STEEPED IN TRAGEDY: A good place to experience the early history of the region is a visit to the Wills Massacre Site near Springsure.
STEEPED IN TRAGEDY: A good place to experience the early history of the region is a visit to the Wills Massacre Site near Springsure. Contributed

Sporting character

HEADING south out of Emerald it does not take long to really get the feel for the name of the region... Queensland's Central Highlands.

The impressive sandstone mountains rising up out of the plains like sleeping giants are ablaze with colour heading towards Springsure.

Springsure's name was derived from the permanent springs in the creeks and gullies at the time of settlement.

The area is known for its heritage, hills and hospitality, with some great cafes and pub meals available.

A good place to experience the early history is the Rich Memorial Park with its replica wool shed and early homestead dwellings that contain many interesting relics of the past.

It is worth the drive out to Rainworth Fort, built one year after the Wills Massacre, to reflect on the tragic past of what some historians refer to as "Queensland's frontier wars” during the early the years of settlement.

And my destination today is a visit to the Wills Massacre Site.

But strangely it's not the massacre that has drawn my interest.

Having just moved up from the Grampians in Victoria I am aware of Tom Wills, the son of Horatio Wills, the pastoralist killed in October 1861.

Tom was an amazing character long before coming to Queensland to assist his father Horatio.

He grew up in the Grampians, SW Victoria, among the aboriginal clans of the region.

He was fluent in their language, played their games, and enjoyed the freedom of the time.

He is accredited with being one of the founding fathers of AFL football and was one of the greatest athletes, footballers and cricketer of his time, not just in Australia, but in England as well.

Being descended from convicts from the early years of Australian settlement, Tom's father was keen to see his son gain the best education possible and packed him off to England to attend rugby school one of the most prestigious in England.

Not overly keen on academic studies, he cited his early years of freedom in the Australian bush as the reason for his restless nature.

He excelled at cricket and rugby, with cricket being where he gained great respect.

He proved to be the catalyst for many winning sides of the best teams in England and represented state and national teams back in the "colony”.

Disappointed his son was not to become the academic success he desired, Horatio called for him to come back to Australia to assist in the family pastoral ventures, which is how he came to be in Queensland on October 17, 1861.

Tom Wills was away when his family was massacred and never took part in any retributions. Instead, he went on to become the country's first cricketer of significance and a founder of Australian Rules football.

He also went on to coach an Aboriginal cricket team from near his old home of western Victoria, where his knowledge of the language proved invaluable. This was the first Australian cricket team to tour England.

As I wandered the massacre site, admiring the hills, grasslands, trees, dry creek beds and listening to the silence, I reflected on this tragic day and the many that followed.

It was only a couple of months ago I travelled up from my home in the Grampians, passed by Moyston where Tom is said to have initiated one of the first AFL games.

Now here I am wondering what it was like for him to have been here and come across his family on that tragic day, and the ultimate tragic outcome for himself later.

I am left with the thoughts of historian Professor Reynolds.

If Aboriginals thought that fighting back would stem the flow of Europeans into their land, they were mistaken.

"They could not have been aware that behind the small groups of settlers coming into their country was a very large population of European settlers,” Professor Reynolds said.