In 1863 my third great grandmother Margaret Rankin, formerly Margaret Budge nee Gunn, died at ‘Bookmark‘, a sheep-station on the Murray River near present-day Renmark.

brass plaque from the grave of Margaret Rankin now on view at Olivewood Historic Homestead and Museum, Renmark

Margaret had arrived in South Australia from Liverpool on the ‘Dirigo‘ in November 1854 with her second husband Ewan Rankin and four surviving children from her first marriage. In Wick on 10 June 1854, five weeks before they sailed on 15 July, she had married Ewan Rankin, a carpenter.

When the Rankin family arrived the two boys, Daniel and Kenneth, were 12 and 11, and the two daughters, Margaret and Alexandrina, were 9 and 2. I do not know where the family settled nor how Ewan Rankin was employed from the time of their arrival until Margaret’s death nearly ten years later. It appears, however, that Ewan Rankin had found work on a large property called ‘Bookmark‘ on the Murray River near present-day Renmark.

In the early 1860s ‘Bookmark‘ and the neighbouring station, ‘Chowilla‘, were leased by two men named James Chambers and William Finke. Chambers died in 1862 and his brother John Chambers took over. Finke died in early 1864. At that time Ewan Rankin seems to have been the ‘Bookmark‘ overseer.

In 1864 a man named Richard Holland bought the ‘Bookmark‘ station lease for his stepsons John, William, and Robert Robertson. The run extended from Spring Cart Gully near Berri to the NSW border. I do not know if Ewan Rankin stayed with the property or moved on; I have not found any reference to him after 1863.

In 1867, four years after her mother Margaret died, Margaret Budge, now 21, married James Francis Cudmore of ‘Paringa‘, a neighbouring station on the Murray, 20 miles upstream from ‘Bookmark‘.

In the 1870s Daniel and Kenneth Budge worked for the Cudmores and went into partnership with them. In 1870 Kenneth purchased ‘Gooyea‘ station in Queensland with J F Cudmore. In October 1871 the Adelaide “Evening Journal” reported that “A lot of 600 cows with 16 bulls, from Mr Cudmore’s Paringa Station, in charge of Mr. K. Budge, passed through Wilcannia on the 12th for Dowling’s Creek, Bulla, Queensland.”

In the 1860s paddle steamers carried a great amount of goods, much of it wool, up and down the Darling and Murray rivers. Two dangers were boiler explosions and collision with submerged logs, snags. In 1862 the ‘Settler‘ hit a snag near ‘Bookmark‘ and sank:

"In coming up the river near Bookmark Station she came in collision with a large snag some two feet under water, which made such a large hole in her below watermark that she had to run ashore immediately, when she sunk, and now lies with the water up to the floor of her cabins. She had some 200 tons of cargo onboard, the greater portion of which was for settlers and storekeepers on the river, and they will consequently be put to considerable inconvenience, in addition to the loss attending the accident. The steamer 'Lady Daly' is lying alongside the 'Settler' to render any assistance that may be necessary."

In 1865 the landing place at Bookmark station was cleared of 9 trees from the water by Edward Williams, superintendent of the Snagboat ‘Grappler‘, employed in the service of the Commissioner of Public Works.

In 1880 a correspondent of the “Kapunda Herald“, on a trip aboard the steamer ‘Gem‘ up to Wentworth, reported that “On the way down we had the chance of seeing Mr. J. F. Cudmore’s Paringa Station. It is a very pretty house built on a hill, with a fine garden terraced down the slope to the river, and from the steamer looks a grand residence. Farther down is Messrs. Robertson Brother’s Bookmark Station, which is a very nice looking building.”

Paringa station, Murray River about 1890 by Frederick Needham from the collection of the State Library of South Australia SLSA reference B 62050

In 1881 Mr G.E.M. [a Melbourne University student who wrote for the Melbourne Leader] on a trip down the Murray by canoe, coming around a bend,

“… to my astonishment, came suddenly in view of a well built residence, occupying a very elevated position off the left bank. Four tanks were near it on a lofty staging. The steam-engine was on a ledge lower down. A beautiful garden was round the house, and the flat ground below it was occupied by a number of outbuildings. My surprise was great to find that I was at Paringa, more so that it was only half-past three. The manager, Mr. Hayes, looked after me well. Paringa station belongs to Mr. Cudmore of Adelaide, and is his home for six months of the year. It runs 20,000 sheep, only a third of the number on Chowilla. I had a good night's rest, and, rising early, made my preparations before breakfast. At half-past eight I was proceeding onwards. At half-past twelve I was knocking at the door at Bookmark. The 21 miles between the two places did not offer much variety. Near Cutler's billabong I saw far ahead a man slowly propelling his boat, and having overtaken him, learnt that he was a carpenter by trade, who, finding work slack in Wentworth, had patched up an old furniture case to form a boat, and taking a few tools, had started off down the river to seek work. Instead of sculling in the ordinary way, he looked to the bows and pushed his sculls through the water. I was amused, on asking him the time, with the startling vehemence of his reply, "God knows." His boat crept along so slowly that I wished him good morning and paddled on. From Paringa can be seen a range of hills trending towards the Murray. They do not, however, come to the river, but form a precipitous bank for the Margary Creek, which flows into the Murray a mile above Bookmark. The station house is in a striking position, of which it is worthy, for a more elegantly furnished dwelling I have rarely seen. Despite my peculiar appearance, Mrs. Robertson extended to me a cordial welcome, and in the afternoon Mr. Robertson came home. All the wood work in this house and a great part of the cabinet work is the result of Mr. Robertson's own labor. In the evening we fished, using shrimps for bait, and caught in a short time a nice basket of bream. Music enlivened us till bedtime. The following day was delightfully spent. In the morning we drove to the back country, to try for a shot at a kangaroo. As we drove along I had many of the trees and shrubs pointed out to me. "This fragile gum tree," said he, " is the mallee, the Eucalyptus Dumosa ; that prickly bush, whose roots when cut yield fresh water, is the needle bush ; there is the sandalwood, there the box. This stunted shrub, interspersed with spinifex, is a kind of saltbush ; that dark-tinted tree is the native cherry ; that, very like it in appearance, is the bitter bush; yonder is the curious quandong, easily picked out by reason of its light-green foliage." The kangaroos sleep during the heat of the day under shelter of the pines. We disturbed many, but my execrable shooting invariably resulted in their hopping off scathless. In the evening, while fishing, I was sitting beside Mr. Robertson, watching my float, when he said quietly, "Look here," motioning towards a snake which had swum the river and landed at his feet. A well aimed blow killed the first and last snake I saw in my whole trip. It was the common brown snake, 4 feet 6 inches long. On the 15th. January, with great regret, I left Bookmark. Three miles from the house the Spring Cart Cliffs begin, and extend for a long distance, gradually diminishing in height.”

Overlooking Pike Lagoon with the Murray in the distance, near Paringa
1887 sketch map showing Chowilla, Renmark, Paringa, and Bookmark from IRRIGATION. (1887, June 4). Adelaide Observer (SA), p. 13. Retrieved from

In 1887 the South Australian Government granted the Chaffey Brothers 30,000 acres from Bookmark station to begin Renmark, the first irrigation colony in Australia. In 1896 Bookmark station was divided into Calperum and Chowilla Stations; John and Robert Robertson dissolved their partnership, John retained Bookmark, and changed the name to Calperum, and Robert settled at Chowilla.

Now heritage listed, the homestead at what was Bookmark is on Calperum station. The present building, dating from the 1870s, replaces an earlier construction of pug and pine, which for walls used native pine trunks rendered with clay. This building technique was frequently employed in country South Australia, especially when there were not enough large trees to provide bark or slabs. In the early 1860s the Rankin family were probably living in buildings of pug and pine construction. In 1984 a pug and pine outbuilding built in 1863 on Chowilla was reported in a heritage study to be one of the oldest surviving structures in the upper Riverlands.

A pug and pine structure erected in 1876 and photographed 1925 (Barabba Primitive Methodist Chapel) State Library of South Australia image B58121

In 2015 the Robertson family celebrated 150 years on “Chowilla”, formerly part of Bookmark, which is now 35,200ha (87,000ac) and consists of mostly semi-arid rangeland featuring saltbush, blue bush, copper burr and native grasses. The Robertsons farm 132,000 hectares (327,000 acres) spread across four properties. Depending on the season the Robertsons shear 15,000 to 17,000 head of sheep.


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