The Kelaher family.

Wonderland.

 

1912-2012

Lot 72, being 1194 acres, was bought by Tom and Katie Kelaher, through the ballot for the price of 4,118 pounds, 8 shillings and nine pence. To put that in context that is about $8,358 or a little over $7 an acre.

 

At the time Tom and Katie lived on their property “Kanowna”, out of Mullalley. They were now working both “Kanowna” and “Wonderland” together.

 

Before they were married Tom was with the Sydney Council and at the time of leaving to work on the property he was in line to become the next town clerk of Sydney. Considering his lack of knowledge of the land this new venture was going to be a big challenge.

 In the ensuing years under the stewardship of Tom, they mainly produced fat lambs and very good fine wool. “Wonderland” progressed very well under hard times and tough conditions. 1918 and 1919 were very dry years and then the floods came in 1920 followed by the depression of the late 1920’s.

 

In 1921 though tragedy struck the family.

 

 

Thomas was helping on his brother-in-laws property, “Runnymede”, with his young 14 year old son John Earl (“Boy”) by his side.  While loading a set of harrows onto the dray, one of the harrows fell onto Thomas’ leg injuring it badly.

 

Over the next few weeks he suffered poorly from tetanus as a result of the injury. This proved fatal and on the 21st of May 1921 he passed away at “Bobadil House” Murrurundi.

 

 

After her husbands death Katie and her young family moved permanently to “Bobadil House” with her mother (Annie Sevil).  She had six young children and one more on the way when Tom passed away. They were all helped on “Wonderland” by her (Sevil) brothers and Fred Haydon. Fred’s family later leased the property for approximately 5 years while the children were growing up.

 

Some of Tom & Katie’s children. Jack on “Sleet”, Tom and Llew on Trigger and Trixie on Snow. This photo was taken in the front paddock of “Bobadil House”.

As Katie’s children became older they worked very hard with their mother to keep the property going. The four boys, John Earl (Boy to his family and Jack to all), Thomas Sevil (Tom), Harold Llewellyn (Llew) and Patric Chester (Paddy) all helped out on “Wonderland”, as did her daughters, Beatrice (Trixie), Gwendaline (Gwen), and Patricia (Pat).

To work at “Wonderland” Katie and her children travelled from Murrurundi on horses or in the sulky. This trip sometimes took two days.

The trip was a long one so they would camp on the property while they worked all week.

These were times of hard work but the children never complained. And did they work, helping with mustering, fencing, shearing, burr cutting and burning off, not to mention the cooking. This was very hard work even in those days especially for a mother with 7 children.

 

Whilst the children had to cope with all this work they loved their horses and rode whenever they could. It seems the boys preferred jumping logs than mustering sheep, especially with a passenger on the back of the horse. No saddles, so good-bye baby sister! The boys in particular loved their horses and were very keen horsemen. It was eldest son John though, due to his keen horsemanship, who won the first open camp draft competition held in Murrurundi at the old showground, just across from the Murrurundi hospital. The youngest son Paddy though became a renowned horsemen and rodeo rider known by all. He later became a breeder of stock horses – he was really the horse lover.

 

As Tom and Katies children all grew up they all helped on “Wonderland” in one way or another growing up to be successful people in their own right. Whilst pursuing their own careers all of them worked willingly on “Wonderland” at times to help their mother.

 

 

The eldest son Jack, Katie’s right hand man, went to work at the CBC of Sydney for a few years finishing up in Bellata. He returned home to “Bobadil House” in about 1932 again helping on “Wonderland”. He, along with Tom and Llew, also did some casual farm work to earn some more money and learn more about farming. On top of this he also did some casual work with a Willow Tree stock and station agent. In 1938 Jack bought the stock and station business from the owner, Mr. Findlay, a Scotsman.

 

 

 

Prior to this Jack had married Enid Boland. Enid though tragically died in 1934 during childbirth leaving him widowed and with a baby daughter. 

 

The young newborn, Eulalie (Lalie) was then raised by his sister Trixie and their mother at “Bobadil House”.

 

Katie and son Jack with daughter Lalie in the middle
Trixie Kelaher

It wasn’t long though before he had permanently moved to “Bobadil House”, traveling to his business in Willow Tree for the week and helping out at “Wonderland” in his spare time. His business grew and became very successful throughout the sheep and wool boom of the ‘30’ and ‘40’s. John re-married in 1943 to Anne Hunt from Murrurundi and soon they were living in Willow Tree. He and Anne then became proud parents of two boys, Earl and David. The boys (Earl and David) grew up and Lalie became a nurse at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in Sydney. 

 

Lalie was married in 1956 to Brian Rhys-Jones (a senior television executive and TV program distributor) and they soon had three children, Peter, Katie and Libby. Throughout their marriage they lived in Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney. Sadly Brian passed away in August 2008.

Earl became the farmer but more on that later.

 

David, Jack and Anne’s youngest, had a successful career in the CBA bank working throughout New South Wales country and Sydney. He was soon married to Michelle Lydford and they lived in Forster and then in Nelson Bay. He sadly passed away in 1991.

Jack and his son Earl on one of the ponies. With them is Nugget, their ever faithful dog.
Trixie in 1988 at her 80th birthday celebrations.

Katie’s number 2 child Trixie became a childrens nurse at Royal Alexandria Children Hospital in Sydney, coming home during her holidays to help her mother and brothers. It was then in 1934 she took on the big task of looking after Jacks baby girl, Lalie. Trixie sadly passed away in 1997, a great daughter, sister and special aunt.

Katies third son Tom just before going to World War 2 in 1940.

Then comes Tom and Katie’s third child Tom.

 

Tom joined the CBC bank after leaving school and made a very successful career for himself working in quite a few NSW branches. He became a very successful bank manager ending up in Aberdeen. Prior to this he was in Gunning, Lockhart, Gundagai, Scone and many other places. 

 

He also spent the weekends and holidays working on “Wonderland” whilst continuing to work at the bank.

 

He married Linda Heckendorf in 1939 just before World War II started. His career and married life though were interrupted when he joined the Air Force in 1943 becoming a leading airman serving in Darwin until he came home in 1946. By this stage Tom and Linda had three children Carole, Joy and James.

Tom and his young wife Linda at “Wonderland” just before the war, maybe 1938 or 1939.
Llew during his posting in New Guinea.

The next of Tom and Katies sons was Llew.

 

From 1932 to 1940 Llew went to work full time on “Wonderland”, which he loved. Prior to this he had spent some time jackerooing on a Breeza property, half way between Gunnedah and Quirindi. During this time Jack and Tom would help Llew on “Wonderland” when they could on their holidays and weekends. Llew worked very hard in this time, building gates, water and food troughs, fences etc.

 

The only spring on the property is on the Mt Boo side of “Wonderland”, and it still runs to this day. For extra water though, and with the help of Sam Saunders (Lot 71 – “Deepwell”), Llew dug the only well on the property (and it too is still working to this day).

Llew with his little baby Helen.

This well watered his massive vegetable garden and fruit trees that helped feed the family in Murrurundi. In his time there Llew also put nameplates on all the paddock gates including ““Wonderland”” on the main gate! All the family fondly remembers his time there.

 

During Llews time on the farm World War II started. Llew went to fight from 1940 till 1945; he became a corporal and was one of the original Rats of Tobruk. He also went to New Guinea, patrolling on the Kokoda track.

 

After the war Llew returned to “Wonderland” for a short time with his new wife Vera (nee Heckendorf). After about two years they moved to the Riverina region where their only child Helen was born.

Gwen with Pat and Llew during Gwen’s leave in Sydney.

Then came Gwen, daughter number two, who was a double certificated nurse, having trained at Royal Prince Henry Hospital and then Melbourne, where she gained her certificate in obstetrics. She too joined the army and served from 1941 to 1946 becoming a Lieutenant.

 

She served in Darwin during the time of the bombing and then served out the remainder of the war in Boganville.

 

After the war she went and worked in South Africa for two years. On coming back she nursed in several hospitals around New South Wales before becoming matron at Murrurundi Hospital and then Lockhart Hospital for many years.  In 1962 she married David Dunlevey, an ex Changi POW.

 

They lived on their property Allendale West, just out of Lockhart. They returned to Bobadil often and she became a well-loved aunt to all her families children.

 

Katie and Toms third and youngest daughter was Pat who also trained as a nurse at Prince Henry Hospital in Sydney and then Adelaide where she trained in obstetrics.  She worked in South Australia, mainly in Renmark, before returning home to Murrrurundi where she continued specialist nursing, finishing up in Werris Creek. She was always at home helping around the property and then off to work nursing. She didn’t go to war but was called up the day before peace was declared.

 

She married Griff Thomas from Werris Creek in 1949 and they had two boys, Jenkin and Peter. She became a sister and then matron at the Werris Creek hospital where she worked for many years before retiring to Nelson Bay.

 

Pat Thomas, is the only surviving descendant of the original family of Tom and Katie Kelaher, from the 1912 sub-division, Lot 72 (“Wonderland”).

 

She celebrates her 93rd birthday on the 23rd of September 2012! She now resides in Aloura in Quirindi.

Paddy on Lone Star, his prize horse in about 1947.

Katie and Tom’s youngest child and son Paddy helped his three brothers after leaving school and before joining the Army in 1942. He became a lance corporal in the machine gun regiment and unfortunately was medically discharged in 1943.

 

He then came home to help his older brother Jack to run “Wonderland”. He too was soon married, to Del O’Brien from Murrurundi. Then in 1948 he and Del moved to “Wonderland” to live with their two small children Mardi and Ian. While there they also had Jill, Susan, Jenny and Richard. Throughout this time at “Wonderland” a new 2 stand shearing shed was built in the 1950’s.. Prior to this shearing was done next door on the property of Sam Saunders (Lot 71). Sam and his neighbor Wallace Barwick were very good to the family throughout this time, always making sure that Katie and her family was well looked after. 

 

Then in 1961 Paddy and the family all moved back to Murrurundi where Stephen and Robert were born. Their children all have grown up now and have families of their own.

Sadly in 1956 Katie passed away and was buried alongside her beloved Tom 35 years after his untimely death.                                       

 

Katie left “Wonderland” to her four boys and it worked under the name of “Estate of CA Kelaher” for the next five years. To her three daughters she left her home, ““Bobadil House””  and her rental cottages in Murrurundi.

In 1961 “Wonderland” was leased to John Earl Kelaher from the estate of C.A. Kelaher for a period of three years.

Then in 1964 “Wonderland” was purchased by John and his son Earl from the estate for 18 pounds an acre (1194 acres). The property was put in the name of AE (Earl) Kelaher. The reason for this was that the property was of a restricted title which didn’t allow John to purchase more land whilst he already had 1171 acres in “Four Winds” (on Warrah Creek) in his name. This restricted title prevented John from purchasing any other properties that were of a similar restricted title.

 

In 1965 a heartbreaking drought engulfed the area and, with a lack of financial resources and a shortage of fodder, they had to resort to such measures as lopping the apple trees and buying hay at great expense to feed the stock. Despite this they still suffered from a large loss of sheep and cattle.

These torrid times continued for farmers for the next ten years as they were beset by drought, tough seasons and hard times including the collapse of stock prices.

Anne, Earl, and Jack.
Earl trying to eat his chinstrap.

Vietnam.

 

In 1966 Earls work in supporting his father on “Wonderland” came to a temporary end when he was conscripted for national service.

 

As Earl fondly remembers –“having won the lottery I was soon off on a backpacking tour of Vietnam courtesy of the government!” 

 

His training commenced at Singleton in NSW, next to Pukapunyal in Victoria and then Kunungra and Shoalwater in Queensland. In April 1967 after the training he was off to Vietnam on the HMAS Sydney.  

 

Earl in Vietnam.

Earls platoon was involved in one of the most ferocious battles of the Vietnam war, the Tet offensive. On the 27th of February 1968 a rocket wounded Earl along with other members of his platoon. His injuries would probably have been fatal if it was not for his M60 machine gun, which caught some of the shrapnel. This machine gun is now in the War Museum in Canberra. He then spent time in hospital in Vung Tau in Vietnam and then Butterworth in Malaysia. After returning to Australia he then spent more time recovering in hospital at Ingleburn in Sydney. He was then medically discharged in July 1968.

Not long after he arrived home he met, and later married, Margaret Martin in 1969. They have lived and worked in the Willow Tree area ever since. It wasn’t long before they had two children, Ken and Michael. During Earls time in the area he has  had 13 years on the Murrurundi and Quirindi Shire councils.

This time included three years as Mururundi Mayor and one year as Deputy Mayor of Quirindi.

Tragedy.

 

In 1974 though tragedy struck the family once more.

 

While some fencing was being carried out on the eastern side of the property on Mt Boo, Jack was laying out fencing material on the fence line when the tractor he was driving overturned and, tragically, he was killed instantly. Working with him at the time of the accident were Dick & Kevin Stockdale and Mick Carrol.

From 1976 Earl redirected his attention to other areas. He bought his first Mack truck to transport hay to provide extra revenue to support “Wonderland”. This trucking operation still goes on today and at times there were up to six trucks servicing areas from Newcastle and Sydney through to Taree and central Queensland. This was all helping to keep the farm afloat.

 

In 1985 a partnership was established between Earl and John Daly jnr. They provided contract harvesting services to again help support “Wonderland” for approximately 20 years. When the partnership ended they walked away with two headers each.

 

Earl and his son Ken in the ensuing years have built the business up to five headers and four trucks to support the harvesting business.

3 Kelaher John Deere headers harvesting wheat.

It was nearly time for the next generation of Kelahers to take over some of the running of the property and Ken (Earl and Margaret’s eldest son) was starting to become more involved in the day to day operation of the farms.

 

To support the work required on the property Ken did his welding apprenticeship. It wasn’t long before he was off to the United States where he was working on headers. In 1998 Ken spent six months in Dodge City Kansas where he drove headers and trucks, moving them from one farm to another. After returning home he continued to work the headers with his father. Today Ken has taken over the headers and the trucks from his father Earl and he is now living on “Kamarooka” with his partner Kath McGreal.

Earls other son Michael, on leaving school, did an apprenticeship with Jakab as a vehicle body builder and then when he was 22 he joined the Australian Army engineers for six years doing two tours to East Timor. On his return he married Natasha Bruin of Murrurundi and they have two little children Mia and Jack jnr. Now we have the 5th generation of Kelahers! Mick now works in the mines for BHP and also helps, when he can, his father and brother. 

 

One of the Kelahers late model John Deere headers, beside an HST sunshine. The sunshine header was originally owned by the Doyle family, then sold to Albert Saunders. Earl salvaged this old header from the property "Lochinvar", block 80, 1912 subdivision, and now has it on display at his farm just outside Willow Tree.
The sunshine header working 50 years ago when owned by Albert Saunders at Millers Creek.

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Harald GATENBY | Reply 28.03.2019 09:04

Such an outstanding record of the Kelaher's family life. Congratulations all round !

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