29 October, 2015

Making tracks - all roads lead to the Green Tent

As I set about trying to determine the exact location of Green Tent for my last post - either the actual tent or the settlement which developed - I began to form an idea as to why it was there at all. In the earliest days of the Port Phillip District, settlement focused on the homesteads of the squatters. Routes of travel developed as stock and supplies were moved between squatting runs and to the ports of Melbourne and Geelong. The need for effective communication soon followed. As coaching routes were established, so were staging points which allowed for a change of horses and a break for weary travellers. A supply of water was also crucial, not only to travellers, but to anyone moving stock.
Prior to the gold rush, there were no villages between Geelong and Buninyong, just the occasional inn which was often built at the intersection of two tracks or near a reliable source of water. The former was the case for the Separation Inn (est 1850), situated where the tracks to Buninyong and the Leigh (Shelford) diverged. The next licensed premises along the route however was the Golden Fleece Inn on the Coolebarghurk Creek (later Meredith), a distance of over 17 miles - a very long, dry stretch indeed.
With the arrival of the gold rush, walking distance became important too.
Batesford - located about 7 miles from Geelong - as well as being a key crossing point of the Moorabool River, was also the site of two of the earliest inns in the region - the Marrabool Inn (est 1842) and the Traveller's Rest (est 1849) and eventually developed into a town. For those not heading to Bannockburn or The Leigh, the Separation Inn was a further 4 miles along the Buninyong road and Lethbridge a further 8 miles beyond that, close to Bruce's Creek. Each was a reasonable walking distance between breaks. The distance to Meredith with its Golden Fleece Inn however was somewhat further, being about 9 miles from Lethbridge, so it is perhaps not surprising that that someone saw an opportunity.
In addition to a sly grog shop (or coffee tent as they were euphemistically known), the Green Tent had a water supply in the form of Green Tent Creek. This was officially recognised in the form of a government reserve, including a (then) permanent water supply from the creek  which was set aside for public use.
I think there was also one other important factor which determined where the Green Tent was situated. It was a point of convergence and not just a local one. Several significant roads from different parts of the colony all met at or near this point, making it an obvious location to water stock and take a break. Today, it is hard to imagine this ordinary stretch of the Midland Highway as a major intersection, however the traces are there to be found for those who look.
Prior to the beginning of the gold rush, roads distant from metropolitan areas were just bush tracks. The track from Geelong came from the south as described above, however at this point, local sources indicate that the track diverged from the current route of the highway, instead roughly following the line of today's Taylor's Road.
Taylor's Road (aka Pound Road), route of the old bullock track to Buninyong
Perhaps the larger Coolebarghurk Creek provided easier access to water for stock than Green Tent Creek, but it would seem that the track turned away from the high ground between Native and Coolebarghurk Creeks, instead running down to cross the latter creek at a small ford which became known as Ross' Bridge, from there following the eastern bank of the creek towards the Golden Fleece Inn - the only other public house on the route to Buninyong during the 1840s.

Ross' Bridge over Coolebarghurk Creek on Taylor's Road (aka Pound Road)
It is for this reason that the the Golden Fleece was situated on the east bank of Coolebarghurk Creek, the opposite side of the creek to where centre of the town of Meredith would eventually develop.
Whilst this may have been the preferred route for those moving stock, those travelling without encumbrance may have chosen a shorter route. The current course of the highway is over half a mile shorter than Taylor's Road. The earliest maps I have found, dating back to the 1840s appear to show a direct route which does not cross Coolebarghurk Creek before reaching the Golden Fleece Inn, however these are not detailed survey maps.
I can find no conclusive evidence which confirms when  exactly the current route into Meredith originally came into use, however I do know that the current alignment of the highway through Meredith was first officially surveyed prior to the initial land sales in 1853.
This event was noted in his autobiography by Henry Mundy when he observed in 1852 that the days of the Golden Fleece (or the Devil's Inn as it was also known) were numbered as the new road from Geelong was being surveyed at that time, leaving the hotel some quarter of a mile away on the opposite side of Coolebarghurk Creek.
Returning to our point of origin at the Green Tent, in addition to the track from Geelong across Coolebarghurk Creek and (from at least 1852), the direct route to Meredith, there was also the road from Steiglitz - today's Sharp's Road. Whilst the gold rush to Steiglitz did not occur until the 1860s, Sharp's Crossing as the then ford was known provided access to the eastern portion of Moranghurk, Durdidwarrah, Darriwill and other stations across the Moorabool River. The alignment of the track to the ford however, was not the same as today's Sharp's Road which was only adopted in 1955. Prior to this there were two approaches, one from the Geelong direction and a second from the Ballarat side.
The intersection of Taylor's Road with the Midland Highway. This short
section originally formed the northern approach to Sharp's Crossing
(Elizabeth Lowe's tent was only a few hundred metres off to the right)
A third important intersection was to the west of the Buninyong Road, where first the Learmonth brothers and then from 1848 Robert Sutherland had held the Native Creek Run. Whilst I have found no mention of where exactly the track to the west diverged from the Geelong-Buninyong track, I did find the following description from 1906 when a correspondent to the Geelong Advertiser described his journey through the district back in 1853:
There were no fences and no roads in these days - nothing but broad bush tracks, winding in all directions, according to the nature of the ground, which was very rotten and soft in places. I thought I would be all right for Buninyong if I kept to the broad, beaten track, being unaware at the time that the bullock teams and sometimes the horse teams went off the track near the "Green Tent," a grog shanty on the Ballarat road, across the Leigh Plains by way of Shelford bridge, in order to feed their horses and bullocks on the rich grass on the plains between there and Buninyong. Hence I got off the main Ballarat road, turning to the left, and found myself at Shelford...
Wherever it was, the track to the Green Tent was clearly a well-used one. The track to Shelford also mentioned above, followed a course to the west of Native Hut Creek, heading south to that town and north to the future site of Meredith however, there was also a track to Teesdale which branched off the Shelford track, crossed Native Hut Creek where Green Tent Road crosses today and then headed away to the south east, following the line of Stony Creek (another small tributary which joins Native Hut Creek above the Hamilton Highway, north east of Inverleigh).
The little ford on Green Tent Road as it crosses Native Hut Creek where
the track from Teesdale also crossed the creek
When the government surveyor Maurice Weston surveyed the area in 1858, he noted these tracks in his field books and laid out a network of roads. As with the eastern side of the Buninyong Road however, the roads to the west are somewhat different now to what was originally envisaged. Today, there are no roads running directly south towards Teesdale as per the survey maps, however the Green Tent Road  remains as surveyed in 1858. In the following decades as the gold rush progressed, this little road would also have provided access to nearby diggings on the creeks to the west and then to the farms of the selectors who followed.
There was one other route which also joined the Geelong-Buninyong track at the Green Tent and it took me a little digging to find it.
Whilst reading the media reports of the murder of Elizabeth Lowe for my previous post, I came across the following statement given in evidence at the trial of her murderer Owen McQueeny:
...I saw the prisoner...coming from the direction of the Green Tent....my house is about five miles from the Green Tent. He was coming along the Melbourne road when I saw him, and asked for the Steiglitz road to Geelong.
The Steiglitz Road to Geelong would of course be Sharp's Road, but where was the Melbourne Road? There is certainly no road of that name in the area today. A little more poking around revealed that in 1841, part of the boundary of the County of Grant was described thus: "...the remainder of the western boundary is formed by tracing up the Native Hut Creek, to the point where it is crossed by the road from Buninyong to Melbourne; then along that road on the northwestern side of Station Peak [the You Yangs] to the crossing place on the Werriby..." So the Melbourne-Buninyong Road travelled east-west between Werribee and Native Hut Creek. A quick glance at some of the early maps revealed that a track did run as described. Skene's 1845 map of Victoria clearly shows the track and although short on detail, it appears to cross the Moorabool River at what surely must be Spiller's Bridge on Perdrisat Road.
Spiller's Bridge today. Some timbers from the old bridge (extant until the 1980s)
are still visible protruding from the riverbed
According to Skene, rather than following the modern line of Perdrisat Road, the track continued in a north westerly direction and appeared to intersect with the Geelong-Buninyong track very close to the Green Tent, possibly near the 30 mile post from Ballarat.

Looking across the Moorabool Valley to the steep curve of Perdrisat Road. The
old track however continued in a north westerly direction away from the current
course of the road
So, even before the gold rush made the Green Tent one of the busiest thoroughfares in the colony, this long-gone settlement was a jumping off point for roads to Geelong, Buninyong, Shelford, Teesdale, Bamganie, Steiglitz and even Melbourne. It is probably unsurprising then, that the Green Tent became such a well-known stopping point on the track to Buninyong.
Below I have included a composite image which gives some idea of where the various tracks intersected each other and the Geelong-Buninyong track in relation to today's roads. To do this, I have overlaid the relevant part of Google Earth with a section of the 1867 geological survey map.
1867 geological survey map overlaying Google Earth, showing the old and the new.
Modern roads on Google Earth are in white and yellow.
I have highlighted part of the Shelford track (green), Teesdale and Lethbridge track (red),
the old Sharp's road exits and  Taylor's/Pound Road (red) and have added a rough estimate of
where the track from Melbourne (blue) may have intersected.
Click to enlarge

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