Overland Journey to the Ovens and Melbourne No. 10

7 March 1854 The Sydney Morning Herald

With the return of morning, we again set out on our journey, keeping the beautiful stream of the Murrumbidgee on our left.

The road for several miles is remarkably good, passing as it does over a series of broad flats which line the banks of the river.

The scenery at different parts is exceedingly fine, and the land is all that the squatter or agriculturist could desire.

I had long heard of the rich alluvial flats on the banks of the Murrumbidgee, but I was not prepared to witness the large basin, which many parts of the river present.

Its course, like that of most rivers, is extremely serpentine.

Occasionally it passes through a country as level as a bowling green, and at other times it winds its way through immense mountains, so closely piled together, as to render the course of the river wholly undistinguishable even at a short distance.

Such is the case along the line of road which we were now travelling.

In two or three hours after starting, we noticed the river take a sudden turn to the left, and apparently became lost in a maze of mountains.

Immediately after we found ourselves ascending a very abrupt ascent, called Cooney's Hill.

This was unquestionably  the worst part of the road we had yet travelled, and for the first time after crossing Razorback we began to doubt the ability of our horse to make the journey. 

There could not have been fewer than a dozen different roads over the mountain, but they were all so dreadfully steep, and so cut up by the rains, that it was utterly impossible to decide at a glance which to adopt.

At length we managed, by dint of great exertion, to get about three parts of the distance up, when the horse suddenly came to a dead stop and obstinately refused to   go any further.

This is undoubtedly the most critical part of the ascent, as the road passes over a narrow ridge of the mountain, one side of which is extremely precipitous, and had the horse made a false movement it would inevitably have fallen, cart and all, into the river.

As it was, we had a very narrow escape, through the horse backing in a sidelong manner.

Indeed, I feel persuaded that, if it had not been that three of us were pushing behind with all our might, we should never have brought either the horse or cart to the Ovens.

All our whipping and shouting was fruitless, and it was not until we had spent a good half-hour, in testing practically the various modes of driving, that we succeeded in getting the horse and cart to the top of the hill.

In the evening we camped about five miles from Jugiong town, which consists simply of one public-house.

In the course of the next day we crossed another hill, called Money Money.

The road is very bad, but the pinch is not nearly so sharp as the one on Cooney's Hill.

The scenery along the whole of this road is highly picturesque, and the land in many places equal to any I have seen.

The rocks which indicate the gold formation are to be found in great abundance in many of the creeks and watercourses near Money Money, but I am not aware that gold has been found in any of them, though there were traces of some of them having been prospected.

Towards evening, we again came in sight of the Murrumbidgee, and ultimately camped on its banks, within half-a-mile of the ill-fated township of Gundagai, which had recently been reduced to ruins by the flood. 

It rained heavily during a great part of the night, and as the ground was consequently very damp, our situation was by no means pleasant.

It was, therefore, with pleasure that we hailed the return of morning, although it was still raining.

Towards noon, however, the clouds began to break up, and in the afternoon we had a few hours of sunshine.

Whilst passing through the township of Gundagai we could not help noticing with some degree of interest the ruin and devastation which had been occasioned by the flood.

On every hand were to be seen deserted and roofless habitations, dilapidated fences, trees torn up by the roots, &c, all bearing testimony to the dark and dreary night on which so many human beings, including whole families, had perished.

What struck one as being somewhat remarkable was the fact that some of the places swept away by the flood had been re-built, and were actually occupied as stores and residences.

One would have thought, after the memorable catastrophe referred to, that the inhabitants would have profited by the lesson, and selected safer ground for their habitations.

The flood of last year, which I am told rose three or four foot higher than the previous one, must I imagine have convinced them of the folly and danger of adhering to the old site.

The only wonder is that such a place should have been ever dreamt of as the site of a township; where the houses have been chiefly built is a broad flat, situated between the main body of the river, and an arm by which it is completely enclosed. 

It has all the appearance of being periodically subject to inundation and the highest part of it cannot be many feet above the level of the water when in the driest seasons.

Although, as I have said, a few of the old habitations had been reconstructed, and were in actual occupation, still the majority of the inhabitants appear to have adopted a more prudent policy, for at the time we passed several new houses had been built on the slopes of the hills, and others wore in course of erection. 

It is strange, however, that some of the most prominent business places were still on the old site, such, for instance, as the post office, kept by a highly respectable storekeeper, and one of the most frequented and best conducted inns.

The river at Gundagai is a fine broad stream, though rather shallow at some places.

The current is rapid, though not remarkably so.

We crossed by means of a large punt, for which we had to pay 10s., a charge which appeared to us rather exorbitant.

The punt, however, is kept by a private party, who, of course, has a right to make any charge he thinks proper. But, it is a matter well worthy of consideration, whether the Government ought not to follow the example of the Victoria Government, and take the management of these   punts into their own hands.

It seems very unjust and impolitic that the traffic of the great Southern road should be subjected to so heavy a taxation for the mere purpose of private aggrandisement.

As an instance of the economy practised about these matters on the Victoria side, I may observe that it did not cost us more than 1s. for crossing the Goulburn, a river quite as wide as the Murrumbidgee at Gundagai.

Tho road after crossing the river passes over  a very low swampy flat country, which in wet weather renders the travelling extremely difficult.

In the evening we again camped on the banks of the Murrumbidgee, about three or four miles from Gundagai.

The night was exceedingly wet, as was also the greater part of the next day.

All our things were literally drenched, and it was with very great difficulty that we could manage to make up enough fire to boil our tea in the morning.

We waited until about noon in the hope that the rain would abate, but finding that it was likely to increase, we at length determined to proceed.

The result, however, was such as to convince us of the imprudence of attempting to travel a road like this in wet weather.

The ground was so slippery that the horse could scarce keep his feet, and the consequence was that he jibbed at nearly every little pinch.

On one occasion we found it utterly impossible to get him up the banks of a small watercourse and we were at length obliged to unload the cart and take the things up ourselves. 

This was done, too, whilst the rain was pouring down in torrents.

On looking over the notes jotted down at the time, I find it took us five hours to travel five miles. 

Fortunately the weather cleared up about five o'clock, and having reached the junction of the Tumut and Port Phillip Roads, we resolved to camp, in order that we might have sufficient time to get up a large fire and dry our bed clothes before retiring to rest.

The junction of the two roads takes place almost where the Adelong Creek joins the Murrumbidgee.

I shall reserve any description of this creek and its diggings, for a future number.

Before concluding the present paper, I would beg to make one remark - although I hardly think the subject requires it - respecting a letter, which appeared in the Herald, a few days ago, signed. 'A Despiser of Fashionable Slander."

In the first place, I think he would have consulted the interest of his friend N- B-, had he allowed the matter to pass without comment; and in the second place, he has endeavoured to refute, by implication, that which was never propounded.

I never said that "N- B-s, was the haunt of a dangerous gang of Bushrangers."

What I did say was, that the locality between N-B-'s, and the neighbouring public-house was supposed to be the resort of such a gang, and this I still maintain, without the slightest fear of contradiction.

I will not deny that the lady alluded to may have given honest testimony at the Quarter Sessions, and that it was through this testimony some of the bushrangers were convicted. 

Neither will I insinuate that she may have had excellent reasons for giving such testimony, nor yet will I remind "Despiser, etc.'' that the records of public tribunals are replete with proof that the best evidence is frequently obtained from one criminal against another.

I do not mention this with any intention to implicate "Despiser's friend, but merely to show the utter fallacy of the rule which he has endeavoured to establish, whereby the public are invited to infer the general honesty of a witness from the correctness of his testimony.

But the rule is upset by "Despiser," himself, for he admits that his esteemed friend, sells liquor without a license, and consequently that she gets her living dishonestly.

Upon this point the remarks of a ''Lover of Truth," published in the Herald of the 16th ultimo, in answer to "Despiser's" letter, are so pertinent, that I shall add nothing further, but merely recommend this champion of the sly-grog system to be more careful, when he writes again, that he clearly understands his subject, and is able to serve the object he has in view. 

Obtuseness of perception, and an obliquity of moral vision, are not the attributes calculated to serve, even in a bad cause.