In­spir­ing cen­te­nar­ian sur­vives bomb­ings, droughts and loss

Warwick Daily News - South West Queensland Rural Weekly - - Front Page - AN­DREA DAVY An­drea.davy@ru­ral­

THREE shots ring­ing out over Kather­ine sig­nalled the threat of Ja­panese bombers.

It’s a sound Anne Cox can still re­mem­ber well. She was run­ning the lo­cal su­per­mar­ket with her hus­band, Cyril, and knew gun­fire is­sued from the lo­cal po­lice­man meant they had to head for cover.

“There were nine of them (bombers), when they were at that height they looked like sil­ver foot­balls in the sky,” she said.

“They cir­cled the town three times.”

That was on March 22, 1942, in the thick of the Sec­ond World War – a sig­nif­i­cant date that lies within the liv­ing me­mory of an ex­tra­or­di­nary Ter­ri­to­rian.

Last week, Anne turned 100.

She re­ceived her let­ter from the Queen and was sur­rounded by her friends and fam­ily dur­ing her birth­day party in Alice Springs.

Dur­ing her cen­tury, Anne worked on iso­lated cat­tle sta­tions, saw the beginnings of the North­ern Ter­ri­tory’s peanut in­dus­try and man­aged Kather­ine’s su­per­mar­ket for 40 years. She is much loved and well known as “Aunt An­nie” in her com­mu­nity.

The first ques­tion set the pace for the in­ter­view: “So what’s it feel like to be turn­ing 100?”

“Oh, it’s just an­other bloody day,” Anne joked.

With quick wit and a catchy sense of hu­mour, Anne is a won­der­ful sto­ry­teller.

Speak­ing to the Ru­ral Weekly she opened up about her life, talk­ing about great love and loss, liv­ing through war and what it’s like to grow old.

Anne ad­mit­ted her short­term me­mory some­times failed her but it be­came quite clear she has a re­mark­able knack for his­toric details, right down to what she used to feed sol­diers for break­fast in the 1940s (mostly tea and toast), so her mem­o­ries paint a pic­ture of how life has changed in the NT.


Born in Clon­curry, Queens­land, Anne spent her child­hood mov­ing from sta­tion to sta­tion with her fam­ily.

The Fog­a­rty fam­ily is well known for their ded­i­ca­tion to the pas­toral in­dus­try, their legacy span­ning mul­ti­ple gen­er­a­tions.

Niece Colleen Costello, daugh­ter of Anne’s brother Ted Fog­a­rty (who died ear­lier this year aged 95) said she en­joyed hav­ing her aunt visit their prop­er­ties.

“We have a few places out here and she is quite happy to come along, she spent Christ­mas with us and pre­vi­ously spent a cou­ple months every year with us,” Colleen said.

“We are about 450km out of town.”

Anne has watched sta­tion life evolve and re­mem­bers the hard-slog days and to­tal iso­la­tion her par­ents, Ted and Sarah, faced when rais­ing their fam­ily.

Her dad nor­mally spent about two or three years on a prop­erty as man­ager.

“If Mum wanted to send news from De­lamere to tell peo­ple her last baby was born, she would have to send some­body on horse to go about 100km or more to Wave Hill Sta­tion to send a tele­gram,” she said.

“And only once a month we saw the mail­man.

“Mum would look for­ward to that be­cause she would get let­ters from her rel­a­tives in Clon­curry and from down around Bris­bane.”

Anne was a vi­tal help to her folks, help­ing her mum around the house or mus­ter­ing cat­tle on a horse with her dad.


Af­ter be­ing sent off to board­ing school in Dar­win, Anne re­turned home to learn her dad had in­vested in a peanut farm.

“Once (Dad) had sobered up and re­alised what he had done, he couldn’t get on a train fast enough to get back out to work­ing on a sta­tion,” she said.

While Anne was work­ing with her fam­ily on sta­tions Cyril Cox, who was only about 17, was hired to work in the lo­cal gro­cery store.

He was a few years older than Anne and the pair be­came friendly.

At that time, there were about 27 peanut farms in Kather­ine.

The in­dus­try had a rough start. Failed wet sea­sons, then a flooded mar­ket in Syd­ney saw farm­ers re­ceive lit­tle re­turns.

This im­pacted the whole com­mu­nity, and the gro­cery store soon be­came avail­able for ten­der.

“That’s when Cyril started sav­ing for the shop,” she said.

“So he liked gar­den­ing and we went into gar­den­ing to­gether. We got money on the side from our lit­tle gar­den and saved part of his wage.

“By the time the shop came up, there was hardly any­one in­ter­ested in buy­ing it and we got it very cheap.

“One of the fam­i­lies, they were sta­tion peo­ple, gave us a few 100 quid to help us get started ... and we never looked back.”

To­gether the cou­ple man­aged the store for al­most 40 years.

How­ever in 1973 Cyril died sud­denly from a brain haem­or­rhage.

Just from hear­ing Anne talk about her late hus­band, you can tell the cou­ple shared a great love.

She said her grief car­ried on for years af­ter his death.

“Some­times some­one would tell me some­thing ex­cit­ing and I would think, ‘Oh, I must tell Cyril that,’ and he had al­ready gone for a year or two by then,” she said. “So I was very sad.”

The cou­ple didn’t have chil­dren but Anne is very close to her god­chil­dren, neph­ews, nieces and now great-neph­ews and nieces.


With Dar­win un­der con­stant at­tack, the Aus­tralian Army pre­dicted Kather­ine could also be­come a tar­get.

Camps were set up in the town and Anne re­mem­bers bulk stock­piles, in­clud­ing am­mu­ni­tion, lo­cated at the air­port.

It was the lo­cal po­lice­man’s job to is­sue the warn­ing to evac­u­ate if a bomb threat was im­mi­nent.

“We had a bit of a prob­lem with that be­cause the warn­ing would be three shots from a gun, that was to tell us there was a pos­si­bil­ity of a bomb­ing, but then the all-clear was three shots as well,” Anne said.

“So lots of times we would wake up and we wouldn’t be sure if it was the first shots or the ones to say it was an all-clear.”

Anne re­mem­bers that time with good hu­mour but said her life changed sig­nif­i­cantly once Kather­ine was hit.


The Ja­panese Navy dropped 90 60kg bombs over Kather­ine, ac­cord­ing to the North­ern Ter­ri­tory Govern­ment’s web­site.

There were nine twin-en­gine “Betty” bombers that cir­cled at 20,000 feet above the town be­fore strik­ing.

Anne said she was work­ing in the shop and it was about noon when she heard the evac­u­a­tion warn­ing.

“We gath­ered up our money and that ... and we took off to­wards the east, which was go­ing to the air­port, so we were about 2km away from the bomb­ing site,” she said.

Anne re­mem­bers feel­ing scared but said dur­ing that time she felt thank­ful she wasn’t liv­ing in Dar­win.

“They were get­ting bombed al­most daily there,” she said.

“And for us, this was the first time. But for the peo­ple in Dar­win, it was like they al­most got used to hav­ing to live un­der­ground all of the time.”

Dur­ing the bomb­ing, a 42-year-old Abo­rig­i­nal man, Dodger Ka­jal­wal, was killed and two other men were in­jured.

All women and chil­dren were in­structed to leave town.

“The ma­tron (Jane Smith) and I were the last two women to leave, we went by air to Ade­laide,” Anne said.

“All the other women and chil­dren were taken by the train to Lar­rimah and then from Lar­rimah trucks took them out to Ade­laide. A lot of the women were sent to a place called Bala­clava.”

Anne ended up stay­ing in Ade­laide for six months.

Dur­ing that time Cyril was des­per­ate for her to come home.

“My hus­band was em­ployed by Guinea Air­lines as a man­ager, he was try­ing very hard to get me back be­cause he was look­ing af­ter the civil air­lines com­ing into Kather­ine and look­ing af­ter the troops,”

she said.

Anne was even­tu­ally al­lowed back and got to work help­ing sol­diers, bed­ding them down in the lo­cal hos­tel and or­gan­is­ing some meals.

When the war ended, the army al­lowed for Cyril and Anne to have their shop back.


Anne ran the store for four years af­ter Cyril died.

It was a chal­leng­ing time, only made eas­ier by her won­der­ful staff, she said.

In par­tic­u­lar, a Croa­t­ian cou­ple, John and Anna An­tica, showed true ded­i­ca­tion.

“They worked for me 24 hours a day, seven days a week once Cyril died,” she said.

“So I was very lucky.” Anne re­called John hav­ing to wake up at 2am every Sun­day to meet the truck driver de­liv­er­ing the shop’s ice cream from Ade­laide. Anne closed the doors in 1977, af­ter

fi­nally sell­ing the busi­ness. The story of the su­per­mar­ket’s new own­ers (which sounds some­thing of a punch­line, as it was bought by a Ger­man, an Ir­ish­man and a Rus­sian) lasted only a few years be­fore Wool­worths even­tu­ally pur­chased the shop, which they still own.

When mov­ing away from the Ter­ri­tory, Anne was soon drawn back to her old staff mem­bers.

Colleen ex­plained John and Anna, who had two chil­dren of their own by this stage, had to move to Gee­long as their son was fac­ing med­i­cal trou­bles.

“So Aunt went down to help them out,” Colleen said.

“She felt be­cause they helped her out a lot she would help them. So she was with them for a few years.”

Af­ter her time fin­ished with the An­tica fam­ily, Anne spent about 10 years trav­el­ling.

Man­ag­ing the shop for 40 years and with a large ex­tended fam­ily, Anne has strong con­nec­tions through­out Aus­tralia.

“She went to Ade­laide, Bris­bane, to Tin Can Bay then to Her­vey Bay and out to Tim­ber Creek, catch­ing up with all the peo­ple who had worked with her,” Colleen said.

Or­gan­is­ing the birth­day bash, Colleen said it was heart-warm­ing to hear from Anne’s old ac­quain­tances.

“The com­mon thread was that they ap­pre­ci­ated Aunt,” she said.

“And one said she was a toughie and that they couldn’t have got through the hard times with­out her. That was from a fam­ily on a sta­tion.

“So that’s a pretty good rec­om­men­da­tion.”

At that height they looked like sil­ver foot­balls in the sky. — Anne Cox


Al­though Anne has seen much of Aus­tralia, the Ter­ri­tory is where she feels most at home. She prefers the heat to the cold.

In­stead of slow­ing down with age, Anne kept busy, vis­it­ing fam­ily on sta­tions and lend­ing a hand when­ever she could.

Re­cent pho­tos show her shoot­ing guns, help­ing out in the shed and catch­ing up with friends.

“For 99 years, she lived in­de­pen­dently,” Colleen said.

How­ever a string of health is­sues (start­ing with a bro­ken hip and end­ing with a chest in­fec­tion) saw Anne fi­nally slow down.

The symp­toms of old age have come as a bur­den to her.

“Be­ing deaf and loss of me­mory (makes it hard),” she said.

“I can re­mem­ber years back but if you were to say to me, ‘Let’s have cof­fee at Wool­worths at 10 o’clock,’ be­fore you are out the door I have for­got­ten what the ar­range­ment was.

“I have al­ways been very fussy about do­ing the right thing by peo­ple, so I get frus­trated when I have for­got­ten what to do.”

Anne at­tributes her longevity – which seems to run in her fam­ily, with two of her sib­lings sur­pass­ing 90 – to a sim­ple no­tion:

hard work and a pos­i­tive at­ti­tude.


LIFE­TIME ON THE LAND: 100-year-old Anne Cox at An­dado Sta­tion. Anne still loves vis­it­ing her fam­ily’s prop­er­ties.


e and Dave on the nut farm, out­side of her­ine. her Anne Cox cut­ting birth­day cake. 100th Anne Cox with her god­chil­dren Ce­cilia and Ai­van An­tica. her Anne Cox re­ceiv­ing the Queen let­ter from great-great­niece with her Bai­ley Brooks. LADY OF THE LAND:...

Cox Cyril and Anne in su­per­mar­ket owned a Kather­ine.


Anne Cox has turned 100.

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