Overland Route to Port Phillip
3 July 1841 The Perth Gazette and Western Australian Journal
Melbourne, February 12, 1841.
The road overland from Sydney to Port Phillip is very uninteresting.
On all this road, measuring upwards of six hundred miles, there is little to be seen but gumtrees and public houses.
I defy anyone to fill up a letter from anything that he can see on this road.
There is really nothing to fill up a page in the journal of a tourist.
If you have seen a mile of it, you have seen the whole road from Sydney to Melbourne, for "Esse has the same case after it that it has before it."
The only difference is, that as you recede from Sydney, the grass for your horses improves, in the same ratio that the accommodation for yourself becomes worse.
In those towns, viz,, Liverpool, Campbelltown, Berrima, Goulburn, and Yass, through which you pass, and in which Post Offices are established, there is a choice of accommodation; but from the time you leave Yass, until you reach Melbourne, a distance of four hundred miles, you are fairly in what is called the bush.
In short, you are beyond the region of civilization.
On this journey of four hundred mile, there is neither Post Office, Church, clergyman, nor Schoolmaster.
The consequence is what might be expected, that a large proportion of the inhabitants are living like heathens.
The children of overseers and small squatters grow up in total ignorance of their duty towards God and man.
On one large establishment belonging to a Mr. B - - - the people had absolutely lost their reckoning in the days of the week, so that they kept (they knew not how long,) Friday for Sunday!
It is unnecessary for me to state, that the children born in this district, are with very few exceptions, unbaptised. I know, however, of one case, where Mr. and Mrs. H- - - brought their daughter to Melbourne, a distance of two hundred miles, to receive the rite of baptism.
There being no public or appropriated place of interment, the dead are buried anywhere, generally on the side of a hill, near the hut once occupied by the deceased.
In consequence of the great distance which the masters would have to travel to the nearest Bench of Magistrates, (which is either Yass or Melbourne, which are four hundred miles apart, it is seldom that servants are punished.
The master, rather than put himself to the expense and inconvenience of bringing a servant to court, is frequently obliged to submit to see his work neglected, and his property destroyed.
It may be said of the convict population of this district in particular, that every man does that which is right in his own eyes.
One great, if not the sole cause of this crying evil, is to be found in the numerous public houses and "sly grog shops" that stare you in every direction.
These sinks of iniquity absorb all the wages paid in the district.
The only men who seem to be doing well in these hard times, are the publicans and sinners who deal in rum.
Two or three of these publicans on the road, whose names I feel strongly inclined to send in to the Bench of Magistrates, having no license; and yet they are allowed to go on, first robbing of their wages, and then poisoning Her Majesty's lieges with a mixture of rum and vitriol, as any dabbler in chemistry might easily prove.
When our party arrived at the Ovens, (a river you know, which is 450 miles from Sydney, and 150 from Melbourne, all our servants got drunk, in spite of our threats and remonstrance’s.
Here we were detained for twenty-four hours, until our men, who commenced fighting, should become sober again.
In the course of the night one of them was robbed of £5 in the public house.
I was not at all sorry for the loss, as it deprived the man, who was a notorious drunkard, of the means of getting drunk again.
Another of the men spent 30s. here, before next morning, but this is in no way surprising if you bear in mind that he was charged 8s. for a pint of gin, and 4s. 6d. for a bottle of ale.
For a very plain and common wine glass broken by one of the men, he was charged 4s.
In these public houses a gentleman or anyone who does not get drunk is seldom a welcome visitor, because the landlord expects but little profit from him. It is the man that gets drunk, and thus becomes half blind, that gives the publican the chance of marking down every pint as two.
This is the man whom the publican delighteth to honor; for it is this way that such immense fortunes are rapidly made by keeping a public house.
You know that you have to cross only four great rivers on your way to Sydney to Port Phillip.
The first of these is the Murrumbidgee; the Hume is a hundred and forty miles farther on, the Ovens is fifty miles beyond the Hume, and the Goulburn is ninety miles beyond the Ovens and within sixty of Melbourne.
All these rivers abound with fish.
They are at certain times of the year bank high.
I have known the Murrumbidgee to rise five feet in one night. That was in September last.
It was after much rain, which melted the snow on the mountains.
There is either a punt or canoe at the crossing place of every one of these four rivers.
At the Goulburn, there has lately been built by Clark who keeps the Inn there, a punt sixty feet long and about fourteen feet wide, at a cost, as he says, of £450. In this punt a couple of loaded drays, with their full complement of bullocks, could cross together.
But it so hap- pens that Clark, by being in too great a hurry to become rich, defeats his own object.
He charges 3d. A head for crossing sheep, and 20s. for crossing a loaded dray, with bullocks, in his punt.
These high charges induce many travellers to dispense with his punt altogether, when the river is fordable.
Mr Brown, at the crossing place of the Hume River, is now building a splendid punt for the accommodation of the public.
Hitherto there was only a rough canoe at this river, and in the time of flood, serious accidents have occurred. Last time but one I had occasion to cross the Hume, the river was very high, and running rapidly; on that occasion a Mr. Walker lost a fine horse in swimming him across.
My horse having now so much practice in swimming the rivers, has become a perfectly amphibious animal. I can swim him across any river, however broad and rapid.
Before you start on a journey overland from Sydney to Port Phillip, I would recommend to you, if you are at all fond of sport and of a good dinner, to provide yourself with a double-barrelled gun, and some powder and shot.
All the way from the Hume to Melbourne you will have an opportunity of shooting hundreds of wild duck and pigeons. We shot an immense number of them.
You will see some lagoons literally covered with wild ducks, which will allow you to get close enough to them.
Both they and the pigeons, which are very plentiful, are quite fat and are capital eating.
If you ride with your gun and dogs at a distance off the beaten road you may chance to start several kangaroos and emus; but you would require very good dogs and fleet horses to run down any of them.
I never knew an instance of one dog being able to kill an "old man kangaroo."
It requires at least two good dogs to grapple with him.
Two years ago I formed one of a party that went out for the purpose of having a kangaroo hunt.
We had four or five dogs. We soon started four kangaroos, they divided and so did the dogs, one of our dogs got hold of an ''old man kangaroo," which no sooner felt himself seized than he put his back to a tree where he furiously fought and dangerously lacerated the dog.
It was just in time we arrived to save the life of the dog and terminate that of the kangaroo. It weighed upwards of 1 cwt.
On another occasion we killed one whose tail weighed I8lbs. I need not inform you that these are excellent food.
The soup made from them is even superior to that made from ox-tail.
A regular kangaroo hunt is, however, a sport in which you are not likely to have an opportunity of engaging unless you take up your residence, as I do, in the bush.
In case you do so, I promise you abundance of sport, emus and kangaroos will keep your dogs in employment, while oppossums, wild turkeys, ducks, and pigeons, will afford constant exrcise for your gun.
And if you are a disciple of Izaak Walton, you may catch in one hour as many fish, weighing from 2lbs to 20lbs, as will supply your table for days.
The squatters are too busy, and their servants are too lazy, to provide for their dinner tables either by hunting, shooting, or fishing; but I am convinced that a gentle- man who had time and inclination for these sports might bring home daily more than any family could use.
On the Port Phillip road between Yass and Melbourne, there are three townships lately laid out by the Government.
The first of these is '"Gundagia", near the crossing place of the Murrumbidgee, sixty miles from Yass.
In this township there is no house of any description, neither is there any in its neighborhood, except one public house, and a blacksmith's shop.
The next township is "Albury," situated (140 miles beyond Gundagai) at the crossing place of the Hume river; a more eligible spot than this could not have been selected for a township.
It is beautifully situated in the heart of an extensive and fertile district.
It is on the high road from Sydney to Melbourne.
It is surrounded by hundreds of sheep and cattle stations, in supplying the wants of which, a number of mechanics and trades men of all sorts will find constant employment; and there is no place within 45 miles of it on which another town can be built.
As yet there are only two or three houses here, a public house (kept by a very respectable man named Brown), besides a blacksmith's shop, there are also Police Barracks here, where a few police men arc always stationed.
The wheat crops here this season were the finest I have ever seen in this Colony.
And the rock and water melons are even superior to what you see in Sydney.
The third township is "Violet Creek," known here only by the name of Honey Suckle Creek, situated about half- way between the Ovens and the Goulburn rivers, being nearly 50 miles from each.
It is a miserable scrub in the midst of a barren wild, with not a human habitation near it.
The soil is poor, the timber is stunted and perfectly useless, except for fuel: and the water, which is by no means in great abundance, has a very muddy appearance.
It is quite blue, hence, I suppose, the new name imposed on the place.
With the exception of one water hole we could find no water for many miles on either side of it.
While our party was en- camping here, I rode for several miles, at nearly right angles to the road, into the bush, when I had an opportunity of seeing the nature of the soil, and the aspect of the country.
And really I could not help wondering that your functionaries in Sydney should have fixed for a township on a spot which possesses so very few, if any, natural advantages, but you will probably say that there is still a greater wonder than this, viz., that men should have been found foolish enough to buy at such high prices, allotments in a township so unfavorably situated.
As I am no scholar myself, I wish I knew some clever fellow who, through the newspaper, would ask the Governor what has induced him to fix on this place for a township ?
I almost forgot to tell you the price of wheat and live stock, &c.
A few weeks ago wheat was selling at the Tumut river, near the Murrumbidgee at 8s., and on the Hume at 10s. per bushel.
Horses and cattle have greatly fallen in price, and for sheep there is no demand.
Now is the time for a beginner to make a start as a sheep farmer; as prices of sheep are not likely to continue so low as they now are, especially when the settlers are beginning to find their way with their surplus flocks to Swan River, where sheep are realizing £3 10s. a head.