It’s easy to get lost on the vast expanse of land they call Telemon.
Nestled in the foothills of Australia’s central Queensland
highlands some 560 miles north-west of the state capital, Brisbane, the
sprawling cattle station larger than Manhattan is a maze of wandering
dirt roads Google Maps has never heard of.
It’s greener than you
might imagine the Australian outback to be – a terrain of bottle trees
and scrub, and horizons so vast they are vaguely anxiety-inducing. And
everywhere cattle, staring back incuriously.
Drive for long enough
though and eventually you’ll find the house. An abandoned single-storey
timber thing with a veranda out the back, empty but for a few dusty
beer bottles and rolled-up sleeping bags. A small handmade wicker
crucifix is still tucked into an architrave in the dilapidated cottage
next door. A 7ft-high (2m) cross leans haphazardly. Magpies swoop
visitors and jacaranda trees bloom extravagantly in the overgrown yard.
It’s not a place that people visit very often, but maybe that’s the point.
years ago Telemon was home for Roy Moore – the one-time chief justice
of the Alabama supreme court, defiant courtroom displayer of the Ten
Commandments, current US Senate candidate and accused abuser of numerous women and underage girls in a period spanning from the late 1970s to 1991.
In 1984 Moore spent the better part of a year in the
Queensland outback, where he lived and worked with the Rolfe family, the
hard-working, deeply religious former owners of Telemon. But how he
ended up there and what drove an ambitious 37-year-old assistant
district attorney to this remote outpost has mostly remained a mystery.
The Guardian spent a week in central Queensland, seeking out
those who knew Moore to find out what he was doing so far from home.
What emerged was a portrait of a man overcoming his own personal demons,
but one who never left the impression on those he met that he was
“anything but a gentleman”.
“Roy was struggling at that stage,
although he never talked to me about it,” Doug Rolfe said. “We were
considerably younger than Roy, so he confided in my father rather than
in us ... I just kind of understood he had difficulties.”
A typical American
1982 Moore, then the assistant district attorney in Gadsden, Alabama,
made an unsuccessful bid to become a county circuit judge in Etowah
county after a falling out with the local judiciary. According to his
biography, the loss left him broke, bitter and directionless, and he
decided to travel to Australia for a stint of “R & R”.
travelled initially to Brisbane and then to the coastal town of Ayr,
where he briefly worked on sugar cane farms, before heading west to the
town of Emerald to fulfil his “real desire ... to work in the Australian
Today, Emerald is one of those largish country towns
where pastries and tractor parts are sold on the same block and where it
might just about be possible to go a day without seeing someone with
whom you went to high school. But in 1984 it was all dusty roads and
farmers driving trucks.
It was here that Moore met Colin Rolfe, a cattle farmer and poet who was training to become a deacon in the Anglican church.
“Dad went into a cafe in Emerald and one way or another they
got talking,” said Doug Rolfe, one of Colin’s sons. “They got along on a
religious, Christian basis. Dad never said much about what they talked
about, but they certainly struck a chord, because they seemed to be
The Rolfe family – Colin, his wife Cleone and
their six children – were known for having foreign visitors living and
working on the station and Colin invited Moore to come and stay on the
“It was pretty normal for us,” Colin’s daughter Isla
Turner said. “People would come to spend a few nights and end up staying
a few months.”
Telemon, which in 1984 was more than double its
current size, is about 75 miles (120km) south of Emerald, past the small
town of Springsure, population 1,100.
From there, Telemon is about a further 18 miles (30km)
south-west on what’s known locally as the Tambo Road, an infrequently
surfaced, undulating stretch linking Springsure with the gargantuan
cattle stations that dot this part of Australia. While there, Moore
lived with the family and worked on the property, mustering cattle,
fixing fences and building stockyards.
“I don’t think he’d ever done that sort of manual labour in his life, but he took to it like a duck to water,” Turner said.
Rolfe was diagnosed with cancer not long after Moore arrived and died
on Christmas Eve in 1984. But in interviews with four of the six Rolfe
children, as well as others who met him while he was staying in
Queensland, all expressed shock at the allegations made against Moore.
like that ever came up,” John Rolfe, Colin’s eldest son, said. “He
seemed very straightforward, very much how you’d expect a young
American. I’m quite surprised. It’s not what we saw at all in his time
with us ... We thought very highly of him.”
One woman, who was 16
years old when Moore lived with the Rolfes and came in close contact
with him, said she never felt uncomfortable around him.
“There was nothing of that kind on my part. I certainly
didn’t feel uneasy with him,” the woman, who asked to remain anonymous,
told the Guardian.
“There was never anything remotely like that
[and] I was in my teenage years, which I guess would have been the prime
time if he was going to do something. Usually you have your antenna out
for that sort of thing and nothing untoward came about. I remember he
was gregarious, very bubbly and loud ... a typical American.”
Some kind of personal crisis
56km (35 miles) west of Springsure on the Tambo Road, the Tresswell
State School is attended by the children of cattle farmers. At the back
of the school is a tennis court where the Rolfes played on the weekend.
“I do remember Roy sucked at tennis,” Doug Rolfe said.
Klose, who was the teacher and principal at Treswell in 1984 and was
friends with the Rolfe family, said he never had any cause to suspect
Moore was anything but “a good bloke”.
“There certainly weren’t
any alarm bells or anything … He just seemed like a very pleasant bloke,
that’s all I can recall,” Klose said. “But maybe he was trying to get
away from something, I guess you can never know.”
All of the
Rolfes remember that Moore was dealing with some kind of personal
crisis. In his biography, Moore says losing the circuit court contest
was a “bitter political defeat” that had “broken [his] spirit” and left
him with “nowhere to turn”. He decided to travel to Australia because
he’d been unable to visit the country after his tour of Vietnam.
“I don’t know the [entire] story before us ... what it was in his history that he’d had struggles with,” Doug Rolfe said.
Rolfes believed Moore’s “struggles” related to his thwarted ambition,
but the allegations that have surfaced against Moore recently paint a
more disturbing picture about what his “struggles” may have been.
Leigh Corfman was 14 in 1979 when, she alleges, Moore, then 32, took her to his house, removed most of her clothes, groped her and put her hand on his genitals. Another woman, Beverly Young Nelson, alleges that Moore sexually assaulted her when she was 16.
“I thought he was going to rape me,” Nelson said at a press conference in November.
number of other women have come forward to say that Moore romantically
pursued them when they were teenagers and he was an assistant district
attorney aged in his 30s.
There have been other reports of Moore
pursuing at least three other teenagers when he was in his 30s and the
New Yorker magazine reported that Moore was banned from a mall in Alabama because he repeatedly badgered teenage girls. Moore denies the allegations and has accused all of the women of lying.
But in Australia, the Guardian did not find any reports of improper behaviour.
a small town like this, those sorts of things don’t stay secret and
they aren’t forgotten,” said Desley Abdy, the owner of the local
In any case, the deeply religious Moore found himself in one of Australia’s most religious pockets.
was once known as “the Holy City”, where about 85% of residents
identify with some form of Christianity. A giant image of the Virgin
Mary clutching the baby Jesus literally looms over the town, appearing
inside a niche in the escarpment of Mount Zamia, known colloquially as
the Virgin Rock, beside which the town is nestled.
biography, Moore says his meeting with Colin Rolfe came “as if by the
hand of providence”, calling the family “wonderful hosts and devout
Christians who read the Bible to one another before bedtime”.
Ian Rolfe, Colin’s younger brother, remembers him as a man with “a deep religious belief”.
who still lives on another property further along the Tambo, told the
Guardian his brother was “a gentle man” with “a beautiful singing
“He really was taken too soon,” Ian said. “He genuinely
thought the cancer wouldn’t kill him, he thought the Lord would save
him, but I guess the Lord had other plans for him.”
But even the Rolfe children say Moore’s conservatism stood out to them.
think he was even more staunch as a Christian than my father was, but
it wasn’t anything unusual for us,” Doug Rolfe said. “I was a very
devout Christian for a period of time in my life as well … He wouldn’t
carry on like a hallelujah Christian or anything; he was just very set
in his ideas about moral standards and so forth.”
Asked about the allegations against Moore, they each had different reactions.
Turner said it “wasn’t possible”, and suggested the accusations against him were “political”.
“Why has it taken this long for it all to surface?” she said.
But Doug Rolfe was more equivocal.
interesting. Roy is a person who’s a little bit set in his beliefs and
doesn’t like to change [so] when he has an idea about something, it’s
black and white and he doesn’t see it in grey,” he said.
couldn’t say whether the allegations may be correct or not ... I find it
very surprising, because his treatment of us and the family and the
women who were with us was very morally correct.
“It is always possible. People have a second side outside of moral company.”