Gordon Falconer Gearing Lee was the son of Leonard George Lee and Doris Falconer Sellars born on the 9th November 1913 in Toowoomba.
Gordon enlisted in the Australian Army from Wooloowin on the 5th February 1942, stating his wife Isabella Lee as his next of kin. He reached the rank of Captain and was posted in the 2/163 General Transport Company when he was discharged on the 28th November 1945.
The Somerset Garage and Somerset Agencies were the enterprise of Mr. Gordon Lee. Gordon Lee came to Muttaburra on 17 December 1945 to take over as Managing partner of the transport business and mail contracts of Mr. Charlie Real. He also took over the house, which is directly opposite the schoolhouse in Sword Street.
The mail runs proved interesting. There were no graded roads in the area after the war and virtually no machinery. After the wet season the carriers chose the driest track and that became the ‘road’ for the year. As well as having the Longreach Mail Run (twice weekly £10 a year), Gordon had a weekly run to Prairie. This trip, which went through North Crusoe and back to the main road at Thornton, had 47 gates, which took over 2 hours per trip to open and close.
At the 1951 A.G.M. of the M.D.P.A. Gordon Lee praised the association for its part in securing town lighting within 15 months. Gordon Lee built the first town powerhouse at the rear of the Somerset Garage. Two A.C. generators driven by 2 National Horizontal Diesel engines produced the power.
The town also had a number of migrant workers. Gordon Lee was a strong advocate of these migrants and he sponsored many skilled European workers to man his garage.
Because of the price-cutting, mainly from individuals using cheap war disposal trucks, a Carriers Association was organised and standard rates were set. The first President and convener of the meeting was Gordon Lee, who some years later when a transport tax was introduced, sold his interests to Kevin & Alan Bauman, his two senior drivers. Others who came into his garage business were his army batman Mick Evans, Staff Sgt. Mechanic Arnold Palmer, Tom Ingram an electrician/radio man and another driver mechanic. Palmer and Ingram later ran the powerhouse. These men were from Gordon’s army unit the 2nd 163 Australian General Transport Company and all had wives and children, thus swelling the town and school population. He started his business in a small 16′ x 12′ galvanised building, but this was too small to house the plant and much of it was operated in the open or under tarpaulins. This shed was later converted into an aircraft hanger, but at the time proved most unsatisfactory. He was able to buy an army stores building from the military camp east of Hughenden. This building, 6,600 sq. ft. worth, including asbestos cement roof, took around twelve months of transfer to Muttaburra, as red tape caused many delays. An elderly carpenter named Geraghty and one helper were responsible for erecting it where it still stands opposite the C.W.A. Two thirds became a garage and one third a transport-loading depot. For some years, this became the best stocked and equipped garage in Western Queensland.
Among the agencies carried by the Somerset Enterprises were that of the Land Rover, which was growing in popularity with the pastoralists, Armstrong Siddeley Motors, a franchise that covered the whole of Northern Queensland from Maryborough to Cairns and West to the Territory border, excluding Blackall, and Volkswagen. During the Volkswagen Dealership, Gordon Lee employed 11 mechanics, 3 electricians, 3 salesmen, a storeman, a bookkeeper and a secretary, as well as operating a branch in Longreach.
Somerset Airways was born out of the record wet season of 1950. With the town marooned for 12 weeks, during which vehicles were able to get through on only 2 or 3 days, Mrs. Lee had to get to Brisbane urgently, and managed at length to get a grazier from near Julia Creek to land on the common and take her out. After that experience, she insisted that to stay in Muttaburra they had to have their own plane. There were problems, as the only way was to make it a charter service, and all charter planes had to be signed out by qualified personnel and checked every 30 flying hours. With the problems solved, the venture took off. The first pilot was Keith Galoway, who later became a senior captain with T.A.A., after two years it became obvious that another plane was needed. Captain Jesse Luxton flew a Praetor 5 from England but damaged it on Sunba Island, thereby missing a certain record for a light plane. He took it to Jakarta by barge, repaired it and then flew on to Longreach where the main office of Somerset Airways was opened.
After becoming a Public Company, with eight aircraft, this Muttaburra enterprise sold out to B.P.A. following a disagreement with Captain Luxton and the death of the Manager in the disastrous `King Air’ crash west of Longreach while on a demonstration flight.
By early 1953, Muttaburra had to find two justices of the Peace, to replace Mr. T. Hall, who had died, and Mr. G. Cassimatis who had moved from the town. Mr. Thornton and Mr. Lee were nominated to replace them.
“One of the great moments I remember in Muttaburra was when I had the honour, in the middle of the 17 years drought and after the awful 1960 credit squeeze, to chair a meeting with the Shire Chairman (Clr. Neill), U.G.A. President (Frank Keenan) and the Minister for Repatriation, representing the Primary Industries Minister. The Memorial Hall was packed and we had prepared and presented a case, which the Minister agreed, having that day-inspected drought stricken properties, was irrefutable and totally convincing. We got some relief very quickly in the shape of cash grants which helped graziers to pay storekeepers (and garages), and all went in the end.
I could ramble on and on with reminiscences, but enough is enough. May I congratulate you on the positive and progressive attitude you have applied to your job there. It must be a tremendous help to the pupils at a time when there is so much variance over subjects, styles and methods – to have as instructor, someone with plenty of ideas and the ability to implement them.
Yours sincerely and with thanks for what you are doing for our children and parents too.”
Gordon Lee. [Muttaburra Saw Us]
In the New Year Honours List of 1974 Gordon Lee was awarded his M.B.E., and in January of that year, the following letter appeared in the local newspaper.
It was with a great deal of delight the people of Muttaburra and district received news per the media that Gordon Lee was awarded the M.B.E. in the Queen’s New Year Honours List on the 1st January 1974.
Correspondence has been received from Gordon, which in part states `My wife and I are mindful of the honour conferred by the Queen, and we are proud to follow in the steps of Dr. J. Arratta and the Shire Chairman.
We feel that the honour belongs to the people of Muttaburra and is not personal, but in recognition of the courage, energy and confidence of those who worked through the many difficult years for the return to prosperity.
It is essential that this effort be continued so that our problems are fully recognised in the places where they can be solved and controlled.
Our thoughts and best wishes to our home town and district for a prosperous 1974.
Isabelle and Gordon Lee.’
The text of the above quote illustrates the unselfish attitude of Gordon Lee, M.B.E.
I am positive all residents of Muttaburra and district join me in publicly congratulating Gordon on this well-deserved honour. May he and his wife enjoy good health for many, many years to come.
Don Oxlade, Exchange Hotel, Muttaburra.”
[Extracts from Muttaburra Saw Us]