9. William Clancy on His Selection

"We have striven and toiled and fought it out
Under the hard blue sky:"

(Rolf Boldrewood,
"The Bushman's Lullaby")


After spending a number of years as teamster and drover, William Clancy decided to try his hand as farmer. He had worked on properties, and gained experience during the time he spent in the Booligal district. From time to time, portions of larger properties had been excised for closer settlement, and William knew a number of men who had applied for and obtained Homestead Selections. He did not have enough money to purchase a property, but a Homestead Selection would be within the range of practicality for him.

Towards the close of the nineteenth century, portions of South Merorie and Cowl Cowl stations were resumed for Homestead Selections. In 1839, William H. Hovell occupied Bellingerambil (Cowl Cowl). The area increased and as "Cowl Cowl" was held by the Synott brothers in the sixties and seventies. The Australian Mortgage and Agency Co., were owners in the early nineties when "Cowl Cowl" was about 408,000 acres.1

Portion of this huge station, together with portion of South Merowrie, was resumed for Homestead Selection (area No 355) on 25th August 1895. William Clancy applied for and was granted a portion on 3rd February 1898, which was confirmed on 28th April. This was portion No 24 (consisting of 920 acres) in the Parish of Burgess, County of Nicholson. A gazetted road running through the property was later declared to be unnecessary, so the area was increased to 928 acres. The value of the property was £920, and annual rent (at l¼% for the first five years) was £ll:l0:0. There was a survey fee of £9:7:6. Improvements consisted of some fencing, valued at £8:l0:0. The property was 21 miles south of Hillston on the road to Gunbar, and a few miles west of where Merriwagga grew up when the railway line later went through to Hillston. There was no natural water supply, but it could be obtained by sinking a well. The land was mostly open country of red soil, suitable for cultivation when cleared. In the southern section, it was undulating, covered lightly with scattered yarran timber. Immediately to the north was a pine ridge generally running east and west, and north of that higher stony country with pine, box and yarran scattered over the north-west portion.2 This was William's selection - the scene of much sweat and tears over the next few years as he tried to make it productive in the midst of the worst drought the country has known. For most of the time his brother, Patrick, worked with him on this selection.

These two young men (aged 24 and 22 years respectively) embarked on a programme of unremitting hard work. There was land to be cleared, fencing to be done, wells to be sunk, in addition to caring for the animals - horses, sheep, maybe a cow or two, or more likely, some goats. They were beginning at a most inauspicious time, with annual rainfall for a number of years in succession far below average. They were a long way behind their neighbours who had settled a few years earlier. John Moore, for example, on "Moore Park" commenced in better years, and had averaged 14 bushels of wheat from 375 acres. He increased his acreage to 500 in 1893. The Clancys had too many tasks to attend to to think about growing wheat just then, and adverse weather did not permit that activity at any stage, while they were there.

Near neighbours of the Clancys were Edward and Mary Adams "Narrajong", John Kitson "Green Hills", Edward Jenkins "Kyne", Allan McKenzie "Bonny Doon", Charles and Mary Linton "Hewlyn", Sam McLaughlin "The Pines", Edwin and Jane Ward "Eurlie", Louis and Christina Smith "Yarran Flat", and Bernard and Elizabeth Doyle "The Rise". This last named property because a Polling Place towards the end of the Clancys stay in the district. 3 Some of these, and a few other persons, obtained their grants just prior to William Clancy.

The country was really marginal land for wheat-growing, and success or failure depended largely on the vagaries of the weather, and partly on the varieties of wheat sown. It was not until 1901 that Farrer, after long experimentation on wheat that would be suitable for low rainfall areas, introduced "Federation".

William called his property "Glendon". It is interesting to note that John Cramsie also called his property near Glen Innes "Glendon". I do not know why the name was chosen, but suspect that it came from the Rankins, and had some Scottish association.

The nearest town was Hillston, first named "Daisy Hill", but given its name in 1869 in honour of Mr W.W. Hill, owner of the first hotel there. In the last two decades of the nineteenth century, the town had made good progress. As men took up selection and began growing wheat, a mill was established at McKinley (quite near the Clancy property) in 1887. This was the first mill built west of Wagga Wagga and north of Deniliquin. McKinley Hotel, one of the many wayside inns that dotted the countryside, was run by James Hurst, who had a number of daughters, including Emma, Ethel and Willima. Hurst was a hospitable inn-keeper who regularly ran dances at the Hotel on Saturday nights. Will and Pat Clancy, whenever possible, rode to McKinley, and shared in this past-time. Pat sometimes contributed the music for the evening with his violin, and both sang.4

The Clancy boys did not have many opportunities to engage in other past-times. Sometimes they went in to HilIston to purchase supplies, and maybe attend the annual show. Opportunities to attend church were few and far between. There were occasional visits to Booligal (a good 30 miles west), and sometimes brothers and sisters came from Booligal to spend some time with them, and assist with work about the place.

One of the first tasks for the Clancys was to sink wells. They may have employed the services of a diviner to decide where the well should be sunk. In some places water was found at 60 feet, in others at 100 feet, and some were deeper. Pat Clancy said he did a fair bit of well-sinking, and one can be sure that some of this was done on "Glendon". William, too, was involved in this work, and possibly one or two others would be employed to help. It was a two-man job, at least. Men down the shaft had to be careful about foul air. They usually only worked in the well for two hours at a time. On one occasion a goat fell into the well on the property. Pat went down the well in a bucket tied to a rope and succeeded in getting the goat out. Later he wrote a poem for his sister, Anne, about the goat named Trilby gambolling near the well. Like many other attempts at poetry, these verses no longer exist.

Pat, the youngest of the six Clancy brothers, was never a boss drover, although on occasion he was a member of a droving team. About 1890, his father took him to Hillston to become apprenticed to a wheel-wright. Soon after he was taken on, he was given a job to do. Because he did not respond immediately to his boss' request, his father took him away without further ado, put him on the Booligal coach without money, and sent him back home. Pat at the time thought that he had been too severely disciplined, but it taught him a lesson. Apparently, instant obedience was the law of the Clancys for I found it so as far as my father was concerned, and I early learned that it was wise to obey that law.

'Pat engaged in a variety of jobs around Booligal, and some time after his father went mining at White Cliffs, he paid him a brief visit. But after his brother selected, he worked on "Glendon".5

In their battle to make something of the property; and to make a living, the Clancys were able to show some real achievement in their sheep breeding as this report from a correspondent to the Hillston Spectator indicates:

"I have been shown a very fine sample of wool from Glendon lambs, only four months old. The wool is of exceptional length and of tip top quality, and reflects the greatest credit on the growers, Messrs Clancy.6

Gerald Clancy, who spent part of time time droving, had by now become a stock-owner, and was running his stock on "Glendon".

Just two months after the item concerning wool from "Glendon" lambs was published, the same paper reported that the Clancy brothers and the Riley brothers had taken two large mobs of sheep from Gunbar station to Queensland. One of those brothers was Gerald, and the other was probably Jack. And a little later, indicating one of the pests men on the land had to contend with, the paper reported that fish were doing well feeding on grasshoppers, which were falling into the river in millions. 7

In 1902, the Rabbit Board was established, later to be amalgamated with a couple of other boards to become the Pastures Protection Board. The State was divided into 41 districts. The Hay Rabbit District included the Hay Sheep District and part of the Hillston Sheep District (that portion which was in the Central Land Division). William Clancy's property was in that district, in which 206 persons were entitled to vote for members of the Board, but William was not one of them. However, his brother, Gerald, was, his addess being given at Cowl Cowl, Hillston.

The qualification for enrolment as an elector was the liability to be assessed for rates. Every owner of ten head or more of large stock, or one hundred head or more of sheep, was entitled to vote. Men with larger flocks or herds had either two or three votes, according to the number they had, and there were very few in those categories. The assessment was not to exceed 3d per head of large stock and ½d per head of sheep. In the case of unstocked or partly stocked land, the assessment was on the basis of its carrying a sheep to three acres. Gerald Clancy was entitled to one vote. As he was not a selector, it is apparent that he was running his stock on "Glendon". Another person who had one vote was Steve Nolan, who had a property "Noon Moon" along the Lachlan River. Jack Clancy was living on a portion of this property.

There was a change in the Clancy situation in 1903 when electors voted for the newly created Pastures Protection Board. This time William Clancy of "Glendon" had one vote, and Gerald's name was not on the list. Probably he transferred his stock to his brother. On this occasion, there were 323 electors. Twelve months later there were 313 electors, including three Clancy brothers - William of "Glendon", Jack and Gerald both of "Moon Moon". Later in that year, Gerald took 45 dairy cattle and 6 horses to the North Coast. So, while William continued with sheep, Gerald went in for dairy cattle. Jack had a piggery, also some horses and dairy cattle.8

It was customary to hold Picnic Races at McKinley on New Year's Day, and the account of the races held in 1901 is fairly typical:

"The gathering at J. Hurst's McKinley Hotel numbered over one hundred. They came from Hiliston, Gunbar, Whealbah and local properties. The racing was really good, the entrances in every event being numerous. Mr W. Clancy had the burdensome duties as Secretary, and among those who worked hard to make the meeting a success were Messrs J. Taylor, G. Henderson, G. Hurst, R. Latham and J. Hurst. Mr Latham occupied the judge's post, and Mr A. Hurst was starter. A phonograph, a shooting gallery, and a spinning jenny occupied the attention of a good many in the intervals of racing. The weather was fine, although rather warm. Good order prevailed throughout. Constable Shiels was present."

The report proceeded to tell of the dancing which followed and continued until sunrise next day. Messrs Maddern, Ilisley, O'Brien and Adams provided the music. Two years previously, Pat Clancy and C. Maddern provided music with their violins, plus four others playing accordions.

The people were in a jubilant mood at the 1901 function because over an inch of rain had fallen at Mckinley on 26th and 29th December - a most unusual fall within recent years.

There was a gathering of the Clancys at the Bachelor's Ball held at Gunbar on Friday, 3rd May 1901, when the hall was decorated with evergreen and flags, and dancing was indulged in from 8.00 pm until daylight. Music was provided by Anne Clancy (piano), Pat Clancy (violin) and E. Adams (accordion). Both Jessie and Lllian Clancy were present. Perhaps the sisters were staying awhile with their brothers.9

After the McKinley Races in 1902, Pat and Gerald Clancy provided the music for the dancing, together with Messrs Adams, Howell and Hurst. Though he was quite a good pianist, Gerald could not read music. It is reported that on one occasion when Professor Hill was lecturing at Hillston he spied Gerald in the hall, wearing working clothes. He called Gerald to the stage to play some numbers on the piano. Gerald also played the violin, and sang, his repetoire including Irish numbers of which he was very fond.10

The Clancys were associated with the wedding of a resident in that area. In August 1902, Miss Nanno T. Dunne, a niece of Dennis Dunne of "Pine Ridge" was married in Hillston to Mr Owen J.P. O'Connell, a letter carrier. The officiating clergyman was Father Hughes. The three Clancy sisters made the three-decker wedding cake.

Occasional cricket matches were played in the district in which Gerald and Pat Clancy sometimes played. When Camp Plain played Naradhun in June 1902, Clancy (no initials) opened the innings for Camp Plain and made a duck. In the second innings, he went in first wicket down and scored ten. He also took a catch. Camp Plain easily won the match. The following month a return match was played, and proved a much more exciting contest, with only one run separating the score in each innings. Naradhun won by two runs. G. Clancy went in first wicket down in the first innings and opened the second innings. If he had done better with the bat, Camp Plain would have won, for he registered an inglorious pair of "spectacles". He partly redeemed himself by holding two catches.

The next match, played in August, was easily won by Naradhun. Pat Clancy scored 3 and 4, very low scores indeed, but they sound better when it is noted that the highest score in either innings was six. Undoubtedly, bowlers were better than the batsmen.11

Yet another match was played at Mr Charles Seton's "Winton Farm" in September 1903, this time between Naradhun and Hillston, Naradhun drawing some of its players from the Camp Plain area. Gerald Clancy scored 6 and 0. Hillston easily won the match. A dance was held that night at "Mt Erin" homestead. Not only does the recounting of these activities show that the Clancys did find some relaxation from the monotony and misery of their daily round; but it also indicates that Gerald was spending some time looking after his stock at "Glendon".12


Meantime, the seasons remained bad. At the commencement of the 1898 winter, it was reported that "prospects for lambing were exceedingly disheartening". In October, there were serious blinding dust-storms, and in November two of them lasted for eight to ten hours, when it was "impossible to do outside work", and "people could not see inside their homes without light". There being little herbage to cover the ground, any breeze blew dust.

Twelve months later, the Hillston Spectator reported "beastly dusty weather'.'. Weather conditions were always news, because it meant so much to the man on the land, and consequently, to the business man in town, many of whom were carrying the men on the land for long periods. The dry years continued, with poor wheat harvests, and also an invasion of mice. The Naradhun correspondent reported:

"If this condition of drought continues much longer, there can be little else left but a vast wilderness, dotted here and there with empty dwellings, shattered and tottering, held up by dust mounds deposited about them. In this district people are few, compared with the number of residents here a year or two ago."

The years 1902-1904 were the greatest years of dust-storms, the peak being in 1902. Often there were two a week. Sometimes they passed quickly, on other occasions the dust would hang in the air all day and far into the night.

They were often followed by a cool change, even a few spots of rain, "red rain". The dust found its way into all parts of the house, and on to every article. Frequently, the deposit was so heavy that it had to be shovelled off the verandahs. Many miles of fencing were completely covered, or nearly so. Netting fences suffered most. Leaves, roly-poly and other vegetation were blown against the fences, then the dust or sand built up against this. This made more work for the selectors. On October 1902, a vivid account of a duststorm was published:

"On Thursday, there was one of the worst dust-storms ever known in these parts. At 4.30 pm there was a dense bank of fine sand coming from the south-west. It seemed as if the whole countryside was a mass of flame, which we should think would very much resemble a glimpse of Hades."

The report then stated that the atmosphere changed into intense darkness. One man tried to find shelter by attempting to get inside a four hundred gallon tank, but could not find the entrance.

Dust Storm

Dust Storm in the Hillston District

(Courtesty Robert B. Rohald, Nap Nap, Maude NSW)

Everywhere there was acute shortage of water. The Lachlan was dry and the condition of the Public Watering Tanks was critical - One Tree Tank almost dry, Quandongs Tank dry. The large waterhole in the river at Cowl Cowl was dry for the first time on record.

A Lord Mayor's Fund was established in Sydney in an endeavour to provide some relief to needy farmers, and from it £250 was sent to Hay to help sufferers from the drought in the Carrathool, Booligal, Gunbar, Maude and Oxley districts. Obviously that sum would not go far among the many needy people in that vast area.13

People throughout the area in which the Clancy brothers lived for years kept asking for a railway through to Hiliston with intermediate stations to which wheat and wool could be taken, thus obviating the long hauls by teams to places like Carrathool. The railway did not come till after William Clancy had left the district.

The men of that area voted 42 to 2 in favour of Federation at "The Rise" Polling Place in 1899.14

Occasional falls of rain brought promise of better times, but none were heavy enough to break the drought. It was not until the winter of 1904 that the Hillston district could report the best rain for some time. A series of good falls during that winter enabled the press to report in August, "the country around Hillston is looking splendid. There is grass everywhere." 15 But it came too late to save William, who with his brothers had weathered 1902, and managed to survive through 1903, but in 1904 they had to admit defeat.

The Hay Land Board and the Hillston Land Board received applications for re-appraisements of capital and rental value, these applications coming from owners and selectors, either in a big or small way. There was a long list of names whose cases were heard by the Hillston Land Board, which instituted enquiry under section 16 of the Crown Land Act of 1895, among them being William Clancy. The cases which came before the Hay Land Board were published in the press, but not those which came before the Hillston Land Board. I sought information from the Land Board Office, but without success. I was informed that "many files had been destroyed over the last 50 years" and "it is very doubtful that any files would still be available concerning applications for relief".16

In April 1904, William Clancy made application for a certificate of abandonment. On 15th June he walked off, a defeated man.17 He was not alone, for many others did the same. He, whose spirit was more attuned to the poetry of Lawson than that of Paterson, could now endorse, out of his own bitter experience (and there was no question that the experience was bitter), Lawson's reply to Paterson:

"Droving songs are very pretty but they call for little thanks
From the people of a country in possession of the Banks.

For that is what happened to his selection. Later, in 1909, this property was offered to his eastern neighbour, Arthur Adams, for 10/- per acre. Still later it was owned by J.C. Dart. Now it is owned by Mr L.J.Moore of "Kia-Ora Glen". in the intervening years it has been greatly improved, and much of it is now under wheat.19

When William left "Glendon", he took his horses to Khancoban in an endeavour to save them. He lost some on the journey, sold some, and finally was left with two, which he disposed of to Pat and his sisters who moved to Hoxton Park.

William then went to Western Australia in an endeavour to find work. I am certain that part of his motivation was to get as far away as he could from the scene of his disappointment and defeat. He never said much about that trip to the West, save to make a few appreciative remarks about Perth, to comment on the sign of the broad arrow in some brickwork in the buildings. But he did not speak about his work. His stay in the West was short, for a little later he returned to join the Clancys who had gone to Dorrigo.

One thing he did say, and repeated on more than one occasion, that when he left the western Riverina he made a vow that he would never go where rivers ran west. Apart from very brief periods when he was in the Bathurst and the Cooma districts, he kept that vow. Probably he did not consider these places as quite qualifying for areas where the rivers ran west. I could not persuade him to visit me during the four years I lived in Condobolin, and the only reason he gave was to repeat his vow. The long-sustained drought and its consequences for him on "Glendon" remained a bitter memory, and Condobolin would have been uncomfortably close to "Glendon". For the same reason, he would never speak very much about his life in the west.


The latter years of John Clancy will be told in the next chapter. Three brothers and three sisters of William went to the North Coast, and more will be said about them and William in the closing chapter. Duncan had left the district some years earlier, and had "gone to Queensland droving", and he too will be mentioned in the concluding chapter. There remains one other brother, the eldest, Thomas.

He, too, in the course of time, left the west. But as he did not go to the North Coast, and therefore his story no longer interlocks with that of his brothers and sisters, it is appropriate that his story be continued at this stage.

He was first engaged to Euphemia Muir, but they had like temperaments, and clashed so much that the engagement was broken. He then turned to her sister, Mary, some years younger than Euphemia, and they were married in 1884 in Forbes. Her parents lived on the Orange Road where they had a good orchard. Her father also had a miner's license. Her mother, a McShannon, came from the island of Kintore in Argyllshire. In Booligal, Tom was butcher, assistant pound-keeper, contractor and drover from time to time. In the early nineties, when the banks crashed, a number of customers were unable to pay their accounts, and so he went broke as a butcher.

They had eight children - John (born in Forbes in 1886), Ruby (born in Booligal in 1888), William (born in Hay in 1890), Leonard (born in Booligal in 1892), Leslie (born in Deniliquin in 1894), Mary (1897), Jessie (1899) and George (1903), the last three were born in Forbes.

Tom left Booligal and went to Mary's parents at Forbes just before the birth of their daughter, Mary, because he found work hard to get. A little later, he decided to go further afield in search of work, but his wife said, "You're not going without the family". So he purchased a wagonette, and rigged it so that it had a bottom section containing foodstuffs, kitchen-ware, etc. He and his family lived in it for eighteen months. There was a double bed in it for his wife and himself. Their daughter, Ruby, had a tent for herself. The boys -John, William, Leonard and Leslie - slept on the ground under a tarpaulin. Baby Mary was in the wagonette. These arrangements were airight when it did not rain, which was most of the time, for this was in 1897-98, but it was a different story when rain fell.

Tom was in the Condobolin district, fencing, clearing land, shearing, looking after properties. In Condobolin, he bought canvas, sewed it together, and fixed it over a frame where they happened to be, and lived reasonably comfortably under it. When he no longer wanted it, he sold it to a surveyor.

For some time, he was looking after the property of a selector, John Carne, (who had left it) out at Crowie Creek, in the region of Tinda Tank, north-west of Condobolin. After this he was on Baxter's place, then managing the property of Mr H.W.G. Innes who had "Elsie Vale" in the same region. There he lived in a cottage, which was quite neat, and had a good garden.

At one time, he was doing some fencing for Mr Tom NcGorman, who was at "Mumble Creek" further out than the other properties. When I knew Mr McGorman in the late 1930's, he told me Tom Clancy had three boys (probably Leslie was too young to be counted as far as this story goes) and sometimes the boys would sooner play than get on with their assigned tasks. Tom had a hot temper, like his father, hotter than any of his brothers, and the boys lack of response to his commands exasperated him, and of course the boys paid for their negligence if he caught them. He said to McGorman, "One boy is a boy, two boys is half a boy, and three boys is no boy at all". On another occasion, Tom Clancy said to Tom McGorman, "Good weather we're having", to which McGorman replied, with a typical countryman's pessimism, "Yes, Clancy, but wait till we get the fogs in July" (shades of Hanrahan, "We'll all be ruined"!).

Tom Clancy was quite a character, and a number of anecdotes are recalled by his children. On one occasion, he was driving along the road, puffing away at his pipe, when a man who was trudging along the road called out, "Hey mate, give us a fill; I haven't had one for days". Tom replied, "Don't smoke, mate". The swagman looked in amazement at Clancy, too dumb-founded to make any rejoinder, and went on his way. Tom's daughter, Ruby, sitting by his side, said, "Dad, you told a lie". He asked, "What did I say?". "You said, "Don't smoke, mate"." "That's right. I told him not to smoke."

Part of the time Tom was in the Melrose Tinda Tank and Yellow Mountain district, he worked for a full-blooded aboriginal "Jimmy" Smith by name, who was a boss drover. They drove a flock of sheep from Condobolin to Forbes, Tom taking the wagonette, and the family travelled back to Forbes by train. Once, when he was droving along the Condobolin road, his horses were stolen. They were found in Condobolin by a man to whom Tom then sold them. When Tom decided to give up droving, he swapped his wagonette with "Jimmy" Smith for a heavier vehicle which Jimmy had, known as a "shanghai".

Because the season was bad and work was difficult to get, Tom decided to look for work in Victoria. When he crossed the Murray, he found people returning, saying "It's worse over there". So Tom returned, and made his home in Forbes. For a time they were living in a house near the Common. When the Lachlan flooded in 1900, the Clancy family, like many others, took shelter in a large hall on Camp Hill.

Tom's next job was to become his regular work for the rest of his life. He bought lambs for John Cook and Co., at Daroobalgie, a few miles along the Parkes road. The children had very intermittent schooling while the family were travelling about. But now they could attend school regularly. Tom became a well-known buyer throughout the west, "Overflow" being one of the many stations he visited. While they lived at Daroobalgie, Jack Clancy stayed with them en route to Dorrigo, and the brothers William and Gerald also called on them. The family moved from there in 1908, being the last of the Clancys to leave the west.

He went to Sydney and lived first at Arncliffe, then at Ashfield. He continued to travel all over the State, buying lambs for a Sydney meat company. During this period, he did some judging of sheep at the Royal Show. In the course of his work, he was in the yards at Flemington where he was butted in the stomach by a ram. He was taken to hospital, operated on, but death ensued. This was in 1916, he being 56 years of age, and the first of John's children to die.20

Tom was versatile, hard-working, ready to turn his hand to any job, but he found his true occupation as a buyer of stock. His brother, Gerald, shared his ability to size up accurately the value of stock. Like other members of the family, he was very musical. Necessity taught him to be careful with his money, but it did not make him mean. At his funeral, an old drover remarked to members of the family, "Tom would walk a mile to save twopence, and then give a pound to a beggar". After his death, the family moved to Booker Bay, in the Woy Woy district, where Mary died in 1938.

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