Remembering the Past Australia

Account of a Trip to Hunter's River in 1827

Letter III

First published in The Australian (Sydney) February 7, 1827.

Backwater on Lower Hunter, NSW ca. 1800-1899

Backwater on Lower Hunter, N.S.W., ca. 1800-1899, Samuel Thomas Gill. State Library of New South Wales.

The Second Branch appeared to great advantage on our return from the first. The dull and awful monotony of the one was succeeded by the gay gardens and cultivated fields of the other, and impressed an idea of greater population and maturity. Our horses not having arrived as expected, the journey up the country was delayed, and an opportunity occurred of taking a day’s coursing after the kangaroo, which abounds in the neighbourhood, and also seeing a little more of this very desirable part of Hunter’s River. Abundance and hospitality certainly belong to the second branch; and the kind and unostentatious attentions there paid us by the settlers, made it difficult to remember that we were strangers, and has impressed my mind with the most agreeable recollections of their beautiful farms and comfortable homes. Without any disparagement, however, to the batchelor’s cheer, it is incumbent to remark the superior comfort, cleanliness, and general management observable at the establishments of the married settlers. So far from the bush not being adapted to the habits and pursuits of an English lady, it appeared to me the very sphere for, the exercise of all her acquirements; in such a scope her talents and value are immediately called into action, and while they relieve the husband from a number of subordinate, unmanly, household anxieties, they throw a cheerfulness and contentedness around the dwelling, unknown within the sombre, walls of the unmarried settler. No country can agree better with children; for health and beauty, and an English ingenuousness of countenance, those we saw might have sate for studies to Murillo himself. We had an excellent day’s sport on the parson’s farm, killed five large kangaroo’s, and started about fifty others in the space of five hours, with about ten or a dozen dogs. We were in at the death of one of them.

The wretched animal heav’d forth such groans,
That their discharge did stretch his leathern coat,
Almost to bursting, and the big round tears,
Coursed one another down his innocent nose,.
In pitenus chase.

I could not help regretting such a wholesale and useless slaughter. The kangaroo generally weighs from twenty to a hundred pounds; and as it is impossible to carry such burdens home, the practice is merely to cut off the tails. Perhaps you never tasted kangaroo soup. I confess not one settler in a hundred either knows how to dress it, or is furnished with the little ingredients so essentially requisite in soups. The Spaniards say, ‘he that has not seen Seville, has seen nothing;’ so may be said of this ‘Spirit of Australia,’ if you ‘have not’ tasted kangaroo, you have tasted nothing. ‘When his tail is converted into soup, especially as I had it, under the hands and superintendence of Mrs. ———.”

Not turtle nor Mulligatawney,
nor all the savoury dishes of the world,

can beat it. If Doctor Kitchencr, would only come out to New South Wales, and give this most distinguished of the fern naturæ, and the mode of dressing it, that patient and solemn attention for which he is so famous, a most powerful inducement would be held out to emigration among the different companies if London- studious of the gastric juice, and instead of taking his yacht up the Baltic or Mediterranean, we might even have a visit from Sir William himself. Mount Johnstone and other higher ranges here begin to close in the low country, and very little land is to be had; unlocated in this district ’till you proceed twelve or fifteen railes higher, up, to where the river goes off by two narrous branches. Near this is settled a gentleman respectably connected with the Island of Madeira, who has brought out with him, some Portuguese vine dressers, and who has the best prospects of raising the grape in perfection. Such beneficial speculations, under a discerning government, will never want encouragement; for while they add so materially to the comforts of the neighbourhood, they give a tone and character to the Colony much to be desired. Nobody likes grapes more than John Bull, and yet, with about a single exception, not more, I never saw in New. South Wales a bunch worth eating. Wine is therefore out of the question, at present, and with submission to the excellent, society for the encouragement of agriculture and horticulture in New South Wales, I think if they wish to promote the growth of colonial wine, their reward should be adjudged to the person every year who had set in the ground the greatest number of plants. Let us first have plenty, of grapes and wine will follow, as a matter of course.

There was a large fight in the neighbouring mountains between the tribes of Port Stephens and Hunter’s River. Remembering the old proverb, “those who in quarrels interpose,” and supposing there would be a good deal of blood spilt on the occasion, I had no particular fancy to visit the scene of action. The army under king Bungaree I met proceeding to the field with all the ferocity that dabs of pipe clay and smears of red oker could produce. They were armed with spears, boomerangs, and waddies, and from their erect and frowning front seemed sensible of the high emprise in which they were embarked, and impressed the passing stranger with ideas of blood and slaughter. On observing, us his Majesty and several of his staff defiled to where we stood,, and condescended to ask for a bit of tobacco! The next day instead of hearing of long lists of killed and wounded, it turned out that nobody was hurt, but that every precaution had been taken to enable, them to “fight another day.” One old black was plaistered nearly all over with pipeclay, and cut a grotesque figure, not unlike “Moon” in the masquerade. He had lost his wife— and this is their deep mourning. I asked what his jin’s name was, when he very plaintively replied, “what for, massa, you make me cry?” It appears that, a black name is never mentioned after death, and any of the family or tribe, bearing the name of the deceased, are forthwith christened afresh, in order that no fond remembrance may be cherished of their loss. It is surprising to see them in such numbers, so strong and healthy. They take no thought for to-morrow, but let the morrow take care for itself. They are great fishers, and the large lily affords them a most nutritious root resembling potato, which wrapt up in a bit of bark, and kept in the fire ten or fifteen minutes, is really very nice. The cobra and the kungewye, and the grub, are all famous dishes, equal, I am told, to any turtle, if one could but think so, and are found near the rivers in summer time in inexhaustible quantities. In the interior of the country the kangaroo and opossum, the emu, the rat and bandycoot, with roots of fern, and large nests of honey, furnish them a plentiful supply, and in the summer time they avail themselves of a number of wild fruits, little appreciated by us, but which are mostly very good.

From the elevated ridge of Moneybung we had a splendid view over the main river, where we were going, to the extent westward of twenty or thirty miles. That hill on the left is the Sugar Loaf near Newcastle, and the blue range of hills more to the right is the Wolombi, at the foot of which runs the celebrated brook of that name, upwards of a hundred miles long, which was not discovered three years ago, but which is now crowded with settlers. Further on to the right in the Brokenback Mountains, and that bluff projecting and lofty termination of the range, is called par excellence the Bulga or the Mountain. The farthest smoke in the west is Patrick’s Plains, and where you see the river sparkling like a piece of plate is Glendon. Just below us is a fertile valley, which you can hardly see for the tops of trees, and those two conical hills are on the estates of Luskintyre and Windermere. These two estates I found afterwards enjoyed a very just celebrity. The proprietors of them keep an excellent house for themselves and friends, and the laird of Luskintyre, in particular, has always thought with Scipio to Gil Blas — Pour quoi nous nonrrir comme des Diogenes? Sitol que nous aurons une terre, il faudmit la munir de bons vins, et de tontes les autres provisions convenables a des gens d’esprit quine quittent pas le commerce des hommes pour renoncer aux commodites de la vie.

But not to anticipate. We got home to Patterson’s Plains to a late dinner, between seven and eight o’clock, tired with sitting so many hours in the saddle; rather than with the distance rode. We unfortunately also made choice, in our impatience for dinner, of one of those short cuts, which almost invariably turn out the longest way round. We soon forgot our fatigues amidst the excellent cheer and hearty welcome of our worthy host and his amiable lady, and after paying every reasonable respect to his Innishowen I was glad to get to bed. This is a fine sheep and dairy district. Mr N. has nearly 3000 sheep of a highly improved breed; and his neighbour, the magistrate, musters, I believe, about 2000, all in the finest order. Most of the settlers make a cheese a day, weighing about 15 lb. At this rate cheese must come down in price, or be made of such superior quality as to be worth exporting to India and the Isle of France. One settler makes 150 lbs. of butter per week for the Sydney market; he adopts the plan as practised at home, of never letting the calves see their mothers after they are dropped; they are kept in calf sheds on the skim milk and curds, and the cows are brought to the pail twice a day, morning and evening. There is great advantage in this system, and, it might be universally adopted where there is plenty of grass. But where is the milk maid?

While the ploughman, near at hand,
Whistles o’er the furrowed land.
And the milk maid singeth blithe,
And the mower whets his scythe.

This is not a New South Wales picture. Would that it were! Thanks to Mrs. Fry we have neither dairy maid nor milk maid, until her horrid system is upset, Pat must continue to milk and Murphy to churn.

X. Y. Z.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.