A Ride to Bathurst - Letter III
20 March 1827 The Australian (Sydney)
The first ascent of the Blue Mountains, by this new Lapstone Hill is excellent.
It would be perfectly practicable to take over, as I said before, a train of twenty-four pounders.
Many gene- rations however, must pass away before this will be seen in New South Wales; but it would, notwithstanding, be a fine sight to see fifty bullocks harnessed to a gun marching in array up the bristling hill.
It took us nearly an hour to reach the top, and as the sun had just dipped behind the top of the range of mountains, we, could only take a hasty glance at the magnficent view below us.
Looking towards Sydney, and the sea, the whole County of Cumberland lay extended at our feet.
To the north; were the hamlets of Castlereagh, Richmond, and Wilberforce, and the town of Windsor, 'till the eye stretching over this fertile country, this Egypt of Australia lost itself in the exhalations from the Hawkesbury, which as evening came on, were condensing over the whole line of its course.
In front was the ferry which we had just crossed, and a thick dark looking forest, that soon terminated the view to the eastward, while immediately, below, was a fine bird's eye view of Emu Plains, without a tree - the neat cottage of the Superintendant, and the filthy bark huts or barracks of the men, together with those 15,000 bushels of wheat grown by government contained in stacks almost too small for sight.
On the right hand, and on a fine fore- ground, stood the palace of Regentville, the noble seat of Sir John Jamison.
This splendid building is beyond all comparison, the finest thing of the kind in New South Wales; it stands on the top of a gentle hill, and presents a front to the long reach of the river and rich vale of Emu, of 180 feet; the centre building being 80 feet in length, and the two wings 50 each.
In the wings are comprised the library, baths, billiard-rooms, &c. &c.; while the kitchens and servants offices, are detached in the rear, out of sight. Regentville is built of a fine free stone, dug on the estate, in the chastest style of Grecian architecture, and is no less remarkable in the interior for the good taste and richness of its decorations, and the profuse and constant hospitality of the noble owner.
Opposite is the picturesque and romantic retreat of Edenglassie, while further to the south, are the hills of the Cow Pastures and Argyle, which from their great elevation soon shut in the view.
Emu Plains seems the very place for a town, and it is wonderful for what reason its eligibility should have been so long neglected.
In a picturesque and fertile valley of 8 or 10 thousand acres, the succulency of whose soil would produce anything and everything, with a noble river running through the midst, and at a convenient distance from Sydney and Parramatta — the town of Emu, with its church and spire, its court-house and its smithy, with a happy and ruddy peasantry for miles around, will soon, I hope succeed to these miserable stacks of wheat.
The convenience of a post-town ship at Emu, would be very great to the whole of the neighbouring country, but especially to the Bathurst settlers, and those individuals now living in the mountains, and with a resident stipendiary magistrate, mayor, landrost, provost, or whatever might be his title, and a running post, which is the best in thinly peopled countries, the character and evil associations so long connected with Emu, would soon be lost, and the town become one of the most important in the Colony.
We now rode on for Springwood, and had an unpleasant ride the last six or seven miles in the dark, the road not being here so good, many stumps being left standing in the middle, on which my tired horse made a frequent, stumble.
From Sydney to Springwood in one day is no joke, to one not accustomed, to the saddle; and I thought this ten or twelve miles in the dark, longer than all the rest of the journey put together.
Once or twice, from the blackness of the night, and the narrowness of the road, I got into the bush, till suddenly brought up by a thick scrub, which the horse could not penetrate, or receiving a knock on the head from an impending bough, I was obliged to exert my lungs and cooey out for my companion, who cooeyed in return, and by the sound of his voice I was enabled to find my way back to the road.
I thought we should never get to Springwood, and from the horrid length of the miles, had I been asked, at the moment, how I liked the Blue Mountains, I must certainly have answered with Majochi, - 'piu no que si.'
At last the yelping of some dozen angry curs, resounding through the silent forest, gave symptoms of the abode of man - it must be Springwood - but it was a miserable melancholy hole - not a glimmer of a light of any kind shone askaunt the lofty trees, and but for the noisy dogs, we might have passed it in the dark.
I got off my saddle with a slight groan, and was soon convinced by the dark dungeon-appearance of the place, we were not exactly on the Bath road.
''How many quarts of corn shall I give your horses?" said a private of the 67th regt. one or the road party, under charge of a corporal usually stationed at this first stage of the Mountain road.
I had previously heard that our horses would be very badly off going over the Mountains, but I was not prepared to hear of corn being sold by the quart.
I thought I could not do better than refer the good natured soldier, to the horse himself, and requested he might have for his supper as much as he could eat.
When the baggage came up we got some slices of ham fried, and by the help of a bottle of Port, some cigars, and brandy and water, from our own stock, we made a tolerable supper, and lay down in our clothes till day-light.
Some dirty pork fat or dripping, in a bit of broken plate, was our only lamp, and just before the last flare, which we had delayed by a great deal of coaxing of the cotton, as long as possible, I discovered a large white tarantula, about the size of a dollar, just over my head, upon a piece of cotton that served as a curtain to the couch or bed, outside of which we lay.
We had made up our minds to fleas and bugs in quantity, and were not disappointed, but had made no reckoning for any of the spider species; my companion therefore seized a fork to run this tarantula through, but though an excellent shot in general, missed his aim, and the tarantula fell down upon the bed, and in the hurry to find him, the plate of fat was upset, and all was pitch dark in a moment.
As an additional comforter to us, one of the soldiers in the adjoining room cried out "ah! there's a good many tarantalopes in that 'ere room."
So what with the fleas, bugs, and he aforesaid tarantalopes, and the noise of two entire horses, who were fighting and kicking one another all night, loose in the paddock, we had not a wink of sleep, and were glad to jump out of our dungeon at the first peep of day.
The horses however did not seem, so glad to move as we did; a few quarts of corn, without grass or straw, does not, do for a mountain journey; but it was only 18 miles to the weather boarded hut, where they would get another feed, and we intended to get breakfast.
The morning was cool and cloudy - threatening rain - the road in many places very good, and in other places very bad; we were already in a different climate, and still ascending as we proceeded.
It was easy to see the difficulties which had impeded the first party, who had penetrated across the range, although to us it was comparatively straight and pleasant.
Near the 10 mile tree, for the trees are marked all the way to Bathurst, is the spot where some years ago, a gentleman of the name of O'Brien lost himself.
It is supposed he left the ridge for the purpose of obtaining water for himself or horse, and going into the dell, met with some accident, and died, as he has never since been heard of.
The horse was found some weeks afterwards, grazing on the mountain road with his saddle on.
It is a melancholy spot, - "all the evils of dereliction rush upon the thoughts." We imagine the dying, unfortunate, ''Far from the track and blest abode of man; While, round him, night, relentless, closes fast, And every tempest howling o'er his head, Renders the savage wilderness more wild."
We now came to the ultima thule of Mr. Caley, the botanist, where the heap of stones was left when he attempted to cross, the mountains, and which has ever since been known by the name of "Caley's repulse."
The road is now in this spot remarkably good; and at a place called the 20 mile hollow, which was the place that offered such insuperable difficulties to Mr. Caley, the road is now made by the prisoner gangs; as good as the most capricious taste could desire.
The traveller will here find a pretty spring of excellent water; and, as it is the first handy place for twenty miles, he should halt and take a drink. The vegetation here becomes more dwarfish, and the tall iron- bark trees, of Springwood, are now changed for stunted eucaplyti of box and ash, and several varieties of the honeysuckle (banksia integrifolia), and now and then the telopea or waratah.
We had determined to see the cataract of Bougainville, as some have called it, since the visit of that navigator, but usually known by its first name, of Campbell's Cataract.
It lies about two miles off the road, at the King's Table Land, which is near- ly the highest point of the mountains, and for this reason can never, in the wettest weather, exhibit any large stream of water.
We had some difficulty in getting down to the spot, and when there, found the placed enveloped in one thick fog, from the fret- ting stream, which would seem, for the most part, to be converted into vapour, as it falls.
To call it a cataract is absurd; it would be easy to make as good a one with a tea-kettle; but the Abyss is awful, into which the little stream falls down, and had it been called the buller of the Blue Mountains (or Bouilloire), for it is an immense caldron, or chasm of unknown depth, perhaps, two thousand feet perpendicular, the name would have been more appropriate.
But name or no name, it is a remarkable spot, such as a visitor will never forget, and will amply repay the trouble and wetting of going out of the road.
We scrambled down to the green point, as the mist drove past us; and, as soon as it became clearer, one of our party fired three rounds from his double barrelled gun, and with three cheers for the King, and a mouthful of mountain dew to drink his health, we returned to our horses, wet and black with the mossy ground and burnt scrubs.
The weather boarded hut was only two miles further; and there we refreshed, at the highest inhabited spot, of the Blue Mountains.
It is a bleak and forbidding place, at the entrance of Jamison's Valley; the soil, is a wet and rotten peat, that after the least shower, will take a horse up to the girths at every step.
In addition to the corporal's party stationed in this sterile region, we were surprised at finding an opposition shop newly opened, for the entertainment of travellers. What will not the spirit of English competition bring about!
Here we were in one of the wildest spots in nature, thirty miles in the midst of the mountains of Australia, and nearly 4000 feet high; and yet the question arose, "which house shall we go to?"
We patronised the nearest, and found ourselves and horses, after a couple of hours, all the better for the rest.
Through Jamison's Valley to Pulpit Hill, across Blackheath to the top of Mount York, the road is very good.
Pitt's Amphitheatre, on the left, presents a noble tier of precipices, of bassalic appearance, and of unknown depths below.
All was vast and wild, and dreary - fit for a poet -"Welcome, ye everlasting hills!"
"Temples of God, not made with hands!"
The rain kept off, although not a gleam of sunshine had visited us the whole day.
Here and there on the road side, we had seen the carcasses of bullocks, that had died of starvation or fatigue, across the mountain - sights which in the low country would have started the mettle of our horses but which they now looked upon without affright.
The descent down Mount York did nots urprise me, after so much that has been said about it.
It was the new road and comparatively easy.
It is perfectly safe, but rather too narrow, as it will soon become cut up by water channels, after a winter's rain.
It should be at least twice the present breadth, with a deep grooved gutter on the high side for the water, and a low parapet on the off-side, of solid stone work, with numerous holes underneath, like scuppers in a ship's deck, to let the water off.
We soon arrived at the bottom, where the ground was strewed with fallen trees, in great numbers, all regularly arranged by the road side.
As the country was by no means thinly timbered, I could, not conceive what those trees were intended for.
They all appeared more or less black by age; and it was only after my companions had rode up from the rear, that I understood how the trees came there.
They put me in mind of the black stones at the foot of the hill in one of the Arabian tales, which, when sprinkled with a drop of the golden water, started up into horses and men.
It appears that all carts coming down the Big Hill, as this is called, must, ere they descend, cut down a tree at the top, to fix behind the dray, in- stead of locking the wheel.
They were all of great weight and size, and I should have thought much too large for such a purpose. We were now in the vale of Clwydd - a pretty grassy plain, of small extent, hemmed in on every side but one, with lofty mountains, and after a smart ride of two miles, along the valley, we arrived at Collett's inn, the Golden Fleece, the "rest and be thankful" of the Blue Mountains.
We cannot pause at a better place.
X. Y. Z.