Keeping our history alive: the Burgum Story

North Maleny school on its way to new position as High School Top, 1954 Image Maleny Historical Society

North Maleny school on its way to new position as High School Top, 1954 Image Maleny Historical Society

by Dale Jacobsen

Some local families have been part of this land since the 1800s, with tales of hardship, tragedy, adventure and perseverance. Learning these nuggets from the past is always something special, and Dale Jacobsen recently met with the great-granddaughter of one Hinterland pioneer to hear their slice of history.

Four-year-old Cosette Weitemeyer struggled to keep up as her family climbed Remington’s Schute, despite the load of roofing iron her mother carried on her back. Thorvald and Jane had bought land on Razorback (now Montville) – the first white people to settle in the area. The year was 1887. While they had travelled, first by train to Burpengary, then horseback to their new land, their provisions had to be shipped to Maroochydore and left on the rafting grounds at Eudlo Creek.

But Richard Remington could only transport their belongings to the foot of the range, so the family shared the load scrambling up the rough track to their home. The following year Jane gave birth to Henry (Harry) – the first white baby born at Razorback. Within six years, overwhelmed by life, Jane Weitemeyer would be dead.

Jane’s great-granddaughter, Dell Somerville, tells the story of how Cosette met and married William Burgum 20 years after her climb up the steep slopes of the Blackall Range. “They moved into a slab house on the banks of Obi Obi Creek which ran through grandfather’s 400-acre dairy property. Eventually they built a farmhouse that is still there. They had five kids, William, Mary, Tom, Frank (my father) and Ray.”

Life, however, was not finished with Cosette. Tragedy struck once again when, during heavy rain, her husband and eldest son, aged 14, were rounding up their cows on the far side of the creek to bring them to shelter. William Jnr’s horse slipped in the flooded Obi and his father tried in vain to save him. It took the small community four days to find their bodies downstream beneath fallen logs.

“Nanna continued running the dairy farm, hand-milking twice a day, while raising her remaining four kids, plus a niece and nephew who now lived with them. She was a beautiful woman in every way,” said Dell.

Dell Somerville (nee Burgum) in her garden

Dell Somerville (nee Burgum) in her garden

Some years later, Cosette split the family farm either side of the Obi, and Dell’s father Frank, together with his brother Ray, chose the half on the Balmoral side. The farmhouse is still there, although a little worse for wear. Brother and sister, Tom and Mary, farmed the North Maleny side.

“When I was a little girl, I owned a pony called Macaroni. I would ride him from our farm, across the creek and up to Nanna’s house with Mum and Nanna watching from their verandahs until I arrived safely.”

When Tom returned from the war, he bought 600 acres of rainforest adjoining the farm which he cleared for farming. Needing access, he prepared a rough track that climbed down and up the hillside then, with just a shovel and wheelbarrow, cemented the track for wet-weather access. That track now bears his name: Burgum Road.

Chatting on her verandah on Bald Knob, overlooking a garden that would do any house proud, Dell continued telling me tales of what it was like to grow up on the Range in the days when the cream truck made its twice-daily trip around dairy farms.

“Our school bus was the cream truck. He would collect empty cans from the Butter Factory early in the morning and distribute them out as far as Landers Schute. With the truck empty, he laid wooden slates across the back for seats and collected the kids and delivered them to school in Cedar Street. In the afternoon, he did the reverse trip.”

When it came time for Dell to go to high school, she expected it would be at Nambour where she would need to board. “But in 1953 they closed the school at North Maleny where dad had gone. Over the holidays, they loaded it onto a truck and brought it down Teak Street and placed it beside the primary school. It was called High School Top.”

Dell left the family farm aged 17 to begin a lifelong career in nursing. It took her to New Guinea “where I married a bitumen cowboy in 1967,” laughed Dell. But Maleny kept calling her back.

“Whenever we were visiting Maleny, Matron at the hospital would find out and, often short-staffed, would bring me in, sometimes for six-month stints”.

She and Mal spent 27 years in Moranbah; he as an electrician in the coal mines; Dell as Matron for 10 years at the hospital before becoming district manager for the health area. They returned to Maleny for good in 1998.

These days, she devotes her time to the Anglican Church and organising rosters for Meals on Wheels. “I joined five minutes after settling permanently back here,” said Dell. “I love the connection with community.”

It is largely thanks to people like Dell, her husband Mal and the Maleny Historical Society that stories of our pioneers remain alive and remind us of the roots of our community.