Posted by: maureenc | April 10, 2011

A visit to the Fassifern Valley

Last Thursday, along with some 22 other members of the local/Redcliffe Ladies Probus club, I set off on a day trip to Coochin_Coochin homestead and the Kooroomba Lavender farm and vineyard.

After a two hour drive, we arrived at Coochin Coochin homestead, which is acknowledged as one of the oldest (European) homes in Queensland.

THE Coochin Coochin story has its beginnings in 1842 when the 120,000 acre property was first established.
This sprawling run stretched from the outskirts of the town of Boonah, south to the New South Wales border, and west to the Mt Alford range.
David Hunter applied for the first grazing lease in September 1842 and named the area Dulhunty Plains, apparently after a ‘very well respected Sydney family’.
By 1870 Thomas Alford was the owner-manager of the property which was now known as Coochin Coochin, meaning ‘Many black swans’, because there were many swans living on the large lagoon.
He moved the Coochin homestead to its existing site in the centre of the property, high on a hill to avoid floods, and from where he could command a sweeping view of workings of the farm.
In 1883 the Bell family bought 22,000 acres of freehold land at auction in Sydney.
James Thomas Marsh Bell heard about the pending sale, while living in central Queensland at the family cattle property, Camboon.

In 1883 the Bell family bought 22,000 acres of freehold land at auction in Sydney.
James Thomas Marsh Bell heard about the pending sale, while living in central Queensland at the family cattle property, Camboon.

It was well before cars, so he came in his buggy from Camboon to Chinchilla, caught a train to Ipswich and sailed from Ipswich to Sydney for the auction. He paid 30 shillings an acre – about $3 an acre in current terms.
“He bought Coochin Coochin in partnership with an Englishmen, Colville Hyde, who was the financier.

Bell did the hard work.
James Bell packed up at Camboon and came to live here with his wife Gertrude and their two sons Archie and Ernest.

(Before taking the name Bell, she was Gertrude Norton and lived in a large and affluent home at Darling Point in Sydney.)

She was just 18 when she met James at a garden party in Sydney. He was in town on business and for 10 days he romanced the much younger Gertrude. On his final day in Sydney the then 35-year-old proposed to Gertrude. She accepted.
“Mr Bell went back to Camboon and said, ‘I’ll come back in a year’s time, you arrange a wedding and I will marry you,”  Jane told our group.
“They had a three-day honeymoon on the boat up to Brisbane from Sydney and then they went to Chinchilla by train.”

”In 1882 they moved to Coochin and Gertrude remained there until she died in 1946. Her husband bought out his financial partner in 1901. Then came the 1902 drought and in 1903 at the age of 63 he died following a series of strokes.
Tough times
Gertrude’s diary reveals that in 1902 things were so dire they were cutting cactus to feed the cattle.
Following James’ death Gertrude resumed her formerly social life, inviting a wide variety of people to come and stay at Coochin.
Her hospitality led to visits by Agatha Christie, the Queen Mother and the Prince of Wales, as well as a host of other dignitaries.

Jane & Tim Bell say the property was an idyllic place to raise a family and they continue to run a mix of Santa Gertrudis and Droughtmaster cattle on the 800 acre property. They also grow soya beans, lucerne and barley on the flats. Their son Thomas also lives on the farm with his wife Lesley and their daughter Neva. He has diversified into organic tea tree and hardwood plantations.

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Responses

  1. love hearing about the history.. so similar to the U.S. I guess when you mix cattle with farming, and ranching, it is all hard work, and they were amazing people.


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