The flower-filled garden at Sue and Waldo Bayley’s Humpty Doo property grew out of the traumatic illness and death of their teenage daughter

Story By David Hancock

When Sue and Waldo Bayley's daughter Debbie died from leukemia in 1986, the Northern Territory Government rushed special legislation through parliament so they could bury her on their two-hectare block at Humpty Doo.
More than 400 people turned out for the funeral of the brave young woman whose 22-month battle with cancer ended five days after her 18th birthday. Debbie’s fight touched the hearts of thousands of Territorians and the politicians were unanimous in granting her last wish.
Debbie’s illness and death proved traumatic for the Bayley family but it also strengthened their resolve to establish one of the Top End’s most down-to-earth tourist attractions. Initially called Debbie’s Place, the Bayley property at Humpty Doo became a tea garden where Waldo sold mounted buffalo horns and Sue created leather stubby holders that celebrated the frontier buffalo industry.
As time went by Sue became an accomplished leather worker and began making crocodile and barramundi-skin products such as purses, diary holders, wallets and handbags while Waldo became one of northern Australia’s best known and loved bush poets.
“Deb was buried 10 paces from where her horse is buried, near the back of the block,” Waldo says. “Sue and I often go up there with a light home brew and spend some time with her.”
The grave is marked with a headstone of rock from nearby Mount Bundy station and planted out with gerberas and hibiscus because they flower so well. Debbie requested people bring a plant to her funeral instead of flowers.
“People marvel at our garden now but that is how it started,” Sue says. “Before Debbie’s death it was a bare block full of pangola hay … afterwards we had so many plants. We just kept on digging and planting trees and shrubs. We didn’t have a plan – if a tree didn’t grow we just moved it elsewhere.”
Now the tearooms are surrounded by a mass of palms, bromeliads, orchids, crotons and other succulent, colourful plants. The rest of the property is green with lawn and a variety of eucalypts, weeping tea trees and melaleucas.
Now called The Barra Shack (the brand name for Sue’s leatherwork), the property is a mere buffalo charge from the Humpty Doo Hotel on the Arnhem Highway. It is a popular destination for tourists travelling to and from Kakadu National Park. “We often get tourists here for a 10-minute stopover and they end up staying for an hour or two,” Sue says.

This story excerpt is from Issue #82

Outback Magazine: Apr/May 2012