Half a century ago, 15 pioneers headed to central Queensland to establish crops and cattle. The legacy of their hard work and faith in the land lives on.

Story By Paula Heelan

Of the 15 men whose names were drawn in the Kilcummin land ballot on October 8, 1957, not one could have anticipated the scale of the legacy they would create for those to follow. After laying the foundations of all they prized and loved, their children’s children are now enjoying the benefits of a fruitful land and close-knit community. Kilcummin, 60 kilometres north of Clermont in Queensland’s central highlands, boasts a small school, an active community centre and is a leading cattle and grain district.
With the arrival of power, telephones, satellite television, internet, bitumen roads, airconditioning, trucks, machinery and flyscreens, life at Kilcummin has dramatically changed. Before the land ballot, the black soil and open-downs country was a well-established sheep property contributing significantly to the Queensland economy. But arriving to make a new life, the 15 men (some with families) aged from 21–50 began developing their allocated blocks of between 2145 and 5380 hectares to establish crops and cattle. They needed better roads, telephones, power, a school and later a grain depot to service the harvests. Recognising the value of working together and the need for social contact, the men and their families formed the Kilcummin Group Selectors’ Association (KGSA) and step by step, moving out of tents and basic structures, they built their community, their stations and their enterprises.
The journey was a mix of struggle and triumph. Against a background of colour and romance, they battled drought, floods, bushfires, soaring interest rates, fluctuating commodity prices and other hardships. But with persistence, determination, helping and sharing, the making of Kilcummin was never really in doubt. Spend some time today with any of the Kilcummin families and their sense of belonging and deep connection to the land is immense.
When Tom and Margaret Cook and their large family came to nearby “Coovin” in 1957, they set up camp, bought sheep, tackled the fencing and ploughed land for a sorghum crop. With the billy constantly on the boil, Coovin was a popular, open camp. Today the mixed-farming operation, like the family, has expanded significantly (with the purchase of more land to run cattle) but the warm hospitality remains the same. Bernard Cook and his wife Marie, now on Coovin with extended family members, also operate a registered cattle feedlot and run a feed-mixing and a hay-making business. “One of the great things about the community when it began was the sharing that went on,” Bernard says. “We were all pretty broke, but there was always someone willing to help out, whatever the need.”

This story excerpt is from Issue #57

Outback Magazine: Feb/Mar 2008