The man living off the land in an Australian town that time forgot

Photographer reveals the true story behind this startling picture of a man living off the land in an Australian town that time forgot

  • Brian Cassey took pictures of Mark Webb, his wife and seven children living in dire conditions in Urandangi
  • Urandangi is in far west Queensland and 2,011km north west of Brisbane near the Northern Territory border
  • The town’s main building is the ‘Dangi Pub’, which is also a CentreLink officer, a petrol station and local store
  • Locals do not have electricity or running water and completely rely on the pub for food, water and internet 
  • There was a drinking problem in town but things changed when Pam Forster, 70, took over the pub in 2008
  • Ms Forster got rid of the pub’s ‘drunk tank’ and introduced strict rules to stop binge drinking and alcoholism
  • The town now also has a school for its 13 children and had a new playground open for the kids on October 9

A picture of a father warming his hands by a fire while his wife and children sleep on mattresses in the dirt was taken in an extremely remote Indigenous community that has changed dramatically over the years.  

Cairns photographer Brian Cassey took the photo of father-of-seven Mark Webb in the tiny town of Urandangi in far west Queensland, which is 2,011km north west of Brisbane near the Northern Territory border, in 2008. 

Speaking to Daily Mail Australia, Mr Cassey said Urandangi was ‘a pretty desperate place’ where residents lived in make shift iron shanties and leaky battered caravans without running water, sanitation, power and other basic services when he visited in 2008. 

The Urandangi Hotel, known as the ‘Dangi Pub’ by locals, is the town’s main building, which is also used as a roadhouse, CentreLink office, flying doctor agent, petrol station, post office and store by the local community. 

Urandangi also had a drinking problem and the local pub even had a metal shed called the ‘drunk tank’ to lock up people who were intoxicated. 

But things started to change in 2008 when a woman named Pam Forster, 70, took over the Dangi Pub and cracked down on binge drinking by abolishing the ‘degrading’ drunk tank and creating strict rules. 

Today, the town is still without electricity and relies on Mount Isa for supplies, but has less alcoholism, a strong sense of community, a flourishing school and even had a new children’s playground open on October 9. 

Father Mark Webb warms by the fire at dawn at his Urandangi ‘home’ while his wife and seven children sleep on the mattresses behind him. Some of the kids are seen awakening on the mattress centre in the tiny town of Urandangi in far west Queensland, which is 2,011km north west of Brisbane near the Northern Territory border, in 2008

Mr Webb’s wife (second from left) and their seven children outside of their Urandangi home in 2008. Mr Webb said he just wanted shelter and electricity for his family and left the town in 2010

A lone child walks along the middle of the road in Urandangi in 2008. The town now has a permanent population of eight adults and 13 children. The nine younger children attend the local Urandangi State School from Kindergarten to Year 6

Urandangi is an extremely remote location that is often used a rest stop on the way to Alice Springs. Speaking to Daily Mail Australia, Mr Cassey said Urandangi was ‘a real end of the road type place’ when he visited the town to take pictures in 2008, although he has not visited since

An aerial view of Urandangi with the Dangi Pub at the front. Surrounding the pub are caravans and makeshift metal shacks that people call home

In Mr Cassey’s photo from 2008, Mr Webb warmed himself next a fire on a metal sheet in the morning. Behind him was a leaky caravan that he, his wife and seven children called home at the time.  

The wife and kids can be seen sleeping on mattresses outside of the caravan next to litter, dirt and some of their belongings – a situation Mr Webb desperately wanted to get his family out of.  

‘All we want are the basic rights of any Queenslander. We want a bit of shelter and some power so we can run a fridge and not worry about food going rotten in the heat,’ Mr Webb said at the time. 

‘We keep pushing for help, but no one is listening. We are out of sight, out of mind, and no one cares.’  

Speaking to Daily Mail Australia, Mr Cassey said Urandangi was ‘a real end of the road type place’ when he visited the town to take pictures in 2008, although he has not visited since. 

‘It was a pretty desperate place, it’s a long way from anywhere. They had nothing, the majority had no running water, power, sanitation,’ Mr Cassey said. 

‘Mark (Webb) said he just wanted some electricity for his family. There are some power generators out there but not everyone had one. There was only one street light as well. 

‘My favourite picture is the picture of one kid in the middle of the road. I have no idea what the kids did for fun, I think that kid has got a yoyo. But kids make their own fun, it’s only the poor parents that have to look after them.’ 

Other pictures show Mr Webb’s wife and children, many of them barefoot, standing outside of their make shift home with their few belongings. The Webb family later left Urandangi in 2010. 

One of Mr Webb’s children cries outside of their makeshift home. ‘We keep pushing for help, but no one is listening. We are out of sight, out of mind, and no one cares,’ Mr Webb said at the time

Five of Mr Webb’s seven children outside of their caravan home. Many residents lived in make shift iron shanties and leaky battered caravans without running water, sanitation, power and other basic services when Mr Cassey visited in 2008

Two of Mr Webb’s children outside of their home. Many residents in Urandangi stay in the town for weeks, months or years before eventually moving to another town

Urandangi’s only street light outside of the Dangi Pub. The pub has an 80KVA generator that many locals rely on for power as well as internet and WiFi. Some locals, but not all, have their own individual generators

Mr Cassey said he noticed a drinking problem and lots of temporary residents living in Urandangi when he visited. 

‘It’s also a very transient place. There can be 40 people living there and the next month there’s 150. Like many Indigenous communities, there was a drinking problem, that’s for sure,’ he said. 

‘Some photos are of a little tiny round shed. That was the drunk tank, if you got pissed, you spent the night in the drunk tank. I’m not sure if it’s still around though.’      

Mr Cassey described a woman named Pam Forster as the ‘matriarch’ of the town who had just taken over the Dangi Pub when he visited in 2008.  

Ms Forster, 70, is originally from Victoria and lived in the Kimberley and the NT before taking over the Dangi Pub in 2008. She has run the pub ever since and is considered a ‘pillar of the community’ by many. 

Speaking to Daily Mail Australia, Ms Forster said ‘I love it here’ and that Urandangi has drastically changed for the better in the last 12 years. 

‘It has changed 100 per cent to what it was when I bought it. It was very feral and very wild and you wouldn’t stop here if you were a tourist. But now it’s very good. Very different from what it was before,’ she said. 

‘There was a problem with drinking but not anymore. My protocol is, if you play up, I shut. And I would not open until tomorrow morning. Once people knew I meant it, that I wouldn’t back down, things started to change. 

‘There’s one rule for everybody, no change for black and white, even a little bit. That’s how things are here. The nearest police station is nearly three hours away, so you deal with things yourself.’ 

The Urandangi Hotel (pictured), known as the ‘Dangi Pub’ by locals, is the town’s main building, which is also used as a roadhouse, CentreLink office, flying doctor agent, petrol station, post office and store by the local community

A child runs away from the ‘drunk tank’ where intoxicated people from the Dangi Pub used to be held in 2008. The drunk tank has since been removed by the new publican Pam Forster 

Former publican Zowie Anderson (right) and his girlfriend Roberta Long. Mr Anderson left the Dangi Pub in 2008, which is when the Ms Forster took over the business 

Pam Forster (pictured), 70, cracked down on drink and got rid of the ‘drunk tank’ when she took over the Dangi Pub in 2008. Ms Forster is considered a ‘pillar of the community’ because the pub plays multiple different roles 

In addition to cracking down on drinking, Ms Forster also got rid of the ‘drunk tank’ because it was ‘degrading’. 

‘The drunk tank was very poor taste, it’s the first thing I got rid of. It was humiliating. I don’t like anyone being made a mockery of, I’m afraid,’ she said. 

Since Dangi Pub is also a roadhouse, CentreLink office, flying doctor agent, petrol station, post office and general store, Ms Forster has a huge role in the local community. 

She drives two hours in her truck to buy supplies in Mount Isa, which is nearest regional centre. She makes the trip once a week but sometimes has to go more than once if supplies are low. 

‘We also have the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) come out every two weeks. If there’s an emergency, I call them and they get here in about 40 minutes. It’s a pretty good response time,’ Ms Forster said. 

The town still relies on generators for electricity and now has internet and WiFi – but is does not receive any mobile mobile phone reception whatsoever. 

‘Power doesn’t worry me but I’d like to see mobile service out here. I don’t care about dirt roads either, it’s part of living out here. We have internet access and WiFi at the pub but we do not have mobile service. There’s a hot spot on the street but that’s it,’ Ms Forster said. 

‘People don’t understand until they come out here. There’s no mobile reception. Even a lot of the grey nomads don’t understand. We don’t have town power. I’m running an 80KVA generator just for the pub.’  

Urandangi local Sonny Mick at his home that has no power, water or sanitation. He had multiple pet dogs that he looked after in 2008

Mr Mick takes shelter under his makeshift home made out of sheet metal and tarp. Inside, he has a bed, mattress, tables and blankets to sleep in

Mr Mick with some of his dogs as the son goes down. Mr Mick relied on the Dangi Pub for food, water and supplies. Publican Ms Forster drives two hours in her truck to buy supplies in Mount Isa, which is nearest regional centre

Norman and Mavis Wilde outside their wrecked van home in the western Queensland community of Urandangi

The permanent population of Urandangi currently comprises of eight adults and 13 children. The nine younger children attend the local Urandangi State School from Kindergarten to Year 6. 

Urandangi State School has a principal, a teacher, a teacher’s aide and a Kindergarten teacher for the nine students. 

The population of Urandangi can fluctuate between 20 and 200 given its transient nature.  

Due to its close proximity to the Georgina River, the town can often flood and had significant floodings in both 2014 and 2016.

‘We flood nearly every year, we’re right on the Georgina river that leads to Lake Eyre. Most of the time it isn’t that bad but some years can be tough,’ Ms Forster said. 

Ms Forster said the COVID-19 pandemic has actually benefited the town as police officers and the Australian Army were recently stationed there guarding the Queensland-NT border. 

‘We had the police and army staying here for three months, which was great for the financial side. I had contractors in doing different jobs on the school buildings. We’ve just had the best last 12 months,’ she said.    

Ms Forster encouraged Australians, particularly Queenslanders, to come visit Urandanji, especially if they want to stop over on the way to the NT when the border reopens. 

Happy locals in front of the Urandangi’s old ‘Drunk Tank’. Mr Cassey said he noticed a drinking problem and lots of temporary residents living in Urandangi when he visited

A vintage photograph of Gary Pollard of Mt Isa (left), local Johnie Age next to him and workers from Lake Nash Station at the Dangi Pub in 1985

A police and army checkpoint on the Queensland-NT border. The police and army presence brought in more revenue for the Urandangi and was an exciting sight for the local children

Ms Forster (centre) poses with members of the Australian Army stationed in Urandangi during the COVID-19 pandemic

Local children celebrate the opening of their new playground in Urandangi on October 9

Ms Forseter and Boulia Shire Council Mayor Rick Britton open the new playground in Urandangi on October 9. Mr Britton said the council making little changes to make life easier in Urandangi 

‘It’s a great little place to holiday. There’s mainly grey nomads and Queenslanders travelling in Queensland at the moment going out to places they wouldn’t normally go,’ she said.   

‘It’s very peaceful, there’s great rivers to catch fish, so come out and visit. it is off the beaten track, we’re the only pub between Mount Isa and Alice Springs, there’s very interesting things along the way. 

Ms Forster turned 70 on Sunday and had a birthday party thrown by the local agricultural stations. They are also having a wake for a local Shire worker who passed away recently. 

Urandangi is part of the Boulia Shire Council. Shire Mayor Rick Britton was in Urandangi on October 9 for the opening of a new playground for the children. 

‘People have still got to generate their own power. Council tries to make little changes and do everything we can to make things a little easier. We rely on the state and federal budget,’ he said.  

‘Let’s put it this way, it’s good open country, it would be pretty hard to explain what it is, what you need to do because of COVID, you should come out and see it for yourself. It’s friendly, there’s great hospitality here, you get the really good bush hospitality in these rural remote areas, it’s the real Australia.’    

Urandangi began as an unnamed township in August, 1883. 

The next year, it was officially named Urandangi, which is believed to be derived from the Aboriginal words, uranda-ngie, meaning ‘much gidyea’, which is a type of acacia tree. 

The township was a centre for travellers and drovers where a cattle stock route that crossed the Georgina River. By 1920, Urandangi had a pub, two stores, post office, police station and a dance hall.  

Ms Forster (in the red dress) and Urandangi locals pose with TV presenter Ray Martin (centre, in the blue shirt). The publican is encouraging more people to visit the town for a holiday

Source: Read Full Article