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Mitchell - The Kenniff Brothers

Home > Brisbane > Places of Interest | Fun Things To Do | Escape the City
by Susan J Bowes (subscribe)
Writing for pleasure to showcase the best Australia has on offer.
Published October 17th 2022
Outback travel adventure, Kenniff brothers history treks
Initially, my interest in visiting Mitchell was a visit to the Artesian Spa, which is situated on the left-hand side of the road as you drive into the town from the east. However, as I researched there were more places to see.

On the day I visited, the town was without power, so this impeded the pleasure at the spa as no water was coming out of the pipe and the water was extremely hot at thirty-eight degrees. Although the assistant advised everyone that we could stay in the spa for fifteen minutes, I was out in seven as this was far too hot for me. There is another pool at the complex with a temperature of twenty-five degrees, but you can imagine that this felt freezing after the spa. The Great Artesian Spa complex is also the visitor's information centre for the town and district.

Mitchell, Food, Learn Something, Nature, Travel, Outback, Mitchell
T-Bone Steak Meat at Mitchell Cafe ('Author's Photo)

Mitchell is a town of with a small population, yet still has a main street and shops of intrigue. On a public holiday evening, not many places were available for dinner, however, the Mitchell Café was open and serving the usual café menu of burgers, chips etc., plus delicious plated meals, the standard of which you would find in a hotel. Seating was available inside the café or outside on the wooden tables next to the sculptures of Red Kangaroos. There was also an option for takeaway meals.

Mitchell, Food, Learn Something, Nature, Travel, Outback, Mitchell
Outside Mitchell Cafe - Tables & Chairs for Seating (Author's Photo)

I stayed overnight at the Mitchell Motel & Cabin Park, which was comfortable and quiet. There are motel-style rooms, however, I chose to stay in a cabin, which was spacious and could sleep three if required. Each cabin was separated from the next by a carport and a row of bushes and there was also a small table and chair outside if you wanted to enjoy the breeze with a cuppa. I would definitely stay there again if Mitchel was a destination.

Mitchell, Food, Learn Something, Nature, Travel, Outback, Mitchell
Mitchell Motel & Cabin Park (Author's Photo)

For some reason, the legend of bushrangers can bring interest and there have been many movies, documentaries and books written about Australia's famous Ned Kelly, so it is also nice to think Queensland had notable bushrangers too. Of course, not for what they did, but because we can write about them as part of the state's history. A definition of a 'bushranger" is a criminal who takes refuge in and operates from the bush or wilderness.

Mitchell, Food, Learn Something, Nature, Travel, Outback, Mitchell
Kenniff Brothers Tree in Augathella where they used to tie up their horses for a quick get-away (Author's Photo)

Although Augathella was the base from which the Kenniff Brothers operated, the area between the two towns was also part of their territory. A monument for the Kenniff Brothers is situated at Arrest Creek, approximately seven kilometres south of Mitchell and represents the capture of Patrick Kenniff, who was lying on the ground with two police constables standing over him and an Aboriginal tracker. James Kenniff escaped but was eventually surrounded and forced to surrender.

Patrick Kenniff was born in Dungog, New South Wales in 1863 and his brother James came along a few years later. In 1891 the family moved to Springsure in Queensland where the boys worked as labourers, jockeys and bookmakers. What set Patrick apart from others is that he was considered one of the best Horsemen in the district and James was also good as he trained a racehorse called Darramundi, which won several races in Springsure and Tambo.

Mitchell, Food, Learn Something, Nature, Travel, Outback, Mitchell
Kenniff Brothers Memorial @ Arrest Creek, South of Mitchell (Author's Photo)

After their father commenced operation on a large grazing lease in Upper Warrego known as Ralph Block, Patrick and James became suspects when cattle started disappearing from neighbouring properties. This started their nomadic lifestyle where they rode armed through the district stealing cattle and horses and even held up the general store in Yuleba.

History records say that in 1902 a warrant was issued against the brothers for stealing a pony and a police posse consisting of Constable George Doyle, Albert Dahlke, manager of Carnarvon Station and Aboriginal Tracker Sam Johnson surprised the brothers and took James into custody. Their eighteen-year-old brother Tom Kenniff was also present.

It is stated that Sam Johnson was sent to retrieve the police pack horses, however, on his return, Doyle and Dahlke were nowhere to be seen. Sam was chased off by the Kenniff Brothers as he fled to get more help. On arrival back to the campsite, considerable evidence was seen that there had been a gunfight and on finding Constable Doyle's horse, the saddlebags were full of what was thought to be two hundred pounds of charcoal. This was later identified as burnt human remains and personal belongings of Doyle and Dahlke. It was presumed that the bodies had been burnt with the intention of disposing the ashes to conceal evidence of the crime.

Mitchell, Food, Learn Something, Nature, Travel, Outback, Mitchell
Kenniff Brothers, Photo courtesy of A Guide to Australian Bushranging

A reward of one thousand pounds was authorised and a large police hunt was organised but it was not until three months after this event that the brothers were captured. Patrick was hanged at Brisbane's Boggo Road Gaol and James served twelve years in prison before he was released. James died in 1940.

During the trial, there were conflicting statements from Sam Johnson and uncertainty as to whether James & Patrick were in the vicinity of the assumed murder. The defence argued on how Johnson could have been in a chase with the brothers as the latter were excellent horsemen, riding on thoroughbreds and Sam was on an old nag, as well there were some doubts about his ability to identify the sound of the gunfire and inconsistencies in his stories. However, history has been written, and we will never know for sure, but for some niggling feeling, I have some doubt and an affinity to the Kenniff Brothers. Others will definitely argue with my thoughts.

Mitchell, Food, Learn Something, Nature, Travel, Outback, Mitchell
Plaque near Kenniff Brothers Memorial @ Arrest Creek (Author's Photo)

Mitchell was named after Sir Thomas Mitchell, who was an explorer and the Surveyor General of New South Wales. Before the arrival of white people, the area was occupied by the Mandandanji and Gunggari Aboriginal people. It is stated that based on archaeological excavations in the Mount Moffatt area, Aboriginals had lived there for approximately 19,500 years.
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Why? Outback Adventures and Travel Experiences are the Best
When: Anytime
Where: Mitchell
Cost: Individual Prices Depending on what you do
Your Comment
Susan, I know you know your outback Qld towns from your posts. Do you know of, or have any contacts in an outback school, that may require books to read.
My Bookclub is looking to support a country school or outback kids. Do you have any suggestions please.

by May (score: 2|971) 240 days ago
Love these detailed accounts. I lived in Charleville for a couple of years, so passed through these towns often on travel to Brisbane. I am a campervanner now, so I must re-explore out that way. I remember a little church in Quilpie which has opals inlaid in the lectern.
by howar (score: 1|45) 238 days ago
In response to May's question re books, I would like to suggest either Mungallala or Morven State Schools. Just a suggestion, not aware of how well resourced they are.
by howar (score: 1|45) 238 days ago
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