Volume 1:2

Archie Roach: Old Mission Road

Archie Roach recorded Old Mission Road in the tiny chapel at Framlingham, on a hot and humid afternoon as the little settlement geared up for its 150th anniversary celebrations. Archie had had a big weekend, leaving awestruck audiences in his wake at the Port Fairy Folk Festival. But he warmed to the task, and turned out a haunting acoustic rendition of this widely-loved song for a small gathering of family and friends. (Listen carefully for the little girl’€™s voice whispering ‘€œYay!’€ as the final chord fades out’€) You can download it here.

The Mystery of Baxter’s Bones

EYRE

In the new issue of GOQ, you’€™ll find the tragic tale of Edward John Eyre’€™s epic trek across the Nullarbor in 1841, and the murder of his friend and overseer, John Baxter.

When GOQ went looking for the place where Baxter was shot all those years ago, we found a curious anomaly. Eyre’€™s journal (quoted in our print story) doesn’€™t nominate the exact place where the crime was carried out. Yet maps of the area pinpoint the stone memorial erected in Baxter’€™s memory in 1930. And on its plaque, as you can see, it’€™s indicated that Baxter was killed ‘€œhere’€.

Eyre was the only person to write of the incident as a first-hand witness. His only companions were the two killers (whom history has never heard from again), and a small Aboriginal boy, who could not have known their geographic position. So how were the makers of the memorial, eighty-nine years later, able to pinpoint the place in the vast emptiness of the Nullarbor plain?

The answer lies in Baxter’€™s bones.

The morning after Baxter had been shot by Joey and Yarry, two members of the troubled expedition who had argued they were doomed and should turn back, Eyre found that ground all around him was too hard to bury his dead companion. With much regret, he records that he wrapped Baxter’€™s body in a blanket and left him on the flat rocky ground.

Forty-one years later, in 1882, a party was sent out from the Eyre Telegraph Station in search of the place, which had only been vaguely identified by Eyre as being two days’€™ walk west of the oasis (now called Eyre), and slightly inland of the high cliffs. The expedition, led by the chief telegraph line inspector and Aboriginal trackers, not only found human bones, but also found pieces of a shotgun ‘€“ leading almost certainly to the conclusion that the remains were Baxter’€™s. The location was not recorded, but was precisely known to the telegraph master, a Mr Graham. The bones were taken to the postmaster at Eucla and then sent in a box to Perth for ‘€œproper Christian burial.’€ A letter was sent to the elderly Eyre in Oxfordshire, notifying him that his friend’€™s remains had finally been found and that he would now be properly interred.

When the idea was proposed to erect a memorial to Baxter, in the late 1920’€™s , Graham was a very old man, but he was the only reliable source for the placement of the cairn. The matter was considered highly urgent ‘€“ fortunately the old man was able to describe the place, and the memorial was duly constructed.

However, an historian from the Western Australian Historical Society, C.J.W Aspland, later carried out an exhaustive search of all cemetery records in Western Australia for the relevant period, and interviewed every surviving member of the government offices which would have had responsibility for the remains. He concluded that the bones were never buried. Of all the indignities suffered by Baxter, this was the worst: the bones were most likely lost in a box somewhere in Perth’€™s colonial offices, or even thrown away in a clean-up. As Aspland said in 1941, ‘€œ’€¦poor Baxter’€™s remains met with a fate a hundred times more ignominious than if they had been left to bleach on the arid waste of rock where he fell’€¦’€