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Updated: Jul 11

How Prickly Pear influenced farming right up to 1975.

I grew up on a farm at Seven Oaks, north east of Chinchilla. It was part of the old Seven Oaks Station, a subdivision of the original Chinchilla Station. I have researched the history of Seven Oaks Station, because my father Ray Redgen held the leases of parts of the Seven Oaks Station for almost 50 years.

Prickly pear had a serious impact on the profitability of the lease, and I was especially interested in any information about pear on the property.

Because properties like this were leased, not owned outright, they were inspected annually to confirm that the lessees were fulfilling the terms of their leases. Inspectors filed reports of their inspections, and these reports still exist. I used these reports, and also departmental maps, to compile this history.

July 1902,

WH Price was living on the property [Grazing Farm 908], when the area was described as 10,263acres.

Price surrendered the lease to the Crown in April 1906, for the sum of £800. The valuation sheets noted the presence of a '4-roomed weatherboard cottage with floors and iron roof; a slab cottage of 2 rooms and 2 skillion rooms, floored, with bark roof' and that 'prickly pear has a hold……..'

July 1906,

Louis Samuel Varidel applied on behalf of 'The Seven Oaks Group' for a Prickly Pear infested selection' The total area granted was 11230 acres in 4 blocks, to Louis Augustus Varidel, Frederick Eugene Varidel, Louis Samuel Varidel, and Jules Mathew Varidel.

The attached map shows newly surveyed areas about 1910. The Seven Oaks Blocks are number 26 and 27. Butts Road has been surveyed, separating Block 25. The area east of Seven Oaks, beyond Pelican Back Road, is now Block 30. The Varidel homestead is shown in the far south east corner, adjacent to the creek, and Pelican Back Road.

The old northern boundary fence of Chinchilla Station is still shown on the map, well within the new boundary, described as a 'sapling fence'. In addition, the northern boundary extends further along Butts road than the old Chinchilla station boundary, creating an L-shaped north-western extension.

Pelican Back Road has been surveyed [as a 3 chain road]. Dead Man's Gully and Murdering Plain have both been named, ( in another part of this map).

Roy Hando suggested in the booklet "What makes Chinchilla TIC" that Dead Mans Gully got its name when someone found the body of a Chinese shepherd in the early days. Mrs Varidel, writing about her life at the old Seven Oaks homestead around 1905, referred to 'Murdering Plains' nearby. Putting these clues together, we can guess that a shepherd employed by Price was murdered in the South eastern portion of Seven Oaks somewhere about the year 1900.

Seven Oaks now has a number of capital improvements. An inspection report says the homestead, described as a 4-roomed cottage, and a 2-roomed cottage, is now surrounded by a fenced horse paddock, with a small area of cultivation near the Pelican Back road. An assessment in 1907 lists the presence of a cart shed, dairy, fowl-house, pigsty, and stockyards. Mrs Varidel, in a letter to Mrs Emerson, described the 4-roomed cottage as the bedrooms, and the 2-roomed cottage as the kitchen-dining room.

Notes on the map indicate that the brigalow area adjoining Butts road has 'impenetrable prickly pear' while the creek flats are 'infested' with prickly pear.

1910? James Connelly held Occupation lease 392 covering the area for part of the interval after the departure of the Varidels, but had surrendered the lease by September 1918.

Mrs Emerson reported in her history book, that the 'house was removed to Chinchilla in 1914' by Mr Connelly, so probably the Varidels had moved by then.

September 1918

Alfred Brisbane Black applied for an occupation licence over 4 and 7/8 square miles, this being the block bounded by Butts Road, former Chinchilla Station, Charleys Creek, and Pelican Back Road. He was granted OL 637 for this block. On a separate licence he occupied the land east of the Pelican Back Road. The OL implied no right of ownership; it was simply a right to occupy and graze, and could be cancelled at any time without notice. Black's licence ran until November 1922.

June 1922

Patrick Thomas Quirk applied to select a Grazing Farm over the same area and this was granted as GF 8581. This included the block bounded by Butts road, former Chinchilla Station and Pelican Back Road. It also included the land beyond Pelican Back Road now included in the same document.

Quirk paid a rental of 3/4pence per acre or £4 per square mile for 4080 acres. Maps show that the old northern boundary fence of Seven Oaks Block still existed within the northern part of the run. No house is shown at the site of the old homestead.

Quirk forfeited the area due to non-compliance with the conditions of the lease in September 1924, with outstanding rent of £10/4/9.

In 1924, the Queensland Parliament passed an Act, the Prickly Pear Land Act. This provided for Prickly Pear Leases, which had a new set of conditions applying to the leases.

June 1925

FP and WR Redgen applied for a Prickly Pear Lease over the same area granted to Quirk as GF 8581. ( ie Blocks 26, 27 and 30; on the map). This was granted as PPL 320, now described as 6 and 3/8 square miles, with the rent now set at £1/10/- per square mile. [£9/11/3 pa].

PPL 320 was formally dated 28/7/1927, and ran for 20 years from 1/10/1926. Annual rental for the first 10 years set at £9/11/3d, to be renegotiated for the following 10 years.

The block carried fencing improvements valued at £35/4/1d, the property of Quirk.

The Redgens also took out PPL 513 of another 4000 acres, covering the block north across Butts Road. (ie Block 25 on the Map).

FP Redgen was my uncle Percy, and WR Redgen was my father Ray. The two men were both young and unmarried. Dad was just 23 years old, and still working for his older brothers, who owned Redgen Brothers shop in Chinchilla.

Management of the Prickly Pear Lease 320-

The term of this lease began 1 October 1926, and was expected to run for 40 years. The lease was formally issued 28 July 1827. The licence to occupy listed the address of the brothers as Lauriston Chinchilla. This was their mother's home, in Chinchilla.

The property was inspected annually during the term of the lease. The brothers had agreed to keep clear of pear a strip 6 feet wide along their south western boundary -- the neighbouring land there was listed as clear of pear. (This was the line of a surveyed road, which was never developed.) Comments on the reports describing the annual inspections are interesting.

9 July 1927 Cochineal insects and red spider mites throughout [on the pear]. Fenceline in SW poisoned, free from pear.

12 January 1928 Fenceline on far SW poisoned again

25 March 1929 Fenceline on far SW maintained free from pear. Cochineal insects, and spider mites are doing good work on this lease.

17 April 1930 Fenceline is being maintained free from pear. Cactoblastis, cochineal and Chelinidea are well distributed throughout this PPL, good destruction having been effected, particularly by cactoblastis. [Chelinidea is a bug that eats cactus plants.] After this inspection, the brothers lodged an application to ringbark 300 acres along the creek. This was granted.

13 April 1931 The pear on this PPL is so heavily infested and broken down by the cacto that like PPL 513, the county comprising same is now quite suitable for closer settlement, by voluntary surrender or resumption under the terms of the PPL Land Acts Amendment Act 1930.'

Thus in early 1929, no cactoblastis was reported on the lease. But by early 1931, it had effectively cleared the pear from the land.

After the inspection in May 1930, Ray and Percy must have faced the possibility that the pear would soon be destroyed, and that their Prickly Pear Leases could be cancelled. Ray immediately began preparations to retrieve their fortunes, to keep the best of the land under the control of the brothers.

There must have been proposals to allow PPL leaseholders to retain some part of their former leaseholds under new conditions, as agricultural living areas.

May 29th 1930,

Ray sent a handwritten letter to the Minister of Lands, WA Russell, asking whether two living areas would be awarded to the brothers, as they were joint tenants of their leases. On the same date, the brothers agreed to transfer leases between themselves, with Percy receiving sole ownership of PPL 320, and Ray sole ownership of lease 513. Thus Percy would have had all the creek frontages, while Ray would have had no natural water on the block north of Butts road. However, Ray soon had second thoughts about this idea.

29 September 1930,

My parents handwrote a long letter to Mr Deacon, Minister of Lands, explaining the inequity of the suggested division, and requesting that two separate living areas can be created out of PPL320. This would allow both brothers to have access to creek water, and to benefit from the ringbarking that had already been done [c. 600 acres at this time]. Ray signed the letter. A reply dated 16. October 1930 informed them that a Prickly Pear Commission would investigate their request. In the meantime, the brothers withdrew their request of May 29th to transfer the two leases to individual names.

7 April 1931,

Ray wrote another long letter to the Prickly Pear Commission requesting that two living areas, one each for himself and Percy, should be created out of PPL 320. At the same time they agreed to surrender their interest in PPL 513. In a reply dated 29 April 1931, this was granted. The brothers must have heaved a sigh of relief. But they still had almost 2 years to wait for formal control of their new living areas.

The paperwork

22 April 1931

Forms of surrender were dispatched to the brothers, for the formal surrender of PPL 51, 320, and 513. These were signed on 5 May 1931 and their receipt acknowledged on 19 May 1931 - the first of four times they signed surrender documents.

8 July 1931,

The two brothers applied for four blocks of 640 acres living area each ie c. 2500 acres each, which apparently constituted a 'living area'. Their application was acknowledged on 6 August, and on the same date they were instructed to apply for subdivision of PPL 320.

14 September 1931

They again signed a form to surrender PPL320, - the second such surrender.

1 October 1931,

Inspector Connolly designed the subdivision of PPL 320, and provided for an access road along the boundary fence between selections held by James [Roy?] Evans and Samuel Evans. Inspector Connolly had held an occupation lease over Seven Oaks after the departure of the Varidels, before 1918, so he should have known the area well.

2 December 1931,

The brothers signed a formal surrender of the portion of PPL 320 east of Pelican Back Road - the third surrender.

1 April 1932,

The brothers were notified of the subdivision of PPL 320, and directed to request transfers of the land for joint leases to individual leases. This was done on 16 April 1932, when ownership of PPL320A was transferred from FP and WR Redgen to FP Redgen; and ownership of PPL320B was transferred from FP and WR Redgen, to WR Redgen.

And for the fourth and last time, the brothers formally signed a surrender of their joint lease PPL320 to gain access to PPDevelopment Leases over the new subdivisions.

12 April 1932,

There is also on file a letter dated 12 April 1932, from the Dalby land office to the office of the Premier. It seems that Ray had asked the Premier to find out what was causing delays in the paperwork. The Dalby office protested that 'no unavoidable delay had occurred in this office.'

21 or 22 September 1932 ONLY

Finally, the brothers were informed that their land would be opened for priority selection on 21 or 22 September 1932 ONLY. If they did not present their applications on those days, then the blocks would have been open to contest by other selectors. Ray duly lodged his application on the 21 September. The Prickly Pear Warden stamped the application with his approval on 7 October 1932.

12 December 1932

Maps dated 12 December 1932 show the new smaller selections, with Ray the sole owner of the eastern block, while Percy was the owner of the western block, jointly with Mary Redgen. This must have been his mother.

23 February 1933,

But still the matter dragged on. There is on file a letter, dated 23 February 1933, from the Manager of the Chinchilla Branch of the Bank of New South Wales, requesting information about a possible date for the issue of the lease, as he was waiting to lend money to the lessee for proposed developments.

Mr McCulloch, the manager, lived near to Ray and my mother Emmie in Chinchilla, and was classed as a personal friend. Perhaps Ray asked him to exert a little pressure to hurry things along.

14 March 1933,

If this was the case, then it seems to have succeeded. On 14 March 1933, the Land Court approved Ray's application to hold a Prickly Pear Development Selection 9743, and on 29th March 1933, Ray finally received a licence to occupy his new selection. It was 3 full years since the Inspector reported that Cactoblastis was destroying pear on the land, and 2 full years since the brothers had signed the first of four surrender documents.

Due to the impact of the Great Recession, Ray had left employment at his brothers' store in the mid 1930s. So he and my mother built a small house on the farm in 1934, and began dairying, an occupation that continued for the next 40 years.

Prickly Pear Development Ray Redgen's Selection 9743

The conditions under which the PPDS was issued were:

1. For the first 5 years, rent free, but during those years 1/5 of the survey price was to be paid annually …. £5/3/- [total £25/15/-]

2. For the next 35 years, 1/35 of purchase price to be paid annually … £11/7/4 [total £397/16/6]

3. Developments within 5 years:

Ringbarking .. at least 1/10 of total area to be rung in each of the 5 years

Water .. at least one permanent water point provided within 5 years [but creek deemed sufficient]

Fencing .. external boundaries must have stock-proof fencing within 5 years

Once again, the selection was inspected annually for the first 5 years, but after that time, inspections became less frequent. The reports covered only the development conditions stipulated under the lease, and do not mention capital improvements, such as the house, stockyards, dairy etc, until the late 1940s.

18 February 1934 (Inspection report) 900 acres ringbarked [excluding the back paddocks on Butts road]. Fencing - stockproof fences on northern, eastern and southern 1/3 of western boundaries.

22 March 1935 additional 100 acres ringbarked in the far NW corner. Fences as before.

Some of this ringbarking was done by Ray's nephew, Nev Harris, before he started working in Redgen Bros. shop

12 June 1936 ringbarkingadditional 300 acres in NE corner; fences as before, but extended to southern 1/2 of western boundary.

No inspection in 1937

1 April 1938 [expiry of 5 years since the lease was granted] Ringbarking additional 90 acres on western fence; Fencing: Western end of northern boundary must be improved; northern half of western boundary is still unfenced.

12 May 1938,

the Prickly Pear Warden wrote to Ray pointing out that he was in breach of the fencing requirement of the development conditions of his lease. Legally, this would have provided grounds for the cancellation of Ray's lease, and the resumption of the land. Ray was advised that he should request an extension of time to complete the fencing. On 28 May 1938, Ray wrote two letters in reply, the first requesting an extension of time to replace some fence posts on the northern boundary; the second pointing out that the western boundary was the responsibility of FP Redgen, who had not completed his half of the shared fence. Ray's letters were acknowledged, and an extension of time was granted.

23 March 1939. Ringbarking 1390 acres as before; Fencing now complete, and old fence posts on the northern boundary have been replaced.

8 May 1940. Stamped DEVELOPMENT CONDITIONS PERFORMED. Ringbarking c. 1500 acres; fencing stockproof, pear very light.

Inspections continued in later years, but without further comments on prickly pear. My parents continued to live on the farm until 1976, when Ray sold the lease to A Pain. Just months later, the lease was finally converted to Freehold.

I was very interested to learn just how much influence prickly pear had on one farm, so many years after cactoblastis had done its work, and effectively controlled the pear.

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