8 September 2023

Friends and family rally to safeguard Durack graves

| John Thistleton
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Bungonia stonemason John Mottley

Bungonia stonemason John Mottley working on stabilising the Durack grave site, after which he will pour a new ledger (a grave’s surface cover). Photo: John Thistleton.

Work is underway restoring the Durack graves in Goulburn which are a monument to Australia’s famous pioneering families immortalised in Dame Mary Durack’s books Kings in Grass Castles and Sons in the Saddle.

In the Old Goulburn Cemetery in Mortis Street, the graves, unstable due to subsidence, belong to Patsy Durack who died in 1898 and his wife Mary Costello who died in 1893. Also buried there are Patsy’s father Michael who died in 1853, and two of their infant children, two-year-old Mary and six-weeks-old Jeremiah.

Friends of Goulburn Historic Cemeteries alerted the family to subsidence in the graves. Consequently, a descendant and Bungonia resident Maggie Durack alerted Patsy and Mary’s great-grandson Patrick Durack who organised a quote from Bungonia stonemason John Mottley. John detailed two stages of work, addressing subsidence and replacing kerbs with stone to match the original stone. Both stages come to more than $20,000.

Patrick then started a GoFundMe campaign which has since raised more than $7800, thanks to numerous donations from family members and friends, including several Goulburn people, enough to complete stage one. The biggest contributor, of $1000, is Thylungra Station in Queensland, once owned by the Durack family.

Patrick is considering a more permanent plaque by the graveside telling the Durack story, much like the one Friends of Goulburn Cemeteries have erected at the site. A link to the GoFundMe can be found here.

That tells the story of Michael Durack who had immigrated from Ireland in 1853 and worked at Kippalaw. He died two months after the family’s arrival, in a farming accident and his 19-year-old son Patrick took over responsibility for the family. (Michael, 45, had left a widow and seven children). Later leaving for the goldfields, Patrick found enough gold to buy land in Goulburn, married Mary Costello in 1862 and acquired more land in southwest Queensland.

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The following year, in 1863, their first trek started from Goulburn taking 400 head of cattle to their new Queensland property. Two of their children died during the journey and were buried alongside their grandfather in Goulburn. Several relatives also established properties in this area of Queensland.

In 1883, a much longer trek of about 3000 miles began from southwest Queensland to northeast Western Australia, with men from the extended Durack family herding several groups of 2000 head of cattle. They established Argyle Station, named after the Goulburn parish of Argyle. Lake Argyle and Argyle Diamonds are on Durack land. Durack descendants proposed the Ord River irrigation scheme for the area.

Mary Durack died at Argyle Station in the Kimberley. Her family brought her body back to Goulburn, to be buried with her babies. Patsy Durack died while visiting Fremantle and his body was also returned to Goulburn for burial.

Dame Mary Durack, who was born in 1913 was a prolific writer, publishing children’s books, a novel, Keep Him My Country , and in 1959, Kings in Grass Castles, which established her as an author of repute. The book relates the history of her ancestors’ departure from Ireland, their establishment in Goulburn, and going overland with cattle to western Queensland and then to the Kimberley. She completed a sequel in 1983, Sons in the Saddle, telling the history of the family stations under the management of the second generation of Duracks.

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Great-grandson Patrick visited the graves in Goulburn with Dame Mary in the early 1980s, and also St Patrick’s College where his grandfather Michael had attended in 1882.

“As a 14-year-old he was sent off by his father Patsy from his home at Thylungra in southwest Queensland with six horses, a letter to the principal and told to get himself an education,” Patrick recalled. “It was thought two years would be enough!”

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