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Conrick, John (1852–1926)

from Advertiser (Adelaide)

John Conrick, n.d.

John Conrick, n.d.

from Pastoral Review, 16 February 1926

A typical pioneer and squatter who paved the way for the pastoralist and the small settler of to-day, Mr. John Conrick, who died on Sunday at Ru Rua Hospital where he had been lying seriously ill for some weeks, contributed by his life virtually a page to the history of Australia. Born at Portalington (Victoria) in 1852 he saw the growth of mushroon cities and the foundation of others more enduring. When he had completed his education he was set to work in a shipping office in Melbourne, and there he showed a remarkable gift for figures. This was a characteristic which he retained throughout his life, and he could keep the most complicated bill for station stores in his head with the accuracy of an adding machine. The spirit of adventure which led him to strike out for himself while he was still a mere lad was that of an explorer, and his faith in the possibilities of the Australian back country was fired by the reports he heard of the Burke and Wills expedition. His boyhood had been spent in the country, and cities had little appeal for him.

When he was barely 19 years old he had sunk all his available cash in the purchase of a mob of cattle, which he took to the Cooper Creek, on which he established Nappa Merrie, the first station to be opened up there. That was 11 years after the death of the explorers. At that time there were plenty of blacks about, and the reports of their hostile attitude had frightened many squatters. Mr. Conrick, however, always boasted that he had little trouble with the aborigines, holding that their rights should be respected with regard to food and water, and those in the vicinity of Nappa Merrie soon learned that although swift retribution followed any depredations on their part there was what practically amounted to a reservation for them so long as they kept within bounds. Having established a rough homestead, he left his cattle in charge of the station hands and set out to explore the Diamantina country. Convinced that the one requisite for success in the pastoral industry was the establishment of markets, he spent months in the saddle exploring the back country for likely routes. The demand for cattle in South Australia was particularly great at that time, and Mr. Conrick determined to take advantage of the fact. When he returned to Nappa Merrie he gathered several hundred of his best cattle and announced his intention of taking them to the Adelaide market on the hoof.

It was in 1875 that he opened what was afterwards a famous stock route from Queensland to South Australia coming down the Strelitzki Creek looking for provisions. The venture proved a great success, and Mr. Conrick reaped the reward in the high prices his cattle fetched. He has described that journey as a long series of adventures, not the least of which was swimming the mob of frightened cattle over the flooded creeks that were encountered. A man of tremendous physical strength and endurance, Mr. Conrick on more than one occasion spent a day and a night in the saddle searching for stragglers after a stampede or keeping watch.

The sale of the cattle convinced him that there was a great future for the industry, and it was characteristic of him that he determined from the outset to improve the quality of his beef. With the purchase of good Shorthorn stock it was not long before his cattle were famous all over Australia, and at the time of his death his herd of Shorthorn cattle in Queensland was among the best in the State. Mr. Conrick realised that with the development of Australia the pastoralist with the vast areas of land necessary for the industry must be gradually pushed farther and farther back, and, remembering this he never established his stations where the march of civilisation was likely to touch them for many generations to come. Barrioola, which adjoins Nappa Merrie, was one of the ventures of which he made a tremendous success, and the two holdings between them cover several thousands of square miles. Popiltah, on the annabranch in New South Wales, was one of his stations, and Wallabadinna in the far north beyond Hookina another. Nappa Merrie is known as a model station, and with its river frontage of 99 miles is certainly one of the best propositions in the country. Up and down the Cooper runs a little motor boat, and there are several rowing boats by which the head station keeps in touch with the more distant quarters of the vast estate. The wool scouring plant there is one of the most up-to-date in the Commonwealth, and Nappa Merrie wool is eagerly bid for at all the great wool sales, for Mr. Conrick always strove to improve the quality of his sheep as well as of his cattle. He was a firm believer in mixed holdings where this was possible. It was one of his theories, which was proved right more than once in times of stress, that a station owner should know every foot of the track between his various holdings, so that in case of drought in one area he should be able to get as many of his cattle and sheep away to good country as possible. "Better to let them die on the hoof," he said, "than to let them die of starvation and thirst without a chance for their lives." And keep them on the move he did in drought times, carrying on in the face of difficulties that would have devastated many a man with less faith in the country and himself. A thorough sportsman, Mr. Conrick bred a number of racehorses, and if they seldom carried his colours to victory he consoled himself with the fact that he had bred some of the best ponies in the Commonwealth.

It was frequently said that he had not known his own remarkable physical strength. This was proved one day when a horse on which he had obtained a grip began to play up. Mr. Conrick had roped it by the head, and when it attempted to pull away from him he was able to stand his ground, instead of being pulled along, as the average man would have been, with the result that the horse broke its neck. On another occasion he wished to stop a horse which was galloping down a race, and calmly putting out his hand caught it by the forehead, literally pushing it back on its haunches. These were well-known incidents, and they were typical of many. Mr. Conrick was always ready to give other people the benefit of his experience, and his observations on the long trips which he undertook, often single-handed, have been of the utmost value to scientific bodies. As a member of the Royal Geographical Society, Mr. Conrick’s contributions were looked for with interest, and in recognition for his excellent work he was made a Fellow of the Royal Society.

Mr. Conrick leaves four sons Messrs. John Conrick (Popiltah), Edward Conrick (Nappa Merrie), Cilve Conrick (Wallabadinna), and Joseph Conrick (Barrioola).

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'Conrick, John (1852–1926)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/conrick-john-241/text1659, accessed 23 October 2014.

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