Saturday, June 27, 2015

Branching out - Coolebarghurk Creek, looking back

Having seen a little of what the Coolebarghurk Creek looks like now, I thought I'd do a little digging and see how it was in the past.
For 40,000 years before European arrival, the Coolebarghurk and surrounding lands were home to the tribes of the Wathaurong people who would hunt, fish and gather plants from along the creek. The remains of stone tools as well as cooking mounds were found in the Police Paddock, reflecting this early occupation of the land. The name Coolebarghurk is believed to be a version of the Wathaurong name Kooly bar ghurk meaning "man's track by the creek".
White settlement came to the upper part of Coolebarghurk Creek in the form of the Scottish-born squatter John Norman McLeod.  In 1837 he sailed from Van Diemen's Land to the Port Phillip District where he landed at Indented Head with stock which he used to establish the run which it is said, he named Borhoneyghurk after Barnighurk the local Wathaurong tribe.
McLeod claimed the squatting rights to some 24,790 acres of land stretching from Moranghurk Station a few kilometres south of Meredith to Bungal Station north of Mt Doran. To the east, the run was bordered by the Moorabool River and to the west it followed Native Hut Creek and shared boundaries with the run of that name as well as the Woodbourne No. 2, Cargerie, Narmbool and Lal Lal runs.
Local sources indicate that the homestead built by McLeod on his run was situated on high ground about 5km north of what would become the township of Meredith and about half that distance to the south west of Morrisons. The house is now in disrepair but can still be seen from a distance.
Ruins of the original Borhoneyghurk homestead, image taken by Margaret Cooper
Borhoneyghurk homestead,  image taken by Margaret Cooper
McLeod remained at Borhoneyghurk, running sheep on the property until about 1849 when he sold his rights and left the district, along with his wife and three eldest children - all of whom were born at Borhoneyghurk.
Rock piles, remains of Borhoneyghurk homestead, image taken by Margaret Cooper
Timber remains of Borhoneyghurk homestead, image taken by Margaret Cooper
With the departure of John Norman McLeod, the Borhoneyghurk run was divided in two - the majority taking the name Borhoneyghurk East and a smaller section renamed as Borhoneyghurk West of about 5,000 acres which passed into the hands of George Frederick Henry Read Jnr. Looking at the relevant survey map, the homestead would appear to have remained with the land acquired by Read. He in turn only held it until 1853 when he sold it to his brother-in-law Capt. Alexander John Smith.
Image believed to be that of George Frederick Henry Read Jnr,
owner of the Borhoneyghurk West run c1851. Image held by the
Allport Library and Museum of Fine Arts
Prior to McLeod's departure from Borhoneyghurk, he appears to have administered the run along with Mr G.B. Ball and Mr Sinclair, but by 1852, the larger Boroheyghurk East - including much of Coolebarghurk Creek - was taken up by the Reverend Thomas Nattle Grigg who held it for several years until 1856 when the lease was taken up by the Morrison family.
At some point, a second homestead, this one a stone structure, was built on the Borhoneyghurk East run, along the banks of the Moorabool River to the south east of Morrisons township. It is believed that the Morrison family lived here. During the 20th century, the building was demolished and another built by the Miller family who then owned the land.
Borhoneyghurk East stone house on the banks of the Moorabool River near
Morrisons township. Photo supplied by Margaret Cooper
With the discovery of gold in 1851, everything changed. At this time, the township of Meredith was surveyed on the banks of Coolebarghurk Creek near where the old bullock track from Geelong crossed the creek. Buildings sprang up, hotels were opened. The first of these - Watson's Hotel - was situated on the banks of the creek a little to the north of Dickman's Bridge. At this time land was also gazetted for churches and a school and a tract of about 50 acres was reserved along the banks of the creek for the police force who utilised the land as a base for the mounted troops which escorted gold from the nearby Steiglitz goldfield. The town also became a busy staging point for traffic moving not only between Steiglitz and Geelong but also the goldfields of Ballarat, Buninyong and other nearby diggings.
Nor perhaps were settlers and the authorities the only ones to establish a base of operations along the creek. Local legend has it that one of Victoria's most infamous bushrangers, Francis McCallum (aka Captain Melville), established a hideout along the banks of the creek. Whilst I can find no mention of Melville being in the area during the time of his "reign" in the early 1850s, it is easy enough to imagine that a hideout along the creek would have provided a handy base from which to prey upon the diggers with their gold returning to Geelong along the track from Ballarat.
Since Melville's death in 1857, rumours have abounded about a secret stash hidden by the bushranger in the Dundas Ranges, however local legend suggests another location for the loot. During a recent visit to investigate an historic bluestone house which sits on the east bank of the creek at Meredith, we were told of a previous occupant of the property (John Davies) who spent time in gaol with the Captain.
This bluestone house on the east bank of Coolebarghurk Creek dates to the
early years of the 20th century. During the era of Captain Melville, the
land served as the local pound
Whilst serving out their respective sentences, Melville informed Davies that the stash was in fact hidden near the site of the Meredith Creamery not far from the creek. The legend states that Melville claimed to have hidden his riches beneath a tree, which unlike all the others around it, leaned into the prevailing wind.
Most however, came by their riches more honestly and some even tried their hand along Coolebarghurk Creek. The Lord Kitchener Gold Mine, located on the upper reaches of Coolebarghurk Creek and now part a private property, was another of the sites we visited during our travels. The mine was however, a relative latecomer to the scene dating as far as I can tell, to the early 20th century.
The remains of the mullock heap at Lord Kitchener Mine
Reports in the gazettes and newspapers of the day seem a little sketchy, but the Launceston Daily Telegraph of 1st April, 1910 reported that good rock was being extracted from the mine and that the "formation [was] about 6ft wide, and [carried] gold all through it", however I can find no record of the company existing prior to this. In addition and despite having been around for some time, Government Gazettes show that it was first registered as a no liability company in March, 1912 with 24,000 shares valued at 2 shillings each. The capital of the company, including equipment was valued at £300. The company manager was John Ure McLeish.
During our visit we saw the remains of a mullock heap which is still visible and we were shown the depression where the mine shaft once descended.
The poppet head, Lord Kitchener Mine, image supplied
by Margaret Cooper
Also still visible are the concrete footings of the pumps required to keep the mine from flooding - another indication of the amount of water flowing into what appears an almost dry creek bed - fact (we were informed) which led to the eventual abandonment of the site for mining purposes. Anecdotally, the story is that the mine had two periods of operation, the first and most successful, tunneled  towards the creek whereas a later operation which tunneled from the opposite direction was abandoned due to persistent flooding.
Concrete footings said to have supported the pumps which kept the mine from flooding
This end of the Lord Kitchener Mine and possibly the end for mining on the Coolebarghurk altogether, came in December, 1913 when a deed appeared in the Victorian Government Gazette dissolving the syndicate known as the Lord Kitchener Extended Mining &c. and entitling Fitz Alan Boyd acting as liquidator, to all the books and property held by the company.
This shed, once part of the Lord Kitchener mining operation now stands on the
corner of  McLeod and Russell Streets in Meredith, image supplied by
Margaret Cooper
Whilst the big finds of the gold rush eventually petered out, the township of Meredith did not. Many of those who had tried their hand at mining, were now looking to settle on their own piece of land and by the 1870s, closer settlement acts were being passed by the government to encourage this. Instead of two properties, the Coolebarghurk Creek now flowed through many smaller farms, providing water for stock and crops as well as any remaining native flora and fauna along its banks.
Another boost to the district came with the arrival of the railway in 1862 and the re-alignment of the road from Geelong to that of the present Midland Highway route. This saw the focus of the town shift away from the banks of the creek to the west, but commerce continued and the township survived. So too did the little path by the Coolebarghurk Creek. From Wathaurong trail, to the rutted bullock track of the 19th century, to today's Ken Middleton Walk; thousands of years on, man's track by the creek remains.
The Ken Middleton Walk beside Coolebarghurk Creek. During the 1840s and 50s
bullockies and their wagons followed this track along the creek from
Geelong to Ballarat