Southern Districts Helped Survival of Infant Colony

The Canberra Times

19 July 1954

Southern Districts helped survival of infant colony at Sydney. The link the Goulburn, Yass and A.C.T. districts represented for the survival of the infant colony at Sydney was outlined by Dr. J. H. L. Cumpston in a talk to the Canberra and District Historical Society.

The need for expansion to provide food for the starving settlement led to contact with this area by explorers Oxley, Sturt Eyre, Hume, Throsby and possibly Mitchell.

Dr. Cumpston gave instance of district properties, families and scenes reported by the explorers that were recognisable today. At a property at Yass, Sturt described what Dr. Cumpston said was the only instance of cannibalism by an Australian black he had encountered.

When Governor Macquarie took up residence at Sydney in 1810 the Blue Mountains were believed impassible and the south-west areas impassable. The urge for expansion had become so pressing that it had been suggested a tunnel be constructed under the mountains from the Grosse Valley.

Whereas previous governors were "blue water" men awed by the mountains, Macquarie was a Highlander and undaunted. Believing in the possibilities of Jervis Bay as a port, he sent Surveyor Evans to that area where he arrived after extreme difficulties.

With the discovery of a route over the Blue Mountains, he commissioned Charles Throsby to find an overland route, particularly for cattle, to Bathurst from the Cow pastures which he did by way of Moss Vale, Taralga and Oberon.

The Cowpastures was providing another springboard for exploration, and in the hope that Jervis Bay might become an outlet for Bathurst, Throsby and James Meehan were deputed in 1818 to discover an overland route between the two points.

Throsby eventually reached Jervis Bay through the rough Shoalhaven country, but Meehan followed higher land to the west and discovered Lake Bathurst and the Goulburn plains.

Exploration was gradually probing the break in the Dividing Range, which was to provide easier access to the land in the West.

Dr. Cumpston pointed out that this gap, of which the Limestone Plains is part, is the only break in the range between Queensland and Victoria. Its exploration brought many exploration parties into the Canberra-Yass-Goulburn district.

With Oxley and Evans probing towards the Lachlan, Throsby and Hamilton Hume, the first "colonial-born" explorer to attain fame, discovered the Yass Plains.

The previous year, 1820, Throsby had penetrated to the plains around Canberra camping inside the Molonglo River at Mt. Pleasant.

With the knowledge of good country as far south as Yass and Canberra, settlement soon followed so that Throsby reported to Macquarie that by 1821 between Bong Bong and Lake Bathurst there were 86 residents, 5,000 cattle, 6,000 sheep and 60 horses.

In 1824 Joshua John Moore established the first station in Canberra, the year that Hume was en route to Melbourne, passing through the country around Burrinjuck; Wee Jasper; Tumut and Tarcutta.

In 1829, Sturt prophetically described the Yass area as "one of the best places in the Commonwealth for raising sheep," and seven years later Mitchell found the "comfortable establishments of wealthy colonists" in that district.

Dr. Cumpston said the German naturalist, John Lhotsky, described the Limestone Plains in 1834: "At no distant period a fine town will exist, uniting Spencer's Gulf, Sydney, and Twofold Bay. The disposition of the land is loudly claiming attention if an Agrarian Law in some shorter or longer period is to be avoided. With regard to Limestone, this is now too late, the whole plains belonging by grant or purchase to a few although very worthy landholders."

He suggested a parsonage, with an ambulating schoolmaster, a hospital, courthouse, post office and "quarterly fair" ought to be immediately established at Limestone, "this being the regular thoroughfare" for the Monaro.

Dr. Cumpston said it was doubtful if Sturt ever saw the grant of land he obtained at the intersection of the Molonglo and Murrumbidgee rivers after his exploration of the Murray. His intention appeared to be to stock it with 1000 sheep and 150 to 200 cattle as an absentee land owner, but the ultimate reason for its sale, that it was subject to flooding was false. The holding was on high land.

Dr. Cumpston said that Eyre owned 1,260 acres of the Molonglo Plains known as "Woodlads," but subsequent searches to find its exact location had been fruitless.

Dr. Cumpston referred to the outstanding work of Hamilton Hume, who was a member of several expeditions through this district, and criticised persons, past and present, who belittled the achievements of "colonials."