100-year-old Anne still loves station life

Anne Cox at Andado Station. Anne still loves visiting her family's properties and has just turned 100 this year.

100-year-old Anne still loves station life

THREE shots ringing out over Katherine signalled the threat of Japanese bombers.

It's a sound Anne Cox can still remember well. She was running the local supermarket with her husband, Cyril, and knew gunfire issued from the local policeman meant they had to head for cover.

"There were nine of them (bombers), when they were at that height they looked like silver footballs in the sky," she said.

"They circled the town three times."

That was on March 22, 1942, in the thick of the Second World War - a significant date that lies within the living memory of an extraordinary Territorian.

Last week, Anne turned 100.

She received her letter from the Queen and was surrounded by her friends and family during her birthday party in Alice Springs.

During her century, Anne worked on isolated cattle stations, saw the beginnings of the Northern Territory's peanut industry and managed Katherine's supermarket for 40 years. She is much loved and well known as "Aunt Annie" in her community.

The first question set the pace for the interview: "So what's it feel like to be turning 100?"

"Oh, it's just another bloody day," Anne joked.

With quick wit and a catchy sense of humour, Anne is a wonderful storyteller.

Speaking to the Rural Weekly she opened up about her life, talking about great love and loss, living through war and what it's like to grow old.

Anne admitted her short- term memory sometimes failed her but it became quite clear she has a remarkable knack for historic details, right down to what she used to feed soldiers for breakfast in the 1940s (mostly tea and toast), so her memories paint a picture of how life has changed in the NT.

 

Anne Cox receiving her letter from the Queen with her great-great- niece Bailey Brooks.
Anne Cox receiving her letter from the Queen with her great-great- niece Bailey Brooks. Contributed

LOOKING BACK

Born in Cloncurry, Queensland, Anne spent her childhood moving from station to station with her family.

The Fogarty family is well known for their dedication to the pastoral industry, their legacy spanning multiple generations.

Niece Colleen Costello, daughter of Anne's brother Ted Fogarty (who died earlier this year aged 95) said she enjoyed having her aunt visit their properties.

"We have a few places out here and she is quite happy to come along, she spent Christmas with us and previously spent a couple months every year with us," Colleen said.

"We are about 450km out of town."

Anne has watched station life evolve and remembers the hard-slog days and total isolation her parents, Ted and Sarah, faced when raising their family.

Her dad normally spent about two or three years on a property as manager.

"If Mum wanted to send news from Delamere to tell people her last baby was born, she would have to send somebody on horse to go about 100km or more to Wave Hill Station to send a telegram," she said.

"And only once a month we saw the mailman.

"Mum would look forward to that because she would get letters from her relatives in Cloncurry and from down around Brisbane."

Anne was a vital help to her folks, helping her mum around the house or mustering cattle on a horse with her dad.

 

Cyril and Anne Cox owned a supermarket in Katherine.
Cyril and Anne Cox owned a supermarket in Katherine. Contributed

MEETING CYRIL

After being sent off to boarding school in Darwin, Anne returned home to learn her dad had invested in a peanut farm.

"Once (Dad) had sobered up and realised what he had done, he couldn't get on a train fast enough to get back out to working on a station," she said.

While Anne was working with her family on stations Cyril Cox, who was only about 17, was hired to work in the local grocery store.

He was a few years older than Anne and the pair became friendly.

At that time, there were about 27 peanut farms in Katherine.

The industry had a rough start. Failed wet seasons, then a flooded market in Sydney saw farmers receive little returns.

This impacted the whole community, and the grocery store soon became available for tender.

"That's when Cyril started saving for the shop," she said.

"So he liked gardening and we went into gardening together. We got money on the side from our little garden and saved part of his wage.

"By the time the shop came up, there was hardly anyone interested in buying it and we got it very cheap.

"One of the families, they were station people, gave us a few 100 quid to help us get started ... and we never looked back."

Together the couple managed the store for almost 40 years.

However in 1973 Cyril died suddenly from a brain haemorrhage.

Just from hearing Anne talk about her late husband, you can tell the couple shared a great love.

She said her grief carried on for years after his death.

"Sometimes someone would tell me something exciting and I would think, 'Oh, I must tell Cyril that,' and he had already gone for a year or two by then," she said.

"So I was very sad."

The couple didn't have children but Anne is very close to her godchildren, nephews, nieces and now great-nephews and nieces.

 

Anne and Dave on the peanut farm, outside of Katherine.
Anne and Dave on the peanut farm, outside of Katherine. Contributed

THE WAR

With Darwin under constant attack, the Australian Army predicted Katherine could also become a target.

Camps were set up in the town and Anne remembers bulk stockpiles, including ammunition, located at the airport.

It was the local policeman's job to issue the warning to evacuate if a bomb threat was imminent.

"We had a bit of a problem with that because the warning would be three shots from a gun, that was to tell us there was a possibility of a bombing, but then the all-clear was three shots as well," Anne said.

"So lots of times we would wake up and we wouldn't be sure if it was the first shots or the ones to say it was an all-clear."

Anne remembers that time with good humour but said her life changed significantly once Katherine was hit.

 

Anne with her god children Cecilia and Aivan Antica. The Antica family worked in Anne's Katherine supermarket; Anne working at Andado Station. CAPTION FOR LAST PIC TO COME
Anne with her god children Cecilia and Aivan Antica. The Antica family worked in Anne's Katherine supermarket; Anne working at Andado Station. CAPTION FOR LAST PIC TO COME Peter Fraser

THE BOMBING

The Japanese Navy dropped 90 60kg bombs over Katherine, according to the Northern Territory Government's website.

There were nine twin-engine "Betty" bombers that circled at 20,000 feet above the town before striking.

Anne said she was working in the shop and it was about noon when she heard the evacuation warning.

"We gathered up our money and that ... and we took off towards the east, which was going to the airport, so we were about 2km away from the bombing site," she said.

Anne remembers feeling scared but said during that time she felt thankful she wasn't living in Darwin.

"They were getting bombed almost daily there," she said.

"And for us, this was the first time. But for the people in Darwin, it was like they almost got used to having to live underground all of the time."

During the bombing, a 42-year-old Aboriginal man, Dodger Kajalwal, was killed and two other men were injured.

All women and children were instructed to leave town.

"The matron (Jane Smith) and I were the last two women to leave, we went by air to Adelaide," Anne said.

"All the other women and children were taken by the train to Larrimah and then from Larrimah trucks took them out to Adelaide. A lot of the women were sent to a place called Balaclava."

Anne ended up staying in Adelaide for six months.

During that time Cyril was desperate for her to come home.

"My husband was employed by Guinea Airlines as a manager, he was trying very hard to get me back because he was looking after the civil airlines coming into Katherine and looking after the troops," she said.

Anne was eventually allowed back and got to work helping soldiers, bedding them down in the local hostel and organising some meals.

When the war ended, the army allowed for Cyril and Anne to have their shop back.

 

Anne Cox with her god children Cecilia and Aivan Antica.
Anne Cox with her god children Cecilia and Aivan Antica. Contributed

LEAVING NT

Anne ran the store for four years after Cyril died.

It was a challenging time, only made easier by her wonderful staff, she said.

In particular, a Croatian couple, John and Anna Antica, showed true dedication.

"They worked for me 24 hours a day, seven days a week once Cyril died," she said.

"So I was very lucky."

Anne recalled John having to wake up at 2am every Sunday to meet the truck driver delivering the shop's ice cream from Adelaide.

Anne closed the doors in 1977, after finally selling the business. The story of the supermarket's new owners (which sounds something of a punchline, as it was bought by a German, an Irishman and a Russian) lasted only a few years before Woolworths eventually purchased the shop, which they still own.

When moving away from the Territory, Anne was soon drawn back to her old staff members.

Colleen explained John and Anna, who had two children of their own by this stage, had to move to Geelong as their son was facing medical troubles.

"So Aunt went down to help them out," Colleen said.

"She felt because they helped her out a lot she would help them. So she was with them for a few years."

After her time finished with the Antica family, Anne spent about 10 years travelling.

Managing the shop for 40 years and with a large extended family, Anne has strong connections throughout Australia.

"She went to Adelaide, Brisbane, to Tin Can Bay then to Hervey Bay and out to Timber Creek, catching up with all the people who had worked with her," Colleen said.

Organising the birthday bash, Colleen said it was heart-warming to hear from Anne's old acquaintances.

"The common thread was that they appreciated Aunt," she said.

"And one said she was a toughie and that they couldn't have got through the hard times without her. That was from a family on a station.

"So that's a pretty good recommendation."

Anne Cox and her brother Ted Fogarty.
Anne Cox and her brother Ted Fogarty. Contributed

GOLDEN YEARS

Although Anne has seen much of Australia, the Territory is where she feels most at home. She prefers the heat to the cold.

Instead of slowing down with age, Anne kept busy, visiting family on stations and lending a hand whenever she could.

Recent photos show her shooting guns, helping out in the shed and catching up with friends.

"For 99 years, she lived independently," Colleen said.

However a string of health issues (starting with a broken hip and ending with a chest infection) saw Anne finally slow down.

The symptoms of old age have come as a burden to her.

"Being deaf and loss of memory (makes it hard)," she said.

"I can remember years back but if you were to say to me, 'Let's have coffee at Woolworths at 10 o'clock,' before you are out the door I have forgotten what the arrangement was.

"I have always been very fussy about doing the right thing by people, so I get frustrated when I have forgotten what to do."

Anne attributes her longevity - which seems to run in her family, with two of her siblings surpassing 90 - to a simple notion: hard work and a positive attitude.