The Early Days at Gundagai
26 November 1917 The Gundagai Independent and Pastoral, Agricultural and Mining Advocate
(Written for the 'Gundagai Independent,' by the Hon. James Gormly, M.L.C.)
The rich pasture lands on the river near Gundagai cannot be excelled in any part of Australia.
In some of the river bends I have seen the variegated thistles grow to a height of 10 foot. This plant is excellent food for stock when green, and when matured and the leaves withered, stock eat and fatten on it.
The first time I noticed the variegated thistle was in the spring of 1844 when I was travelling down Cunningham Creek.
It was several years after that time before the thistle appeared growing on the flats at Gundagai.
No doubt some seeds of the plant I saw growing on Cunningham Creek had been washed down to the Murrumbidgee Valley.
That noxious plant, the Bathurst burr got a firm footing in the town of Gundagai before the '52 flood.
The seed of this pest no doubt was carried there by travelling stock.
The Bathurst burr revels in rich soil.
I have seen some of the plants growing on the Gundagai flats attain a height of 4 feet.
Captain Charles Sturt, in the narrative of his expedition down the Murrumbidgee in '29, mentions that after leaving Warby's station, nearly opposite the junction of the Tumut River, when following down the valley, of the Murrumbidgee, he observed that the cattle he saw grazing, were rolling fat.
When I came on the river the land where Sturt saw the stock in such good condition was occupied by a pompous old bachelor called 'Sugar' O'Brien.
In those early times of settlement it was almost impossible for a man with a small herd of cattle to squeeze in between any of the large holdings, as the stations had no defined boundaries.
If a new comer settled on what he thought was vacant land one of his next neighbours usually succeeded in driving him off.
It was asserted that O'Brien got the name 'Sugar' because he had been a nigger-driver on a sugar plantation in the West Indies.
O'Brien's holding extended from the Gundagai racecourse up the river flats for about three miles.
The homestead and stock yard stood on a high bank of the Gundagai Creek, about three miles from the town, the old road from Sydney passing close to his stockyard.
O'Brien's holding was bounded by Mingay on the one side and Muttama on another.
Muttama was a large property, and some of the sheep stations - where three shepherds and a man who watched the flocks in the folds at night, resided - were situated within five miles of the town, of Gundagai.
The men employed in attending to the stock and doing other work on Muttama would probably number over 100.
A considerable part of the wages paid to these men was spent in Gundagai.
Dr. Davison had a license from the Crown to occupy a narrow strip of land along, the valley of Jones' Creek, from the river to Taaffe's Muttama boundary.
On the south side of the river Peter Stuckey's Willie Ploma station embraced all the land up to where the half acre town lots were sold.
Stuckey's homestead was situated on a high bank near a lagoon, close to where the South Gundagai railway station now stands.
One of the families who resided in South Gundagai had a milch cow, which strayed on to the station land, when she was sent by the station holder to the north side of the river and impounded.
My father, like many other Irishmen, had a great wish to purchase a portion of freehold land, but no land except town lots of half-an-acre each, was then surveyed for auction sale outside what was called the settled districts, which extended to line about seven miles on the south side of Yass.
John Hubert Plunkett, who was Attorney-General when my family landed in Sydney, was a school fellow of my father's in the old country, and had, in answer to a letter sent by my father to him, promised, to endeavour to have suburban lots surveyed near the town of Gundagai, and then submitted for sale by auction.
When I first came on the river there was no flour mill on the road from Sydney to Melbourne.
Afterwards there was a mill at Kilmore, which was worked by the wind.
Each station grew wheat for the use of those on the property.
A peck of wheat (eight quarts) was usually served out to each man as his week's rations.
This wheat wan ground in what was termed a steel mill, turned by a handle.
I have often seen a man when he reached his hut, after a hard day's work, have to grind wheat into flour and then bake bread before he could get his supper.
On Nangus we did not use steel mills, as my father sent the wheat on a bullock dray to be gristed at Yass.
There was then a steam flour mill at that place.
There was not much fruit or vegetables produced on the river in the early days.
I have passed, when travelling, a dozen stations in succession without seeing a vegetable garden.
For the want of proper food many of the men employed on the stations were seriously affected by scurvy.