The life on Ash­ley Downs

Port Douglas & Mossman Gazette - - LOOKING BACK -

Among the pi­o­neers of the cat­tle in­dus­try in the Dain­tree, Sue Den­nis’s fam­ily life on the land was about blood­lines. She talks with Pam Wil­lis-Bur­den of those early days and what came af­ter.

Grow­ing up on a Dain­tree prop­erty, Sue Den­nis de­vel­oped a pas­sion for cat­tle blood­lines and has main­tained breed­ing records dat­ing from 1950. She has 4000 pho­tos of var­i­ous breeds of cat­tle, many of which orig­i­nated here and have sur­vived well in the tor­rid cli­mate of the trop­ics.

The most suc­cess­ful lo­cal cat­tle are Brah­mans with a hump, orig­i­nally bred by Mau­rice de Tournouer at Wetherby in Ju­lat­ten, and Drought­mas­ters, a mix of Brah­man (also known as Zebu) and Bri­tish short­horn, which were first bred lo­cally by Louis Fis­cher.

Drought­mas­ters are mainly polled, or horn­less, cat­tle and fea­ture a sleek red coat, tick re­sis­tance, a quiet na­ture and good beef qual­i­ties.

Other breeds tried were a Brah­man An­gus cross pro­duc­ing a black beast called Bran­gus, and Brafords, a Here­ford cross re­sult­ing in red cat­tle with white faces.

Sue’s grand­fa­ther, Ed­mund Ge­orge Eli Har­low, known as Pa or Ted Se­nior, came to Dain­tree in 1927. His 20-yearold wife Iso­bel, and Sue’s fa­ther Ted who was two, fol­lowed.

Pa named the prop­erty Ash­ley Downs af­ter the fam­ily’s home in Eng­land.

Sue’s fa­ther and his three broth­ers at­tended Twyford school near Har­low’s Bridge, but when it closed, he rode his horse to Dain­tree School, be­fore go­ing to Marist Broth­ers in Cairns.

He came home as a 15-yearold when Pa en­listed in the army for WWII.

He had a spe­cial li­cence to drive be­cause he was so young, and the fam­ily’s dairy farm con­tin­ued to op­er­ate, milk­ing twice a day and tak­ing cream to the but­ter fac­tory.

In 1951 Ted Jnr mar­ried Mar­garet, and his brother Stan (Mick) mar­ried her sis­ter Mary in 1963. Con­tin­u­ing the tra­di­tion, their daugh­ters Joy and Sue mar­ried broth­ers Ray and Barry Den­nis.

Mar­garet ran the tele­phone ex­change on the ve­ran­dah of Ash­ley Downs. Sue re­calls watch­ing sparks from light­ning dance along the wires lead­ing into the house, caus­ing the phone to ring and the shut­ters to fall down.

She re­mem­bers her fa­ther and Ian Os­borne mak­ing the last but­ter at the Dain­tree But­ter Fac­tory on 27 Oc­to­ber 1960. The Fac­tory had been set up in 1924 by Lu­cas Hughes. Sue watched from the Dain­tree School as Vic Tonkin trans­ported the dis­man­tled build­ing away to Cairns for scrap.

Sue didn’t en­joy school much but re­mem­bers there were many pupils and only two teach­ers. Grades 1 to 3 were in one room, and Grades 4 to 7 in the other. When the Dain­tree Mis­sion closed, the school pop­u­la­tion shrank.

At home, elec­tric­ity was gen­er­ated by a small en­gine, as long as some­one could start it if dad was not home.

Elec­tric­ity came to Dain­tree in 1966. Sue missed chop­ping the wood for the old fuel stove which also heated wa­ter for the bath.

Ash­ley Downs, five miles up Ste­warts Creek val­ley, was orig­i­nally a 225 acre block of stand­ing scrub, of which 175 acres was grad­u­ally cleared for pas­ture. The most re­cent large flood in 1996 cov­ered all of the lower coun­try from one side of the val­ley to the other.

Other floods came in 1937, 1940, 1957, 1974, and 1979 when they lost 30 head of cat­tle and an ex­pen­sive poll Santa Gertrudis bull.

In the se­vere cy­clone of 1934, a branch flew through the win­dow, hit­ting Ma in the chest. She’d just fin­ished feed­ing six week old Mick, later known as Stan. The roof blew off and the house was full of leaves. Dad was 8, Bob was 4, and Ken was 2.

Af­ter fin­ish­ing school in Char­ters Tow­ers, Sue worked on Tom Booth’s prop­erty Glen­ray next to Ash­ley Downs, which ran about 100 breed­ers of Drought­mas­ter cat­tle. She re­mem­bers Tom as a knowl­edge­able man who worked with Arthur Zillfleisch to build the Na­tional Bank, now home to DAB in Moss­man, and most houses and shops in Dain­tree.

In 1980 Sue and Barry’s son Dar­ran was born in Moss­man Hospi­tal, as were Sue and her three sis­ters Joy, Tri­cia and Kate. Sue thinks Moss­man is too spread out now. Years ago, all the stores and ser­vices were close to Jack & Newells, now the hard­ware shop.

Normie Downs’ pie shop was leg­endary across the road from the pic­ture show, and there was a loco on dis­play near the present li­brary. When she came to town with Ma and Pa, for a treat they’d buy her a milk shake from the shop where the tyre ser­vice is now, and a pie.

Af­ter Ash­ley Downs was sold in 2004, Sue re­dis­cov­ered her tal­ent for draw­ing and paint­ing an­i­mals, and joined DAB, which she still at­tends. And she still main­tains her in­ter­est in cat­tle, and fam­ily his­tory.

Pic­ture: PAM WIL­LIS-BUR­DEN

Sue Den­nis to­day, and, in­set, with one of her favourites, Banjo

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