AS SOON AS you meet Stewart Benson, you know he’s the genuine article. Tall, lean, good looking, clear blue eyes under a battered hat…he seems to sum up everything you’ve heard about the men of the west and all that you need to know.
You’ll find Benson, 68, at Blackall’s Ram Park, a landscaped historical complex he helped set up and where he works as the gardener. Visitors who get talking to him usually get more than a yarn; if they’re lucky and willing, they’re taken into another world.
He was born in Blackall, one of seven children, to a shearer father who encouraged hard work. The young Stewart went droving when he was 13, worked on cattle and sheep stations when he got married, rode bareback and saddle broncs, ran his own droving plant in the 1970s and later worked as a plant operator and labourer for the shire council. He still works for the council at Ram Park.
From time to time, and at the drop of his hat, he’ll down tools at the park and take an interested tourist or two on a personal tour of his town. It is then they become aware that he’s no ordinary man.
Stu has restored alot of the machinery at the museum and historic park in Blackall. It’s always worth the look!
Blackall has changed since Stewart Benson was a young man. People have come and gone, along with the houses they lived in and the places they worked. He hasn’t forgotten them; far from it, in fact. He’ll point to a space where a row of houses stood in the 50s and name the families who lived in them; he’ll drive you down to the park by the river and show you where and how, long ago, Chinese gardeners used an old grey horse to pump water onto their land. And so on, the past in everything he sees around him brought to vivid, immediate life.
Benson’s memory is astonishing, and when he tells you he learned neither to read nor write, you might find an explanation for that gift. You will also become aware of how deeply he loves his Outback town and how keen he is to show it off.
A ripper of a damper.
His garden shed, which he might show you if you ask him, is full of the treasured paraphernalia of a hard and extraordinary working life…family pictures, rodeo trophies, saddles and stirrups, horse bells, whips, old bottles and battered billy cans.
When will you be marking off Blackall on your road trip list?
“I tell people the truth of things, about what used to be here,’’ he says. “I love meeting people and it’s important to tell them about Blackall, my word it is. This has been a good town, eh.’’