Long lost Doc found too late

FOR 75 years Bernard 'Doc' Crowley's family had no idea where he was; then a few weeks ago a death notice appeared in a metropolitan newspaper, leading his family to a solemn graveside service at Allora.

The notice ended three quarters of a century of searching for his family.

But in other ways it raised countless questions about the life of the 90-year-old bushman.

This is a story marked by tragedy but being pieced together determinedly by a family which never truly gave up on one of their own.

The family fracture began back in 1938. Doc Crowley ran away from home.

He was 15 years old and furious with his father for selling his pony to pay gambling debts.

In the years that followed, his brothers and sisters searched the country for him, without success.

At one stage they were even told Doc had died near Charleville.

Yet his niece, Margaret Northam, said his family never stopped wondering what had happened to him.

"After Doc ran away from home he was never heard of again," she explained.

"The family couldn't find him and always wondered where he was and what he was doing, so he was never forgotten."

Fortunately what they do know of his early life has now been complemented by the precious stories Doc shared with his carers during the past 15 years when he was a resident of Allora Homestead.

Born in January 1923, Doc was one of 11 children.

His father Lawrence was a Gallipoli veteran, who lost an eye after being "shot through the head by the Turks".

A fellow digger wrote about the incident "Then the Turks started to snipe us ... I could see men getting hit all down the line, then Crowley got one right between the eyes. We went out with about 80 men and came back with six."

While not much is known about Doc's early life, his family was living in Kedron during his teens.

Doc was a twin and it was his sister Nellie who, in August 1935, won a pony being given away by Sole Brothers Circus.

This same pony was sold three years later by their father to pay his gambling debts.

"The pony may have just been the straw that broke the camel's back so to speak but, sadly, we will never know," Mrs Northam said.

"Doc only has one sister left now in Sydney and she is very old and can't remember."

And Doc leaving seemed in many ways the precursor for a string of tragedies in the family.

His brother, Kevin, served in the Second World War and then lived near Warwick. In April 1962 his body was found "charred, naked and near death" in a paddock near Warwick. He was believed to have been working in the bush when he suffered an epileptic fit and fell into the fire. He died from his injuries, aged 42.

Another brother Jack also served in the Second World War and returned home only to drown in the Brisbane River in 1959. Reports from police say a "youth saw 37-year-old Crowley's body floating under Victoria Bridge at 3.30pm".

And yet another brother Vincent also served in the army and then committed suicide by gassing himself in an oven on his 30th birthday.

"I can't imagine how my mum and her siblings coped with all that tragedy," Mrs Northam said.

However it is likely Doc died without being aware of his siblings' stories.

After he left home at 15, he headed west working as a ringer, drover, shearer and rouseabout on some of Queensland's vast outback stations.

While there is a gap in Doc's life story from about 1938 to the early 1950s, staff at The Allora Homestead, where he lived for the past 15 years of his life, made a special effort to record his tale.

Sonia Prendergast, from the homestead, and her colleagues cared for the "quiet gentleman" until his death in June and believed he had no family, until relatives arrived at his funeral in search of this long lost runaway.

This is information she and fellow carers collated for Doc's eulogy.

Doc started his working life in the early 1950s at a station called Ardoch, between Quilpie and Thargomindah in the state's west.

The property was 24,000 hectares and he started on the payroll as a ringer, mustering and marking sheep and checking fences.

Two years later he shifted to a cattle station called Babbiloora, near Augathella.

It was here he worked with an Aboriginal stockman called Witchetty Grub, who had been born and raised on the property.

Doc used to explain how, back then, it was customary for station owners to name all the Aboriginal children born on their property.

It was there he also worked with another Aboriginal chap called Punches Pilot, whose children all took the surname Pilot.

Then Doc turned his hand to droving and, on one journey, spent three weeks walking 6000 sheep from Augathella to Blackall.

Another time he drove a mob from Barringun to Cunnamulla, stopping at a station on en route to shear them.

Later he worked at Boatman Station, outside Charleville, where during his time there they shore 100,000 head.

Then this bushman opted for a change of pace, taking a position as yardman at the Charleville Hospital where, true to form, he won the hearts of the locals and they tried to make him stay.

But he continued his nomadic ways, shifting to Springvale Station where he worked as a cowboy gardener handling the milking, butchering, gardening and every odd job in between.

He did the same job at Diamantina Lakes, where he also doubled as the station cook.

Looking back, Doc used to reminisce about the "best dog he ever had" a kelpie called Matthew.

In one of life's injustices the dog was sold by one of his so-called mates one day while Doc was in town.

He retired to Toowoomba at 66 and shifted to Allora Homestead in May 1999.

"Doc didn't know anyone and he had no visitors," Mrs Prendergast said.

"He used to be a loner and he did not mix socially.

"But he loved a chat with staff and they in turn loved going to talk to him."

She said Doc's greatest love was having a bet and doing the lotto and he used to walk up Allora's main street to put them on each week.

"He never missed Saturday lotto and he often had a win, but never a big one.

"And when he was up the street he always bought an ice-cream, which was his other great love."

Mrs Prendergast said his best friend at the homestead was Georgie the dog.

"Georgie spent a few hours each day in Doc's room and he talked to her all the time.

"When she was little she would sit on his lap and you would go in and find them both asleep.

"As Georgie got bigger she had her bed near his feet.

"All our staff liked to go in and chat with Doc. We made sure he never went without anything and he will be greatly missed."

It is a sentiment echoed by his family, who missed this bush gentleman for three-quarters of a century, only to locate him too late to catch up.

"We only found Doc because a family member happened to see his death notice in The Courier-Mail," Mrs Northam said.

"We are so fortunate he told his carers at Allora Homestead about his life and they recorded it.

"They were wonderful to him so he was a very lucky man."

FINDING ANSWERS: Mandy Scanes, Marg Northam and Barry Spies at the funeral service for their long lost Uncle ‘Doc’’ Bernard Crowley.
FINDING ANSWERS: Mandy Scanes, Marg Northam and Barry Spies at the funeral service for their long lost Uncle ‘Doc’’ Bernard Crowley. Contributed

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