Gundagai and its Environs

26 August 1859 The Sydney Morning Herald

From Our Special Gold-Fields' Reporter.

Some soulless biped in Victoria is reported to have deliberately written that "Australia is not worth fighting for."

Has he ever witnessed the glories of her sun-light mountains, the broad and fertile valleys, the noble forests, the grassy plains, and the countless streams of her interior -the future happy homes of millions of our race as yet unborn?

Has he had no visions of future empire, of the destiny that awaits our children in this noble land?

The man that Lord Byron made so many anxious enquiries after, the man with the dead soul, has been unearthed, unearthed at the antipodes; but we will leave this soulless individual, in the hope that he is a rare specimen of the genus, and, plunging into the solitude of a mountain road, continue our route to the southward.

Two miles from Galong we arrive at the summit of the range that divides the waters of the Lachlan from the Murrumbidgee.

To the south-east the snowy wastes of the Australian Alps rise sharp and clear against the cold bright sky, while diverging ranges and isolated mountains, broken here and there by long winding valleys and gloomy gorges, fill the intervening space, gradually subsiding into the basin of a dry and scrubby watercourse, that follows the base of the ridge along which the road holds its way.

To the westward, the eye wanders over the summits of a wilderness of declining hills; and over all this vast expanse the forest rolls, now brilliant with a thousand varied shades of gold, and purple, and brown, and green, as it ascends the swelling crest of some long ridge, and then fading into darker hues as it sinks into the depths of a valley until it melts in the dim and airy distance.

A few miles to the eastward, the great southern highway from the capital drags its slow length along, winding round sidlings, crossing hills, and struggling through deep clayey flats and the lightning messenger now keeps it company, and now, scorning all obstacles, takes a short cut over a range, or plunges right into a swamp, or leaps a creek, to return again to its more cautious companion.

But let us pursue our own road, higher, less frequented, and consequently better - a good, sound, honest road.

Why it has been discarded no person can tell, except that it intersects a fine fattening country.

Following the windings of the range for twelve miles, we descend across a velvet sward upon a stream, and here, on the banks, a crowd of mouldering posts and half-fallen rafters, and a multitude of crumbling logs lying prostrate upon the earth, overgrown with noxious weeds and thistles and grass, mark the whereabouts of the homestead of one of our earliest pioneers, a memorial of the daring, courage, and enterprise of his order, but now abandoned to desolation and decay.

Ascending the opposite range, the road continues in first-rate order for fourteen miles, constantly descending to the basin of the Murrumbidgee.

Here you follow the winding crown of a ridge for three or four miles, and there pass through a mountain valley, with long slopes on either side falling from gentle elevations. In all this distance the land is rich, but surface water scarce; however, patches of rushes in the flats indicate that it is not far distant.

And now I arrived at a fork in the road, and, as usual, took the wrong branch, and after a journey of four or five miles found myself descending to the banks of Jugiong Creek, about three miles above the now bridge.

The country bordering on this stream consists of rich alluvial slopes, the watercourse is wide and the banks steep, the narrow stream wandering from side to side over a loose bed of shifting sand and gravel.

Crossing the creek, and passing three or four small farms stretching back from its margin, each having small patches under cultivation.

I reached the bridge which has been just completed, and there learned that I had gone out of my road, and must recross the stream.

This bridge is about 400 feet long, constructed entirely of timber, and does credit to the contractor; it is a great boon to the travelling public.

The crossing of the Jugiong must have been hazardous in the extreme, as the bed of the watercourse partakes something of the character of a quicksand.

Over the bridge and proceeding the first mile, you pass some half-dozen of huts, scattered along the road side, with enclosures stretching to the base of the low range behind that evidently forms the flood bank of the river; the next mile you are following along the margin of the Murrumbidgee, the road passing over a deep alluvial flat, that must be knee-deep in mud after a few days' rain, if it is not some feet under water; and the third mile you arrive at the town of Jugiong, which consists of one public-house and a post-office connected with the same establishment, backed by a few huts on the slope of the range in the rear.

The greater part of the township, if not all that has been sold, is said to have become the property of the landlord of the inn; it is certain that if a village ever does take root in this dangerous locality it will be close to the bridge, where, at a little distance from the stream on either bank, a good site, secure from the ravages of destructive floods, could be selected.

There is no doubt that the whole of the rich alluvial flats on each side of the Murrumbidgee have been here frequently submerged, and that the waters have extended to the base of the ranges.

Nothing can exceed the fertility of these flats, but they will be ever uncertain; the formation of the country over an area far as the eye can reach in every direction indicates Jugiong as the point where a thousand streams unite their waters.

The watercourses during a continuance of dry weather are dry, but a storm of an hour's duration will send countless tributaries, rushing and rearing, from the heights into the basin of the river.

A mile below Jugiong the Murrumbidgee makes a large detour, when the road leaves the flat, and ascends the broken ridges that form the southern termination of the table land to the northward.

You are now on Cooney's Hill, and the track passes over sidlings crossed by an indefinite number of small ravines, formed by the drainage from the mountain cutting into the stiff clay; and here commences seven miles of the worst and most difficult road in the colony; and now you commence the descent, passing over mud holes that would engulph a bullock.

And now you are in a black soil flat, floundering knee deep in mud ; and then comes Cooney's Creek, and then more hills and more mud traps, and more black clay flats, and then the black springs-the terror of bullock drivers; and then the worst of all, the Money Money Ranges, across which a rough trench has been excavated, intended as a road, but which is now converted into one long mud hole, in which, for two miles, drays sink to the axle in rotten granite, and clay as tenacious as pitch.

Having arrived at the base of the last and steepest hill, without the necessity of having my horse dug out of the mud, I reached Money Money station, the first house after leaving Jugiong in crossing the range.

I observed a fine outcrop of quartz, with the usual auriferous indications exhibited in granitic formations. At some miles distance to the north west, amongst a mass of mountains, I could distinguish a bold cone of considerable magnitude, rising from the centre of a circular basin or ring of hills; it is probably of volcanic origin, and is in the neighbourhood of the Muttama reefs.

The Money Money Range is a continuous spur from the table land or levels to the northward of the basin of the Murrumbidgee; and, after an easterly course of about thirty miles, it is cut through by the waters of that river, and stretches away towards the Australian Alps, gradually in-creasing in elevation.

The Muttama Creek also has its source on the levels; and after a long easterly course, under a variety of appellations, following the base of the Money Money Range for a considerable distance, it sweeps round to the southward, and disembogues into the main river near Gundagai, receiving many minor streams in its course.

Various portions of this creek, after its descent from the table land, have been proved to be auriferous, but from some cause, unexplained, it has never been a favourite resort of alluvial miners.

Sufficient gold has been obtained to prove it to be worthy of a more careful exploration.

Gold has also been found in many of the network of creeks that exist between the descents from the plateau and the river, which here are spread over a wide area.

The formation of the Money Money Range is chiefly granitic, but in many localities a wreck of the schistose formation still exists, sometimes in a metamorphosed state; a luminated limestone is also of frequent occurrence, and the fore hills and lower elevations are intersected by innumerable reefs, veins, and dyke's of quartz, some of which have all the distinguishing characteristics of auriferous stone.

Wherever the evidences of a schistose or sedimentary, formation are most abundant gold has been found in the largest quantity, although the schists may have actually disappeared by disintegration from the immediate neighbourhood of the auriferous deposit.

The large proportion of lime in the schists of this district, with the rapid declination of the stupendous granitic uphevals from their culminating point on the Snowy Mountains or Alps, has hastened the removal of the schists and marine deposits, and that extensive denudation of granite which characterises this section of the country.

That the surface rocks now exhibited were elevated to their present position under the superincumbent weight of an enormous sedimentary deposit is evinced on the crest of every hill.

About two miles distant over the mountains to the right of the station is the Money Money Reef, and three or four miles further the Coolach Reef, in the same range.

About fifty men are engaged raising quartz on these reefs, which have prospected from two to three ounces to the ton.

On the Muttama Creek, near the former, one steam crushing machine is in the course of erection by Messrs. Hayes and Company, and another of small power is in operation, the property of Thurlow, Baxter, and Company.

The Muttama Reef, also in the same range, distant about ten miles, has been opened for about eighteen months; about thirty men are employed raising stone from this lode, and several hundred tons await the crusher.

A few parcels of quartz from the Muttama have been crushed at the Adelong, and yielded from l.5 to 2 ounces per ton.

The value of the stone from this reef has yet to be tested, as the experiments made up to the present date have not proved satisfactory; it is intended to cart the quartz to the machines at the Money Money, when, if the yield proves to be remunerative, a steam-mill will be erected on the Muttama Reef; the present opinion with regard to it is unfavourable, and the men are rapidly deserting their claims.

There are neither stores nor public houses at any of these diggings, and supplies are chiefly obtained from Gundagai.

The road now for seven miles, conducts you over a magnificent alluvial plain, watered by the Muttama, and here called the Mingay Creek, flanked by steep ranges of no great height.

You now arrive at Mrs. Hanley's Inn, a fine stone building, and the land in the neighbourhood is fertile, combined with great natural beauty of situation.

There are here several first-class farms back among the ranges on both sides of the road.

Four miles from Mrs. Hanley's, the range sweeps across the road to the southward; you are gradually rising.

The rich black trappean soil of the valley is succeeded by a whitish argillaceous clay.

Bands of calcareous schists reappear, crossing out on the declivities fragments of quartz become thickly strewn over the surface, and passing a large reef, you reach a gap in the range where the auriferous indications are again apparent.

Descending on the opposite side, you observe several holes sunk by prospectors, none of which appear to have reached the rock and at the base of the hill you find that the slates have passed into a pure schistose limestone.

At Five Mile Creek, the crossing may be enumerated amongst the dangers of the route.

The road now rolls over an undulating country still flanked on the right by low steep ranges.

Passing a public-house a mile further you are travelling between the front fences of a string of neat small farms that appear but recently occupied.

Three miles further you reach Winton's new brick-built steam flour mill, close to which is an extensive reservoir.

Here the road forks, one branch, leading round Mount Parnassus to the east, and the other to the west. Following that to the west, a mile brings you to the beginning of the descent of the hill, and the towns of North and South Gundagai are in the depths of the valley before you.

The former on the slopes at the base of Mount Parnassus, and the latter on the southern bank of the Murrumbidgee, situated on the declivities of a range that infringes upon the river.

Many of the lower elevations are crowned with snug homesteads and pretty cottages, but the rich alluvial flats that border the northern bank are untenanted, and present no vestige of improvement; the opposite side of the valley is closed in by a steep range terminating in the precipitous bluff of Mount Kino; to the northward, Jones' Creek, emerging from a mass of mountains, meanders through the plain, and, after wandering round the lower flat, disembogues into the Murrumbidgee.

The view as you wind round the mountain, is one of surpassing loveliness, neat cottages peep from a mass of foliage, and humble huts are sprinkled over the slopes - heavily laden teams are slowly moving across the flats - the tall chimney of a mill is belching forth its smoke against the clear blue sky, and the rich verdure of the valley creeping up on one side to the dome-like crest of Mount Parnassus on the other mingles with the reddish brown of Mount Kino, crowned with grey rocks and a mass of stunted sickly-looking forest.

To the south-ward the white buildings of South Gundagai rise one above the other on the hill side, bathed in a glorious flood of sunlight, and between them and you a belt of heavy forest marks the course of the noble river, and stretches into the far west through an opening in the ranges, until both forest and mountain air lost in the dim and hazy distance.

Meantime we have descended from Parnassus, and entered the main street of the north town, and the charm has vanished.

We are ankle deep, dragging a horse through the mud, and esteem ourselves fortunate if we do not get knee deep in one of the holes, out of which that string of bullocks has been endeavouring to tug a dray for the last half hour, aided by a torrent of colonial oaths and execrations manufactured by a bullock-driver and two volunteers expressly for the occasion.

On either side a row of houses in every variety of bush architecture, about half a mile in length, rise out of the quagmire.

The most pretending edifices, and those on which the town depends for the respectability of its appearance, are public-houses; as you wade through the street past some of these you will observe a knot of long-legged, sallow faced, idle young men, leaning against the verandah posts, peering from under their dilapidated cabbage trees, and evidently reckoning you up.

The openings left for future streets give you occasional glimpses of a black, muddy creek, in which fetid pools are collected, separating the flat from the base of the hill, and immediately behind the lower low of houses, at the upper end of the street, on a green knoll to the left, is a beautiful little Roman Catholic chapel nearly completed, being the only place set apart for worship ; and further on to the right, on the margin of the flat, is an extensive flour mill: a fine stone-built hospital is also in progress high up the mountainside.

Following the road round the hill, of which it makes a complete circuit, two miles from the chapel, you arrive at a cluster of cottages built on suburban allotments.

Within a few miles up Jones' Creek, and on Mingay flats, about six miles distant, there are several farms; for the produce of these the neighbouring gold-fields offer a good market.

The country around the town and on either side of the Jugiong road, with a few exceptions, is suitable for cereal agriculture; the richest soil is to be found on the summit and slopes of the ranges, and where the road is worst, and the mud traps most dangerous, there the land is the most fertile and suitable for cultivation.

North Gundagai, not yet recovered from the dreadful catastrophe of 1852, ought to form the nucleus of a wealthy agricultural district, and be independent of the road traffic.

It is also certain that the auriferous reefs in its vicinity will contribute to its prosperity when quartz mining becomes better understood.

It now contains five public-houses, no church, a Roman Catholic chapel, a National school, two well stocked stores, two mills, an hospital, bakery, butchery, court-house (built of slabs), and a full staff of the class of mechanics usually found in a country village.

The population is more numerous than appears at first sight, as the inhabitants are scattered round the slopes of the mountain.

Crossing the horrid creek, you pass over the flat where numerous posts, still standing, mark the site of the old town.

This spot, where the yell of despair rose above the uproar of the rushing waters, is now strewn with huge logs of driftwood and overgrown with rank herbage.

Here and there the mouldering wreck of a chimney rises above the tall thistles; blackened stumps are scattered up and down, and the ancient giants of the primeval forest, tottering in decay, and spared, from their utter inutility, look down upon this lonely place, now left to sleep in its own gloomy desolation.

The people of the district still recount tales of heroic devotion and self-sacrifice on that fearful night that have never been chronicled, but that, passing from sire to son, will be long remembered on the banks of the Murrumbidgee.

Half a-mile now brings you to the bank of the river, when, crossing by a punt, you reach South Gundagai.

Thriving towns arise from the necessities of a district, and South Gundagai is as much a necessity to the southern bank of the Murrumbidgee as if North Gundagai were ten miles distant instead of one.

At certain seasons the passage of the river and flat is impracticable, and it is always attended with some expense, an object of consideration to a poor struggling community in the first stage of settlement.

The rich agricultural district on the south side of the river is every day becoming more populous; it is also destined at some future date to become the head of an internal navigation which will raise it to a position of vast importance.

Nothing is lost by a near approach, as the buildings, although few, are large and well located; it contains at present three extensive stores, as many inns, no church, and a Denominational school, with a post office.

There is a sprinkling of cottages along the Southern Road for a short distance; and about a mile from the river a steam flour mill has been just completed, which will find full employment when the many farms recently occupied in the neighbouring valleys become productive.

As I turned into the mountain passes, and looked upon the glories of the setting sun, throwing the long shadows of the mountains across the valleys, and lighting up the leafy beauties and soft verdure of the river plains with its expiring rays, I never felt a truth more forcibly than that "God made the countryman the town."