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.