Life on the ‘land of plenty’
Allan Nicholls looks back on his time in agriculture in the fertile surrounds of Warra
‘WEEROONA’ translates into land of plenty – and for Allan Nicholls it presented growth and opportunity, a boyhood full of challenges and a platform for learning that would set him up for life.
Trumpeter’s Corner is an area of Warra once settled by returned soldiers after the Second World War.
Gathering under the shade of a tree with a five gallon keg of beer and stories to share became a tradition for those returned servicemen.
Since 1952, Bill Johnson and his descendants have maintained a memorial there at Warra, just a stone’s throw from Allan’s family farm.
For Allan, life on the dairy farm with his parents Reginald and Thelma and older brother Les was idyllic.
He remembers his parents’ relationship as a happy and equal partnership.
Reg was hard-working and innovative; he was one of the first farmers in his district to embrace bulk grain harvesting and handling at a time some farms were still using tractor drawn headers and bagging grain.
He and a neighbour instigated the connection of power via a line from Macalister.
Thelma was every inch a woman of the land, having been raised on Weeroona.
The property was purchased after her father’s death as bringing up her own children with rural traditions was vitally important to Thelma.
Life for Allan took a very different path one day when his father, en route to Jandowae with a load of pigs, was involved in a rollover.
His truck had a sudden mechanical failure and the tragic accident took his life despite the efforts of the community to bring an ambulance to his aid through a number of flooded creek crossings.
Allan and his brother Les grew up very quickly after the loss of their father.
With Thelma at the helm, the property continued to prosper but Allen put his education behind him at the age of 13 and took to header driving, clearing scrub and generally helping to run his father’s farm in his absence.
Thelma’s father had originally cleared Weeroona by hand but after Reg’s death the boys took to the T-tree and Belah scrub re-growth with a dozer to clear for cultivation.
They planned to phase out dairying and replace it with more cropping.
Allan became skilled at driving the header and was soon harvesting wheat, barley and sorghum for many of the neighbours on a contract basis.
The boys grew in their skills and confidence, although they probably threw caution to the wind when they decided to try their hand at explosives.
The large stumps left after tree felling presented a problem for the boys, so they took to watching their neighbour use gelignite and Nitro-prill to blast them out of the ground.
“It looked pretty easy,” Allan said.
“And explosives were readily available at the produce store.
“Our first experimental blast could very well have been our last, according to the neighbour who came over to investigate.
“Using far too much diesel in the fertiliser saved us from an explosion as big as a house, but we learnt our lesson and measured more carefully next time.
“Before long we were blasting tree stumps out of the ground for farmers all over the district.”
In the 1970s, five years of drought forced Allan to find alternative work with a carpenter at Jandowae.
It was yet another skill to add to his already impressive list.
He married Mary Maguire in 1976 and built his mother a new home so he and Mary could live in the family homestead.
In the years that followed he and Mary had two sons, Darren and Mark, and enjoyed some bumper seasons.
Not content with the success of the farm, Allan also took on the role of professional roo shooter during the winter months and started an on-farm engineering business where he manufactured chaser bins which were in high demand.
Things were going well for Allan: there had been some bumper wheat crops and time for social dances and tennis.
He decided it was time to follow his boyhood dream – he was going to fly!
Model aeroplanes had always been a passion for Allan as a child and flying one was the stuff of dreams. He enrolled with the Darling Downs Aero Club at
❝ “The boys grew in their skills and confidence, although they probably threw caution to the winds when they decided to try their hand at explosives.”
Chinchilla and began taking lessons.
It was one of his biggest thrills, he says as he recalls the first time he flew solo, with his life literally in his own hands.
Flying was something Allan wanted to pursue, but circumstances did not allow it.
First there was a serious injury to his foot when it was crushed under a heavy length of steel, then came another run of bad seasons and Allan and Mary took to the road with their header to harvest crops from Moura in Central Queensland to across the border in Forbes.
“I could never have done it all without Mary’s support,” Allan said.
“She kept me going with hot meals and cups of coffee, she drove the escort vehicle and she cooked for our crew of drivers.”
By 1989, Allan had two headers and three cotton pickers and he spent three months away every year.
“I loved flying, but I love driving a header even more; the challenge of fine-tuning the machine to get the best out of it is a real thrill for me.”
These days Allan spends his time assisting his brother-in-law in his upholstery business and driving headers whenever he gets the chance.
“I still get to play with the big toys,” he says with a grin.
LOCAL LEGEND: Allan Nicholls.