Colleen Taylor shares a piece of history

MA
By Meg Anderson
December 14 2021 - 9:00pm
Author Colleen Taylor presenting Cooee-Cooee Colleens Collected Stories to director of Dimbulah Community Center, Grace Armenti.

Through generations of collected stories, Dimbulah bush author Colleen Taylor has captured her family's valuable history in her latest book titled, Cooee-Cooee.

Launched at Mutchilba in October this year, the book is many things - an autobiography, biography, memoirs, observations, poetry, and above all, a rich piece of family history.

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Inscribed within its pages are a series of diaries, letters, stories and photos illustrating the hardships and adventures of pastoral life around Ingham, Cardwell, and Mount Surprise in the early days.

"I often feel my ancestors' spirits, urging me onwards, with the incentive to relive the stories they related to me as we drove cattle or sat around a campfire, they were such great story tellers, and in this book I try to emulate them," she said.

From her great grandad's droving diaries, to her father's poetry, the book is a wealth of historical facts and stories of her forefathers, dating back to the 1780s.

Colleen grew up just west of the range from Cardwell on a block called Boulder Hill, which her father Ted Johnson had secured before leaving for the second world war.

Her memories of mustering alongside her brother and father are vivid, and the word 'cooee cooee' still rings in her ears even 73 years later.

"When my younger brother Eric was aged six and I was seven we'd go mustering with our dad in very heavily timbered country," she said.

"We'd ride out and Dad would block up the scrubbers, and because we were only little fellas we would follow along the tracks where the grass was knocked down.

"We weren't allowed to go any faster than a trot until we'd find where Dad had pulled the cattle up, then they became our coaches for the day and my brother and I had to stay with these coaches for hours as dad rode away to find more cattle."

Colleen said her father was quite deaf, and to avoid them yelling out and disturbing the cattle her father would issue a big 'cooee'.

"So we would listen and listen and I'd scan my little eyes through the trees trying to see some glimpse of my father coming back on a horse," she said.

"When he heard the cooee we would drive the cattle to where the sound of my Dad's voice was coming from.

"It was just music to my ears and worth more than any two bobs worth of lollies to hear that sound."

Colleen Taylor and her husband Henry.

These days Colleen and her husband Henry are based on 12 hectares (30 acres), 10km east of Dimbulah on the Walsh River where they have a small cow herd.

It was only through a chance conversation with her eldest grandson while moving cattle on their agistment block between Mareeba and Dimbulah that Colleen decided to put pen to paper to tell her story.

"As we rode along the railway line that leads to Dimbulah, I just happened to say, 'I'd love a dollar for every cattle train that went on this railway line', and my grandson said 'Did cattle go on trains, Nan?'," she said.

"I thought, 'My grandson doesn't know this?', so I decided to write a few things down for my grandkids and from there it grew."

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Colleen has sold just over 300 copies since the book's first launch at the Mutchilba Community Supper on October 1, with 35 books posted to various parts of Australia, including one to New Zealand.

"There's so many people mentioned in it whose children and grandchildren are here now, and a lot of them have bought the book because they want to know more about their history," she said.

"I've had phone calls where ladies are crying, but it's a memory thing for them too, because they might have been my nanny once, or met me at a campdraft."

A portion of the book sales have also been donated to various charities, including the Breast Cancer and Parkinson's Foundation.

"It's been so full on, I could have nearly had a secretary some days," Colleen said.

"I didn't think that it would enter peoples' hearts like it has."

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