Thursday, August 24, 2023


Mackay and Whitsunday Life

150 Years Of Family Farm History

Mackay’s oldest family-held farm celebrated 150 years last week, with family, friends and special guests gathering on the property to mark the occasion on Saturday, August 12.

The farm, named ‘Etowri’ after an aboriginal word said to mean ‘a good place to camp’, was purchased by Edward Denman for £214 on August 8, 1873, eleven years after the first settlement at Mackay.

150 years later, the 597-acre farm is owned by Edward’s grandson, Robert, and Robert’s son, David, and is recognised as one of the leading farms in the region for cattle and cane production.

Approximately 150 guests from as far as Melbourne, Newcastle, Sydney and Cairns travelled to Etowri to celebrate.

Robert Denman is the longest serving family member to have worked on his family farm Etowri, working on the property for 70 years since the age of 15.

He said life on the farm is varied and no two days are the same.

“I get up in the morning and I just start working,” he said.

“That’s what you’ve got to keep doing.

“You never know when you’re farming and you’ve got cane and cattle.

“You do what you’ve got to do.”

Robert joined family, friends and special guests last weekend to celebrate 150 years of Etowri, marking the occasion with speeches, historical displays and demonstrations.

Robert’s grandfather, Edward, left England in 1872, travelling to Rockhampton and Brisbane before ultimately selecting to purchase and settle on 597 acres of land approximately 9.5 miles, or 16km, from Mackay.

With no roads accessing the property, a track was cut from Richmond to Etowri using a horse and plough with a second track cut to access a butcher at Glendaragh (Glenella).

The diverse farm has served many purposes, with Edward originally planting maize before growing fruit and distilling his own rum.

The Denman’s then moved into cattle and cane, becoming heavily involved in Farleigh Mill, Mackay Show Society and other agricultural organisations.

“We’ve been a leader in the industry,” said Robert.

“I’ve been involved in the board of the Farleigh Mill, my father was on the board of Farleigh Mill, my grandfather was involved in milling.

“And ever since the inception of the show in 1897, I’d say there’d have been someone from the family on the show committee.”

The farm was the first in the region to have silos and chainsaws, as it also housed a dairy and a timber mill over the years, previously providing firewood to Farleigh Mill.

Robert is Mackay born and bred and was destined to a life on the land.

“In my lifetime, I’ve moved 400 metres from the corner down there to here,” he said.

He attended Etowri State School, which was located near the house and closed in 1953, before leaving school to work on the farm at age 15.

While life on the farm may seem tough, Robert said he’s loved every minute of it.

“I’ve been buried in trenches, come off horses, severely burnt, I’ve been through it all,” he said.

“It’s been a great life.

“Not many people have been employed at the same place for 70 years.”

Thanks to his involvement in the show society, Rotary Club of Mackay and Lifeline as well as Farleigh Mill, Mackay Rural Production Society and other organisations, Robert was named Mackay Regional Council’s Citizen of the Year in 2018.

With no plans to hang up the boots, Robert looks after everything on the farm, from fencing to bookwork, but hopes to pass these responsibilities onto his son, David, while continuing to work on the land.

Jim Denman, Mackay Regional Council Mayor Greg Williamson, Robert Denman, David Denman, Donald Denman and Member for Whitsunday Amanda Camm. Photo credit: Deanne Woods Photography

Jim Denman, Helen Heron (nee Denman), Heather Denman, Robert Denman and Donald Denman

Brothers Donald and Robert Denman showcased their crosscut saw abilities.

150 guests gathered to celebrate. Photo credit: Deanne Woods Photography

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