Terry Duff and his sister Noelle Bartlett – the two oldest children of ‘DiDi’ founder John Patrick Duff – examine photos of some of the champion campdraft horses that have lived at DiDi over the past 100 years

December 1, 2021

A hundred years of pioneering in the Boondooma area were remembered last Saturday when about 160 relatives and friends gathered at the Duff family’s ‘DiDi’ Station.

‘DiDi’ and its Hereford cattle are well-known throughout rural Queensland and it is also home to South Burnett councillor Kathy Duff, who has lived there all her life

Guests enjoyed an old-fashioned barbecue lunch and dessert under tents set up in the grounds; inspected the property; took horse and buggy rides around a back paddock; and renewed acquaintances – some recent, and others that stretched back over decades.

A highlight of the day was a series of talks by Kathy’s uncle Terry and brothers Stephen and Michael Duff, who shared their memories of growing up at ‘Di Di’ and significant events that had occurred on the 15,000 acre property during their lifetimes.

Terry is the only surviving son of ‘DiDi’ founder John Patrick (“JP”) Duff, a former Wondai Shire councillor.

Brothers Alexander and Robert Lawson established Boondooma Station in 1847 but most of the area remained virgin bush for the next 70 years until the end of World War I.

So when JP bought ‘DiDi’ with a £1000 mortgage, he had to start from scratch in an area that offered no water or electricity and where a trip to get supplies could mean several days away.

He used the block to run Hereford cattle (which the farm still runs today) and met his future wife Dorothea at the first Burrandowan Picnic Races in 1921.

The couple was married in Kingaroy five years later but in the absence of any farm income, they earned a living working at other jobs in town until herd numbers had built up to a point that made moving on to the property feasible.

In 1928, JP and Dorothea shifted on to ‘DiDi’ – where the only habitation was a slab hut – and began the long and difficult process of fencing the property and building a better home.

Income from the farm gradually built up and the farm’s facilities steadily expanded, but so did the size of the Duff family.

Soon after WWII, JP purchased ‘Tralee’ for £1800, followed by several other properties over the next few years so his sons could have farms of their own to operate.

Stephen Duff, Kathy’s older brother, followed Terry’s talk by recounting the period between 1960 and 1994 when he lived at the property.

He said that by the time he was born the family had expanded quite a lot and while facilities in the area were still fairly primitive, ‘DiDi’ benefitted from robust beef prices and good seasons which allowed the business to keep expanding and the homestead to be built up.

He said growing up at ‘DiDi’ at that time was very much like living in a village.

In the 1960s, the property was lit at night by a 32 volt generator, but this was retired in the early 1970s when electricity finally arrived in the Boondooma area.

“Some people complain about electricity prices but I don’t,” Stephen said.

“It’s a wonderful thing and it changed all our lives for the better.”

An enormous slump in beef prices in the mid-1970s, which anecdotally led to poultry prices rise higher than cattle, put many producers under stress, Stephen said.

But fortunately, ‘DiDi’ had no debts and plenty of cash in the bank, so the business was able to ride out several very poor years until the market picked up towards the end of the decade.

However, that decade was also marked by tragedy when Stephen’s uncle Paddy was killed at age 43 in a campdrafting accident at Monto, a loss that hit all members of the family very hard.

The 1980s proved a tough decade, too, with dry seasons, high interest rates and poor cattle prices providing a smorgasbord of challenges for the family.

But through it all, ‘DiDi’ had been a “a fantastic place to grow up”, Stephen said.

His talk was followed by Kathy’s younger brother Michael, who covered the period from the 1990s through to the present.

Michael said that by the time he and Kathy went to school, ‘DiDi’ had become a signature property in the western portion of the region, and the family found itself hosting visitors from all over the world.

These included foreign exchange students, visiting dignitaries and friends that family members had made on overseas trips.

By that time, too, other family members had moved out to their own properties.

His father Mick, Kathy and Michael ran ‘DiDi’ along with a team of workers, some of whom have now been with the property for decades,

Michael said that his father Mick hated leaving ‘DiDi’ and was happiest when he was at home on the property.

He and Kathy both had the same view.

“There’s something special about this place,” Michael said, “and I think there always will be.”

After the speeches and the cake cutting, a final highlight of the afternoon was the presentation of a draft copy of a book chronicling the history of the farm and the Duff family, prepared by Brisbane writer Warren Webber.

Warren said he had spent about six months putting the book together, interviewing various family members, and had found the process of researching it very enjoyable.

“As time goes on you need to record this history or it’s lost forever,” he said.

However, he emphasised that this was only a draft copy, and he invited Duff family members to pore over it and suggest any changes before it went to the printers and locked in the history for another 100 years.

Kathy Duff thanked everyone who had come along to the event and everyone who contributed towards it, including the Murgon Show Society, the Murgon Lions Club, Mondee Coffee 2 Go, the Golden Spurs Hotel at Proston and Fr Mark Franklin, who started the day’s proceedings by celebrating Mass at the property.

Fr Franklin praised ‘DiDi’ as a “beacon on the highway”.

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After all the speeches, Kathy Duff was presented with the draft copy of the history of ‘DiDi’ prepared by Brisbane writer Warren Webber
A special 100 Years birthday cake created for the day was a centrepiece of the celebrations
Kathy thanked the many friends and family members who came to the property to celebrate the milestone occasion (which almost coincided with her birthday, too)
The 100 Years cake was cut by the youngest and oldest Duffs present … Teresa (who turned five on Sunday) from Toowoomba, and Noelle Bartlett, from Nanango
Kathy Duff’s older brother Stephen recounted the years between 1960 and 1994 when he lived at ‘DiDi’ …
…and her younger brother Michael covered the years from 1994 to the present
Janelle and Mark Smith, from Murgon, chatted with Danny Summers, also from Murgon, and Mortimer Duff, from Long Flat … Mortimer compered proceedings
Rance Darlington, from Murgon, chatted with long-serving ‘DiDi’ employee Robert Thomson, who was credited on the day as “the man who keeps ‘DiDi’ running”
Zoe Thomson and Trudy Bellamy, from Toowoomba, were impressed with their Mondee Coffee 2 Go iced coffees
Jenny and Rod Morgan, from Nanango, with Ian Newson, from Kinleymore
Alan and Sharon Trim, from the Murgon Show Society, helped out at the bar
Sharni and Elyse Offer, from Miles, enjoyed a wagon rider with Spike Butler, from Hivesville
Spike’s horse Scamp took guests on free rides around the homestead paddock all afternoon
Isy Lindley, from Gayndah, and Taylor Applewaite, from Rockhampton, helped Gayndah’s Stuart Kirk smoke the brisket for the evening meal 
Will Barrett, from Proston, with Kathy Duff’s cousins Patsy Winter, from Dalby, and Carmel Waugh, from Meandarra; and niece Teoni Archinal, from Wandoan … the relatives were poring over a giant family tree along the verandah wall
John Ramke, Proston, with Rodney and Cynthia Hatchett, from Murgon … Rodney was thanked during the afternoon for the great job he had done on renovations to ‘DiDi’s kitchen
Terry Duff, Noelle Bartlett and Kathy Duff with some of the family’s historic photos
Michael Duff, Toni O’Shannessy, Father Mark Franklin, Kathy Duff, Susan Kirk and Stephen Duff (Photo: Kathy Duff)
Guests crowded into the back porch to hear firsthand stories of the station’s first 100 years

[UPDATED]


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