01 November, 2015

Making tracks - up the creek

Upon reaching the Green Tent, travellers had a choice; a number of tracks met nearby, leading to different parts of the district - the topic of my previous post. With the discovery of gold however, the traffic was overwhelmingly headed for goldfields of Buninyong and Ballarat.
In the pre-gold rush era when movement around the district was determined by the need to move stock, staying close to water was vital. As a result, the original bullock track departed from the course of the current Midland Highway at the Green Tent, instead, following (as previously mentioned) a similar line to that of today's Taylor's Road (originally known as Pound Road), across Coolebarghurk Creek then taking the higher ground along the course of the creek to the Golden Fleece Inn.
I can see no mention of a bridge at the creek crossing on Taylor's Road prior to the 1870s and I imagine that any crossing prior to this would have been rudimentary at best, meaning that the early settlers, the first coaches and diggers heading to the goldfields may have had to ford the creek at this point.
Coolebarghurk Creek at Ross' Bridge
During a recent visit to the site of this little crossing (known as Ross' Bridge for the selector whose land surrounded it), I did notice what I believe are the remains of an early bridge - perhaps even the one which washed away during the 1880 flood which also took the nearly completed nearby Sharp's Bridge.
The earthen abutment of an earlier version of Ross' Bridge? As well as the
mound, there is scattered bluestone and a few timbers also protrude from the water
Looking at the earthworks from across Coolebarghurk Creek
Nor is this the only indication of an earlier route. Even today, traces of the old bullock track can still be seen in some places. A section of cobblestones, believed to be part of the track, has been found in a field not far from the present road, an can a tree with markings carved into it is believed to be a survey marker and milepost - M56.   A quick check of Google Earth, following the track to Melbourne as indicated on surveyor A.J. Skene's 1845 map suggests that this may well have been 56 miles from Melbourne via the Melbourne-Buninyong Road which I mentioned in my previous post.
The 1857 survey map (held by the State Library of Victoria) overlaid on Google Earth.
The green lines indicate the pre-survey tracks leading to the Golden Fleece.
Click to enlarge
However, whilst the bullock track beside the creek served well enough during the 1840s, the huge influx of foot traffic engendered by the gold rush changed things. Without the need to water stock and with the Green Tent nearby, it was easier perhaps to stay on the high ground between Native Hut and Coolebarghurk Creeks. This certainly seems to have been the view of the early surveyors. Whilst there was extensive surveying work along the Geelong-Ballarat Road between 1854 and 1858, parts were definitely surveyed earlier - in particular, the areas around intended town sites. An early map of "the town and district of Geelong as surveyed in 1848" indicates the extent of surveyed land in the district (see below). Published by Macdonald and Garrard in 1854, it clearly shows the surveyed line of the Midland Highway and blocks around the Meredith township which was one of the earliest towns established along the route to the goldfields. The first land sales took place in 1853 with the land surveyed some time before that, including the present alignment of the Midland Highway through town.
Section of 1854 map (surveyed 1848) showing the route of the road between
Geelong and Meredith and the extent of surveyed lands in the district.
Image held by the State Library of Victoria.
Click to enlarge
Not surprisingly, this huge increase in traffic lead to a rising tide of complaints about the condition of the road to the diggings. Action was finally taken in 1856 when contracts were issued for surfacing the various sections with road metal. This was followed in 1857 by the erection of several toll-gates, including one located just outside of Meredith (marked on the overlaid maps above), presumably in an attempt to defray the cost of road maintenance.
The imposition of tolls may however, have lead to somewhat of a resurgence in traffic via the old stock route over Coolebarghurk Creek. At as late a date as 1869 a shepherd moving sheep along the Geelong-Ballarat Road was accused of having deliberately avoided paying the toll by taking his sheep off the main road about a mile and a half above the toll-gate and returning them about a mile past the gate. A quick look at the parish maps suggests that he and his stock followed the old track out of Meredith before crossing back to the west side of Coolebarghurk Creek along a track which left the old bullock route and lead back to the main road - conveniently enough - below the toll-gate. His case however was dismissed as the need to feed and water stock was seen as a valid reason for the diversion.
For the diggers however, the shortest route no doubt became the most popular and the course of the new road was set. The Golden Fleece - the halfway point on their trek to the goldfields - was now about half a mile closer than it had been.

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