Overland Journey to the Ovens and Melbourne No. XIII
9 June 1854 The Sydney Morning Herald
One thing which struck us as being very remarkable was the dearness and scarcity of vegetables along the whole line of road.
With abundance of land, rich as any in the world, and with every facility for cultivating it, one would have thought that the residents on the road side, especially the occupants of small farms, would have found it not only convenient but profitable, to grow vegetables for sale to the passersby.
But so far from this being the case, I think I can venture to say, that not one out of every fifty of the residents on the road ever think it worth his while to grow even a potato for his own use.
With the exception of a few very rare occasions, we were compelled to live upon nothing but damper, beef, and mutton, during the whole time we were on the road.
Upon making inquiry into the cause, I found that the same reasons were assigned for the non-cultivation of garden produce, as were assigned, for the almost total absence of every other branch of agriculture.
In some instances we were told that labour could not be got to till the ground, in others that the occupants of small farms found the pursuit of gold digging more congenial to their notions of life; but the chief and most convincing reason was the want of a cheap and rapid means of transit.
Without this important desideratum, the richest and most beautiful lands in the colony are of no avail for agricultural purposes.
Like most other inhabitants of towns who have not had an opportunity of judging from personal observation of the difficulties attendant on the conveyance of produce to market, from the interior of this country, I was full of crude and romantic ideas with respect to the happiness of being the possessor of a small farm on the alluvial flats of the Murrumbidgee, or in some other part of the interior equally fertile and beautiful.
I confess, how- ever, that those ideas underwent a considerable change, when I beheld the number of uncultivated farms and tenantless habitations which present themselves along the whole line of road, the most of which are rendered unprofitable from the enormous cost of carriage, which in the winter time rises to as much as £60 and £100 per ton.
There can be no doubt that it is this one consideration which so materially restricts our progress in agriculture, and renders it cheaper for us to import our bread-stuffs from foreign countries, than to raise them from our own magnificent resources.
Knowing these things, I can easily understand the origin and the cause of our earlier colonists falling back upon what may be called the nomadic pursuit of squatting, and can also understand how vain - how suicidal is the cry of those who would wrest the lands from the squatters for the purpose of subdividing them into small farms to be scrambled for by all classes of the community.
So long as the country remains destitute of railways, or other cheap and rapid means of transit, I believe that no greater calamity could befall the community than would be the subdivision of the squatting runs into small farms, for this would indeed amount to nothing less than a "locking up" of the lands of the colony - a virtual consignment of them to uninterrupted sterility.
It is true that by such a system every man might have "a stake in the country" - that is if a "stake" implies a few acres of land, but of what use would such a possession be, if the possessor could not turn it to account for agricultural purposes in consequence of the high price of carriage.
It would be altogether too small for grazing, and I do not know of any other pursuit to which it could be applied.
The only result would be that the main staple of the colony - the chief source of our past, if not present, prosperity would suffer complete annihilation without may countervailing advantages being substituted.
Every one of the 60.000 or 70,000 inhabitants of Sydney might have the honour and glory of calling himself a landed proprietor, but it does not follow a bit the more for this that he could ever realise those poetical enjoyments, that refined social happiness, and respectable worldly prosperity which are understood by the words "living under the shade of one's own fig tree."
Nine hundred out of every thousand would find themselves in the position of some of the competitors in the celebrated Bank Lottery, who got for their prizes a few allotments of land on the Hastings, which upon examination were found to be perfect blanks, so far as they were available to their owners for any useful purpose.
The country after leaving Tarcutta presents very little in the shape of variety of scenery.
Splendid level table lands, thinly timbered with box, richly grassed, extending for twenty or thirty miles in all directions, with an occasional range of mountains form the chief feature in the country between Tarcutta and the Murray.
On Wednesday, March 23rd, 1853, we reached the Little Billy Bong, a beautiful small stream, running through a magnificent open country, covered with the most luxuriant pasturage.
Finding one or two parties encamped here with their tents neatly pitched, as if they intended to remain for some time, we took occasion to enquire the reason, and found that they were prospecting.
As is usually the case with persons so circumstanced they were not very communicative, but we learnt enough from them to satisfy us that they had found gold, though not in sufficient quantity to pay.
We saw the holes, they had dug, which were all con-fined to one spot and therefore could not afford a fair criterion of the general character of the place as a gold field.
The indications however are favourable, and I think there is good reason to believe that if the place were well prospected rich and extensive diggings would be discovered.
But like most other people under the same circumstances we were too intent upon reaching our domination to spend any time in prospecting, more especially as the other parties had informed us that it was their intention to proceed on their journey the next day.
On Thursday we passed what is called "Table Top Mountain," a spur of a very high range of mountains.
In the distance it presents a very remarkable and interesting appearance, from what appears to be a large square tower or battlement placed on the highest part of it.
The top of this singular eminence is perfectly level, from which circumstance no doubt the mountain takes its name. In consequence of the great elevation, and strongly marked character of the table, it may be seen at an immense distance off, and the scene altogether is one of exceeding grandeur and sublimity.
In the evening we camped at Mullingandry, which consists of an inn and two or three scattered farm houses.
We were now about l8 miles from Albury, and about 40 from the Ovens diggings.
Fatigued and worn out by a long journey over wretched bad roads, it was with no small degree of pleasure that we reflected upon the short distance which we had now to travel.
It was therefore with renewed vigour that we resumed our journey in the morning, determining, at all hazards, to camp in the evening on the banks of the Murray, the boundary between the colonies of New South Wales and Victoria.
The road from Mullingandry to the Murray, is almost a continuous though gradual descent, and passes over some of the most beautiful and fertile land in thecolony.
We noticed several refreshment tents and one or two farm houses on the road side, all of which reminded us that we were on the outskirts of a town of considerable importance.
Accustomed as we had been for many days past, to travel through a dreary and almost uninhabited wilderness, I felt some degree of gratification when I again beheld the signs of civilization which were presented in our approach to the town of Albury.
We arrived at this place about six o'clock on good Friday evening, and camped on the banks of the Murray close to the punt.
Being good Friday, nearly all the stores and other places of business were closed, but there was no lack of evidence in the general appearances of the place to convince us that Albury is one of the most populous and flourishing of our inland towns.
It is situated on one of the broad flats of the Murray River, and can boast of several well built and commodious brick hotels, besides a number of very respectable looking stores or shops.
It has one draw-back, however, there is no church, so far as I could learn, although the population cannot be less than from 1500 to 2000.
It is frequented by a great number of the Murray black fellows, and on the occasion alluded to, I saw about thirty or forty of them nearly all of whom were drunk, as were also I regret to say, not a few of the towns-people.
After dark the camp fires of the blacks could be seen in all directions on both sides of the River.
Many of them camped within a few yards of us, and kept up a corrobory all night, much to our annoyance and disgust.
In the morning, I observed within a few yards of our bivouac, an old box tree enclosed by a neat fence, and on going up to it, I found that it was one of the marked trees of Messrs. Hovell and Hume, when they discovered the Murray in their overland expedition to Port Phillip about thirty years ago.
It bore the following inscription, "Hovell and Hume, 17th November 1824."
The letters are cut into the wood, and although age has done something towards defacing them, they are still quite legible, and likely to continue so for some years to come.
The tree, however, is very much defaced, the butt being cut and chopped all over in a most unsightly manner. Many of the branches have been lopped off for the purpose, no doubt, of prolonging the existence of the tree; but it is very clear from the faded and sickly aspect of the few green boughs which adorn it now, together with the signs of decay in various parts of the trunk, that the period of dissolution cannot be many years distant.
It therefore becomes a question whether the people of Albury ought not to mark the spot, by, erecting on it a more enduring monument, in commemoration of that noble and chivalrous spirit of enterprise which opened up for them so valuable and so splendid a country.
On the 27th, we again started on our course, and were in a few minutes conveyed by the punt into the colony of Victoria.
The Murray is certainly the finest and longest river I have ever seen in either of the two colonies, although at one place near Albury it can be forded in the dry season; still the river generally speaking is very broad and deep, and apparently quite navigable for small steamers.
In the winter time, the water rises very high, and inundates its low swampy banks for about a mile on the Victoria side of Albury.
At many other points of the river, the same process of natural irrigation occurs, so that in reality the Murray may be looked upon as a second Nile, whence large and beautiful tracts of country derive extraordinary fertility and richness.
Soon after crossing the Murray, we came upon the Wodonga Creek, over which there was a large and substantial wooden bridge in course of erection, in the room of one which had been carried away by the flood of the previous year.
The ground between this creek and the Murray is very low and swampy, and exceedingly difficult to travel over in wet weather.
At this point, the road to the Yacandando, the first of the Ovens diggings, turns off from the old Port Phillip line, leaving the latter to the right.
After two days of difficult and tedious travelling, over a rough and mountainous country, we had the pleasure of finding ourselves safely encamped on the main point of the Yacandando diggings, where we determined to try our fortune at the bed claims for two or three weeks.