Monday, June 25, 2007

Gwydir River - Rocky River

Photo: Rocky River School. This school, the first National School in northen New South Wales, was held in a slab hut intil 1870, when a brick classroom and attached residence (still standing) was built by Alexander Mitchell (builder of McCrossin's Mill, Uralla).

Following the introduction of compulsory education a new wooden schoolroom was built in 1885, and this, with two additions, forms the present school building. A second teacher was appointed in 1903, with enrolments peaking at 155 in 1916. Since then Rocky River has been a two-teacher school, apart from a brief period in the 1960s when a third teacher was appointed.

Downstream, Kentucky Creek becomes Rocky River. The little township is about 4 km from Uralla (2o km from Armidale) on the Bundarra Road.

Today little remains, but this was gold rush territory.

Gold was discovered at Rocky River in 1851. In September 1856 the population reached 4,500. In that year, 1856, Rocky River produced 40,000 ounces of gold, worth around $32 million at today's gold prices. This provided sometimes rich pickings for miners, storekeepers and the bushranger Captain Thunderbolt.

In my first post in the Gwydir series I mentioned that Thunderbolt had been killed at Kentucky Creek. Northeast from this spot on the New England Highway can be found Thunderbolt's Rock where Thunderbolt is reported to have watched for the gold coaches

Production declined thereafter, so that by 1866 the population had declined to 700, the majority Chinese. At this field, as with many others in New England, the Chinese were a major presence. The photo shows the interior of the Chinese Joss House, now vanished, at Rocky River in 1908.

For those who would like to visit Rocky River, please visit nearby Uralla first for an introduction to the history of the area.

Introductory post. Last post. Next post.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Gwydir River - Kentucky Creek

Photo: Kentucky Creek at the point where the bushranger Captain Thunderbolt (Fred Ward) is reported to have been shot and killed by Constable Walker. And here.

As I write I am eating a piece of toast with some rather nice Gwydir River honey, gazing at a map of the Gwydir catchment area.

As I said in my introductory post on the Gwydir, it is one of New England's major west flowing rivers.

The Gwydir River catchment, covering 25,900 sq kms (10,000 square miles), is one of the major northern tributaries of the Barwon-Darling River. The river flows north-west from Uralla and Guyra in the east to Collarenebri in the west. Major tributaries drain from the New England Plateau in the east, the Mastermans Range in the north and the Nandewars in the south.

Most major tributaries join the main river above Moree. Downstream of Moree the river has the characteristics of an inland delta with important wetlands. In floods, water can flow to and from the adjoining river valleys. Another important feature is the Gwydir Raft, an immense accumulation of timber, debris and sediment which has been deposited in the former channel, forming a 30 km long blockage. It is assumed this formed during early European settlement due to tree clearance and subsequent erosion.

Rainfall decreases across the catchment from an annual average of over 1,100 mm (43.3 inches) in the east to 500 mm (19.7) in the west. Rainfall patterns are significantly affected by the mountain ranges surrounding the catchment. Summer rainfall dominates the rainfall pattern, and much of this rain can occur in heavy storms of short duration.

Kentucky Creek lies in the far south-east corner of the Gwydir catchment south of Uralla (and here). This is traditional central New England Tablelands' country, with the creek flowing north-west through open grazing country including Kentucky Station, one of New England's original squatting properties.

Most people drive past Kentucky Creek along the New England Highway without even noticing it other, perhaps, than a brief glance at the attractive valley as they top the hill on either side.

I think that it's always been the case that the major north-south highways linking Brisbane and Sydney create a north-south orientation. That's a pity, because the east-west transverse contains some of the most interesting history and country.

In the case of Kentucky Creek, this is Thunderbolt Country. Now the bushranger Fred Ward, aka Captain Thunderbolt, roamed widely across New England from the Hunter in the south into the Queensland portion of the New England Tablelands, so many places can and do claim a connection. But he was shot and killed in Kentucky Creek, just north you can find Thunderbolt's Rock where he used to watch for the gold coaches, while Uralla cemetery is his final resting place.

As children, this was an area that we knew well because Aunt Kay and Uncle Ron had a property at Kentucky, the mixed orchard and grazing area to the east of the highway.

Driving down to Glenroy from Armidale we often played on the rock - it seemed very big to us kids - then south past the Kentucky Station drive, down the hill before swinging left onto the Kentucky road. Here the country changed as we went over the divide to the east, entering small farming country, then through the little village and on to the property. Memories.

Introductory post. Next post.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Gwydir River - Introduction

Map: Gwydir River catchment.

I am not sure that the above map is goming to come out in any readable form. But you should be able to see the full map in bigger form by clicking on it. I won't know, however, until I load the post - it did, I see.

My last introductory post on Bingara reminded me that I had said very little about New England's western rivers, those rivers flowing west from the New England Tablelands. While these rivers carry less water than the better known coastal rivers, they are still major streams in their own right and form a significant part of the Darling River system.

The Gwydir River is one such, rising in the Tablelands to the south of Uralla. Over coming posts I will tell a little of the Gwydir River story.


Gwydir River - Kentucky Creek

Gwydir River - Rocky River

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Bingara launches new web site

Photo: Monument to the Myall Creek Massacre

My thanks to Nicole Payne from John Campbell Communication & Marketing for drawing my attention to the new Bingara web site developed by Bingara and District VISION 20/20, a community focus and action group.

It's a good site and reminded me that I have yet to do a story on Bingara. I will do so.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Why I remain a New England New Stater 1 - Introduction

I was asked the other day why I still pursued the dream for New England Statehood. I know that time has moved against me. But I still think that this is the only way to control our future in a meaningful sense.
Let me take a simple, practical, if disguised example.

Note to reader: Upon reflection, I have removed the example because I felt uncomfortable that it might be recognised even though disguised. I will use some other examples in later posts to make the point.

Still later: I have decided to use this post as an introductory post for a series of short posts using a range of examples to explain why I think that New England's future really depends upon the renewal of agitation for self government, the reactivation of the New England New State Movement.

At one level it does not matter whether we get self-government or not, although that remains my personal aspiration. In simple political terms, the very existence of new state agitation forces Governments to recognise and respond to New England needs in a way that does not presently happen.

The examples that I will use are all drawn from my own experience. They show the often unseen ways in which existing structures work against New England interests. Longer term reforms cannot be achieved without changing those structures. In the short term, political pressure can force responses from existing structures.

Some of the examples will seem small, even trivial. But it is the overall pattern that I want to draw out, because the cumulative effects are not trivial in the slightest.

Posts in the series:

Big Sky Tourism's Aboriginal Heritage Tour

I was pleased to see that the Big Sky Tourism people have put together material outlining some of the Aboriginal attractions across the Northern Tablelands and Western Slopes.

I have long argued that we need more thematic tourism material to make New England's attractions more accessible to visitors. I think that this is especially important in making our indigenous heritage available to both locals and a wider audience.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

The North Coast's Robinson Family - a note

I have referred to the Robinson family a number of times because of their pioneering role in the development of transport within New England.

A web search led me to notes prepared by Andrew Lancaster on the early history of the family, recorded here so that I do not lose later track of them.

Friday, June 15, 2007

View of Lismore 1891

This photo of Lismore in 1891 is from the A J Campbell collection held by the National Library in Canberra. The raw, cleared, nature of the ground is typical of New England towns during the period.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Bellingen - what was the flood of 1870?

Photo: the Bellinger River at peace.

Looking at searches that had led people to this blog, my curiosity was caught by one search "1870 flood in bellingen".

Flood are not uncommon in Bellingen since the town is bisected by the Bellinger River. This rises in the escarpment to the west of the town around Dorrigo, one of the wettest places in Australia.

I remember one time when staying at Sawtell on the coast north-east of Bellingen, a cyclone dumped 24 inches in 21 hours on Dorrigo, creating a vast flood that stretched across the lower Bellinger Valley blocking all north-south and east-west access for a number of days.

So given that floods are not uncommon, what was it about the flood of 1870 that made it significant? This took me on a web tour trying to find out.

My starting point was the 2001 Bellingen CBD master plan. This reminded me that Bellingen was originally known as Boat Harbour as the head of navigation on the Bellinger River. By the 1930s, the river was no longer navigable as far as Bellingen. However, a reminder of the town's shipping past is provided by the three masted topsail schooner, The Alma Doepel. Launched in 1903, this is now a popular tourist attraction at Port Macquarie.

The plan appears to contain one reference to 1870, a simple statement that by 1870 all the cedar trees that had lined the river has been cut out.

My next port of call struck pay dirt. This was the SES Bellingen flood safe guide. From this we learn that November 1870 was indeed the largest flood since records began, topping out at 11.55 metres.

This would indeed have been a huge flood. In the main town, the river is constrained within a relatively narrow channel with 10 metre high banks. So the 1870 flood would have topped those banks by over a metre and a half.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

New England's Wild Weather

Photo: Sydney Morning Herald. The bulk carrier Pasha Bulker forced aground on Newcastle's Nobby Beach. Story.

On the morning of Friday 8 June, Tamworth's Northern Daily Leader reported on a discussion that if no water flowed into Chaffey Dam, Tamworth's businesses would be forced to close in nine month's time. The Chaffey Dam, Tamworth's main water supply, lies on the Peel River whose headwaters are a short distance away in the south-western edge of the New England Tablelands around Nundle (and here).

Later that day, a low pressure cell off Newcastle unleashed cyclonic conditions and torrential rain on Southern New England.

Conditions since can best be described as chaotic.

Heavy rain led to flooding. High winds created chaos during which the Pasha Bulker was driven ashore on Nobbys Beach. Two other bulk carriers just escaped. In all, an interesting experience after drought.

Whether this storm will be sufficient to solve Tamworth's water supply problems is unclear. Rainfall data is not yet available and in any event follow up rain will be required. Still, signs are now encouraging that the drought that has gripped the western side of New England is coming to an end.

Postscript 16 June

I did not write a full post on the impact of the wild weather on the Lower Hunter itself because it was so fully covered elsewhere. I was surprised, however, at the scale of the damage.

Major Hunter floods are not uncommon. Yes, this was the biggest downpour for thirty or so years, but even so. I was left wondering about changes in the human especially built landscape over the last thirty years, including things such as changes in the electricity distribution system.

Was it just a case of localisation, very bad weather in a narrowly defined location, or did changes in settlement patterns contribute to the scale of damage?

Returning to Tamworth, I see from the Northern Daily Leader that the weekend rain nudged Chaffey Dam's storage up from 13.9 per cent to 14.9 per cent.

Chaffey Dam's storage level had reached an all-time low of 13.9 per cent last week – prior to 2007, the lowest previous level was 19 per cent in 1995.

The dam's volume has not reached 100 per cent since 2002. When it does reach full capacity, water covers an area of 542 hectares and can reach a depth of about 30 metres. It now sits at about six metres at its deepest point.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

A Short Break

Looking at my ever growing list of priorities, I have decided I need to take a few day's break from posting on this blog to allow me to catch up.

I will be back and soon, but in the meantime please talk among yourselves!

TAS (The Armidale School) Band - 1901

Another photo from The Armidale School photo archive. This one shows the school band from 1901.

The school was then seven years old.

Australia was just becoming a nation. The Great War, a war in which many former students would lose their lives, was thirteen years away. A great drought affecting many of the boy's families was still in full swing.

Today Armidale is known for its trees. Then the imposing main school building stood bare and still raw in open, tree-less ground on the outskirts of the small city.

Friday, June 01, 2007

New England's Maritime History - a note

Photo: Lismore, anchored Lismore, 1884

Over twelve months ago, on 27 May 2006, I discussed the impact of the Great Dividing Range on New England's transport patterns. A little later, I looked at transport costs and the way this affected life in early colonial New England.

This was followed by two posts on paddle steamers and inland water transport (first, second).

At the time, my intention was to go on to look at the history of shipping in New England. I then got sidetracked. So this post is simply a note to myself to do something about this.

In this context, there is an interesting site, Maritime Heritage Online, providing a range of interesting material on shipping in NSW.