News from the Interior, Murrumbidgee
The Sydney Morning Herald
26 February 1845
On the 5th instant, the neighbourhood of Gundagai and the township itself was visited by one of the most fearful storms that has been witnessed in this district.
The thunder and lightning were awful beyond description, and the rain fell in a literal deluge, causing the river to rise many feet in n very short period, and swelling all the small tributaries to the Murrumbidgee to foaming torrents.
The hail, which fell for a short time, was very large, and lay in some places six inches in depth.
A tornado, accompanied the storm of rain and thunder, which devastated the forest for miles, in many places not leaving a single shrub standing in its track.
The mischief done in many localities by its whirlwind rage is incredible unless seen.
Its course was very remarkable, being at times from north-west to south-east, and again from south - east to north, and changing such course three or four times in as many miles.
At intervals of a mile or so it left the earth, descending with renewed fury in another direction.
The atmosphere for days had been very oppressive with occasional thunder storms.
I have seen marks of the fury of the whirlwind forty miles from Gundagai, and it appears to have ranged generally with the course of the river.
We have been rather amused at the appearance in your columns of a paragraph, signed "Correspondent," pointing out to the government the fact that "several punts are now plying on the Port Phillip line of road," and suggesting that as "they pay their owners handsomely - the government should lay hold of them, and apply - the proceeds to the repairs of the roads."
I am at a loss to know how any man could give publicity to such an absurd proposition, or such brigand principles.
These punts have been erected by private enterprise, and at private expense; and even admitting that they do pay their owners handsomely, is this fact to justify the Government in dispossessing these owners of their property!
And for what? For a mere pledge (it would never amount to more) that the results of this seizure should be appropriated to keeping five hundred miles of road in repair. What folly!
This, however, is not of so much importance, as the principle involved in your "Correspondent's" paragraph, as well might he say there are now several large sheep and cattle establishments on the Port Phillip road, that pay their owners handsomely, and therefore the government should take possession thereof.
It is true that parties who have erected punts have done so at a risk, because they necessarily occupy Crown Lands to effect that object, and the government may at any time order the removal of the scaffold and tackle by which the machine is put in motion.
The punt itself they could not touch; and it is equally the fact that the public accommodation afforded by this private enterprise is incalculable.
How long does Correspondent imagine we should be without a punt to enable us to pass our flooded rivers, if it were left to government.
We might petition for one, and be told that if we "go across them we go 'for better or worse,' and must do what we can for ourselves; if we will take our sheep into such positions, we must fetch our wool out, &c.; or that "the government has no money to build punts."
Thus we might be forever without a convenience of vital importance to our district.
Now, when private enterprise has established two or three in seven hundred miles of country, up start some famous hole-and-corner councillor to point out to a grasping government the seducing opportunity there exists for them to perpetrate a barefaced robbery.
If the Government wish to derive a revenue in an honourable way from the efforts of private industry, let them give to the proprietors of these punts a lease of the ford for twenty-one years, and direct the nearest bench of magistrates to establish a rate of charges for the guidance of the public and the lessee.
In some seasons, the river for half the year is fordable for drays as well as horsemen, and therefore, when the waters are swollen, the punt owner is compelled to charge a high rate of toll to derive any profit at all: for no one takes advantage of the punt when he can cross without.
If a lease were given, it should be imperative on all parties who pass over Gundagai ford, to cross by means of the punt; if they can go round and cross elsewhere, well and good; but if they come to Gundagai ford they must pay.
These punts have cost their owners much money, are well conducted, and give general satisfaction as regards their operation: parties certainly do complain that the charges are high; but this arises from the cause I have above stated, and would be gladly remedied by the owners if a lease were given. As to the proceeds of the punts keeping the roads in repair, it is all fudge and "bunkum."
The government might promise; but the public know how to appreciate their pledges.
The people of Gundagai feel thankful for the interest you have evinced in their welfare, by bringing their unfortunate position so promptly before the public and "powers that be."
A petition is being got up praying for an exchange of allotments, (for those lately flooded), and an extension of the township on the same side of the river it is now situated on.
The people of Gundagai have much to complain of, for mechanics of all kinds are allowed by the Commissioner of the Tumut to carry on their trades on the river bank, within one hundred yards of the township, and on Crown lands, whereby the trades people of the village, who have purchased their land, are seriously injured; this is not, I conceive, at all just, and will be referred to the Governor for his opinion and adjustment.
Sheep stock are now considered as a rapidly rising property; I know of several lots which have been sold, with, and without stations, to the number of 15,000, at prices varying from 5s. 6d. to 7s. It is evident a much greater enquiry exists for them, and owners appear to be prepared to hold back their surplus stock a little longer.
The letter to His Excellency respecting the Pentonville exiles has been circulated through our district, and receives the signatures of all parties, Which is a guarantee for the adoption by them of the principle of the measure which petitioners pray for.
If Mrs. Chisholm would bring to Gundagai some thirty or forty single shepherds, they would procure employment immediately at wages from £14 to £15 per year, according to the locality of the establishment which required their services.
The weather is now very mild, but opthalmia, that endemic of this quarter, and dreadful scourge, is affecting most of us severely, I plead its influence for this miserable penmanship.