An insight into a local Historian – John Mannion

John Mannion is a local historian for the Orroroo community. Growing up on the family farm near Pekina, located 14 kilometres of Orroroo, he has a fascination for the local area. He is the co-author of the book ‘No place like Pekina, a story of survival,’ which is a fantastic book on the history of Pekina and surrounding area.

As a youngster, he was never particularly interested in sport and would rather fiddle around with machinery. He has always been intrigued by people’s stories, old buildings and railways, which led to his interest in collecting history. After working as an electrical fitter for some time, he is now a freelance historian among other things and also works part-time for the Orroroo Carrieton Council as the heritage coordinator. John has an Advanced Diploma in Local, Family and Applied History (UNE, Armidale, NSW 2003). Throughout his life, he has experienced the development of technology which has made researching and recording history a lot easier, especially with the internet. John still remembers his first recorded interview in 1974, which was very exciting and it amazed him as it gave the people he interviewed a voice and life to their stories, which is a critical element of history.

John focuses a lot more on social history which he calls ‘ordinary people’s’ history. He believes it is sad that the only record of some people’s lives is what is on their headstone and some people don’t even have this. Everyone has their own life stories, which often go unheard. The former Pekina station headquarters, located just south of Orroroo, was once a thriving settlement from the 1850’s-1870’s but nothing was ever heard about the workers. It is recorded that there are up to 35 unmarked and un-located graves at the site and another three identified graves nearby. John finds this very intriguing and would like to know who the people were, where they come from and why they went unrecorded. This is just one example of the things that motivate John’s research and emphasises his personal importance about recording social history.

John thinks that it is important to record history, as he believes ‘we’ owe the people who came before us an obligation. Recording history helps him understand the reasons behind why things around us are this way. Throughout his life, he has seen things changing and thinks that not only the facts that are recorded, but people’s stories. In ‘No place like Pekina, a story of survival’ this is shown as he includes many stories and personal histories, rather than just statistics and facts. This also applies to building and historic artefacts. According to John, anything has a story, from a railway to a stone wall. How it was built, when, why, and by whom, are just some of the questions that come to him. As John is very passionate about historic buildings, he has had many experiences trying to preserve buildings against demolition. Many of these attempts have failed, with the Orroroo railway goods shed and the Grave diggers shed at the local cemetery being just a few that have been destroyed. John and others did manage to preserve the ‘Red Bridge’ [railway], located near the Giant Gum Tree in the Pekina Creek, which is a valuable achievement. John is passionate about preserving historic buildings as they are a legacy to the people who preceded us and their efforts shouldn’t be wasted.

John Mannion is a very knowledgeable, interesting, enthusiastic person and a very valuable member of the Orroroo community. His extensive knowledge of the history of the area is remarkable and he is very helpful to anybody interested in what he does.

Written by Georgie Custance with special thanks to John Mannion who can be contacted by email


  1. Tania van Riel on 28/06/2021 at 5:35 pm

    Am searching for a copy of the book to borrow. intrigued about the Pekina Cemetery as I have connections with Marshall burials which are not in the main part of the Cemetery. Wondering if there is any history that explains why?

  2. Zita Vafiopulous on 09/09/2012 at 2:41 pm

    Hi John, My ancestors took up land in Walloway in 1876 and remained there for over 50 years. John & Mary O’Reilly are both buried at the Orroroo Cemetery. I would like to find out how, in 1876 they and their 8 children would have travelled from Monarto via Mt Barker to Walloway. Would their mode of transport have been bullock and dray, and how long would it have taken. These are questions that I am finding very hard to track down answers to. Can you help point me in the right direction, please. Thank you Zita

  3. Harry Willey on 19/01/2011 at 4:15 pm

    I find it hard to believe our lives have followed the same track, my interst in History developed at primary school, layed dormant for many years untill I recieved a book in 1979 giving a glowing story on one of my wifes ancestors wonderfull story but it was the story of an impostor and not that of the real man.
    After 10 years of arguing with the Authorities in England I finally got the correct story published.
    Then with you I was an external Student at UNE, dropped out for what I thought was to be one semester to write a story on the one Hundred men who have their names on the local War memorial, all of whom gave their lives. Five years later I publish their stories, from there its led to writting for Australian and Overseas Journals, only on monday of this week my eightieth birthday I recieved a message from a man in Norway asking for permission to print one of my stories that told of a Norwegan Man who served in the AIR in both wars and is the only man I can find who was decorated for bravery in both wars.
    But like you any history is History that should be recorded and beside the 118 articles that have been published in Journals I enjoy talking to School Children and addressing Social Clubs on many topics.
    Unlike you I did not finish my studies at Armidale, but the two years at Armidale helped a lot.
    Hope to do a bit of travelling this year, might even get over your way.
    Good Luck and Congratulations/
    Harry Willey

  4. ANNETTE HUDSON on 27/11/2010 at 8:56 pm

    Hi John

    My name is Annette Hudson and my father is William Vincent Crowhurst who is 82 tomorrow !) and who is currently living in Whyalla. I was wondering if you have any produced any books on the area of Black Rock/Orrorro – my dad is very keen about the area as he was born and lived in the Black Rock area. His father, also William Crowhurst at one time ran Black Rock pub which is now the Black Rock Art Gallery. Our family have made various trips to the area to see the hotel with my father and he has told us many stories about the area. I look forward to hearing from you.

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