Bill Ryall and family.
Bill Ryall and family. Contributed

Looking back at early days living on Punchbowl Creek

ALFRED Ryall earned a living classing wool on the outlying properties of Sydney.

He had a wool-classing certificate gained through the Technical College, and was eager to have his own property and breed merino sheep.

It was early in 1930 when an advertisement in a Sydney paper drew his attention - 2309 acres of light forestry country was for sale at Columboola, west of Chinchilla on Queensland's Western Downs.

Alfred and his father George Ryall travelled to Queensland to view the property and decided it would be ideal to run sheep.

It was still heavily timbered, but feed was plentiful on the open box flats, and there was the bonus of abundant water from Punchbowl Creek.

Alfred, his wife Isabel, their two sons Bill and Peter, and their grandfather, William, moved to the new property, Kentucky, and for Bill and his younger brother Peter it was the start of a great adventure.

The two boys took to life in the country like ducks to water and had an idyllic childhood playing on and about the banks of Punchbowl Creek. They swam, fished, tracked and hunted for wildlife, snared wallabies and generally had an enviable life in their early years.

While their parents and grandfather were busily occupied with work for much of the time, the boys were given free rein to entertain themselves and this was for the most part a learning experience which taught Bill and Peter to be resourceful and capable.

Schooling was at best erratic as Kentucky was 15 miles from the nearest school, and small country schools opened and shut with the ebb and flow of student numbers.

In the early years at Kentucky, the boys did their lessons through The School of Correspondence, then for a time Bill and Peter boarded with their teacher, Mr Volker, in a railway house at Columboola siding and attended school there.

Later the boys rode to school with their neighbours from Rosevale, catching a lift on the back of the O'Donnell children's horses, Daisy and Honour. As Bill explained, little Honour was quite a wild ride, so named because they spent more time off her, than on 'er.

Alfred and William opened up some of the timbered areas of Kentucky, and the early morning air would ring with the sound of their axes. Fencing was also a priority as packs of dingos can quickly reduce a woolgrower's income.

Dog and rabbit-proof fencing was established on all boundaries. It was a huge undertaking, with all the work done by hand - each posthole dug with a crowbar and shovel. The task of fencing the boundary took many months, and until that job was completed, sheep had to be penned each night to protect them from dog attacks.

William Ryall was an accomplished blacksmith whose handmade buggies and sulkies were highly esteemed.

His skills with wood and metal were in great demand on Kentucky, and he contributed considerably to the development of the property. He formed hinges for gates, kept the horses shod and the wagons in good working order.

Axes, chisels and mattocks were honed and sharpened under William's skilled hands - he could design and craft tools for any application.

His patience however did not extend to his two young grandsons when he found his precious chisels lying blunt and rusting in the dirt. Bill and Peter soon learnt to leave Grandfather's tools alone.

Isabel must have found living in isolation difficult after life in Sydney.

She was a refined and well-educated woman who had worked in stylish retail outlets in the city.

She had no hesitation, however in following her husband to a strange new place and saw her role as one of support and aid to him in his new endeavour. Isabel was a great cook, and tried valiantly to establish a vegetable garden, despite water in the creek being nearly a mile away.

Eventually her son Bill made her a small fenced garden closer to Punchbowl Creek, from where they could cart water by bucket. She became involved in many aspects of station life, learning to cook for hordes of hungry shearers, teaching school to the boys, and eventually helping to run a dairy herd and drive the farm trucks and tractors.

Eking out an existence on the land in those early days was hard and not everyone succeeded.

The light grazing country of Columboola was not suited to dairying, and more than a few made the mistake of thinking the red soils of the area were as rich as the red wheat country of Victoria, from where many had come. Some stayed the distance, while others sold their blocks, or in some cases walked away with nothing to show for years of work.

Alfred and his family were determined to thrive and continued to buy up neighbouring properties until the family holding exceeded 13,000 acres and ran up to 3000 sheep.

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