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The Duracks of Argyle

The Argyle Homestead Museum offers a fascinating insight into the lives of the early pioneers in the Kimberley. Walk through the 1890s former home of the Duracks, who were a prominent pastoral family. Read more about the Durack family below and visit the Argyle Homestead Museum, situated 70km south of Kununurra on the Lake Argyle Road (500 meters before the Lake Argyle Resort).

Entry Fees:
Adults (15 yrs +) $7.50, Children (up to 14 yrs) $4.00
Family (2 Ad, 2 Ch) $15.00
Opening Hours: Monday to Sunday: 9am to 4pm, April to September inclusive.

It is recommended to enter before 3.30pm to have the time to experience everything the Museum has to offer.

P: 0891 67 8088 E:

October & November Coach/Group please contact: 
Kununurra Visitor Centre 
Ph: 08 9168 1177 E:


The Duracks

Generations of the Duracks were born around Magerareagh, which belonged to Galway in Western Ireland, until 1899 when it was moved within the boundary of Clare, and which they had to pay paid rent to some "upstart landlord".  It is told that the Duracks, as a Dalcassian family, had fought beside Brian Boru, High King of all Ireland, against the invading Danes.

In the Book of Ballymote, one of the world's oldest documents, the name is given as "O'Duraic of Dun Braine", and it is quoted in history of County Clare as amongst names existing before the fourteenth century was known as "O'Duracks".

When Henry VIII set about the conquest of the Irish nobility by granting confiscated monastic property to his supporters, created earls and granted further estates. At the same time Sheeda, head of the MacNamaras, was granted a knighthood with the land of Ogoneloe thrown in, so the O'Duracks, for their stubborn refusal to bend the knees to a Protestant overlord, not but were stripped of all privileges, at last even the O' prefix to their name. It is not to be supposed, however, that they settled down meekly under these humiliations. 
For thousands of years the Duracks had tilled their fields and pastured their stock on the green banks of the Shannon at Ogoneloe.

John Durack - of county Galway, married a Connemara lass Amy Forde (known as ‘Mammie Amy') in 1806 and they reared a large and sturdy family. "Himself" found compensation for the bitter restrictions of his tenancy in the production of a fine, fiery brew of ‘potheen', the proceeds of which he gambled on the turf or put to the breeding of hunting hounds and sold them to English squires.

He was killed (the vindictive ‘Red Mac' again!) in the hunting field shortly before the birth of his tenth child in 1829.

When the eldest son Michael, married Bridget Dillon in 1831, he took up a farm near the village on the Clare side of the Lough Derg, which land had been of the original family holding of Ogoneloe.

But it was an ill wind, for the bitter blight of 1845 that struck deeper at the roots of the Irish life. Never before were there so many people starving in the midst of plenty since cattle and other produce must be sold to meet the crippling rents and ‘famine rates' that was ‘squeezed' out of the tenants. Emigration was on everyone's lips.

In 1848, another son, Darby Durack married Margaret Kilfoyle and after scrapping together enough money and made an agreement to pay the rest of the dues after settlement, set sail on the ‘Duke of Roxborough' from Plymouth in 1849 to ‘the colony' with the opportunity awaited for any with a will to work in this great country.

Darby and Margaret Durack, nursing their infant Bridget, born on the voyage, looked on in bewilderment at this ‘new colony'.

On August 28, it was announced in the press that thirty-seven immigrants per ‘Duke of Oxenburg' were that day sent from the immigration barracks at Paramatta to the town of Goulburn, Darby with his wife and infant faced their first inland journey with mingled sensations of relief and apprehension.

As time went on they would know how much luck they had to find a home with James and Caroline Chisholm at Kippilaw estate.

By the end of 1852 Michael Durack also faced the fact that he and his family must emigrate or starve but they had virtually nothing with which to make even a small down payment on their fare. But with fate, (Patrick - known as Patsy) as a seventeen year old aided a rich Lordship and was rewarded with a sovereign which was told in later years, produced enough money from their rewards off their farm to emigrate them all to Australia.

Meanwhile, Darby Durack wrote to his brother Michael entreating his family to delay no longer. Mr Chisholm had promised them all employment, but he was not one to stand in a man's way when he wished to branch out for himself. In two years they might, between them, have saved enough to secure a small block and sufficient stock to make a modest start.

By 1853, Michael and his wife ‘Mammie' Amy and their seven children arrived in Australia.
"How soon you have become a colonial!" Michael told his brother when they met at last amid all the tears and embracing of ‘Irish reunion'. Plus he proudly told them, now he was a father of three children, the girl Bridget and two sons whom they had called John and Patrick, both born at Kippilaw.

Plans were made to divide the family for a time, since the invasion of nine newcomers was felt to be too great strain even on the well-known kindness of the Chisholms. Bridget Durack with the younger children was to remain with friends in Goulburn until after the birth of her eighth child. Poor Mary and Margaret were taken to positions as farm servants on a nearby property while young Patsy and his father returned with Darby to Kippilaw.

Michael and young Patsy, on returning back to the homestead after collecting a dray load of wood, a kangaroo startled the blinkered horse and at the same time Michael was hit by a piece of timber. He fell across the track, the dray lurched backwards and jolted over him with its crushing load. Michael died instantly, with the boy on his knees in the sand and his arms around the broken, lifeless body. He left a widow and eight children to deplore his loss.
Patsy, with the cares of the world on his shoulders, was a child one day and a man the next.

He quickly organized his family, the older girls in jobs not far from Goulburn, his bereaved mother with the younger children, including the new-born Jeremiah, and with Mr. Chisholm's blessing, his Uncle Darby's disapproval set out for the gold fields.

Patsy had made £1,000in eighteen months. Tempted to continue but had fixed goals and he stuck with them. ‘Satisfied' with the sum, returned back to Goulburn and eventually, with Darby obtained land on Dixon's Creek in the country of Argyle and settled into farming.

As life became established so the family's social activities expanded and during this time many family members were courting and marrying.

Mary was swept off her feet by the devil-may-care Dinnie Skehan and rode blithely off to the goldfields. Margaret had fallen in love with a young man named John Bennett, married, and with the priests blessing moved to Sydney. Bridget, the third girl, soon afterwards married a big Irish farmer named Pat Scanlan, who resided on land in the Argyle district.

Patsy Durack, at the age of 28, marries a pretty, spirited Irish girl named Mary Costello in the spring of 1862. Despite the fact she was a Protestant. But life in Goulburn, was providing insufficient outlets for his energy, land hunger and organising powers.

Much to Patsy's delight other branches of the Durack family had now came from Ireland, some to settle in the Bathurst district, others to go into a hotel business in Sydney.

For the years to follow, the Duracks were yearning to explore the vast land and to establish wool, but more so cattle properties of their own.

By 1883, two Durack brothers, Patsy and Stumpy Michael, completed a comprehensive exhibition covering Queensland, Northern Territory and finally the Ord River in the East Kimberley. The Duracks sought Alexander Forrest's advise and eventually became the lessees of big block of station properties: Ivanhoe, Argyle, Newry, Auvergne and Bullita.

After the death of his wife Mary, Patsy closest companion, was an Aboriginal man called "Pumpkin", who was Patsy's final confidant. He died in 1898.

Patsy's six living children would play their part in the new enterprise. In particular, he wanted his eldest son Michael Patrick (known as MP') and younger son John to succeed him. In 1886, the two sons, reluctant were impelled to follow their father's achievement. But in his heart MP was a scholar, not a natural cattlemen: only loyalty to his father's dream and a belief the stations would inevitably reap rewards bound him to the dynastic vision.

With the turning of the century comes other stories with the new generations of the Duracks.