Country Scenes – Port Macquarie in 1864

First published in The Sydney Morning Herald, 1 July 1864

HOUSEHOLD word in New South Wales, yet a neglected spot; charming scenery, lovely walks by shady bowers, low sandy beach, promenades, high grassy cliffs with winding paths, land-locked lakes, open sea, and fine rivers; boating, shooting, fishing, oystering, hunting, riding, walking, bathing – or, for a quiet day and evening at home, I know of no place in this country where one could pass idle hours more pleasantly.

The post is little known to most of the inhabitants of the present day, and I recollect hearing that it was said to have a dangerous bar. Now, as I generally like to come as near the truth as possible, I have made all inquiries from persons capable of knowing, and here is the result – that the bar of Port Macquarie is the least dangerous of any on the coast, far less so than the Manning, Macleay, or Clarence, and not near as bad as Newcastle, before the late improvements. So we will consider the old story a myth.

In making the port from the south, comes Tacking Point, and after running along a very pretty undulating coast for some two miles and a half, you make big Nobby, a high conical mound, after passing which you get a full view of the high portion of the town. On the top of the main cliff stands a fine windmill, reminding me of the scenery of the old Brighton at home, which has a very picturesque appearance; then small Nobby, the flag-staff and hill, with its look-out house, and range of pilots’ and boats’ crews cottages; then across the bar in the twinkling of an eye, and you find yourself in the beautiful harbour, on entering which one is struck with the homely appearance of the place. Large stores, churches, hotels, cottages, in fact a fine town to all intents and purposes. On landing, I was completely bewildered with the forlorn state of things, empty houses and stores that cannot get tenants for love or money, yet most of them in first-rate order and good repair – a fact for economists, rents are almost nominal. 

Sugar Plantation on the Hastings River, Port Macquarie, 1864 (Colourised)
Mr. Meares’ Sugar Plantation, Hastings River Illustrated Sydney News. 7 August 1868.

The township is well laid out, modern – the street all at right angles, and has similar advantages to the old Brighton at home; that after hours of heavy rain one can move about on foot with pleasure, the land being so undulating the water soon runs away; supposing the contrary, the sands are always available however wet the higher land may be, so that one is seldom kept long in-doors, a great desideratum at the sea-side.

In looking after our temporal affairs, we must not forget our spiritual wants, and in supply, we have a very pretty commodious Protestant church, standing on a hill in the centre of the town, built of brick, with a fine Norman tower, and fitted internally in the fine old English style. None of your new-fashioned posts and rails, with narrow entrances and open sides, that too small boys defy sleep, but fine old English pews, 10 x 10, with high partitions between each that are almost impossible to look over, so that one is compelled to look up at the minister and he to look down benignly on you, a mutual advantage that I think consistent. There is also a Catholic church, high on another hill; a fine roomy Scotch kirk, and a modest Baptist place of meeting, in the main street, at the lowest part of the settlement. So your spiritual welfare can be well attended to. I have visited them all, and found in each a full well-regulated congregation, and wondered where all the people came from, the place seemed so quiet.

We have also the regular guardians of the public, to wit, the police and a street patrol, all in good order like a big town; but in all my long residence I have never seen anyone in charge – a drunken man is a “rara avis,” and as to police office reports, “mirabile dictú,” there are none. Oh, happy, happy people – no street rows, no drunkards, no burglars, no robberies, and no bushranging; street doors are rarely fastened, and the good people go to bed in perfect peace, and, it is to be hoped, “in goodwill with all men.”

“Shall we take a ride to-day ?” “Yes. Tacking Point, or Lake Innes;” – the relative advantages of the former are winding shady paths along the coast descending every now and again to the beach, then through the thick scrubs, filled with all kinds of pretty trees. The grass and fern tree abound here; – or up the New England Road some four miles, then three miles to the left for the lake. I think the latter preferable, so to the lake, we will go. The road is good for the seven miles, and as we canter along, entirely forgetful of the cares of the world, and regarding only the pretty companion at our side, we arrive far too soon at the house and grounds which, to a recent date, have been deserted, except by “Old George” in charge, a fine fellow of the good old sort. The grounds have been laid out most beautifully, and no expense seems to have been spared; the garden abounds in fruit oranges, bananas, guavas, apples, pears, quinces, custard-apples, candle nuts, grapes, lemons, passion fruit, figs, limes. The trees are getting destroyed by a shrub imported by the original proprietor for hedging, namely, the lantana; it has now grown everywhere, and covers hundreds of acres, “thick as black night.” Rare plants and beautiful flowers are fast disappearing, from continued neglect, and the whole place seems to be going to ruin. The house is large, double verandahs, large enough to drive a coach-and-four through; fine lofty rooms, ranges of bed-rooms, bath-house, look-out tower, stable, loose boxes, coach-houses – in fact, every convenience and comfort that wealth requires for a large family. The house looks westerly towards the lake (a second edition of the Botany swamps), and the south towards Camden Head and Haven. The lake abounds in wild fowl, swans, ducks, &c., and the scrubs with wallaby, pademelons, brush turkeys, wonga wonga, queen, flock, and various pigeons; and a few miles inland lyre birds, pheasants, and all sorts of game.

Government House, Formerly the residence of the Commandant, Port Macquarie
Sketches of Port Macquarie. The Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser. 5 April 1884.
Coloured by Remembering the Past in Colour

“What shall we do to-morrow?” “Go up the Hastings, the Maria, or the Wilson ” – all large rivers, wide enough to turn the Great Eastern – to one of the large orangeries. In fact, between one amusement and another we defy dull care; or if so, a short trip up the hill, and a view of the briny ocean in the east, or the setting sun, the lofty mountains, the beautiful harbour, the long reach of river, the thick green scrub and tall, trees, is a sight in the west that would gladden the heart of a blackfellow. Why, the very name bears a charm; our good old Governor and his lady. Lady Macquarie Chair, Lake Macquarie, Macquarie-street, and Macquarie-place, are all in their way the pretty of prettiest. Time – old time will sure to find this spot the Brighton of New South Wales. I have travelled ” some considerable,” yet my eye dwells here with perfect ease, and feel certain that the place only wants to be known to insure a constant influx of visitors.

A source of wonder to many from other parts of the colony are the scrubs, thick and dense; – a word or two on them will not be misplaced. They are most extraordinary. The supplejack of New Zealand finds a worthy rival in the numerous vines. The rays of the sun in the hottest day of summer are as completely excluded as if you were in an ice-house. The fig trees grow straight as arrows for sixty feet without a limb, and are overgrown with most beautiful creepers to the very highest branch. Congewois, stinging tree (“death to a horse if severe,”) tamarind, cedar, beech, rosewood, gum, bloodwood, ironbark, and all kinds of timber grow straight, and as thick as peas; once in the scrub there is some difficulty in getting out on foot; on horseback it is quite out of the question. The foliage also is distinct; none of your scanty, lanky, bottle-green leaves, but the real old English close, shady nooks, that delight the eye of an idler on a summer’s day.

The country around is not agricultural, certainly not pastoral, it is all scrub, nevertheless, a large quantity of maize is grown here and there.

The climate is delightful both in summer and winter, but rather more wet than dry.

In conclusion, I shall not consider my half-hour thrown away if I induce one solitary good-tempered invalid to lay aside his cares for a time, and ease his weary bones by a visit to this highly favoured spot, and he will find that I have neither added to, or diminished from, the natural beauties of the place.

MANFIELD.

Sources:

  1. Country Scenes (1864, July 1). The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), p. 2. 
  2. Sugar Plantation on the Hastings River, Port Macquarie (1868); Mr. Meares’ Sugar Plantation, Hastings River (1868, August 7). Illustrated Sydney News (NSW : 1853 – 1872), p. 9.
  3. Government House, Formerly the Residence of the Commandant, Port Macquarie (1884); Sketches of Port Macquarie. (1884, April 5). The Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW : 1871 – 1912), p. 641.
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