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Celebrating 100 years at Pine Plains

Submitted by Mildura Weekly
on May 12, 2014

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Images © Mildura Weekly

By Alan Erskine

It’s a compilation of stories from our past…colourful tales of people, places and events of our pioneering days in the Mallee and Wimmera that has wide interest from both a family, and historical point of view. The stories and photographs are a great record of…

THE colourful, factual, interesting and entertaining stories flew thick and fast when the O’Sullivan clan gathered to celebrate 100 years of settlement at historic Pine Plains over Easter.

There was the Irish connection… arrival at Botany Bay in 1838…the gold rush days…Black Thursday*… the Eureka Stockade… overland mail runs…black tracker skills…raids by infamous bushrangers**… the stories just kept coming.

There was so much interesting history concerning the arrival of the O’Sullivan family on these shores, and what family members had achieved in the many decades since, that one of the clan, Molly O’Sullivan (great, great granddaughter of the first arrivals), put together an 80- page centenary book to record the adventures of family members, past and present.

More than 100 family members gathered at Pine Plains for the centenary celebrations, taking part in activities that included the planting of an avenue of trees, complete with plaques dedicated to family members, leading to the Pine Plains Pioneer Cemetery, a liturgy service, celebratory dinner, guided tours and games for the kids, including an Easter egg hunt.

The O’Sullivan Australian connection started with the arrival at Botany Bay of Limerick, Irelandborn Owen ‘Eugene’ O’Sullivan as a two-year-old with his parents in 1838, just three years after John Batman arrived in Port Phillip Bay.

In his growing up years, Eugene made the move to Victoria, getting work as a teamster on the Geelong to Ballarat run, which he carried out for 40 years before moving to the Wimmera, where he had the honour of carrying the mail out to Albacutya Station, where he later gained employment for some years. Family records show that Eugene also tried his hand at mining, and then as an inspector of forests before retiring. When he died in Jeparit in 1911, aged 75, he left behind three children, Hugh, Lewis and Mary, who continued to live in the Wimmera.

It was Hugh who first settled Pine Plains, and it was of great historical interest that the O’Sullivan farm was used as a mail depot in the early settlement days. The mail route, often necessitating throwing down the swag for the night, covered a huge area, and the epic rides of Hugh O’Sullivan are often reenacted.

He was just 14 when he took on the mail run, a job he did for eight years, was often away for a week at a time, braving the wildest of weather, and at one stage in 1889 staring death in the face when he swam his horse across the raging torrent of the flooded Wimmera River.

He gained such a reputation as a horseman, with unparalleled knowledge of the bush country between Rainbow and the Murray River, that he was the first person authorities called on after receiving reports that a police party and their Aboriginal black trackers were lost in dense scrub country. It took him only a day or two to find the missing party, north of Hopetoun.

His love of horses saw him associated with the Turf Clubs of SA and Victoria, Albacutya Race Club, Rainbow Turf Club and St Patrick’s Race Club, where he had multiple wins, with club affiliations that lasted until his death.

Family records indicate a close bond and extreme affection for his champion hurdler Otahiety, which he raced for seven years, until it fell and broke its neck during the 1901 New Year’s Day event at Flemington. Hugh was inconsolable, and didn’t speak to anyone for three days.

Twice married, Hugh had eight children to his first wife, and two children to his second.

Hugh was living at Rainbow in his later years, and was 59 when he died.

Stories from Hugh’s children, and others in the clan, are just as interesting and colourful, up to the present day, with Susan O’Sullivan- Meehan carrying on the family property, the original station property of the Mallee, and which was first settled in 1847. It had a succession of owners before the lease, and later the freehold, was taken over by Hugh O’Sullivan in 1914.

As a family history, the contributions by O’Sullivan descendants compiled by Molly makes for fascinating reading, and is sure to become a valued family keepsake for family and friends for present and future generations.

More importantly, it is a factual record of the best and worst of times in the Wimmera and Mallee, the hardships faced by early settlers, the challenges, and plenty of
success (and some failure) stories.

*The Black Thursday bushfires were a devastating series of fires that swept Victoria on February 6, 1851. They were the largest fires in a populous region in recorded history, with approximately 5 million hectares, or a quarter of Victoria, being burnt. Twelve lives were lost, along with one million sheep, thousands of cattle and many native

**The O’Sullivans were firmly established in the Wimmera, with a house and property near Lake Albacutya (the house is now at the Japarit Museum) when bushranger ‘Mad Dog’ Morgan paid a visit in 1868 after the menfolk had left for work. He demanded breakfast from Mary O’Sullivan, and according to family records, while he ate he never took his eyes off the baby playing on the floor of the kitchen.

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