Pastoralist legend passes away

Don and Shirley Muir.

By Clem Jones Group

Once a property owner from Breedon – between Longreach and Winton – Don Muir would make his mark in the Central West and across Australia.

He was born in Queensland at St George on 10 September 1929 as the only son of Ella Cummings and Maxwell Muir.

His first few years were spent in the St George district on a property called Maroungle, which was five miles out of St George and owned by a family partnership.

His father Max was successful in drawing an unimproved block in a land ballot, in the Winton district in 1934 which they named Moreena.

Don was sent to boarding school in Charters Towers at the age of nine, whilst a house was being constructed at Moreena, Ella and Don lived in Sydney, which was during the war, as this was where Max’s parents lived.

During this period Don was schooled at Beecroft Grammar and Barker College.

After the Second World War, they embarked on the long return journey to Moreena.

Don mentioned in his diary that on several occasions as the journey became more remote, his Mum threatened to get out at the next town and return to Sydney.

It was not surprising that Moreena was sold, and the family purchased a property called Breedon between Longreach and Winton.

Breedon was later sold and the family partnership then purchased Glenbuck, which was in a lot better location, midway between Longreach and Barcaldine, in August 1947.

It comprised two properties.

The one on the northern side of the Central railway Line became known as Glenferrie and the one on the south side was renamed Griffdale.

Max, Ella, and Don settled on Glenferrie, and Max’s siblings took ownership of Griffdale.

Of the total price of £28,650 an amount of £13,341 was apportioned to Glenferrie, which was approximately 20,000 acres.

The original house on Glenferrie was built in the 1890s, starting out as four rooms with verandas on all sides.

Over the ensuing years a second story was added and it eventually grew to 18 rooms, it was the only two-story timber homestead in the district.

Don noted in his diary that the homestead was well equipped, with what he called “thunderboxes”, he said there was a large two-seater in the sheds, together with two single-seaters for the female family members in the house, and a separate elevated lookout for the boss and manager (where he used to retreat to with the newspaper).

Don recorded in his diary that Glenferrie was his introduction to the three B’s – Bushfires, Blowflies, and Bad seasons.

Glenferrie had a six-mile frontage to the Central Railway Line, which was originally vulnerable to bush fires, ignited by the coal-fired steam engines that hauled the mail and passenger train back and forwards from Rockhampton to Longreach.

Glenferrie had more than its share of bushfires over the years, but never lost more than a third of its acreage.

The most sheep that were lost at any one time was 400 head, caught in a paddock fire ignited by lightning.

The first major drought occurred soon after they took over in 1948.

Only short dry spells occurred between 1949 and 1968, with the next major drought occurring in 1969 when the property was destocked for two years.

Don found the love of his life only 10 miles up the highway and married Shirley Aileen Taylor in Barcaldine in August 1954.

Don and Shirley were very social and enjoyed their social tennis comps and built a tennis court next to the homestead.

Don’s father Max was also a very accomplished tennis player and won several trophies.

Don was also heavily involved in the local community, being the President of the Barcaldine Club, for many years, as well as Chief Steward in the Barcaldine Show Society in charge of the wool section.

As a measure of his dedication, he went guarantor for a bank loan to build the Wool Pavilion at the showground.

He also established the Ilfracombe Bush Fire Brigade and was instrumental in arranging for the local Shire Council to grade fire breaks every year to contain the bush fires.

Don and Shirley shared a passion for collecting antique bottles, which started in the massive Glenferrie rubbish tip and near the shearers’ quarters and spread to other parts of the district.

They mapped out the Cobb & Co Coach route which had a stable inn about every 30 miles, (which was the range of a team of horses).

Many of these were on stock routes and simply ruins.

One such place on the Patrick Creek near Barcaldine.

Don’s other passion was stamp collecting.

Don and Shirley’s son David was born in the Longreach Base Hospital on 5 August 1955 and a second son Ian followed on 5 August 1957.

The boys had governesses for a few years, then went to school in Ilfracombe (13 miles away) and onto the Church of England Grammar School in Brisbane as borders, when each turned 10 years of age and did a seven-year stint.

After 31 years, Don and Shirley sold Glenferrie in November 1978 – for the princely sum of $5.50 per acre, so the proceeds would have been circa $110,000, excluding stock.

He gave both David and Ian the opportunity to take over, however, both had completed degrees at university, and whilst they enjoyed the short stays, it was not a life they chose.

Don and Shirley moved to Brisbane and initially lived in St Lucia, and Indooroopilly before buying an apartment at Bardon.

Don purchased a sewing machine business at Aspley, where he sold and serviced sewing machines.

Like any typical bushy he was good with his hands and repairing things.

After a few years, he sold the business, probably because he advised too many of his customers to repair rather than sell them a new machine.

He then bought the Post Office Agency at Graceville, where he built up the turnover considerably.

Having been a stamp collector all his life he had a close affinity with postage and stamps.

At one time at this Post Office, he was held up at gunpoint by a crazed drug addict, as there was plenty of cash and stamps behind the counter.

That event led to him selling the business.

Don was an avid stamp collector, travelling regularly interstate to stamp auctions in Sydney and Melbourne.

He eventually narrowed his focus to Australian stamps during the reign of King George V.

He was well versed in imperfections, different watermarks, perforations, etc.

It was nothing for him to spend $1,000 on a single stamp to complete a series.

After Don sold the Graceville Post Office, he and Shirley embarked on many overseas trips, in the late 1980s and early 1990s often researching family history in the United Kingdom.

After a five-year struggle with ovarian cancer, Shirley passed away in April 1998, a few days short of her 69th birthday.

Don remained living in their Bardon apartment where he was the secretary of the body corporate.

In February 2020 Don had a major fall down the stairs cracking his skull, neck, collarbone, two ribs, and puncturing his lungs.

After 10 weeks in Wesley Hospital, he finally achieved his wish of going home to Bardon.

His family never thought he would make it, but he did live another two years relatively independently.

He was able to continue walking around the streets of Toowong, Bardon, and Paddington most days, which was another one of his passions.

Last month on Anzac Day he walked out the door for his daily walk and fell over on the pathway in front of his apartment block.

Fortunately, neighbours came to his assistance and he was taken by ambulance to the Wesley Hospital where he was diagnosed with a broken femur.

He was in good spirits and insisted son David bring him his pyjamas so that he could get stuck into his exercises after the operation.

He was in good spirits chatting to the nursing staff, however, on Tuesday 26 April after an hour in the operating theatre his heart called time.

His 93rd birthday would have occurred in four months in September.