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Durack, Patrick (1834–1898)

by Mary Durack

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (MUP), 1972

Patrick Durack (1834-1898), pastoral pioneer, was born in March 1834 at Scarriff, County Clare, Ireland, the eldest son of eight children of Michael Durack and his wife Bridget, née Dillon. The Duracks were struggling tenant farmers who survived the famine of the 1840s and followed another branch of the family to New South Wales in 1853; they arrived in the Harriet in May. Within two months of reaching the Goulburn district Michael Durack was accidentally killed. Patrick settled his mother and family at Goulburn and went to the Ovens River diggings in Victoria. He returned in eighteen months with £1000 and bought a smallholding near Mummel. There he brought his family and soon increased his assets. On 31 July 1862 he married Mary, daughter of Michael and Mary Costello of Tea-tree station near Wheeo.

Life in the settled area of Goulburn provided insufficient outlets for Durack's energy, land hunger and organizing powers. In 1863 with his brother Michael and brother-in-law John Costello he set out with horses and cattle to establish a property in south-west Queensland. All the cattle died in the prevailing drought and the party survived only with the help of desert Aboriginals. Despite this setback the Duracks and Costellos returned to Queensland and in 1868 established Thylungra and Kyabra stations on a tributary of Cooper's Creek. Drought conditions continued but Durack and Costello rode around the country pegging claims to some 17,000 square miles (44,030 km²) of land between Kyabra Creek and the Diamantina River. As conditions improved, the blocks were stocked and sold to incoming settlers, many of them relations and friends. Durack also bought properties in the towns of Roma where he had a butchery, Thargomindah, Adavale and Windorah. His hotels, at first built of mud and spinifex with ant-bed floors, flourished in the wake of opal miners and Cobb & Co. services. By 1877 his cattle had increased from the original 100 head to about 30,000 and he began to buy sheep. Eight children, two of whom died in infancy, were born to the Duracks in these years and Patrick maintained a paternal control over the lively pastoral and mainly Irish community of the region. By 1879 he was reputedly 'on his way to his first half million', while Costello had sold up and retired to the Queensland coast.

Still uncertain of his future prosperity in south-west Queensland, Durack was excited by Alexander Forrest's report of more reliable prospects in the Kimberley district of Western Australia. In 1881 he and Solomon Emanuel, a Goulburn banker and pastoralist, financed an expedition to the area. In July 1882 a party led by Durack's brother Michael took ship from Brisbane with horses and provisions to Cambridge Gulf and King Sound. Favourable reports decided the Duracks to take up land on the Ord River and the Emanuels on the Fitzroy. From Thylungra station Durack organized the droving of 7250 head of breeding cattle and 200 horses on a 3000-mile (4828 km) trek, the longest undertaken by Australian drovers up to that time. They reached the Ord River in two years and four months with a loss of half the cattle and several men; the venture cost some £72,000. In 1886 Durack's two elder sons went by sea and set up Argyle station on the Behn River.

In 1885 Durack retired with his wife to Brisbane, first amalgamating his Queensland interests with a group of financial speculators. Inactivity did not suit him and in March 1887 he went to Argyle to help his sons. Later that year he bought gold-crushing machinery from Sydney and began mining on the Kimberley goldfields. Summoned to Brisbane in 1889 he learned that financial disaster had overtaken his Queensland interests. Left with only household possessions Durack took his wife to live at Argyle. He had earlier assigned his north Australian interests to his sons. His wife died of malaria at Argyle on 24 January 1893. In 1896 Durack visited Ireland; he returned to Kimberley and helped to develop his sons' expanding interests but no longer played a major role in his family's affairs. He died at Fremantle on 20 January 1898 and was reinterred on 4 November 1901 beside his wife in the pioneer cemetery at Goulburn.

Select Bibliography

  • M. Durack, Kings in Grass Castles (Lond, 1959).

Citation details

Mary Durack, 'Durack, Patrick (1834–1898)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/durack-patrick-3457/text5281, published in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 3 September 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (MUP), 1972

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