Five generations of drillers

As a family business passed on down through the generations the Cox-Mannion connection would be one of the longest surviving drilling families in Australia. It is now into the 4th generation with Jason Mannion, and the 5th generation is a high chance as Jason and Jacinta’s only son Mitchell (7) was visiting his first drill sit at 5 months of age and every chance he gets since the age of about 3yrs his been helping Jason drill water bores in the middle of summer all over the Northwest, NSW.


Charles Cox, born in 1888 was a driller first on the Darling Downs and then moving into northern NSW. He started drilling with steam driven early model Southern Cross rigs almost 100 years ago. His son Mervyn (Snow) Cox followed on his business, and this was then succeeded by his nephews George, Curly, and Neville Mannion. So this makes four generations of drillers, although there was a name change from Cox to Mannion.

While an exact date cannot be traced as to when Charles Cox first started drilling, it is estimated to be just after his discharge from the First World War Charles married Rosina Rettke and they had four sons and three daughters and at one stage all four sons and three son-in-laws were drilling in Queensland and Northern NSW.

Daughter Ivy (Mannion) recalled from her early childhood that Charles had a thrashing machine which was driven by a steam-traction engine, and this was taken from property to property helping the farmers with their harvest. Her first memories of a drilling rig were in the early 1920s when Charles operated his rig in the Morven area, but it could well have been earlier.

Charles had the distinction of owning the first T-model Ford in the Freestone area, on Queensland’s Darling Downs. Charles and Rosina’s eldest son Albert (Jack) was a drilling contractor at Moree and sons Ray and Greg were also drillers for a time. Their second son, Charles (Bill) Cox drilled around the Warwick area. Mervyn (Snow) worked with his father in Queensland and northern NSW and eventually settled at Quirindi. The youngest son Ron was at Boggabri and one of his sons, Malcolm was also drilling for a while.

Charles and Rosina’s eldest daughter Daisy married Arthur (Larl) Shelley and they settled at Goondiwindi and their four sons Ken, Keith, Arthur and Ian were also driller’s. The second daughter, Ivy married J.W. George Mannion and he was a driller and four of their six sons at one staged worked on the rigs. Sons Mervyn (Curly) and Leonard (George) worked with Snow Cox, eventually taking over his business. Ivy and George’s second son, Neville, based himself in Delungra, where Neville taught Jason from a very young age the in’s and out of drilling and with such a passion for the industry purchased the Business in 2000. Mannion Drilling was based out of Inverell until 2011 and after a decade of drilling in the Gunnedah basin decided to relocate our operations out of Gunnedah.

Since Jason purchased the business from Neville and Dorothy we have expanded from the one drill rig to 5 with the latest rigs with all the safety inclusions to keep up with ever changing drilling operations for our clients. The youngest daughter, Myrtle, married John Shelley and they too settled at Goondiwindi and their two sons Lionel and Arthur were drillers, whilst Lionel’s two sons Bob and Kevin were also drilling in Queensland. While textbooks can be written about drilling techniques, and advances made to rigs by modern technology, many interesting stories can be told by the Cox family members about drilling – from the deep holes in the Great Artesian Basin, to the Gulf and down into the thick gravel beds producing irrigation water in the Namoi Valley, and now coal exploration is the “buzz” word.