Overland Journey to the Ovens and Melbourne No. V
10 December 1853 The Sydney Morning Herald
Having made up our minds to stop at Black Bob's Creek for the night, we determined to put up with all that our friend the schoolmaster could do.
The only thing we feared was the impounding of the horse, for this to us would have been a serious inconvenience, not on account of the expense, but from the fact that there was no pound within a reasonable distance, and we should consequently have been compelled to lose the greater part of the next day to release him.
The same consideration also weighed with us in another shape.
Notwithstanding the threats alluded to, it did not seem very probable, looking at the badness of the road, that anybody would take the trouble to travel so long a distance in so dark a night, for the mere purpose of impounding a horse.
The result proved the correctness of this surmise, for in the morning I found the horse depasturing not exactly in the place where he was put, but in a small paddock adjoining the school-house, a few hundred yards distant.
How he got there it was difficult to imagine, seeing that there was hardly a blade of grass in the paddock for him to eat, and looking at the circumstance moreover that he had to go on to the road, and across the bridge over the creek.
This little incident brought me into conversation with the teacher, whom I found in far better temper than on the previous evening.
He allowed me very courteously to inspect the interior of the school-house, or rather hut, for it is a most miserable rookery to be set apart for so noble a purpose.
It is a small slab building, put together in real bush fashion, the daylight being discernible between every slab.
I do not remember exactly whether it contains one or two rooms; but, however, this may be, it assuredly does not afford any accommodation as a school-house. It is also used as a teacher's residence, and in this respect the interior economy presents a somewhat amusing spectacle, at all events it did at the time I speak of.
Amidst the scanty array of books, slates, forms, &c., I could occasionally detect a stray frying pan, pint pot, kettle, and other useful articles of the same class.
As might be expected, the attendance of pupils was not very numerous, but this is probably no fault either of the teacher or of the school house, as the surrounding country does not appear to be very thickly populated, and many of the children have a long distance to travel.
On the whole therefore, the school does not reflect much credit on the Board of National Education, at the same time I am free to confess after considering the thing in a broad and comprehensive point of view that it is much easier to find fault than to show wherein the efforts of the Board might have been more successful.
It seems absolutely necessary, however, in order to ensure the complete success of the National System that some plan should be adopted for facilitating the attendance of children in the country districts.
In no country in the world is the population so isolated and dispersed as in this, and it is therefore not to be wondered at that a system adapted to the state of such a country as Ireland should be inadequate to meet the requirements of one like New South Wales.
However good the National System may be in principle and in theory, its merits after all can only be appreciated by the extent its practical utility and the amount of education which it is capable of affording.
I have no doubt that even with its present limited operation it may fairly compare with any other system on the score of general utility, but this is not enough. In order to deserve the praise that has been heaped on it, to realize the high expectations that were entertained of it, the National System must not only rival but surpass every other system hitherto adopted.
How, and by what means, this can be accomplished is a matter for serious consideration, but it appears to me pretty certain that the Board will yet be compelled to fall back upon some cheap and enlarged system of boarding schools for the country districts.
This would get rid of what is at present, and always has been, the chief obstacle to education in the interior, namely the distance which children have to travel daily for the purpose of attending school.
The creek near the bridge is a wild rugged looking place, the banks being steep and the steam running over a series of small rocky falls.
The surrounding country is somewhat mountainous, and is studded at intervals with large masses of trap-rock, such as are to be found in the channels and banks of the creek.
Not withstanding this there is abundance of rich agricultural land in all directions.
Although only a very small portion of this land was then under cultivation, it was very evident from the number of small habitations that were to be met with on both sides of the road, and the extensive cleared fields, that it had once been the scene of a considerable population.
Before resuming our journey (Monday, 22nd February) we availed ourselves of the opportunity to purchase a fowling-piece of a party of gold diggers who were returning fromthe Ovens.
Robberies were there of very frequent occurrence along the southern road, and as we had only a couple of pistols amongst the four of us, this additional expenditure was very cheerfully assented to.
Fortunately, however, the gun was never required to be used for the purpose of protection, and the only use to which we applied it was that of procuring for us at times a very acceptable meal of wild fowl, thus enabling us to save something for butchers' meat.
Pigeons were to be met with in nearly every scrub and stubble field along the whole line of road and as for parrots the forests literally swarmed with them.
Wild ducks, although not so numerous, were seen in nearly all the creeks and rivers which we passed.
There was, therefore, no lack of sport, but as it was our object to get to the diggings as soon as possible, we did not spend much time in shooting.
The first few miles of the road after leaving Whittle's Inn, near Black Bob's Creek, were worse than any we had travelled previously.
Large ruts or water-courses intersected the roads in all directions, which, combined with the hilly nature of the country, and the large masses of rock which were constantly cropping out, made the travelling this day most difficult and painful.
About midday we reached Paddy's River, and took advantage of the abundant supply of pure water to stop and dine.
The stream has now very little pretensions to be called a river; at some points a man may easily step across it. But the natural appearances demonstrate that this has not always been the case.
The broad flat channel and water worn banks, now covered with grass, show that at one time a large river must have rolled where at present only a small rivulet flows.
I am told that it is still subject to very great inundations during the rainy seasons, and yet, strange to say, there is very little provision made for enabling teams to cross it.
The miserable structure presented in the shape of a wooden bridge hardly reaches across the channel, and the consequence is that in times of flood a considerable portion of the river must be waded in crossing.
I understand that some parts of the river have been prospected, and small quantities of gold obtained.
In some respects the natural indications seem to favour the supposition of its being auriferous, but I could not learn that there were any parties actually digging, or that there was any prospect of a gold field being immediately opened up.
I am inclined to think, however, from all I saw and heard, that extensive and profitable gold fields will yet be discovered in many parts of the country along the Southern Road, which are at present hardly dreamt of.
But this is a matter which of course must be left to the operation of time.
The last two or three years have startled us with wonders - it is not too much to expect that the next two or three will reveal others quite as startling.
After resting an hour on the banks of the river we proceeded on the journey, and camped in the evening at the White Horse Inn, Wingello, having had to travel after nightfall to reach water.