Annie Russell (nee Hart)

Annie Russell (nee Hart) was born in Brewarrina, a small town situated on the Barwon River in northern New South Wales.  Annie grew up in Brewarrina and after her marriage to Eric Russell in 1941 they moved to Sydney.  A few years later they returned to work in the district around Brewarrina where they stayed until Annie's death in 1998.



Annie was born in Brewarrina NSW Australia in 1921 during a big flood in the Barwon/Darling River. Her parents had been married in the Church of England Church Brewarrina on the 1st of August 1901.  Annie's Father came to Brewarrina in 1880 and his parents owned a wood yard.  Annie's mother came from a town north of Brewarrina named Goodooga and after her marriage was a housekeeper for a family in Brewarrina.

Annie thinks her mother came from around Goodooga and her maiden name was Surmon. Her mother came to Brewarrina with her sister Alice, who was Mrs. Taylor. Alice's husband was Ernie and he used to bring stock from Eulo Station and take them to Nyngan to go by train to Sydney. When the railway opened from Brewarrina he brought them there to send them to Sydney.

When Ann's mother and Alice came to Brewarrina Alice was pregnant and became sick, so they had to stay there while Ernie went on to Nyngan. They rented part of Turnbull's house, next door to the Hart house. When Ernie returned he took Alice back to Eulo, but her mother stayed on and worked as housekeeper help to Mrs. Meathrel, who at that time had two little girls. Mr. Meathrel had a cutting cart and a butcher's shop. Her mother said Mr. Meathrel would be up at 4 a.m., cut up the meat and take it around town. He killed just on daylight every couple of days. There was no way of keeping the meat fresh.

When they needed to post a letter they would go by what is now the Billabong Bridge to the Post Office. If they saw any blacks they had to go home as Mrs. Meathrel was afraid her little girls might get hurt.

Flood in Brewarrina (9KB)
Flood in Brewarrina

Flood on the Barwon River (13KB)
Flood on the Barwon River at the Brewarrina Lift Up Span Bridge

Butcher's Cart (16KB)
Butcher's Cart

One of Ann's fondest memories is of Frank Pratt.  He grew up with Ann's mother in Goodooga.  He married Edith Ella Eckbert from Combora and they lived in Bourke Street.  Frank was a shearer for Turnbulls. The men would come in at 1 or 2 pm and Frank would get dressed in clean clothes to go down the street.  At half past five several children, including Ann, would be waiting under the pepper trees at the school for 'Uncle' Frank.  He was a little fellow with light brown hair, and he would come rolling along literally.  He would be drunk so they helped him home.  The children really loved him because he was never cranky or irritable. Every Sunday he worked in his garden, which always looked beautiful.
The Brewarrina School (20KB)
The Brewarrina School early 1900's




School picnic 1940's (21KB)
Once a year school picnic 1940's


Ann went to school in Brewarrina.  It was a two teacher school, and one teacher, Miss Neville boarded with Mrs. Robinson who lived in a house situated where the Aboriginal Welfare is now.  The first teacher she remembers was Mr. Bryant who was there for three years, followed by Mr. Daly and Mr. Critenden. When Miss Neville left Brewarrina she went to Peak Hill, Narromine, Crookwell and Gulargambone. She passed away about four years ago aged 84.  She had married a farmer in Gulargambone but they didn't have any children.  Those days the school only went to sixth class, it wasn't until 1946 that it became a Central School.

During Ann's lifetime there have been many changes in Brewarrina. When Ann was young everyone shared everything such as school lunches, toys and sweets.  The Aboriginal children were the same as the White children.  They were 'as one' and colour didn't come into their relationship.  The dark people were good workers and lived good clean lives.


The Opening of Memorial Hall

When Ann was young she recalls what a wonderful place Brewarrina was to live in.  There was an Orchestra, Mr. McKenzie, Bert Hunt, Sars Duffy and Charlie Young, with Chrissie Lunn as Pianist.  Ann was nine years old when the Memorial Hall was built.  It was during the depression.  She was chosen to be flower girl at the Opening on 8th May 1931. There were two reasons why Ann was chosen.  One, the Hart family was one of the oldest families in Brewarrina and two, because of the depression clothes were very scarce and she happened to have a pink satin frock, white shoes and socks she had for her brother's wedding.  She felt so very proud and happy to be standing there with Mr. and Mrs. Frank Bateman, the Mayor and Mayoress of Brewarrina. This can be seen today in the photograph which is on display in the Senior Citizens room and at the Settlers' Museum Ann can name all the people in that photo.

Ann's Debut

Annie made her debut in Brewarrina with 30 other girls. it was the end of the drought and it rained and rained.  They were to be presented to Lord and Lady Wakehurst Governor.

Opening of the Memorial Hall (20KB)
Scene at the opening of the Hall 1931


Opening of the Memorial Hall (13KB)
The Opening of the Memorial Hall


Opening of the Memorial Hall (12KB)
The Opening of the Memorial Hall - Annie is the little girl in the front centre of the photograph

Ann and Eric's Wedding

Annie and Eric were married at half past six on a Monday morning in the Church of England Church in Brewarrina.

Annie wore a traditional white wedding frock, and it was the day petrol rationing was introduced, 29th September 1941.  The reception was in her home with about 30 guests.

They left the reception to catch the ten past eight train to Bathurst where they honeymooned for two weeks before going on to Katoomba for another two weeks, then on to Sydney for a week.

Annie at the age of 21 (16KB)
Annie at the age of 21, a year after marriage
Annie in 1951 (23KB)
Annie in 1951

Eric & Annie's 50th Anniversary
Eric and Annie at their 50th Anniversary in 1992

Moving to Sydney

Eric Russell and Annie left Brewarrina after their marriage in 1941.  Eric joined the army during World War II and Annie remained in Sydney working.

They were living at Maroubra and Annie got a job with Johnson & Johnson in Botany.  One of the girls working there was married on the Saturday and back at work on the Monday, which astounded Annie.  She asked where they had their honeymoon and was told that they went to Katoomba for Saturday night and came back on Sunday as the groom had to return to the Army.  When Annie told her she had six weeks honeymoon the girl said "That's a lifetime, your husband could be dead and you could be pregnant in that time.

In 1951 Eric and Annie Russell returned to the Brewarrina district where they managed stations until retirement.  The last position Eric held as station manager was on Darrawong station in the Cunnamulla district.




Rural Life

Dust Storms

Ann said she will never forget the terrible dust storms in Brewarrina. 
It would look like a great red rolling ball descending onto the town.  During the
morning it could be seen, then by 4 pm. it would be so dark they would turn on the
lights.  Everyone stayed in their homes because it was not possible to move around
town. Annie used to work for Mr. G. New in the Draper's shop.  To go to and from work
they would all hold hands with one holding onto the fence, so when they came to a vacant
allotment they wouldn't be blown away. 


Dust Storm over Brewarrina (23KB)
Dust Storm over Brewarrina
One New Year's Eve they were all planning
to go to a dance.  At about 4 pm. a dust storm rolled over the town.  It was so
bad that no one was able to get to the dance and it had to be cancelled.  A week of
hard work cleaning the house would follow a dust storm and by t then along would come
another one. 

The worst dust storm years were 1938, 1939,
1940 and 1941. There was a big contrast in the winter with very severe frosts. Annie said
there was one time when the water in the river stopped running, it was only getting to the
rocks, and Bourke was out of water. The people in Bourke threatened to blow up the Rocks.
So the Brewarrina people formed a vigilante group, and with their guns they stood watch
over the rocks.  Taking it in turns for 24 hours a day for over two weeks they stood


the drought Tom went with Buck Brown to take their wagons and horses to Tego, on the
Queensland border, where there is a spring with plenty of water.  They had been
camped there for about a month when a traveller arrived on a bike to share their
fire.  He said he was travelling from Cunnamulla to Brewarrina.  They invited
him to stay the night and share their evening meal, which he did.  When Tom retired
for the night he would put on his nightshirt.  Even at night they had to keep an eye
on the horses, especially on a moonlight night as the horses would come into the spring
and get bogged in the soaked ground.  They had a tin can on a wire with a
stick.  Each night they took it in turns to keep watch.  If the horses came in
who ever was on watch would jump out of bed, grab the can and the stick, and race across
the flat hitting the can, making a terrible noise to hunt the horses away. 

The 'traveller' put up his little tent a few yards away from Tom and
Buck, and they all settled down for the night.

 Tom heard the horse bell during the night and not wanting them
to get any closer to the spring soaked ground, he jumped up out of bed, pulled on his
boots and ran across the flat in his flowing white night shirt, yelling and screaming
while belting the tin, to hunt the horses away.  When satisfied they were going the
other way he returned to his bed. 

Next morning they prepared breakfast and Tom asked Buck if he had
given the traveller a call.  He hadn't.  When they looked they couldn't find
him, They realised then he must have seen and heard Tom chasing the horses away and
thought Tom in his night shirt was a ghost.  Certainly a very noisy one.  Some
years before there had been a murder at Tego and there was talk of the 'Tego Ghost'.

The Horse "Trump"

When Ann's father was working with wagons only, he came home one day with an
almost brand new foal.  The mare Rosie, who worked in the shalves, owned it. 
The little horse known as Trump was having a drink when something frightened the
horses.  The wheel ran over the foal's foot.  Mother kept the foal and
eventually a new hoof grew which looked like a big flat plate.  The leg was stiff,
and that horse always had special attention.

Dad always carried a pocket knife and when the horse started to limp
he would pick up the hoof and clean it out.  But if Dad didn't notice him limping the
horse would go to Dad and put his hoof on Dad's foot.  So Dad had quite a few black
toes. Ann's brother Harry, who is now 80, always drove the plough team of eight
horses.  Her father had a full tanksinking plant, three meadow bank scoops and two
ploughs.  Trump was always Harry's near side leader.  In other teams a horse
with big knees was known as Roger.







Annie's father was a tanksinker and teamster.  He had the only all grey team of horses, sixteen of them, in Australia. He put down a lot of tanks.  Up until 1940 the deepest tank was on 'Coola', it was 21 feet deep. The deepest one before that was 18 feet deep. Aub. Helman, an agent who lived next door to them said "Tom, how in the hell do you get them down?" and he said, "Well, I lower them down on a rope and then hit tins to make the horses come up the other side." He put several tanks down on Quantambone, Mooculta, Woollahra and a lot of other places.  All with horse teams.

When Ann was five years old, they put a big tank down on ‘Mogila’, and Mrs. Richmond brought Elizabeth, Rucilda and Jamie, with the Governess, out to the tank site for a birthday party, it was Ann’s fifth birthday.

They went to 'Eurather' on the Queensland border and Ann's mother went as cook.  Mr. Deshin had just drawn the property.  It was one of the first land ballots around there, and they were there to put down a tank.  Near the tank was a large area of lignum where there were hundreds of pigs.  Mr. Deshin was poisoning them with SAP and the poor sows would come out of the lignum and go to a small water hole with their little pigs running behind.  At the water hole they would lie down and die. 

When they went to 'Eurather' there was a drought.  The day they finished the tank, with the fluming in but hadn't put in the waste, there was a storm coming up and it became dark.  Ann's mother held the lamps while the men finished it off. It was about 10 pm when they finished. Within three days the tank was full. Her father was greatly excited about it, and so was Mr. Deshin. But because of the rain they were camped there for another three weeks before it was dry enough to move.


Tanksinking Bush Camp (13KB)
Tanksinking Bush Camp





Horse team with scoop ready for tanksinking (10KB)
Horse team with scoop ready for tanksinking





The team of white horses tanksinking (13KB)
The team of white horses tanksinking

Tom's truck (22KB)
Tom's truck

When Ann was seven, her two brothers Jack and Tom had two little Chev. lorries.  Tom became very ill and had to go Sydney.  He was contracted to carry the 'Collarwaroy, wool and there was a big problem because their father could not drive a truck.  So Jack took him out in the bush and taught him how to drive Tom's truck.  Ann went along as gate opener. 

Jack would take them over the big bridge at 6 am. and they would get to 'Collarwaroy' at 12 pm where they would have their lunch, load ten bales of wool and leave there at 2 pm.  Jack would escort them back.  Ann was always a fat child and a constant talker, so she was called 'Magpie'. Now Ann wonders how they thought you could put a little seven years old Magpie in a truck and expect her to shut up all day.  About 500 yards from a gate she would say "Daddy, there's a gate" and her Daddy would say "Be quite darling, Daddy's concentrating".  Her father had enormous hands and feet.  He would slowly put his foot on the brake and slowly pull up.  She often wished she had a bike to ride to open the gate.  It took her five minutes flat out running to get to the gate, open it then another five minutes for her to catch up to him after he drove through ... There were SEVEN gates.

Injured Horse

During the drought her father Tom and Dick Hart (no relation) would ride the common every day looking after their horses.  One day a man called in and told them that one of Tom's or Dicks' horses was caught in a fence.  Tom and Ann's' eldest brother Jack found the horse was caught in the boundary fence with the wire into the bone.  It took several hours to walk back and to get Dr. Ferguson to come and have a look at it.  The Dr. had to go back and get a special saw to cut the wire out of the horse's leg.  Then Tom wrapped it with rags soaked in Stockholm Tar and bound it with Hessian.  Tom would walk the horse to the park at about 8 every morning and bring it home in the evening and feed it.  The wound took about six months to heal, with the flesh re-growing.  It grew hair over the wound but the hair was not as long as the other hair.


During Ann's lifetime there have been many changes in Brewarrina. When Ann was young everyone shared everything such as school lunches, toys and sweets.  The Aboriginal children were the same as the white children.  They were 'as one' and colour didn't come into their relationship.  The dark people were good workers and lived good clean lives.

Ann's father had some Aboriginals working for him.  Ann would take their money to them on a Saturday afternoon.  They were paid Three pounds Five shillings.  One family had seven children and she now wonders how they managed. Women did not go to work those days.  They are all good citizens of Brewarrina today, and in business.

A Cow called Molly

Ann's mother had a cow called 'Molly' and next door was the stock ranger Mr. Comerford.  He would borrow Molly to lead stock across the rocks and pay her two shillings (20 cents).  That money was used to pay for the feed for the saddle horses, 1/6 for the bag of chaff and sixpence worth of oats.

Jock Turnbull

            Ann likes to remember Jock Turnbull who was a bachelor and a brother of Tommy Turnbull.  He did odd jobs around town.  If anyone wanted a window re aired or a door fixed, they would get Jock.  Jock hated dogs.  He built the Aub.  Hellmans a lovely home, which is now owned by John and Ann Bell.  Mrs. Hellman had little Pom dogs.  Jock was working for her one day and she always gave him lunch.  After lunch she would scrape the scraps onto a large dinner plate and put it on the veranda for the dogs.  Jock would slip it off the veranda and throw his hammer on it.  She would come out and say "I don't understand those dogs breaking that plate".  Jock would say, "Well you put it on the edge of the verandah, they fought over it and it fell off'.  She never knew Jock broke it.

Jock built many houses in Brewarrina including the house the Russell's live in.  It was built about 1932 with round timber.  He also built Schofield's house and Tess Single's home.