Orfeur Charles Cavenagh, fifth of the ten children of Wentworth and Ellen Cavenagh, and so one of my great great uncles, was born on 24 April 1872 in Kensington, a suburb of Adelaide.

He died of fever at the age of 18 on 17 December 1890 at Monkira Station in Queensland. My grandmother told me that at the time of his death her uncle Orfeur was a jackaroo (a young man working on a station—a large farm—to learn at first hand the business of sheep or cattle grazing).

Apart from these few facts, I know nothing about my great great uncle Orfeur Charles. I do not even have a photograph of him.

Monkira Station is in the Channel country 120 kilometres east of Bedourie, the closest settlement; Bedourie has a population today of about 120. It is 1300 kilometres north of Adelaide, 170 north-east of Birdsville.

The Channel Country is called this from the many intertwined rivulets that cross the region. The major rivers, which run only after flooding rain upsteam, are the Georgina River, Cooper Creek, and the Diamantina River. The primary land use continues to be cattle grazing.

The Diamantina River runs through Monkira Station which runs 7,800 cattle on 373,000 hectares (921,700 acres). Monkira is owned by the North Australian Pastoral Company (NAPCo). When it floods the river spreads out widely between sandhill country to the west and lightly grassed low hills to the east.

The Diamantina River runs through Monkira Station which today is a cattle station with 7,800 cattle on  373,000 hectares (921,700 acres) owned by the North Australian Pastoral Company (NAPCo). The river floods the country which has some sandhill country and some lightly grassed low hills on the eastern side.

Monkira Station, south west Queensland. Satellite view from Google maps.

Monkira Station set a record which lasted for over 40 years from 1892 with the Monkira ox, the heaviest bullock ever slaughtered in Australia. It was bred at Monkira and walked to Adelaide. Its live weight was 1,378 kilograms (3,042 pounds); dressed 902 kilograms (1,992 pounds). When it was slaughtered in 1894 it was claimed to be the heaviest ox in the world.

Monkira has a claim to another world record. One of the world’s largest trees, known as the Monkira monster, is a Coolibah (Eucalyptus coolabah) growing at Neuragully Waterhole on the property, 24 kilometers south west of the homestead. Its crown has a diameter of 73 metres (240 feet).

Mr Bob Gunther, manager of Monkira, and the giant coolabah, 46 feet around the girth. Photograph by Arthur Groom in 1952. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-146211212

In 1995 some of my cousins visited the grave of Orfeur Cavenagh and sent my grandmother a photograph of it.

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Further reading:

  • Website of the North Australian Pastoral Company https://napco.com.au/ 
  • Kowald, Margaret & Johnston, W. Ross (William Ross), 1939- & North Australian Pastoral Company (1992, 2015). You can’t make it rain : the story of the North Australian Pastoral Company 1877-1991. Boolarong Publications with North Australian Pastoral Company, Brisbane viewed through Google Books pages 133 ff 
  • Encyclopedia of Australian Science and Innovation entry for Brooks, Albert Ellison (1908 – 1978) at https://www.eoas.info/biogs/P005128b.htm :
    • “In his 1964 book Tree Wonders of Australia, Albert Brooks mentions a giant Coolibah (Eucalyptus coolabah Blakely & Jacobs 1934), also known as the ‘Monkira Monster’. The tree is located at Neuragully waterhole in Western Queensland. In 2010 the tree was still alive and has been protected from stock.”