Gregory Downs Station – Old Photographs

In October 1876 three Watson brothers left from “Walwa” on the Upper Murray in Victoria, following a survey trip by Greg, one of the brothers, in 1875, to settle on the Gregory River at “Gregory Downs” some 120 kilometres south of Burketown, arriving in August 1877.

Two of the brothers, Harry Frederick and Philip Sidney were twins aged only 19 at the time and the youngest Robert McGregor (Greg or Greggy) Watson was only 17 years of age.

When they arrived, a family friend, who travelled with them and was to be a partner, returned immediately to Victoria and sold his share leaving the three Watson boys to “sink or swim”

In later years, possibly after the turn of the century, the ‘Swearing Watson’s’ employed managers and only spent the winter months at Gregory and the rest of the time in Sydney at the old Metropole. Harry had a home “Whitley” in Moss Vale. They also spent time at the Upper Murray. They made their yearly pilgrimage to “Gregory Downs“ via ASN boat to Townsville and then to Thursday Island by coastal steamers and then by another vessel to Normanton. They rode from Normanton to Gregory Downs. During the period that Phil Schaffert was manager they also came by train to Dobbyn  where they were collected by Schaffert in the station vehicle – a long trip in those days. They always came during the winter months and stayed for around 3 months.

Bev Webber Collection

Photos from the Bev Webber Collection dated around 1928/1929 via Russell Carrington and ‘Tales from the Top Rail’. Photos originally from Ethleen Burnett who lived at Nardoo Station. Ethleen’s father was E G Burnett who managed Lorraine Station. Bev is married to Allan Webber previously of Nardoo Station.

Gregory Downs Homestead circa 1928/9
Gregory Downs Homestead circa 1928/9
Gregory Downs Hotel
Gregory Downs Water Wheel (Pelton Wheel)

Lew Blackmore Collection

Photos from Lew Blackmore Collection. Lew inherited Gregory Downs from his great uncle, the last surviving Watson brother, Robert McGregor ‘Greggy‘ Watson after his death at Tarwin Meadows, Victoria, in early 1943.

Philip Sidney Watson had died in 1936 aged 79 and his twin brother Harry Frederick died in 1942 aged 85 leaving “Gregory Downs“ to the last surviving brother and partner Robert McGregor Watson who subsequently died in 1943 at age 84 leaving no children.

Prior to his death and as his health prevented him from looking after “Gregory Downs“, Greg Watson decided to pass the property on to his Grand Nephew, Lewis Kinleside Blackmore whilst he was till alive provided that Lew could get leave as an engineer from the RAAF to take over the supervision of the property. Lew was, at the time a Corporal Fitter11A stationed at RAAF Uranquinty and previously at Daly Waters and Darwin in the NT. A discharge was subsequently approved in January 1943 to take over the running of “Gregory Downs“.

Alexa Watson (b. 1847 d. 1914), one of the Watson Bros siblings by Grandie’s first marriage had married Andrew Kinleside in 1877 and their daughter Edith Alexa Kinleside married John Colerige Blackmore from Cowra, a son of Edwin Gordon Blackmore. John and Edith had only one son Lewis Kinleside Blackmore born in 1917. Lew was therefore 26 years of age when he inherited  ”Gregory Downs”.

The Estate was tied up for quite some time as Harry Frederick Watson had died in 1942 and his share had yet to pass to the Estate of R M ‘Greg’ Watson before it could be wound up and titled passed to on to Lew Blackmore. He eventually took over the property from the executors, the Burns Philp Trust Company in January 1948, some 5 years later!

Lew Blackmore sold ”Gregory Downs” in 1979 to Tancred Bros who on sold it on in 1985 to the Australian Agricultural Co. At this time the AA Co also purchased the adjoining “Planet Downs” from the Carrington family and the properties were merged to be run as one profit centre.

Sadly, the “Gregory Downs” Station Homestead then became a mere outstation with the Planet Downs Homestead becoming the new Gregory Homestead. In 2009, Gregory Downs was again sold to the Macquarie Pastoral Fund trading as Paraway Pastoral Co.

“Gregory Downs” had been owned by the Watson/Blackmore families for a period of some 102 years.

Gregory Downs Homestead; De Havilland Drover mail plane; Gregory Airfield Terminal; Bronco Horse; Draining Pen and House Yard. Lew Blackmore and Gregory Manager, Charlie Schaffert and others pictured. (Circa late 1940’ to early 1950’s).
Albert Daly at 20 Mile with Bronco rope.
Archie Black on the bronco horse at the old 20 Mile yards on Gregory Downs in 1967. One of the Watson Bros (Gregory Downs) sisters, Isabella Emily, had married George Black from Tarwin Meadows in Victoria and their sons George Murray Black (b1874 d1965) and Archibald McGregor Black (b1875 d1943) spent quite a lot of time on Gregory Downs. The first two aboriginal boys born on the station were named after them. Archie lived to old age, however Murray died young, between 14 and 20 years.
Billy Foster (3rd from left) with mustering camp at 20 Mile in 1960. Bill and his wife, Wilma lived at and managed Gregory Downs from 1960 – 1972. Bill died young at age 45 in 1972, Wilma died in 1997 at 63.
Gregory Homestead taken from the river side in 1949
Landsborough Tree with Charlie Schafferrt, Tim Bettington and Lew Blackmore around 1953
Bureau of Mineral Resources Cessna 180 Survey plane VH-GEO at Gregory Airfield with Lew Blackmore (in hat).
TAA provided flight crew, engineering and airworthiness responsibility until mid 1968
Eddie Phillips Earthmoving Cat D7 and scoop building dams 1960
Gregory Homestead in 1978 with Racecourse, Police Station, Hall and Hotel across river.

Lew Blackmore Colour Slide Collection

Watering in the Gregory River between the Hotel and the Gregory Homestead.
Gregory Homestead taken from the road side 1960’s
TAA DC3 named “Evans” at the Gregory Downs Station airstrip on a regular mail run in most probably 1961/62. Left to Right: Bret Blackmore, TAA Pilot/Crew, Lew Blackmore (Gregory Downs), Greg Blackmore, Elton Forshaw (Yeldham Stn) and Bill Foster (Manager, Gregory Downs)
The entrance door on this aircraft VH-TAK had been modified in December 1957 to permit mail and supplies to be dropped in flight. This requirement was especially useful during the Queensland wet season. It was one of four aircraft modified for this role with the test flights carried out at Mangalore, Victoria.
Gregory Cattle
Stream train and cattle wagons at Kajabi rail head.
Tommy and Dora Doolan with daughter Lois.
Eddie Phillips Earthmoving plant 1960. Lew Blackmore in blue shirt.
Gregory River

Bev O’Hara Collection

Photos from the Beverley O’Hara (nee Schaffert) Collection. In January 1931 Phillip (Phil) Frederick Schaffert went to work for the Watson Bros as a head stockman and in September that year was appointed manager. Phil Schaffert stayed on for 13 years, finally resigning in December 1944 during the years after Greg Watson died and when the property was under the control of the executors Burns Philp Trust Company Limited. After Phil resigned as manager, his brother Charlie, who was the drover at the time became manager and continued in that role for around 14 years.

Old Gregory Homestead on right with kitchen and store in 1937
Original Gregory Homestead. The left side building still stands and, after the new homestead was built, was used as an engine room for the power generator.
Harry Watson, then Harry and his daughter Bonny, Miss Blake, Alice Schaffert with daughter Beverley and Phil Schaffert.
Gregory Manager Phil Scaffert and wife Alice with Max Kinleside, a grand nephew of the Watson Bros, to the right and Bill “Smiler” Smith on the left, in September 1933.
Phil and Alice Schaffert (station managers) with Max Kinleside (on left) a grand nephew of the Watson Bros, at Gregory homestead in 1933. Old homestead to the right, part of which still stands.
“Scat” car in front of original homestead. This part is still standing. It is believed that the driver was either “Old Dick” or “Drummer”, who had been rescued from Police when the Watsons first travelled to Gregory.
This photograph was taken on 13 September 1937 at Gregory Downs. Alice Schaffert’s writing on the back states:- Erle Monro, manager Lawn Hill, Rev Fred McKay (Australian Inland Mission) and Phil Schaffert, manager Gregory Downs. A message being sent for a doctor to come to Gregory Downs to attend Mrs Carrington of Planet. Phil Schaffert then wrote that the plane arrived two hours later.

Sundry Collections

Photos from various collections with credits, where known, in captions.

Professor Archie Watson (L) with Sidney, Harry and Greg Watson.
Robert McGregor “Greg” Watson and Sidney Watson at the Gregory 20 Mile Outstation in 1917 with crocodile.
Harry Watson with Murray Black and young Tom Doyle in 1917
Sidney Watson (L) with Murray Black (R) from Tarwin Meadows, Victoria and Gregory Manager Bartel T H Doyle cutting up beast with his sons Tom and Bartel Jnr (sitting on fence) in 1917.
Dinner Camp. Harry Watson with Model T Ford in 1915
Sid Watson and his wife, suffragist, Annie Lister on road to Lawn Hill.
Married in 1898 they went to Alaska during the Klondike Gold Rush for 2 years
Maurice Aplin at the Gregory Downs 20 Mile Outstation with some Barramundi and one Catfish. The steel framed “Comet” building is the camp with two rooms, a verandah (note swags) and an open skillion kitchen with fire place out the back. The old wooden cattle yards are just visible over Maurice’s left shoulder, adjacent to the Gregory River, as well as the shadow of the camp truck and behind that the outhouse pit toilet and shower. (Photo from his daughter Dawn Aplin)

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