Albion’s Warrego Sawmill Cunnamulla What a Story.

in May 2018 I had the pleasure of taking decedents of the Albion family on an Out The Back Australia Cunnamulla Town and Industry Tour so became inspired to write this blog and share a little of the history I know along with some images. Alexander Albion was a building contractor for some years around the Drayton/Jondaryan district, and eventually the family moved to Cunnamulla. John was then about seventeen.

There Alexander Albion continued as a builder and one of his efforts was to build a wooden hospital in Cunnamulla which was the first hospital which was names South Warrego hospital. That building was located out in what was called bluebush.

The first matron was Mrs Whitacre and following is her picture.

Mrs Whitacre Cunnamulla first matron

First Matron of Cunnamulla Hospital Mrs Whitacre

Part of the original hospital building was relocated into Cunnamulla when the second hospital was built. Part of the first hospital became a home eventually belonging to Doug and Gwen Locke and today is the home of Arnold & Barb Simpson.

Alexander Albion later acquired a sawmill at Gum Hole and other property, and his sons helped him with the work. Sandy Albion became a builder, married, but died young leaving a son and a widow, who later remarried.

Alexander Albion died after 15 days illness in Cunnamulla Hospital at the age of 64 on 4th July, 1885. The sawmill was left to his two sons, John & Hugh Albion who were to take care of their mother and sister Sissy.

Cunnamulla first hospital built by Alexander Albion

Cunnamulla’s first hospital located out where bluebush is. Late 1870’s early 1880’s.

 John Albion and Margaret O’Brien were married on 3rd March, 1887, and went to live at the sawmills at Gum Hole, which John & Hugh now owned.

A ledger-book of accounts containing financial records of transactions of timber from the Warrego Sawmill, Cunnamulla owners J & H Albion. Other names stand out being Dick Walsh, and the bookkeeper McInnes and two other millhands, Bill and Fred Lent.

Cunnamulla first hospital

Cunnamulla’s first hospital with a fence added. 1880’s.

In 1888 John & Hugh Albion moved the sawmill into Cunnamulla to be near the proposed railway, and named it the Albion’s Warrego Sawmill Cunnamulla after the Warrego river that ran along the town. 

Albion's Warrego Sawmill Cunnamulla

Albion’s Warrego sawmill Cunnamulla photo taken 1888.

The end of 1889 was a particularly good time for Albion’s Warrego Sawmill Cunnamulla and the mill business was flourishing. Timber was in ample supply around the district, especially the cypress pins which provided building boards. Not all mills had tongue and grooving equipment, like the Warrego mill had, and orders for these boards had come from as far away as Sydney. 

In February 1890 rain fell relentlessly in the district. During March when news came that Charleville was flooded, the Cunnamulla people prepared for the worst. If their houses had no ceilings, the families in the low-lying areas tied their mattresses to the rafters under the roof, took their bedding and supplies, and made camp at the sandhills in Cunnamulla. Soon the river was two miles wide along the lower reaches and still rising, and before it broke it’s banks in the town.

Albion’s Warrego Sawmill Cunnamulla mill yard was also flooded and fearing the timber would float away John Albion and Fred Lent waded into the chest high water with ropes to tie down timber. They were concentrating on the task when suddenly John yelled out, “Look out Fred! There’s a snake coming! Fred immediately ducked under the water and let the snake pass by, but stayed under the water so long John feared he had drowned. Eventually up Fred popped asking ”has the snake gone yet?” John laughed and said “of course, it must be a quarter of a mile away by now.”

By April 1890 most of the streets in Cunnamulla were partially flooded.

Rescue work was the order of the day and every able boat was put into use by the police and men in rescuing people who were stranded. John named the mill dinghy “Lady of the Lake” but the impression of an idyllic setting quickly faded before the realism of drowning sheep and tragedy.

The folks on the sandhill were safe, but most uncomfortable. Mosquitoes and sandflies plagued both man and beast, and all the people were burning manure fires around their camps to keep the insects away. Even the horses stood head to tail to get the benefits of the other flicking their tail.

There was sufficient food for a fortnight, and scores of wild ducks also took refuge, and laid eggs all around.

The strong flavored eggs were not popular, however, were left as a last resort. On 9th April the Warrego started to subside and people could think about going home which were filled with mud most up to your knees. “The river was literally alive with dead animals”.

The next two years were tough and the Albion brothers had difficulty in getting capable tradesman to sharpen their saws, and John Albion decided to learn the trade himself. He took his wife and new baby, Nell, with him to Sydney, leaving the older children with his brother and sister in law, his sister and mother.

As a result of the lessons John was able to do his saws to his satisfaction. One time, however, while sharpening a saw the emery wheel broke and flew up, knocking him out and laying open his cheek. Everyone, women included, started racing to the mill when they heard the emergency whistle, wondering what had happened. Even though the men called out, “Don’t let Mrs. John come,” Mrs. John came all the quicker. The doctor did a good job on the stitching, and in later years the scar wasn’t noticeable at all. 

Hugh was never as committed and did not have the skills to the sawmill as John. One day the starting wheel on the steam engine broke while the mill was running at full speed. Without this wheel there was no way of controlling the steam pressure. The steam rose, and as a result all the wheels and saws started to bolt. All the men bolted, too, full knowing the danger from the boiler bursting, or from flying pieces of saws if they ran hot and broke. So did Hugh bolt, but the mill was too precious to John who raced for a small log. A workman who had a limp, said, “if it’s good enough for you to stay, boss, I’ll help you.” “Well, grab the end of the log and we’ll try to catapult it into the flying wheel, and heaven help us if we miss.” 

They didn’t miss and the wheels stopped, but Hugh said to his brother, “You like risking your life, John. You can have the darnation, jiggering, jumped-up sawmill, and I’ll go on the land. Hugh, Tamar and their family shifted out to the property called Greenbank station, 30 miles from Cunnamulla, and John continued to manage the sawmill.

John Albion later purchased a property called Emerald Station to raise sheep leaving the mill in charge of G. Pearce. By July, 1902, after more than four years of drought both brothers struggled to keep their properties and had few assets left that they wanted to keep. The Albion’s Warrego Sawmill Cunnamulla was sold to Messrs. Collis & Wallis.

cunnamulla history

Dry feed being transported for dying stock in Cunnamulla area 1900 to 1902

In 1902, John Albion and family left Emerald Station and Cunnamulla and in 1905 Hugh Albion and family left Greenbank station and took up property in Jericho. The two brothers paths never crossed again.

Memories of the Albion’s Warrego Sawmill Cunnamulla live on as the steam engine that ran the mill has been relocated and is on display at Cunnamulla Bushland Gardens on the entrance to Cunnamulla. The location where the mill once stood is now vacant land.

Thinking of travelling to Cunnamulla to explore some of the great history be sure to book your Cunnamulla accommodation at Club Boutique Hotel where you will be welcomed by locals and you can hear tales of Albion’s Warrego sawmill Cunnamulla and many more great tales.

Also remember if you are interested to join in the Cunnamulla 150 celebrations make sure you register your email to get all the up to date information.

For other great stories on Cunnamulla History;

Cunnamulla Beer Brewer In History of Australian Beer

In Tribute Bub (Steven) Emery

Thargomindah, Noccundra onto Cunnamulla by Joyce Margaret Cowie

Cooper Creek to Cunnamulla Bike Ride 2018

Cunnamulla Accommodation Live Australia’s Story with Tristan Evert

Top Cunnamulla Accommodation for Cunnamulla Fella Festival

American Twitchers do Cunnamulla in search of Raptors

Cunnamulla Road Trip Down Memory Lane With John Hill