After securing the first pastoral claim in the area in 1879, Abraham Wallace travelled from the Darling Downs in NSW to Bowen Downs in QLD where he and his nephew, J.H Palmer, purchased 2,728 head of cattle. They drove the mob around the gulf and down the Roper to Stanley Billabong at Warloch Ponds – named after surveyor Gilbert McMinn horse – Elsey station was established.
Wallace committed suicide eight years later and a succession of owners took on Elsey Station before a new manager Aeneas Gunn, and his bride Jeannie arrived in 1902, Tragically , Aeneas died of malarial dysentry on the 16th March 1903, and was buried in a small cemetery close to the homestead. Jeannie left Elsey and returned south, but the Territory remained in her. She wrote of her time here, and of the characters that have become famous through her now classic work “We of the Never Never.
“The Railway Arrives” In 1907 a bill had been prepared to pave the way for an extension of the railway south to Bitter Springs but arguments over the route saw the project delayed until 1926. The railway line opened here on the 1st of July 1928 but even then the Never Never line as it became known, ended at Birdum, eighty km from here in 1929. It was literally the end of the line. But Mataranka was here to stay. Giruth had already promoted it as the future capital of the Northern Australia and in 1927 the town site was surveyed and streets named after some of Jeannie Gunns Characters. Among the population of 152 persons here in 1929 were some enterprising Chinese storekeepers, including Charlie On and Mrs Fisher who ran a boarding house and later after extensions became the Elsey Inn and now remains a land mark in Mataranka – The Mataranka Hotel
“Wartime” Over 100 units served at Mataranka during World War 11- headquarters, a hospital, depots ammunition dumps, abbattoirs, workshops and even a sawmill driven by an old steam engine. The Native affairs branch also ran an Aboriginal compound nearby and from there men and women were assigned work with the Australian services, earning high regard for their skills. From 1943 Brigadier Dollery and men of NT Force undertook work at Elsey Cemetery. A memorial to Jeannie Gunn was installed next Aenea’s grave, some works to other graves carried out and an arched gateway was completed in 1944. They also buried the remains of a number of Jeannie’s characters there – Henry Peckham “the Fizzer”, “Happy Dick”, Jack Grant “Horse Teams”, and :the Dandy”.
Tom Pearce, “Mine Host”, was buried there in 1952. These characters lie together in what is an evocative part of the Territory’s History.
“The Thermal Springs” During the war years one of the many soldiers who visited the springs, Victor Smith, saw the potential as a tourist spot. Returning in 1946, Smith setup a resort close to the 1916 homestead erected for the sheep station and by 1949 he had erected 17 cabins and was serving travellers. It has since been in the hands of a number of interests and has become one of the Territory’s most popular spots.