"The Mayor of Conargo"
Bradley A. Chalmers – The Sunlit Plains
Lionel Pottinger, nicknamed "Manny" by his father (a name he carried for life) was born about 1903. According to an article about Pottinger written shortly before his death... "Mr. Pottinger came to be known as the Mayor of Conargo because he is the township's most solid citizen and his origins date back to its foundation." Pottinger's maternal great grandparents (McKenzie) were responsible for opening the original Conargo Inn in 1858, and in 1867 the Billabong Hotel was opened a short distance away by David Rogers; a son-in-law of William McKenzie. Rogers' daughter Flora (reputed to have planted the gnarled old peppercorn trees which still surround the hotel) later married Frederick Pottinger. Flora later sold her half share in the Billabong Hotel to her brother Ronald Rogers about 1889, and it was said that Frederick Pottinger "became more intrigued by the new fangled things called windmills than running a hotel. His skills were so great that Willurah asked him to be the windmill man full time." The scene was set therefore for a career in windmills for his son Manny Pottinger, later referred to by many as "the windmill man." As a boy of twelve years of age Pottinger and a mate had the job of rounding up the fresh horses for the coach change, for the sum of a shilling per week each, and he also could recall the destruction of the original Conargo Store by fire in December 1910 (in which the first Conargo Shire meeting was held in 1906).
After leaving school Pottinger worked as a station hand at Zara, and commenced working with windmills in 1931 at Boonoke, where he "went for a fortnight and stayed for twenty years." After two decades with Falkiner's, Pottinger branched out on his own where his skills were in demand far and wide, and extended to areas north to Stud Park North and Goolgumbla, west as far as Baldon Station at Moulamein, south-west to Bunnaloo and Mathoura, and south-east to Tuppal. His hand written notes can still be seen scribbled in pencil on windmill sails throughout the extended district. His workshop at Conargo was a district landmark (still standing on the Carrathool Road behind the original Inn site) which was a Cobb & Co. change stables constructed of drop pine logs. In 1986 Pottinger stated that the landmark building had been "there 130 years and its timbers are as sound as the day it was built," — thus indicating it was built at about the same time as the Conargo Inn in 1858. Meanwhile in 1960 Philip Rose, a son of another well-known Conargo identity Bill Rose, commenced work with Manny Pottinger, with whom he remained for 13 years learning the tricks of the trade, before joining Falkiner's (by then owned by Cleckheaton) at Boonoke in August 1973. Phil Rose, along with Graeme Norris are today the longest serving employees of F.S. Falkiner & Sons — having worked through the ownership of three separate entities; Fred James' Cleckheaton, Rupert Murdoch's News Limited, and now the Bell Group of Companies.
Lionel "Manny" Pottinger, the legendary "windmill man" passed away in 1986. Typical of so many unsung heroes of the back country who went about their business with a minimum of fuss, a fitting epitaph was penned shortly after his death ... "You won't find the Mayor of Conargo climbing windmills anymore. He put a stop to that in 1983 when he retired. That was after 53 years of fixing windmills and sinking bores. He had turned 80 and that was time to knock off. His sudden death... cast a shadow over his home village of Conargo and much farther afield. Everyone in the big merino stud country knew Manny Pottinger and (there was nothing) to impede the status of the fine man who did so much for the wool industry in a completely unnoticed way... By his own admission he never owned a sheep... but his contribution to the industry has been as signal as it has been long. Anyone who sticks to one occupation for more than half a century and wins the respect of everyone must have done something meritorious ..." The same could be said for scores of devoted men and women on stations who are the real backbone of the sheep and wool industry, which would not exist to create the wealth without their expertise.
As an employee of F.S. Falkiner & Sons during the Depression, Manny Pottinger years later gave an enlightening impression of the Falkiner family and their benevolent attitude towards the people of Conargo during those difficult times... "Otway Falkiner was a Jekyll and Hyde. He could be as compassionate as he was flamboyant. During the 1930's when unemployed men were walking the outback roads in droves, Otway left orders that no-one was to be turned away from Boonoke empty handed. (He) set aside quarters for swagmen and gave instructions that they were to be fed and supplied before they went on their way... Stories abound about the generosity and compassion of the Falkiner's to the people of Conargo. During the Depression, and even when times were better, they would not allow any of the locals to be crushed by misfortune. Mrs Pottinger... spoke with feeling of their (Falkiner's) personal concern for people of lesser means than their own ..."
Meanwhile, Pottinger's famous Cobb & Co. stables later attracted the attention of the Conargo Shire. On 8th August 2000 the Pastoral Times reported that... "Preserving History. A piece of Conargo's history could soon be protected by a heritage listing. The Cobb & Co. stable is about 130 years old but at present has no formal heritage status to protect it against demolition or development. The issue of protecting the stables was discussed at a meeting of Conargo Shire Council last month. Councillors were concerned that the stable was not protected. Shire Engineer Colin Sandford said a heritage study would formalise the status of the stables. This would involve appointing a heritage officer to investigate heritage structures in the shire ... Owner of the stable is Mrs. Jean Pottinger, who took over the stables in 1927... According to her son, John Pottinger, the Cobb & Co. stable has always been in the family. Years ago, when the stage coach passed through Conargo, horses would be changed at the stable. Mr. Pottinger remembers when the teamsters were pulled up, they would race over to the hotel and buy a billy of beer for sixpence... "
Lifelong Conargo resident, Lionel Eldred Pottinger, died in the Deniliquin Hospital last Monday (2/6/86), at the age of 82.
Mr Pottinger, who was known to all as Manny, was born in Deniliquin on December 23, 1903. His family owned two hotels at Conargo and as a boy he attended the Conargo and George Street schools. His first job was as a station hand. on Quiamong, which was owned at the time by Percy Landale.
Over the years, he also worked on Wanganella Station, Zara and Boonoke.
In 1951, he set up his own windmill repair business which he continued to operate until ill health forced him to retire at the age of 80.
His expertise with windmills was acknowledged far and wide, so much so that in 1982 the head of the ABC Rural Division, Colin Munro, selected him for an interview on Australia All Over.
Mr Pottinger married his wife, Jean, in the Deniliquin Uniting Church on August 27, 1927.
They had four children, Betty, Doreen, Janice and John.
Betty died three years ago, just before Mr Pottinger's 80th birthday.
According to Mrs Pottinger, her husband was always happy in Conargo.
"We never thought of leaving, we had a happy life here and I don't think I'll leave now either," she said.
"Manny was always active and he was really quite well until the last few weeks".
"He drove into Deniliquin about a week before he died you know. Work and his home were his life."
Mr Pottinger was buried in the Deniliquin lawn cemetery last Wednesday, after a service in the Uniting Church.
The Wool Barons – Terry McGoverne
Everyone in the big Merino stud country knew Manny Pottinger. He died in 1986 after 60 years of service to sheep breeding. In his home village of Conargo and far beyond he was known to all as a fine man who did so much for the wool industry in a completely unnoticed way.
Had you wanted to meet him you would have looked to his home sitting on a sandhill beside the Conargo Uniting Church. One might well ask what Manny had to do with the wool industry or the breeding of fine Merinos. By his own admission he had never owned a sheep and in the twilight of his life he did not aspire to such ownership. But his contribution to the industry had been as signal as it had been long.
Anyone who clings to one occupation for more than half a century and wins the respect of everyone must have done something meritorious. Mr. Pottinger's specialty was servicing hundreds of windmills and bores which kept the water up to millions of sheep on the vast Southern Riverina plains where summer is a furnace and winter chills the bones.
Manny went by many nicknames Mr. Windmill, Mr. Fixit, Mr. Mayor, Mr. Obliging, Mr. No Trouble at All. Even his first name was an invention. His dad had always called him Manny because as a little fellow he was so manful even though he had been christened Lionel. Mr. Pottinger came to be known as the mayor of Conargo because he was the township's most solid citizen and his origins dated back to its foundation.
But the Pottinger name traced back several more generations to great grandfather, Lord Pottinger, who came to Australia with instructions to get hold of the bushrangers by the scruff of the neck and put them where they belonged. Being a man of deep-seated shyness, Manny preferred not to talk about his noted forbears. Having had little to do with lords and ladies himself, he never mentioned the illustrious connections. He was happy to be known as the windmill man.
He knew the windmills in all their shapes and sizes, foibles and failings. He mastered them all — from the first Alstons, the Webb, the Bryant and the still-turning Southern Cross. The windmills and his work in keeping them going had an incalculable but largely overlooked influence on the stud and commercial Merino industry.
Without the windmills it would have been little short of murder to have turned sheep loose into those paddocks whose boundaries were nowhere in sight. Introduced about the turn of the century, the windmills largely eliminated the risk of sheep dying of thirst. Had they not been there, the task of keeping stock within range of a drink would have been arduous indeed and it is a constant source of amazement as to how the big-spread sheepmen of the last century supplied water to their flocks.
Manny, had he wanted, could have followed a much easier way of earning his bread than clambering up and down windmills, many of which stand 20m above the ground. More than one man has been killed or maimed in the outback after a clout from behind by the tailpiece or flailing vanes of a windmill. Moreover, the maintenance and repair of such unyielding equipment in the middle of summer had always been an uncommonly sweaty job where the lunchtime breaks inevitably meant black grease on the sandwiches to say nothing of the pesky little black flies for which the bush is infamous.
Manny could have settled for the much easier life of being mine host at the Conargo Hotel. That worthy establishment had been in the family since the first bush inn began dispensing ale to passers-by about 130 years ago. It is recorded on the facade of the Conargo Hotel that it was established in 1853. But according to Manny that was wrong. More likely it was 1858, if Mr. Pottinger knew anything about the local history, which he did in abundance.
His great grandparents were responsible on the maternal side for starting that pub. They also opened its rival, the Billabong Hotel, and had a hand in a third which, according to the historian John Bushby, author of Saltbush Country, replaced the first inn, which was very much a shanty of a thing. John Grant McKenzie and his brother, William, secured 328 acres at Conargo Point on which they built the Billabong Hotel in 1858. They must have done good business because they opened another across the road on land which fronted Quiamong Station. Then in 1867, David Rogers, a nephew by marriage of the McKenzies, opened the third hotel, also known as the Billabong, which soon replaced the first.
In the fullness of time, when the McKenzies and Rogers passed their assets on, they came into the hands of Manny's father, who closed the Conargo Hotel and renamed the Billabong the Conargo, which is the one everyone drinks at today. It may be easier to understand all of that after one have had a few drinks. As to the date on the facade, it was chosen by the late Neville Lodge, an earlier proprietor. Manny once asked Mr. Lodge how he had arrived at the date. He said he just knew. Probably no one cares whether it is right or wrong so long as the beer is the right temperature in mid summer.
Those who stop off for a drink may be interested to know that Manny's mother planted the trees outside the hotel and in the 100 years that have elapsed, they have taken on that remarkably gnarled appearance which is so much a characteristic of the trunks of old pepper trees. They are starkly beautiful, as are the ones in front of the first Conargo Hotel. They are even older and more gnarled and make a charming frontage to the quaint Conargo Post Office, which is tucked away behind them and has also been there for 100 years and then some.
As for the old pub, its original structure is still there and occupied by an elderly local resident. Alongside it is the Cobb and Co stable, where horses would change on the stage journey between Jerilderie and Deniliquin. According to Manny, the stable has been there at least 130 years and its timbers are as sound as the day it was built. Visitors often stop by to take photographs and marvel at the ingenuity of the tradesmen who built it. Manny well remembers the coaches pulling up and horses being changed.
As a boy of 12 he and a mate had the job of rounding up fresh horses to be used to take the coaches on. They got a shilling a week each for doing that. His childhood was full of happy episodes, not the least being the fire which destroyed the first Conargo store. He and a friend were wrestling in the hotel lounge when, during a lull in the fight, his mate looked out the window and yelled: "Look, the store is on fire." The pair were out the door in a flash and across the road where volunteers were simultaneously going at the flames and hurling what merchandise they could out on to the road. Manny and friend got more lollies out of that fire than they ever saw again. Manny's father was Frederick, who became more intrigued by the new fangled things called windmills than running a hotel. His skills were so great that Willaura (sic) stud, owned by the Lamb family, asked him to be the windmill man full time. There were more than 100 windmills on that stud, which spread out over 140,000 acres. Frederick Pottinger lived to be 97 and was so much smitten by the work bug that he was a reluctant retiree. When Manny left school he got a job on Zara as a station hand. Zara is part of the Boonoke empire made famous by the Falkiner family.
He started fixing windmills at Boonoke in 1931 and stayed with the Falkiners for 20 years before going out on his own. Everyone was thankful for that because if anyone could make a wonky windmill run smoothly it was Manny Pottinger. In his time at Boonoke he got to know the Falkiners well, especially Otway, the startling personality who would do the most outrageous things. As Manny saw him, Otway was a Jekyll and Hyde. He could be as compassionate as he was flamboyant. During the 1930s, when unemployed men were walking the outback roads in droves, Otway left orders that no one was to be turned away from Boonoke empty handed. Indeed, Falkiner set aside quarters for swagmen and gave instructions that they were to be fed and supplied before they went on their way. Manny contrasted Otway's open handedness with the meanness of many other runholders, who would hunt the swagmen off their places and give them nothing.
Stories abound about the generosity and compassion of the Falkiners to the people of Conargo. During the Depression and even when times were better, they would not allow any of the locals to be crushed by misfortune. Mrs. Pottinger is also a Falkiner admirer. She excused their wildness and spoke with feeling of their personal concern for people of lesser means than their own. Mrs. Pottinger cannot be left out of the picture because she has been such a stalwart of the district. So much so that in 1983, the Conargo Shire declared her citizen of the year for her personal work for the community.
With a husband like Manny she just had to be infected with the work ethic. The couple had been together for 58 years and were the guests of honour at a Conargo fling when they posted their golden wedding. They were top people and typical of those who keep the Australian bush ticking. They lived in a simple house Manny's father built. Part of the cladding was corrugated iron common on houses in Western NSW. Manny recalled how they moved into the house in 1927 and during the first winter would wake up in the morning to find ice in the kitchen water basin. Thanks to the speed of a Melbourne Cup winner, Marabou, Manny was able to change that. In 1935 he drew Marabou in a sweep at Boonoke and won ten pounds — about three weeks pay in those days. He spent the money on enough plywood to line the kitchen ceiling.
Mrs. Pottinger has gone the whole distance with a wood stove and over the years has put a fair few trees through its little firebox. In the process she has turned out exquisite meals that people in the know will testify come from such primitive apparatus. Manny gave one pound for the first stove his wife ever used. The same thing now costs at least $50 if you can buy one for barbecue purposes.
During the hard Depression years and for some time after, Mrs. Pottinger would make all the bread her four children could eat.
Even after he had retired because of a wonky heart, Manny Pottinger kept on going. People with windmill problems would come to visit him. They just happened to leave bits and pieces behind for him to fix. He was a remarkable old gentleman. He read without glasses, drove a ute, had long slender hands which spoke for themselves about their owner's manual skills.
He was altogether a top advertisement for the care his wife had showered on him and the advantages of working hard in the bush. He reckoned his father had killed himself by hard work — a statement not easy to take considering he lived to be 97. Manny was a marvelous example of the fine people who occupy the big Merino country. One won't find many slackers in the bush. It comes as a pleasure to spend time with any of them.
Jean is Conargo's pillar of strength
Deniliquin Pastoral Times, 16 July 1985
For 58 years Lionel and Jean Pottinger have been living next door to the little church on the sandhill at Conargo.
It is a quaint little building, set on the outskirts of the village.
It was built in 1914 for the Presbyterian Church but is now used by both Uniting and Anglican parishioners.
Since Mrs Pottinger first saw it, she took it upon herself to take care of the premises.
"It is a dear little building," she said. "And I love going to church. It doesn't matter what religion is taught in the building, I usually attend the monthly meetings."
Mrs Pottinger cleans the building, arranges fresh flowers before church services, and she and her husband also take care of the surrounding gardens.
"It is a pity the building is not used much anymore," she said.
"There is too much sport organised on Sundays these days, and with faster cars it is easier for people to get around than when I first came to Conargo."
In 1983 Mrs Pottinger was awarded the Conargo citizen of the year for her contribution to the local community.
She has served on the tennis committee, helped organise gymkhanas in the earlier years and has been secretary of the Conargo P and C Association for 22 years.
'But I have been a member of the association for much longer," she said.
"l really enjoy working for the school. "It is only small, but we have some very dedicated people in the district who work together to raise money for the school."
Although Mrs Pottinger's children have long left school, she has no intention of resigning from her position.
"It is a job I treasure."
Before marrying her husband 58 years ago, Mrs Pottinger worked as a cook at Boonoke and later at the local store.
"Not much has changed in Conargo over the years," she said.
'The highlight of our lives was when electricity was laid on about 15 years ago.
"Then everything became so much more comfortable.
"Instant light and warmth was a luxury to us which people living elsewhere took for granted.
"The greatest treat was having a refrigerator which did not defrost in summer.
'Before electricity came we had a kerosene fridge which had the habit of defrosting the moment it got over 100 degrees outside."
Mrs Pottinger said the social life at Conargo had also changed slightly.
"We still get together, but formerly everyone who lived in Conargo also worked in the village.
"But now everyone travels faster, and it takes only a few minutes to get to Deniliquin where there is more work opportunity," the youthful couple said.