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Discover Adventure with Ian Conway

Meet Ian Conway the master of Kings Creek Station and founder of Conway’s Kids Trust Fund. Ian grew up in Central Australia during the 1950s; his early years were spent in bush camps outside Alice Springs. Ian now runs one of the biggest cattle stations in the region. He has a deep spiritual connection to the land and people. This place runs in his blood.

The Boy Behind the Station - Ian Conway's Story

The 1950s in the heart of Australia, barely a car in sight. Low houses with large yards populated with gum trees and precious little else stand where shopping malls full of clothing stores and eateries will soon take their place. A group of kids on the edge of the Todd River laugh as they try to jostle each other into the swirling waters that rose overnight from the heavy rains. The leader of the pack, Ian, sends his shrieking cousin Pat tumbling and crashing into the water as she curses him through her laughter. 

This is one of the many fond childhood memories of the now 65 year-old Ian Conway. “This was an amazing place when we were children because we had the run of the country … the Todd River was our playground, the hills were our playground as long as we didn’t tread on areas that were sacred sites”.

Born in Alice Springs, both of Ian’s grandmothers were Central Arrernte and his grandfathers were English and Scottish respectively. “There is mixed blood in me, I’m probably the whitest of all my family but amongst Aboriginal people, they don’t see colour and I connect very strongly to my Arrernte roots”

As a half-caste child at the age of three, under the Commonwealth Act Aboriginals Ordinance 1918, the young members of Ian’s family were split up. Ian’s brother and sister were sent to Adelaide while he remained in Alice Springs as a ward of the state under the control of the Anglican Church. He lived at St. John’s for years on and off, without much connection to family. “Initially it was a shock for me but I never look at it as being a sad part of my life but I look at it now as an opportunity for me to see the world of whiter Australians”

Ian credits the kindness of the community for what would otherwise be a traumatic experience, a hopeful one. He particularly felt the generosity from people who were in a position to be generous, “Brendan’s father, old Mick Heenan - who ran a milkshake store, would once or twice a week put on milkshakes for all of us half-caste kids, the chemist would give us glucose lollies and there were always people that gave us fruit from their backyards”.

The Defining Moment

“My saddest moment in childhood was when I lost my granny- she was the Arrernte woman who grew me up”

Ian’s maternal grandmother, Mary Liddle, passed away when he was 12 years old. According to Ian, she died of old age and a broken heart.  

For decades, Mary didn’t know the fate of Ian’s mother, her daughter – and she died not knowing. Ian grew up not knowing his mother’s name. When this elusive woman disappeared from their lives, Ian was still a baby and his family never spoke about her.
“Being Aboriginal, people never spoke about my mother ever, it was too sad. The sadness within my grandmother because she had never known where her daughter, her best friend had gone to and you know, I never asked about her because I figured that if they wanted to tell me – they would”

With the disappearance of his mother, the absence of his father (a drover who was away a lot) and going in and out of state care, it was Mary’s love that was the constant in young Ian’s life. What he remembers most from this older woman was the encircling love that she gave him, the hugs, the kisses, the cuddles.

“I remember her smell – a mix of Johnson’s baby powder and her natural body scent. Each time my kids were born, I would think of my granny because I could smell her”

It wasn’t until Ian was 21 when the answers surrounding the mystery of his mother’s disappearance arrived on his doorstep, in the form of a letter. Reading the letter was what Ian refers to as the defining moment in his life. The letter came from a Catholic Church in Adelaide; it was his mother’s last will and testament. It took 20 years to reach him. The letter revealed that his mother, Hilda Liddle, died when he was 12 months old and she left for him in trust $18.

“I was so blown away by that letter, it affected me psychologically for a very long time because I then had an identity and I suddenly knew where I fitted in my family, who my mother was, why am I calling this man uncle or woman aunty, why I was related to Bobby Liddle or Patty Miller”

Over time, Ian discovered that his mother, who was a part of the Catholic Church in Alice Springs, was diagnosed with cancer not long after his birth. The Church eventually sent her to Adelaide for treatment but she died three weeks after arriving. She was buried in a pauper’s grave at West Terrace Cemetery.

“I’ve got this amazing poem at home written by a friend of mine about how she’s (Hilda) laying in this lonely grave in Adelaide, hearing the traffic and she’s yearning for the red sands, the birds and to be in her spiritual homeland”

Ian is now working with his siblings to try and shift his mother’s remains back to her country and buried next to his grandmother.

Station Adventures 

It’s a hot day in the middle of spring at a station 36 kilometres from the majestic Kings Canyon. The place is abuzz with tourists, who just stepped off a bus and making a beeline for the baby camel that’s staring at them inquisitively from behind its enclosure. They all uniformly take out their camera phones and the ‘selfies’ begin. The quad bike tour will commence shortly; as station hand and tour guide Clancy gears up to take the first lot of thrill seekers out for an adventure on the rough terrains. The chopper is getting ready for take off with a handful of passengers, who will see the spectacular and vastness of the Watarrka region, for the first time. This is Kings Creek Station.

So how did the boy who went from being in and out of state care become the man who owns a station four times the size of Singapore, one of the largest exporter of wild camels in Australia, founder of Conway’s Kids Trust Fund (which puts Indigenous kids in private schools in Adelaide) and who’s motto (yes, he’s registered it) is “The adventure never ends”?

“I’ve been lucky in my life in that I’ve had had my foot in both camps, the white man’s camp and the Indigenous camp … and to me your success depends on your outlook on life. I don’t dwell on stuff that’s out of my control; it’s all part of the adventure.”