Chapter 10

By June a letter had arrived from Stonequarry, welcoming Magdalen and giving news of Jane. Uncle William and Aunt Ann were eagerly awaiting her arrival, according to their neighbour writing on their behalf. Uncle William put his mark at the bottom of the page.
Magdalen was packed and ready to leave, waiting impatiently, the days passing slowly until Captain Freeburn had finished loading the 'Bessie'.

William went to work as usual the morning she sailed, saying goodbye in a matter-of-fact way, but Magdalen knew by his studied nonchalance that he would miss her and would be worried until she returned safely. He was in the shipyard and waved to her as the 'Bessie', towed by the crew in the pulling boat, went by.

Magdalen tried not to think of the dangers to herself, to William, to the baby. She was excited at the thought of seeing Jane again after all these months, and of being near civilisation and with William's relatives. She concentrated on those thoughts, although even here was a nagging worry. Would Jane have changed? Would she now think of Uncle William and Aunt Ann as her parents? How had she got along in a big family? Would she want to leave? How had she reacted to a man, and how would she react to her own father whom she could not remember? She was only three when she had last seen him in Plymouth. The most uncomfortable question Magdalen tried to put aside... would she herself be able to face returning to the Big River?

The water birds rose and flew away as the ship approached. There was a beauty about the wide quiet river which made it difficult to believe that only a few months before it had been so destructive and so wasteful. Only bunches of debris still hanging in the branches of trees and vines showed how high the water had risen above its present natural level. She could now identify mangroves, honeysuckle, mahogany, tulip wood, eucalyptus, teatree and box on the banks and islands in the river. She still found the greenness in mid-winter an amazing and puzzling phenomenon.

Captain Freeburn anchored in the river over-night. In the morning there were two other vessels laden with timber from Small's Depot, waiting for a suitable tide to cross the bar. Sometimes ships had to wait for days or even weeks but this time they were lucky and all passed out safely before noon, and set sail for Sydney Town. One hazard conquered.

Five days later they sailed into Sydney Heads, almost a year after Magdalen's arrival in the Colony. There was a coach travelling regularly on the road from Sydney to Yass, weather permitting. Captain Freeburn sent a man to put her on it. Magdalen remembered her arrival and her visit to Gilbert Elliot at Government House, and how ignorant she had been and how stubborn in opposition to advice from everyone. She now felt by comparison, an expert. None of the women she had met previously had ever been away from the main areas. They knew nothing of the wilderness, except for rumours. Her intimate knowledge put her in a different category. They had been right of course to warn her not to go. She would do the same to any 'new chum' she might meet. The wilderness was worse than any of them imagined.

As the coach proceeded she noticed things she had not seen before. The incongruous appearance of large brick and stuccoed business houses next to slab huts, that the homesteads were not grouped in villages along the road but were spread out on individual farms, and that there was not a lot of agriculture apart from small house gardens. In the wilderness it was not allowed and not very sensible to grow crops, but within the Nineteen Counties she would have expected beautiful crops in this climate. Even in winter the grass was green and the cattle could pasture on the finest food. Because wool was so profitable many people who had been given grants of land or who could afford to buy, preferred sheep-raising to agriculture. The less wealthy tried cattle-raising which provided them with butter, cheese, beef, hides and tallow while their herds increased. Many came to scorn tillage. If prices fell as they were saying in the Settlement, what would happen? The day wore on and the coach came to Stonequarry up the steep Razorback which Magdalen remembered with dread.
Magdalen had learnt that as soon as the proclamation forbidding crossing the Nepean River was withdrawn, Stonequarry Creek district had become popular as a location for small holders, free settlers and retired soldiers such as Uncle William. Enough wheat was grown in the area to supply the wind-powered flour mill at Stonequarry.

At last, late in the afternoon they reached Myrtle Creek. Magdalen was exhausted after her week of travelling; the sea voyage had not made her ill, but her stomach had been quite unhappy; the road, pot-holed and dusty had provided a much more uncomfortable journey, and she felt she could not have endured much more.
Aunt Ann and Jane and the other children hurried out to help her carry her basket.

"Lie down my dear. Lie down. And I'll make you some broth. You'll feel better after a rest. Children, stay outdoors for a while. Jane say hello to your mother."

Jane was quiet but looked well and relaxed. She soon came to her mother's bed to tell her that a neighbour lady had been teaching the children to read.

"Your papa will be so pleased," Magdalen told her.
"It's a shame there hasn't been more time for lessons. Jane did very well because she had already made a start, but my children haven't made much progress yet, and we can't always spare the older children. My husband needs the older ones on the farm and I need the girls to help with the little ones and the 'ouse. I hope I've done with my family now that I'm over fifty. This is my baby Eliza. She's two now, Johnny is five, Sarah is fourteen. The others are out presently with their father. They'll be in soon. You really should have come sooner by the look of you. When is the baby due?"
"Early August," said Magdalen who had closed her eyes and let Aunt Ann's voice drift around her.
"Baby?" asked Jane who had noticed that her mother had increased greatly in girth under her loose coat.
"Hush child. Run along and let your mother rest," said Ann who had not meant to mention the baby in front of Jane.
"Jane has grown. She looks very well. You've been good to her."
"She's been no trouble. One more made no difference." Magdalen wondered how they would all live in this two-roomed cottage for three or four months, admittedly it was more comfortable than a bark hut, being of pit-sawn timber with a shingled roof. She wanted the next months to be over. Only let this baby live.

* * *

The baby was born in August, a fine little girl.

"Now you have a little sister, Jane my dear. This baby is strong and healthy. We can take her soon to show papa," said Magdalen as soon as Aunt Ann and the midwife had tidied everything and let Jane in to see her mother.
"Is my papa like Uncle William?" asked Jane, who had not seen him since she was three and was a little unsure about the coming journey, as she sat on a stool by her mother's bedside and held the baby gingerly.
"Yes a bit, but he is more like Aunt Ann in colouring. He is not as tall as Uncle William, but very strong. He had a wild bushy beard when I arrived at the Settlement but he shaved it off. He loves making things, especially with wood, and he will make you beautiful things when we go home. He has already started making a lovely carved rocking cradle for Baby. He works for a ship-builder, Mr Phillips, right next to our place. You will be able to see him at work sometimes."
"Uncle William used to be a soldier."
"Yes," said Aunt Ann. "It doesn't seem possible it's nearly seven years since 'e left the 17th Foot Regiment. Twenty-one years in the army 'e was. And now we've got our own bit of land. Well 'ow do you like your baby sister?"
"I expect she's all right," said Jane who had thought a baby was much bigger, and at least able to smile and sit. "She can't play with me at all."
"She will grow quite quickly."
"Who will I play with in the wilderness?"
"You will help me look after Baby and I have a calf and some chickens. I've got a friend who has children a bit older than you. We visit each other often. And there's another family a bit further away. Their father traps birds for museums and stuffs them."
"How old?"
"My friend has a girl of ten and a boy of twelve. Another friend has a boy of ten."
"They are too old. I'm seven. Ten is three years older."
"See how good she is at 'er numbers," said Aunt Ann taking the baby.
"More families are arriving all the time, some to work on the stations, some live in the Settlement while their fathers work for cedar depots. We'll soon get to know some children about your age. I want to take some little pigs back when we go. You can help me look after them."
"Uncle William has lots more animals than that." Jane was not at all convinced.
"Uncle William has enough children to help him. I have no-one. I need you. We'll practice reading every night. I'll buy you some books in Sydney Town. And there's a man we call Old Mick Ivory. He often sits in the evening after work and plays us tunes on a gum leaf. He's very musical. You'll like him."

While Magdalen tried to convince Jane about the Big River, she found that she was also reassuring herself.
"What is the baby's name?" asked Jane to change the subject. For the first time in her life she had been well fed, had space, playmates and freedom. Reluctantly she began to accept the inevitable change to her environment. The unknown gave her an uneasy feeling, and she didn't want to think about it. Magdalen too had an uneasy feeling, not about the unknown, but about troubles and dangers she knew only too well, but she didn't mention it to Jane, and she also tried not to think about it.

"We'll have to talk to papa about Baby's name. What names do you like?"
"I like Aunt Ann's Eliza."
"Eliza is a lovely little girl isn't she? And it's a nice name. We'll ask Papa if he likes it. Isn't she a darling baby?"

* * *

Magdalen had asked Captain Freeburn to send word by coach to give an approximate date of departure. Three weeks after the birth, Magdalen took her daughters to Sydney Town and upon their arrival they went to the wharf to get a more exact time of sailing. Probably tomorrow, she was told. They could stay on board overnight. They would be glad to.

The next morning Magdalen ordered all the items on her long list... sewing cloth, cooking pots, piglets, books, seeds, the bootmaker's tools and a book on making boots, and staple provisions which were three times the price at the Settlement. When the shopping was all done they called on Gilbert Elliot who was planning to resign as Aide-de-Camp and become a squatter on the Darling Downs.

"Are you really going back to the Outback?" he asked.
"That's where my husband is. That's where I must go," she found herself resentful of his question. "You are going Outback yourself."
"It's different for men. And the Darling Downs is closer to civilisation than the Clarence River."
"If civilisation in the Outback means a Commissioner and Border Police, we were better off without. He has only stirred up antagonism."

To change the subject Gilbert said "Did you know that a lot of women have been brought out as immigrants because of the great shortage of women, but they won't leave Sydney? You should talk to them. The Governor has had to provide tents and rations for them when they arrive. There's a Mrs Chisholme who is trying to find them employment. There is plenty of work in the Outback, but they won't go unless she goes with them personally. They would rather starve in the city than brave the terrors of the bush."
"I know. Blacks, bushrangers and bunyips! It's not really so bad once you get used to it. Even the escaped convicts and ticket-of-leave men can be good neighbours once one accepts the rough manners. A lot of them would like to have good wives."
"Well these girls arriving from the streets of cities in England and Ireland wouldn't last a day away from a town. Unless they can go into service on properties where the squatters are married and have wives to teach the girls a bit of bushcraft."
"I amaze myself when I look back at my arrival in the Settlement with no-one to help except good neighbours. I was rather foolhardy I suppose although I didn't see it at the time."
"You were truly an exception."

Magdalen who had been holding the baby in her arms, made a move to go. Jane picked up the small basket in which were the baby's things. "Look," said Gilbert. "There is the Governor."

They saw a man of about fifty, with a stern but handsome face, dark eyes and bushy black eyebrows, an arresting face, keenly intelligent but shrewd.

"He looks every inch a Governor," said Magdalen. "A man who would stand no nonsense."
"He is absolutely implacable in his moral standards, and incorruptible and expects everyone to be the same. He is perhaps too conscientious, too worried about being scrupulously fair. He tries to appear always quite sure of himself, but I know he goes through agonies of uncertainty about many issues, which he would never admit."
"Well Jane you can tell Papa you saw the Governor. We must be going now. We hope to see you if you ever come near the Settlement. We have a lot of things to take back and I want to make sure they've arrived at the wharf."
"I hope you have not bought a lot of things on credit."
"Nothing on credit. William does not like credit, apart from our transactions at the store. There's no cash on the River you see. We buy everything on credit against the timber cheques."
"The Governor has been warning against all the easy credit, but many people have thought him a pessimist. But now he is being proven right. The banks have changed from unbounded credit on slight security to almost total denial of credit. A lot of people have panicked and sold up."
"William has been warning other settlers about the interest to be paid on borrowed money. He thinks there'll be a lot of bankruptcy. Even Uncle William at Stonequarry seems to be having trouble meeting payments, although he said nothing directly to me."
"The Colonial Office has suggested that the Governor's handling of the situation has aggravated it, if he didn't exactly cause it. The Governor took the criticism very hard, because he takes his work so seriously and does what he believes is right."
"What would the Colonial Office know on the other side of the world? Probably none of them have ever been here. William says it's ridiculous that they make the laws which then take six months to reach the Colony."
"William is right. That is indeed so. Well I'll not delay you any longer. Give my regards to William and tell him I shall visit you if I'm in the district."

government house sydney

Magdalen and Jane took their leave and went by cart down Bridge Street past the markets to the Market Wharf. They noted that some of the streets had been paved, but goats, pigs, cattle and dogs still strayed as they pleased. Magdalen bought a newspaper for William, and Jane, looking at all the long words, was most impressed at the thought that her father was clever enough to read it.

"Uncle William can't even write his name," she said.

Their goods had arrived safely and Captain Freeburn said they would sail within the hour.

* * *

"It's such a big river," exclaimed Jane as they neared the Clarence Heads. "It doesn't even look like a river."
"That's just what Richard Craig thought when he found it. It's always been called the Big River. The name seems more suitable than the Clarence. Even at the Settlement it's a quarter of a mile and much wider here. Just look at all the birds! See the pelicans!"

Having passed many empty unsettled miles, they entered the heads, following the channel along the southern shore, then across to the northern bank over unmarked and uncharted channels. Thousands of wild fowl rose from the broad expansive sheet of water as the ship approached the sandy shores near the bar. There were pelicans, ibis, cormorants and sea-gulls. As they floated up-river with the tide, Magdalen could point out to Jane some of the trees she now recognised. There were extensive mangrove flats, myrtle palm, swamp oaks, dense forest rising like walls along the river. There were also dozens of islands large and small.

Magdalen felt herself to be a part of the Big River and the Settlement, to fit into the life, to have the strength to cope with the hardships and dangers, and to have something to contribute to the community.


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