The Valley of The Tumut

8 November 1859 The Sydney Morning Herald

A Visit to The Southern Goldfields. [From Our Special Reporter.] No. X.

The beautiful stream of the Lower Gilmore, now brawling over its bed of many, coloured pebbles, its spray sparkling like myriads of liquid gems, as it rushes along its course, and then, collecting its waters in a succession of dark pools, simulating the writhings of a wounded snake, in its passage through the verdant flats, as if unwilling to leave so fair a valley, at last sweeps to the eastward, and, obedient to its destiny, bursts through the Mingery Mountain; where, after a course of ten or twelve miles along the base of the continuous ranges, it falls into the basin of the Tumut; where, lingering awhile in the deep alluvial plains, it finally mingles its stream with that of the river. 

Keeping the creek, with its tortuous windings, in view, and following the tracks of the wild cattle - who, by-the way, are no bad engineers - every step as you proceed unfolds some new beauty in the prospect: on the one hand, a crowd of nameless shrub, mingling their green and gold with the blue flowers of the creeping sarsaparilla, wave their pendant blossoms in the stream; above these, a mass of sombre-looking scrub, with matted foliage, reflects a thousand changing hues; and higher still the gigantic gum, with scant and drooping leaves, flings forth its naked arms and glistens in the fierce rays of the noontide sun; beyond these, a bright green sward, rolling with gentle undulations, and broken by clumps of the numerous tribe of box and apple, stretches to the base of that gloomy range, whose identity becomes lost in the chaos of cloud capped mountains far to the southward; on the left, swelling ridges stretch to the foot of the eastern descents from the Adelong range, where bald hills and long treeless slopes alternate with steep declivities and rugged cliffs, and patches of forest, with here and there an opening into some wide and fertile valley that sends its tributary to the main creek.

The sheltered and secluded values which ramify in every direction amidst the mountains in which the countless tributaries of the Murrumbidgee have their source on the western slopes of the Cordilleros, hold out equal inducements to the pastoral occupant and the agriculturist; never-failing streams can be conducted, with little labour, along the heights, so as to command the irrigation of not only the rich alluvial bottoms, but the declivities of the lesser hills, fertilized by the trappean debris washed from the more elevated regions; the timber is light and sparsely scattered, consisting chiefly of box and apple, and the climate approaches more nearly to that of the south of Europe than any other portion of New South Wales, as evidenced by the clovers, rich grasses, and flora, many varieties of which the wanderer through these delightful rallies cannot fail to recognize.

These regions, therefore, offer a more suitable field for European labour than districts nearer the tropics, where, unless in situations where the climate is modified by their elevation, the intense heats of a protracted summer are not only unfavourable to the constitution of the European, by prostrating his energies and hastening the decay of his physical powers, but also to the production of that class of cereals with which he is most familiar, and which the habitual use of has made necessary to his existence.

The variations of soil and climate in our still immense territory, with the description of production for which each particular portion is best fitted by nature, is a consideration that should not be lost sight of in the settlement of the land question.

Exclusive of the alluvial plains formed by the great rivers, the land most suitable for cultivation will be found on the slopes and in the valleys of the great dividing range; below a certain line of elevation, which is clearly defined to the westward, farming, if not impossible, would be, at least, rendered unprofitable and precarious by the variations of temperature, and the frequent occurrence of hot winds there, so destructive to vegetation.

Having reached the road that connects the Tumut with Gundagai and the outer world, at the point where it enters the gap through which the creek has forced its way to the eastward, you observe a neat little wood side inn - the Monas Isle - embossomed within a grove of drooping willows reposing under the shadow of the mountain.

Here the hostess was loud in her complaints of not being able to obtain land enough, at any price, to form a paddock, which, as it was beyond her reach, appeared to be the one thing needful to complete her happiness.

Two miles lower down, on the banks of the stream, is the residence of the Gold Commissioner for the Adelong district.

On the descents of the range, to the right of the road, occurs a remarkable breccia, composed of talcose schist, and fragments of quartz resting upon schist, of a similar formation, which had been much disturbed prior to the deposits of the former; on the opposite side of the road, in the continuation of the same range, is an immense quartz reef, which, following the stratification of the schist, stretches across the flanks of the mountains.

Here, within a few miles of the Adelong reefs, with their treasures, nothing seems to indicate the vicinity of a populous goldfield more than you would find at a hundred miles distance, and the few people you meet appear to take but little interest in them, and to know less of their progress: the gold-digger seldom crosses the range; his life is passed in the obscurity of his creeks and gullies-an obscurity too profound to attract even a passing attention from those whose welfare is in some degree dependant upon the success attending his labours.

Proceeding onward, and passing two more public-houses, we presently find ourselves entangled amongst a labyrinth of fences, and the roads - for there appear to be many winding through the forest, and all trending in the same direction-are perpetually leading you up to some three-railed obstruction which bars further progress, and you retrace your steps and seek another, to be again repulsed by a similar barrier.

These fences enclose small paddocks of from five to ten or fifteen acres in extent, in a few of which the ordinary slab huts may be observed, surrounded by the usual rude bark sheds.

The girdled forest, doomed to a slow destruction, still raises its withered arms to the heavens, as if imploring aid; the turf is unbroken, and there is no cultivation within sight of the road.

Having at length made our way through the maze of fences, the wood conducts us to the brow of an eminence, from whence we have a full view of the magnifient valley of the Tumut, closed in by mountain masses, that rise as they recede, their distant summits girt with clouds and storms; to the south-ward, the rugged grandeur of the back ground is enhanced by stupendous precipices, which mark the course of the river along the base of the Bogaun range, ere it bursts through its mountain barrier, bearing fertility on its flood, to wander from side to side through the broad plain, disporting in its newly acquired freedom ; here assuming an ebon hue, as, overhung by lofty trees, it rolls along under the dark shadow of a mountain, and there, as if wearied of the gloom, rushing to the centre of the plain, where the sunbeams, glancing through the thick foliage, dance in long lines of quivering brightness upon its rapid stream.

To the right, perched in safety upon a bench at the base of a slope from the western ranges, nestling in the forest, is the compact and picturesque village of Tumut, with its pretty churches so much in keeping with the place - one at either extremity of the town; they can be seen from nearly all parts of the valley, and are the banners of the Most High flung forth in the wilderness.

About a mile to the southward of the town is the racecourse, and in the distance, on the lower flats, is a large steam flour-mill. Homesteads are sprinkled over the valley, with farms in a high state of cultivation, interspersed with groves, and ancient watercourses, and long placid pools which bear evidence of recent floods.

On the eastern bank of the river is the fertile district of Bombolla, stretching away to the northward, and studded with cottage homes and a wealth of waving crops, extending to the base of the mountains, which, as they approach the Murrumbidgee, rapidly decline in elevation.

On entering the town you find it reposing in all the decent quietude of an English agricultural village. Gardens are scarce, and the inhabitants appear to have hitherto contented themselves with the wildlings of the forest, despairing perhaps of being able to improve nature. 

Here, as in most other Australian villages, all the best buildings are public-houses. I flattered myself that I had made the discovery of one good building that was not devoted to the sale of ardent spirits; but learned, upon, inquiry, that I was mistaken, as it was also a public-house, the license for which had been forfeited a few days previous to my visit by some oversight of the proprietor, who was running frantically through the district making interest to get it restored, as if in that fair valley there was no other means of obtaining a subsistence.

There is an exception, however, in a handsome block of brick building of two stories, erected by a successful miner and publican, on the Upper Adelong. It was originally intended for an hotel; but as there was neither population nor traffic to support such an establishment, the owner wisely changed his design, and rented it to a merchant.

There are four stores in Tumut, some of which do a considerable wholesale business with the publicans and small dealers scattered through the district.

The various trades of smith, carpenter, harness maker and shoemaker, are duly represented, as well as the learned professions, including law and physic.

There is also a Roman Catholic school under the Denominational system, but no other that I heard of. I may add as an indication of the progress of the place that the young men have got up a dancing club, the subscription to which is something like ten shillings a month; their weekly meetings are held at one of the inns in the town.

They assert themselves to be too poor as yet, to support an athenĉum, or reading room: besides, why should the inhabitants of that happy valley seek to extend their cares, or perplex their minds with the proceedings of a world beyond their mountains.

They know not that the superstitions and legendary obscurities that have existed for so many ages amongst the mountaineers of Europe are the result of the absence of mental culture, either by means of books or intercourse with the world, and that he who would retrace four centuries, and desires to see man as he was before Laurence, of Haeslom, borrowed his wooden blocks from the Chinese, must now seek him amidst the recesses of the Alps, in the heart of Europe.

While enumerating the most important buildings I must not omit the handsome court-house just completed in time for the first district court, the opening of which will form an important epoch in the village chronicles, the inhabitants now number about two hundred. Since the discovery of the Adelong reef the town itself has not progressed, although the surrounding neighbourhood has been much improved and the agricultural population was never so prosperous as at the present moment; formerly their nearest market was Gundagai or Albury, now they can sell all they produce almost at their very doors. On the property

of Mrs. Shelly, at Tumut Plains, about ten miles from the town there are a number of tenant farmers who rent their land at an average of £l per acre.

At Gracetown, also, five miles to the northward of the town, there are some fifteen tenants whose holdings are all under crop. The land on the banks of this river, and along the course of its numerous tributaries is of unrivalled fertility, and when not taken up under pre-emptive right has always realised the highest prices, in fact prices which no land in the heart of a mountainous country without roads bridges, or permanent markets could by any possibility be worth, and which were only obtained under the pressure of a severe competition.

I was informed that at the last land sale, country lots, many miles from the nearest town, were knocked down at £6 or £7 per acre to men, who, when the purchase was completed would not have a five pound note remaining.  

In the Tumut district, the result of either with holding the land from sale, or offering it in insufficient quantities, is that the unfortunate purchaser finds that he has paid a price so much greater than he contemplated that his resources are exhausted and he is unable to turn his purchase to any profitable account; the unsuccessful competitor, if a weak man walks to the nearest public-house and never leaves it until, perhaps, the savings of a life are squandered; if he is one who can control his feeling of disappointment, believing his chance hopeless of being able to obtain a suitable farm at a price within his compass, he resolves to become a tenant upon a property purchased under a pre-emptive right, and pays an annual rent for his wild and unimproved holding equal to a hundred per cent, on the original cost.

It requires no very strong powers of discrimination to see how this keeping the land out of the market in favourite district disperses the population and operates in favour of influential land-jobbers, many of them totally unconnected with the squatting interest.

Any Government has and had the means of putting an end to this system of extortion by an exercise of the powers vested in it by our present land regulations, which places no limit upon the number of portions to be offered at any particular sale, and leaves all lots that have passed the hammer and remain unsold open for selection.

The competition arising from the relative value of different portions of land depending; upon local conditions and minor circumstances is unobjectionable; but the fearful contest of men struggling for the possession of a homestead assumes a graver aspect, and can never have been contemplated by the framers of the regulations.

The appalling scenes that have been depicted in my presence as having occurred at land sales held at the Tumut Court house, reminded me of Ireland in her darkest hour. 

Our present regulations with reference to the sale of public lands would require but little alteration for many years, if they were administered in a liberal and equitable spirit.

The best test of the political honesty of the successive administrations under responsible Government that now form a portion of our history, or that as a Londoner would say, have passed the chair, is the manner in which they have availed them-selves of the extensive powers conferred upon them by these very regulations.

There can be little doubt that every artifice known to the experienced land-jobber has been practised by former Governments, perhaps under a mistaken sense of duty, with the view of obtaining the highest possible price for every acre that passed into private hands, and it is this iniquity that has raised such an outcry against a system that has never yet had a fair   trial, and engendered a feeling of hostility towards a class whose successful labours and unexampled privations have mainly contributed to elevate the colony from a position of contempt and degradation to the first rank amongst the dependencies of the British Crown.

About two miles up the river is the site of the old town of Tumut, of which nothing now remains to mark its former existence but a few mouldering posts. 

The town was removed to its present position in consequence of the frequent floods that inundate the flats upon which it stood.

Near to this spot is a ricketty old bridge, 400 feet long, connecting the Bomballa district with the township, and just over the bridge are four public-houses, to supplement those already on the opposite side of the stream. This bridge was originally built as a private speculation, but subsequently purchased by the Government.

The former proprietor has, however, still a vested interest in it, as it perpetually requires repairs, for which he contrives to obtain the contract.

A bridle track from the Bomballa district, passing over a country said to be fertile, and crossing the Murrumbidgee about thirty-five miles above Gundagai, brings the town of Yass within a short day's ride of the Tumut valley.

It is seldom travelled by strangers, as the danger of being led astray by the multitude of cattle tracks, and the difficulty of crossing the river, induces them to take the longer, but safer, route by way of Gundagai. A road opened by this line would confer an immense benefit on the district; and it is said to be practicable, by those who are conversant with the country. There is also a mountain track over the ranges to Queanbeyan, about sixty miles distant to the eastward, which, for like reasons, is seldom   traversed except by adventurous stockmen. On this route it is reported that gold has been frequently picked up, and it is probable that if it was prospected a payable field would be discovered.

Fifteen miles to the eastward of the township, on an offshoot from the Bogaun range, Lac -ma-Lac reef has been discovered, on which there are now several parties employed raising auriferous quartz, which is

to be had in great abundance ; a sample lately crushed at the Adelong proved scarcely payable, as the yield was under an ounce per ton. Recently a small Bredan machine has been erected on the reef, the advents of which has given an impetus to the energies of the miners.

The trials hitherto made of the quartz have not been very promising, but offer a sufficient inducement to the miners to encourage them to persevere. 

The creek below this reef, which is many miles in length, afforded employment to a large number of men, who always obtain a fair return for their labour, until the opening of the Adelong, when they migrated en masse, from that period until the discovery of the reef above noticed, it was neglected and almost forgotten.

The Bogauns, more precipitous and wilder than the parallel ranges to the westward, unite with the Adelong range in the neighbourhood of Lob's Hole, above the source of the Tumut.

Gold in payable quantities has been procured from many of the streams rising on both the eastern and western descents, but they are nearly unknown to the digger throughout their entire course, which cannot be less than eighty or one hundred miles.

Gold has also been obtained from the Gobragandra and Bomballa Creeks, both below the township, and both rising in the midst of the Bogaun Mountains.

This range will hereafter attract the attention of the miner, and very probably repay him for his labour. The country to the eastward is so wild and broken, and so little known for a breadth of sixty miles, that it may be pronounced a terra incognita, for all practical purposes yet to be explored.