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Harry Robert Debney (1879–1933)

There passed away at Richmond (N.Q.) an old pioneer in the person of Harry Robert Debney of Monkira station on the Diamantina River. The Debney family holds a place in the front ranks of those men who pioneered north South Australia and the corner of south-western Queensland. In the early sixties Harry Debney's father, Mr. George Debney, in partnership with Mr. Woodfull, took up Mundowdna station near Farina (SA), the blacks were so fierce that they were forced to abandon the place; five years later they came back and stocked the property with sheep and a certain measure of success crowned their effort.

Disposing of his interest Mr. Debney roamed the McDonnell ranges looking at country, accompanied by a blackboy and an Afghan camelier. On one of his visits to that part he fell in with the gang of men who were erecting the Overland Telegraph line and camped among them for three months. On departure the men presented him with a pair of wire cutters as a memento of his visit. Travelling up the Hergott-Birdsville track with his brother Harry, in 1879 Mr. Debney inspected Monkira station, then held by Messrs Peppin and Webber, for (Sir) E. T. T. Smith and Newland; forming a partnership the three men bought the property, Mr. Debney being managing partner. In 1882 he sent for his family, who made the long trip up the Birdsville track by buggy, a distance of over four hundred miles, to Monkira. Harry Debney, George Debney’s son, had been partially crippled by an attack of infantile paralysis (caught in Adelaide) in infancy; one leg was always more or less useless. It speaks well for the boy's character that he overcame this disability and took his part in the mustering and general working of a property which covered an area of nearly two thousand five hundred square miles. The late Mr. Debney was a staunch friend of the Aborigines but had no time for the civilized product; but the myalls he admired and respected (in their place); he considered that black trackers were an invaluable aid to men opening up the interior. Mr. Debney had personal experience with 'Big Mouth Peter' and 'Jimmy the Jew,' two aborigines who were outlawed by the government of that time. He was instrumental in tracing Jimmy the Jew when the police and trackers had given up the chase.

One year the Diamantina came down in surprise flood (from rains which had fallen a hundred miles further up). There was nothing to do but swim before the inner channel rose and made the current too strong. So Harry Debney took to the water, swimming between the two men who gave him a hand at intervals. They reached the main channel to find it a banker; a foodless week faced them for the boat was gone; the men refused to leave the helpless boy, so the three took to the water again and after a terrific struggle won the bank.

Now H.R.D. has passed to his rest, a man of splendid unselfish character and highest integrity. 'Hats off to him'— the bushmen's salute to a revered mate— 'Hats off to him.' The bush is the poorer for his passing.

Original publication

Additional Resources

  • wedding, Queenslander, 21 December 1918, p 17

Citation details

'Debney, Harry Robert (1879–1933)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 14 April 2024.

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