The Cungelella Cattle Mystery

Salvador Rosa National Park

Crystal clear springs add more than ten million litres of water a day to peaceful Louisa Creek and the Nogoa River as they meander beneath a backdrop of rocky sandstone crags and spires. Salvator Rosa National Park is at the western edge of the Central Queensland Sandstone Belt and roughly midway between Springsure and Tambo. The course-grained sandstones of Salvator Rosa are very crumbly. Erosion of the sandstone has left behind many interesting features that dominate the skyline, including Spyglass Peak and the Sentinel.

Salvador Rosa National Park

This area was named by Thomas Mitchell, after the Neapolitan 17th Century artist, Salvator Rosa, who portrayed rugged mountainous terrain in his paintings similar to that Mitchell had seen in the landscape.

Major Mitchell Springs in Salvador Rosa National Park

Thomas Mitchell passed and repassed through this area between July and September 1846, in search of a route from Sydney to Port Essington (Darwin). Mitchell set up his base camp at the spring-fed oasis he discovered, which is now known as Major Mitchell Springs

Memorial to Major Mitchell at Salvador Rosa National Park

Gazetted as a National Park around 1974, Salvador Rosa adjoins several large grazing properties, who in the past have been able to access the area to muster out cattle that may have strayed into the area. Many of these cattle became wild and among them were many that had not been branded and were known as “clean skins”. It was common practice that, if, previous owners, could not be identified, that those mustering could keep the cattle as their own. From time to time unbranded calves, weaners or fully grown cattle could have come there with their mother’s and attempts would be made to mother up calves to any branded cows before advising the legal owners that they had them in hand. Although mustering of the National Park now requires a Permit, the practice still continues, with adjoining property owners eligible to apply for Permits.

Nearby Cattle Properties

Immediately adjoining Salvador Rosa National Park To the north are the properties “Lake Salvador” and “Mt Vexation” that until around the 1980’s were all owned as part of “Cungelella”. The property “Goodliffe” also adjoins the park. Other nearby properties are “Albeni”, “Beauchamp”, “Myola” , “Wharton Creek” and “Yandaburra”. To the south and over the ranges are “Mt Playfair” and “Barngo” that also adjoin the park.

“Cungelella”

1980’s New Owners

Lloyd Taylor & Co, Stock & Station Agents at Moura, specialised in rural property sales in Central Queensland and utilised a Cessna 182 aircraft to better service the more distant properties. In December 1984, Greg Blackmore was working for Lloyd Taylor and was involved in the sale of a part of “Beauchamp”, west of Springsure, known as “Hobblers” comprising 40,000 acres, and later renamed as “Albeni” to Graeme and Susan McDonald.

“Albeni” – Photo courtesy Susan McDonald

Greg had also been involved in the sale, in 1981, of the neighbouring property “Cungelella”, that, at that time, included “Mt Vexation” and “Lake Salvador” to the Nobbs family and also, in June 1984, in conjunction with Rodney Scott, “Goodliffe” to the Speed family.

The management and ownership of “Cungelella” was then split amongst the three Nobbs brothers and “Mt Vexation” and “Lake Salvador” became separate entities. In 2003, part of “Beauchamp” was added to “Cungelella”.

2006 – NAPCo Buys “Cungelella”

In January 2006, NAPCo (The North Australian Pastoral Company) purchased “Cungellella” at Auction via a telephone bid at $35.5 million or $1,623.22 per acre (From the book “You Still Can’t make It Rain” – The North Australian Pastoral Company 1877-2019 by Margaret Kowald). This was the largest purchase in the company’s history and comprised 21,870 acres of mainly freehold tenure capable of running 8,000 to 10,000 feeder steers. The managers of the property under Nobbs ownership continued their employment with NAPCo.

2006 – Missing Cattle, Investigations and Charges

Before NAPCo had settled and taken possession of the property and whilst the Vendors were preparing for a dispersal sale, cattle belonging to the Nobbs Cattle Company, went missing from paddocks on the main road close to the “Cungelella” homestead and, on the 27th February 2006 were spotted by helicopter in empty paddocks with the water turned off on the adjoining property “Albeni”. How they got there was not known.

The following day, a member of the stock squad (SARCIS – Stock and Rural Crimes Investigation Squad) and “Cungellella” owners, staff and some neighbours arrived unannounced at “Albeni” to secure and retrieve the cattle.

Photo courtesy Susan McDonald

A SARCIS investigation involving squad members from Longreach, Charters Towers, Forest Hill and Rockhampton as well as other members of the Police, was then carried out over a period of up to 4 months and named ‘Operation Dakota’ and eventually, on the 5th July issued Graeme McDonald, the owner of “Albeni” with a Summons to appear at a Committal Hearing, charged with stealing or receiving the cattle. (as they were on his property).

2007 – Committal Hearing Rockhampton

The case then went to a 12 day committal hearing in Rockhampton on the 27th June 2007 with the SARCIS investigating officer agreeing that he had no direct evidence from any person or person observing Graeme McDonald removing the cattle, but was relying totally on the ‘Doctrine of Recent Possession’. Graeme McDonald was, on completion of the Committal Hearing, charged with stealing a number of animals or alternatively receiving a quantity of cattle that had been stolen. The magistrate said that the matter of ‘recent possession’ would be for the court to decide.

2008 – Charges Dropped

Before the case came before the court, the Director of Public Prosecutions in Rockhampton formally entered a Nolle Proseque meaning that all charges were dropped due to a lack of evidence. The McDonalds were advised of this on the 6th of August 2008. In September, 2008 the McDonalds asked SARCIS to review their case, hoping to find out who were responsible for the cattle being placed on “Albeni” and to clear their own name. A review was commenced in January 2009 by the head of SARCIS in Queensland and the Northern Coordinator based in Rockhampton, however, for unknown reasons, was not completed.

Mud Sticks – What Now, a Book?

So the mystery still remained unsolved and after such a high profile case and media attention, how does a person charged then attempt to clear their name? Susan McDonald decided to record all the evidence, events, investigations and court hearing in a comprehensive book. What resulted was a book of 471 pages of very fine detail that was published in June 2010.

The book is called “Pinched or Planted? – The Cungelella Cattle Mystery” by Susan McDonald

Link to a free download or hard copy purchase of the book Below:-

https://www.pinchedorplanted.com/

Observations

Motives – Given the quality of the country of the adjacent properties and the recent sale price of “Cungelella” they could hardy be known as hardship blocks whereby the owners would improve their position greatly from stealing a small herd of cattle from their neighbours. (Around 50 cows and calves first noted missing)

Hearsay Evidence– Most of the SARCIS officers have experience with livestock and many have come to the Police Force from being stockmen themselves. It is hard to understand that, as investigating officers, that they would be able to “cut and paste” diary entries from each other rather than make individual entries from their own investigations. Surely this could then amount to ‘hearsay’ evidence?

Livestock Record Books – It seems unusual that property owners/managers might destroy ‘stock books’ or livestock records for the recent preceding year, immediately after the year just gone, more especially under the circumstances of the ongoing investigation.

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