Discovering some family history in Cobar

Family history is fascinating.

I’ve always know that one of my ancestors on my dad’s side discovered copper in Cobar but hadn’t really looked into it and it’s a really good story.

After a great nights camp at the Old Reservoir we packed up, got going about 9am and headed into town. I’m pleased to say the boys slept really well in their swags. Ben said it was really warm and toasty in there. It was pretty cold last night so if they manged to have a cosy nights sleep they’ll be right for the rest of the trip.

First stop was for fuel. We drove along the Main Street and I pointed out the Great Western Hotel, which claims to have the longest verandah in the Southern Hemisphere, and the Grand Hotel which has a ‘big’ Tooheys beer can on its verandah roof.

We utilised the new caravan parking spaces opposite the Cobar Heritage Centre. This great new facility has parking, a dump point, a water tap and a central area with shade shelters and picnic tables. All of this was still under construction last time we were there.

The Heritage Centre reopened in November 2021 after extensive renovations. The entry houses the tourist information centre. We were charged $20 as a family to enter the exhibition. I was pleased at the standard of the museum. It is very well laid out with exhibits about the discovery of copper and the impact that had, upstairs are a couple of rooms with objects from daily life of the old timers such as a bed, a sewing machine, pram, crib, and even some toys.

Outside is a fabulous exhibit of a railway carriage that was the Royal Far West Baby Health Clinic. You can walk through the carriage and see where the doctors and nurses lived and worked as they visited outback towns along the railway line. This would have been an amazing service to remote outback communities.

We all had a bit of a laugh when we found a gas fridge in the little kitchen. It was the same as the one in our Brumby View cabin at Mikala. Ours still works well and is in use each time we are there.

Anyway back to the family history story. My great great great grandparents Carl Emilius and Karen Maria Frederikke Dorthea Kempf lived in Denmark. They had 8 children.

Their eldest was a daughter Johanna Coraline Poulson Kempf and she moved to the USA.

Their third child Ferdinand Emilius Kempf (1839-1883) moved to Australia in 1859 when he was just 19 years old.

Their second child Joannes Carl Kempf and his sisters Marie Sophie, Olivia Ricki Wilhemina and Laura Henriette all migrated to Australia in 1872.

Olivia Riki Wilhelmina Kempf married Irishman George Leslie Hunter and their daughter Laura Frederika Hunter married Tomas Peadar Larsen, another Dane. Laura and Tomas were parents of my grandmother Grace Effie Cecilia Larsen who married Robert Malcom Budd.

When the Kempf’s moved to Australia some of them Anglicised their names and used the surname Campbell. Ferdinand Emilius Kempf became known as Charles Campbell.

Charles was a bricklayer, having completed his apprenticeship in Denmark before coming to Australia. He and another Dane, Thomas Alfred Hartman and George Gibb had a business travelling western NSW and sinking tanks. Riley, Ben and Maddie wanted to know what ‘sinking a tank’ meant and luckily there was an old photo in the Hertiage Centre of a 4 horse team pulling a scoop and I could show them how a tank (a large dam) was built back then.

The team were working sinking tanks when floods came and the Darling River overflowed its banks and flooded the land for miles. No work was going to happen until the floodwater receded so the team headed south guided by two Aborigines, Frank and Boney. The team was lead to a natural waterhole called by the natives, Kubbar. It was here that the men found some green rocks. They took some samples with them and continued on their journey southwards

They stopped at Gilgunnia and it was here that the wife of the publican, a woman from Cornwall, recognised the ore and said in her broad Cornish accent ‘thart be copper’.

All plans of tank sinking were forgotten and the party set off at once for Bourke to lodge a claim. Campbell, Hartman and Gibb and the Postmaster at Bourke, a Mr Joseph Becker JP lodged a mining claim for 40 acres around Kubbar waterhole and so began the Great Cobar Mine.

We all enjoyed our visit to the Cobar Heritage Centre and the park across the road that includes the Cobar Miners Memorial. This is a sobering display of all those who’ve died in the mines in and around Cobar. A stark reminder that mining is a dangerous activity.

Whilst we were getting ready to depart a convoy of huge trucks went by. There were escort vehicles front and rear. The two big low loaders were each carrying the tray of a huge mining truck. Just the tray….not the truck it belonged to. They are huge!

It was time to continue our journey and we headed west towards Wilcannia. A short stop at a rest area for a lunch break saw the kids come and ask me to make ham & cheese toasties. I must make them better than mum!

Whilst at the rest stop the big trucks carrying the mining truck trays went by and the kids ran out and waved their arms to the truckies. They were thrilled when the truckies tooted their air horns in response and the kids jumped up and down and shouted yay.

Continuing on further west and we were surprised how green the countryside was. The recent rains meant there was green grass all around instead of the usual red dirt. Of course the scrubby trees and saltbush were still there but they were now surrounded by a sea of green.

Stopping in Wilcannia gave the kids a chance to burn off some energy and they quickly headed to the playground and were up the rope climber quick as a wink. Rich and I were surprised by the high level of water in the Darling River. We’d never seen it that high before.

We caught up to the big rigs carrying the dump truck trays as we came into Wilcannia and we were right behind one of them as it crossed the bridge over the Darling River. It took up the entire bridge. All traffic was brought to a halt as it crossed over. What a sight to see.

After burning off steam we got the kids scooters out so they could scoot along to the various sites I wanted them to visit so I could tell them a little history of Wilcannia. They were amazed to learn that Wilcannia was once Australia’s third largest port and was once a boom town with 30-40 stage coaches arriving each day carrying goods and passengers. I think they found it hard to think of that when looking around at the dilapidated buildings.

We continued on and finally pulled up at Spring Hills Rest Area about half way between Wilcannia and Broken Hill. There were already a few vans and a motorhome pulled up but it looked like a reasonable spot and we could have a fire.

The kids quickly made use of the playground but were helpful setting up camp. The boys were great at getting their swags ready for the night. They’ll be experts by the end of our trip!

It was Katie’s turn to cook and our dinner this night was nachos. They were delicious. We enjoyed our dinner sitting by our little campfire with the occasional big rig going by on the highway. Most of the big rigs going by on this stretch have been road trains. Not many B Doubles along this highway. The rest area is at the bottom of a hollow and the big rigs thunder by in both directions as they are coming down and going back up a hill on either side. As I wrote this it was 8.45pm and the big rigs had stopped going by. They must have been catching up on sleep somewhere. I was sure they would start up again in the morning.

All the other RV’ers had gone into their vans and not many had lights on. Early to bed for this lot.


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