An Overland Journey to the Ovens and Melbourne No. VII

5 January 1854 The Sydney Morning Herald

On Saturday, the 26th February, we again proceeded on our journey, and in an hour or so after starting entered upon Breadalbane Plains, splendid tracts of level country without a tree, covered with abundance of luxuriant pasturage, and extending for many miles in all directions.

They have the appearance of having been at one time the basins of very large lakes, long since filled up by detritus and decayed vegetable matter washed down from the adjacent ranges.

Even now some of the lower parts of them are covered with a few inches of water, almost hidden from the view by long rushes and reeds, the resort of hundreds of wild ducks, swans, and other waterfowl. 

The road over these plains, although very good in the summer time, is almost impassable in the winter, owing to the swampy nature of the ground, which is a black vegetable soil of great depth, and of great tenacity when wet.

We heard some very lugubrious accounts of the winter travelling here from a bullock drive whom we happened to meet about half-way across.

He told us that he had been many years on the road, and he had seldom or never travelled over those plains in the winter time but it was either snowing or raining.

Nothing of this sort however occurred with thus, owing no doubt to the favourableness of the season, although I must confess the travelling was rendered somewhat difficult from a strong south westerly wind, which at times swept with great violence across the plains.

There being nothing in the shape of trees or hills to intercept the progress of the wind, we had quite enough, to do to bear up against some of the gusts, much less to make any considerable headway.

On crossing one of the ridges soon after leaving those plains I saw, for the first time along the road, a large vein of quartz, in conjunction with the schist, the lamina of the latter being nearly vertical, as is the case with similar rocks at all the auriferous localities. 

Granite, trap, and other rocks of a like character were to be found in the neighbourhood.

In fact, the general indications were such as to favour the supposition of a gold deposit, but whether in workable quantity is a thing, of course, which can only be guessed at.

We had no time, however, to satisfy our curiosity by prospecting, so we passed on, after a brief delay, leaving to those who might follow us the honour and glory of practical discovery.

We travelled until late in the evening in order to reach water, and eventually camped at Dead Man's Creek, a dreary looking plain, being thickly wooded, but fortunately containing abundance of pasturage. 

The water, however, for which we had travelled so late, was dreadfully bad - in fact, almost stagnant, and was confined to two or three small holes on the eve of becoming totally dry.

There was very little evidence of camping, and this was probably the cause of the pasturage being so good, parties always preferring the vicinity of good water for their bivouacs; and to the diggers' horses, who are invariably hobbled close to the camps, is attributable the frequent absence of grass, which distinguishes the water-holes on the road side.

On this occasion we had the company of two other parties, who pitched their tents close by. 

In the course of the evening one of them came over to our fire for the purpose of having a "yarn," and   on observing that we were using clear water, he expressed his astonishment, and desired very importunately to know where it was got.

He was still more astonished, however, when I told him that the water was taken out of the muddy pools in the Creek, and was purified by the application of a few grains of alum pounded very fine and mixed with the water as I have described on a former occasion.

In the course of the night our neighbours lost their horses, which had strayed so far that they were unable to find them up to the time we left in the morning.

Whether indeed they ever found them seems problematical, as horse stealing at that time was very common along the road even in cases where the utmost diligence was observed by the owners.  

Soon after resuming our journey in the morning we came upon a steep creek, called the "Black Springs," where to our great surprise we found abundance of pure spring water, the drainage from numerous high mountains to the northwest.

This creek was only two miles from our last camping place, and it was only ignorance of its existence that prevented us from choosing it for our camping ground on the   previous evening.

The bed as well as the surrounding country has every appearance of being auriferous.

The ridge and slopes of the mountains are studded with huge masses of granite, and the creeks and water courses are replete with quartz and slate gravel.

On the whole, the country has very much the appearance of some parts of the Braidwood diggings, especially as to its mountainous character and granite indications.

I never saw any place where the mica abounded to such an extent as in   the clay and detritus in the bed of this creek. 

The sand has a bright glittering appearance, as if it had been strewn with gold dust.

I do not mention this fact as being very significant of the presence of gold but merely as indicating a peculiar characteristic in the locality.

Although mica is undoubtedly one of the indications of the gold formation, yet, practically, it forms no guide to the gold digger in mining for alluvial gold; in fact, it is regarded as a rather unfavourable sign, particularly in cases where it is met with in abundance.

At the same time, I never knew of a gold producing locality in which mica of some kind, and in more or less quantity, was not to be found.

The result of my observation and inquiry at this place is such as to impress me with the conviction that, sooner or later, a gold field will be discovered in the neighbourhood of the Black Springs.  

Having watered and rested a short time here, we continued our journey, and reached Gunning about midday, and dined at Mr. Grovernor's inn.

We found our host very communicative and were highly amused at a variety of anecdotes which he related to us respecting the early history of the township of Gunning, which at present consists of two or three houses, and about as many huts, with a wretched apology for a bridge.

The worthy had informed us, en passant, that he was a relation of the Marquis of Westminster, and then proceeded to narrate very carefully the steps that had been taken towards peopling the important township of Gunning, and the surrounding territory, pointing out that he himself was one of the first to open the way in this region to the Anglo-Saxon race.

He also informed us of the many vigorous efforts he had made to have Gunning Bridge put into a passable state of repair, and the numerous bitter disappointments he had met with.

He had written numerous letters to the Herald on the subject, and he had on one occasion produced a satirical poem on the warden of the district, which had gained him a very extensive celebrity among the townspeople. 

He rehearsed the poem to as in a manner which could not fail to arrest the attention, if not excite the admiration, of the most unpoetical mind.

The only portion which I can at present recall to memory is the following couplet - Gunning Bridge is broken; Has his Wardenship come to town?

We had no reason to complain of the accommodation and attention we received at this inn.

It was all that could be desired, and it is with feelings of thankfulness that I remember a little net of kindness I received at the hands of Mr, Grosvenor on parting,  namely, the present of a few apples, which, although very poor specimens of fruit, were a great treat to us under the circumstances.

Fruit and vegetables are at all times a scarce commodity along the road, and at the time I allude to they could not be purchased at any price.

Gunning, as I have implied, has by no means a very imposing appearance.

It is destitute of both streets and houses, and consists of some half-dozen miserable looking buildings thrown together in pitchfork fashion on both sides of the road.

Gold, we were informed, had been found in one or two of the adjacent creeks, but whether in sufficient quantity to pay had not been proved.

In the evening we camped at a place called the Chain of Ponds, about 165 miles from Sydney.

As was frequently the case, we had to travel after dark in order to reach water.

The last five or six miles of the road were in a very dilapidated state, and it being pitch dark the walking was anything but safe or pleasant, particularly as the country is very uneven, the road sometimes dipping into a deep ravine and at another time winding precariously up the side of a mountain.