The Inter-State Road (Sturt Centenary)

7 January 1930 The Daily Express (Wagga Wagga) 

(By F.M.C.in the "S.M. Herald")

Sturt's account of his voyage down the Murray was published in, 1833.

Wakefield saw it, and, as has already been stated, it induced him to choose South Australia for his experimental settlement.

The first party of English settlers reached Adelaide in 1836.

During the next two years new migrants thronged to the place in excess of food supplies, and Adelaide was threatened with Famine.

Stock especially, were short, but in addition there was little local wheat grown, and for some years the harvest, such as it was, was most precarious.

In 1841-42 there was a great shortage of laborers.

Reaping had to be done with a hook, and the average reaper could cut and bind only half an acre a day.

Ridley invented his first harvesting implement at this time; it was ready for the harvest of 1842-43, and it gave South Australia its first great fillip in wheat growing.

Meanwhile, in 1838, the Adelaide settlers were in great straits for want of food, and enterprising settlers, around Sydney combined in a venture to drove stock across country to the new community.

Sturt was -asked to conduct the first convoy, finally agreed to do so, and started in April of that year. In the event he was not the first overlander, for in January, 1838, Bonney and Howden preceded him with 300 head of cattle.

They followed the Murray, and after a successful journey reached Adelaide on April 4.

The late James Gormley M.L.C., who recorded this fact in reminiscences which he wrote for the Wagga "Express" in 1916, does not mention the place from which Bonney and Howden started.

But they were apparently the first overlanders on the long Murray road, and the map of South Australia bears the name, probably of this Bonney in the big lake on the north side of the river below Renmark.

According to Mr. Gormley, there was in 1838 no village or town between Yass and Port Phillip Bay, end where Melbourne now stands there were only a few scattered huts.

In many parts of New South Wales (which embraced the whole, country) the blacks were most hostile.

One party of 14 settlers travelled with cattle and sheep into the newly discovered river country, where Benalia now stands, and nine, of the 14 were killed.

In 1837-39 there was a severe and protracted drought, and wheat grown on the Murrumbidgee was worth 1 a bushel.

The Murrumbidgee ceased to flow above Tumut junction.

A Crossing Place

Sturt, leaving Sydney in April 1838 reached on (May 18 "a point on the main" route to Port Phillip where it crosses the Hume."

This became so renowned a crossing place that a punt shortly appeared there, with, of course, the inevitable inn, and so Albury began.

Near the crossing, at Fowler's Station, Start's cattle and drovers were finally mustered.

With Sturt was Mr. Giles Strangways, Captain Finniss, and Mr. McLeod, and the names of Strangways and Finniss are preserved in Adelaide streets to-day.

Fraser, Start's personal servant, who was with him on the Murray voyage, was placed in charge of 300 head of cattle, and had nine men to assist him.

The party left Fowlers station on May 22.

Between the Ovens and Goulburn rivers blacks made many attempts to cut the calved from the mob.

The route followed was along the left bank of the Murray till near the vicinity of the Murrumbidgee junction, where the Murray was crossed, and the journey continued down the easier right bank.

The heavy sands of the Victorian mallee country below Mildura explain the deviation.

The convoy arrived outside Adelaide on August 27, 1838, and Start received a great welcome.

The Adelaide settlers wanted to make him the next Governor; he was pressed to take, the position of Colonial Secretary.

But something else was tugging at Start "I have reached Adelaide," he wrote to the Governor of New South Wales, "at a moment when the public mind is agitated by the practicability of the outlet of Lake Alexandrina (i.e., into the sea) and the consequent probability of a change of the capital to Encounter Bay. At the request of the Acting Governor I have consented to survey that dangerous outlet and report upon it."

Start tried to take a boat through the mouth, failed, and the news of his failure sent up land prices in Adelaide 25 per cent.

Sturt came to the conclusion that a practicable passage for navigation through the Murray mouth could not be made and reported accordingly.

Many of the cattle taken over by Start remained unsold for some weeks, so scarce was the money in Adelaide and the cost of the venture was not a financial success.

Sturt returned to Sydney, but soon afterwards in 1839 removed to South Australia on the offer of the position of Surveyer-General by Governor Gawler.

With that his career in New South Wales ceased.

Surveyor- General

The river road which he had opened up first by water, and then with others by land soon became a great highway.

Eyre, another explorer renowned later in South Ausralia and Western Australia, first reached Adelaide by medium of a cattle convoy.

He left the Upper Murray a fortnight after Bonney, in January, 1838, but went astray and arrived in Adelaide after months of travelling, and having lost many o. his horses and most of his men.

As late as 1849 (Gormly records) Henry Bayliss took 300 horses overland from Wallerawang to Adelaide.

Bayliss found in that year the settlement at Wagga newly formed, and the last white man his party saw in New South Wales was at Lang's Crossing (Hay.

As drovers took the river route following Bonney and Sturt, depots and stations sprang up along the river, till by the time Cadell came to drive his steamer up to Albury in 1854 the first beginnings of a dozen river towns had been made (though unrealised then, of course) in the homesteads of the early pastoralists in the early fifties a tremendous new attraction appeared for this traffic.

By l853 New South Wales stockmen were overlanding cattle to the northern Victorian goldfields.

Gold produced a famous rise in stock values, as in everything else, and fat bullocks which had been fetching 25/- a head in the Sydney market were soon worth 24 on the Bendigo field.

With the gold in northern Victoria the river traffic in stores and supplies immediately began to flow the other way.

Adelaide was established beyond famine, and was increasingly growing wheat; and with strangers flocking in thousands to northern Victoria, wheat began to command 1 a bushel.

Already enterprising men were planning steam navigation of the Murray, and the gold rush hastened these schemes.

Cadell and Randell shared the honours of taking fee first steamer from the Murray mouth up to Swan Hill in 1853; the Lady Augusta just beat the Mary Ann on the trip.

Next year Cadell took his steamer right up to Albury, and thereafter for twenty years the river was the recognised highway from Adelaide into the heart of the Riverina.

But the South Australian river trade hastened on Victorias and New South Wales railways towards river ports, and the dream of the South Australian river skippers of the forties - of the Murray as a Mississippi, the Darling as a Missouri, the Murrumbidgee an Ohio drawing trade from all agricultural down river to a New Orleans at the Murray mouth - gradually faded away.

In Start's centenary year the long-delayed scheme for locking river - a revised and truncated scheme - is nearly completed.

The Murray has been harnessed for navigation from the lakes up to the Darling junction, just as the last local hopes of reviving commercial traffic along the river have apparently been given up under the obstruction of railway policies.