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Gold Coast history and heritage

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The Colman family of Coomera River

This is the story of one of the pioneer families of the Coomera River region:

'Junction Farm' was located just upstream from where the Coomera River flows into Southern Moreton Bay. There is a narrow passage between Coomera Island and the northern bank of the Coomera mainland and this is was the site of the farm. The Coomera River divides into two arms as it curves around Coomera Island – hence the name 'Junction Farm'. A section of Hope Island is visible from the site of the farm. The surrounding area in 2005 has been developed as Coomera Waters and Coomera Shores and the old Colman farm will be developed as a residential estate in the near future.

Around February 1894, Englishman, James Colman settled on his Coomera property which he called 'The Plantation' – later known as the ‘Junction Farm’. James Colman was born at Thurgarten, Norfolk, England on 5 November 1866. He was around 22 years of age when he emigrated from England and arrived in Australia on 12th March 1888. At this time, little is known of his sea journey, but family folk lore has it that he travelled through the seaports of South-east Asia. During the voyage, he collected the seed of a Borneo mango which he later planted on his Coomera property.

His first place of employment in Australia was working for a Mr Trim who lived on the Coomera River. Following that he worked for a Mr Bailey, a nurseryman living in the Upper Pimpama area. There is a possibility he worked for J.W. Gartside on Otmoor sugar plantation at Upper Coomera as he made a note of Gartside’s name in his journal. He was meticulous in his account keeping and took an interest in taxidermy and natural history. There is a surviving list of native birds which he preserved during these early years.

Back in the February of 1894, James noted in his journal that he bought from Mr W. Doherty of Pimpama a bay mare, a roan horse, a cow, a pig, a grub hoe, harness, seeds, bags of corn and timber. These were some of the essentials for a farmer at the time. James also noted in his journal that fence posts cost 10 pound per hundred. It is possible, too, that he made a livelihood at this time splitting posts for other land holders.

James built a barn and a house on the property. He married English emigrant, Elizabeth Esther Thatcher (born circa 1870) and they raised a family (Florrie, James, Mary, Alice, Annie, Grace and two adopted children, Emily and William). William (Bill) Colman grew up and remained on the property and in turn raised his son John there. James Colman reached the great age of 92 years when he died in 1959. Elizabeth predeceased him in January of 1945. Both are buried at the Coomera Cemetery. Also buried in the same plot is Charlotte Colman who was aged 97 in 1969. Aunt Charlotte or Lottie never married, and lived her life with the family. She had acted as a chaperone for Elizabeth when, as a young bride, Elizabeth sailed to Queensland to marry James Colman. James and Elizabeth must have known each other when they were living in England.

There was a long-term, close association between the Colman family and another Coomera family, the Earleys. James' daughter, Mary Colman married George Earley and the couple had a large family of 11 children. The Earleys settled on a neighbouring property to the Colmans. Mary Earley or 'Ma' found herself in the terrible situation of being widowed with a young family. She adapted as best she could by learning basic carpentry and keeping the family fed by shooting ducks and wallabies. The Colman and Earley families worked Junction Farm together. In later years, Mary Earley lived in a small, fibro house on the Colman farm and is remembered as an independent and capable woman. Eventually, many of the Earley children moved away to jobs around Ipswich and farther afield, but young Lillian Earley stayed on the farm and married Bill Colman. The boys, George, Frank, Edward (Ted) and Jim Earley were keen fishermen and came back and forth to the farm to help with cattle work or breaking in the draught horses.

Bill Colman attended the local Coomera School and he is listed as a pupil on the roll in 1919. Bill grew up to be a skilled horseman, farmer and a professional fisherman. Beyond the farm, Bill was a keen cricketer and served as Clerk of the Course at the Oxenford Races. Bill and Lillian raised one son, John Colman. The family made their living from a cream dairy and small crops, such as melons and potatoes. There also was no shortage of crabs and fish in the Coomera River and Southern Moreton Bay – so fishing and crabbing were both an occupation and recreation. Bill Colman was a professional fisherman and he sold his catch to the Queensland Fish Board. He transported the catch down the Broadwater in a boat powered by a Chapman Pup Motor , which he tied up at the Queensland Government Fish Board market in Frank Street, Labrador. The Fish Board had its own ice works and a small tramway to transport trolleys of unloaded fish off the jetty. The fish were auctioned every morning and what was not sold on the local market was sent up to the larger Fish Board Market in Brisbane.

Making and preparing nets, building and repairing jetties, working with boats and barges, were a part of everyday life for the Colmans and Earleys. There were no ready-made nets in those days and Bill Colman and Ted Earley spent a lot of time repairing or making new nets. Ropes came coiled on large rolls and young John Colman's job was to unkink the rope by running around with a great length of rope weighted down by an old bottle. Life pretty much centred around the farm, cattle and horses, riverbank and jetty, Coomera Island and the river. The Colmans grazed cattle on neighbouring Coomera Island. Each morning after milking, the cattle would swim across from the mainland to the island and then, mostly like clockwork, swim back across the narrow channel to the mainland for the afternoon milking, feed and water. In later years, cattle was also grazed on Woogoompah Island in the waterways of the Pimpama River. A motor boat towed the cattle barge between island and the mainland. The men rounded up the island cattle on horseback. Woogoompah Island was wild and overgrown and the tall bracken fern hid the logs which could trip a horse and fall the rider. Cattle was sold at the Beenleigh sale yards or the larger Cannon Hill sale yards.

Lillian Colman lived on the Coomera River all of her life. It was not exactly a leisurely lifestyle – she ran the household, milked, helped with the fishing catch and farming, and raised her son. She was adept at making a meal for a crowd and kept a stock of recipes for this purpose. Like many women from her generation, Lillian was skilled in fancywork and embroidery. Afternoon tea for visitors was an important ritual and the table was set with her finest embroidered cloths and best china. She enjoyed working in the flower garden and in the springtime the front garden was a mass of red poppy flowers. While Junction Farm was a great fishing spot, the nearby mangroves and estuary meant that it was home to swarms of mosquitoes and sand flies. A smoke pot of cow pats was essential to help ease this particular discomfort.

Mains power did not reach the area until 1975, when power lines were extended to a golf course on a neighbouring property. Up until then, the family used a kerosene fridge, kerosene and later tilley lamps and for time generated their own power. Building materials were often salvaged and re-used. When the Upper Coomera School or Baker's Creek School was closed, Bill Colman purchased the old school and re-erected it as a residence on his farm. It replaced the old residence built by James. When a neighbouring farm house was to be demolished, Bill acquired the house and removed it to his farm.

As isolated as it was, the spot was still accessible for keen fishermen from Brisbane. The Colman’s permitted a few folk to erect fishing shacks along the riverbank at what became known as Pop's Landing (named for Pop or James Colman). The shacks, built from basic available materials – flattened kerosene tins and pole timber - provided simple shelter and many fishermen used them on a regular basis over the years. The Colmans never charged any rent – such was the goodwill of the era. There was a sense of plenty of space and plenty of fish for all. The shacks were a bit of an icon by the 1990s when tour boats made their way up the Coomera River. The tour boats were a sign that development was catching up with the place and eventually neighbours on nearby Hope Island requested that the shacks be demolished. The Colmans, however, maintained a link to the past when they called their new home on the Coomera River, Pop's Landing.

Three photos of James Colman
Photos of Elizabeth Colman, James Colman, Bill Colman and son John Colman
Images of the Colman's property
A photos of the Colmans milking cows and another image of Lillian Colman at the jetty


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