Today was only a fairly short drive to Cooktown. The drive took us back out through the Lakefield National Park, great Dividing Range and the Battle Camp Road. The Battle Camp Road is a 100km road which can be rough, but quite scenic. The road gets its name from an 1870's skirmish between an estimated 500 Aboriginal warriors and a well armed force of 140 diggers and police who had camped for the night on their way to the Palmer River goldfield. For the Anoriginies it was a bloody lesson in the superiority of repeating rifles over Stone Age weaponry. Never again did they attempt a massed frontal assault as a means of riding themselves of invaders, instead opting for guerrilla tactics.
Along the way, we stopped in to see the Old Laura Homestead.
The following information about the Old Laura Homestead is taken from the "Department of National Parks, Recreation, Sporting and Racing website - www.nprsr.qld.gov.au"
Old Laura Homestead is historically significant through its association with the establishment of the cattle industry on Cape York Peninsula and the Palmer Goldfield. Miners once used the track leading to the homestead as the main access to the goldfields.
In 1879, a lease was granted for Laura Station, (now the southern end of the park). Other pastoral holdings, such as Lakefield, were granted later. Aboriginal people contributed significantly to the early success of the cattle industry. The oldest part of the homestead dates back as early as 1892 and Old Laura remains one of the most intact early pastoral homesteads left in the region.
In 1879, a young Irish immigrant, Fergus O'Beirne, selected Laura Station as a lease that was recorded with the Crown Lands Office on 14 October 1879, at a cost of eight pounds 15 shillings for an area of 50 square miles (12,800 ha). This area was increased and by 1894 the property was carrying 8000 head of cattle. After Fergus O'Beirne's death in 1896, the lease was transferred to O'Beirne and Company; his descendants remained with the company until 1925.
The oldest part of the existing group of buildings dates from 1892. Around 1908, the homestead was a timber-framed structure on high stumps with a corrugated iron roof. The ground floor was made of ox blood clay from termite mounds. The upstairs bedrooms were surrounded by a split bark awning. Detached from the residence and built of timber slabs, the kitchen also had a dirt floor made from compacted termite mounds.
Timber used to build the homestead was pitsawn locally from Leichhardt trees. The remaining veranda awning is but a shadow of an amazing split bark awning that extended from the underside of the first floor. The split bark was fixed by saplings wired to supporting timbers.
In 1925, the lease for Laura Station was transferred to Patrick Bernard Grogan and David Joseph Grogan. It was about this time that the buildings were modified. By 1930, the bark awning roof had been replaced by corrugated iron. One upstairs bedroom was extended, a new well was dug and a windmill erected in 1930. A septic toilet was installed in the residence in the 1930s.
During the early 1940s, the ground floor was remodelled to include a visitors’ room, station hands’ bathroom and a storage room for dry food and rations. The veranda was also lowered and wooden louvres installed. The kitchen area was modified and outbuildings were constructed, such as the workshop and saddlery, cattle yards, station hands’ accommodation and the meat house.
In 1966, Lakefield Cattle Company purchased the Laura and Lakefield properties and abandoned Old Laura Homestead in favour of New Laura, about 24 km north. Decay and vandalism reduced the Old Laura Homestead buildings to ruins.
Passed these guys today - a group of enthusiasts from the Harry Ferguson Tractor Club who, on their latest trek, decided to travel (slowly!) from Cooktown to Cape York. The "Fergies" travels at speeds of about 15km/h, so it was a long trip! We passed them on their way back into Cooktown after completing their trek.
It rained on and off during our drive and it was quite windy too, so when we arrived in Cooktown we decided to check into a hotel room in the Big 4 caravan park, instead of camping, proved to be a very good move!