SIGN OF THE PAST: Joe and Estelle Bridgeman stand by the site of the single gravestone found at Lilyvale.
SIGN OF THE PAST: Joe and Estelle Bridgeman stand by the site of the single gravestone found at Lilyvale. Kathleen Calderwood

Cobb and Co hub now lost in grass

TO newer residents of the Central Highlands, Lilyvale is no more than an area with a few, scattered mines but, for Capella's Joe Bridgeman, it's home to the some of the region's richest history.

This year was the 150th anniversary of Lilyvale, a once prosperous town, home to teamsters who traversed the route from Aramac to Rockhampton in the 1800s. Now there's nothing left of the town, neighboured by Crinum and Gregory mines, but for a single headstone from the cemetery which Joe and members of the Friends of Lilyvale group have never managed to uncover.

There were hundreds of teamsters going right through to Aramac from Rockhampton because it was the port and they took wool out there and provisions to the bigger stations.

In 1992, the mine moved the lone gravestone under a tree in the old township alongside a memorial stone with the names of all those buried at the lost cemetery.

The Friend of Lilyvale have campaigned and researched to make sure the town isn't forgotten and now there is a shaded area, memorial plaque and a boardwalk by the serene waterhole.

Lilyvale's economy relied on Cobb and Co, so the building of the railway line in 1883 signalled its end.

"There were hundreds of teamsters going right through to Aramac from Rockhampton because it was the port and they took wool out there and provisions to the bigger stations. Emerald didn't exist, Comet didn't exist," Joe said. "To get to Clermont, you had to go through Lilyvale.

"The railway line came to Capella and that was the end - no more teamsters. There was no one living out there in the 1900s. Cobb and Co stopped running once the railway line reached Emerald. There was over 100 of these wagons at any one time on their way to Rocky or Aramac. Most only did five miles per day, depending on how much water they had."

There's even a ghost of Lilyvale.

"Johnny, the Chinaman, is supposed to be the ghost of Lilyvale," said Rowand Tait, another member of the Friends of Lilyvale.

"Every good place has a ghost. He drowned in the waterhole."

In the 1990s, Joe and his wife started taking tourists tracing Leichhardt's trail through the region on trips, including Lilyvale.

"I mustered the ranges for all the people and I found a lot of it (the history) while I was mustering," Joe said. "Then we started Leichhardt Tours. We used to run a little tourist bus and horse rides in the range in the early '90s. We were around for five years and never sold a band aid.

"We did one to four day trips and we'd take a pack horse and (my wife) Estelle used to drive the four-wheel-drive bus and she was the camp cook."

Now they often take school and Scout groups to the area to learn about the history, nature and how to survive in the bush. "It's a great place to take schoolkids. They have a walking track and they can do all the birdlife and aquatic stuff," Joe said.

And, of course, Joe aspires to leave a legacy of Lilyvale for the future.

"We get so disheartened sometimes after a while if nothing's happening and they (the mines) don't want to do it. We just get disgusted and walk away for a bit, then I heel over and come good again," Joe said.

"We gave them a list of what we'd like them to do - story boards and a walking track and a big Cobb and Co sign and stage coach and all the sign posts for Cobb and Co; so it's an educational thing.

"We've been liaising with the mine to get them to spend some money there because they're responsible for it and they've made many multi-millions of dollars out of it, so what's it to leave something behind for the community?"



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