Norma and John Lowth with Derek Rowlands out the front of Hodgson’s General Store.
Norma and John Lowth with Derek Rowlands out the front of Hodgson’s General Store.

Local history lives on

YOU do not have to walk too far in Rolleston to find yourself a bit of living history.

The town described by some residents as “the edge of the outback” was the stomping ground of Queensland’s last notorious bushrangers, the infamous Patrick and James Keniff.

To this day, Rolleston’s pioneering links live on.

John and Norma Lowth have owned the Hodgson’s General Store in Rolleston for 49 years, and both still man the check-out counter on a daily basis.

Norma’s mother was among the first British settlers to set foot in the region, and you can trace both the pair’s families, the Priddles and the Eyles, back to the mid-1800s in the local cemetery.

In 1856, a young British settler named Thomas Eyles arrived in Rolleston, then called Brown Town, for the first time, and set himself the task of building a general store.

In 1929 the store was purchased by Harry Moir, who later sold it to Elsie Hodgson, who in turn sold it to John and Norma Lowth.

Norma, as it turns out, is the great-great granddaughter of Thomas Eyles.

She is quick to say that the recent December floods are by far the biggest either of them had seen, comparing the water heights to those imagined in a story she has heard chronicling another large flood pre-1895.

Nevertheless, on the night the Comet River came creeping up the town streets, there was a sense she had seen it all before.

“I slept through the whole night,” Norma said. “When there is a flood in Rolleston everyone heads down to the river, coming and going all the time and I just took no notice.

“But when I got up the next morning and looked out the window I saw what was left of Shane’s (her cousin) house just poking out the top of the water.

“I think I was shellshocked for about three days after that.”

John nostalgically remembered the floods of the 1950s, and talked of a time when country towns were self-sufficient and everyone baked their own bread.

“I remember the day when we used to make our own ice-cream,” he said.

“It was a luxury back then to have ice cream… It’s a different story nowadays.”

Norma admitted finding the period of isolation after the recent flood a little stressful, when she worried about keeping supplies up in town.

“I think everyone was stressed and tired and we couldn’t get out of the place for well over a month,” she said.

“I hate it when the river comes up because I get really claustrophobic. It was very traumatic for those who had their home flooded.”

She said she was thankful for all the help she received from friends during the crisis.

When asked about the affects of the town being cut off she whispered with a chuckle: “Maybe just a bit more inter-tribal warfare than usual.”

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