28 December, 2015

Making tracks - through the slough of despond

...and so the journey continued. With the longest part of the trip behind them and keen to reach the fabled gold fields of Ballarat, the aspiring diggers faced what was probably the most difficult part of their journey - Scott's Marsh (or Scott's Swamp as it was also known), a low-lying area at the foot of Mt Buninyong.
At the outbreak of the gold rush this land formed part of the 16,000 acre cattle then sheep run held by the squatter Andrew Scott and his wife Celia along with other Scott family members which became the Mt Boninyong Estate.
An 1862 view of the Mt Boninyong Estate. Image held by the Victorian State Library
Today, over 175 years later, the property is still owned by the Scott family and features one of the district's more stately homes. The elegant structure which stands today however, was not even a consideration as the first of the diggers headed to the Mount in 1851. It was not built until 1884, instead, the original Scotts made do - initially at least - with a bark slab hut.
Mt Boninyong Estate, November, 2014
Whilst the new house was built on the site of the old, the new road from Geelong to Ballarat did not follow the line of the original track, but instead passed almost through the middle of Scott's pre-emptive selection. The new road stayed on the higher ground to the north of the springs which feed Williamson's Creek at the foot of Mt Buninyong. The survey maps from 1855 on the other hand show the old track, continuing along a route to the south of Williamson's Creek as mentioned in my previous post. The image below shows the Midland Highway running through Scott's surveyed land with the old tracks marked in red. The lower track is marked "from Ballaarat".
Section of an 1855 survey map showing part of Buninyong Parish between
Clarendon and Scotsburn overlaid on Google Earth. Red lines indicate old
tracks marked by the surveyor, the Midland Highway is shown in yellow.
Click to enlarge
It is worth noting at this point that surveyor A.J. Skene's 1845 map of Victoria (which I have referred to previously), shows the track following a similar path to that depicted on the 1855 maps but staying south of both Scotsburn and Buninyong as shown below.
Section of Skene's 1845 map showing the track (lower dotted line)
between Clarendon and Buninyong overlaid on Google Earth. Click to enlarge
Of course, in the earliest days of the colony, tracks through the bush developed according to need and the restrictions of the surrounding terrain, consequently the early survey maps show that Buninyong could be approached from several different directions. If a track became impassable, those travelling light would simply go around or head into the bush, looking for a better route, but for the larger vehicles, this was not always possible.
This situation was illustrated in Henry Mundy's biography (Henry Mundy: a young Australian pioneer, Les Hughes, 1988) where he gave the following description of crossing Scott's Swamp:
The roads were anything but good. The men walked over bad places and rode on favourable occasions. Horse drays having light loads could best pick their way by shunning the main bullock track by taking to the bush for it. There was a dreadful slough of despond called 'Scott's Swamp', near the foot of Mount Buninyong about three hundred yards across of black sticky mud. Many a bullock lost the number of his mess there; one team by itself never attempted to cross it. Two teams and sometimes three would yoke together and take over a load at a time. Sometimes a bullock would fall, but no stopping to get him up again. The poor brute was dragged along by the neck to the other side dead or alive, very often choked. Horses could not travel at all through the sticky mud on account of their flat feet, bullocks had the only chance.
Looking south along Platt's Rd today, there is no sign of the quagmire which
confronted the earliest diggers heading to the gold fields
Another journey in 1854 was recounted in the Geelong Advertiser of 27th January, 1904 which painted a similar picture to Mundy's:
 We eventually arrived at Scott's Marsh, where, it being the rainy season, a scene presented itself suggestive of John Bunyan's "Slough of Despond" to my untutored mind and inexperience of travelling. I thought we had come to the "place of despair." Dante could not improve the picture in his "Inferno" for unrestrained profanity heard on every side.
Dozens of vehicles were bogged axle deep. It was no use unloading here. It had to be faced and got through somehow. We were fortunate in being able to induce a bullock-driver to hitch on his team to our spring cart and for this friendly help he let us off on payment of 10s. We were then told that the worst part of the journey was over...
Whilst none of the descriptions I have seen give an exact location for Scott's Swamp, the section of 1855 survey map above shows an area of marshy ground at the south west corner of Scott's pre-emptive selection. The old track is also shown passing through the swamp in the vicinity of today's Platt's Road, joining the current highway just west of the little township of Scotsburn.

22 December, 2015

Making tracks - to Corduroy Bridge

And so the diggers made it to the site of Burnt Bridge. According to Mary Akers' "Hold fast the Heritage" (2010), an account of Narmbool's pastoral heritage, the original "burnt bridge" was a log bridge built by Henry Anderson and William Cross Yuille who travelled to the Buninyong area in 1837 prior to their taking up their squatting runs in the area. According to Akers, the bridge was destroyed when a bushfire took hold in the area some time later and so the name stuck.
As I mentioned in my previous post, Burnt Bridge the settlement, first appeared in the newspapers of the day in 1852 and by 1853 John Morrison was replacing his original inn on the old track from Geelong, with a new, larger building facing the new road alignment.
At around this time, on the 22nd January, 1853 the Geelong Advertiser and Intelligencer reproduced a description of a journey from Geelong to the Ballarat gold fields, given by a Mr Bonwick. This was that gentleman's description of the land surrounding Burnt Bridge:
No surface rock appeared for miles. The verdure was good. One mile from the blue flag [of a previous coffee tent] rose the Burnt Bridge Coffee Tent. A fine running stream, gentle rises, plenty of grass, and a white-gum forest, give considerable attractions to this quarter.
The stream in question was most likely Williamson's Creek or a branch a little to the south known as Salt Creek. Williamson's Creek is a tributary of the Leigh River. It rises to the south of the present Midland Highway, about 2.5 km south east of the town of Scotsburn and forms part of a network of creeks and gullies draining the rather swampy land which lies beneath Mt Buninyong before emptying into the Yarrowee River around 2 km north of the Leigh Grand Junction Bridge. It is at this point that the name of the river changes to the Leigh River.
Back at Burnt Bridge, an 1855 survey map shows a short section of the old track crossing Salt Creek via a bridge, but does not extend to show the Williamson's Creek crossing which must also have been necessary. It does not show the site of the original "burnt bridge" and from this point, I have a gap in the paper trail until the track reaches the site of today's Clarendon township.
Whilst the survey books for the land including and immediately surrounding the town are available, they are currently beyond my capacity to interpret as surveyor Eugene Bellairs was not as ordered in his note-taking as some other surveyors. More importantly perhaps, his points of reference are not as clear as others, making it hard to follow his lines.
A page from E Bellairs field book, 1854. Books accessible via the Landata website
What is available however is a pair of survey maps from 1858 and 1859 which show the township of Clarendon, including - in one instance - the line taken by the old track to Buninyong/Ballarat. The modern road is shown entering the township via a second crossing on Williamson's Creek travelling in a roughly north westerly direction. This however is not the site of the original bridge nor is Clarendon the original name for the town.
The 1859 map shows a track marked as the "old track from Ballarat" south of the creek and running roughly parallel to its course past the future town site. The 1858 map does not show the track but marks a position on the creek as the site of the "original corduroy bridge" and this is where things get a little interesting.
Firstly, Corduroy Bridge is the earlier, informal name used for the location (if not strictly perhaps the township). Whilst the 1858 map refers to the township of Clarendon, the 1859 map does not give a name but instead refers to "suburban lots near Corduroy Bridge in the parish of Clarendon, County of Grant". The surveyor's field books from 1854 however do refer to the "Township of Corduroy".
Secondly, the "original Corduroy Bridge" does not appear to lie on the path of either the old road or the new, but instead crosses Williamson's Creek about 500 m north west of the current bridge and around 150 m north of the old track (see map below). Looking a little further. afield, an 1855 survey map of the parish of Buninyong shows the old track to Ballarat continuing roughly north westerly before meeting the current highway close to Scotsburn. At no point does the track appear to cross the creek again. In addition however, the map also shows a track which closely follows the path of today's Wiggin's Rd, travelling from the east side of Mt Buninyong to merge with the current route of the highway a little south of the current Wiggin's Rd intersection. The old and new then travel together towards Clarendon township, north of the creek.
The 1858 survey map overlaid on Google Earth. The red line indicates the
"old track from Ballaarat" as plotted on the 1859 map
Could the bridge have been used to connect the tracks either side of the creek or to connect the developing township with the old track to Buninyong? Whilst the surveyor's books are difficult to read, they do clearly show that by 1854, the town boasted two hotels, viz the Carrier's Arms and the Corduroy Hotel, both on the north side of Williamson's Creek along with some paddocks stating the owners names and a builder's shop. Both the hotels and the shop are situated on the new line of road to Ballarat and were present at the time of survey as was a bridge at the site of the current creek crossing. This perhaps suggests that the new road followed an existing track which may have been one of a number in the area - as suggested by the Buninyong Parish map - which converged at Corduroy Bridge.
Which brings us to the next point of interest: the name Corduroy Bridge. Originally this would not have been so much the name of a place as the description of a landmark - a simple rough-made style of bridge which was commonly constructed in rural areas to ford small creeks or cross swampy land. The technique involved strapping together logs placed in a transverse fashion across the creek or swampy ground to be crossed. The transverse logs were supported underneath, often by longer logs cut and placed at right angles to those above. Such bridges were cheap, quick and easy to build and were often used by military forces needing to erect a temporary crossing, even to relatively recent times, however they provided a very rough surface and could be difficult, even dangerous to cross - especially in wet weather.
An example of a corduroy bridge c1886. Image held by the National Library of
Whilst there is no trace of it today, it appears that the original bridge was a simple log construction which crossed Williamson's Creek north west of the current bridge. It was built some time prior to 1852 which is the earliest mention I can find of Corduroy Bridge as a location, but whether it pre-dates the gold rush - perhaps even dating back to the first coaching runs of 1846 or the squatters before that - I could not discover.

12 December, 2015

Making tracks - the Mt Doran dilemma

With Watson's Hotel and the fledgling township of Meredith now behind them, the aspiring diggers of the gold rush era continued their journey up the "track". As I discovered whilst researching my previous post, this most likely took them out of town across Coolebarghurk Creek (at that time known as Marrabool Creek) and either towards Lal Lal on the old Lal Lal Road or along a route running roughly parallel to today's Midland Highway, at a distance a few hundred metres to the east.
At this point, things would seem to be a little hazy and in some places, downright contradictory, however as I alluded to previously, I may have found an explanation. In short, it all comes back to post offices and one or two old maps. Looking once again at Skene's 1845 map of Victoria, the track from Geelong to Buninyong appears to lead out of Meredith along the old Lal Lal Road as described by a local resident in 1943. From there, it was claimed, the track lead "through Mt Doran to Buninyong and Ballarat". Skene's map however, shows the road veering slightly away from the Lal Lal Road following a north westerly path instead; a path which passed directly through the site which became the township of Elaine.
From this point, the track continued its parallel path beside the Midland Highway, passing east of a little settlement known as Burnt Bridge. This route leaves the current Mount Doran some 5 or 6 km to the east and is seemingly at odds with the contention that the bullock track passed through Mount Doran - a route which would have added several kilometres to the diggers' journey at a time when there were no established towns between Watson's Hotel and Buninyong. Disappointingly I cannot locate the survey books for the upper part of the parish of Meredith and those of Borhoneyghurk Parish, meaning I cannot clarify the issue by continuing to plot the tracks I described in my last post.
Because there was little, if anything, in the way of settlement between Watson's and Buninyong I cannot locate a detailed description of the area at the time the gold rush broke out, but within a few years, signs of enterprise had begun to arise, perhaps giving some idea of the route followed by the diggers.
Google Earth screen shot overlaid with a section of surveyor A.J. Skene's 1845
map. The dotted line indicates the route as shown by Skene. The Midland Highway
is shown in yellow and the green lines indicate the approximate tracks plotted in 
my previous post. Click to enlarge
Recalling a journey taken in 1854, one correspondent to the Geelong Advertiser recounted some 50 years later, that sly grog-selling was rampant between Geelong and Burnt Bridge, with one of those illegal establishments lying between Meredith and the Stony Rises - the earlier name for Elaine. When surveyor Maurice Weston was taking his measurements for the land north of Meredith in 1857, he noted a "tent" on the east side of the present highway, slightly north of its intersection with Boundary Rd and around 600m west of the approximate line of the "Old Main Road". I don't know if  this tent was the same as that described in 1854, but such establishments came and went regularly and probably changed location equally rapidly. If the establishment at the Green Tent was anything to go by, they could also be located some distance from the road - perhaps due to their less-than-legal status.
Depiction of a coffee tent in 1852, by S.T. Gill, Image held by the
National Gallery of Australia
Regardless, this might suggest that the Stony Rises was a known location even in the early days of the gold rush. The first contemporary use of the name which I could find was an 1854 reference in the Geelong Advertiser and Intelligencer to the above sly grog tent, followed in 1855 by advertisements in relation to the construction of the new road to Ballarat. In 1857 there is reference in The Ballarat Star, to a murder inquest held at the Stony Rises Hotel. The hotel was also marked on an 1868 survey map which placed it west of the current highway, almost opposite the road to Morrison's. An article from The Ballarat Star of 6th August, 1889 gave the following description of the Stony Rises Inn at the time of its destruction by fire some decades later:
In the destruction of the Stony Rises hotel there has been wiped out of existence one of the land marks of the "fifties." In the golden days it was known as "Yankee Bill's," and the owner of the soubriquet dispensed food to man and beast in a tent. The late building was erected on the site of the canvas hotel, and passed successively into the hands of John Boler, Jarvis, and Grenfell, the last of whom held possession at the time of "holocaust."
Liquor licenses show that John Boler was the publican  by early 1857. With "Yankee Bill" in residence before this, it would seem that the hotel in some form at least was present before 1857. I notice that the 1868 survey map shows the boundary of the new line of road deviating slightly towards the site of the hotel, making me speculate as to whether the building was present before the new road, dating it to at least 1855 and presumably on the line of the old road.
I should also note that another description from January, 1853 does not mention the inn, but does make reference to a second coffee tent located about a mile before the next stopping point for the diggers - and possibly part of the key to the Mt Doran puzzle and the track to Buninyong - the little settlement of Burnt Bridge. The first reference to the settlement appears in several editions of the Geelong Advertiser and Intelligencer of 1852. An 1855 survey map shows the prospective township situated a few hundred metres south of the first crossing of Williamson's Creek (a tributary of the Leigh River) on the east side of the Midland Highway heading to Ballarat. Not only does it show the current road alignment as a section of plank road (a type of timber roadway generally built to provide a firm surface over swampy, low-lying ground), but it also indicates the line of the "old track of road from Ballarat to Geelong" which ran parallel but to the east of the new road. The construction of the plank road began in 1854 and it was presumably this impending realignment which caused resident John Morrison in 1853 to build a new hotel facing the new road, replacing his original establishment - described by a traveller in January 1853 as a "coffee tent" - which stood some hundred metres away on the old road.
A Google Earth screen shot overlaid with a section of the 1855 survey map of
Burnt Bridge. The current road (roughly aligned with the plank road) is shown
in yellow. The old track is shown in red. Click to expand
So, the above information would seem to confirm that after leaving Meredith the old track to Buninyong followed a course reasonably similar to today's Midland Highway, passing some 6km to the west of Mt Doran. I did however make a discovery which may explain the reference to Mt Doran. In 1859 with the gold rush in full swing, the new road open, the Geelong-Ballarat railway under construction only a few kilometres away and Morrison's "Railway Hotel" doing a solid trade, a post office was opened. It was given the name "Mt Doran".
Tenders for mail contracts at the time described the post office as "Mount Doran (Burnt Bridge)". Initially I suspected the post office may have been located at the Burnt Bridge settlement on the Geelong-Ballarat Road, however, tenders called the following year referred to the transport of mail from "the railway cutting (Mount Doran)".
I gather that this part of the line at the time of construction was known as the Burnt Bridge section and now believe that the post office was probably located in the temporary camp which sprang up to house the railway workers. Descriptions portray a series of timber cottages for management with the labourers housed in canvas tents. It was also remarked that some residents had built themselves little cottages and planted out small gardens in the bush surrounding the line.
The rail bridge on Blue Bridge Rd about 2.5km from Mt Doran and 3.5km from
Burnt Bridge on the Burnt Bridge section of the line

By the mid-1860s however, with construction on the line complete and the workmen gone, the tender notices for the mail run began to refer to "Mount Doran (Stony Rises)". My first thought was that perhaps "Mount Doran" may have referred to a much larger district than it does today and this may have been true as I also found an address stated as "Mount Doran, Clarendon", however there is another explanation which may account for the change.
Put simply, the "Mt Doran" post office, changed both names and locations over the years as the population fluctuated throughout the district. In about 1864 the post office was relocated from Mt Doran, to a site around a kilometre to the east of the developing township of Stony Rises. In 1872, reflecting the change in the name of the township, the post office was also renamed as Elaine.
 Just to confuse the issue however, Stony Rises/Elaine had been lobbying hard to have a railway platform erected in the township, near where the new line (which opened in 1862) crossed the surveyed road to Ballarat. It was finally granted in 1871 and then in 1875 after further lobbying by locals, the Post Master General opened a post office at the site. Perhaps somewhat confusingly, it was called the Elaine Railway Station Post Office. Elaine now had two post offices less than a mile apart.
Probably to avoid confusion, in October, 1877 the original Elaine Post Office to the east of town, reverted to its earlier name of Mt Doran. The post office at the railway platform was henceforth to be known as Elaine and was relocated to the primary school at around the same time. One disgruntled Mt Doran correspondent to the Ballarat Courier of 15th November was quick to point out the irony of this situation, stating:
It is passing strange that Mount Doran Post Office should not be at Mount Doran at all, but at Elaine, some four or five miles away. A few years ago that post office was really at the Mount: but the post-master and others, on the occasion of a [gold] rush to Elaine, eloped with our post office.
However, reading between the lines of the local newspapers, it may not have been long before the residents of Mt Doran got their wish as it seems that by the 1880s the post office had moved once again and was operating out of the Mt Doran State School.
Mt Doran State School, students and teachers in 1906.
Image held by Museum Victoria

So, it would seem that the Mt Doran Post Office probably began its life in 1859 at the site of the Burnt Bridge railway cutting at Mt Doran, before moving in about 1864 to a location east of Elaine township (but central to several mines active at that time) before finally coming to rest back in the township of Mt Doran not too long after its final name change in 1877, where it probably operated out of the state school. This much-travelled little post office closed its doors for the final time in 1930.
So finally, from what I have found, I doubt that the crowds heading to the gold fields of Buninyong and Ballarat in those earliest years did actually pass through or near Mt Doran. Instead, they most likely followed the old track via the Stony Rises and Burnt Bridge. I think that over the years the story has become blurred.
Whilst the mount itself no doubt existed well before the gold rush, Mt Doran as a town or locality seems to post-date those earliest years of the gold rush, appearing only in the newspapers from 1858. Quite some years later in 1866 there was a small "rush" to Mt Doran which no doubt resulted in diggers travelling directly to the district, but by then, the modern roads had been surveyed and the original diggers were long gone.
A partially covered mine entrance. Testament to the gold rush at Mt Doran
Then, over the years, as often happens in rural communities Mt Doran was sometimes described alongside other towns such as Clarendon, Burnt Bridge and Stony Rises, all of which lie on what I suspect was the most likely route of the old road from Geelong to Buninyong.  In combination with the re-location of the Mt Doran Post Office to Elaine for about 20 years during the 1860s and 1870s, it probably isn't surprising then, that those living in Meredith and surrounds might come to say that the route to the gold fields of Buninyong, Ballarat and beyond lay up the old Lal Lal Road to Mt Doran.