Art Centre(s): Other
Biography: ‘They called him King of the Canning …’ (Jeffrey James, 2007).
Wally Dowling is probably the best-known drover in the Canning Stock Route’s history. Born in Northam in 1910, he began his droving apprenticeship in Meekatharra at age 14. He made the first of many trips down the stock route in about 1931, when it was reopened after reconditioning. His death in 1959 marked the end of droving on the stock route.
Wally Dowling’s colourful lifestyle appealed to the popular imagination, and he received a great many column inches in newspapers of the time. He inspired equally strong reactions among the Aboriginal people he worked with and encountered on the route — he was loved and loathed. Most of the artists, whose first encounters with white men took place on the stock route, vividly remember him.
A bush poet, and emergency dentist and doctor to his stockmen, Wally once set his own broken leg with a cast made of greenhide (untanned bullock skin). He extracted teeth by tying them with string to an iron bucket and dropping it down a well.
But Wally Dowling was also known as a hard man, with his revolver ‘Little Bertha’ always at the ready. He reputedly robbed many Aboriginal men of their wives, ‘He had his revolver all the time. No smile on him. He been a rough bloke, and he wanted a black woman’ (Anga Friday Jones, 2007).
In about 1941 Wally Dowling found a baby suckling its dead mother’s breast. One of his stockwomen fed the baby camel milk, and Wally named the infant Pelican because, ‘his beak could hold more than his stomach’. By the time he was 16, Pelican was Wally’s head stockman.
Wally found another child in 1953. Although initially unwilling to take him on, he changed his mind when the three-year-old put his arms around his neck. Wally named him Churchill. Wally’s son, Bob Stretch, grew up at Moola Bulla station with his mother, Lanyina.
According to Martumili artist Jeffrey James, boss drover Wally Dowling held his stockman, Ben Taylor, responsible for laying dingo baits on the stock route that led to the poisoning of Aboriginal people. Desert people believed that the baits had been deliberately laid in retaliation for their having hunted working camels. ‘They were chucking poison baits on this Canning [Stock Route]. So this youngfella here, Walapayi, he pick up the meat, poison bait. Soon as [head drover] Wally Dowling hear that people nearly died, he kicked Ben Taylor out for a while, ‘Never do that. Never!’ He used to chuck poison to the people, you know. Well, Walapayi pick up the bait anyway, and he nearly died’ (Jeffrey James, 2007).
Wally’s death in 1959 marked the end of the droving era on the Canning Stock Route. ‘Wally died in [Mistake] Creek; he had a bad flu. He went holiday with his camel. One of the tourists find that camel, took the hobbles off and ring to Billiluna, ‘Wally die!’ The camel walked all the way back. Halls Creek rang up, ‘Camel just going through!’ Next day, Ruby Plains rang up, ‘They on their way to Billiluna!’ I was there. I open the gate. That it. The road was closed. No more droving’ (Jeffrey James, 2007).
Photograph date: 1957
Photography copyright: © People Magazine
Source: Images - Multimedia + Sig Piece
Accession ID: 20131016_FORM_MIRA_B0090_0100
Provenance: This material is sourced from Ngurra Kuju Walyja — the Canning Stock Route Project, which was initiated in 2006 by FORM and developed in partnership with Birriliburu, Kayili, KALACC, Mangkaja, Martumili, Ngurra, Papunya Tula, Paruku IPA, Warlayirti and Yulparija artists and art centres.