Gocup Excursion by Tumut Historical Society

2nd July 1985 Tumut & Adelong Times


Although the fog refused to lift until lunch time when it was probably helped by the heat generated by the huge bonfire that Fred Markham had prepared for the members on Wollongawah Hill, the Tumut Historical Society’s Gocup excursion was a great success, with over twenty member and interested people going along for a look into the past.

The main reason for the visit to the McCormick’s property three miles out of town, was to see if any credence could be lent to the theory that the old settlement of Gracetown existed on the river side of the property known as Keefe’s Flat. However, although Mr. Jim McCormick said he had nothing to substantiate this, the old homestead itself proved a gem for the lovers of history.

Mr. McCormick said he could not put an age to the old home, but he thought it would have been before Wollongawah homestead, which was built between 1840 and 1841.

The construction is of pise, mud and straw bricks, plastered over with sand and lime. The McCormick fowls seem to have a liking plaster. And have eaten it away as far up as they can reach, even climbing onto the verandah furniture.

The roof is now iron, but was once shingles, and the earlier ceiling, now timber, used to be old style hessian and whitewash. Still standing on the verandah overlooking the river flats, are a pair of cedar and glass French doors that came from the old Woollongawah homestead, and had been used in a sleepout on the verandah.

While Mr. McCormick was telling the members some of the past history of the place, several of the party stole away to warm themselves at the open fireplace in the kitchen area of what Mr McCormick termed his “trouble”, which was separate to the main cottage.

Mr Jim McCormick spoke of the Chinamen who had once tobacco on these flats. Because it was so dry when picked, before baling, it was steamed over poles laid across 400 gallon, square iron tanks, which had been brought up from Sydney full of rabbit traps, for by then the rabbit was very plentiful, and rabbit trapping was quite an industry in the area.

Butter had also been made in a two story building below the house. One story was underground  and a large drain around the sides prevented the water seeping in.

The roof was bark, thatched over with hay, and butter was made from cream skimmed from huge bowls of milk, for there were no separators then. It was then placed in cloths and immersed in brine in huge vats like whisky barrels. In the winter it was sold at Gundagai, Adelong and Cootamundra. Before sale it was kneeded and stamped with the name. Incidentally it may be mentioned here that the McCormicks, years later, were the first to use milking machines in the area in 1932.

Mr McCormick also recalled the bullock teams that used to bring the bales of wool down for washing in the wool wash on the river bank owned by Mr Jim Hudson.  Later, when the sheep population declined because of bad footrot in the area for which there was then no treatment, the old steam engine from the wool wash was used for irrigation on the property owned by the Campbells and later the Hargreaves.

There was also once a vineyard on the flats, and corn was grown in the area where today millet is grown, and which was very prone to flooding before the Blowering Dam during the springtime snowmelt.

Besides his very interesting talk, of which only a part is recorded here, Mr McCormick had laid out some interesting old articles on a verandah table, on which was a straw-lined box in which a couple of hens had laid earlier in the morning.  Among these was an old newspaper that the members enjoyed reading, and a horse’s hoof made into a container for Mr McCormick’s old coin collection over which they pored with great interest.  A rather cumbersome looking cast-iron object was identified, after a guessing competition, as an old cherry corer.  And then of course, there was the golden? Goose egg.

Wollongawah Homestead

Just before the party rather reluctantly took their leave of the McCormick brothers, Mr Geoff Potter, a former Gocup school teacher, and his wife arrived, and the contingent then moved off to Wollongawah homestead site on Mr Fred Markham’s property where, as was stated before, he had a huge bonfire prepared, and the members enjoyed its warmth as they ate their lunches.

Henry Bingham, who built Wollongawah, was born in Ireland in 1797, and following the death of his mother, was brought up by the Fitzgeralds of Lisguinlan, County Cork.  Gertrude Fitztgerald named him heir to Water Castle estate, which she inherited from her father, but later disinherited him  following his first marriage to Margaret Creine in 1822.  They had two children, Charles Edward and Isabelle.  After her death in 1830, he married Penelope Mary Checkley, and they had three children, Julia Henrietta, Gertrude Clara and Grace Blakeney.

Henry Bingham joined the Inneskilling Dragoons and served in India and elsewhere, reaching the office of Colonel before being invalided out after suffering a total of 47 sabre wounds.  For a time he managed the Marquis of Thomas’ estate near Cork before coming to Australia in the Lady MacNaughton in 1837.  This ill fated ship lay in quarantine in Spring
Cove, North Head, from February until May due to an outbreak of typhus fever during the voyage, and Mr Bingham was commended to Governor Bourke by the Surgeon Superintendant for his help and co-operation during this disaster.

He was appointed Commissioner of Crown Lands by Governor Burke in 1837 and came to Tumut in 1839 to take charge of “ all the lands beyond the Murrumbidgee”.  He built  Wollongowah homestead on vacant Crown Land and established his Border Police across the river at Cockatoo.  His wife and family arrived and joined him in 1840.  Mrs Bingham was a very talented and well educated lady, with a good knowledge of medicine, which she dispensed to the local poplace until more skilled help could be obtained.

Henry  Bingham, like Count Strzelecki, discover of Mt. Kosciusko, does not figure greatly in the annuls of Australian exploration, but he deserves a place there, for he was responsible for the exploration and opening up of all the area under his jurisdiction, reaching as far west as the Edward’s River and even down into Victoria.  He was very active in local affairs, was also Gold Commissioner, and was instrumental in having the township of Tumut moved above flood level, having been warned of the danger by the aborigines with whom he was on good terms.  He wrote copious letters to Governor Gipps trying to get the town of Gundagai also moved to a higher level, and it was while helping with rescues during the disastrous 1852 floods that swept the township away, that he caught the pneumonia which later caused his death.

Nothing is now left of Wollongawah homestead, but the site, cut into the side of the hill, is still easily discernible, as were the outlines of the foundations during the drought, according to Mr Markham.  He also told the members that the bell, which once hung on the verandah and was used to call up the Border Police and the convict servants, now hangs in the Toorak garden of Miss Rita Watson a family connection.

After Mr Bingham’s death, Mrs Bingham purchased 320 acres of land around the homestead and her descendants, the Ratliffs, lived there until Emma Ratliff sold the property and the old house for demolition in 1928.  Some of the timber is still in use today in the old woolshed on Mr J. McCormicks property.  The original Wollongawah has since been broken up into smaller blacks.

Gocup School

The sun was out by the time the entourage moved off to the Gocup School.

The original school was built on land purchased and dedicated in 1872.  It was a rough slab building with a shingle roof, and opened on November 17, 1872, with twenty-eight pupils.  The original residence was a four-roomed brick building with an all through passage, shingle roof and random-rubble foundations.  It cost 368 pounds.

In 1885, when the attendance had reached fifty, a new school was applied for, and the present building was erected in 1886 at a cost of 339 pounds.  It only had two windows, one at each end, but this was rectified during Mr Geoff Potter’s time, with the old windows being bricked up and a set of new ones placed down each side, considerably improving the ventilation and lighting.

The present residence, also enlarged during Mr Potter’s time, was built in 1924 at a cost of 939 pounds 19 shillings & sixpence.

The Society were fortunate in that the excursion coincided with Mr Geoff Potter’s visit to Tumut, for he kindly consented to outline his nine years at Gocup School which he said were among the happiest of his teaching career.  He spoke highly of the standard of intelligence and sports ability of the pupils, their diligence and also the good relationship he had with the parents.  It is over thirty years since Mr Potter left the district, but he recalled as if it was yesterday, the names of parents and students alike.

He spoke also of the lighter side of his stay, the pranks some of the children got up to, the card parties and dances held in the school, the latter often livened up when one of the local wags would throw a possum through the window to alarm the ladies, and of one member of the Herlihy clan who, unaware the stone jar used to mix the ink in had been broken and replaced with a beer bottle, while attending a dance at the school and seeking further supplies of the amber liquid, upended the bottle and quaffed a swig of the blue stuff !

It was pleasing to the members to see several of Mr Potter’s old students there to greet him and they thanked him for his talk, and Mr Garry Hosking, the present owner of the premises, for allowing them access.

Australian Arms Hotel

The Society’s next host was Mr David Fletcher, who now owns the property on which the old Australian Arms Hotel once stood at the foot of Watson’s Hill.  Martin Brennan built and obtained the licence for the hotel in 1868.  He speaks in his diary of his struggles to keep it going, but it did not prosper because of “the dull times”.  Race meetings were staged in the vicinity and dances were held at which some of the customers ‘got elevated, if not drunk’, but still business did not improve.  In July 1870 he speaks of selling all the liquor on hand ‘to Fitzgerald for 24.3.0 pounds’ and that seems to have been the end of his career as inn-keeper.  After his there seems to be a gap until Edward Perkins held the licence in 1878 and from 1879-81 it was held by William Back, great great grandfather of Kerry Back of Gilmore.

When the building disappeared from the map is not known, and all that remains on the site now are some giant elms and old quince trees on the creek bank.

Members wandered around the site, but could find no evidence of where the actual building had been, so after thanking Mr and Mrs Fletcher for their hospitality, the excursion members headed back to town well pleased with their day, despite the cold conditions.