26 March, 2011

Bell-Bird Balyang

Captain Foster Fyans
Fyans Park, Fyans Street, West Fyans Street, Little Fyans Street and of course Fyansford. The name is integral to Geelong and so in the town's earliest years, was the man himself - Captain Foster Fyans. So, who was he and what was his connection to the Barwon River?
The Australian Dictionary of Biography gives a more detailed and relatively flattering description of Fyans' life
http://adbonline.anu.edu.au/biogs/A010389b.htm for those who are interested, but in short, Captain Fyans was born in Dublin in 1790 to an Irish Protestant (the Church of Ireland) family. In 1811 he joined the army at Portsmouth, England and served in Cadiz and India before purchasing his captaincy in 1827. By 1833 he was serving at the Norfolk Island penal colony as captain of the guard. So successful was he, that he was transferred to Moreton Bay where he took on the role of commandant from 1835-1837. Here he gained a reputation for fairness, whilst at the same time maintaining respect and discipline amongst the convict population. However, some reports indicate a quick temper and his actions in putting down an attempted mutiny during his time on Norfolk Island were strict and certainly by today's standards - harsh. It was during this period that he acquired the sobriquet "Flogger Fyans".
Current Breakwater Bridge
In September 1837 when his regiment was ordered to return to India, Fyans sold his commission in the army and instead, sailed to the Port Phillip district where he was installed as the police magistrate at Geelong. Once here, he established a base on the Moorabool River at Fyansford and with a small group of officials including twelve convicts, set about establishing the township of Geelong.
One of his most important acts in ensuring the viability of the emerging settlement was to secure its water supply, which he did by directing the building of the breakwater across the Barwon River at what is now the suburb of Geelong which bears this name. After a meeting in Sydney with Governor Gipps at which the site for the new town was established, building began on the breakwater.
The site had been chosen by Fyans who was probably well aware that the indiginous people of the area used the place to cross the river, the water level being only about 18 inches deep and flowing over an outcropping of basalt. The project, which included two large rough stone walls with a clay filling in between, was completed by 1840.
The approximate site of Captain Foster Fyans' house
Bell-Bird Balyang
Its importance to Geelong at that time cannot be underestimated. Not only did the breakwater serve to maintain water levels near the newly established town, it also prevented the flow of brackish water back upstream from the tidal reaches of the river, thus ensuring clean drinking water. In addition, the breakwater provided an important crossing point for drays and stock travelling into Geelong from Colac and the more distant parts of the Western District. As discussed in an earlier blog, it also prevented noxious wastes from the rapidly developing scouring and tannery works from polluting the town's water supply. After a chequered history and a series of council battles over maintenance, Captain Fyans' breakwater was eventually replaced in the 1960s by the present bridge which will itself become obsolete in the near future when the Breakwater Road realignment project currently underway is completed and a new bridge, above flood levels is completed.
From 1840 onwards, Fyans' role changed to that of Commissioner of Crown Lands for the Portland Bay pastoral district and he took up grazing land in the region of Colac. This included substantial amounts of travel throughout the district.
Grave of Captain Foster Fyans at the Eastern Cemetery
In the course of his duties as magistrate and as commissioner, Fyans was required to arbitrate in disputes between the new settlers and the increasingly displaced indiginous community. In most, if not all cases, he found in favour of the settlers. Needless to say, indiginous accounts of the behaviour of whites towards blacks differ significantly and Fyans is not remembered as a friend to the indiginous population.
In 1843 he was married at Geelong and then in 1845 took up 145 acres of land with frontage to the Barwon River. He named the property Bell-Bird Balyang and on it, he built a stone residence which is believed to have stood close to what is now the Princes Bridge at Shannon Avenue in Newtown. A Sundial with a plaque now marks the approximate location of the Fyans' house.
For some time, Fyans also maintained a property on the north bank of the Barwon a little further downstream as it was announced in the Geelong Advertiser on 30th October, 1854 that he was selling his house and estate of Riversdale which was situated between the properties of JA Gregory (Barwon Banks) and William Roadknight (Barwon Crescent).
His wife Elizabeth lived only until 1858 and was survived by Foster, two daughters and a son. Foster himself remained in his home by the Barwon for the remainder of his life, dying at Bell-Bird Balyang in 1870. He was buried in the Eastern Cemetery with a number of family members and lies only a short distance from another notable Geelong citizen and the father of refrigeration - James Harrison.

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