Remembering the Past Australia

Account of a Trip to Hunter's River in 1827

Letter V

First published in The Australian (Sydney) February 14, 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.

Patrick’s Plains, one would think, would spoil the settler, and make him difficult to be pleased with anything afterwards. But the contrary is the case; for while you go on wondering where the fine country is to end, you perceive, it increasing in value and importance the further, you proceed up the river. After halting on the excellent, and well watered farm of Captain P— — ?, (of 3000 acres, we had a fine ride of about ten miles to the neighbourhood of Jerry’s Plains. We passed over a rich and fertile country, but without inhabitants, save a solitary shepherd or two tending their flock’s, who showed us the nearest way through the grass. Jerry’s Plains is a particularly rich and beautiful strip of narrow land, formed by the alluvium of the river, and the debris of the mountains, which here shut in the case like the land between Stirling and Alloa in Scotland. This little track extends westward about ten miles along the river, and astonishing to say, is comparatively unknown by the settlers either new or old.

The consequence is that a place which a romantic people like the Spaniards would very likely have called Valparaiso, is without a single inhabitant, although. there are not more trees standing than in the Government Domain at Sydney, or in Wanstead Park, near London. It really was a pity to see nature here in such solitary magnificence in the sole and quiet possession of the tall emu. Land ready for the plough, without cutting down a single tree, seems here to have been overlooked or neglected, while thousands and tens of thousands of acres of impervious forest and scrub nearer the coast, have been caught up with an emulation and a haste that will some day or other, l am afraid, end in a too late repentance, the sera paenitentia of an irrevocable choice.

As I rode through the thick Emu grass the wild indigo touching my stirrups, and plenty of wild currants; raspberries, and tobacco, and the country clear enough to see a dog a mile off, I brought every part of the Colony I had seen in review before me, and they all suffered in comparison with the upper part of the Hunter’s River. I thought of my friend -— — -, and his thousand dark acres near the coast, and the thousand miseries which his gigantic and almost indestructible trees occasion him – trees which, if not so large as the monument on Fish-street Hill are hardly smaller than the column in the Place Vendome. To think of him was to pity him.—Such everlasting trees cannot but throw a gloom on the spirits and exertions of the coast settler, as long as he lives; they operate on him as a constant memento mori, for ever reminding him of the shortness of human life, shewing him how little he can sustain, and, how little he can perform!

Let the new settler, therefore, march on with his bullock and provisions until he finds a country, if possible, without a tree. Never mind the distance; if he have a fine soil and plenty of grass he will soon be in the high road and see other settlers pass by him in search of land. After all, this is only the commencement of the fine country Patrick’s Plains, Jerry’s Plains and neighbourhood, with all their advantages, are but a speck in comparison of the land higher up. Where the river turns off suddenly to the north, you arrive at the splendid estates of Chief Justice Forbes, Colonel Dumaresq,and Potter Macqueen, Esq., M. P. for Bedfordshire, and I suppose with the exception of the Milanese, which it very much resembles, the whole of Europe might be searched in vain to produce a territory by nature, equally valuable or grand, and so well adapted to all the purposes of civilized life.

Here would have been the country for the 5000 emigrants, who were sent out in 1819 to the Cape of Good Hope and who, after so many years of suffering to themselves, and expense to the government; are thrown at last on the cold charity of the “Association for the relief of the distressed settlers at Algoa Bay.” In a sour or a sandy soil, devoid of rivers, exposed to all the evils of long droughts, rust in wheat, storms of hail, deluges of rain; destructive hurricanes, diseases in cattle, marauding Caffres, Bushmen, and beasts of prey, the sober and industrious settler at the Cape is, wearing out a fruitless, hopeless, joyless existence, while all men are prospering in New South Wales, and many possess a substance, deducting the camels, and she asses, superior to Job himself. In a late publication, called Pringle’s Account of the English Settlers at the Cape, we read of “gentlemen, formerly officers in the British army, ‘without, shoes or ???….with their milch cows, and their daughters washing clothes and digging potatoes! Thank God! nothing resembling this was ever seen in the worst periods of New South Wales history. But to return to Hunter’s river,

— the fertile banks
Of Abbana and Pharpar lucid streams.

The source of the River Hunter has not yet been discovered; but most of the land on its banks is now located. the tributary streams of the Goulburn, the Wemyss, the Page, Kingdom Ponds, Dart Brook, Muscle Creek, “rivers unknown to song,” flow through a country nothing inferior to the other main river; and all of them, though not yet two years discovered, can boast of some of the most respectable and wealthy settlers in New South Wales. There is, however, still a good deal of land which remains here to be given away. In the north and west the traveller is stopped by a lofty range of mountains; on the other side of which is the immense country of Liverpool Plains, which by all accounts, for I did not see it, is one of the most magnificent sight in nature. All the plains in the Colony put together, are nothing to this place, which can not fail, ere long, of becoming one of the principal emporiums of the interior. To the north, where the source of the Hunter will most likely be found, but where no Europeans have yet travelled, there is said, by the natives, to be a large lake, a miirri corbon water. This is not laid down in any map, and is at present quite conjectural. At Holdsworthy Downs, which is a very superior district of high, clear, land, between Dart Brook and Hunter’s River, it is thought the lofty hills seen in the distance due east, are the Three Brothers near Farquhar’s Inlet, on the coast, between Cape Hawke and Port Macquarie. If this be the case, the settlers there are within 70 miles of the sea, and when the contemplated new road is opened from Putty to Jerry’s Plains, avoiding the Bulga, the distance from Sydney will not be more than 140 miles. There is also a very good cattle road to Mudgee and Bathurst; to the former of which stations it is only 60 miles. We now bade adieu to the matchless country, and returned by what is called Macintyre’s road to Mugeli Creek. I rode up a smooth and grassy hill, whose sides were covered with ridges and furrows, as regular as if they had been thrown up by the hand of man, to take another look and say farewell.

‘Ye hills and dales, ye rivers, woods and plains!’

We tethered our horses in the heat of the day; and, after lighting a fire and milking tea for the last time, took a siesta for a couple of hours by the side of the creek, under the shade of a large apple tree, which is the most common tree met with in these parts. It is not the apple tree of Europe, but the Angophora of Linneus, and is a certain indication of a fruitful soil. A brisk ride of twenty miles brought us back to our old starting place, near Jerry’s Plains, and while the cloth was preparing for supper we took a swim in the main river. As we returned in the twilight, we could hardly hear ourselves speak, for the noise of the locusts in the trees — they sing in perfect concert, and, like the leader of the band who gives three taps with his bow, the leader of the locusts sings three notes, when they all start off in chorus ’till the crescendo and diminuendo is finished, when the leader commences again. Lord Byron takes notice of them, near Ravenna —

The shrill cicalas, people of the pine,
Making their summer lives one ceaseless song.

But Italy has no laughing jackass (dacelo gigantea). This faithful bird was our constant amusement; but he really is not so much a jackass as people take him to be, for he seldom laughs more than three times a day, though then it is certainly a good horse laugh, at morning, noon, and sunset. He perches on low trees, looking for snakes, and is a great observer of the heavenly bodies. Some people say that if you ask him civilly, he will tell you what is the clock; I tried him once or twice, but without success; we were not sufficiently acquainted, I suppose, and, like another jackass that I could name, he declined having anything to say to me. I hope the settlers will forbear shooting this interesting bird; his taste for snakes ought to preserve him sacred, like the crane in Holland, and the alligator at Batavin.

X. Y. Z.

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