I came across this amazing story about one of my cousins xx removed. I haven’t quite worked out the relationship yet! Colin Oliver Reed is not a direct blood descendant, due to a number of reasons, which I have yet to reveal, and have to think about the consequences if I do so. My great grandmother Christina Reed (nee Groch) was married to one of Colin’s fathers’ brother Henry Phillip Reed.
Reading about this amazing man in a family history book about the REED family, I felt I needed to record it. His story has been written up by a family member and an old friend, and recorded in a book about Thomas and Ann Odgers Reed (Auld, 1994), who migrated to Australia from Cornwall 14 June 1848 who resided first at Nairne and then Hawker in South Australia. Colin Oliver Reed’s father was Francis Phillips Reed, who was a son of Thomas and Ann.
Colin’s story is sad, yet interesting. As with many young men who went off to the First World War in 1915 aged 18 years. He served in France in the 5th Australian Machine Gun Battalion. On his return to Australia he recommenced his job as a saddler where he had commenced an apprenticeship with Mr Pyman in Hawker, South Australia, before the outbreak of the war. Colin was apparently severely shell shocked after his return. One can only imagine the emotional toll being in France in WW1 had taken on the young men who fought there. Coming from the quiet sleepy town of Hawker, situated in the beautiful outback area of South Australia called the Flinders Ranges, (where my own father was born), it must have been difficult for Colin to settle. Colin joined his brother (Cameron) working at a cattle station in Queensland called Arrabury.
The story of Colin’s departure from Hawker says that one day he got onto his horse, rode North out of town, and was never heard from again by family living in Hawker. Colin ended up living in a place called Windorah in 1933, also in Queensland. A woman called Nancy Geiger, who was the publican’s wife, befriended Colin. She stated that he had been known to live at Windorah for as long as people could remember. He lived on the outskirts of the town in an old tin hut. He hardly spoke to people, and had a particular dislike for anyone or anything German. A saddler by trade his passion was photography. It is said he spent every spare penny on photographic equipment and tools of the trade.
He had an old bicycle which he pedalled around the area taking photographs of “the crumbling relics of an old bush way of life”
His hut was like a monk’s cell. It was filled with old newspapers that he used as a primitive mattress for sleeping on. All he wore in winter or in summer was a singlet under a grey can’t-tear-‘ em shirt, no socks and a pair of sand shoes. He was terrified of fire, fearing it might burn down his hut filled as it was with his precious photographs. So he never cooked a hot meal or boiled a billy of tea, he always slept sitting upright against a couple of spokeless bicycle wheels padded with newspaper, listening to the radio. In later years he taped many commentators, angrily disagreeing with them when it suited him. Sadly a wild storm damaged Colin’s tin hut, tearing the roof off, and with the rain, much of his photographic collection was destroyed.
It was only after he became less able to care for himself that Nancy Geiger stepped into his life.
Nancy used to prepare a hot daily meal for him in his last years. She would take the meal to his hut and deliver it to him there. Asked why she devoted so much of her time to old Colin Reed, Nancy did not know how to explain her motives. “I think probably I needed him more than he needed me”, she replied, after a long thoughtful pause. “He gave me something, I suppose. Don’t ask me what it was though”, she added, a gentle self sustaining smile animating her face.
Perhaps it was the richness of Colin Reed’s inner life that drew Nancy to him. For she sensed in this man’s bizarre, often eccentric behaviour a spirit in the act of becoming itself. Possibly she recognised in him a ferment identical to that going on within herself, so that which began as a small daily chore taking him a hot meal, was in the end a ritual. Nancy’s increasing contact with Colin Reed only served to deepen her own understanding, to the point where these daily trips became a quiet, celebrative act in honour of this man’s quixotic vision of himself. In this way she was participating, like Colin Reed, in the task of discovering for herself what it is that makes ‘a good bushman’.
Colin became more and more feeble and was unable to care properly for himself. Nancy eventually persuaded Colin to go into town with her, where the Royal Flying Doctors were contacted and he was flown to Charleville Base Hospital where he died about a week later.
Knowing he wanted to be buried out Windorah way, Nancy’s husband and a friend collected his body and travelled the 300 km distance back so he could be buried there. It is said that Colin suffered terribly with his feet, which he said was from spending so much time in the trenches in France standing in water. After he died the police contacted his family, he were amazed, believing him to be dead after hearing nothing of him for so many years. They also gave them his photograph album. A book called “Starlight’s Trail” by James Cowan, also mentions Colin’s story and contains some of his photographs. Colin’s photographs are considered a rare history of bush life at a time of rapid change.
The above story is taken from a number of sources written by various family members or friends and published in the family book.
“Reed Thomas and Ann Odgers: tracing the lives of Thomas & Ann Odgers Reed and their descendants, compiled by Betty Auld with the co-operation of all Branches of Reed Descendants, B.A. Auld September, 1994”.
Photographs scanned from the book Reed Thomas and Ann Odgers tracing the lives of Thomas and Ann Odgers Reed and their descendants, compiled by Betty Auld 1994.
4 thoughts on “The Lost Soul – Colin Oliver REED”
Interesting to read about Colin Reed I knew him as a child when he visited weekly my grandparents at their property in Windorah. Is it possible to contact his family directly as I am in posession of some of his photos he gave to my grandmother.
Hi Monica, I don’t really have any direct contacts anymore with any of the Reed Family as many of them have passed away. In fact most of them. I do have a cousin I was close to, I don’t know where she lives now as she married and I don’t know her married name. I could probably do some checking as I work in a voluntary capacity at the Genealogy SA Society at Unley. If you are happy to send the photo’s to me, I can certainly pass them on. I think most of the family left, are in the same position as me, they are related but not directly, as of course he never had children. My dad (who sadly passed away at 57) found out from his sister that one of Colin’s cousin’s was my dad’s half brother (dad always thought they were cousins, but he was actually my paternal grandmother’s illegitimate son. Sad as I always remembered visiting him at Kersbrook, as he was bought up by my Great Granny Reed.
The story of Colin bought tears to my eyes, and I love his story so much. It is a beautiful story of your Grandmother’s? friendship with him. How amazing you met him. His story reminds me very much of one of my brothers!! in many ways. Dad was born in Hawker, and I so wish he was alive to have talked about him, once I made the discovery of him and his story.
My email address is email@example.com or Heneker52@outlook.com. I would be happy if you felt ok with either emailing or sending me copies, and would be happy to pay for any costs. Not sure where you live? I am in Adelaide. I would also be happy to try to track down some of the children of the Reeds and their families. I know a few have passed away themselves, and not sure what interest their children’s children have, but I am sure there is someone who does have an interest. I have done extensive research on the family for my own genealogy obsession. I came across the book written about the REED Family quite a few years ago from my Aunty Dulcie (a daughter of my G Grandma). Sadly Aunty Dulcie passed away about 15 years ago now. I think the book was written in late 1980’s early 1990’s and the people who wrote it were also much older when the book was published.
Anyway, it is very kind of you to offer these photo’s to family. As I haven’t been able to source any immediate family researching the REED’s other than myself, I have been thinking of getting Colin’s war records. I managed to get Uncle Keith’s (my father’s unknown to him brother, at the time), from the National Archives and hoping to get Colin’s as well, so I can write up a more detailed life story. I would probably just put it together and offer a copy to the Genealogy SA Society. Their library is very large, and I used to work as a librarian with the person who is now responsible for the Genealogy SA library.
Sorry didn’t mean to ramble on so much. You are the first person I have heard from in regard to that story about Colin. He seems to be a man who almost needs acknowledgement of some kind. A rather troubled soul, but as I, like my dad, love the outback and spend a lot of time housesitting (and caring for native animals) in remote area’s I can understand his love of solitude and the bush.
Please let me know how you feel about my offer, and I would of course pass on the photo’s and your name to anyone I can find. (And if you agreed, I would also like to make some copies to keep with his story}
Kind regards, and wishing you a great new year.
Vicki Lovell (nee HENEKER)
Adelaide South Australia
Ph: 0431 633 992
Hi again Monica. You sent me a message via my blog where I mentioned Colin Oliver Reed. I was wondering if you still live in Windorah or the area? I had a phone call from Bruce Scott and emails, and am planning to go there in November for the 11th. for a memorial service, which you probably already know about. I am trying to get any further info including photos. You mentioned you have some, and I am wondering if you would be willing to share them, so I can get them printed out or email them on to Bruce for November. I am trying to find out where family members may have gone…not sure to be honest, I think now mainly children of children. Anyway, thought it would be worth contacting you in regard to this. It is quite exciting, I believe there is another man who was also in WW! and him and Colin are the only 2 who either went to war or who returned? Not sure at present. Kind regards, Vicki Lovell (nee Heneker)
I’ve been looking over my Heneker blog which I don’t get to as much lately. I noticed you wrote to me in 2017 and I replied. You said you have photos of Colin’s that he took. I am very keen to make up a booklet with copies of his photographs in them, the little that exist.I would like to put it into the Genealogy society of South Australia so that others can look at it and know more about him. As he didn’t marry, and most of his family have died, now with people intermarried who I can’t seem to trace, I am wondering if you would be open to sending them to me so they can be protected and cherished by other researchers. I am more than happy to pay for any postage etc involved. I am at Mobile Number 0431 633 992 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org or my address is 18 John Street, Morphett Vale S.A. 5162. Bruce and I have spoken often so he is aware of my passion for Colin and his history. Please feel free to contact me.
Vicki Lovell (nee Heneker)
p.s. my dad’s mother was a Groch/Reed, her mother married Philip Reed.