All roads led to the historic Wilpeena, Dingo on September 9 when 260 family and friends joined the Acton family in celebrations of the property’s centenary.
Alan Acton recounted that his Grandfather, Robert Acton, was one of five children born to Irish William and Eliza Acton (nee McMonagle) living at Meadow Flats, Nankin.
The premature death of his father in February, 1880 and his mother in November, 1881, while in their 30s, saw him orphaned at the age of eight.
Having no relatives living locally, Eliza Acton appointed William Furlong Berkelman as executor and trustee of her will of 944 acres.
Mr Berkelman lived with his two sisters on a neighbouring property, Fitzroy Vale.
He was a pioneer to the beef export trade in Central Queensland and had interests in large station of Listowel Downs between Blackall and Charleville.
Robert and his siblings were placed in the Athelstane Range Orphanage in February,1882.
Under the guidance of Mr Berkelman and that of his sister, Miss Mary Berkelman, the children’s future was assured.
“My grandfather left the orphanage at the age of 10 years and 8 months and attended the Allenstown School for 3 years,” Alan Acton said.
“In 1887, at the age of 13 years and eight months, Grandad commenced working on Listowel Downs. He remained there in charge of the horses until the end of the century.
“Grandad became a noted horseman on Listowel, with the former horse paddock near Blackall, now a property in its own, called Acton.
“In 1903, Robert and Mary Ann Acton (nee Sullivan) married at Cawarral. On hearing that a portion of Jellinbah was to be balloted and having the dream of becoming a more established grazier and wanting to provide a better life for his family, Grandad headed west.
“He took up a position of head stockman to gain knowledge of the local area. On December 4, 1917 my grandfather was successful in selecting Wilpeena in a land ballot.
“Due the harsh nature of the land and no infrastructure, his wife Mary Ann and their four children, Bert, Eileen, Tom and Tris could not relocate from Fair View, Cawarral to Wilpeena, Dingo, until June of 1919.
”Wilpeena was a virgin block of Brigalow and box country with some Coolabah in the flooded areas.
“In 1923, Grandad and Grandma experienced a disastrous drought on Wilpeena. Having had previous years of good seasons, they had increased cattle numbers only to have the bullocks die.
“In February 1924 when the season broke only 24 calves were branded. Grandad proceeded to purchase 100 Shorthorn heifers in order to rebuild his herd.
“I recall many stories that my father, Tom, re-told in my youth of the horse and dray era; limited food and water supplies, no lighting, no schooling and the harsh land conditions and primitive working implements.
“Dad and Uncle Tris were among the first students to be enrolled on primary correspondence. My father Tom and Uncle Tris (second Wilpeena Acton generation) were in partnership, trading as Acton Brothers until the late 1960’s.
“Dad married my mother, Val Evans in 1946 and settled on Wilpeena. After marrying in 1949, Uncle Tris and Aunty Connie relocated to Bundaleer and three years later to their family property Girrah.
“I have many wonderful memories of growing up on Wilpeena with my m other, Val, and father, Tom, and my siblings. We were educated via Correspondence for our primary education and later sent boarding for secondary schooling.
“As my brothers, Robert, Graeme, and Evan progressively returned home from the Southport Boarding School, they worked alongside Dad.
“Being a number of years younger, I didn’t return home until the end of 1973.
“My Mother was the backbone of the operation, providing support to Dad and attending to the family demands. My sister Elizabeth pursued a career in Brisbane after completing Year 12 at Saint Hilda’s, Southport.
”In 1977, Thomas William Acton received the Queen’s Silver Jubilee Medal and later bestowed with an M.B.E. in the 1979 Queen’s List of Honours for Meritorious Service in the Interests of the Community.
“In 1982, Dad, Graeme, Evan and I formed Acton Land and Cattle Company wanting to expand our operation by purchasing Weetalaba and Fig Tree, Collinsville.
“In 1985, our company purchased Millungera Station and in 1988, Croyden Station.
“I married my wife Jennifer in 1985 and together with our children Daniel, Jessica and James have continued to reside on Wilpeena.
”Our older son Daniel married Sandra Portelli in 2015 and our daughter Jessica married Patrick Quinn in 2016. Both Jessica and Patrick are lawyers.
“Today our sons Daniel and James are now working alongside me, just as the previous Wilpeena Acton generations have done.
“Wilpeena Centenary celebration was the initiative of my wife, Jennifer.
“Jennifer has dedicated her time over the past 12 months researching the family history, tracing the family tree and organising the Wilpeena traditional lunch the Wilpeena gala marquee dinner.
“Family and friends travelled from as far as New Guinea and the length and breadth of Queensland to attend this moment in history of the Acton family, the beef industry and the Dingo district.
“Associates were presented with an Acton Family History book on arrival. The Acton family timeline outlined significant achievements and moments in history with newspaper articles dating back to the 1920s included.
“The Acton family has suffered the untimely loss of three immediate family members over the past six years.
“From very humble beginnings, the utter determination of four generations of Acton families working together, enduring floods and droughts and the highs and lows of the beef industry, taking gambles and not forgetting their profound love of the land, has seen Wilpeena remain in the Acton family for 100 years.
”In 2017, my wife Jennifer and I operate Wilpeena Cattle Company. Our aggregation of properties is predominately located on the Mackenzie River being Wilpeena, Duneed, Old Barwon, Minnie Plains, Cooroorah, Werribee, Mulgowrie, Yarandoo, and Fitzroy Vale, Nankin.
“After three attempts to purchase Fitzroy Vale, Jennifer and I were successful. Is it destiny that Acton Farm, Meadow Flats (today renamed) was the neighbouring property and the place where the Acton story began.”
The Actons held a minute’s silence at the event for their nephew, Joseph, Alan’s brother, Graeme, and nephew, Brent.
- Words: Jennifer Acton
The story Wilpeena celebrating 100 years in the Acton family first appeared on Queensland Country Life.