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Chapter 3

I find that the "King's Consort" can cook, hear of the good old days of the Midlands, learn the genesis of bushranging, and tell a true fish-yarn.

Campbell Town was one of a chain of townships whose sites were selected by Governor Macquarie in 1821, the object being to open up the route between Hobart Town and Port Dalrymple. The local administrator was enjoined to encourage useful settlers, mechanics, tradesmen and innkeepers; but growth was so slow that the Irish exile Meagher recorded thirty years later that it took him under twenty minutes to make a survey of Campbell Town. "This celebrated town," he says, "consists of one main street with two or three dusty branches to the left; and at right angles a sort of boulevard in which the Police office, the lock-up and the stocks are conveniently arranged. The main street has one side to it only. The ribs of this side consist of four hotels; a warehouse; a board and lodging house with Napoleon upon a green lamp just as you go in; half a dozen private residences furnished with a ground floor and a back and front entrance;-a jeweller's shop; butcher's stall, a signpost and two sheds. Opposite to this line of edifices, and parallel with it, at an interval of fifty feet; runs a wooden paling, which midway up the town is broken by three cottages, a hayrick and the post office. Aloof, at the uttermost extremity, in a straight line with the post office and the hayrick, stands the Established Church-a gaunt structure compiled of bricks with a facing of white stone."
"Mr Merino" is the main settler in Campbell Town, his arrival in the colony dating from 1820. Early grantees established themselves with comparatively large holdings in the Midlands, building handsome and substantial residences, and naming many of the estates after their former English homes. Export of wool began in 1822, the total consignment being twelve bales bought in Tasmania at 4d. per pound and sold in England for 7d. The Midlands were suited for raising sheep equal to the world's best, and these graziers put their brains and their energy into the business. The twelve bales of 1822 grew to over a thousand next year, and now the wool export averages well over four million pounds' worth per annum. Tasmanian Merino rams have brought as much as sixteen hundred guineas at the mainland markets.

I do not like the term "Wool Kings" applied to these graziers of the Midlands, but prefer to think of them as approximating to the esquires and landed proprietors of the Old Country whence they sprang. I say "approximating", for they cast their lot in a better and freer country than the one they left. As to climate, this is nearly perfection; and as to environment, this is still nearer the ideal. These "Kings" worked with their hands and their muscles, and adapted themselves to their surroundings. It is the same with their descendants. Today they can take their places at dipping sheep, at branding, at milking cows if need be, at driving tractors, harvesting, and the thousand
and one tasks that make up the life of the Tasmanian settler. They are gentlemen, but practical gentlemen. The soapbox orator pictures these estate owners as gentlemen
of leisure who do nothing more strenuous than ride round their estates and entertain other aristocrats at bridge or banquet, but they and their sons and daughters work,  and when hard times come-for wool and wheat are not always profitable commodities they "buck in" with the rest.

Whilst at Campbell Town I was invited to one of the outlying properties. Shortly after I arrived, afternoon tea was dispensed by one of the capable and cultured daughters of the house, and I was made to feel that I was a welcome guest. "You will excuse my wife for the time being," said the host; "As a matter of fact she is doing things in the kitchen with a rolling-pin, for the cook has an attack of 'flu; and my wife asks me to certify that it is even better to put up with her own amateur efforts than to sit down to a meal of bread and jam." I can say positively that the family was lucky if the cook was as competent as her mistress, for the soup, the entree, the roast lamb and the apple pie and tarts proved that the term "amateur" as applied to the lady of the house by her husband was a very definite misnomer. The average Tasmanian can turn his or her hand to almost anything, and this was one small but practical evidence of it.
Unfortunately, perhaps, the really picturesque era of the Midland estates has passed. In the early days, many of their owners were breeders of racehorses on pedigree lines and they had their own private training courses. Packs of hounds were appurtenances of numerous homes, and parks were set apart for deer. The "tally-ho" was almost as common as the sound of the motor horn is today, and red-coated, superbly mounted horsemen galloped the countryside and flew the fences, alongside the handsome ladies riding side-saddle. The squire kept open house, and open stable too, and the participants in the hunt gathered from miles around. The preceding night was often spent in dancing till daylight, and then followed the hunt breakfast as a preliminary to the chase itself. Sometimes the quarry was a deer, sometimes a forester kangaroo; failing them there was a "drag". Fortunately for Tasmania's hen-roosts, Brer Fox is one of the pests that the island has been spared-though Brer Rabbit has more than made up for the absence of his ancient enemy.

As was the case at Oatlands, the northerly road hesitated again at Ross and Campbell Town, first heading towards the Western Tiers, and at the junction of the Isis and the Macquarie a "scite" was surveyed for the town of Lincoln. The name still appears on some maps, but I have never heard of anyone having walked the streets or stayed at the inns of Lincoln. Another non-existent town, Latour, was to have sprung up at Norfolk Plains, and the South Esk was crossed by a ferry at Perth. Later the road went direct to Perth through Epping Forest, and the Esk was bridged with the handsome stone edifice that was drowned and broken up in the floods of 1929. As to Epping, the name "Forest" ought to be dropped now, for this is nothing of a forest as Tasmania knows that term. It is more like a nobleman's park, with gum trees instead of oaks, and no undergrowth.
The celebrated inns of this early period were The Squeakers at Cleveland and the The Bald-faced Stag at Epping. The buildings still stand, but the signs and the licences have disappeared. Epping, in the days when the added "forest" had a significance, was a favourite spot for the holding up of coaches by highwaymen, and the two inns mentioned entertained many a one of this fraternity. Freebooting was once more popular perhaps in Tasmania than in any country on earth. The roving bands of robbers were a real menace, and the resources of the authorities were strained to breaking point to cope with the situation. Bushranging continued with intermissions for close on eighty years, and it was as late as 1881 that the last brace of murderers-Ogden and Sutherland-paid for their crimes on the gallows, the principal scene of their exploits again being Epping.
The causes of the prevalence of bushranging were various. Very often the delinquents were escaped convicts who, with a price on their heads already, had little to lose by committing a few more murders and robberies. "A short life and a merry one" was their motto-though it is difficult to visualize much merriment in pistolling an inoffensive traveller. Another reason for the popularity of the profession was that during the early famine period hunters were encouraged to bring in kangaroo meat to the Government stores. The roving life proved too alluring, and from hunting the kangaroo to the hunting of men was only a step. During the times of Governors Davey, Sorell and Arthur terrorism reigned, and scores of country settlers left their homes in favour of the safety of Hobart or Launceston. Hayricks and barns were fired, houses and persons robbed, and murders in cold blood were frequent. Martial law was proclaimed, rescinded, and proclaimed again. Rewards of increasing value were offered for the apprehension of malefactors. Settlers formed themselves into bands and soldiers were told off especially for the duty of hunting bushrangers. At one time Governor Arthur personally took the field, and his vigorous methods largely mended the situation, for subsequent to his regime the outbreaks of lawlessness were comparatively few.
Andrew Bent, the father of the Tasmanian Press, published a pamphlet entitled Michael Howe : the Last and Worst of the Bushrangers of Van Diemen's Land, but he was an optimist in using the word "last", for bushranging did not die out for another fifty years. Bent's history of the six years' career of Michael Howe is not available, but it was noticed in the year 1820 by the Edinburgh Quarterly Review as a curiosity of literature. When Howe robbed Governor Davey's farm at Richmond on 8 September i 8 f 6, among the booty he demanded of the overseer was no less an article than a dictionary 1 This was doubtless to assist him with his correspondence, for Howe, like many of his successors, addressed braggadocio epistles to the Governors of the time, threatening them with all sons of punishments. Howe escaped hanging by having his head battered in by a soldier and a prisoner who used their muskets with good effect as clubs.
These bushrangers had the name of being veritable will-o'-the-wisps, and Matthew Brady was most evidently one of such, for there are "Brady Lookouts" all over the island. Brady was one of the few who escaped from Macquarie Harbour (his party seized a boat on 9 June 1824.) and he kept the island in a state of ferment for a considerable period. He captured the town of Sorell locked up the soldiers and liberated the prisoners from the gaol. He threatened to repeat the performance in Launceston, but was nearly captured in the attempt. It was close on two years before Brady and his gang of fourteen bandits were dispersed, Brady himself being captured by John Batman near his home in the Avoca district. One of Brady's Lookouts-an authentic one this-is west of Epping, in the Tiers, near a cave which he used as a hiding place.
Martin Cash, yet another of Epping's celebrities, was about the most respectable of the fraternity of highwaymen, for only one death is recorded against him-that of Constable Winstanley who attempted to capture him in a Hobart street. Cash's slipperiness failed this time, and after his apprehension he was sentenced to death, but was reprieved and died at Glenorchy on 27 August 1877.

It is a pity that the main road misses Evandale, its house-roofs showing up a few miles to the east. I cannot find any record of when Evandale was actually born, nor by whom it was christened. Perhaps, like Topsy, is simply "growed", but it has "growed" to be an extremely pretty village. Captain Butler Stoney in I8s6 notes a public school there in charge of Mrs Chilcot, the average attendance being seven. The church was designed to hold 520, but alas for the optimistic builders, the average attendance was but a dozen. The figures do not, I suggest, necessarily indicate a tendency to irreligion on the part of the folk of Evandale of those days but rather that the natural beauties of the surroundings are responsible for keeping the townsfolk out of doors, wandering by streamside or picnicking on the bushlands as yet unspoiled by the hand of man.
Of the many rivers in the north of the island, the one most swollen by the great flood of 1929 was the South Esk which rises on the slopes of mighty Ben Lomond and flows for a goodly portion of its long and devious course through the municipality of Evandale. The lower pans of the town suffered grievously. The station buildings were covered, hayricks were deposited where no hayricks should be, and the flood rose to the insulators of the telegraph poles, felling many of them and flattening down scrub
as though a gigantic steam roller had strolled that way. The Sunday School children doubtless took a special interest just then in the story of Noah and his ark, for they could certainly visualize the drama.
There is just one other story to be told about the Esk. A few years back, two perfectly sober gentlemen captured an eel weighing 42 pounds, length 5 feet 7 inches, girth 20 1/2 inches. If fish-yarners can beat this they break the world's record. His Eelship put up a valiant battle after he was landed, and in knocking down one of his captors twice nearly gave him the knock-out. If the two eels Noah took with him in his floating menagerie were bigger specimens than this one they must have had a lively time on board. A duel between one of them and the alligator-in-chief would have provided a real disturbance. Now that this monster has been killed-doubters may see it in the Launceston museum-perhaps we shall not hear so much of the bunyip that has been bobbing up intermittently in the Great Lake for a few years past.

Chapter Four

 

 

 

Tasmania by Road and Track - by E T Emmett was originally published by Melbourne University Press.
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