Elsey Station Northern Territory

Elsey Station NT

Elsey Creek was discovered by August Charles Gregory in 1856. Elsey Station was the third station in the Northern Territory to be taken up. Its first owner was Abraham Wallace in 1879.

Original Homestead destroyed by a cyclone in 1897.
Rebuild by 1907.

Aeneas Gunn, born 10 February 1862 and Jeannie Taylor, born 5 June 1870, daughter of Rev. Thomas Taylor, were married on 31 December 1901 and arrived at Elsey Station, ninety kilometres south of Katherine in 1902. They had sailed from Melbourne on the Guthrie for Palmerston on 2 January 1902 and taken the train as far as Pine Creek. From there they travelled on horseback. Aeneas Gunn had been up north before with his cousin Joe Bradshaw on exploration trips up the Victoria River and been Captain of the Red Gauntlet, a forty ton steamer owned by Bradshaw.

Aeneas, son of Rev. Peter Gunn from Campbellfield, Victoria had been a librarian at Prahran and was also a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society. He had helped to establish VRD station and owned a quarter share in Elsey station. He only was at Elsey for about twelve months when he died on 16 March 1903 from Blackwater Fever. Only a month before Aeneas had buried Lee Ken, a Chinese cook on his way to Daly Waters. He became ill while staying at Elsey and died on 18 February 1903.

The homestead was established on the Roper River. During that time Jack McLennan, John McCarthy, J. McLeod, Tom Pearce, H.H. Bryant, Henry V. Peckham, Teddy Morgan, Cheon the cook, and Frank Kruger were associated with the station. Henry Peckham, better known as the Fisser, had once managed Auvergne Station, after the previous manager, Tom Hardy had been speared to death by Aborigines. He was well known by J.A. Martin, manager of Victoria River Downs Station who later said that Peckham was well named, smart, lively, fussy and a clean little chap. According to Martin, Cheon was a wonderful old servant and just as good as Mrs Gunn painted him.

Jack McLeod, the Quiet Stockman, who had been taught to read by Jeannie Gunn, later operated a service station at Angaston in South Australia. He named one of his daughters Jeannie Gunn McLeod. Tom Pearce, after his retirement lived in Aldgate in the Adelaide Hills. During that same time Myrtle Rose White, author of several books on the outback also lived at Aldgate. Tom died at the Royal Adelaide Hospital aged 89 in 1952. John McCarthy, better known as Irish Mac also died at the Royal Adelaide Hospital aged 70. In the early 1960's the station was managed by Peter and Mary McCracken

Both Jack McLeod and Herbert Henry Bryant are buried at the Angaston Cemetery.

The Elsey Cemetery, which is only about three hundred metres from the original homestead, contains the remains of several men who became famous through Jeannie Gunn's book and later the film We of the Never Never, published in 1908. She had already published The Little Black Princess in 1905. Among them are those of Aeneas James Gunn, The Maluka, John McLennan, Tom Pearce, J.H. George Conway, William Cleary, Jack Angus Grant and Edward Liddle.

McLennan later retired to a peanut farm at Katherine and died 9 May 1932. His remains were moved to Elsey station in 1945.

Jeannie Gunn OBE, 'The Little Missus', born on 5 June 1870, the daughter of a Presbyterian minister, died 9 June 1961. She was buried at Melbourne. A replica of the original homestead, used in the film, was later moved to the Mataranka Homestead. Her final book, The Making of Monbulk was not published until nearly 40 years after her death as My Boys, A Book of Remembrance.

When Aboriginal families left Elsey Station for Jilkminggan in 1974, attendance declined at the school at Elsey Station. In 1975, the Education Department moved the Elsey School mobile units to Jilkminggan (or Djembere as it was known then).

In 1995 management of the Elsey was taken up by Max Gorringe and his wife Mabel. Since that time they have helped improving the station's outlook and it is now recognised as one of Australia's best managed Aboriginal Stations. During their time as managers for the Mangarrayi people, the Gorringes have increased its herd from 3500 cattle to 10,000 brahmans.

In February 2000, Elsey station of more than 5,000 square kilometres was handed back by Federal Aboriginal affairs minister, Senator John Herron. It was one of three Northern Territory pastoral properties to be purchased through the Northern Land Council on behalf of its traditional Aboriginal owners. Since then all three, Elsey Station, Fitzroy Station near Timber Creek and Muckaty Station, north of Tennant Creek have been undergoing extensive rebuilding and re-vegetation in preparation for their new role as Aboriginal operated pastoral

With the help of a grant from the Bureau of Resource Sciences in Canberra, Elsey Station will be able to maintain a full-time fencing camp for two years. This will provide regular and sustained employment for members of the Jilkminggan community and will help people at last to achieve their aim of living and working on their own land.

In 2002, the 100th anniversary of the arrival at Elsey Station in the Northern Territory of Jeannie Gunn, about 100 people attended a memorial service at the Elsey Cemetery. Elsey Station attracts 130,000 visitors annually.

Different Points of View.

Rob Gowland, in The Guardian of 22 September 1999, wrote 'Earlier editions of Mrs Gunn's once popular book recounted the "nigger hunts" which her husband and "the men" carried out on Elsey Station. Ironically, and after a nine-year battle, the local Mangarayi people will soon receive the title deeds to Elsey Station - their traditional home. It's a safe bet the Mangarayi won't be putting up any statues to the Gunns. More recent editions of the book have had the "nigger hunts" deftly removed, so as not to offend. This tidying up of a true story may keep the shine on Mrs Gunn's image but it portrays a false picture of both the author and her times.

As for the Aborigines, whether hunting them, insulting them, treating them with contempt or even, occasionally, trying to learn from them, the whites of Elsey Station never for a single moment gave a thought to them as the rightful owners of the place where they were now being bossed about. Commercial, not artistic, reasons must have driven the decision to film this very dated book.

It could have been filmed with a modern-day awareness of all the harsh deficiencies in Mrs Gunn's account, using her original as the basis for a realistic reworking of the story of Elsey Station. Instead, the producers chose to present as unreal a picture in its own way as Mrs Gunn had done: beautiful scenery, safe period atmosphere, bland relationships and - to satisfy modern attitudes - a heroine whose perception of Aboriginal culture was suddenly very ahead of her time'.

For another point of view about Jeannie Gunn and her connection with John Flynn see Ivan Rudolph's book Flynn's Outback Angels.

Guy Featherstone of West Yorkshire, GB wrote in 2018;

I have just finished reading “We of the Never-Never” again. Back in the 1950s, when I was brought up in Bristol, England, there was a request for someone to be a “pen friend”. I answered the radio ad, on the BBC, and that’s how I came to know Edith North, a lady from Brisbane. I would have been between 13 -24 years, Miss North was in her 50s. We chatted by letter for years and, it being soon after WW2, and food being scarce, I remember she sent a cake for Christmas (a delicious, black, brandy-laden affair that was perfectly matured by the time it got here by sea.

About 1955, Miss North came to Bristol for a couple of days, and we met. She brought me a copy of a book, the Never-Never. I read it, and remembered it whenever I looked at my bookshelves. Today, for the first time in 60 years, I read it again. I should have read it last Spring, before I left with my wife for our second trip to Australia, and this time we bought a 4WD, eventually acquired a second spare wheel, a puncture repair kit, good tyres…..etc! and took to the outback, in a modest way for 3 months. Starting in Perth, we drove across the bottom, up the Stuart Highway to Darwin (past Elsey station), then across and down the west, turning inland to the Karajini. We’ve now circumnavigated Australia - the eastern half from Sydney we did in a very comfortable car 4 years ago.

Reading Mrs Gunn’s book has been a great backup to the trip. Sure, social attitudes have changed; the “Nigger Hunt” is not something one would want to publicise now. But it did happen then - and no matter how unpleasant, I believe it should not be edited out of the book. Whitewashing simply paints over the dirt - obscuring it, it doesn’t obliterate it. We are far from living on a sanitised world now: an astonishing number of books would need “cleaning up if that were the case. You might have to start on “Kings in Grass Castles”……!

However, my 2x3-month “road trips” with my wife, makes me wish I had accepted that job back in 1971…..! That was a big mistake, I feel. We are a bit elderly now to turn up and buy a Land Cruiser and really get stuck in the Outback! But we have had two of the best “holidays” ever….. and who knows? I cannot finish without saying that the major reason Australia is a great place to travel is; On an outback road nobody passes a stationary vehicle, in case someone needs help. Nobody bothers about their own delay if someone needs help. Thank you, the people who helped us, anywhere and anytime round your splendid Continent.

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