June 10, 2022
A former 4SB radio announcer – and State Government speechwriter – has retraced his grandfather’s footsteps by walking 275km from Purga to Murgon.
Hugh O’Brien began his walk on May 28 in honour of his late grandad, Kevin Hamilton McMahon.
In 1907, Kevin was aged just seven when he walked behind a bullock wagon which was hauling his adopted family from a farm south of Ipswich to Greenview, near Wondai.
Kevin’s job along the way was to chock the wheels of the wagon with blocks of wood to stop it rolling backwards on hills.
The family stayed at Greenview for about 12 months before moving to a farm at Cloyna, where Kevin was a first-day pupil at the new Cloyna State School.
In 1919, the family sold the farm and moved into Murgon after Kevin’s stepfather, William Creech, died.
The move proved advantageous for young Kevin, who later adopted the surname of his birth mother ie. “McMahon”.
He opened a shop in Lamb Street, Murgon, selling electrical goods and new-fangled radios.
He ran this business for about 50 years and became a pillar of the local community, lobbying for the establishment of the high school and meatworks as well as being involved in local sport.
Hugh told southburnett.com.au he was honouring his grandfather with every step along the journey.
“Kevin was seven going on eight when he left Purga; I’m 67 going on 68,” he said.
“Three factors inspired the walk: I always admired how grandad made the most of a tough start in life; I needed a goal to motivate me to stay fit; and the emergence of the rail trails meant I could duplicate his approximate route without worrying about cars and trucks whizzing past.”
The journey has brought back a lot of memories for Hugh, who is the fourth eldest of Kevin’s 26 grandchildren.
He took a day’s break in Kingaroy on Wednesday for a “nostalgia trek” around town, checking out all the changes (and what’s stayed the same).
“My old house in Arthur Street is still there,” he said.
Hugh was born and raised in Kingaroy and called football games on 4SB, where he worked for four years.
He tried to average 23km every day on his trek, about the same distance a bullock wagon would have achieved back in 1907.
But Hugh also had to keep up the pace because he had another very important appointment to keep along the journey.
On Monday afternoon, he was booked in by the Nanango Theatre Company to run a workshop, “How to Write A Funny Play”.
Over the years, Hugh has worked as a speechwriter for politicians from all three main political parties – Nationals, Liberals and ALP – but he’s also an award-winning playwright.
His comedies have won the Dogwood National Playwrights Initiative, the Noosa Arts Theatre National One-Act Playwriting Competition and the Carnival of Flowers Toowoomba Repertory Theatre Play Writing Competition.
His mini-workshop in Nanango impressed his audience as he explained how to create and present a great story as a play.
Hugh began the second last leg of his Purga-to-Murgon trek on Thursday morning, leaving a chilly Kingaroy to walk to Wondai alongside his step-brother Ken Goodhew.
From Wondai, it was then just a short 16km journey to make it into Murgon and his grandfather’s graveside on Friday.