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Thomas John Quilty (1887–1979)

by Cathie Clement

This article was published:

Thomas John Quilty (1887-1979), by Frank Henry Johnston, 1958

Thomas John Quilty (1887-1979), by Frank Henry Johnston, 1958

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an23616835

Thomas John Quilty (1887-1979), pastoralist and bush poet, was born on 4 April 1887 at Normanton, Queensland, second of six children of Irish-born parents Thomas Quilty, carrier, and his wife Mary, née Griffin. His father worked at various times as a fencer, teamster, innkeeper and grazier. In 1891 he settled on a property at Croydon, in the Gulf country, and named it Oakland Park.

Young Tom received some schooling at home before boarding (1904-07) at Nudgee College, Brisbane. He then helped his father and brothers Patrick (b.1888) and Reginald (b.1894) to run Oakland Park and Euroka Springs, another station which the family had acquired north of Julia Creek. Robust and energetic, he honed his horsemanship by riding with a band of wild young stockmen known as the 'Forest Devils'. In 1909 his parents and two of his sisters moved to Sydney. Property investment there increased the family's wealth and, in 1917, Quilty & Sons bought Bedford Downs, near Halls Creek, Western Australia, for £34,000. Patrick managed that station while Tom managed Euroka Springs. At All Saints Church, Roma, on 30 April 1919 he married with Catholic rites Charlotte Lillian Laura Isis Byrne; they were to have four children by 1926.

The 1920s brought low prices for cattle, poor rainfall and personal problems. Quilty's marriage foundered when he became involved with Olive Marion Underwood (b.1908), daughter of a neighbouring station-owner. In 1937 he and Olive left Queensland to join Patrick, who by then owned Bradshaws Run, on the Victoria River, Northern Territory. Next year they bought the adjacent Coolibah station, as well as the Six Mile Hotel at Wyndham, Western Australia. Patrick died in 1938. Favoured in his brother's will, Tom lived at Coolibah with his family for most of the ensuing decade. After consolidating their pastoral holdings, they moved west in 1948 to Springvale station, south of Bedford Downs. Tom eventually divorced his wife in July 1964 and married Olive on 11 September that year at the district registrar's office, Halls Creek.

Quilty was an outstanding cattleman, an authority on northern Australia, a skilled 'poddy-dodger' and 'a bit of a menace' to his neighbours. Generous, but loath to give praise, he participated enthusiastically in outback social activities. He invested in the Kimberley Hotel at Halls Creek and donated money for a grandstand at the local racing club. To raise funds for the Royal Flying Doctor Service, he published a slim volume of verse, The Drover's Cook (Sydney, 1958). The poems dealt with station-life, drinking, personal relationships, and raising children of mixed blood at Springvale homestead. In 1966 he donated the Tom Quilty Gold Cup for an event that has become a national endurance-riding championship.

By 1974 the family held about 3 million acres (1,214,070 ha) in Western Australia and 1.5 million acres (607,028 ha) in the Northern Territory. Quilty was appointed O.B.E. (1976) for his services to primary industry. In 1978, incapacitated by a number of strokes, he left Springvale with Olive to live at Oakland Farm near Capel, Western Australia. He died there on 24 November 1979 and was cremated; his wife and their two sons survived him, as did the two daughters and one of the two sons of his first marriage.

Select Bibliography

  • C. McAdam, Boundary Lines (Melb, 1995)
  • E. E. Quilty, Nothing Prepared Me! (Caloundra, Qld, 1999)
  • West Australian, 12 June 1976, 28 Nov 1979
  • Queensland Endurance Riders Association Newsletter, Dec-Jan 1991
  • family papers (privately held)
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Cathie Clement, 'Quilty, Thomas John (1887–1979)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 20 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (Melbourne University Press), 2002

View the front pages for Volume 16

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Thomas John Quilty (1887-1979), by Frank Henry Johnston, 1958

Thomas John Quilty (1887-1979), by Frank Henry Johnston, 1958

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an23616835

Life Summary [details]


4 April, 1887
Normanton, Queensland, Australia


24 November, 1979 (aged 92)
Oakland Farm, Capel district, Western Australia, Australia

Cultural Heritage

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