As a lagoon re-emerges and country heals, an Aboriginal past is revealed
In 2010 I spoke with 88-year-old Les Warnes at his home in Burra, South Australia. Les is one of many mid-northerners I interviewed between 2010 and 2013 as part of a project to learn if, among settler descendants who have grown up on land occupied by their forebears in the nineteenth century, stories of Aboriginal people’s historical presence in the district had passed down through the generations. Les had lived most of his life on Woolgangi, a 20,000-hectare sheep station approximately 65 kilometres east of Burra, about a three-hour drive from Adelaide. In the 1890s Les’s great-uncle, C. B. Warnes, purchased the pastoral lease for land that included what was later known as Woolgangi, and Les was the third generation of his family to live and work there. (The name ‘Woolgangi’ is not local to the area but comes from the name of a railway siding in Western Australia where Les’s father spent some time during a return journey to South Australia.) In 1995 Les and his wife retired, and their son, Ian, took over the running of the station. Les ‘didn’t want to leave’ and ‘used to go back and forth’ between Burra and Woolgangi. When I met him, Les was going out to Woolgangi every week – he ‘loves going there’.
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