Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Dodgy Dispatches from Kangaroo Point

Six years after free settlement, the town of Brisbane was growing on the North and South banks of the river.

Long before the any bridges were built, ferries and punts were the only way to cross the river. Kangaroo Point was considered a sleepy corner detached from the main clusters of activity.

Kangaroo Point,  Conrad Martens 1853 (National Library of Australia)
To enliven its pages and amuse subscribers, The Moreton Bay Courier invented a young feckless reporter sent on assignment to Kangaroo Point.

His firstly weekly dispatch reflected the dearth of newsworthy material from his assigned patch.

A German optical telegraph tower ca. 1835
The telegraph referred to was an optical rather than the electrical telegraph which was still being developed in the United States and would not be installed in Queensland until 1861. The optical telegraph used a semaphore system to transmit signals.


(From our own Reporter.) 

The telegraph established at Kangaroo Point, under the control of our own reporter, has furnished us with the following intelligence from that distant region. It will be seen that our first despatches are rather meagre; but any information respecting the manners and customs of the inhabitants must be interesting to our readers.

Monday, Sept. 18. - Nothing of importance this day. Two crows are sitting on the wall of Mr. Campbell's unfinished house, and seem to be conversing on the uncertainty of human intentions. Cannot hear their remarks at this distance.

Tuesday. - Boy hailed ferry-boat at daylight. Examined him on his arrival, and saw a slip of paper in his pocket: but had no opportunity of abstracting it. Waylaid him on his return, but he refused to answer my questions. Suppose him to have been sent on a secret mission of importance.

Wednesday. - Saw a strange dog this morning, but lost sight of him soon afterwards. Nothing further today.

Thursday. - Much excitement this morning, in consequence of the arrival of a stranger, on horseback. I find it is the butcher's lad: bearing a leg of mutton-specially ordered by one of the residents.  Ferry-boat departed for North Brisbane at 2 p.m., and returned immediately. Cargo - one old woman, one constable, and a bunch of turnips.

Friday.-Vulgar man passed me to-day, and put his hand to his nose. Nothing more to report.[1] 

Sketch of Kangaroo Point ca. 1860s (State Library of Queensland)

The following week the Kangaroo Point “correspondent” dispatched a report of the reaction of a resident to his previous missive.


(From our own Reporter.)

Our Reporter has sent us the following epistle from his melancholy look-out at Kangaroo Point:

Mr. Editor, Shortly after the publication of my last despatches I was waited upon by a gentleman who informed me that my report had given great offence to the settlers of the settlers at this place; and that he would withdraw his patronage from your paper.

I looked rather blue at this, as I did not know how you might take it: so I replied that I was sorry for offending me: and that I certainly had not said anything prejudicial to him or to any other person.  In fact, that my report amounted to nothing at all. "'Well, sir," said he, "that's the very thing I complain of. Why did you not report something sensible, instead of the balderdash contained in your despatches?"

 I told him that he must be very well aware that there was nothing sensible to report upon the subject. At this he sneered a good deal, and said that I must be a very pretty reporter indeed if I couldn't invent something; "besides," said he, "if there was nothing to say, couldn't you be silent altogether?"

 I saw he was working himself into a rage, so my only object was to inform the public that there was such a place as Kangaroo Point: but this only made him worse; he got as red as a turkey-cock, and swore that I was a fool and the Editor too.

Now, sir, as I have only known you for a short time, I didn't venture to dispute the proposition so far as regarded yourself, but denied my own share in the charge; and told him that it was by my own choice that I was placed on this station, where I was removed from the hurry of business, and the temptations of the town, I added, that this ought to convince him that I was no fool.

However, he wouldn't listen to reason; but went away, saying that "he'd not allow any body to poke Borack[2] at him." What he meant by that I'm sure I don't know.

Now, sir, I want to know what I am to do, and if you wish me to demolish the telegraph, and return to town. - Your obedient servant,

[We cannot abandon the telegraph. Our reporter has been instructed to continue his labours; avoiding as usual, everything of a personal or offensive character.][3]

View from the Windmill of Brisbane with Kangaroo Point in middle distance ca. 1870
(State Library of Brisbane)
In his next despatch the young reporter was inspired to wax lyrical as he gazed across the river from his perch on the heights of Kangaroo Point.


(From our own Reporter.)

FRIDAY, OCT. 27. - For some days past I have been entirely idle. There was a rumour, indeed, that the settlers intended to petition the Queen to erect this place into a separate colony; but no public meeting has been called, up to this time.

I have lately amused myself by sitting on the semaphore, and watching the progress of events in the distant capital. While so engaged this day, I noticed a circumstance so unusual, and of so exciting a character, that I thought it my duty to communicate the same to you immediately, by extraordinary telegraph. A man was at work at the new gaol!

The event had such a powerful effect upon me that I immediately wrote the following lines on the crown of my hat, with a piece of chalk which I had previously abstracted from my landlord's counter for private reasons:- 

Faint and wearily a poor old toddler,
Climbed up a ladder to the goal wall top;
Sighing drearily, for want of a nobbler -
Scratching heavily his ancient crop.  

Copestone bestriding-        
Comfortable riding!- 
Idly abiding, see his shoulders drop! -
'Then how cosily the poor old toddler 
Surveys dozily the gaol wall top.

Slowly hammering a spike, he lingers,
 Slyly gammoning he's working hard;
Faintly stammering "I've hurt my fingers,"
Drowsily he gazes on the dull gaol yard.

Striking, pausing -
Somnolescence, causing -     
Darkness pours in, as he's nigh to drop -
Then how merrily the poor old toddler
Goes down the ladder from the gaol wall top.[4]

Following the lack of despatches from Kangaroo Point, the editor of The Moreton Bay Courier announced that the wayward young reporter had been reassigned to the windmill on Wickham Terrace which had been converted into a telegraph station. 

Engraving of  Windmill Wickham Terrace 1865 (State Library of Queensland)

The great neglect of our reporter for some time past has led us to the conclusion that he has been bribed. It is humiliating to confess such a thing, but it is the only way in which his conduct can be accounted for.

As the young man is really useful to us, and possesses considerable powers of observation, we have not dismissed him, but have transferred his sphere of action to the Windmill at North Brisbane, where he will have an opportunity of overlooking the whole town, and of working his telegraph directly opposite to our office windows.[5]

Dispatches from the fictitious young reporter continued to appear occasionally in the paper when news was slow.

© K. C. Sbeghen, 2013.

[1] The Moreton Bay Courier Saturday 23 September 1848
[2] Nonsense, humbug; chaff, banter; esp. in to poke (the) borak, to make or poke fun. (Etymology: Aboriginal Australian) OED
[3] The Moreton Bay Courier Saturday 30 September 1848
[4] The Moreton Bay Courier Saturday 28 October 1848
[5] The Moreton Bay Courier Saturday 11 November 1848

No comments:

Post a Comment