Dennis Gannon LONERGAN, b. 30th March 1906, Delaraine, Tasmania, d. 15th Septemb...

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Australian Stockman's Hall of Fame and Outback Heritage Centre

Name/Title

Dennis Gannon LONERGAN, b. 30th March 1906, Delaraine, Tasmania, d. 15th September 1965, Moonah, Tasmania

About this object

Dennis was certainly the flamboyant member of the family. He soared to heights of excitement and achievement in his personal and public life, yet the depths of despair and distress also claimed him. At the age of eighteen, Dennis, after persistently seeking a job with Australia's Cattle King, Sir Sidney Kidman, left Tasmania to fulfil his childhood dream for the next ten years - to jackeroo and manage a cattle station in the great outback of Australia.
The Kidman name belongs to one of Australia's most famous rural dynasties, and when The Cattle King died in 1935, his cattle empire covered 3.5% of the continent, an area about the size of Victoria. It was to one of these Kidman cattle stations that Dennis headed in 1924," to South West Queensland" to secure riding five hundred miles on horseback from Broken Hill in New South Wales his first employment as a jackeroo. Eventually, in 1930, "The Cattle King" appointed him manager of the Glengyle station - an area of 10,000 square miles of unfenced cattle country with the Queensland - Northern Territory border forming its western boundary. The station itself was ninety miles from the nearest small town.
In 1990 my mother received a letter from Jim Laffin, an old eighty-five year old former jackeroo, who first went droving with his father when he was ten years old, just after his mother died. He told her that "in May 1930 I took delivery of 1,250 cattle off Alexandria Station, Northern Territory, and delivered them to your brother who was manager of Glengyle Station at the time. I also drove 1,700 cows and calves from Alexandria to Glengyle in 1931 where he was still manager".
Patrick Francis took a keen interest in the rural career path of his son, and it is obvious that father and son kept in touch with one another. In a letter to my mother, dated 22 January, 1927, Patrick writes:

My dear child Dennis hasn't arrived yet. He and his mate left Durham Downs on Christmas Eve and after riding 900 miles arrived in Brisbane like two of 'Buffalo Bill's' cowboys, dressed in riding breeches, leggings, spurs, broad-brimmed hats, belts and knives. The Brisbane crowds thought they were lunatics. Dennis stopped with his mate's parents. They gave him a great time. They were detained in Brisbane on account of some difficulty in getting their cheques cashed. Dennis's clothes being too small, he had to get a suit of clothes and a set of teeth. He told me he would leave via Sydney about Wednesday last. If he comes his stay will be short if he has to be back by the 6th prox.. Don't forget to pray for him. He has a very dangerous job. Your loving father.

Dennis' own words vividly describe his life and capture something of his spirit and the spirit of those ten years. In 1930 he wrote the following article, entitled "Outback".

Most Australian people, glued down to a regular job on the fringe of the continent, know very little about the inland portion of this great country, way out back o'beyond, many hundred miles from the nearest railway, town or doctor, where the mailman arrives once a fortnight with the latest news! This is Australia's cattle country, where huge herds of cattle are bred, handled, and overhauled to the southern markets.
Let me introduce you to the men who spend their lives on these cattle stations - tough, healthy - looking chaps, broad-shouldered, and bronzed. Year in and year out life is spent in the open air, at night curling up in blankets with the stars for a roof; up at daylight, feeling fresh, and into the saddle again.
I think it was just a natural longing that lured me from my home in Hobart. Early in 1924 I found myself in the south-west of Queensland with a droving outfit, having ridden five hundred miles on horseback from Broken Hill, the Silver City of New South Wales.
On September 30 we took delivery of five thousand fat bullocks, and started to drift slowly down the map to the railhead of Marree, in South Australia, following the track of Burke and Wills, the explorers. Cooper Creek was in flood for days. We swam our way through the network of channels; camp gear, swags, etc., were taken over each flooded channel by means of wire, one of the party swimming across and fastening the wire to a tree. At last we reached the outside channel and commenced to follow the Cooper down. The weather was getting warm as we crossed the Queensland border into South Australia.
There were five of us in the camp. At night the mob was rounded up, and we each did a watch in turn for two hours, riding slowly around the mob while they were quiet. Sometimes, however, we would have to gallop for the whole two hours.
One night we camped near the famous Burke and Wills depot tree, in South Australia, on which the face of Burke is carved and the word "Dig". Getting well down into South Australia, we left Cooper Creek and headed south-east across the desert -just a sea of bare, red sand from skyline; the only watering places were thirty or forty miles apart - artesian bores, forming a veritable oasis in the desert. These bores are wonderful. In some instances the water comes up a thousand feet - beautiful clear water, which is boiling as it reaches the surface, but cools as it runs away. These bore streams are a beautiful sight, a line of green trees and a sparkling stream of water breaking the monotony of the red, sandy waste. At some of the bore streams were small camps of blacks, who came round and wanted "baccy" and meat.
Sometimes while camping our cattle in the sand, a breeze would spring up, blowing off the water perhaps fourteen miles away, and start the bullocks galloping and bellowing for water. Eventually we delivered the mob on December 21, after travelling nearly five hundred miles in eleven weeks and five days.
Returning to Queensland, I secured a job as a stockrider on a three thousand square mile cattle station. Twelve months later I was appointed head stockman in charge of a big camp of men of all colours, real men, though. For two years and a half I ran this camp of hard-riding, half-wild cattle men, who feared God and cared nothing for anything else. During this time we never saw a town and experienced no social life whatever.
Breaking-in horses on the cattle station is full of excitement. Up to two hundred are broken in during a year. Just imagine these wild horses when the sixty-foot greenhide lasso goes around their necks! Some of them turn and viciously attack the stockmen. I have received dozens of kicks, been bitten a few times, and had over a hundred falls, sometimes being thrown three times in succession. Most of these wild horses buck when they are ridden; others throw themselves over as soon as the rider mounts. One colt I broke in was full of cunning, and eventually got me a few weeks later.
One morning we saddled rather hurriedly to go after some cattle. The colt bolted away and commenced to buck straight for a huge leaning gum tree. I got the full force of the impact on the side of my face and across the chest. These horses roam in wild mobs in the ranges, and it takes a hard day's riding to get them.
Mustering the wild cattle is full of excitement. During the winter of 1926 Cooper Creek, with its network of channels, was in full flood; in between each channel was thick lignum scrub. Getting the cattle out of the scrub took some hard riding; hardly a beast could be seen. All one could see was a thousand pair of horns, wet and silvery-looking in the early morning sun. Then they would disappear, and the rider would know where they were by the rattle of the horns, the breaking of the scrub, and the splash as they plunged across each running stream; going along for miles like this until at last the lead had reached an open space, to be confined by the riders, who had been keeping with them through it all, eventually working them right out of the scrub and channels.
At dinner time, wringing wet, and sitting around a huge fire, each man would have a stirring tale to tell of the morning's ride.
At night, we have to watch the big mob - perhaps seventeen hundred - two or three men on watch together. Sometimes the cattle gallop all night and other nights they lie down. About midnight all that can be heard is the howl of a pack of dingoes in the distance; then, all at once, the stillness of the night is broken by a rattle and a roar - every beast galloping madly. This is a real cattle stampede. In a few seconds, all hands are up, and, seizing a bridle, are off to help the men who were on watch when the "rush" started.
One night I was on second watch, with a black boy, around a mob of one thousand, when the stampede started. I was terrified, and hastily made the Sign of the Cross, waited a second to see which way they were going, then got on my horse's neck and flew after them in the darkness. Going along at full gallop, my horse fell and came right over on top of me. The horse picked himself up and took off with the saddle. I lay stunned until the black boys got me next day.
The blacks on the cattle stations are great riders and trackers. Once a year they hold their big corroborees, which are most interesting to watch, and the "sham" spear fights and dances are truly amazing.
Cooper Creek is rather an historic place. Many stories are gathered of the old exploring days, and I have seen on many occasions identification marks cut on trees by such men as Burke and Wills and Sturt. I had many regrets leaving this romantic region.
Twelve months ago Australia's cattle king appointed me manager of Glengyle, one of his numerous cattle stations, ninety miles from a small town. No churches are found in these regions, nor anything else which gives a visible expression to our belief in God. Once a fortnight our mail reaches us; you could not imagine a more outlandish region than this.
During the early part of this year, when the rivers were in flood, I rode ninety miles on horseback to send a telegram.
When you take into consideration the area of Glengyle, ten thousand square miles of unfenced cattle country, the Queensland-Northern Territory border fence running across Stuart's Stony Desert being the western boundary, you must realise that Australia is a vast continent!

DENNIS - FLAMBOYANT, IMAGINATIVE, PUBLIC

In 1934, after ten years in the great outback of Australia, Dennis returned to Tasmania - he had several other dreams to pursue. He married Joyce Gregg and they had three children: John, David and Mary. He established a business in Moonah and was soon to become a public figure, becoming mayor of Glenorchy in the early 40's before being elected to the Legislative Council in 1945 as the member for Hobart. A 1945 press report says it this way:

Cattle King Sir Sidney Kidman once said to 'Denny' Lonergan, the new member for Hobart: 'One day I shall see you in politics'. This probably was prompted by the persistence that Mr Lonergan showed in writing from Tasmania five letters to the Cattle King seeking a job in his organisation. Eventually, Kidman replied by telegram - 'Your tenacity is worthy of recognition', and gave him a job. For ten and a half years thereafter, young Lonergan, whose imagination had been fired by stories of the great outback, became drover and head stockman at Kidman's Durham Downs Station, Cooper Creek, Western Queensland, taking part in droving expeditions across Australia. Later he was promoted to the position of manager of the second largest cattle station in Australia. He reckons those 10 years in Australia's great open spaces were the happiest in his life.
It was not until three years ago that Mr Lonergan, now a general storekeeper and service station proprietor, in Albert Road, Moonah, came under public notice by topping the poll when a council was elected to supersede the Glenorchy Commission. Since then Mr Lonergan has been responsible for the inauguration of an ambulance service in the municipality and has interested himself in housing and a better deal for the police force. Recently he was elected Warden of Glenorchy. Warden Lonergan promises to be a colourful figure when he takes his seat in the House.

Another newspaper report speaks of his surprise victory: The handsome victory gained by Mr D. G. Lonergan, Warden of Glenorchy, at the expense of Mr A. J. Tyler, the retiring member for Hobart, [was one of the] outstanding features of Legislative Council elections yesterday. Although early in the campaign it was considered that Mr Tyler's chances of election were very bright, it has been evident during the last two weeks that the influence wielded by Mr Wedd, MLC in support of Mr Lonergan, has had a very telling effect. Final figures in the Hobart division were - Final primaries: Lonergan, 3139; Tyler, 2290; Crisp, 1310.

Thus began a six year colourful political career, during which the combined talents of members Lonergan and Wedd fired the imagination of many Hobartians. That story, however, has been told elsewhere. Six years later Dennis had withdrawn from the world of politics and was directing his energies into a different kind of community involvement.

A LITTLE BIT OF FAIRY LAND

As a prominent member of St Therese's parish community at Moonah, Dennis was the driving force behind the development of that community and its tennis club. In support of this project, he developed the gardens of his home at Moonah into a showpiece that captured imaginations from around the world. Again, a newspaper report from the time most clearly portrays the story:

In the visitor's book of a private home at Moonah, an ecstatic mainland tourist has written, "This sausage roll was not made in Hobart it was made in heaven"! Behind this compliment lies the story, not of a sausage roll, but of a unique community enterprise. Flamboyant, imaginative Mr D. G Lonergan, former member of the Legislative Council and successful businessman, had a problem - how to raise money for a couple of badly needed tennis courts. A tourist company had a problem - where to take tourists at night. They got together.
At the rear of his residence in Albert Road, Mr Lonergan has always had a beautiful garden. Why not, then, provide a few more amenities and make it a real place of entertainment. The result has been spectacularly successful, and here Mr Lonergan entertains tourists from all over the world. Take last night, for example. The buses pulled up outside about 9.3Opm filled with tourists. In the midst of the garden burned a cheery fire; the whole area was festooned with lights
There were ornamental ponds, a barbecue, vast expanses of lawn, gardens in full bloom, and for the young, the romantic and the young-in-heart, a wishing well. In fact, a veritable fairy land. Then came the supper - billy tea, cakes, scones, sandwiches, savouries and plenty of those delicious sausage rolls. Colour films of Tasmania are shown, usually two, and Mr Lonergan has a better film library than the State Government. Sometimes tourists sit in the drizzle of rain - and love it - around the fire. If the rain is too heavy, he has an enclosed theatrette-cum-supper room where the party can go.
On the practical side, the enterprise has already enabled the completion of a $1,000 tennis community tennis court, with another well under way, and other projects in view. More than 1,000 tourists have already visited the gardens, and a further 4,000 are expected between January and March next. They come from all states of the Commonwealth, the United Kingdom, Japan, China, Hong Kong, Ireland, Canada, U.S. A., Mexico, the Philippines and elsewhere, but their reaction is always the same: 'Best little spot in Tassy' 'Something we will always remember' 'Surprisingly different' 'A really delightful place' 'Nothing like it in Sydney' 'A little bit of airy land' and hundreds of others.

DENNIS - TRAGEDY AND DESPAIR

Many of my memories of Dennis would be shared by the hundreds of people who knew him and received of his kindness and generosity. I have vivid memories of the times when Uncle Dennis and Auntie Joyce would arrive at our farm at Kimberley when I was very young. Their car would be laden with presents and goodies, the like of which we had never seen before. It was the same when we visited them at their home in Albert Road. There are those who would say that he gave until there was nothing left, and there was tragedy in that.
On the one hand, Dennis was a charismatic figure, a leader, with a strong commitment to community involvement, community issues and especially to people who were disadvantaged in society. On the other hand, Dennis had a wild nature, exemplified by those ten years in the outback, and which included hard drinking as well. He arrived at a place where his life was poised on the edge of tragedy and disaster which was capable of claiming the life of this flamboyant and imaginative man, should 'he wouldn't be tamed.
Ultimately his life was claimed, and there followed the shattering of the dream, the shattering of the man and the suffering of shattered relationships. The last years of Dennis's life were tragic and there were many who suffered. The sadness, the pain and the loneliness that had made claims on Patrick's later years now enveloped the latter part of his son Dennis' life. Something of the inner impoverishment of the father also claimed the son, as it also made claims of his daughter, my mother, and maybe of her sisters as well.

Subject and Association Description

Parents: Patrick Francis Lonergan married Kate Mary (nee Gannon)
Married: 1934, Tasmania
Spouse: Joyce Gregg
Children: John, David, Mary
Resided: 1906-1924 Tasmania|1924-1934 South-West Queensland|1930-1934 Glengyle Station, Queensland|1934-1965 Moonah, Tasmania

Object number

USH00652

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