Saturday, August 20, 2011

“Old Tom” visits Ipswich and the Darling Downs (Part 2)

Extracted and edited from articles by “Old Tom” in The Brisbane Courier and The Queenslander of June 1869.

After staying the night at the house of George Thorn in the tiny hamlet of Limestone (Ipswich), sets off to the south towards the Peak Mountains and the Great Dividing Range.  He meets squatters along the way and tells stories of their triumphs and misfortunes.  Before crossing the Range, Old Tom happens upon a trove of watermelons in an old sheep fold.

"Good-bye, Tom." "Good-bye, old fellow." And away we go over the ridges, across the creek to the hut at the sheep station on the Three-mile Creek; then turn off to the left on to the track to Normandy Plains, the Peak Mountains standing out in awful sublimity over the vast solitude of that period.   The northern portion of the plains was at that time in the occupation of McLaughlin, a Maitland man, who had sent his stock, mostly cattle of the "Comet" breed, and a herd of horses, over to this side of the country, in charge of John Boss, who, it will be recollected by old hands, afterwards kept a few milkers on what is now the North Quay of Brisbane, and supplied the Settlement every morning with fresh milk; and afterwards, I understand, made a fortune for his family by removing away north, to the waters of the beautiful Mary. But, as we take a rest at McLaughlin's head station, let me for a brief space run up the series of misfortunes that befell that unfortunate Welshman.

McLaughlin, as I have stated, was a Maitland man of some considerable property at the time he started his stock from the other side of the country. But the rapid decline in value of every description of property during the panic of 1842, upset poor Mac's monetary arrangements, and the result was, that his Maitland property was sold by the sheriff for less hundreds than the thousands of pounds the properties had cost him. The stock and station at Normanby also came under the clutch of the sheriff's bailiff, and to extricate himself from this difficulty, he had to borrow from Mr. G. Thorn some £300, secured over the stock and station properties, with this proviso—that if not redeemed within twelve months, the whole property became the lawful possession of Thorn.

View from Normanby House
McLaughlin went to Maitland shortly after making this arrangement with George, to endeavour to raise the wind; but instead of which, in a fit of drunkenness, committed an assault upon a female, and got incarcerated in the gaol at Newcastle for a period longer than that he had agreed to meet his engagement with Thorn. The result was the whole became the property of Mr. Thorn, the mortgagee. Such are the ups and downs of colonial life.   Men whose education and antecedents never fitted them for a wider sphere than the circumference of a cattle station, hare lived to enjoy Legislative honours, whilst the man of refined education has had to pocket his pride of ancestry and shoulder a bullock whip as an offsider to a bush team.

Cattle on Normanby Station 
Having partaken of our midday meal at McLaughlin's, our road to the Gap[1] took us towards sundown to the station of John Cameron, of Fassifern, one of old Scotia's worthy sons, who had fixed his flint at the best available spot on the eastern slopes of the Main Range. Ah! John Cameron, your kind heart and proud stomach could ill brook misfortune! Sad was the day when your friends heard that in a fit of aberration you had terminated a life dear to many[2].

Residence in the Fassifern District
Oh, the luxuries of a soft seat after a thirty mile ride on a Valparaiso mare, with paces like a dromedary and back-bone like the ridge-board of a house! But weariness and soreness was soon forgotten over a stiff glass of whiskey toddy, after a substantial supper, and John's narrative of his wearisome journey overland with his flock of sheep and a few head of milkers. Before starting the next morning from the hospitable station of Fassifern, I was informed by one of the men employed about the homestead that if I would turn off the road at Cameron's old camping place, about a couple of miles before we ascended the first spur leading to the Gap, we should find in the old wheat field paddock something that would be very refreshing on that hot summer's day.

Accordingly, my travelling mate kept his weather eye open for the clearing, and sure enough the sight that met one's eye, as we rode into a space which had previously been used to fold sheep in, was worth remembering. Dozens, nay, hundreds of water melons were lying on the ground, uncared for apparently. To dismount and select a couple of ripe boomers was the work of a few moments; and, though I tried hard, almost to bursting, to get through my whopper, I had to knock off, and leave one-third of it untasted.

Harry Phelp, a draymen driving for Fred the German—or, to speak more politely, Mr. Frederick Bracker[3], of Rosenthal—obtained the wrinkle from me a few days afterwards, when on his way down to the Bay, and on reaching, after some difficulty, the melon patch, loaded his dray with the juicy fruits, and gladdened the hearts of the Limestone folk with presents of fine ripe melons. I have many times since related this anecdote as a commentary upon the oft repeated assertion of interested parties that nothing would grow in Moreton Bay. These melons, I may observe, were self-sown, from seed dropped from ripe fruit of the previous season.

© K. C. Sbeghen, 2011.

[1] Cunningham’s Gap, the crossing point to the Darling Downs.
[2] Suicide was not uncommon in the isolated areas.
[3] Frederick Bracker was a pioneer of the wool industry and imported Merino sheep from his native Germany.

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