by E. B. Swayne M.L.A. (1927)
First published in the Daily Mercury (Mackay, Qld.), January 15, 1927.
I notice my old friend, Mr Jas. Gordon, recently in your columns gave some reminiscences of the Eungella gold rush and the early transport difficulties connected with it. * That there were difficulties it will be realised when I mention that at one time there were four or five hundred people on the diggings, and that it was weeks, if not months, before a suitable pack track could be discovered over the 2000 odd feet range dividing Pioneer from Broken River waters.
Several were searching for one, amongst them the late Mr J. Kingwell, Charlie Armstrong (Madame Melba’s husband), and others, but eventually what was called Carl Flor’s track was chosen, and a cutting made some miles through the scrub on top to the settlement. It was only practicable for footmen and pack horses, the loads for the latter being carted part of the way to it, as described by Mr Gordon. The total distance to Mackay this way was 60 or 70 miles. All the heavy loading such as machinery, &c., per horse or bullock team, via Eton and the Nebo-road to the Devil’s Elbow, thence following the Mt. Britain road for a few miles, again turning off and leaving that place about four miles to the right; then over the head of Cooper Creek, Fitzroy Waters, on to Exe Creek on the Burdekin watershed, following that down and making our own track to the Little Bowen River and Blenheim station, where we came on to the road from Bowen, and by that road to Eungella cattle station, which until then had done all its business with that town. From the station up the Broken River and through the ranges, lured by gold’s magic wand into country where wheels had never turned before, it was nine miles to the diggings, which were entered from the North-West, whereas during the first part of our journey we headed South-west, the total distance being about 150 miles, describing two sides, of a triangle or two-thirds of a circle whichever one likes to term it.
The writer was one of the first teams to take loading there, he and Alick M’Tennan, now of Owen’s Creek travelling together, one of us with a bullock team, the other with horses. Our loading was for one of the first publicans to open on the field, plus some goods for other pioneer business people.
The Orchid reef, so-called because an orchid was found growing on it, had just been discovered by the M’Caw Bros. and Peacock. They pegged out a prospecting claim and arranged with me to take 25cwt. of stone they had just raised, to the railway at Eton for transit to Aldershot works to be treated. I came down what we called the Mt. Britain short cut, so saving about 25 miles. This stone went about 125oz. to the ton; it was double-bagged, and I was told, contained some very rich specimens. Alick M’Caw travelled down with me, and I noticed, whenever we were in the neighbourhood of houses, he always kept close to the wagon. At other times he would go off the road prospecting.
On the results of this crushing a company was formed, and a few months after a ten-head battery and other treatment machinery arrived at Mackay for transport to the field and quite a lot of teams then got on the road. Amongst the teamsters were Messrs. Jas, Pascoe, Overman, George Gordon, W. Higham, and others. The machinery had to go up in as small pieces as possible, because the country was so boggy with continuous rain that there was always the risk of having to unload. The heaviest piece was a casting of a stone breaker; it formed portion of the load of one of the bullock wagons, and this particular wagon capsized one day coming along Exe Creek; we had to recross this creek nine times in the first three miles. As this casting weighed about 2 1/2 tons, it was a bit of a proposition to pick it up in the bush and reload it on to the wagon, which itself was considerably knocked about. However, we managed it, christening the wagon “The Quetta,” the B.I. steamer of that name having just been lost with many lives, including well-known Queenslanders, on the coast. I think this was my third trip, and my load consisted of the plates for the big boiler still to be seen on the old machine site. The boiler had been first bolted together at the boiler shop and then taken down for transit to the field where it was riveted. This load was between four and five tons, but of course, we always double-banked on the steep pinches.
On my first trip with Alick M’Lennan, as there were no other bullock or horse teams then on the road, we hooked our horses and bullocks together in the bad places; not often; I think, have there been 14 horses steady enough to stand and pull when hooked up with 18 slow bullocks. It was on this third trip that I had my ride for the doctor, referred to by Mr Gordon. The reason I mention it is otherwise it might be thought the late Dr Lloyd was the medico to whom I had to offer to pledge my team as security for his fee. I should like to say I did not go to Dr Lloyd at all in connection with the case; he was then quite a recent arrival and I did not know about him; but years after when I did and learnt his true worth I often thought that if at the time I had known him most certainly he was the one I would have asked for help, and he would never have dreamt of mentioning payment at such a time.
What happened was this: Four horse-teams the late George Rugsley, W. Milton, W. Scroggie, and myself, travelling together and loaded with machinery, had reached the last camp before arriving at the diggings, Spring Creek. The next day over the Yarrawonga Range, it was particularly heavy pulling and there was no good turn-out for our horses at the diggings, so we decided to make our camp where we were, double-banking in one wagon and one dray at a time (Scroggie and Milton, having drays), and, if possible unloading and returning to Spring Creek each night, leaving there our saddle horses and everything we did not immediately require. It had not apparently ceased raining for a year, and besides the steepness of some of the pulls the track was either greasy or boggy. On one steep declivity Rugsley had a most narrow escape; his wagon, weighing altogether over five tons, was plunging and slipping down a one-in-four grade, the drivers having to keep the 24 horses hooked to it moving quickly out of its way, as, if one of them got over a chain and went down, thus hindering the others, the wagon would have been right in amongst them. While watching out for this he just escaped being caught between the wagon and a tree beside the track by, it. seemed to me, a bare inch. However, late in the afternoon we got to the pinch we had to descend to the river, just across which, and in sight, was our destination, the machine site. The track down it was all washed out by heavy rain running down the wheel tracks we had made the previous trip; and somehow poor Scroggie, while bringing his dray down, and at the brake-handle, trying to make it easier for his shafter (he had fine horses and was a very careful, good horse master), let his foot slip into one of these deep ruts alongside the dray wheel, which caught it, bursting the shinbone out of the ankle joint, stripping it of flesh half way to the knee, and forcing it into the ground. Of course, obviously it was an amputation case and a doctor would have to be got as soon as possible. As I was the lightest and best horseman of the party it was my job, and I enquired of the crowd that gathered — it happened just on the edge of the township — if any of them had a saddle horse. But their horses were all out at Spring Creek so I got a saddle from the butcher, put it on one of my team horses and started for Mackay nearly at sunset. Luckily the days were long, it being February, and although in the middle of a very wet time, it happened to be fine with a full moon. I had never travelled on that track before, nor in fact seen the country up the river from Mackay.
At that time there was no settlement above Mirani except the Hamilton cattle station, Pinnacle, its out-station, and a few selections. The furthest up was the late Mr Zahmel, just selected close to where Finch Hatton now stands, and Brennan’s new Accommodation House, near the Range. This last I missed but managed to get to Zahmel’s just after dusk. There I tried to get a saddle horse instead of the draught I was | riding, but there were none in. I then made on to the Pinnacle, and although, owing to the flats being all under water in many places there was no track to be seen, I reached there about 9 o’clock. The manager, Mr Haggard, a nephew, I afterwards learnt, of Rider Haggard, the author, directly he learnt my errand, had the horses brought up from the paddock and lent me a fresh one. From there on to Hamilton was a plain road, but I got on it in the high scrub that fringed Cattle Creek, as it was very dark when out of the moonlight. Consequently I missed the crossing, and rode my horse into what turned out to be a big hole. Probably it was just as well, as the current was not so strong as at the shallower crossing, and it would have been, a swim anywhere that night.
On getting across I could not pick up the track, but found my way to where the late Mr Charles Morgan was living in charge of a group of selections taken up by a Brisbane syndicate, whereabouts Garget now is. He put me on to a track that brought me back to the road at the gap the railway now goes through before reaching Garget, and I arrived at Hamilton sometime during the night. It was a good job it was a clear moon-light night, otherwise, being a complete stranger to that part, I could never have done it. I had been warned on no account to try and swim the river in the night as it was too risky for one who had never seen it there.
As it was, a man named Kelly was drowned, in it that day. So I waited until daylight, when the manager, the late Mr Jock M’Lean, came out and took charge of my horses, telling me he would have that and another one for the doctor ready for me on my return from Mackay. Putting me on a track down to the river, Mr Phelp, who, I am pleased to say, is still with us, came across in a boat and ferried me over. At that time a train ran into Mackay from Mirani three days a week and fortunately this was a train morning; it reached Mackay about the same time it does now.
When I got in the question was who was the right doctor to get for such a journey. One was recommended to me as being just the man for a bush trip, but I found him not very keen on it. However, after being satisfied as regards payment, he consented to start out at 1 p.m. if I procured a vehicle as there was no train back to Mirani that afternoon. When I called for him he declined to tackle it. Luckily while we were arguing the point a Dr Dobbin came up who, immediately he heard what was the trouble, without making any conditions volunteered. But, as it was uncertain how long he might he away if the creeks got up, he had arrangements to make which occupied his time till about 4 p.m. However, with a good pair of horses we were at Mirani for tea; then crossed the river and again journeying by moonlight reached the diggings between six and seven o’clock next morning, having been away a little over 36 hours, the greater part of a day having been lost in Mackay.
Unfortunately, it was all in vain, as although the doctor amputated directly he arrived poor Scroggie passed away about half an hour after the operation. I was with him to the end, trying to get a little weak whisky and water between his teeth; but I do not think he ever really came out of the chloroform, although he tried to speak once or twice. There being only the one surgeon three of us assisted with the operation; the anaesthetic being administered by Arthur Beldan; a cousin of Eli’s, of Eton. Mr Beldan had been some time at a hospital and therefore had a little experience in the matter.
I often think of the gameness of the little doctor. He was a weak, delicate little man, quite unused to the bush. For instance, climbing up the range on foot, when we stopped to give the doctor a rest, leeches could be seen all round making for us. It was a thing he had never seen before, and it gave him quite a turn; and during the journey back to Mackay, while crossing Cattle Creek, he was washed off his horse and nearly drowned. Yet he undertook the journey cheerfully and never murmured. On the certificate of death I noticed the doctor stated the cause as being the secondary shock of the operation after the accident. He also told us we were all very low, as we had been over three weeks on the trip, wet all the time and scarcely able to cook our food. Added to this poor Scroggie must have lain in agony until the doctor got there with the chloroform.
* The reminiscences written by Jas. Gordon referred to in this article has not been found due to the poor condition that a number of the Daily Mercury newspapers are in around this time.