Wednesday, August 24, 2011

“Old Tom” visits Ipswich and the Darling Downs (Part 4)

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

Old Tom journeys across the Downs to Westbrook Station, and meets the owner, the American John “Tinker” Campbell, the well known colonial entrepreneur.

Paintings and drawings are by Conrad Martens who toured the Downs in 1851-2.

Reader, just come back with me in thought a quarter of a century; and, as we journey together over these beautiful stretches of prairie land, bordered by the misty outline of the mountains to the eastward, let us fill up the picture so beautifully set before us with hundreds of happy homesteads, the smoke from whose roof-trees should rise like clouds of incense to the great Giver of all; and from the fertile soils bordering each tide of the creek (Dalrymple) behold the fields of waving grain, and hear the busy hum of cheerful labour; but, alas! long lengths of wire fence in miles of country devoted to the depasturing of stock; still, I surmise, the day is not very distant when, in self preservation, the proprietors will find it to their profit and advantage to recoup their capital by again unlocking these lands to the agriculturists.

Pilton Grass Trees
But here we are at Forbes' (Pilton), nee Fitz. What a beautiful position for the head station! How gently the land falls away to the creek! I was told that nothing would grow on the Downs but grass and see what a garden! Why, I declare there are peas, beans, cabbages, and-wonder of wonders—potatoes. Well, after that, I declare I will never believe a Darling Downs squatter again—particularly after lunch. Lady Forbes—ah! Tom, you are getting a regular old duffer, when you can fly back to those years when this estimable lady was young and the wife of an upright judge, and who, though dead, lives in the remembrance of many a Sydney man and woman. Poor dear lady, who can forget your untiring efforts to preserve for your noble-hearted boys the stock and station on Dalrymple Creek? You have passed away; and though the place that knew you and your sons shall know you no more, yet the remembrance of thy worth will outlive the footprints of those who entered into thy possessions. Beautiful are thy waters, Creek of the stately Emu!

On thy borders lived that old Trojan, Sibley, and his partner Joe King. Shades of "Old Times," settle not down in murky darkness upon the memory of this pair of jolly good fellows! Old chum, did you ever breakfast with dear old Mr. Sibley? Did you ever take a breather with that beau ideal of a bushman, Joseph King? If you never had the honour of the first, or the pleasure of the last, you know but little of the good old times. I never look at a pair of sugar tongs bearing the Sibley cipher, and placed on my table by Mrs. Old Tom on high days and holidays, but I think of those delicious tea cakes and jam fixings served up by Mrs. Sibley at — — I forget the name of the station, but will call it, for the nonce, "Joking Hall;" for whoever went there that did not leave it with regret, and his sides sore with laughter? And if anybody asks you about the bush discoveries of King Joe, refer them to the annals of Myall Creek, before Roach humped his bundle in that direction, or an alderman to be found within the distance of 600 miles.

Gladfield Black's Camp

Leichhardt's footmarks were followed for hundreds of miles by King and his black boy, when the never-never country was a terra incognita to all but a chosen few, who cared as little for black fellows' waddies as they did for an empty flour bag. But the dangers of the Upper Dawson are now things of the past, and no doubt recounted occasionally by my worthy friend King at some snug fireside in old England, where, I trust, he and his will live long and die happy. Poor old Sib.! he's gone; and his sugar tongs was my legacy. As in my next I hope to reach where Hodgson found the knife, till then let us camp at Emu Creek, with Sibley and King.

The black-soil country lying between Emu Creek and the station of Messrs. Hodgson and Elliott, at Eton Vale, was soon passed over, and as I rounded the ridge upon which the proprietors of the station had fixed the dwelling house and its necessary adjuncts, I could not help feeling some slight amount of envy that the finder of the lucky knife was the monarch of all I surveyed from that rising ground. It was about midday as I passed along the fence that enclosed a neat garden in front of the homestead; and, with the exception of the ringing sounds emitted from the hammer of the workman in the adjoining smithy, all was quiet and calm as a Sabbath day in the heart of rural England.

The heat of the midday son was intense, and it was with no small amount of satisfaction I accepted the invitation of a man—who I found was an orderly on duty at the station—to dismount and have a smoke. Mr. Arthur Hodgson, he informed me as we blew a cloud together, was performing the duties of Commissioner, during the temporary absence (on leave) of the gentle man then holding that position on the Downs. The whole aspect of the quiet homestead struck me as something so different from those I had previously visited. The trim kept garden, the wide, tidy verandah round the house—all bespoke the presence of the Queen Bee—one whose observant eye and exquisite taste made the rude ornaments of a bush home harmonize with the surroundings.

In trying to recall, after the lapse of twenty five years, some of the incidents and scenes of that day, I have a pleasing remembrance of two things. One was that I thought the life of a pioneer squatter on the Darling Downs must be the very acme of happiness; and the other that could I ever save money enough, I would camp out. Since those days, however, I have found that a squatter's bed is not always made of roses, but on the contrary, too frequently made up of blighted expectations and disastrous seasons, and that to camp out on your own hook, though very praiseworthy, is very expensive at the commencement, and sometimes ends, as it did with me, far from serene.

Rosalie Plains Bottle Tree

I should like to linger a little while longer at Eton Vale, as it is a domain fit for the residence of a Prince; and who can doubt that by the end of the present century some of the descendants of King Arthur, wise in their generation, will from the hall of their future mansion behold stretching away for miles from the park fences smiling homesteads, occupied by hundreds of the sons and daughters of Queensland, engaged in those pursuits which be materially tend to build up a prosperous community, and away down that creek, which bears the honoured name of Hodgson, see the village church and schoolhouse nestled amidst the habitations of a thriving yeomanry, whilst the whistle, of the goods train shall give the welcome signal, as it enters the railway depot, that the trucks are ready to carry to the metropolis the varied products of the table lands.

The pipe finished, and the saddle replaced on my yarraman[1], I took my way to the crossing place over the creek, the dray-tracks from which led to the "Springs"—a place since become famous under the modern name of Drayton. Before we turn off to enter the valley leading to Tommy Alford's house of accommodation, placed alongside the only known water supply in that neighbourhood, let us take a glance at the country lying to the west and north of our track.

A few miles west of the Springs, on the slopes of the hills which form such a pleasing feature in that direction, was the station of John Campbell—no way related to the clan Campbell, of Glengallen. On the contrary, our Campbell hails, I believe, from the land of the stars and stripes, with, it is said, a touch of the blue-nose breed in his composition. At all events, whatever State on the western shores of the Atlantic John may hail from, this may be recorded— that a more shrewd, enterprising man never took up a clearing with greater tact and judgement than did the former owner of Westbrook. Why, if Campbell—better known, vulgarly speaking, as the "Tinker"—would only write his own biography, it would form a fitting commentary in Australian life. The family of this man of many parts should, if for tune had smiled on his multitudinous avocations, have long ere this been participators with him of well-earned wealth.

Let me try to enumerate some of the speculations Campbell went into with such indomitable pluck and energy. In 1844, we find him embarked in the first boiling-down establishment formed in Moreton Bay, Kangaroo Point claiming the honour of being the locality where the pots were put into requisition to convert sheep and cattle into a marketable commodity for the European market. Here, also, we find this cute old horse starting the grand idea of utilizing the woods of the colony for the manufacture of casks for the packing of beef and tallow. Anon, after a few years, we find him at the head of the navigation, having struck coal. The subsequent working of the Redbank coal pits, coupled with an immense boiling-down establishment under the management of this energetic man, has given employment to hundreds of men; and the time was (and that very recently) when it was surmised the firm of John Campbell, Son, and another was coining money from these remunerative speculations; but whether old Bobby Towns, the "other" in the firm, became dissatisfied with the extent of his profits or otherwise, it is not for me to surmise; suffice it to say, that John Campbell is now a sugar planter on one of the islands in the south passage of the bay, and where, I trust, his future crushings will well and amply reward him for his unceasing endeavours to make his pile.

© K. C. Sbeghen, 2011.

[1] Indigenous Australian name for a horse.

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