in October 2017, her son and daughter-inlaw, Kevin and Shelly Taylor, bought Ooralat Station near Mt Surprise. Ooralat was originally a portion off Brooklands Station owned by Kevin’s grandparents, Arthur and Connie Sue, some 85 years ago.

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