Life on the ‘land of plenty’

Al­lan Ni­cholls looks back on his time in agri­cul­ture in the fer­tile sur­rounds of Warra

Chinchilla News - - LOCAL LEGENDS | LIFE - Janette Jenyns Con­trib­u­tor

‘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.

PHOTO: CON­TRIB­UTED

LOCAL LEG­END: Al­lan Ni­cholls.

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