06 November, 2017

A Ramble Along the Barwon

In my previous post I looked at the Geelong identity who was William Stitt Jenkins. From 1853 to 1876, the Poet of the Pivot, the Bard of the Barwon or even the Water Poet as he was variously called wrote about anything which caught his attention; politics, religion, teetotalism - especially that. Another subject dear to his heart was water; access to it, the quality of it, the lack of it, the health benefits of it, the dangers of it, even the pleasure of living and walking by it.
The poem below was published in the Geelong Advertiser of 23rd October, 1861 and gives an interesting insight into Jenkins' life, his home, his opinions and his view of the Barwon River. On the latter, he was well positioned to comment. By March, 1861 Jenkins and his family were living in Noble Street on Newtown Hill, a location which commanded some of the best views in Geelong.
According to a retrospective published in the Geelong Advertiser (21st July, 1928), there were only three houses on the south side of Noble St between Shannon Ave (then known as the West Melbourne Rd) and the river when Jenkins lived there. One was the historic 'Chesterfield' (221 Noble Street today), next was Stitt Jenkins' house - a five roomed cottage on a one acre block - and the last was a bigger home closer to the river at the end of the street.
From his doorstep, Jenkins could see the Barwon Valley laid out below him and he would often sit on a large, flat rock which he had positioned in front of his house. On the rock - unsurprisingly - he had inscribed a line or two of verse which invited passersby to have a rest and enjoy the view. Taking inspiration from the scenery spread out before him, Jenkins would also sit there to write his many poems and letters. The poem below may well have been one.

A week of anxious care is o'er,
I reach again my cottage door,
And free am I to work or play
This afternoon of Saturday.
Say, shall I in the garden dig,
Or ride? Alas! I have no gig;
Nor horse, nor ass, nor yet a cow!
Quite poor enough, you must allow.

Yet, not so poor; I have a wife
To cheer and comfort me through life.
And children more than two or three.
The childless, rich may envy me.
And then behold my humble cot,
Perched on a sweet romantic spot,
With seat of wood and one of stone,
There rest ye by the rhymer's home.

Part of Euguene von Guerard's painting "View of Geelong" 1856, showing the
site  of Jenkins' cottage, yet to be built. I believe "Chesterfield" is to the right of
 the bright green field. Jenkins' cottage would have stood somewhere to its left.
Original painting held by the Geelong Art Gallery
Lo. There the faithful wall-flower blows;
The China moss and monthly rose,
The proud geranium, ivy old,
The lily and the marigold,
The honeysuckle, sweet is there,
The fragrant wattle scents the air,
And groves of green and azure sky
Together joint to charm the eye.

I see afar the glimmering sail
Of thy white mill, O, Riversdale,
And mill, and vale, and stream, and lake,
One bright harmonious picture make.
I hear the hum of busy bee,
The magpie chatters on the tree,
The eaglehawk is soaring high,
He wants my chickens, so do I.

Riversdale Flour Mill on the Barwon at Chilwell, 1866. Image taken by
John Norton, held by the State Library of Victoria
But leave the chickens and our home,
And come with me awhile to roam
Over the hills and far away,
To spend, in peace, our holiday.
Leave we awhile the cares of life,
Escape from envy's jealous strife,
Let wrangling men say what they will,
It harms me not on this green hill.

Free from the strife and dust of town,
By river side we wander down,
Then cross the bridge and soon, I wean,
Enter the "Garden of the Queen"--
A lovely spot where waters meet.
Sure Paradise was ne'er more sweet.
See flower-decked sod and glittering pool
Where Barwon joins with Moorabool.
Queen's Park, 1866, showing Queen's Park Bridge and looking towards the
confluence of the Barwon and Moorabool Rivers. Image held by the State
Library of Victoria
See Fyansford in beauty lies,
See hills on hills majestic rise,
And tow'ring clouds together throng
To crown thee verdant Buninyong,
Survey awhile the orphans' home!
Once more by river side we roam,
The gallant boats glide swiftly by,
And all around is peace and joy.

The Protestant Orphanage, Herne Hill c1873. Image taken by Thomas J.
Washbourne, held by the State Library of Victoria
Blow balmy breezes through the dell,
Still tinkle thou melodious bell,
Flutter ye insects 'mid the grass,
Aglow, O sun, o'er mountain pass.
Ye herds, your lowing cattle bring,
Ye rural maidens sweetly sing,
And dance ye children on the green,
And sight more glorious ne'er was seen.

But, lo, what doleful sights are these?
What Goth or Hun hath felled these trees,
And borne the timber clear away
On some unhappy bullock dray?
See, here a forest monarch stood!
What Vandal hand has fired the wood
What Lord Tom Noddy has been here
Some brainless dolt, to all is clear.
View across Queen's Park towards Newtown Hill, 1878, by Fred Kruger
showing the extent of deforestation. Image held by the National Gallery of
Victoria, a gift of  Mrs Beryl M Curl, 1979
But come away, and let it pass
(Meanwhile I'll write him down an ass)
And let us hide from mortal eye,
Where Buckley's falls leap foaming by.
Behold those most fantastic trees,
Where sighs the mournful evening breeze,
How drear those huge mis-shapen rocks,
Worn by the torrents ceaseless shocks.
A sketch made c1855 by artist Eugene von Guerard from Buckley Falls
again looking back towards Queen's Park and Newtown Hill. Image
held by the State Library of New South Wales
Which boils and bounds from shore to shore,
And rushes on for evermore.
What careth the wild mountain stream
for Lord or Bishop, King or Queen?
The black man came and passed away
Before the white man's conquering sway.
When both are to oblivion gone
The river shall go rolling on.

Why start you now, and trembling shake?
You say you fear some awful snake;
Ah, fear it not, but sit you down,
The snakes, dear friend, are gone to town.
There they in holes and corners lurk
To do their most unholy work,
And spit their venom, when they can,
On those who serve ungrateful man.

But see, the fast declining day
Warns us, my friend, to best away!
The pelicans go shrieking by,
And all things tell that night is nigh.
The dragon flies with ceaseless hum,
With merry crickets singing come.
And, see, along you ancient log,
To serenade us, comes the frog.
Moonrise over the Bunyip Pool and Buckley Falls, November 2012
The water-rat peeps from his hole,
And see the bat and miner mole;
And now from every rock and tree
Burst forth the night's wild melody.
The laughing jackass hoarsely brays--
"The man that has seen better days,"
The owl exclaims "too-whit--too-who,"
And says--poor sinners, off you go."

Alas, how dark and drear,--but, soon
Appears the ever glorious moon.
And gilds each hill and vale with light.
And reigns the radiant queen of night,
While in the vault of heaven on high
Bright hosts of stars now deck the sky.
Great Lord, who ruleth night and day,
From this green sod to Thee we pray.

We reach the bridge, we cross the stream,
Again the rhymer's home is seen:
There bathed in moonlight, see it stand,
An emblem of the happy land.
Our ramble o'er, within we jog,
The kettle singeth on the hob.
Rejoice with us o'er day well sped.
Good night--we now are off to bed.

Geelong Advertiser, 23rd October, 1861

In addition to observing the industries and sights along the Barwon, Jenkins also makes mention of the Saturday half holiday which he had been instrumental in establishing in Geelong. In referencing snakes, he might well have been alluding to his - probably fairly numerous - detractors whom I suspect found his methods of campaigning on local issues somewhat tiresome.
Regardless of Jenkins' personal crusades and contentious public life, the Barwon was clearly a favourite location where he spent enough time to gain an understanding of not only his built surroundings but also of the flora and fauna, expressing his interest in the latter as well as his dismay at the extent of the deforestation which had occurred along the river within a mere 25 years since the arrival of European settlement.


  1. A thoroughly enjoyable mix of poetry, prose and pictures. Thanks, Jo!

  2. Another Gem! Thanks. Having just read Emerson's essays this poem sits nicely with my memories of that landscape.