The Speewah is a mythical Australian station that is the subject of many tall tales told by Australian bushmen. The stories of the Speewah are Australian folktales in the oral tradition. The Speewah is synonymous with hyperbole as many of the tales about the place are used to enhance the storytellers’ masculinity by relating events of extreme hardship and overcoming the dangers of the Australian wilderness.
Typically men talk of the Speewah when they are faced with hard labour as a means of making their jobs mentally easier, though it can also be seen as a way of legitimising their bragging. Speech of this sort is used to make light of the situation or to re-affirm the speakers’ masculinity or bush skills to the detriment of others.
The Speewah station in The Kimberleys, Western Australia, is considered by some to be the original Speewah of legend, but may merely have been named after the legend in homage. The property is listed by the Australian Government as being located at 16.26°S 127.57°E. The town of Speewah is located west of Cairns on the Kennedy Highway and is considered to be named after the legend.
Location in legend
The Speewah is an imaginary land and its boundaries have never been defined: the Speewah can be anywhere that the storyteller wants it to be, and tales have it situated anywhere from Cape York to the Otways, from Brisbane to Broome – anywhere in Australia. Its location is kept ambiguous and when questioned people from different regions of Australia will give a different answer. ‘The men from the Darling Ranges said it was back o’ Bourke and the men of Bourke said it was out West and the men of the West pointed to Queensland and in Queensland they told you the Speewah was in the Kimberleys.’
At any rate the territory itself is supposedly very large. When one wanted to close the gate to the station he had to take a week’s rations with him, and a jackeroo who was sent to bring the cows in from the horse paddock was said to be gone for six months, not due to incompetence (for there are no incompetent workers on the Speewah) but simply due to the sheer size of the Speewah. When the cook was frying up bacon and eggs for the men, he needed a motorbike to get around the frying pan. The dust storms were so thick that the rabbits dug warrens in them. The boundary riders had to make sure that their watches were changed for each separate time zone.
Locations adopting the name
A portion of land owned by Jim Dillon south-west of Wyndham, Western Australia that was settled at the beginning of the 20th century was named after the mythical land of the Speewah. This property (or station) still appears on maps as ‘The Speewah’ and has caused much debate from the storytelling community as to whether or not this is the original Speewah of legend or whether (which is more likely) it is merely named after the legend in homage. This property is listed by the Australian Government as being 16°26′S 127°57′E.
There is a “Speewa” straddling the border of Victoria and New South Wales near 35°13′S 143°30′E. The Speewa Ferry across the Murray River links Speewa, Victoria with Speewa, New South Wales.
There is a hidden, private “Speewah” in the south west of Western Australia that has its roots in the original “Speewah” in the Kimberleys.
Speewah is also a real place in Far North Queensland. It is about 10 kilometres west of Cairns – a few kilometres south of the tourist town of Kuranda. It could be described as a bushland residential area.
Crooked Mick is a larger-than-life character from Australian Oral Tradition, emerging during the era of the swagmen, and sheep shearing. A sort of Aussie Paul Bunyan, a sheep shear that he is almost ubiqitious with the equally fantastic Speewah; there are Speewah tales without Crooked Mick, but there are no Crooked Mick tales not set in the Speewah.
Crooked Mick, like his American Wild West counterparts, is a giant of a man and skilled in many trades. Hard-working, hard-playing, Made of Iron and with an appetite to match his size, and with his colossal strength and quick wit. Crooked Mick is regarded as the quintessential bushman. Nothing was beyond his capabilities; he could lift huge weights, shear a massive number of sheep in no time flat, bake pies so light that a gust of wind would carry them, kick crocodiles up to the moon, move the mountains, and then generally do anything that everyone else could do, but 100 times better.
The reason behind the “Crooked” in his name, while always a physical feature, varied from story to story. Some described him as having one eye higher than the other. Some said it was because his nose was all twisted due to having been bitten by a crocodile that tried to yank it off and then gave up in the swamp of the river. Others proclaimed it was because his habit of wolfing down two whole sheep for every meal and tearing their skins off with his teeth left his teeth twisted and gnarled. Most commonly, it’s because he walks crooked; sometimes it’s just a limp from being ringbarked when he was a teenager, more often it’s because one hot day he stuck one leg into a trough to cool it off and then took it out to place the other one in, but it buckled under his weight when he tried to stand on it alone, leaving him with a bent leg for the rest of his life.
Crooked Mick was said to have died, but again the stories vary. A fairly common story has the teller describe how they heard several others give their explanations for Crooked Mick’s death (like a dust storm causing him to throttle himself with his own giant beard), only to then hear the real truth – like how Crooked Mick became The Man in the Moon when he built his own pogo stick and bounced all the way from earth to the moon.