One of Graham Cook’s most treasured childhood memories at Turkey Lagoon is of waking at 4.30am and heading out on horseback with his father Barry to muster a mob of sheep in the farthest paddock.
As a child Graham would return home, have breakfast, a quick shower and be on the bus to school by 8am; not bad for a six-year old. He is the fourth generation of the Cook family to farm Turkey Lagoon, a property near Boggabilla, 15 kilometres from Goondiwindi. The property takes its name from the lagoon not far from the main house, and has been in Graham’s family since the 1880s. In 1898, it was bequeathed to his great great grandfather Thomas Cook, whose parents Robert and Catherine, sailed to Australia from England in the 1850s. Graham is enormously proud of this rich family history and it plays an integral part in his sense of belonging to Turkey Lagoon. He is the youngest of six children and the only boy. Graham and his five sisters grew up in the cottage 100 metres from the main Turkey Lagoon homestead with parents Barry and Mary. One of Graham’s sisters, Cathy, arrives during the interview and they share a laugh when remembering hiding at the BIG house whilst in trouble at home, where their grandmother Myrtle fed them homemade cookies and cakes.
Graham returned home from school as a 16-year old in 1986 after his father died, to take on running Turkey Lagoon, and rose to the enormous responsibility of keeping the farm afloat with skills learned from his father. In 1992, Graham married local girl Kylie Morris and the young newlyweds started renovating the original Turkey Lagoon homestead, which had laid empty for many years. Kylie reflects on the original house including its huge ballroom.
“I can imagine the wonderful parties held in this huge ballroom; it must have been magnificent in its day.”
This room, and the original kitchen, was destroyed by white ants. The lounge room, corridor and bedrooms are the only parts of the original homestead remaining. Renovation before and after photos show the enormity of the year-long project, including a new roof and rebuilding of three quarters of the house. Unfortunately, the once lovely gardens were also in ruins, except for three huge 100-year old bottletrees which stand proudly at the front of the house. Kylie rebuilt the gardens from scratch, with her hard work evident in the greenery and colour forming an oasis amongst the stark dry surrounds.
Today, the property grows grain, cotton and cattle, with the farming prowess of the Cooks well respected in the district. Kylie and Graham received the 2012 McIntyre Valley Cotton Growers Association Improved Cotton Farm of the Year as well as the Irrigated Crop of the Year award.
This close and connected family, including Kylie, Graham and their two boys, Jack and Tom, are bound together by the history of Turkey Lagoon, of which they are all an integral part. The fifth generation is ready in the wings, continuing the rich tradition of the Cook family and Turkey Lagoon.
Words and Images by Mandie O’Shea