Old Melbourne Memories/Chapter 12

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Old Melbourne Memories by Rolf Boldrewood
Chapter 12

CHAPTER XII


GRASMERE


What tales came in from far and near of ruin and disaster—farms and stations, huts and houses, rich and poor!—all had equally suffered in the Great Fire, long remembered throughout the length and breadth of the land. However, a bush fire is not so bad as a drought. A certain destruction of pasture and property takes place, but there is not the widespread devastation among the flocks and herds caused by a dry season. Heavy rain set in a short time afterwards, in our district at any rate. The burned pastures were soon emerald-green, and Mr. Chamberlain, who had been compelled to flee to Port Fairy homeless, and there abide till a cottage was built at Tarrone, made sale of a thousand head of fat cattle in one draft before the year was out.

If the system of moderate alienation of Crown lands then prevalent could have been carried out in after years—viz. the disposing of agricultural areas from time to time, as the demand increased—no great harm would have accrued to the pastoral interest, and the legitimate wants of the farmers would have been fully supplied. The owners of the stations referred to, as the wave of population approached, chiefly applied themselves to secure the purely pastoral portions of the runs, leaving the arable land for its legitimate occupiers. No squatter was then suddenly ruined, while all intending farmers were satisfied. Good feeling was maintained, as each class of producers recognised the necessity for compromise, when the mixed occupation had become a fact. It was far otherwise when the whole land lay open to the selector, who was thus enabled to enter at will into lands which other men's labour had rendered valuable, or to exact a price for refraining.

In good sooth, the pioneer squatter of that day had many and divers foes to contend with. Having done battle with one army of Philistines, another straightway appeared from an unexpected quarter. We had had trouble with our aboriginals: a canine "early Australian," the dingo, had likewise disturbed our rest. He used to eat calves, with perhaps an occasional foal, so we waged war against him. We were not up to strychnine in those days. The first letter I saw in print on the subject was from the ill-fated Horace Wills, whose sheep had been suffering badly at the time. He had come across the panacea somewhere, and lost no time in recommending it to his brother squatters. With the help of our kangaroo dogs, and an occasional murder of puppies, we pretty well cleared them out. As cattlemen, taking a selfish view of the case, we need not have been so enthusiastic. Though he killed an occasional calf, the wild hound did good service in keeping down the kangaroo, which, after his extinction, proved a far more expensive and formidable antagonist.

We had more than once seen a small pack of dingoes surrounding an "old man kangaroo" in the winter time, when from weight and the soft nature of the ground he is unable to run fast. They also kill the "joeys" or young ones, when too small to run independently, though not to feed. I saw this exemplified on one occasion when returning late from a day's stock-riding. There was still light enough to distinguish surrounding objects, when a doe kangaroo crossed the track in front of me, hard pressed by a red dog close at her haunches. At first I took the pursuer to be a kangaroo dog, but seeing at a second glance that it was a dingo, I pulled up to watch the hunt. The forest was clear; rather to my surprise he gained upon her, and, springing forward, nearly secured a hold. She just got free, and not till then did she rid herself of the burden with which she was handicapped, and without which the dog could not have "seen the way she went," as the stock-riders say.

"Needs must when the devil drives" is an ancient proverb, and some idea of corresponding force must have passed through her marsupial mind as she cast forth from her pouch poor "Joey"—a good-sized youngster of more than a month old. He recognised the situation, for he scudded away with all his might, but was caught and killed by "Br'er" Dingo before I could interfere, his mother sitting up, a few yards off, making a curious sound indicative of wrath and fear. I somewhat unfairly deprived dingo of his supper by placing it carefully out of his reach in a tree; but in the kangaroo battues which ensued, it more than once occurred to me that I was interfering with a natural law, of which I did not then foresee the consequences.

On the eastern side of Port Fairy lay Grasmere, which on my first introduction to the district, in 1843, was the property of the Messrs. Bolden Brothers. Pleasantly situated on the banks of the Merai, its limestone slopes formed beautiful paddocks for the blue-blooded Bates shorthorns, of which these gentlemen were, at that time, the sole Australian proprietors. They had also a share in the Merang and Moodiwarra runs jointly with Messrs. Farie and Rodger. It was, however, arranged that they should remove their cattle within a certain time, and, I think, early in 1844 the arrangement was carried out. These enterprising and distinguished colonists also owned Minjah, then known as "Bolden's sheep station," now Mr. Joseph Ware's magnificent freehold estate.

A considerable sum of money for those days had been spent, as early as 1843, at Grasmere, when the Rev. John Bolden and I rode in there, having been piloted from the "lower station," where we had spent the previous night, by a grizzled old stockrider hight Jack Keighran. It was pitch dark, and I was glad to hear the kangaroo dogs set up their chorus, and to know that we were at home. Messrs. Lemuel and Armyne Bolden were then the resident partners.

In the morning I was able to look around at my leisure, and as I had just become inoculated with the shorthorn complaint, which I have never wholly lost, I had a treat. The paddocks, in size from fifty to two hundred acres, were securely enclosed with three-rail fences, and were well grassed, watered, and sheltered.

I have never ceased to regret that the low prices which ruled then and for several years afterwards, coupled with the failure of a well-considered experiment in shipping salt beef in tierces from Melbourne, should have caused the breaking up of that model stud farm, the dispersion of a priceless shorthorn tribe. I had been previously introduced to "Lady Vane," a granddaughter of "Second Hubback," and her inestimable calf "Young Mussulman," at Heidelberg. Here I had the pleasure of seeing them again, if not on their native heath, still in pastures befitting their high lineage and aristocratic position. Also a former daughter of Lady Vane and the Duke of Northumberland. There grazed the imported cows Lady and Matilda; the imported Bates bulls Fawdon, Tommy Bates, Pagan, and Mahomet. Besides these a score or more of Circular Head shorthorn cows, then perhaps the purest cattle which the colony could furnish.

No pains or expense were spared in the keep and rearing of these valuable—nay invaluable cattle — for which, indeed, high prices, for that period, had been paid in England. Everything seemed to promise well for the enterprise—so incalculably advantageous, in time to come, to the herds of Australia. And yet ere the year had rolled round the whole establishment had been disposed of to the Messrs. Manifold. The bulk of the herd cattle went to Messrs. John and Peter Manifold, of Lake Purrumbeet, with a proportion of the bulls. The shorthorns were purchased by the late Mr. Thomas Manifold, who for some years after made Grasmere his residence. In the Spring Valley, a lovely natural meadow, were located a lot of beautiful heifers, the progeny of picked "H over 5" cows (the Hawdon brand), and then the best bred herd in New South Wales.

I was present at the purchase of Minjah from the Messrs. Bolden by Mr. Plummer, of the firm of Plummer and Dent, which took place in 1843. With him came Mr. Richard Sutton, as amicus curiæ, in the interest of Mr. Plummer, who was a newly-arrived Englishman—verdant as to colonial investments. There was a certain amount of argument; but finally Minjah was sold with fifty head of Spring Valley heifers and a young bull, the price, I think, being £5 per head for the heifers, £50 for the bull, and the station given in. This was the origin of the famous Minjah herd. Grasmere and Spring Valley, as also the run of Messrs. Strong and Foster, were subsequently "cut up" and sold. They were too near the town of Warrnambool to escape that fate. Mr. Manifold saved part of his run, but Messrs. Strong and Foster were less fortunate, losing nearly the whole of "St. Mary's." It was not sold, I think, until the gold year, 1851, which accounted for its wholesale annexation. This is the only instance I can recall in that district of the proprietor losing his run in its entirety. The land, however, was exceptionally good, and unmixed with ordinary pastoral country.

The Messrs. Allan Brothers—John, William, and Henry—held Tooram, and the country generally on the east bank of the Hopkins, where that river flows into the sea. It was a picturesque place, having a fine elevated site, and overlooking the broad, beautiful stream not far from its mouth. I thought they should have called it "Allan Water," but apparently it had not so occurred to them. The country was more romantic than profitable, it was said, in those days, being only moderately fattening, and wonder was often expressed that, having the rich western country all before them when they arrived in 1 841, or thereabouts, they did not make a better choice. But pioneers and explorers are often contented with country inferior to that which is picked up by those who come after.

The real secret is that explorers are far more interested in the enterprise and adventure than in the promised land which should be the reward of their labours. They delight in the wilderness, and often undervalue Canaan. No spot could have been more suitably situated than the locale the Messrs. Allan selected for ministering to such tastes.

On the south was the coast-line, stretching away to far Cape Otway. On that side they had no neighbours, and Mr. John Allan, who was an intrepid bushman, made hunting and exploring excursions in that direction. I paid them a visit in the early part of 1844. I regarded it as a perfectly lovely place, with all kinds of Robinson Crusoe possibilities. Wrecks, savages, pathless woods, an island solitude—it was on the road to nowhere; nothing was wanting to enable the possessors to enjoy perfect felicity. The romantic solitude has, however, of late years been invaded by a cheese-factory. No doubt it supports a population, but the charm of the frowning, surf- beaten headland looking over the majestic, limitless ocean—of the broad reaches of the reed-fringed river—of the south-eastern trail leading into "a waste land where no one comes, or hath come since the making of the world"—must be fled for ever.

"St. Ruth's" was the name given to a tract of country which joined Squattlesea Mere on the western boundary. I believe the name and the reputation of the district sold the place more than once, which was hard upon the purchasers, for it was one of the worst runs in Australia. It comprised a few decent limestone ridges—with some passable flats, but the "balance" was scrub, fern, swamp, stringy-bark forest, and heath. Considering it lay in a good district, and enjoyed a fine climate, it was astonishing how it contrived to be so bad. If it did not ruin everybody that was ever connected with it, it was because they had no money to lose, or that exceptional amount of acuteness which enabled them to dodge hard fortune by passing it on.

It was taken up, soon after our performance in that line, by Messrs. Cay and Kaye, sometimes called English and Scotch Kay. The former of these gentlemen, Mr. Robert Cay, was "shown" the run by the Yambuk people, when he rode over a very small bit of it, and, going back to his homestead on the Lodden, sent a trustworthy man up with two or three hundred head of cattle, who formally occupied it.

A hut and yard were built—the cattle broken in, more or less—and the occupation was complete. A year or two after Mr. Cay sold out to Mr. Adolphus Goldsmith, of Trawalla, for a reasonable price, the cattle to be taken by book-muster. Mr. Goldsmith had a herd at Trawalla, which was being encroached upon by the sheep. He required room, and bought this curiously unprofitable place to put them on. The Port Fairy district, I should say, had a great reputation; so had the adjoining runs. Mr. Goldsmith could not imagine that a run so near Tarrone, Yambuk, and Dunmore could be so very bad. Buyer and seller rode over it together. At the end of the day Mr. Cay said, "Look here, old fellow! I never saw half as much of the run before. I had no idea it was such an infernal hole, I give you my word. If you like you can throw up your bargain!"

"Oh no!" quoth Dolly, "I'll stick to it. It will answer my purpose."

The end of it was that Mr. Cunningham, as overseer, came down in charge of five or six hundred well-bred cattle, which were turned out at St. Ruth's after a reasonable "tailing," and presently were all over the district. Mr. Cunningham, as I have before stated, was one of the most energetic men possible, but he failed to make St. Ruth's a payable speculation. The cattle never fattened; they became wild; they could never be mustered with certainty; they furnished none of the pleasing results with which cattle in a crack district are generally credited.

Eventually Mr. Goldsmith lost patience, and sold this valuable property to a former manager of his own—Mr. Hatsell Garrard. This gentleman had accompanied Mr. Goldsmith from England, and, it was said, had chosen for him the celebrated "Cornborough," a son of Tramp, a grandson of Whalebone, and one of the grandest horses that ever looked through a bridle. A good judge of stock, both in England and Australia, how Mr. Garrard came to buy such a place is "one of the mysteries." The terms were easy, probably, and the price tempting; he thought "it couldn't hurt at the price." The homestead, too (Mr. Cunningham was a great improver), was now very comfortable. That and the name together did it.

Mr. Garrard, who was a most genial, jolly, but withal tolerably shrewd old boy, kept the run for a year or two, just selling cattle enough to pay his way, when he dropped on a chance to "unload" and make a sale to Messrs. Moutray and Peyton.

The former, like the seller, had abounding experience, had lived on an adjoining run, was quite capable of managing his own affairs, yet he went into it with his eyes open. His only excuse was, that store cattle were worth £4 and £5 a head "after the gold," and he thought he saw his way. His partner, Mr. Peyton, was a young Englishman of good family, vigorous and ardent, just the man to succeed in Australia, one would have thought. He was told exactly and truly by his friends all the bad points of the run; but it was difficult in that day of high prices to find an investment for two or three thousand pounds, so he, being anxious to start, made the plunge. In a couple of years the partnership was dissolved, Moutray having saved some of his money, and Peyton having lost every shilling.

They sold to Mr. Doughty, who had formerly owned a sheep station near Mount Gambier. He was a married man, and preferred, for some reasons, the Port Fairy district to live in. He was economical, active, a famous horseman, and a good manager. He tried "all he knew," but was beaten in a little more than a year, and "gave it best." I heard of other purchasers, but about that time I severed my connection with the district and followed the fortune of St. Ruth's no further. Probably, if cleared, drained, laid down in grasses at the rate of £o per acre, fenced and subdivided, it might, under the weeping western skies, produce good pasture. But it always was an unlucky spot.

In the strongest contradistinction to St. Ruth's—a regular man-trap, and as pecuniarily fatal as if specially created for Murad the Unlucky—was the station generally known as "Blackfellows' Creek," lying east of Eumeralla. By the way, the original pathfinders of Port Fairy had a pretty fancy in the naming of their watercourses. There were Snaky Creek, Breakfast Creek, and, of course, Deep Creek and Sandy Creek. Now, this Blackfellows' Creek was as exceptionally good a station as St. Ruth's was "t'other way on." It was proverbially and eminently a fattening run; and on the principle "who drives fat oxen should himself be fat," its owner, Mr. William Carmichael, was, and always had been, far and away the fattest man in the district.