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William James Cook of Broadwater

LEFT: Trooper Alfred Adolphe Cook and RIGHT: Pte. Percy Cook.
LEFT: Trooper Alfred Adolphe Cook and RIGHT: Pte. Percy Cook.

ON May 29, 1944 William James Cook died at his daughter's home at Dungarubba.

He was 94 years of age and at the time was said to have been the oldest resident to have been born on the Richmond River.

He was born at Wardell in 1850, the son of Henry Cook and Jane Yabsley, and had never been away from the Richmond. For about 75 years he lived at Rileys Hill.

A bushman and fine horseman he loved to tell stories of the early days in the area. He never went to school but had a remarkable memory and plenty of bush knowledge. In his early days he, like many other young men of the time, had been a fine sculler.

Races were held regularly and there was much rivalry between entrants from the various rivers along the coast. It is not surprising that sculling was so popular, as rowing a boat was a normal way of life for the river people. Roads were mere tracks and the river was a much more pleasant, as well as accessible, path to take.

Rileys Hill had been a thriving village when William lived there. It had apparently been named after a Captain Riley whose sailing-ship had been stranded there in the early days.

It had a quarry in later days, employing more than 500 men in its heyday, the 1880s and 1890s, when the Ballina breakwater was being built.

The quarried stone was taken down to Ballina by raft. There were three stores at Rileys Hill at that time, two bakeries, three boarding-houses and a private school in addition to the public school.

William was more interested in the timber industry, especially beech and cedar.

He and his father, Henry Cook, sawed all the timber for William Yabsley's shipyard, the largest on the river, and also for boats built at Wardell.

His father had three bullock teams drawing timber from the Alstonville Big Scrub.

William also engaged in the butchering trade when gold was found near Jerusalem Creek.

There were about 400 men working the mines there and he would take the meat by rowboat from Wardell. He also delivered meat to Ballina in the same way and often transported other provisions from Lismore to Ballina and Broadwater.

This is no doubt where he improved his sculling skills!

When all this was happening Lismore was a little place with only one proper house which was on Lismore Station.

Sailing ships were a regular sight on the river. At one time there could be up to a dozen moored at Wardell, many taking on timber from the mill.

Transporting large equipment overland was a nightmare, but William would try anything.

As the timber industry ran out of nearby trees a mill might have to be dismantled and moved to another site.

At one time William organised the removal of Staines' sawmill from Wardell to Meerschaum Vale. It took 40 bullocks one week to complete the job, and William was paid £100.

His two sons, Alfred and Percy, who were both fighting in France. They had both enlisted in 1915.

Alfred was 33 at the time and he joined the Light Horse. He returned home in February 1919.

Percy was only 18 when he enlisted. Initially he was in the 15th Infantry Battalion but later trained as a machine gunner.

He died of wounds in France in 1916 and is buried at Villers-Bretonneux.

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