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Tuesday, September 10, 2019

He may buy Mays and he may not!


My not-so-old Chinese friend wants to "Escape from the City". He's looked at "Riverbend" and he's looked at Mays Wharf. Before he goes completely cold on the idea, I'd better share with him some of the history of Mays Wharf which I discovered in Stuart Magee's little book "The Clyde River and Batemans Bay":

... just downstream from where the Buckenboura joins is a most interesting old homestead and the remains of a wharf. The wharf is called Mays Wharf and before that it was Wrays Wharf.

Timothy Wray was a Donnegal man. In 1891 he married a girl in Sydney where he worked as a diver. By a diver, I mean one of those blokes in an overall canvas suit, lead weighted boots, and a steel helmet with a window at the front. As a matter of fact, Timothy's diving suit is now in the Hiskisson Maritime Museum.

He came to Batemans Bay in about 1900 and set up as an oyster man, using his skills and his suit as a diver. You might well wonder how he went about oystering in a diving suit, and I'll tell you shortly, but for now I want to talk about that fine house.

Timothy bought 80 acres at the junction of the rivers, leased another 1000, but did little with the land. It is, I believe I may say without offence to anyone, difficult land to do much with.

Wrays Wharf marked at the top of the chart just above Chinamans Point - how appropriate is that, Tong?

Shortly after he arrived he set about building the house, and bricklayers were brought down from Sydney. The bricks were made on site from local clay. It's a full brick house and very strongly constructed. Rather than wire ties between the inner and outer walls, at every few courses they laid the bricks transversely to bind the two walls together. There are three bedrooms, lounge and living-room, each with a fireplace joined to one of the four chimneys. There was a verandah all round and a bathroom at one end of the verandah. The toilet, which was way down the back, was not lacking in character and was a two-holer. Have you ever seen one of those? They are what you might call a pally institution. Well, Timothy had nine children, so I imagine there was an impatient queue at times.

The heart and soul of the house was the kitchen. It was big, and you didn't just cook there. You served the meal at a table which coped readily with twelve.

One of Timothy's nine was Eric. He married a girl by the name of Middleton who taught at a school which had been built behind the house, and whose father was the teacher at the school at Nelligen. The Eric Wrays, in turn, had two children.

The Eric Wrays died intestate. That left a problem which could only be solved by the sale of the property. I think there may have been an intermediate owner for a while but it was bought in about 1965 by William May, more commonly known as Pat.

On his assessment of the land Pat May called the place Poverty Farm - which name still appears on the government map and on the gate. His sons, Alan and Dennis, who run the property today say that on the basis of their experience they have no good reason to change the name of the farm.

Meantime, the name Wray has continued unabated. One of Eric's children was Timothy too. He continued in the line of oyster men though using techniques a little more updated than his grandfather. His widow, Mrs Gwen Wray, lives today in Wray Street, Batemans Bay, She's not sorry her family is no longer oystering. It's a wet, cold, hard life she says.

I don't know enough about it to argue, but I do know this. If there is a finer oyster than a Clyde River oyster I have yet to find it, and I have been looking hard for a long time.

WRAYVILLE is still written above the entrance door

So much for Stuart Magee's potted history of Wrays or Mays Wharf. The Mays no longer own Mays Wharf although a quick search of the local telephone directory reveals dozens of Mays as well as Wrays still living in Batemans Bay and up and down the Far South Coast.

I do believe the Innes family who operate the Innes Boatshed and the Clyde River tourist boat bought the property in 2003 for $940,000. It has been for sale for some time now for $1,980,000.

A mere bagatelle for my not-so-old Chinese friend if he ever decides to "Escape from the City".


Monday, September 9, 2019

Long Pools and Little Rapids - A canoe on the Clyde River

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The PIGEON HOUSE - Its conical point, sometimes swathed in mist, sometimes clad in snow, can be seen for 50 miles and more. Cook named it in 1770. Alexander Berry and Hamilton Hume climbed it in 1822. The peak is 2358 feet above sea-level, about the same height as the tableland from which it has been separated by the Clyde River.

"I am reminded sympathetically," said the Explorer, as we toiled up a two-in-one gradient in a temperature of a hundred and one, "of the man who said recently: 'When I feel like exercising, I just lie down until the feeling goes away.'"

"I have very little feeling left to go away," I sighed, and leant against a forest giant.

"WHAT'S THIS? WHAT'S THIS? DID YOU EVER SEE ANYTHING LIKE IT? CAN'T YOU CITY COVES DO BETTER THAN THAT?" Arthur's voice came out of the mighty chasm of his throat, it reverberated down the gullies; it boomed across the hills. The air hung still after the echo of it had fluttered away in the foothills of the Braidwood Mountains. There is no voice such as Arthur's in the Southern Hemisphere, or the Northern Hemisphere for the matter of that. The deep notes of it clap up against the sandstone crags and din along the iron stone ridges. It sounds like the gongs of God banging through the mountains. Legend has it that Arthur once stood on a certain bridge and raised that celebrated voice. The startled citizens of Milton, seven miles away, came to their doorways in alarm.

We were bent on a canoe expedition down the Clyde River from the Pigeon House to Bateman's Bay. Nobody had done it before. There is little merit in our successful accomplishment of this feat. Nobody had ever tried. Two folding canoes comprised the fleet. The Explorer and I formed the complement of the larger 17-foot vessel. The Explorer, thus dubbed because he has wandered the Dark Continent and some others, has had much experience of sitting gingerly in dug-outs. The Bosun, an ancient salt in charge of the commissariat, followed in the ship Supply, loaded to the gunwales with comforts and necessities.

The Clyde River rises in the hills which shoulder the temperamental Shoalhaven River into gloomy gorges above its junction with the Kangaroo. By the time the Clyde has made its way to Yadboro Creek at the foot of the mighty Pigeon House Mountain it has attained the dignity of a slow-flowing river of long, deep pools linked by little rapids. The junction of the Clyde with Yadboro Creek was our proposed point of embarkation. Thus if happened that the Explorer, the Bosun, and I were toiling the tortuous 14 miles of path which climbed with giddy gyrations the tumbled gullies of the Clyde. The two canoes and all the gear were packed into Arthur's small sulky by some magic of the Bosun's. Arthur, who has a property in the district, was our guide, philosopher, and friend. Last but not least was Rambler, who worked between the shafts, twenty years of horse-sense shining from the brown depths of his philosophic eyes. For years Rambler had served in the hard school of a horse team, and he knew the ways of men and the wicked ways of this world. He had everything except the power of speech, and this was denied him by a wise Creator Who knows that silence is golden.

But if Rambler was silent his master had the gift of tongues. Arthur was a lord of language. Words, beautifully unprintable words, came rolling off his tongue in a rich, round symphony of sound. This ability to swear richly, roundly, and flowingly without jarring the ear or the sensibilities is an art, and more than an art. It is a gift. Later we were to hear him addressing his bullocks — for he draws logs from the forest in addition to his farming. His addresses had all the cadences, rhythm, and swing of Twentieth Century Blues.

The roads which lead to old Yadboro homestead, as I have told you, are rough and their wanderings are many. The one we followed was rather less than a bush track and kept along the river, crossing it three times. In the spanking old days when women were women and men were pioneers an eight-horse waggon would thunder and clump the tortuous 14 miles, carrying the products of the soil and returning with provisions. The other path to Yadboro leads past the foothills and down the spurs of the Pigeon House Mountain, finally to disappear over The Gap at an angle approximating 90 degrees and come out on the river-flats at the old homestead. Yet despite its rough nature Arthur and his males can ride the nine miles between Yadboro and his own home in two hours and do so in the pitch dark.

The bush was lonely and deserted as we toiled along in the noonday sun. We saw an occasional flock of gang-gangs flapping their way from tree-top to top, uttering every now and then their harsh cries of indignant alarm. Sometimes a little colony of green keets would dive between the forest trees with shrill screams. They flashed like emerald shrapnel bullets through patches of sunlight and shadow so swiftly that the eye could hardly follow them. 'Nothing could catch them amongst those trees,' I said to the Explorer. 'Oh, yes, something could,' replied the Explorer, drawing upon the deep resources of his bird-knowledge. 'The Little Falcon is even swifter. He is the quickest thing on wings in the hawk family, and is the only member of the family who will pursue 'his quarry into and amongst the branches of trees. You remember the beautiful bird, the Black Cheeked Falcon, we saw in the Beloka Gorge on the Snowy River? The Little falcon is very like him, only swifter; a little black demon of incredible speed and inn edible courage, a sudden streaking deatli-in-miniature flashing through the branches. I have heard of him decapitating a black duck with a single stroke of his wing.'

During the short rests we took to spell old Rambler, Arthur told us moving stories of the wild dogs and wild bulls which lurked 'in them thar hills.' Cattle had escaped from Yadboro to run wild in the mountains. The ancient monarchs of the herds seem to be the only ones to survive. Occasionally they were rounded up but those who proved untamable were shot. They are tough old customers, these bulls. A skull is preserved at Yadboro with a .303 bullet flattened against the forehead. They are not safe to approach on foot, Arthur assured us, being kittenish, playful old fellows and fond of playing hide-and-seek.

As we came down into the lovely valley at Yadboro the surrounding mountains were drawing dark curtains across the green velvet of the fields. We rounded a bend and the colossal mountain mass of The Castle rose before us like some fortress of Vulcan's. Two thousand feet it rises, and it rises sheer. The walls are unholy precipices, and no man has set his foot on the flat plateau which forms its top. Locally

(Continued on Page 17.)

it is known as Table Top, a trite and commonplace name. A castle it is in all its rugged grandeur and impressive beauty; a castle too vast to be the war machine of men, for it has been wrought by Time from the crooked backbone of the mountains, a stronghold from which and at which the gods might hurl thunderbolts and forked tongues of lightning and huge boulders and typhoons of wind — playing at war. When the sun goes down behind the Braidwood Mountains, swathes of mist sweep up over the Castle like silken scarves half hung on whispers of wind, and the song of the currawong dies away into the hills, notes from two-toned bells chanting through the gullies. Darkness comes, and all is quiet save for the Clyde licking its way between its banks and mumbling vague confidences to the she-oaks.

The Pigeon House, too, is a noble mountain whose conical top is buried often in mist and sometimes in snow. It is an austere peak, and its austerity is increased because Captain Cook himself played godfather at its christening. At 7 a.m. on April 21, 1770, an entry in his log reads: 'Saw a remarkable peak, called Pigeon House Hill.' In the official history of his voyages he describes it as 'a remarkable peaked hill which resembled a square dove-house with a dome at the top, and which, for that reason, I called the Pigeon House.'

For fifty-two years after the Endeavour beat up the coast against contrary winds Pigeon House remained alone and solitary, with its nose held contemptuously amongst the clouds.

Then Alexander Berry, Hamilton Hume, and Thomas Davison set forth in 1822, ascended the Clyde as far as possible, travelled across-country, and climbed Pigeon House. Alexander Berry was the founder of the well-known Berry Estate. Hamilton Hume, as we all know, quarrelled his way across to Port Phillip with Hovell. The exploration of the Pigeon House district was in competent hands.

Berry estimated that the top of Pigeon House was level with the inland tableland. It was a very shrewd guess. The height of Pigeon House is 2358 feet above sea-level, the Goulburn Plains range from 2100 to 2300 feet. Alexander Berry was only 58 feet out. The aborigines, if not the Greeks, had a name for it. Various surveyors made attempts to translate the name in terms of the alphabet. Florance in 1827 called it Dithol. Surveyor Hoddle first entered it as Tytdel and afterwards as Diddel.

One hundred and fourteen years after Alexander Berry had descended from the cone of the great mountain known as Diddel I climbed it in the company of a hardy New Zealander. The ascent was difficult enough for a plainsman, and in the process I lost the film pack from my camera. Then the rain came. During the descent I found myself swaying gracefully above a 300ft drop, with one foot in mid-air and no reassuring place to put it. Fortunately the New Zealander, a man of the mountains, supplied that urgent need. The climax came when on our return to Milton we were relating our experiences to various citizens. 'But surely you found the ladder?' they asked.

When the Rev. Thomas Kendall, grandfather of the poet, settled on his grant near Ulladulla in 1828, there were about 600 blacks in the district. They were divided into two tribes, the Pigeon House and the coastal blacks, the former extending inland as far as Braidwood. As you stand on the top of Pigeon House you can see a long spur leading upwards towards Braidwood. Along it the tribe would travel when seeking the plateau country in search of food. Down it came frightened blackfellows when the bushranging Clarks shot Billy Bulang and frightened the wits out of his tribesmen. Yet to-day the track — or rather the line, for the blacks had no tracks — is still known as the Darkies' Track.

(To be Continued.)

Mr. Cambage of Milton knew the town when it was a little village struggling to grow up. He remembers the coastal blacks and the tribe of the Pigeon House. He remembers, too, old Charlie Pickering, king of the Pigeon House blacks. The 'king' even condescended to work for him somewhat fitfully, and Mr. Cambage recalls the agility with which Charlie Pickering could climb a tree. He was so fond of climbing that when asked to cut some wood Charlie used to spring nimbly up a large dead tree and hack off the topmost branches. He always insisted upon this procedure despite the fact that there was dead wood in plenty lying on the ground. To-day Charlie Pickering's badge of office as king of the Pigeon House tribes glints metallically in a showcase in the Sydney Museum. It was found under a log in the far ranges of his kingdom.

Mr. Cambage's father came to Milton and took up the same site which the family occupies to-day. In addition to farming he was a blacksmith by trade. The portrait of his father hangs over the fireplace. It shows a firm, strong face with wide-set eyes and dogged jaw. It shows him as Goldsmith's "mighty man" incarnate, a worker in iron, a hewer of wood, a carver of new worlds out of old continents, a man who could labour prodigiously with his bullock team, who could ride all day with a handful of flour inside him and a half-broken horse beneath him, a man to toil amongst mountains and to struggle manfully amongst forests, a man cast in the same mould as a Cromwellian warrior and sprung from the same stock, one who knows no fear save that of God and no shame because his life is an open book telling a plain tale in a plain way. Such is the story the portrait tells; the story of a pioneer and a good one — a rugged oak in rich new soil.

If the early days were hard, the days of reaping were profitable. Mr. Cambage can remember an old German named Hession, whose farm of 20 acres lay across the creek. At one period each crop from that farm was worth £500. Big crops were not the only things he grew. He grew big sons. His three sons, Big Johnny, Big Tommy, and. Big Stevie, together weighed over 60 stone.

The blacks of the Pigeon House and the coast are no more. Their spirits flit with the bats along the ranges when the sun goes down, and their bodies rest in the graves white men have dug for them. No longer can Mr. Cambage step out on to his verandah to inquire the reason of the furious row going on in the blacks' camp down by the creek. There would be no one to reply, as in the old days, 'Yes. boss, that is Paddy beating his mother.'

My story Ls wandering, with as many twists and turns as the Clyde. It is time, indeed, that we gathered again at the river. A minor catastrophe occurred the night prior to our proposed departure. We dined healthily on smoked mutton. In the middle of the night the ghost of that sheep rose up and commenced to haunt the Explorer. Like a horrid spectre it appeared unto him and waved its legs. It caused him to double up in anguish and roll unhappily about, and to make sad little expeditions out into the darkness where the rain fell. The next day the rain continued, and the Explorer lay like a ghost between his blankets. After holding a short conference with Arthur and the Bosun it was decided that Arthur should take the Explorer and his memories of smoked mutton on to Tumblebar Creek, where we would pick him up.

Next morning the sun swiftly cleared away the mists from the heights of the Castle and the currawongs sang their songs more joyously, and the Bosun whistled a nautical ditty to the tune of 'John Brown's Body' as he packed the large canoe. 'Well, you may get down or you may not,' boomed Arthur from the bank, whilst the Explorer stood with one hand on a tree-stump and the other over the area where the smoked mutton had hit him.

Successfully afloat, I set a compass course, metaphorically speaking, for MacMahon's Crossing, nine miles away. From Yadboro the river flows south for some four miles, then swings abruptly east, the Crossing being about five miles from the town. The Clyde is not a vigorous, tumultuous stream such as one finds tumbling down from the tablelands. It flows very stealthily and steadily down through the valley it has quietly eaten away for itself amongst the foothills of the mountains. It does not pound down over waterfalls and cascades, like the Shoalhaven or the Snowy. Rather does it win its way by peaceful penetration. Occasionally, of course, when a cloud bursts over Pigeon House or the upper valley, the Clyde becomes quite a large, dignified river and swings down to the sea in a broad-bosomed, matronly manner.

On the stretch of river below Yadboro the Clyde is at its best. There are long pools, some of them half a mile in length, more like lagoons than pools, with quiet backwaters and little beaches and thin green grass growing in the shallow water. Occasionally, for no good reason at all, the river flows down through a tunnel of river gums, a tunnel so dense that when you look up the sky has quite disappeared and only an odd flitter of sunshine dances here and there on the water. Sometimes a log or so is to be found strewn across the river, and on these occasions the Bosun and I would disembark and heave the canoe over the obstruction.

We had not proceeded far downstream before the Bosun from his seat aft uttered a shrill cry and grabbed at the fishing line he was trolling. After some ecstatic fumbling a large perch was hauled aboard. Every now and again as we

paddled peacefully down a long pool the quiet of mid-summer's day was disturbed by these wild hunting noises of the Bosun's as he pulled in a fish. This stretch of river has rarely been fished and some magnificent perch lurk in the pools. They went for a spinner during the heat of the day like hungry tigers. What would they be like in the evening when faced with an elaborate and juicy white grub?

By lunch-time the Bosun and I had rounded the bend which swings the course of the river eastwards. The land here had once been cleared and the white fingers of dead trees pointed skywards, though the ugly stubble of bracken, the curse of all cleared land in- this district, has spread across the paddocks.

We camped that night beneath a giant she-oak at MacMahon's Crossing. The Bosun fried ten pounds of fish, which we ate and looked round for more. I was awakened next morning, somewhat rudely, by the voice of the Bosun chanting in accurately the words of Omar Khayyam:

'Awake! for Dawn has thrown a Stone into the Bowl of Night
And put the Stars to flight.'

The next day's run took us down to Tumblebar Creek. The river became more congested with tree-trunks, with the result that we were more out of the boat than in it. Being in the water so much had its compensations, for the temperature stood at 107 degrees and the wind felt as if the gates of Hades were wide open. The shallows and rapids were more frequent and the river wandered through wildernesses of undergrowth. Three miles down from MacMahon's the Boyne Creek crept in on the left bank sluggishly like a still lagoon. At 12.30 we arrived at Bimberamala Creek, having averaged a hectic mile and a half an hour since leaving MacMahon's Crossing.

The upper reaches of Bimberamala Creek have long been the site of gold-mining ventures. Recently the increase in gold values and the improvement of machinery have led to further activities.

Below the junction the pools became longer and obstructions fewer. The Bosun fished fervently from the stern, but we had long since left behind the untroubled haunts of large and hungry perch and only a few snags and a few two-ouncers were caugh'.

Early in the afternoon we found the Explorer waiting for us at Tumblebar Creek. He had spent the night in Billy's house by the riverbank, and had been living on some lightly boiled rice. He was still rather weak and emaciated and his knees kettle-drummed together when he walked. The following day was declared a day of rest and was spent quietly. But the night was filled with incident. Billy had returned from his property down the river and was occupying his room, partitioned off from the living-room in which the Explorer slept. Night spread over the world, and there was a silence broken only by a sonorous intake and outlet of breath. Suddenly ''Crash!' and silence was sundered. 'Crash!' again.

Frightful oaths in Swahili, Matabele, and Zulu from the Explorer. 'Boy! Boy! Bearer! Bearer! My rifle, quick! Lee-Enfield, quick! I can see his eyes in the dark. Big fellow!' A kerosene tin went over with a bang, a bottle smashed in the darkness, and then a noise like I hockey being played inside a galvanised iron tank. Silence again, and a brief Farewell to Arms. Then once more the same appalling noise.

In the morning the Bosun and I buried him with full military honours. We had found him lying on the floor of the hut, his broken body having received most frightful injuries. Agony and the fear of death shone in the glazed eyes of the biggest dead rat in Christendom!

We assembled the other folding canoe and started on our travels again next morning. The river widened into long reaches after leaving Tumblebar, and we thought, quite wrongly, that our difficulties of navigation were over. The Bosun paddled ahead in the ship Supply and the Explorer and I followed steadily behind. As we paddled slowly along water dragons gazed at us unconcernedly from rocks out of which they themselves seemed carved. Occasionally, stirred from their unconcern by the splash of a paddle, they would plunge into the water. Strange creatures, mild-mannered descendants of the dragon which St. George fought, they feed on bees, flies, and insects which settle on the water. Sometimes, though not often, they attain a length of four feet, and when on land they can travel at a great rate. Expert divers, they plunge from a height1 of 30 feet into the water. Such sudden disappearances are necessary, for the Explorer recalled an incident which occurred at a duck-hole in a river on the banks of which oak trees grew. Several water dragons were sunning themselves on the branches overhanging the water. All at once a sparrow-hawk swooped down and caught a young dragon in its talons, flew to an adjacent tree, and still holding it in its claws tore the unfortunate dragon to pieces. '

The coachwhip bird cracked at us out of the bushes as we crept past. The quick crack of the male, followed by the 'tew-tew' of the female. A shy fellow, the whip bird. He keeps himself to himself in the thicker recesses of the undergrowth; only occasionally can you catch a fleeting glimpse of him — a trim little black and white figure with smart crested head.

A few rocky little rapids separated the long reaches. The river was broadening, though the banks were high and rough, with miles of bush, straggly and barren, stretching away to the mountains in the west. The country along the banks of the Clyde is, in a sense, disappointing, because only occasionally do you find rich pastures, and there, when you do, more often than not the heroically cleared land is overgrown by the accursed bracken.

(Continued on Page 41.)

Frequently, along the river, land is to be found which has been cleared at great cost in the early days. But times have changed, markets have changed, difficulties of transport have increased, standards of living have improved, and the bracken and the undergrowth have crept over the paddocks cleared so laboriously and sown so assiduously with lovely green paspalum.

But, as I say, times have changed and men have changed. The pioneer in his red shirt, gabardine trousers, and cabbage-tree hat has gone with the plot of ground which was, in itself, a tiny, self-sufficient State. As I was returning one evening from an expedition to buy milk at a farm-house, I passed an old and broken down seat beneath an elderly pear tree. A little distance away the timbers of a ruined house mouldered away amongst the tussocks. A pathetic sight, that broken seat beneath the moss-clad, ancient tree. It told a hundred human stories of hard work and arduous toil, of high hopes and eager plans, of two young heads very close together in the evening when the sun went down, very close together because they were alone in the world and they loved each other, and this was their farm and they were going to make a success of it because it was all they had.

The ruined house and the crazy seat told only too plainly the sad ending to that story.

On the other hand, to be less soulful, the house might have belonged to two old bachelors who hated each other like the devil, never sat on the seat at all, and who burnt the house down in a drunken brawl.

Nevertheless, the old seat beneath the pear tree seemed symbolic of a lot of honest labour gone to waste.

We sailed confidently past Brooman Sawmill, and promptly ran into a ton of trouble. Forest giants had fallen from their high estate and lay dejectedly from bank to bank. In one place we struggled over and under no fewer than six trees which had fallen across the river in a heap. Tired and wet, but with morale undamaged, we beached the fleet in a paddock four miles below Brooman Mill, and the Bosun with his usual zeal pro vided a three-course dinner.

Next morning we crept slowly round a sharp bend in the river, lifting and heaving the canoes over obstructions. Then the river cleared and broadened, and the rest was donkey work. We passed the concrete bridge at Shallow Crossing and plugged on steadily until the salt water came seeping up into the fresh waters of the River Clyde. Here was the spot 'where the river ceases to be navigable,' as mentioned by Hume in the account of his expedition. It is doubtful whether he and his party could have managed to pull his boat over the rapids and logs which are to be found above this point. Nowadays a steamer passes up the river to pick up timber from a wharf just below Shallow Crossing.

We turned the fleet up into Currowan Creek and pitched the tents in a paddock, which we shared with a herd of hospitable goats — they were always looking in on us.

'What the dickens—— ?' asked the Explorer next morning as he looked over the edge of his sleeping-bag at a solemn bearded face framed in the doorway of the tent.

'Good lord!' I answered hurriedly. 'I thought it was your grandfather. Why don't you ask him inside?'

But the Explorer in his early-morning temper threw a boot.

The sun shone warmly and pleasantly as we breakfasted on the eggs which the Bosun had cooked to a turn. A kookaburra raised his head and laughed towards a blue sky, his mate laughed too, and all the little kookaburras joined in to form a loud chorus of unrestrained mirth.

"I suspect them of laughing at your grandfather, Explorer," I ventured.

"You leave my relatives alone, my boy. As a matter of fact, the kookaburra is in many ways a kindly bird. Did I ever tell you the story of the old lady who had three pet kookaburras?

"Their kind old mistress gave her charges her close personal attention. Liberating them each morning from their cage, she would feed them with sliced meat, which they deftly caught when- she tossed the pieces to them. The birds would then hop to her shoulders, making much ado, and laughing hilariously whenever she bade them do so. Then, after the usual morning chat, she would bear them off to the orchard trees and liberate them for the day. At the approach of night they sought the fence or betook themselves to a low bush to await their mistress, who then bore them back to their cage and covered them up for the night. In time one of the birds died, and the remaining two were treated with perhaps more care and devotion than ever. For eighteen years they were the pride and delight of their kind custodian, who at length fell ill, whereupon the two birds wandered about in most dejected mood, until at last they were taken into the bedroom where lay their beloved friend.

"Next morning one of the birds, entering at the back door, proceeded up the hall with a worm in its beak, and going straight to the invalid's room hopped on to the bed, thence to the pillow, and at once tried to feed the old lady with the worm. Realising the bird's kindly object, she took the worm and made pretence at eating it. The bird then fluttered to the dressing-table and passed out through the window. Punctually next morning another worm was brought, and so on, day after day. After ten days the other bird accompanied his mate, and likewise bore his daily worm-offering, until the kind old lady died. The first bird's term of succouring extended over six weeks; that of the other bird's for a little over a month. That the kookaburras were deeply affected by their old friend's helplessness was beyond question."

"That's a very charming story, Explorer, a very charming story."

"Yes, and it's a true one, too."

THE Clyde below Currowan is a wide river and tidal. A few orchards are scattered along its banks, and we paid one of them a visit as we wanted fresh water for tea-making. We were received with true bush hospitality by a fine old couple, who loaded us with the fruits of the soil. 'Would you post a letter for me at Nelligen?' asked Madam, who is seventy if a day. 'It will save me rowing across the river.' 'And do you row across the river?' asked the Bosun rather tactlessly. 'What!' she snorted. 'Row across the river? Of course I row across the river. And what is more I row four miles down to Nelligen, young man, and in good time, too. Row across the river! Pah!'

Nelligen hove in sight at the end of a long stretch of river. It is a pretty little town situated on the banks of the river. The road from Bateman's Bay to Nowra runs through its straggling main street. In the days of long ago Nelligen was a busier centre than it is to-day. Many little vessels plied up the river, waggons came lumbering and creaking down from the mountain carrying wool and fetching stores, bullock teams making their deliberate way toiled in with the stark trunks of forest giants cut down in their prime.

The glamour of gold stirred a spirit of excited expectancy in that long, straggly street.

The Bosun "threw a stone into the bowl of night" at an early hour next morning, before even the birds had shaken their sleepy heads. Catching the tide, we paddled down the widening river and covered the ten miles in a little over two hours. We swung round Chinaman's Point and the river swept out into a wide sheet of water. In the distance we saw the town of Bateman's Bay with its sentinel pines pointing skywards. We had travelled some 70 miles of river in five and a half days of easy paddling.

'Stand by to pipe the Captain ashore!' 'Aye, aye, sir!'

And a very pleasant voyage was at an end.


The Clyde River


I don't know if Stuart Magee is still around but if he is I shouldn't think he would mind my quoting from his excellent little booklet "The Clyde River and Batemans Bay" which, published in 2001, is now out of print. Here we go:

The Nepean/Hawkesbury is in big trouble, and the outlook for the Murray and the Darling is gloomy indeed. All of which brings me, gasping for fresh clean water like some poor old murray cod in a drought, to the wonders of the crystal-clear Clyde River.

Those of you who have peered down at the river from the bridges at Nelligen and Batemans Bay will likely concede that it is at least a nice river but some may jib at the suggestion that it is a wondrous thing. Well now, bear with me.

When English settlers first appeared on the river the people in possession around the area to become known as Nelligen, at least by some accounts, were the Dhurga people. Possibly they were much one and the same as the Bugelli-Manji people, in possession at Moruya, whose language is recorded as Djurga.

Lieutenant Robert Johnston, Australian-born son of the officer who led the Rum Rebellion, seems to have been the first white man to explore the river, sailing or rowing up it for 25 miles in 1821. He described it as a "fine, clear, capacious river" and those good people who have followed him have done little to change that. His boat, the Snapper, returned in 1822 under the command of William Edwardson with an interesting party of three. Firstly, there was the ubiquitous Hamilton Hume. Then that rumbustious adventurer Alexander Berry, at whose disposal the Snapper had been placed.

Berry, a Scot in his forties at the time, had set off after school to do medicine. After completing the preliminary course of study he broke his father's heart by opting to join the navy. The navy gave him a certificate as a surgeon's mate but he changed aim again to become a merchant buying and selling trade goods around the world.

In 1809 he was loading a ship with spars in New Zealand when word came that another English ship nearby, the Boyd, had been attacked by natives. At considerable risk he set off to assist but found that the crew and passengers of the ship, bar a woman, a 15-year old boy and two younger children, had all been most brutally massacred and eaten. Depending on which account you read, from 40 to 70 people had been killed.

The boy, Thomas Davison, who Berry took with him, was the final member of the party exploring the Clyde in 1822.

Leaving the Snapper in the Bay, at the island which now bears its name, and taking the Snapper's boat, they proceeded up the river an estimated 25 miles till they reached a "stony ford" which barred their further progress by water. Berry, in a paper he read to the Philosophical Society of Australia later that year, wrote "the river winds in a beautiful manner among the hills which slope gradually to the water's edge. These hills are moderately wooded. The spotted gum is prevalent. The soil is rather barren and is covered with low ferns, prickly shrubs and a kind of dwarf palm called burrawang by the natives. As we advanced up the river, the alternative projecting points, on either side, consist of rich alluvial soil but are of small extent." The burrawang, with its lovely rich red nut about the size and shape of a date but with five flat hard flanks, still grows profusely in the area. It interested Berry. He had it analysed by a chemist to find it was nutritious but toxic. On further inquiry he found the aboriginals knew this well but eliminated the toxin by maceration in running water. Berry, as we will discuss shortly, was not the only man attracted to the burrawang.

When the boat could go no further Berry, Hume and Davison set off on foot for a four-day tramp about. Not a venture to be undertaken lightly. There are only two prior landings in Batemans Bay recorded with any certainty - in 1808 and 1821 - and both of those ended in members of the landing party being speared to death. West of the river he found "the sides of the hills are too steep for the plough but the soil is admirably suited to the culture of the vine. We did not find a piece of good pasture, or what is called good forest land in the whole district."

Whether or not he was correct in suggesting the land was suitable for "the vine" has not yet been put to any significant test that I know of, and hopefully the revelation in these pages will yet escape the ears of Penfolds and Hardys. For the rest, his analysis of the country was spot on and the lack of pollution in the river today is due largely to the lack of agriculture. That, plus the fact that the limited industry has been essentially clean.

Branching sideways again, like one of those creeks that feed the river where you may find all sorts of interesting things before returning to the main stream, Alexander Berry's dalliance with the Clyde was brief. Within the year he was seduced to the Shoalhaven where he took up a grant of 10,000 acres near the mouth of the river at the foot of Mount Coolangatta. Through subsequent purchases he expanded the property to 40,000 acres and built a magnificent home. The rump of the property and many of the buildings erected by him are there yet for you to see, and you may purchase good wine made from grapes grown on the property. It seems our man had a good eye for the grape.

However, it was not all wine and roses at Coolangatta as he called the property. Approaching the difficult mouth of the Shoalhaven in a ship on a rough day in May 1822, Berry lowered a boat and sent a party to check the way forward. The boat overturned in the surf and two men were lost. One of them was his friend, Thomas Davison, still in his twenties and never to be seen again.

It was Lieutenant Johnston on his first visit in 1821 who named the river Clyde - for reasons not stated in his report to Governor Macquarie by wholly in step with practices of the time of aligning colonial geographic features with British parallels. Seven years later a surveyor in the area had the good sense to ask the local aboriginals what they called the river. "Bhundoo" they cried. It's a shame the name wasn't reinstated, and unfortunate the surveyor didn't continue to ask about for the names of the places. He it was who named the two islands at the mouth of the river The Tollgate and the Tollhouse. Would you believe!

Not far out to sea from the Tollgates as the islands are called today, where the water is still muddy when the river is in flood, if you look north you can spy that odd-shaped mountain to Captain Cook called Pigeon House. A bit beyond Pigeon House mountain, about 120 kilometres upstream from where you are bobbing about in the ocean, is where the headwaters of the river rise.

Pondering on that one day in the year 2000, when the fish off Tollgates were offering little distraction, it seemed a good idea to retrace Alexander Berry's journey up the river. He might have missed something.

So it was, some months later, that yours truly accompanied by one Garth Hay - staunch sailorman of Broulee, well suited to follow in the wake of Alexander Berry - found themselves up the creek so to say. There, at a spot 40 kilometres or 25 miles up the Clyde from Snapper Island we felt ourselves bumping on a stony bottom at a place where a promontory of stones comes across two-thirds of the river. We were at the "stony ford" which barred the progress of Berry's boat.

At that spot, if things have changed since Berry's day it was not apparent to us from the river. Not a roof, a fence, a road or a path, nor sheep nor cow. Nothing but native scrub and trees, the lovely river, and peace - peace you could carry in a bucket. There was, of course, nothing remarkable in taking a boat to where we were. It is easily and commonly done. Nevertheless there was a certain sense of occasion.

Others have done more interesting things on the river. In 1936, John Fairfax and two friends set out from Pigeon House to paddle two canoes to Batemans Bay - see here. That, in the first two days of the five that it took them, required a fair bit of portage from waterhole to waterhole when they ran out of river. In his book, Run O' Waters, so beautifully illustrated by Cedric Emanuel, Fairfax has this to say of the river:

"The Clyde is not a vigorous tumultuous stream such as one finds tumbling down from the tablelands. It flows very stealthily and steadily down through the valley it has quietly eaten away for itself amongst the foothills of the mountains. It does not pound over waterfalls and cascades like the Shoalhaven or the Snowy. Rather does it win its way by peaceful penetration. Occasionally, of course, when a cloud bursts over Pigeon House or the upper valley, the Clyde becomes a large dignified river and swings down to the sea in a broad-bosomed matronly manner."


Sunday, September 8, 2019

One Man's Kingdom
The Life of 'King' Carson of Nuguria

Nuguria is at the top of the map


He came back to his island home with his mother and sister at the end of World War Two. They were returning from wartime exile in Australia to Nuguria Atoll and the devastated wreck of a coconut plantation. His father, Lewis Carson, was one of the Australian prisoners-of-war lost at sea when the Japanese ship Montevideo Maru was torpedoed by an American submarine while transporting them from Rabaul to Hainan for use as forced labourers.

Graeme Carson

Nuguria is one of the Polynesian outliers which ring Papua New Guinea. Its people are handsome, golden-skinned islanders; their original Polynesian heriditary characteristics have been modified by Micronesian and Melanesian genes contributed by arrivals from visiting canoes from Kapingamirangi Atoll to the north, from New Ireland to the west, and perhaps by visits from the ships of passing seafarers ranging from Admiral Zheng He's fleet on its voyage of exploration in 1421, to later ships carrying European explorers as they charted the legendary Pacific Ocean.

The short-lived 19th century German presence in the South Pacific made Nuguria plantation an attractive prize after Germany's defeat in the First World War. The victorious Australians seized it with alacrity, unceremoniously ejected the former owners with little or no compensation, and sold it, along with hundreds of other similar assets, to their own returned veterans. One of these was Lewis Carson, father of Graeme.

Nuguria was Graeme Carson's fiefdom. He ran the atoll as a benign but absolute ruler, and totally dominated its inhabitants, as did his similarly placed counterpart, John Clunies-Ross, on Cocos in the Indian Ocean. Force of character and an absolute belief in their right to rule was a characteristic of both men, and this was accepted by the islanders until influences from outside sewed the seeds of discontent. The Winds of Change have now made anything remotely resembling this state of affairs unthinkable and much ink has been spilt reviling the discriminatory attitude and the paternal mindset of those early times, but whether the absence of aid, assistance or basic governance for Nuguria which now prevails is in an improvement is a legitimate question.

Like many of his contemporaries, Graeme Carson accepted responsibility for the health and welfare of every individual on his property, in his case, all 58 islands on the twin atolls which made up Nuguria. He was administrator, doctor, nurse, mechanical engineer, book-keeper, unofficial arbitrator in disputes over land, unofficial matchmaker between partners from different families, and occasional pugilist when disputes demanded strong action. His small ship was used to transport patients to Rabaul for hospital treatment free of charge and he arranged and paid for places in the prestigious King's School in Sydney for several young Nugurians. In short; his word was law, and government regulations and decrees from distant Rabaul ran a bad second to on-the-spot decisions by the freehold owner of Nuguria.

Boat Harbour, Tekani Island

Carson's family lived on Tekani Island about 3 miles from the airstrip in a house built by his father, and the Nugurians occupied the adjoining island of Busureia. As well as providing money in return for labour or locally harvested copra and trocas shell, Carson was the only source of medical treatment on the atoll and the only authority to turn to in disputes. The nearest government official was many days’ sail away.

Communication was by tenuous HF radio link to Rabaul on New Britain using the radio in the plantation office surrounded more often than not by a group of attentive bystanders. The artificial boat harbour lay immediately in front of his house, its retaining walls formed by stacked mushroom coral heads overlaid by clean white sand. This tiny harbor sheltered schools of small bait fish in addition to the dugout canoes used for transport in the lagoon. In the early 1960s, he used his own labour and materials to carve an airstrip out of the narrow island at the southeast end of the atoll: 2,500 feet long, with a thin grass cover over coral rubble, it allowed fast and easy access to outside medical aid together with much faster mail delivery. It also produced a stream of official visitors from government departments in Rabaul whose insistence on correctly completed paperwork was not always welcomed by the busy owner of the atoll!

Canoe, Nuguria Lagoon

Graeme Carson married his first wife, an Australian girl, who gave him a son, Timothy. His mother, who lived on Nuguria as an undisputed matriarch, clashed repeatedly with her, and the marriage ended in divorce. Carson remarried, this time to Tetau, daughter of an heriditary Nugurian clan leader. She bore him another six children. The redoubtable Eileen Carson co-existed in wary but resigned amity with Tetau, until the matriarch's death by drowning after a fall from the seawall during a violent northwest gale.

Political Independence for Papua New Guinea in 1975 marked the start of a revolt by young islanders against what they now regarded as the exploitation of their homeland. The easy relationship between Carson and the islanders began to deteriorate into open hostility, often fuelled by outsiders who now began to arrive on Nuguria as the invitees of islanders returning from school in New Britain and Bougainville.

He was granted citizenship of the newly independent nation of Papua New Guinea, renouncing his Australian citizenship in the process. While it was never officially spelled out, Australian passport holders who tried to continue in business in Papua New Guinea soon discovered that it was difficult to do so in the face of official harrasment by newly promoted government officials determined to exert their newfound authority. One of the unforseen consequences of this change in nationality left his family divided into those born before he became a Papua New Guinean citizen and those born later. The former were able to get Australian passports and move freely between New Guinea and Australia: the latter, as citizens of PNG, were only able to visit Australia for brief periods on tourist visas.

After 1975, the plantation industry throughout New Guinea went into a rapid decline. Labour became hard to get, and even harder to control. No plantation was immune and production of copra and trocas shell rapidly fell nationwide. A rise in nationalist sentiment as the new and inadequately prepared nation tried to continue the sophisticated administrative practices of its former colonial masters adversly affected Nuguria plantation and many other agricultural and commercial enterprises.

Life on isolated Nuguria Atoll was slow to change and the coconut groves which covered most of the 58 islands in the group still produced copra, while the reef continued to yield commercial quantities of trocas shell. Carson still owned and controlled the atoll, but his sway no longer held to the extent that he could decide who could and could not live there. Outsiders including missionaries from some fundamentalist Christian sects arrived. They succeeded in proselytising some of the more impressionable islanders, persuading them to discard traditional ancestor worship and replace it with their own aggressive brand of Christianity. Schisms developed, sometimes dividing families. One breakaway group moved to the southern end of the atoll and built a village restricted to the newly converted.

A few short years after Independence, most of the expatriate population of New Guinea was either selling up and moving out, or adapting to the new regime. Carson, now a citizen of Papua New Guinea, stayed on and adapted as best he could, but labour was unreliable; production of copra and trocas shell continued a downward spiral and his bank started to deliver threats of foreclosure.

Family group, Nuguria

Nuguria is no longer a working plantation. 'King' Carson is dead and the islanders are now left largely to their own devices with only sporadic official visits from the Papua New Guinea government. The airstrip, hacked out of the jungle by teams of villagers and plantation labourers is overgrown and no longer useable. A cargo ship which brought regular supplies and medical assistance to the atolls is broken down and unseaworthy and Nuguria can now only be reached by a hazardous dash across the miles of open water which separate it from New Ireland in small workboats or outboard-powered sampans which occasionally risk the crossing, or by PNG Defence Force patrol boats.

The atoll is notionally administered as part of the Bougainville Province, but Bougainville, wracked by internal divisions carried over from the civil war which led to the destruction of the huge open-pit mine at Panguna, cannot govern itself, let alone concern itself with distant Nuguria, which it has effectively abandoned.

In early 2002 Carson was voyaging from Nuguria to Nissan Island en route to Buka at the Northern end of Bougainville in the plantation workboat, when he collapsed with what was later diagnosed as a severe cranial occlusion. His crew continued on to Buka where the former hospital, now reduced to an aid post with limited medical equipment, still existed. After a long delay, he was evacuated by air as an emergency patient to the Catholic Mission Hospital at Vunapope on New Britain, where he was treated for the stroke which had left him partially blind and unable to speak distinctly. Months went by and his condition did not improve. He and his wife Tetau flew to Australia, the nearest source of skilled remedial therapy for a stroke victim, but the delay in obtaining specialist treatment had by then resulted in permanent damage.

Although still active, he spoke with difficulty, he could not write or type, and his vision was poor. As a Papua New Guinean citizen, he was granted a three-month visa by an unsympathetic Australian High Commission in Port Moresby, which endorsed the passport visa of this former Australian citizen and member of The Royal Australian Naval Reserve "Not to be renewed or extended." Medical treatment in Australia was cut short when his visa expired, and he returned to New Guinea and to Nuguria where he died in May 2004.

He is buried alongside his mother on Tekani Island near the deserted and abandoned house where he lived and worked for most of his adult life. The trade wind still stirs the palm fronds above the graves and frigate birds circle high overhead, as they did when he and his sister lived there as children on this lonely Pacific atoll on the edge of the world.


Source: the late Brian F. Darcey's blog