Chapter 5

Goods arriving at the Settlement by the coastal vessels, then had to be carried up-river by a large pulling boat, rowed by Tom Howlett. He had the reputation of being too good-natured to assert his rights and 'would not kill a mosquito'. Nothing was too much trouble for him as he conveyed cargo between the ships and the stations up-river.

The following Sunday William arranged with Mr Howlett to take them up, so that Magdalen could see where the chain was put across the river to catch the logs in the next flood.

"See here are two very strong trees nearly opposite each other. The chain is attached to logs floating on the river, and anchored to the most solid trees available. When the river floods we will put our logs into the creeks and river, and collect them here in due course."

The mystery of the chain had now been explained to Magdalen's satisfaction. She showed her enthusiasm at having her curiosity satisfied.

"Now we will go to 'Ramornie'," said William to Tom Howlett.
"Collect us from there on your way back."
"What now?" Magdalen wanted to know.
"You'll see," was the only answer she got.

As the boatman pulled steadily Magdalen thought about 'Ramornie'. She knew it belonged to Doctor John Dobie, a big, jovial middle aged bachelor who had arrived in the Colony as a ship's surgeon, and who had been appointed as the first health officer. Hearing about the Big River at the exclusive Australian Club, from Francis Girard, the 'Frenchman' whose run 'Waterview' was adjacent to the Settlement, Doctor Dobie resigned to become a squatter. Mr Girard, the Mylne Brothers, Mr Grose and Doctor Dobie were all members of the same club. Doctor Dobie had taken out a licence for 'Ramornie' station, and had engaged Richard Craig, an escaped convict, the original discoverer of the Big River, to guide him and his flocks from the south. Years before, Richard Craig had escaped from hard labour in chains at Moreton Bay, and had lived with the Aborigines for six years. While travelling with them on their winter pilgrimage to the coast near Port Macquarie, he fell in with the Government stockman and told him of the whereabouts of three valuable Government working bullocks which had strayed. Because of his knowledge of the bush and the native language, he was sent with some other men to locate the cattle and obtained a pardon for this service. And his knowledge of the country was invaluable in bringing the flocks to stock the runs including the one Magdalen and William were approaching.

What reasons had William to be calling at a squatters run? The river narrowed and flowed over a bed of shingle, and Tom Howlett needed all his strength to make headway against the fast current, but he knew the river well and selected the calmest water. Magdalen tried not to let William see the fear which filled her, telling herself that Tom was an experienced boatman.

"You can see the bottom here," William pointed out. "The water here is too shallow for anything bigger than a pulling boat. Captain Perry on the 'King William' came up as far as this, about 85 miles from the heads, when he brought the squatters up to see the district. 'Eatonswill' is on the north bank, 'Ramornie' on the south a bit further on. This is the only stock crossing near the Settlement. From here down the river is too wide for a horse to swim."
"How wide is it?" Magdalen asked.
"About thirty yards here, and at least ten times as wide near the Settlement. That is why the water is running so much faster here."
"I presume that is what they call 'first falls'?"

Magdalen was surprised to find 'Ramornie' was almost a village in itself. The squatter's house was a slab hut similar to all the others, build on the high bank just outside the brush, as they came up from the river. There were yards for the sheep, a wool shed, sheds for a wheelwright, a bootmaker and other tradesmen, and a large store.

William asked the overseer John Shannon if he could show his wife around. As William had helped clear some of the land and construct some of the huts and make some of the simple furniture, he was known and welcome on the run. He approached one of the huts, where a man recognised William, got up from his stool to greet him.

"Marley, I would like you to meet Mr Bawden. Mr Bawden may I present my wife Mrs Yabsley? She would be very interested to meet your wife if she is not too busy."
"No more than usual on the Sabbath. Come in. Meet my wife and young son Tom. We have visitors Mary. Mr and Mrs Yabsley. You have heard me speak of them." He spoke with a Welsh accent.
"I am very pleased to meet you," replied Mary Bawden.
"I am so glad you have called. Please sit down while I stir up the fire."
"How old are you Tom?" asked Magdalen. "I have a daughter nearly seven, but she is still down south stating with relatives."
"I am now ten ma'am," said Tom.
"How long have you been here?"
"Six months I think," said Tom, looking at his father, who answered.
"We came down from Guyra last June. That was a journey! Thousands of head of sheep and cattle. You have probably heard of it?"
"Yes indeed."
"How are you getting along Mrs Yabsley?" asked Mary Bawden passing the tea. "Are you planning to bring your daughter to the river? Or will you leave her in Sydney Town until you make your fortunes, and return to civilisation?"
"I can't see my husband being happy in the city, especially if he had to work at a regular job. There is not much future for men in employment."
"We plan to fetch Jane shortly," said William. "In the meantime she has company and good food. My aunt and uncle live on a farm near Stonequarry, south-west of Sydney Town."
"She would be lonely here and she is not very robust. The summer climate here and the periodic shortage of ordinary food would not help her."
"She is better where she is until she gets stronger and used to the climate. Summer is hot here," said William.
"Tell us more about yourself," begged Magdalen to take her mind off her depressing thoughts.
William Bawden said "I first came to the river a year ago as an engineer on the 'King William' the first steamer to enter the river. Mr Grose who has a run further up-river called 'Copmanhurst', was at the time a pioneer in the steamship building. He also had sheep on the southern holding which were dying in the drought, so he brought them up north. Then he got an idea of opening up a new area and servicing it with his own ships. So he inserted a notice in the Sydney Gazette to say that his steamer would leave Sydney and explore the Big River. Gentlemen who wished could get berths for the excursion. The Deputy Surveyor General was Captain Perry who was put in charge of the steamer. I was the engineer."

"I saw you go past," put in William Yabsley. "it was quite a sight. There was nothing on the river but a few sawyer's camps at the time. We were working on Phillips' ship when we saw the 'King William' belching black smoke, her paddle wheel churning up the river. The gentlemen on board were as surprised to see us as we were to see them."
"It would be strange to find men building ships in the wilderness. It puzzles me why Mr Phillips chose to build a ship here," asked Mary Bawden.
William replied "You won't find a river of any size between Sydney Town and Moreton Bay where someone isn't building some sort of vessel. It's easier to build the ships right where they cut the timber, and choose just the tree they want for each purpose. The timber we ship out is cut into lengths and squared so that it won't roll on the ship. And it isn't always right for special requirements."
"The gentlemen had a rare excursion," went on William Bawden. "They had plenty of chances to explore and go duck shooting, although it rained most of the time. We went aground at the first falls, just down the river a bit from here, and had to go on by pulling boat to Mr Grose's run at 'Copmanhurst'. Captain Perry christened a hill 'King William Mount' and we had a twenty-one gun salute and the gentlemen drank to the Queen and to Mr Grose. Captain Perry made beautiful sketches of the scenery on the way."
"Tell them about the 'new chum turnip'," said Tom.
"It's really a kind of lily," began his father. "Some young men give a small piece to newcomers. That's how it got its name. But on this voyage one young man picked up a root and peeled it and because it looked like a turnip, began to chew it. His tongue turned blue and was so swollen it would not fit inside his mouth. He said his whole mouth and throat were on fire. He nearly died." William Bawden paused to fill his pipe.
"And the men who got lost?" prompted Tom.
"Mm. Well these two men went pigeon shooting and did not return by dark. We fired guns and searched next day but in the end gave up. We were now on our way down-river again. If they were still alive they would have to find the timber-getters. Near the heads we anchored for the night before tackling the bar. It was eleven days since the men disappeared and we were just getting up steam when we saw a party of Blacks and two white men on the beach! We gave the Blacks food, clothing, knives and Tomahawks as a reward. They must have seen the steamer and its smoke and came to understand that the men belonged to it."
"They say the river Blacks are peaceable because they live on fish and honey, and the aggressive ones are those who live by hunting. They don't understand that white man's cattle are not to be killed like kangaroos," said William.
"I don't think the Governor helped with his policy of Appeasement. Since he hanged men for that Myall Creek massacre, the Blacks around here have got worse, knowing we can't punish them," said Bawden.
"You don't mean you think men should be allowed to take the law into their own hands?" said Magdalen.
"If the Law were a bit closer than Port Macquarie, people might be expected to wait," answered Bawden, lighting his pipe from the fire.
"Last year some Blacks attacked a party, and they shook the flour out of the bags onto the grass because they didn't know its value. All they wanted was the bags. They were like children in their understanding."
"And flour so short!" said Magdalen. "By the way some of this flour from Valparaiso is as sour as vinegar."
"Yes, you have to be careful and make sure it is taken from a good barrel."

After they had finished their refreshment, everyone went outside to look at the run. Magdalen and Mary put on their bonnets against the brilliant sun.

"I don't dare venture out in the sun even for a moment without something on my head," observed Mrs Bawden.
"We have only small clearings around the huts at the Settlement," said Magdalen. "The trees give us some protection from the elements."
William put on his cabbage tree hat. "In the deep forest the sun never touches the ground even at mid-day. It's always cool."

The group walked around the buildings. Magdalen was next to William Bawden, who smoked as they walked.

"Getting back to your voyage up the river. I gather you liked the place and wanted to come back?"
"Yes. Everyone was most enthusiastic. The investors were easy to convince. Mr Grose was pleased with the success of the excursion. Doctor Dobie, the Mylne brothers and the others started making plans to bring their flocks. I decided to come with them. It took five months to get the stock overland through rain and floods. We left Guyra last autumn after having to wait weeks for our guide, Richard Craig. He was bringing up Mr Grose's starving sheep from the Macleay River. It took him three months, by the time he got 2000 sheep rafted across the river on New Year's Day. Then he came back to Guyra. There were more sheep for Mr Grose, cattle for the Mylne brothers, as well as Dr Dobie's stock. When we started, it was like a biblical procession of flocks. First the cattle, then our sheep, then various teams and drays and our horse and cart, and lastly Mr Grose's sheep because they were affected by scab and had to be kept separate. Very nasty, you know."

As Mr Bawden spoke he showed them the various workshops and the store. Magdalen had heard of the enormous flocks being brought down the treacherous ridges, burning the grass in front to make a track for the drays. It was a story which would often be told and re-told around camp-fires.

"Until the squatters came, there was no live stock in the district," said William. "Only the provisions supplied by the timber depots on Woodford Island and Mr Phillips' store."
"Do tell me more about your journey," begged Magdalen. "The Settlement never stops talking about it. You brought young Tom by dray?"
"Not exactly," said his mother, and Magdalen knew there was a story coming. They were walking around the stock yards.
"Young Tommy had his own horse, but my husband wanted it for one of the men who was not well. It was too dangerous to ride in the drays or the cart because of frequent capsizes on the steep ravines. Tom was running a bit short of shoe leather and we had to make him a pair of 'shampoos' of raw hide tied around his feet."
"They weren't much good," said Tom." They had burnt the grass to see where we were going and it hurt my feet something awful. I kept asking the drivers if they would let me ride with them on their drays."
"We had given orders that he was not to ride," went on Mrs Bawden. "But he took advantage of a halt, to climb up on top of the horse-cart with the tent and other luggage, and stowed himself between the traps. In the long procession he was not missed. The first anyone knew was when the cart slid into some stones and turned completely over. He was shouting lustily for help from underneath. By the time we came up, the men had got him out with nothing but a cut on his forehead. The young rascal is all we have left. We've already lost four children."
"I know how you feel Mrs Bawden. I lost three babies, so Jane is very precious."
"I'm afraid we're inclined to indulge him."
"Well I got my horse back for the rest of the way."
"It doesn't bear thinking about," said Magdalen. "At least you had a doctor on hand in case of accident."
"Dr Dobie? Yes he is sometimes called upon in emergencies, but we have to be our own doctors most of the time. He isn't here very often. He still belongs to the Medical Board in Sydney. He is getting rather stiff and not so young and life in the wilderness is a bit primitive for him."
"But John Shannon is here and he is good. He used to be a medical student in Edinburgh, but got carried away with the thought of adventure, and abandoned his profession. He is called upon from time to time, and never asks any fee or reward if he can help anyone."
"I've heard that," said Magdalen. "But getting here in time is another question. A lad hurt his arm on Sunday when the Irwin's paid us a call. Luckily not too serious. My journey here was quite tame by comparison with yours. My husband had an adventure at the heads. Have you heard about it?"
"Yes. He's lucky he can swim. My husband is not a strong swimmer," said Mary Bawden. "He worries me when he is on the river. So many ships and boats and entire crews are lost."
Magdalen sighed. "Ever since my husband left England I have had visions of one kind of catastrophe or another. I never imagined anything like what really happened to him. I'm glad I'm here now to keep an eye on him. At least I will hear a bit sooner if anything happens. I suppose this is something you learn to live with?"
"Maybe. But I don't think I'll ever really come to terms with it. No matter how we make light of the dangers, the fear is with us every moment. I expect Mr Yabsley would have been extremely worried if he had known what you were up to on the wharves of Sydney Town!"

They all laughed. Looking back Magdalen wondered how she had had the audacity.
Tom put in "You haven't told them about the time the dray was upset on a steep hill and the meat cask went bouncing off into the creek below, and we were all stuck on the mountainside until the draypole could be mended the next day. We had to sleep where we were."
"Yes," added his mother. "The way was so narrow nothing could pass. Soon after that the rivers suddenly flooded. The stock had to swim. The men made us a sort of rope chair or sling, and strung a rope between trees across the stream. Anyone who couldn't swim had to cross in this contraption. It was quite terrifying."
"We were running short of supplies before we arrived, because the cavalcade was so slow. At times the gullies were so steep we had to use ropes as anchors to lower the drays one at a time. It's hard to believe we could achieve such a thing, looking back," said William Bawden.
"The route might have been all right for Blacks with nothing to carry but almost impossible for our cavalcade."

In one of the sheds Mary Bawden showed Magdalen some animals which she was feeding by hand.

"This heifer lost its mother. We really don't need to worry about the odd calf. The men wouldn't worry. But if they're healthy I can't bear to let them die." Magdalen looked at William. William had an inscrutable look on his face.
William Bawden intercepted the exchange. "You want a young heifer? I can arrange that for you."
"And mind you save the dung and try it and burn it to keep away the mosquitoes."

One of the men came to tell them that Tom Howlett was ready to take Mr and Mrs Yabsley back to the Settlement.

"We hope to see you again soon," they said as they loaded the unwilling heifer into the pulling boat and said goodbye. Magdalen could see the narrow part of the river some way ahead and had an uneasy feeling until they had safely passed and were once again on the wide steady river which was now familiar to her, but was not completely relaxed until they were all on dry land. Jessie the calf shared her relief.


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