Beautiful Tumut (By O.H.)
The Sydney Morning Herald
11 June 1910
"A thing of beauty is a joy forever."
When that "thing" is a thriving country town, with delightful environs, it becomes not only a joy to local resident and immigrant, but a prolific source of revenue. Who shall say that it was not this very beauty, apart from the abundance of marsupials, which many years ago led the neighbouring kings from Murrumbidgee, Monaro, and Bombowlie to assemble their people at Doomut.
As this historic meeting of monarchs there were no reportors present. Neither were any minutes taken of the subsequent conference. But the last of the Doomut tribe, who drifted to Brungle, talked big of the great assemblage. The talk-sticks had been sent round the mountains and up the winding streams which splashed merrily over the shallows on their way to the Bidgee. Then when the southern moon grew to fullness, the tribes assembled at the rendezvous. The reception of delegates, or corroboree, was a grand affair, over 500 participating. So also was the subsequent banquet. But the proceedings terminated rather abruptly.
A buck from Monaro, entranced with the charms of a Fish River maiden, desired her for his lubra. She scorned the foreign yoke, so the Monaro brave, following the time-honoured custom, stunned her with a blow from his waddy. The blow was heard a hundred yards off. It was heard by a young Fish River warrior, whose mia mia the young maiden had promised to grace.
So the Fish River black protested with a boomorang. Monaro replied with a spear. There was a division. Spears, boomerangs, and other missiles darkened the air. Pandemonium reigned. The young gin primarily responsible for the fracas slumbered peacefully. The Doomut King, who had presided at the function, failed to restore order, and the gathering dispersed. The rather meagre details procurable from old Brungal Tommy do not include the number of killed and wounded.
After the visitors had departed the local blacks lived in peace and quiet at Doomut, which, being translated, is "The Camping Place." Stringy-bark humpies were raised. Fish in abundance came from the river, while in the ranges the warriors found kangaroo, wallaby, and bears.
But soon the white man came from "over the ranges," and encroached on the happy hunting-grounds of the aboriginals. Cattle took the place of the marsupial on all the country round Doomut and Bombowlee.
The blacks thinned out, and the last of the tribe migrated to Brungal. King Tommy for years held sway along the banks of the little creek that rushes and tumbles down between the mountains.
A medal presented in 1812 by Mr. John Keighrer, the original owner of Brungal, was proudly worn by the old monarch. But Tommy's end is shrouded in mystery. Tradition has it that he was speared in a fight with some raiding natives from Yass.
A less picturesque but more probable story is that he and 50 of his tribe were wiped out by an influenza epidemic, which decimated the tribes in the Upper Murrumbidgee.
But two years ago King Tommy's old brass medal was unearthed at Brungle, as it is now spelt. Here at the Mission Station, in charge of Mr. Hubbard, the remaining aboriginals of the district are located. When Christmas cheer comes round the population of the settlement reaches well over a hundred. Ordinarily it is about 80.
And these are not by any means the degenerate blacks that one meets on the bends of the outback rivers. They are great athletes, holding their own at cricket and football, and pulling off many prizes at district sports meetings. They do all the cultivating at the station, and some of the men can plough and furrow with the best farmers of the district.
Reverting to Tumut, as the old camping place came to be called, it was 1848 before the district was settled sufficiently to warrant the visit of the Government surveyors who laid out the town. A courthouse and lockup of gum slabs and bark, with a mounted trooper and black tracker, stood as the symbols of law and order and British justice. Postmaster and Schoolmaster Hilton looked after her Majesty's mails in his spare time, inculcated into the currency lads and lasses some of the rudiments of the three R's.
On the fertile Tumut "plains" were then settled the Shellys, Whitty and Blowering, Anderson and Foora occupied Tumut station; Wilkinson selected Yallowin, and Broughton held Gadara, while a Rankin squatted at Bombowlee. It was cattle rather than sheep that occupied the attentions of the backwoodsman. But soon the hornies grew so plentiful that they became too cheap. After sending a mob all the way to Sydney the squatter only realised 16s a head. Station hands worked for three half crowns a week and their keep. Old hands still talk of the days when there were 29 boilingdown establishments in the colony. That was the first or cattle era.
Then came gold. In 1848 gold was discovered at California, and a few years later in Australia. In 1851 John Bridle, now hale and hearty at 84, won the first half-ounce from the Tumut River. At Talbingo, Adelong, and Gobragandra rich alluvial patches were located. Thousands of adventurous miners and prospectors made southwards from Port Jackson. And the underpaid stockmen and drovers joined in the hunt for gold. Station hands were unprocurable at £3 a week, Cattle jumped from 15s to £5 a head.
Then resulted the third or agricultural age. With the establishments of mining townships came a big demand for foodstuffs also. Tumut supplied most of the countryside, right to Yackandandah, over the border.
It became the granary of New South Wales. It paid handsomely to grow wheat and maize, fruits, and potatoes. Tumut grew and prospered. Broad tree-lined thoroughfares were backed by offices, stores, and residences. Picturesque orchards dotted the landscape, and when the first fruitgrowers' conference was subsequently held in the metropolis, the Tumut delegates presented a collection which put completely in the shade the first fruits of the coast and Cumberland. Farms multiplied until the "plains" were like unto a gigantic chess board.
Dairy farmers followed, and thousands of milkers meandered along the river to their dewlaps deep in the clover feed. In the back-country the grazier added his quota to the town's sustenance, and its permanence and solvency were assured. The iron horse connected the town with the metropolis. A butter factory, freezing works, flour mills, and other commercial undertakings arose to testify to the enterprise of the inhabitants.
Then the wisdom of our statesmen and the co-operation of our people saw the dream of a grand united Australia crystallise into actual fact, and search was made for the capital of the continent.
Experts scoured the mother State, as dreamors of old scoured the planet for the "Elixir of Life" or the Philosopher's Stone. In course of time they came to Tumut. They filled their lungs with the fresh invigorating atmosphere. They lifted their eyes to the green-clad hills and saw afar off fleecy clouds clinging to the purple mountains. They wandered along the bunks of the beautiful Tumut River, and heard the laughter of rippling waters, the sweet wild note of the magpie, the hilarious cachinnation of goburras, and the joyous twitterings of myriad feathered songsters.
They noted the giant poplars, the stately elms and oaks, reminiscent of old England. Luscious old-world fruits delighted their epicurean palates. The despised poet of the senses inhaled the scent of new-mown hay and the honeyed sweet of wattle bloom and gum. Beyond were the fantastic stalagmites and stalactites of Yarrangobilly, the wonder of thermal springs, the fern-fringed gorges of Younama, and, loveliest of all, the white veil of laughing water - the splashing silver crystals of Budding Falls. The senses enjoyed a galaxy of beauty. It was only what was expected when beautiful Tumut was chosen as the ideal site for the capital of Federated Australia.
Politics, however, is a complex game, in which the players make many strange moves. As the cards were shuffled again and again other sites came uppermost, and Tumut, queen of them all, slipped unnoticed to the bottom of the pack. Wistfully the locals saw the coveted honour - almost within their grasp - fade away.
But though robbed of the supreme distinction Tumut must ever be the resort of the world-weary, the poet, the artist, the sportsman, and the tourist. Not without reason has Tumut been called the prettiest town in Australia. Enthusiasts may sigh for the glory which might have been; but he who has heard the song of the "Out of Doors," and knows the love of forest and fen, will never regret that the peaceful calm of Tumut River has been spared the intrusion of the politician and the demagogue.