TEA TIME: Billy tea on the boil at Punchbowl Creek
TEA TIME: Billy tea on the boil at Punchbowl Creek Contributed

SEPTEMBER LOCAL LEGEND: Story of Bill's special place

IN 1930 a Sydney newspaper ran an advertisement for land for sale in Queensland. Two thousand, three hundred and nine acres of light forestry country at Columboola.

Alfred Ryall and his father William viewed the property and decided that it would be ideal to run sheep.

It was heavily timbered, but feed was plentiful on the open box flats, and there was the bonus of abundant water from Punchbowl Creek.

The whole family moved to the new property, Kentucky, and for his wife Isabel, two-year- old Bill and baby Peter; it was the start of a great adventure.

Bill's earliest memory is of arriving by wagon late at night with the eerie call of Curlews echoing through the bushland.

Alfred and William opened up some of the timbered areas of Kentucky, felling the trees with axes.

Dog and rabbit proof fencing was established on all boundaries, with all the work done by hand; each post-hole dug with a crowbar and shovel.

Eking out an existence on the land in those early days was hard and not everyone succeeded.

Some stayed the distance, while others sold their blocks or walked away with nothing to show for years of work.

The Ryall family were one of the few that stayed on and prospered.

This should, by rights, be the happy ending to an inspiring story but life does not always deliver happy endings.

Bill grew into a man with his mother's thirst for knowledge, his father's love of the land, and his grandfather's creative flair. But Peter was destined to remain forever young.

In 1950 Bill married Nita and built their home from timber sourced from Kentucky.

He developed his own mill and supplied cyprus pine to the building industry, working the farm all week and trucking timber for architecturally designed homes in Noosa each weekend.

Bill's interest in building and timber milling culminated in his building Columboola Country, a bush camping resort, in the years before his retirement.

Punchbowl Creek had always been a very special place to Bill.

It was where he and his brother swam, fished and hunted.

It held precious memories of childhood and Bill, being a man of vision and generosity, wanted to share that with others.

In the early 90s with help of his mill workers, construction began but his dream ended one stormy afternoon when a massive explosion set fire to his timber mill.

When Colin Jackson bought the property in 2003 there were two hand-built cottages beside Punchbowl Creek, wooden annexes, an amenities block with showers, toilets and laundry, a barbecue area and a function centre that could accommodate 200 people; all built by Bill from timber milled in his sawmill.

A series of unfortunate incidents plagued Col's early years at Columboola.

From 2004 to 2006 there was virtually no rainfall. Columboola Country was being promoted for fishing, swimming, canoeing and bush walking but the creek was dry and the bush nearly dead.

The mining industry which helped grow the area did little to encourage tourists to stay.

For a while, every imaginable type of accommodation was booked in advance by mining companies.

Caravan parks replaced camp sites with dongas and in response Grey Nomads began planning trips that avoided mining towns from Toowoomba to Roma.

Fighting bureaucratic regulations has cost Col a fortune in time, money and emotional turmoil but eventually he found his feet and a renewed enthusiasm for Columboola Country.

"Peaceful, restful and secluded,” he says.

"Powered campsites are strategically placed for visitors to enjoy bush camping with privacy and security.

"We have a term around here, it's 'Ryallised' meaning if Bill built it, it was done properly and made to last.

"His wife Nita told me, for years Bill was buying stuff from clearing sales and stashing it behind the shed. When she asked what it was for he was always very vague.

"But Bill was planning this place for a long time before he eventually built it. If it hadn't been for the mill fire, who knows what he could have achieved?”

Recently, Col stumbled across a new direction and sense of purpose for Columboola Country.

"I had a couple of army veterans staying here and they told me how much they enjoyed time together in this tranquil environment,” says Col.

"They found the remote location and simplicity very welcome.

"It made me think that others like them would appreciate knowing what we had to offer.

"My brother, a Gulf War veteran, suggested I contact a site on social media that supports veterans suffering post-traumatic stress disorder.

"I wrote asking their advice, described the property and its features and questioned if it would make a good retreat.

"Apparently my correspondence was posted directly on to their site and within days went viral.

"I had someone at my door the next day wanting to discuss logistics.

"Since then I have been contacted by a number of support groups, including one for wives of veterans and another from the Federal Police.

"A rehabilitation centre with counselling services has been proposed; all it needs is some government funding to get this project off the ground.

"I'm not familiar with seeking funding or asking for help but in this case, if someone knowledgeable offers assistance, I won't knock it back.

"Most of these vets are younger than 50 with families.

"They've served in Afghanistan, East Timor, the Gulf War or police force.

"I think Bill Ryall would be pretty happy his special place was helping to heal the souls of those who serve and protect us.”