Donkey Boy's Grave

Bedourie to Boulia Road, Queensland

Joseph Dunne.

In the early 1900s, Alec Scobie and his wife, Ellen, owned the Ooroowilanie Cattle Station on the Birdsville Track, in the Far North of South Australia. Their three eldest children, Ethel, Angus and Don, used to attend school at Mulka Cattle Station, which was owner by their Uncle Jim Scobie. To travel the five miles south to school the children rode a donkey from Ooroowilanie to Mulka each day. All three on the same animal.

They rode a donkey because donkeys could survive on the sparse vegetation around the homestead. In contrast the station horses had to be taken out to better feed, so were too far away to be mustered before the children left for school.

Ethel was the eldest and, as she became older, Ellen decided that she was growing too big to share a donkey with the two boys and needed a donkey to herself. Jim Scobie loaned them one, but after a couple of days something about the animal began to worry Ellen, so she asked Jim to take it back.

'It'll be all right,' Jim said. 'As long as Ethel doesn't fall off.'

'In that case I don't want it. You take it back,' Ellen said.

Jim sold it to a drover. The drover in turn sold it to the Dunne family who owned a cattle station forty-five miles (70km) north of Bedourie. The donkey was for their son, Joseph. Some time later Joseph was riding the donkey, helping his father with a muster. When the donkey returned to the homestead the boy's body was trailing from a stirrup. Joseph had fallen off, his foot had become trapped in the stirrup, and the donkey had kicked him unconscious then dragged him along the ground. He died of head injuries.

His grave is at the side of the Bedourie to Boulia road, and used to be marked with a home made concrete cross, which had been damaged and deteriorated. Despite the damage, the simplicity of the cross demonstrated the parents' grief far better than any elaborate memorial could. Joseph was ten years and nine months old.

The grave was located by a small tree at the junction where the track to the homestead left the main track. When I first recorded the grave in 2001, the year of Joseph's death had disappeared, as had most of his surname.The post and rail fence protecting it was also in poor repair.

By 2006 the tree had disappeared and it seemed that the grave had been relocated into an area of open ground some distance from the homestead track. The post and rail fence had been replaced by substantial steel railings, but sadly the headstone had deteriorated and was in danger of disintegrating completely. I was researching Angels Don't Go Droving at the time and had an appointment with Dick Scobie's younger sister, Jean Smith. After we finished talking about Dick, I asked about the grave and she told me the story.

The remaining inscription on the headstone was;


loving mem____

of our dear ___


Who died Aug ______







By 2008 the headstone had been replaced by one of polished granite. The style of the lettering has become flowery and the arrangement of the wording of the epitaph has been revised. The new headstone is out of character and carries none of the pathos of the original concrete cross. The date has been expanded to give the day and year, but the month of Joseph's death has been changed from August to November. It seems unlikely that the parents would have made an error about the month of their son's death, so these details may have been taken from records. However, the Dunnes would have had a long journey to report Joseph's death and, as they were mustering, it's unlikely they would have reported it immediately. They probably did not do so until November. A concrete pad now covers the area within the rails.

A small bronze plaque has been attached that explains that the grave is known as the Donkey Boy's Grave.

It is commendable that people have taken the trouble to preserve the memory of Joseph, but it is incorrect to claim that the grave has been restored. It is now just a memorial.

A basic rule for restoration is to do nothing that modifies the character of the original artefact. As much as possible of the original work should be retained and anything that is replaced should be of the same materials and in keeping with the original. Unfortunately all these basic requirements have been ignored.

Before any work of this nature is undertaken, the advice of restoration experts should be sought. There might also be regulations that govern such restoration, particularly if the item is heritage listed. The state museums in each capital city are good first contacts.

The new epitaph reads;


Loving Memory

of our dear son


died 13. 11. 1912

age 10 years

9 months


© Jim Ditchfield 2003

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