Stand- up men for en­ter­prise

Townsville Bulletin - - NEWS -

THE two men here are Jack­son Shortjoe and Ed­die Hol­royd from Ed­ward River, oth­er­wise known as Porm­pu­raaw, on the Gulf of Car­pen­taria coast be­tween Au­rukun and Kowanyama.

Go­ing through a card­board box full of old photos, I found these im­ages taken in the early 1980s out on a place called Kowanyama Pocket, a huge area of open plain cov­er­ing thou­sands of hectares on the coastal sec­tion of the north­ern bank of Cape York Penin­sula’s Mitchell River.

The photo of the young micky bull with Jack­son sit­ting on it and Ed­die stand­ing, horn saw in hand, was taken when re­porter Ian Les­lie was there with a crew do­ing a story for 60 Min­utes.

Ed­die had just sawn the horns off the young bull. The story was about Abo­rig­i­nal peo­ple in re­mote Queens­land com­mu­ni­ties start­ing their own busi­nesses.

It was part of a sub­tle eco­nomic awak­en­ing the State Gov­ern­ment was pro­mot­ing as part of an ef­fort to lessen the re­liance of “sit down” wel­fare money in the in­dige­nous towns.

The flood of gov­ern­ment money into places like Porm­pu­raaw and Kowanyama each fort­night had spawned a gam­bling prob­lem so en­demic that even pre- teens could be found sit­ting around on blan­kets rolling dice for money and wine.

Bob Kat­ter was the Queens­land min­is­ter for Abo­rig­i­nal and Is­lan­der af­fairs at the time. He was try­ing to set up mod­els that al­lowed en­ter­pris­ing in­di­vid­u­als to run their own busi­nesses in the com­mu­ni­ties. The first step was to pro­vide role mod­els these pre- teens would want to em­u­late.

En­ter en­ter­pris­ing in­di­vid­u­als, Jack­son and Ed­die. They were both al­lo­cated sec­tions of coun­try on which to run cat­tle. There to guide and ad­vise them was sta­tion man­ager Lind­say Kim­ber from Townsville. Most of the cat­tle they ran on these wild blocks were fer­als they trapped, ran down with bull bug­gies or phys­i­cally man­han­dled into sub­mis­sion and then se­cured to trees or on the ground with ropes and “bull straps”. Jack­son had Barr’s Yard south of Porm­pu­raaw set­tle­ment.* Ed­die had Christ­mas Creek to the north. The two men were chalk and cheese. Ed­die hardly ever smiled. Jack­son rarely had a grin off his face. Ed­die was en­tre­pre­neur­ial. He didn’t drink but at the same time he didn’t mind the odd cigar.

Dur­ing the wet sea­son when the rivers flooded and no one moved away from the set­tle­ment ex­cept to go to the beach or to the mouth of Munkan Creek to spear fish, Ed­die went into money- mak­ing mode.

He and his wife sold toasted sand­wiches un­der their house. It was the Sub­way fran­chise of its era.

I spent a fair bit of time with Ed­die and Jack­son dur­ing a two- year pe­riod. One day I asked Ed­die how it was that he could make good money mak­ing toasted Spam and tinned spaghetti sand­wiches dur­ing the wet sea­son when his cus­tomers could just have easily made their own at home.

“They’re too frig­gin’ lazy to make toasted sand­wich,” he said.

Ed­die and his wife put the prices up and the peo­ple com­plained. They even com­plained to the min­is­ter, Bob Kat­ter. When he flew in at times there would be a dep­u­ta­tion to meet him to com­plain about the prices Ed­die and his wife were charg­ing for the toasted sand­wiches. Kat­ter didn’t say it in so many words but ba­si­cally the re­sponse was: “Suck it up. This is how cap­i­tal­ism works. Get used to it”.

Ed­die and his wife, with their toasted sand­wiches, were show­ing how you could turn a dol­lar by work­ing and not re­ly­ing on gov­ern­ment money.

Ed­die was smart. I’m sure that even though he was mak­ing a buck via the sand­wiches, he would have still been bank­ing a gov­ern­ment cheque. He would have thought it un- Aus­tralian not to do so.

I was with Ed­die one day at Christ­mas Creek. There was a rough horse pad­dock made from wires slung tree to tree. He ran the horses into a smaller yard where sad­dles strad­dled a spindly pa­per­bark rail. The horses, half a dozen of them in poor con­di­tion, trot­ted in. They had sores on their backs the size of saucers. They were sad­dle sores, caused by the fric­tion of a poorly main­tained sad­dle rub­bing on the back. These were down to the meat.

“Ed­die,” I said to him, qui­etly “you can’t work these horses.” Bob Kat­ter and Lind­say Kim­ber were there as well and when they saw the horses they asked Ed­die to “bush them”, that is, turn them loose for a long time so their backs could heal. Ed­die stayed quiet. He kept his head down, fix­ing a bro­ken bri­dle. He didn’t say any­thing, but he didn’t sad­dle the horses ei­ther.

For the sores to heal the horses would have had to have been spelled for months. It would never have hap­pened. It was like Ed­die had no con­cept of cru­elty or of how an­i­mals should be treated.

No doubt the horses suc­cumbed and died at an early age. Ed­die died him­self when still rel­a­tively young.

Jack­son was good com­pany. I went fish­ing with him and his fam­ily down in the Coleman River for barramundi and crabs. He was al­ways con­sid­er­ate of out­siders. He was good on a horse and would laugh when they bucked and run his spurs along the withers like a rodeo star.

Noth­ing dressed in horse hide could throw him from his Bar­coo Poly sad­dle that was held to­gether with red hide and bal­ing twine.

Jack­son drank and laughed and en­joyed the com­pany of his fam­ily. He fished and trapped cat­tle. Life was this great ad­ven­ture out on those end­less plains where wild cat­tle roamed and brumbies gal­loped in sil­hou­ette through the mi­rages on the salt­pans. In the rivers and creeks that bled into the eastern gulf the fish and crabs were there for the tak­ing.

Things change. Life zooms off in a dif­fer­ent di­rec­tion. Jack­son lost two boys. Lexie died from the grog. Quentin was killed when his bull buggy rolled. Jack­son’s wife Myrna has never got­ten over the loss of her sons. Three sons and a daugh­ter sur­vive.

Jack­son is an Old Man now. Still, ev­ery morn­ing he rises early, picks up his rake and ti­dies the ground around the Porm­pu­raaw Coun­cil cham­bers.

We all have bucket lists. One of the things on mine is to go back to Porm­pu­raaw and see Jack­son one more time. It’s been 32 years.

They had sores on their backs the size of saucers

*( There is no com­mer­cially man­aged cat­tle op­er­a­tion at Porm­pu­raaw to­day).


Jack­son Shortjoe and Ed­die Hol­royd at Kowanyama Pocket, Porm­pu­raaw.


Jack­son Shortjoe and his wife Myrna at Porm­pu­raaw last year.

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