Milton Owen with his book
Milton Owen with his book

Tales from an unknown territory

Milton Owen first went to the Northern Territory in 1940 and wished he had gone 10 years earlier.

“I went when the whole place was taken over as an army centre,” he said. “I'd always wanted to go there. It seemed to be such an adventure to go through that unknown country. My father had the same yearning.”

His father eventually got the contract for the mail run between Alice Springs and Tennant Creek and Milton followed in his footsteps, working for the Postmaster General across the NT throughout the war.

After the war he worked for a transport company that took supplies from Alice Springs to the Tennant Creek gold mines. He would make the trip about once a month and remembers how he would often stop, wander into the bush and listen to “the deafening silence of the inland”.

“It's something that you feel... something spiritual. So peaceful, so quiet.”

His travels across the Territory led him to develop a deep love and appreciation of the country and the people, and in particular the stories of the early settlers. Milton has compiled some of these stories into his first book Overlanders and Inlanders.

“A common thread among some of the white settlers, drovers, explorers and other wanderers... was their understanding and willingness to embrace the Aboriginal situation. Others were intent on ridding themselves of the black race by exterminating them. They felt the anger and violence of the Indigenous people whose lands, including sacred sites and life-providing ancestral watering places, were forcibly taken over by whites and their animals,” he says in the introduction to the book.

Milton said the characters in the book are, “apart from a villain or two”, men and women of distinction.

He even has respect for some of the villains.

He mentions Harry Redford, who stole 1000 head of cattle from a station near Longreach in north Queensland and drove them through unknown and isolated country to sell them in South Australia.

“That was an incredible feat,” Milton said with some admiration.

Redford was eventually caught because there was a distinctive white bull amongst the cattle he had stolen, and he and the bull were taken back to Roma, where he was tried. But on the night before the trial, his supporters managed to steal the bull and Redford got off. However he did serve time for some other offences and he eventually died of thirst in the outback.

Milton describes himself as “more of a compiler than a writer” and he has read around 100 books on the subject of Australia's pioneering inland settlers.

He and his wife Enid moved to the North Coast about two years ago and he finished writing the book around the same time.

“It's just something I wanted to do,” he said. “My hope is to get it in libraries and onto bookshelves so these stories can be spread around a bit.”

He self published the book and copies have been sent to the Stockman's Hall of Fame in Longreach and the Shearers' Hall of Fame in Hay and Milton has had great feedback for the way he has compiled the stories and brought the threads of different characters together.

If anyone is interested in getting a copy you can email him at enton@tadaust.org.au or phone him on 6625 2037.


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