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Duncan, Laura (1875–1955)

by Horace Flower

Laura Duncan, n.d.

Laura Duncan, n.d.

from Pastoral Review and Graziers' Record, 16 August 1955

At her Kangaroo Point, Brisbane, home two months ago a quiet, strongly efficient, and kindly woman, who battled with a pastoralists most difficult problems out in the country between the channels of Farrar's Creek and the Diamantina, far western Queensland, passed on to her rest. She was Mrs. Laura Duncan, of Mooraberrie, a well known cattle property of the Channel Country.

If you took a plane into the air at Gayndah, in Queensland, and flew due west for 800 miles you would find yourself over Mooraberrie; if you were a drover doing the same journey by the shortest route it would take you 1100 to 1200 miles to get there. Once there you'd find that the homestead lies 50 crow-flight miles due north of Haddon Corner, where South Australia pushes up into the rectangle formed by Mount Leonard and Arrabury cattle stations. Close by, the historic Birdsville Track follows the Diamantina channels through Monkira Station and then across the north-western boundary of Mooraberrie.

That brief geographical sketch is to give you a location for the scene in which this courageous Australian woman fought droughts, slumps, labour troubles, loneliness and isolation, as she reared three daughters born to her out in their "sandhill country." Laura Davis, one of the daughters of Sydney solicitor, Charles Davis and his wife Maria, spent her early years at the family home, Llewellyn, on the Parramatta River, N.S.W. In the late '90's she travelled with her elder sister and her sister's husband, Allen Alexander, via Rockhampton and Longreach, to old Daroo Station, close by Birdsville. In that period they covered the 400 miles from Longreach by buggy, camping at night where they pulled up, and with a black boy driving the spare horses.

Whilst living with her sister and brother-in-law (who managed Daroo), Laura Davis married William Duncan, who had come from the Midlothian area of Scotland to manage Mooraberrie. After some years Mr. and Mrs. Duncan managed to purchase Mooraberrie, just in time to get a terrible setback through the great drought of 1900-02. Fighting that disastrous drought in such complete isolation was an awful ordeal. But the illness and untimely death of her only son, and her husband, with the nearest doctor 400 buggy-miles away at Longreach, coming on top of it all, must have strained her endurance to the limit.

With the pluck and determination that is characteristic of so many of Australia's back-country pioneer women, Mrs. Laura Duncan tackled the job of rehabilitating herself and simultaneously educating and caring for her three little fatherless daughters. How capable and resourceful she was is vouched for by the fact that the property is still owned by the family, with her daughter, Laura Duncan the Second, as its manager for the past 14 or 15 years. This capable Miss Laura Duncan, who learned from earliest childhood the art of horsemanship in cattle camps, on the run, and on the roads, took the reins from her mother only when advancing years forced the latter to retire to her town home at Kangaroo Point, Brisbane. Perhaps it must be at least an Australian record that such a remote and large cattle station should have been completely owned and managed by two women continuously for just on 50 years.

In her fight to retain and improve the property and its cattle, Mrs. Duncan aimed at building up a first-class Shorthorn herd, and originated the idea of selling off three-year-old steers. From Mooraberrie and other properties out along the Birdsville Track the cattle market of Adelaide was the important and reasonable outlet for their turn-off, but this meant a 500-mile droving trip to Hergott Springs (now known as Marree), and 400 miles of rail from that point to the Adelaide yards. In between droughts and slumps the paddocks of Mooraberrie have turned off fine "fats," including 600 head compulsorily acquired by the Ryan Labour Government of 1916 under their "Sugar Acquisition Act of 1915," which had a sweeping scope to cover not only raw sugar but various foodstuffs, commodities, and livestock. The action of the Queensland Government was fought in the law courts by Mrs. Duncan, the first case being lost, but the High Court of Australia reversed the decision. Then the Government took the case to the Privy Council and there won a verdict which nearly ruined the owner of Mooraberrie. The Graziers' Association had stood in with her in her fight.

During World War I, in spite of the strain of her legal battle with Queensland's Labour Government over its compulsory acquisition of those cattle, Mrs. Duncan used her Ford car for long journeys (involving hundreds of miles of uninhabited country) to aid the Red Cross and other movements linked with the war. She gave her house Lynne Grove, in the outer Brisbane suburb of Corinda, as a home for the orphaned or destitute children of deceased soldiers and sailors.

Her eldest daughter, Mrs. A. M. Duncan-Kemp, is well known to Australian and overseas readers from her two fascinating books on the far outback of Queensland—Our Sandhill Country (intimately describing the Mooraberrie area and the unspoiled aborigines) and Where Strange Paths Go Down. Mrs. Duncan- Kemp and her husband now reside on their sheep property, Donald Downs, nearly a thousand miles north-west of Brisbane. Miss Laura Duncan, the manager of Mooraberrie of to-day, is the second daughter, and the third is Mrs. Beatrice Galagher, who with her husband have Langoora, near Thallon, just above the New South Wales border where Mungindi stands. Here they produce some of Queensland's highest-priced wools. Altogether the Duncan-Kemps and the Galaghers have ten children and they are being trained to the standards achieved and held by their grandmother, Laura Duncan, of Mooraberrie, who led a life of fine example.

Original publication

  • Pastoral Review and Graziers' Record, 16 August 1955, pp 1015 & 1017 (view original)

Related Thematic Essay

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Horace Flower, 'Duncan, Laura (1875–1955)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/duncan-laura-333/text334, accessed 22 April 2019.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2019

Laura Duncan, n.d.

Laura Duncan, n.d.

from Pastoral Review and Graziers' Record, 16 August 1955

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Davis, Laura
  • Mckenzie, Laura
Birth

25 August 1875
Balmain, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Death

20 June 1955
Kangaroo Point, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

Cultural Heritage
Religious Influence
Occupation