Thursday, August 25, 2011

“Old Tom” visits Ipswich and the Darling Downs (Part 5)

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

At Drayton, Old Tom recalls a long ago horse race. He passes the Swamp, site of the future city of Toowoomba.

With some difficulty, Old Tom descends the Range to Lockyer's Creek.  His horse is exhausted and he fears an attack by natives who are known to be hostile in the area. 

After staying the night in a wayside inn drunk dry by shearers on a spree, he completes the journey back to Brisbane.

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

Beyond Westbrook, to the northward, the traveller can discern the misty outline of the Gowrie ran, then occupied by Messrs. Hughes and Isaacs. The former of these gentlemen, old colonists will recollect, entered into a spirited contest with the venerable Richard Jones for the representation of the Stanley Borough in the Legislative House of Assembly, in the parent colony of New South Wales. This political contest was made memorable by the defeat of the Darling Downs champion by the people's choice, Mr. Richard Jones obtaining a majority of twelve votes over his opponent. The sanctity of the ballot-box was not known in those days. It was, therefore no child's play (taking a business point of view in the matter) to set up in opposition to the ruling party. Brisbane manhood, however, asserted its rights on that occasion, and it is some satisfaction to remember that this contest was the forerunner of a better state of things.


Turning from these things of the past, let me take the reader to the comfortable though modest hostelry of Alford—the first man who had ventured over the Main Range to administer to the creature comforts. Poor Tom! You had a soul above buttons, and, knowing that, it was your necessity and not your will that consented to become a tapster[1]. Tour memory will be ever held in respect by those who had the pleasure of participating under your hospitable roof. It always seemed to me a strange freak of the powers that were, to lay out a township in the vicinity of the Springs, simply because there was a very limited supply of water to be obtained in that locality; and though for the past twenty years the old diehards of the Billy Handcock type have fought hard to build up a city in the hills, I fear the old Swamp, modernised under the Taylor-cum-Groom dynasties, will eventually swallow up the Village of Drayton into its capacious Toowoombian maw.

Yet there is something one likes about Drayton. The visitor seldom fails to breast the hill at the back of the old Bull's Head Inn, and obtain a bird's eye view of the glorious Downs country, whilst to the residents the bracing air and fine climate of the western slopes render the services of a medical man seldom necessary.

Bulls Head Inn in the 20th Century

Well I recollect the first races held on the Downs, when Baronet, the Brisbane horse, was bowled out by the Tenterfield horse Meteor, to the serious loss and disappointment of those who had backed the Brisbane favourite. Shades of old times! how the figures flit through this mental kaleidoscope. Again I see the old familiar faces, as we bowl along to the racecourse behind Tom Alford's compact grey; see Joshua John Whitenting with his well waxed moustache and dandy equipments; the Leslies, George and Walter, in their sporting togs, the guinea stamp of gentlemen in the whole fixings; whilst their bold brother Paddy —gods, what a contrast!—of the bullock-bullocky, but a right down good fellow, only rub his fur down the right way, hard upon the heels of the Leslies. The Mackenzies, Evan and Colin, pass along the road, receiving the kindly salutations of all classes. Now again the Campbells, with their joyous laugh, gallop over the turf, full of life and high animal spirits. But who is this trotting along, the very personification of kindness and gentlemanly bearing.

Then to hear his "Well, Tom, old boy! Glad to see you on the Downs; hope you will enjoy yourself." "No fear of that, Mr. Russel; plenty of oxygen and all other good things up this way to make life pleasant." "How do, Le Breton?" "I say, Mehan, where did you pick up that gelding! Fleeced a shearer, eh? All right! Good morning!" and thus passes a man who deserved at the hands of dame Fortune a better fate; and instead of leaving the old bay state with disappointed hopes and impaired fortunes, should now be taking his place in our Legislature with those who, with him, met hard knocks with good humour and a determination to survive them. But who can control fate? Our destinies are shaped before us.

Horse Racing in the Bush

The man, who plays his part to the best of his knowledge and ability in the drama of life, deserves at least applause at the fall of the curtain. There is one face that comes up before me in melancholy sadness, bearing the imprint of truth and gentleness. Of the pioneer squatters, who forgets the kind-hearted, gentlemanly Dalrymple? The first time I had the pleasure of travelling in his company was upon an occasion of going to the Downs with Evan Mackenzie, afterwards the baronet of that ilk. Mr. Dalrymple at that time appeared to enjoy robust health, and would lead a secretary of a life insurance company to believe that his life was safe at a low premium for any number of years. But, alas! in less than twelve months from that day, I brought him from Ipswich in a boat, to come to Brisbane to die. Poor fellow! I heard he had closed all his arrangements on the Downs to proceed home, when illness overtook him, and the home of his fathers saw him no more.

To refer to these matters now may appear a waste of time; but I think a good man should be kept in memory, though he may have left the scene of his labours. I and other old colonists are fast falling into the sere and yellow leaf; yet I think if we keep the memory green, we shall enjoy many pleasurable occasions of reverting to old times. Leaving the Springs on my way homeward, I became acquainted with the Swamp, at that time a mere camping ground for the passing drays. The subsequent sale of land in that neighbourhood, in three to five acre blocks, induced Horton, late of the Bull's Head Inn, to cultivate and build upon these purchased allotments. The result, after some 15 or 16 years, is the present town of Toowoomba.

Attack by Aborigines

My trip down the Range to Lockyer's Creek[2], where a house of entertainment for travellers had recently been erected, was a matter of considerable difficulty and of some personal risk, as the darkies known to be in that neighbourhood had only a short time previously speared a shepherd on the Tent Hill station. It was usual with people in those days when travelling to go armed; but I had never given the matter of danger to life a thought, and therefore felt rather doubtful as to my personal safety should I fall in with a mob of darkies.

To add to my perplexities, my old mare was rapidly succumbing to the fatigues of the journey, and in going down the eastern slopes of the Range, I had not only to walk, but to drag my horse after me, and on entering the scrub—a nasty place at the foot of the mountains.—she fairly gave up altogether, so that had I been surprised when in this fix, I should have fallen an easy prey to the blackfellows' nullah nullahs. However, a spell for about an hour enabled me to get the poor old creature as far as the Rocky Waterholes, where I took the saddle off and spelled for a couple of hours, careless whether the blacks were about or not, I, like my old horse, being fairly dead beat with the heat of the day and my exertions to get the beast along.

Towards nightfall the welcome sound of dogs barking satisfied me that I was approaching the way-side public, at that time kept by Walter Smith, on the banks of the Lockyer Creek. The entertainment for man and beast was very meagre; beef, damper, and bush tea being the only provender obtainable for one, and short commons of grass for the other. The luxury of a soft bed, however, made ample amends to me for the want of stronger stimulants. The paucity—or rather total absence—of anything in the shape of a sensation was accounted for by the worthy landlord by the fact that a lot of men had just past down after completing the shearing season, and had literally drank him dry. In those days of down-right hard drinking, it was no unusual thing for half-a-dozen fellows to remain at a public shanty until they had exhausted their exchequer or bursted up the supplies.

Lockyer Creek at Gatton
My next day's stage was to Sally Owen's[3], about seven miles on the Brisbane side of Laidley Plains. Old hands, I have no doubt, have a vivid recollection of Sam and Sally's domestic arrangements, and many a choice lot of b'hoys have knocked down their cheques under the roof of Sally Owens, at the Old Man's Waterhole. Leaving Sally's, the traveller found nothing very interesting in the intervening tract of country lying between Laidley and Limestone.

I have nothing further remarkable to relate of my downward journey, suffice it to say that I left the old Valparaiso at Rowbottom's paddock without reluctance, and with a determination that when I next visited the tablelands I would endeavour to procure a better mount, and thus avoid some of the difficulties I experienced on my first trip to the Downs.

© K. C. Sbeghen, 2011.

[1] Bar keeper.
[2] Now the town of Gatton.
[3] Probably near the present town of Rosewood.

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