From Connemara to Coomooroo and beyond

From Connemara to Coomooroo and beyond (with a few places in between)

John Mannion, Australia.

I will probably never know what my paternal, great, great grandfather, Michael Mannion, his wife Mary and their infant son, John Francis Mannion thought as they looked back at the shores of Ireland in c1865 aboard a sailing ship ultimately bound for Australia. Michael Mannion was one of a family of five.

As Thomas Keneally said of his Irish ancestors in his 1991 book: Now and in Time to Be: Ireland and the Irish.

“… did they look back from the deck of whatever class they sailed in with a frightful grief, or with a mix of wistfulness and exaltation? Was their young blood really geared up for the longest possible dosage of sea then available to them? Did they think they’d be back to the dear, familiar sights and faces so often invoked in songs of emigration?

I’m sayin’ farewell to the land of my birth

And the homes that I know so well,

And the mountains grand of my own native land,

I’m biddin’ them all adieu . . .

On the other hand, were they pleased to see the last of it: the tribalism, the recurrent want, the contumely of being one of Britain’s sub-races? Or did they harbour both sets of feelings? “

In any event that day was the last they would ever see of Ireland and possibly their three other children Mary aged seven, Bartholomew (my great-grandfather) aged five and Joseph aged three, whom they left behind, to follow several years later in 1873. Whatever their circumstances they must have been desperate to migrate to a new life, for not only was this a physical migration, it was a migration of their hopes and aspirations to re-establish and better themselves in the province of South Australia, 12,000 miles away.

For many years it had been accepted in the Mannion family that, “Michael Mannion and Mary Coyne were married on 6 June, 1858. They came from Clifden, Ireland via the Cape of Good Hope arriving in Australia in 1871. They first settled in Farrell’s Flat then Mannanarie and finally Coomooroo. When they came to Australia, they left three of their children in Ireland, namely Bartholomew, Mary and Joe, who came out later on.”

This information was supplied by my great-uncle Joseph William Mannion and his sister Margaret Quinn, and no-one had ever queried it until I began some ‘serious’ research in 1997 and when I began researching birth dates and places, I found that three out of their seven “Australian-born” children were born prior to 1871. They may have been staunch Catholics but even their faith could not transport their unborn children across the ocean to South Australia!

Despite years of research, including a trip back to Ireland and to the United States, where I became acquainted with many ‘cousin’s’, I have been unable to find out when and where Michael and Mary sailed from nor can I find any official record of their marriage. However I did visit the ruins of the family home a few miles east of the town of Clifden, nestled in a valley among the Twelve Bens east of Canal Stage and had a drink of water from ‘Mannion’s bog’ (a rock-hole fed by spring water) in May 1986. On my visit in 1999, the rock hole had dried up and was only a muddy hole. This land is now farmed by Pauric Hynes who breeds Connemara Ponies, exporting several to Australia.

A neighbour of Pauric’s, ‘Paddy Pat Joyce’ lives in a small cottage about half a mile away and I was told by a bloke in Clifden named Casey (his daughter has a chemist shop in Clifden) that ‘Paddy Pat’ was a local historian. On the first visit he wasn’t home, but next day he was. It turned out that I’d met him in 1986, because after we got talking he said that an Australian called in a few years previous enquiring about the Mannion family and how they were married in 1858 by Fr O’Dwyer. Now there was no way that he could have known that from anyone else. He also said that if I’d been there 20 minutes earlier, I’d have met a Stephen King from Glasgow who was also seeking info on the Mannion family.

Paddy Joyce was an interesting old bloke, about 70 I’d say. He lived on his own in his cottage with no electricity, no telephone and no motor car. He had a battery radio, gas lighting and a bicycle, and a couple of sheep dogs for company. The old dog ‘Swim’ lived in the house with him. Paddy spoke very loud Nell reckons and was very philosophical about life, with many sayings.

When and where they arrived in South Australia, I have been unable to establish as yet. (Family records again indicate: Michael Mannion and Mary Coyne, second eldest daughter of Michael and Miriam Coyne of “Ilane Earaugh” Galway, Ireland, were married on 6 June, 1858 at “Killeen” in the presence of Darby Coyne and Penelope Coyne, County Galway, Ireland, by Rev. Fr. A. O’Dwyer.) When I was in Ireland in August 1999 I visited the Catholic priest at Carna, Fr Pauric Addley and had a look through the Parish records with him.(Nell was with me but she preferred to sit in the car and read!) Father Pauric was not entirely forthcoming with information until I mentioned ‘Ilane Earaugh’ and then it clicked! He told me that ‘Ilane’ is Irish for island (Oilean) and Earaugh was a small island off the west coast in the vicinity of Carna. At first Fr Pauric assumed that I was American; he was sick of American tourists not knowing anything about their family history arriving and expecting him to have all the answers! So I went away with a bit more knowledge. On the way back to Clifden we called in and had a look at one of the many roadside grotto’s or shrines in the area. I noticed a bloke shifting some sheep in a nearby paddock, so we wandered over and had a yarn with him, mentioning that I was researching the Mannion and Coyne families. It turned out that he was typical of many Irish who lived and worked in New York, but intended to retire in Ireland, where he was building a house. However he told me to go back along the road and see a bloke by the name of Michael Coyne. So back we went only a few hundred yards, Michael Coyne was not at home, but his wife Margaret said he would be back soon so we waited. The Irish are very hospitable and we talked and had a coffee until Michael returned. Michael Coyne was actually born on Ilane Earaugh in 1918. His grandfather John Coyne was known as ‘Lord of the Island’.

I have been able to follow their movements northward from Adelaide to Farrell’s Flat, Hill River, Yongala and eventually Coomooroo, in c1876 from the birth records of their children.

Along the way seven more children were born:-

Michael Joseph Mannion, born 28 June, 1866, at Farrell’s Flat, district of Clare, S.A.

Patrick Peter Mannion, born 28 August, 1868, at Farrell’s Flat, District of Clare, S.A.

James Mannion, born 22 August, 1870, at Hill River, District of Clare, S.A.

Annie Mannion, born 3 September, 1872, at Farrell’s Flat, District of Clare, S.A.

Martin Henry Mannion, born 18 June, 1874, at Farrell’s Flat, District of Clare, S.A.

Bridget Mannion, born 6 July, 1876, at Yongala, District of Frome, S.A.

Edward Mannion, born 4 April, 1879, at Coomooroo, District of Frome, S.A.

(Note: Place of registration may be birth place or residence of parent/informant) This is an important note, as on Patrick Mannion’s Death Certificate, his birthplace is stated as being Adelaide, South Australia.

From shipping records and newspaper reports, Mary aged 14, Bartholomew aged 11 and Joseph Mannion aged 9, arrived in South Australia at Port Adelaide aboard the sailing ship Asterope, from London on 30 October, 1873 accompanied by a Mr. John McDonough (aged 35). They had spent three months at sea and were classed as assisted immigrants. There were only twelve passengers aboard the Asterope.

John McDonough is still a ‘mystery man’, but may have been a relative; anyway, it can be assumed that these children joined their parents and five siblings at Farrell’s Flat in 1873. I have been unable to find any official records of the births of Mary, Bartholomew or Joseph, only family records, but a John Manion is recorded as being born on 3 July, 1864, (0431) in the Lettermore District, Galway, Ireland to Michael Manion and Mary Coyne.

From information supplied on the South Australian birth certificates, Michael’s occupations are listed as a farmer at Farrell’s Flat in 1866, a shepherd at Farrell’s Flat in 1868, occupation not listed at nearby Hill River in 1870, and from then on as a farmer at Farrell’s Flat and Yongala in 1876. There are no land titles issued under Michael Mannion until 1876 at Coomooroo, so it can be assumed that he leased land in the various districts until then.

The 1860s was not a good decade for South Australian farmers, there were a number of factors responsible for this, such as the severe drought in the middle of the decade followed by a devastating outbreak of rust in the wheat crops. But increasing difficulty in obtaining new areas of readily arable farmland, coupled with the lure of country being made available across the border in the Victorian Wimmera district were causing intending farmers and farmers wanting larger blocks, to look interstate.

One of the major inhibiting factors to agricultural expansion was the ‘cordon of pastoral country’ which had been taken up and held by wealthy land owners under the original purchasing scheme…………. Thus the state turned its attention increasingly during the 1860s to the problem of facilitating closer settlement and to finding more land suitable for agriculture.

The small farmer was always at a disadvantage as, under the South Australian scheme, land had to be sold at auction, and it had to be bought for cash and the small farmer found cash hard to come by. The Premier Henry Strangways proposed increasing the maximum acreage allowable to a sole purchaser from 80 acres to 640 acres and also abandoning the auction system in favour of a purchasing system by application at a fixed price and abolishing the cash payment by introducing a credit scheme for farmland buyers.(The Strangways Act)

Following the drought of 1864-66, the Surveyor General, George Woodroffe Goyder, was sent by the S.A. Govt. to assess the effects of the drought, with a view to allowing Government relief to pastoralists. Thus was drawn on the map, the famous “Goyders Line”. The pressure for more land for farming increased with a run of good years in the early 1870s. Until this time, the Government had accepted Goyder’s line to be the limits where farming should extend, but on 26 November, 1874 an Act was passed which permitted credit selection on all unappropriated lands ‘situated south of the twenty-sixth parallel of south latitude’. This meant that the whole of the state was made available for farming!

The ‘Strangways Act ‘ of 30 Jan. 1869 was originally designed to put the small farmer on his own land and by 1880 this had been achieved, however some including Goyder foresaw the disaster that would follow the farming of the more arid parts of the state, but their voices were drowned by those who considered that everyone was entitled to a share of the public estate, including Michael Mannion.

The Hundred of Coomooroo, in the County of Dalhousie was proclaimed on 8 July 1875. Michael Mannion selected Section 88, Hd. Of Coomooroo on 30 May 1876 and paid £1/acre for his land. The 565 acre property was on rising ground, about three miles north-east by road from the small township of Morchard, about 160 miles north of the South Australian capital, Adelaide and they named it Fair View. Although Michael Mannion was allocated Sec. 88, Hd. of Coomooroo of 565 acres on May 30th 1876, the Land Grant was not issued until April 3 1882, when paid for: £565. Part of the house they built in 1877 is still standing, as is a small one-roomed hut built in 1880, but apparently they did not establish the place all alone.

Records indicate that Michael’s brother, Martin, a farm labourer, accompanied by his son, Patrick, and daughter, Rose arrived in the Colony in 1879 aboard the ship Woodlark. From Coomooroo School records, Rose attended the nearby school with her cousins and Michael Snr was named as parent. What happened to Martin and Patrick no one knows! but Rose stayed in S.A. with her cousins and eventually married and raised a family of her own, a descendant of Rose’s, Jan Perry is currently researching her Mannion connections too, so we keep in touch. Another mystery are the ‘O’Toole’ family, more cousins of Michael Snr, whom he sponsored to come out to South Australia, and apparently they lived and worked at Fair View as well, before moving to the Port Pirie area.

The land in the Hundred of Coomooroo is situated outside ‘Goyder’s Line’ of ten inch rainfall and for an Irish farmer and his family to start farming, literally from ‘scratch’ in this newly opened area, it must have taken a tremendous amount of faith. Farming is a gamble, there are elements of risks in farming and even with good farm management it still takes faith to go out in the late autumn weeks and sow a crop, believing that the rains will come and provide a harvest at the end of the year. That faith has been severely tested throughout the years, not only faith in their own ability and self-reliance, but faith in their Catholic beliefs and the Mannion’s prospered at Coomooroo in the run of ‘good years’ during the 1880’s and in 1884 bought out their southern neighbours property (Section 66, Hd. Coomooroo) of 440 acres for £517

Only one more child was born to Mary Mannion; Edward, on 4 April, 1879 at Coomooroo, unfortunately he died in infancy less than a year later, on 20 January, 1880 and his burial was the first in the Morchard Cemetery on 21 January, 1880, the Ceremony being conducted by the Catholic Priest, Rev. Fr. William Unsworth, a young Englishman. The Mannion boys were noted as being keen cricketers and horsemen, and on Sundays after attending mass at the Coomooroo Catholic Church/School, just down the road, friends and neighbours of the Mannion’s would gather at Fair View for lunch in the large kitchen (12 ft. by 17ft.). After lunch they would play cricket ‘out on the flat’ and adjourn for tea, after which the kitchen was cleared and they would dance the night away.

Michael Snr, was an early councillor on the Orroroo District Council (est. Dec.1887) representing Coomooroo Ward in 1888/89, (when the Ward system was introduced ) 1890/91 and 1891/92.

Having a number of boys (7), Michael and Mary ‘had’ to find properties for them, so they purchased or leased various properties; one at Erskine, east of Orroroo; Matawoolunga, east of Yednalue; Uroonda, south of Cradock, Kanyaka Station, south-west of Hawker and Pat managed the Kanyaka Station and had an interest in the property at Uroonda as well, before eventually going to Western Australia, as did Bridget and Jack (John), while Martin studied engineering and went to Broken Hill as a mining engineer and Annie went to Broken Hill as well. Michael (Mick) Mannion Jnr. is also listed as owning land west of Coomooroo, in 1888, in the adjoining Hundred of Pinda, (Sect. 14, Hd. of Pinda, 606 acres) He increased his holding after buying the adjoining farm from his sister Mary, following the death of her husband, John Bourke in 1895 (Sect. 13, Hd. of Pinda, 593 acres).

Joseph and Bartholomew went north to Uroonda and settled at the 302 acre property they called Clifden (Section 142, Hd of Uroonda, County of Granville) which their father, Michael had selected in 1878, in recognition of their homelands around Clifden, Connemara, County Galway on the west coast of Ireland. They built a stone cottage and established a farm under what must have been very harsh conditions, but I guess all things are relative and they didn’t know anything else! The original house at Clifden was four- roomed, two stone and two pine and daub, but as times improved it was re-modelled in stone with a cement tank adjacent.

During the severe droughts of the 1890’s dust storms ravaged the district and stock died from lack of feed and water. Very little wheat was grown for the next ten years and during 1897 the State Treasurer provided seed wheat to District Councils; to supply to farmers for sowing in that year. At a Special Meeting of The District council of Orroroo, held on 9 January, 1897, re Seed Wheat Distribution many applications were considered including: Mannion M. 250 Bushels. Sec 66 & 88, Coomooroo. 1002 Acres, the application was granted, but the season was a failure and at a Special Meeting in Jan. 1898, M. Mannion along with 50 other farmers, was granted an extension of twelve months for the payment of Seed Wheat supplied. In Jan. 1899 Michael Mannion, along with scores of other farmers in the Orroroo district, was again granted an “Extension of time for payment of Seed Wheat.”

Mary Mannion, a woman, not a super-woman, who had followed her husband, confronted the loneliness and the remoteness of South Australia, and bought up their family under harsh and difficult conditions, died at Fair View on 5 November, 1899 aged 63 years after a lengthy illness and from her obituaries in local and state papers, it is obvious that the Mannion’s were a well known and respected family in the Coomooroo district. In Jan. 1900, Michael was granted another extension to pay for Seed Wheat and I reckon his faith would be sorely tested by now! with years of bad seasons, followed by the death of his wife. Along with many other pioneers who ventured north into this country to grow wheat, unaware that the average rainfall made it unsuitable for that venture, and through no fault of his own, after spending the most productive (and reproductive) years of his life trying to do so, he was forced to quit.

On 24 Feb. 1900, The D.C. of Orroroo received a cheque from The Queensland Mortgage Co. for M. Mannion’s Seed Wheat (amount not noted) and on 11 Nov. 1902, Michael Mannion transferred Section 88, Hd Coomooroo to the Queensland Investment and Land Mortgage Co. The drought had broken him and I doubt that he ever recovered from the loss and grief of that tragedy, he obviously stayed on at Fair View, but in what capacity, I don’t know? and as if that wasn’t enough, a rabbit plague was infesting the district as well!

From the Minutes Book; Orroroo Council Meeting:- 28 May, 1904:

Letter re. rates, James McKenna on Mannion Land Section 66, 88 (Hd. Coomooroo) I dont’ know the significance of this entry, but it would appear that a James McKenna, whoever he was, was responsible for the rates on Fair View. There is no further reference to the matter.

Michael stayed on at the farm, perhaps in forced semi-retirement, whilst son James ran the farm until his father’s death on 29 June, 1904, aged 76 years. His obituary reads :

“On Wednesday, Michael Mannion an old resident of Coomooroo died. He was a large farmer and worked hard before retirement. His losses in stock and crops since 1895 had been heavy which affected him severely. He had a long illness and for a long time had been unable to lie in bed, owing to heart trouble.”

Michael, Mary and Edward Mannion are all buried in an unmarked grave at Morchard Cemetery, although the plot is fenced by a cast-iron surround.

Following the death of his father, James stayed on at Fair View until 1909, when he left the district, and tavelled around the state, farming at Booborowie Experimental Farm, Waikerie, and eventually died in Adelaide and was buried in West Tce. Cemetery.

Bartholomew Bernard Mannion and Mary Teresa Neylon were married on 9 May 1887 by Father Bernard Nevin in the Cradock Catholic Church, in the presence of John Mannion and Annie Neylon. The Neylon family moved to Uroonda in 1881, from Kapunda and they tried farming in the vicinity of the Uroonda School with about as much success as their neighbours (Goyder’s predictions were correct!) Clifden, in the Uroonda district, 8 miles south of the Township of Cradock was to be the home of Bartholomew and Mary and their ten children :

Annie Immaculate Mannion, born at home, 23 March, 1888. (Married John Fahey of Jamestown, two descendants)

Mary Catherine Mannion, born at home, 7 August, 1889. (Never married)

Michael James Mannion, born at home, 7 December, 1890. (Never married)

Martin Vincent Mannion, born at home, 7 August, 1892. (Never married)

Nellie Jane Mannion, born at home, 21 August, 1894. (Never married)

Bartholomew Coyne Mannion, born at home, 20 July,1896. (Never married)

Joseph William Mannion, born at home, 21 July. 1898. (Married Marie Kavanagh, no children)

Peter Laurence Mannion,born at Hawker, 16 May, 1900. (Married Eileen Williams, five descendants)

Patrick John Francis Mannion, born at Hawker, 4 April, 1902. (Married Mary Murphy of Jamestown, no children)

Margaret Doreen Mannion, born at Hawker, 25 July, 1906. (Married John Quinn of Mt. Bryan, five descendants)

The Mannion’s and Neylon’s endured the harsh seasonal and living conditions, possibly through their their frugal living and life-style and watched many of their friends and neighbours leave the area. ”Farmers who took up land outside of Goyder’s Line were meeting with increasing difficulties, and nearly every year there were ammendments to Govt. Acts to try and give relief to these farmers; by 1882 many had walked off their properties.”

In 1911, the Mannion’s purchased a mixed farming property in a more reliable rainfall district at Willalo, in the Booborowie district, north-west of Burra and about 120 miles south of Cradock and in 1913-14, some of the family headed south to greener pastures. All of the Mannion children, except Margaret who was not of school age when the family moved to Willalo, attended the Uroonda School/Church, five and a half miles north-east of their home, and completed their schooling at Willalo School. Despite the area being settled after 1910, the Mannion’s were among the earliest at Willalo and established themselves in a small galvanised iron house of 4 rooms. Being in a very productive area, farming must have paid off, as in around 1920 they had a stone house constructed, and in 1929 a verandah and main bedroom were added to the front and ‘a priests room’ built onto the back. A stone implement shed also functioned as a shearing shed and at shearing time all the farm machinery was removed. Hillside, was to be the focus of many family functions due to it’s central location in the state and Bartholomew used to put on a ‘keg’ on the front verandah at Christmas. My father has childhood memories at Hillside and recalls playing in the hayshed and finding the hen-eggs and bombarding the work-horses with them. Jack Fahey also recalls farm holidays spent at Hillside, going around the sheep with his grandfather.

In the 1920’s my grandfather, Peter Laurence Mannion and his brother, Joseph William Mannion returned to Clifden and took over the running of the Cradock property, which had been added to over the years through Crown Leases of resumed farming properties. They ‘batched’ there together, farming and chasing sheep and picking up work around the place. It was through his blade shearing that Peter (P.L.) became friendly with Eileen (Eily) Agnes Williams, one of the thirteen Williams children from Willila, a few miles down the road towards Carrieton. Of the Catholic faith they might have been, but they were also human and the bible tells us ‘that we will reap whatever we sow’ and the fruits of life dictated their marriage at Carrieton, S.A. in 1925. Joe studied wool-classing and worked at Michell’s Wool Processing Works in Adelaide and also spent some time in Tasmania.

Mary Theresa Mannion died at Hillside, on 1 March, 1937 aged 71 and is buried in the nearby Booborowie Cemetery and from her obituary, considered her faith in the Catholic Church very important. Bartholomew, with his son, Patrick and daughters Mary and Nellie, stayed on at Hillside and continued farming until his death from heart failure, at home on 20 February, 1943. He too is buried in the Booborowie Cemetery with his wife. Pat married Mary Murphy from Jamestown and lived in an adjoining ‘tin house’ at Hillside until the mid 1950s when the property was sold and they retired to Somerton Park in Adelaide.

Bartholomew’s brother Joe, in his later years, took up land, a small block also at Willalo, near the Willalo Hall. He sold that and lived a lot of his time with his brother and nieces, Mary and Nellie at Hillside until his death at home on 4 December 1946, aged 84 . He is buried in the Jamestown Cemetery in an unmarked grave; a very undignified end for a pioneering bushman of the state’s north during the 1890s ! Bartholomew and his brother, Joe were apparently fairly close, having shared the experience of being ‘abandoned’ by their parents and travelling to Australia together as youngsters in 1873.

‘P.L’ and family, and ‘J.W.’ continued in partnership at Clifden (although my father reckons that it was in name only, as P.L. and Sons did most of the work) and purchased another grazing property, for Joe and his wife, Marie Kavanagh, The Springs, at nearby Bendleby, from Alex Gangel in 1947. The partnership was dissolved in 1951, when ‘P.L’ took over the running of Clifden in his own rite.

Six children were born to Peter and Eileen, of whom five survived, Maurice Ignatius; my father, Peter Thaddeus William (P.T.W.) Mannion , born at Hawker hospital , 27 miles north of Clifden, on 28 June, 1927; Reginald Joseph; Patricia Mary and Josephine Anne. The Clifden in South Australia differed from its namesake in Ireland in climate and ‘life on the land’ at Clifden was a struggle at the best of times, especially during the 1930s depression. The boys went to Uroonda School, five and a half miles away, on foot, by horse and on bicycles. The Uroonda School closed in 1947, so the girls started their schooling by correspondence, Pat later boarded at Carrieton with her uncle and aunt, Arthur and ‘Doss’ Rowe and family and attended the Yanyarrie School, until the shift to Pekina, when she and Jose went to Tarcowie School

According to my father, P.L. Mannion’s break came in the mid ’30s when “stony broke” he won a road-work contract, stone knapping, for the Carrieton District Council, for £33.00, which entailed breaking several chain of stones, prison-style, with a knapping hammer, down to a useable size for filling on district roads. P.L. also won other contracts digging out the noxious weed, Bathurst Burr along the roadsides, in which he involved the entire family, Mum, Dad and the kids!. P.L. and E.A. had differing political beliefs throughout the years, with P.L. very anti-Labour, but as Eily often pointed out, he wasn’t too proud to work for the state when private industry was down and out! P.L.was interested in local and community events and played tennis for Cradock in the ‘Far Northern Association’.

The land was not really suitable for cereal cropping, with the rainfall being too erratic, so the Mannion’s sowed their last cereal crops at Cradock in 1939 with a yield of 8 bags/acre, and concentrated on sheep grazing and wool-growing, and were very successful in this venture (and still are, with a descendant of ‘P.L’, my cousin, Kevin Mannion, still running the Clifden property.)

During their time at Clifden, Peter and Eileen never had electricity of any form, no telephone and used kerosene lamps for lighting, a wood stove for cooking and relied on a dam and underground rain-water tank for domestic water and were generally self reliant and self sufficient. Eventually, Arthur Rowe, Eileen’s brother in-law from Carrieton gave them a kero fridge. The property was not viable to support a growing family, so Maurice and Pete found work around the district working in shearing sheds and eventually both became good shearers, travelling extensively in the northern areas on their Triumph and Ariel motor-bikes, after the Second World War. A lot of their work was in the Quorn area of the Flinders Ranges and it was in Quorn that my father, Pete met Carmel Finlay, a shop assistant at ‘Foster’s Emporium’ a drapery and haberdashery store. The Finlay family farmed in ‘Richman’s Valley’ south of Quorn and were also keen and successful sporting family, involved in athletics and horse-racing.

Through his successful involvement in the merino sheep industry, P.L. Mannion made many contacts throughout the state and one of these was Mick Caulfield, a farmer from Pekina, a township and district 50 miles south of Cradock in the mid-north. Caulfield apparently told P.L. that his neighbours, Frank and Dora Kenny were selling out and that it wasn’t a bad place, so…………..

In 1952 P.L. and E.A. Mannion and family, Maurice (25),Pete (P.T.W. 24), Reg, (20), Patricia (12) and Josephine (9), moved back into the ‘inside country’ at Pekina, a mixed farming district with a 14 inch annual rainfall, about 8 miles south of Orroroo and not far from Coomooroo. P.L. didn’t have a truck, so he got Colin Fogden, and his son, Ray, carriers from Carrieton to carry the bulk of their goods and chattels down, while the boys made several trips back and forth with a four wheeled rubber tyred trolley, drawn by two horses. On the initial trip, they tied their saddle horses (hacks) to the side of the trolley and they had no choice but to jog along beside. After the move to Pekina, they retained their Cradock property, Clifden as a grazing proposition and one of the harness horses, Major, found his way back to Clifden and died there a couple of weeks later (homesick!?)

The property they bought at Pekina, was in the Pekina Valley at the western base of the ‘Hogshead Hill’, and they named it Clifden Vale and it was operated as P.L. Mannion and Sons. Through success at wool growing, with wool prices at a premium, cereal farming and working for wages in the shearing industry, the Mannion’s eventually bought three more farming properties in the Pekina district, one for each of the sons. Pete moved into Dempsey’s, about a mile east of Pekina, Maurice went over the hill, towards Wepowie, to Kitto’s and Reg eventually settled at Redden’s about half a mile south of Pekina.

The Pekina district was a close knit Irish/Catholic community and was a bit overwhelmed at these ‘northerners’ buying up large parcels of ‘their land’ and whilst being Catholics, the Mannion family have always felt like ‘outsiders’, despite being involved in church, community and sporting events. Some of the Pekina ‘locals’ still recall P.L. riding around the district on horse-back after his arrival at Pekina, which they considered unusual! Despite retaining and practising their Catholic faith, Mannion’s found some of the Pekina practices a bit restrictive : Eily was not allowed to wash; or at least hang out the clothes, on a Sunday in case a ‘would be’ prominent local saw it!. The same bloke, a few years later, upon learning that my father was going to kill and dress a sheep on the Sabbath, warned him that it (the carcase) would “go black on the hook”, Dad told him that the previous three hadn’t! But they must have done something right, as eventually P.L. inherited the job of ‘taking up the collection plate’ at Sunday Mass and after he died Dad got the job, which he still has.

The relationship between P.T.W. and Carmel Finlay blossomed and eventually they were married at Quorn on 1 May, 1954. Following a honeymoon to Melbourne, they returned to Pekina and settled on the “Dempsey” farm. P.T.W. was in farming partnership with his father and brothers at Pekina and Cradock and while this kept him busy he also continued shearing around the area. Carmel, being a ‘newcomer’ to the district and being unable to drive a motor-car must have found it a daunting and lonely experience, however, she didn’t have a lot of spare time on her hands, trying to establish a run-down old farm house with limited washing facilities and an outside ‘long-drop’ dunny and with a ‘honeymoon-baby’ on the way!

Pete and Carmel tried to assimilate into the church and sporting communities, playing cricket and tennis. On 20 March, 1955 at 2a.m. John Francis Mannion was born at the Orroroo Hospital, nine miles from Pekina. The Mannion ‘boys’ were not really familiar with cereal cropping, but with some neighbourly advice, observation and after many hours on their open ‘Massey-Harris’ 744D and ‘Twin-City’ tractors, in the frosty Pekina winters pulling bridle draft cultivators and ‘Shearer’ combines, followed by many more in the heat and dust of summer, they eventually became adept farmers. But their real passion was sheep and as P.L. and his brother, Joe had both established stud flocks, it must have been inherited, or conditioned, and their shearing ability guaranteed them off-farm incomes, which is what they lived on, as the ‘Boss’, P.L.wasn’t noted for his generosity! In the early 1960’s they built a new shearing shed and it was commissioned with a grand opening. The three brothers with P.L. as the boss, operated as an efficient, but not always amicable, team and between them they could just about fix anything, from cars, trucks and stationary engines to windmills and pumps, but it was with sheep that they stood out. I remember, as a boy watching them, Dad, uncle ‘Maurie’ and uncle ‘Regie’, castrating ram lambs and pulling the testicles out with their teeth, their faces covered in blood and guts. Shearing was a big occasion too, with all hands ‘on the board’. P.L. was also interested in Red-Poll cattle and established a Stud, ‘Pekina-Lea’, which was disposed of in the early 1970s.

Some of my earliest memories of Pekina are the reflections of the firelight on my bedroom wall, after Dad had lit the wood-stove, first thing in the mornings and I can always remember Dad going away shearing on Sunday afternoons, heading off with an old yellowish, fibre suitcase with a grey army blanket strapped to it with a brown leather strap. Where he was going or how he got there, I have no idea. I also remember vaguely, going to Clifden, sitting on the petrol tank of a motor bike in front of my father. Two other children were born to Pete and Carmel, another son, Gary Vincent Mannion, in 1959 and Anne-Marie Mannion in 1963.

Despite his limited education at Uroonda School (one room-one teacher) my father developed a remarkable mechanical ability and is able to fix most things. He possesses the three ‘m’s’ essential to being a farmer: to mend, make and maintain machinery. This probably evolved through interest and necessity and my brother Gary and I have the same ability and stubbornness to fix things, whether we like it or not.

The family partnership was eventually disolved in 1969, following Maurice and Margaret Mannion’s return to Cradock, from Pekina with six children, where they had increased the original holding by buying out the neighbours, Burt’s, which they then called Clifden, too. They eventually had eight children and stayed at Cradock until Maurice died on 13 October, 1993, aged 67 at Hawker; his son, Kevin now runs and lives on the place. Reg Mannion stayed in Pekina, but increased his holding, buying land in the Yatina hills, where one of his two sons, Tony now lives. Reg eventually moved to western New South Wales where he lives with his wife, Donna on a sheep grazing property. Pete and Carmel are still at Pekina, farming wheat and barley, and running merino sheep for wool production and fat lambs for meat.

My grandpa Mannion, P.L. died on 5 October, 1974, aged 74 in the Booleroo Centre Hospital and is buried at the foot of Mt. Maurice in the Pekina Cemetery. He was a proud man, proud of his success and achievements in setting up his sons on their own properties and well he should have been, but he was a ‘man’s man’ (but not a boozer) and lived a man’s life of ‘stockwhip and shears’ and didn’ t approve of women’s involvement in business. Typical of many family farm operations, he did not get on with his sons at times, especially my father, and disapproved of my parents decision to send me away to learn a trade ( a decision I didn’t really like at the time either!) and not stay ‘on the land’.

In retrospect, I don’t think my ‘grandma Mannion’, Eily ever really liked living at Pekina and always yearned to go back ‘up north’ to Carrieton and her family. On several occasions she was admitted to the Booleroo Centre Hospital suffering from depression, this wasn’t common knowledge, but that was in an era when such things weren’t talked about! But she had a kindly disposition and although not ‘house-proud’, her house always had ‘open doors’. I don’t think she had an easy life with her husband and due to his frugality she spent a lot of time milking cows and sending the separated cream to the Orroroo Butter Factory to get some regular income. She loved her grandchildren and in my early years I can recall Christmas’ at Clifden Vale, with lots of relations and heaps of food around, and a native pine Christmas Tree adorned with silver-frosted pine cones, in the corner of the dining room. I can remember too, her cream and sugar sandwiches and later on the big tomato sandwiches, made with fresh bread; she was a wholesome cook and always had a ‘pinny’ on.

Following the death of her husband, Eily, or E.A. as she was sometimes known, took on a new lease of life and enjoyed her new found freedom, going on several holidays and ‘gallivanting’ around the district in her old red Falcon car. Eileen Agnes Mannion died in the Booleroo Centre Hospital on 9 February, 1982, aged 75 and she is also buried in the Pekina Cemetery.

On Thursday, 24 September, 1998, the Mannion family will gather again at the foot of Mt. Maurice to bury my fathers elder sister and my aunty, Patricia Mary Mannion, who died in London, on 12 September, 1998, aged 57. Pat grew up in the Pekina/Tarcowie district after the move from Cradock, but later went to boarding school in Adelaide. She was a bit of a radical for a woman of the 1950’s, born into a conservative Irish/ Australian Catholic farming family. she never did marry or have any children, neither did she expect any man to keep her. She did have a relationship with a local bloke, but her mother didn’t approve and that was doomed; an event Pat never really got over and she devoted her life to her career, nursing. She drifted around a bit and shifted to Casterton, Vic. where she studied nursing, eventually she went to Western Australia where she continued nursing and through her studies eventually became Deputy Head of Undergraduate Studies – Clinical Liaison, in Nursing at Curtin University, Perth. W.A.

In 1997, Pat was diagnosed as having bowel cancer and despite treatment never recovered and died in London, U.K. while on holidays. Her body will be flown to Adelaide for transport to Pekina to join her parents.

But life must go on! and despite the myth that Australian/Irish Catholic families breed prolifically, the Mannion’s haven’t really caused a population explosion, only in small bursts! I have only one daughter, Nell Grace Mannion, born 12 May 1990, at The Queen Victoria Hospital, Rose Park, Adelaide, but, that’s another story.


  1. Elizabeth Bennett says:

    I am trying to sort out some family history problems related to my great grand mother, Susan Kean(e,) b 1833/5/6 in County Clare, Ireland. She came to SA with her sister, Elizabeth (b1837) in 1854 . The latter married Martin Ryan b 1935 and I have reason to believe he died at Coomooroo in 1895.
    If I can sort out details of my great grandmother’s sister and her family it could just help in my search to understand the back ground to these two girls who came to SA in in 1854.
    Do you have any knowledge of Martin Ryan – any burial ground used in that area or any other helpful comment to make
    I look forward to your response – I am pretty lost with my research at present!!
    Elizabeth Bennett.

  2. Jeffrey Hollywood says:

    Hi John,

    I spoke to your dear ol’ Dad yesterday ( Peter ) on the phone, discussing shearing sheds located around the state which were, over the years contracted to Stockowners Shearing Ltd.
    Peter sounds like a beaut bloke and bright as a button considering his age – probably that good Celtic bloodline. I promised to buy him a beer next time I come to the Orroroo area…and I will!

    Jeff Hollywood, old wool-classer / descendant also from Ireland – County Wicklow )

  3. John Mannion says:

    yes Martin Ryan died at Coomooroo in 1895

  4. Elizabeth (Libby) Newbold-Carey says:

    Hello John,
    I have loved reading this – brought back so many memories of my childhood. My grandmother was Annie Mannion, daughter of Bartholomew & Mary. Your aunt, Pat Mannion was my friend at Royal Perth Hospital in 1971 and so loved by parents Nancy & John Fahey.

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