Round Bowning Hill

16 September 1943 Catholic Weekly (Sydney)

This story of the pioneers in our south-western districts is taken from an address to the “Catholic Historical Society” by the Very Rev. Father P. J. Hartigan, Parish Priest of Narrandera, N.S.W., and  known to every Catholic in Australia by his pen-name, John O'Brien, author of "Around the Boree Log.''      

The tale I am going to   tell is about Bowning Hill, where the pioneers went 120 years ago, and missionary priests followed them and worked for nearly a century, a tale gleaned from written articles they left behind them, from old newspaper files, a few diaries and albums, and from the fireside tales of old timers. 

What is Bowning Hill? Where is Bowning Hill? 

In the good days, when petrol was plentiful, a traveller between Sydney and Melbourne could not fail to notice, between the little, old-world town of Yass and the village of Bowning, a bald hill, 2400 feet above sea level, standing out prominently from the lesser eminences around it.

This is Bowning Hill. Geologically, an old formation in a district famous in that respect, pushed up through the sea by   earthquakes when all that part of Australia was lapped by the waves, it abounds in very old marine specimens. 

Ethnologically, it is worthy of note, because around its hoary shoulders abound a few traditions. 

The aborigines believed that a spirit or demon lived and kept watch on the hill, and that every black fellow buried under its shade would rise to the top as a white man. 

The old timers were the first Historical Society. Their History House was the kitchen fire.

Bowning comes into our history when the Home Government was sceptical about the alienation of Crown lands.

The British Government worked on the principle that savages had no right to the country except that of mere occupation, that the disposal of the land was in the hands of the Government that had taken possession.

British subjects, either individually or in bodies had no right to form colonies without the consent of the Crown.

Because of Crown grants the eyes were picked out of all tho land near Sydney, so land settlers followed the tracks of the explorers. 

The scheme governing land settlement in this country has been a bungle. 

The problem was handled by men in England who knew nothing whatever about conditions in Australia and could not understand why so small a population should cover such a wide area.

The Government had notice to prevent the spread of the colony.

Bowning Hill was the location of the boundary of the colony south of Sydney.  

 A notice in the Government Gazette warned land seekers that if they went beyond the marks of boundary location they would be regarded as trespassers.

But the settlers went beyond the boundary. 

Governor Darling was, unable to discipline the order, and Governor Bourke turned a blind eye, and later on legalised the trespassing by a scheme of easy purchase and leasehold. 

Hume, in 1821, discovered the Yass Plains.

On his [1824-5] expedition to Victoria he did not pass Bowning Hill.

He went south, came back again and joined [what became known as] the Port Phillip track (later known as the Great Southern-road, and then the Hume Highway), between Goulburn, and Yass, where Father Therry took up his, station 14 years later.   

Henry O'Brien, of Douro was the first to go round Bowning Hill in 1823. 

After the reports of the explorers the other settlers followed him. 

The Faithfulls and the Reids were the first [settler] men to cross the Murray. 

After the explorers went the adventurers, and after the adventurers went the missionaries.   

The first priest to go round Bowning Hill was Bishop Polding.

He went as far as Redbank, Jugiong, and saw the Murrumbidgee for the first time, describing it as like an English river. 

But the Murrumbidgee was not always as an English river.

When the snows came down it was often eight miles wide in parts, and the Gundagai flood of 1852 drowned 72 of a total of 240 inhabitants. 

The Sunday before the waters came down Father P. J. Magennis had rounded up all his congregation for Mass and brought them to the Sacraments.

Some may call it coincidence, some may call it chance, but we have heard of Him who had compassion on the multitude.

There was some concern that Father Magennis might have been caught by the flood, but he and a stockman got out just in time.

Round that neighbourhood Banjo Paterson got the inspiration for those ballads that afterwards were published under the title of "The Man from Snowy River." 

He was the first poet to see the Australian scene with Australian eyes, and he captured its atmosphere. 

His verses have given permanence to the old settlers and stations. Without them Kiley's Run and Conroy's Gap would be merely places. 

The pioneer priests of the Goulburn-Yass district were Fathers Brennan, Lovat, Fitzpatrlck and Magennis.

They worked among the settlers, riding from hut to hut, humpy to humpy, and left a tradition of which we are so proud. 

Father Magennis came to Australia as a student in 1838.

He worked for a few years in Maitland, and then was sent to Yass.

His work brought him through the rough stuff, but a change was beginning to come over the face of Australia.

Little town were coming up, most of them raised round a shanty along the path the bullock drays went.

But always they were raised around the Pound. 

The Pound was an Australian invention.

The first Impounding Act was passed in 1829.   

The pound keeper became a very important person.

Stockowners and travellers gathered around his business.

He was followed by the blacksmith's shop, where horses and bullocks were shod and drays repaired.

The blacksmith brought quite a lot of people around in his own right. 

That gave rise to an accommodation house, a shanty which bore a licence for the sale of spirituous and fermented liquors.

The licence was very often a myth, but not so the liquor.

It was usually brewed in an illicit still somewhere in the scrub.          

 Father Magennis worked around and in these country towns.

He partly built the first church at Boorowa - the first church beyond the "Boundary of location.''

He collected for the Tumut church, and was the first priest to say Mass at Wagga. 

Father Magennis stayed at Father Therry's station.

There was a lot of heart - burning about the money Father Therry was supposed to have made out of his station. The station was 120,000 acres. 

At that time there was an unwritten law that if a property was not used to its best advantage anybody could take any part of it not so used by merely paying the rent.

Certain squatters jumped Father Therry's land.

It was not dishonest. All you could say is that it was unsportsmanlike.

Even in spite of that, Father Therry could have made a lot of money. 

He had, a man named Sullivan managing for him.  

The station was near Ten-Mile Creek, where the town of Germanton sprang up in the 1840's. [This is either a second station or one of them is misplaced in this story.]

He sold part of his land to Purtell and Carmody.

Purtell was the owner in 1845.

Father Therry never went up there until later.

If the station had been properly managed, he should have made enough money to build St. Mary's Cathedral.

The present owner of the station is R. McLaurin, a fine type of old Australian settler. 

The greatest development in church buildings in that vast area from Yass to the border took place after 1857.

 In that year were sent two priests closely associated for years among the names of those who have labored in the South, Father McAlroy and Father Bermingham

They were a perfect team. McAlroy was builder, architect, man of affairs and administrator. Bermingham was the orator, brilliant scholar, organiser, and always the support of his chief. 

The priests before them had been very busy going from hut to hut, and the names of Brennan, Lovat, and Magennis should never be forgotten; but they had no opportunity to build a church. 

Within two years Bishop Polding had laid foundation stones at Jugiong, Tumut, Albury, Gunning, Binalong; Boorowa and Wagga. 

Two hundred horseman riding two abreast, brought him round Bowning Hill.   

These churches were all in the one parish.

The priests used to go there once a month.

That entailed the greatest amount of travelling.

They covered between them 12,000 miles a year.

These days a country priest, with a motor ear would do well to do 10,000 miles a year.

But, when a man does it on horseback, after a long day's travel, he won't do more than he has to. 

In 1861 Bermingham went to Ireland to recuperate.

He broke his journey to Rome to lend a hand to Father McEncroe's scheme to establish a new dioceses.

While in Rome he studied for, and secured   his Doctorate of Divinity. 

McAlroy carried on alone.

In 1859 he started a convent in Goulburn.

The walls had been built; but the work could not go on for lack of funds.

Bishop Polding brought McAlroy down, and the nuns were in the convent in six  months.   

When Father Lanigan came in 1867, of 25 brick churches, 10 had: been built and paid for by McAlroy

This is his work. He had built the convent for the Sisters of Mercy at Goulburn, and the Bishop's House, Goulburn (both those buildings have been extended); he built St. Mary's at Grabben Gullen; the churches at Breadalbane, Gunning, Yass (costing £2400), Boorowa, Binalong, Jugiong, Gundagai, Tumut, Wagga, St. Patrick's Albury (which is still large enough to accommodate the Catholics of Albury), Howlong, Corowa, Thurguna, Bona and Wynona. 

He lit the sanctuary lamps from  Goulburn to the Murray, burning still where he first placed the Holy of Holies. 

He raised £50,000, the equivalent of £100,000 to-day.

His whole Catholic population numbered 5000. 

But he did not confine his appeals to the Catholics.

He brought the nuns to Albury in 1868, and selected the nuns for Yass in 1875.

In 1874 he got Bermlngham, who was Vice-Rector of Carlow College, to bring the Presentation Nuns to Wagga.

He was the first to move for St. Patrick's College, Goulburn. 

All the education that is carried on in the South goes back in a long descent to McAlroy.

Not for nothing was lie called "The Apostle of the South."  

His last effort was to begin the building of Mt. Erin Convent at Wagga; but Dr. Lanigan thought he was planning it on too large a scale. 

That is my story. 

The face of the country has changed since those men beheld it. 

To-day the harvesters' tractors, drawn by power, are humming and droning in the wheat, where was only virgin timber when they were there. 

The new brick house, with the roses clustering round tho porch, tolls of better times and gladder times than when the old people dwelt there.