25 April, 2013

Where did it all go?

I started this blog post by researching the rather gruesome topic of murder on the banks of the Barwon - a topic which I have addressed before and which continues to be one of my most popular posts: A Murder on the Barwon. However it wasn't long before I once again found myself reading about one of Victoria's pioneering families. This time it was the Roadknights - a familiar name to anyone acquainted with the coastline near Anglesea.
So who were the Roadknights?  Well, they certainly weren't convicted murderers - let's get that straight! But their name did crop up in association with some unfortunate events, one of which will form the basis of another post.
The founding father of the Roadknights in Victoria was William. Born in 1792 at Warwickshire, England, he and his brother Thomas migrated to Tasmania in 1820. They were accompanied on the voyage by their father - also named Thomas - who died at sea only a day from Hobart Town. With William was his first wife Harriet and their four children.
Upon their arrival in Tasmania, the brothers were each allotted 1,000 acres of land but soon moved away from farming, instead establishing themselves as persons of responsibility in the colony. By the late 1830s, William and his son Thomas were looking further afield to the opportunities presented by the opening up of land in the Port Phillip District and in 1836 William and his sons landed in the Port Phillip District with sheep from Tasmania.

I believe this photo to be Thomas Roadknight as captioned, however he would have been much
younger in 1836 than this photo appears. The photo is held by the Victorian State Library which
gives a publication date of 1896 for the photo - five years after Thomas' death.
Between them, the family proceeded to establish properties totalling almost 100,000 acres around the Barwon River and beyond. They held land at Yan Yan Gurt, Deans Marsh, Gerangamete, Cape Otway and at Ceres in the Barrabool Hills. Other stations belonging to the Roadknights included Cherry Tree Hill near Beeac, River Station and Stony Rises Station.
 Testament to the extent of their landholdings  are names such as Point Roadknight, Roadknight Street in Birregurra and Aireys Inlet as well as a street of that name in the township of Forrest and nearby Roadknight Creek.
However, in the early days after their arrival, the Roadknights took up land closer to Geelong in the Barrabool Hills "near the Ceres Bridge". In 1838 William returned briefly to Tasmania to marry for a second time, taking his new wife (Elizabeth nee Twamley) to live at Barrabool. Research for the National Trust names them as living at "Berromongo" where their son Zachariah was born in 1839. I believe this later became Berramongo Vineyard eventually owned by John Belperroud who from 1842 initially leased, then purchased the land from Charles Swanston to whom William sold it. John was one of a wave of Swiss immigrants who brought their wine-making skills to the region, encouraged by Governor LaTrobe and his Swiss wife.
The land taken up by Roadknight in 1836 was located on both sides of the Barwon very near the "Ceres Bridge". One contemporary map shows the bridge to be a few hundred metres upstream from today's Merrawarp Road bridge and the Victorian Heritage Database shows a house "Berramongo" located in this area on Crooks Road.
Merrawarp Road bridge today looking from somewhere near the probable
site of the old Ceres Bridge
That same year, as the land around Geelong was opened up for sale, William purchased 22 acres overlooking the Barwon River at Chilwell. His property was situated on the north bank, opposite and a little upstream from Kardinia House - the property of Dr Alexander Thomson - and just across Pakington Street from the house of Charles Sladen Esq. (Sladen House). The land stretched from the banks of the river, back to the government road which became known as West Fyans Street. Today, the site is occupied in part by the former Returned Sailors and Soldiers Mill buildings which date from 1922.
Initially, Roadknight built a small house known as Barwon Cottage, then in 1845 he built a larger home on the property which he called Barwon Crescent. It was constructed from locally made bricks and it is interesting to note that in 1849 land immediately north of his property was advertised as being "first rate brick earth". He also established an orchard garden on the land near the house and it was here that the family lived.
Meanwhile, his ambitions as a squatter saw him establish stations on land to the west of Geelong as mentioned above. However, this venture was not without controversy. Unsurprisingly, the spread of European settlement caused the displacement of the local indigenous tribes. In the 1840s with Governor LaTrobe realising the need to erect a lighthouse at Cape Otway to ensure the safety of the shipping routes, it became necessary to find a land route to the Cape - a task which LaTrobe himself eventually achieved.
The Cape Otway lighthouse was eventually built by 1848
However, during a subsequent surveying expedition in 1846 lead by George D Smythe, a white seaman named Conroy was killed by members of the Gadubanoot tribe. He was alleged to have raped several of the tribeswomen - a capital offence according to Aboriginal law.
Smythe returned to LaTrobe and requested a party be put together to make an arrest. Permission was quietly granted and Smythe - armed with a warrant and a group of trackers from the Barrabool tribe of the Wathaurong - returned. He was joined en route by a group of heavily armed men lead by William Roadknight. According to a 2007 publication by Bruce Pascoe (Convincing Ground: learning to fall in love with your country) a massacre resulted. Smythe claimed to have "lost control" of the Barrabool tribesmen, however surviving members of the Gadubanoot tribe said they were shot down by white men whilst a later report indicates that there was only a single Barrabool man with Smythe's party.
Pascoe also claims that this was not the first time Roadknight had used tribesmen from one district in an attack upon another and that there may have been as many as three more massacres between 1846 and 1848. Each was part of a wider campaign to ensure the safety of the few families who would come to the Cape to man the lighthouse when it was built. He also notes that Roadknight was running stock on the Cape prior to 1846, presumably without interference from the Gadubanoot. The implication is perhaps that he had already employed measures to protect his stock. Unsurprisingly, some descendants of the family have disputed this version of events and there is certainly ample evidence to show that in other parts of his life that William was a genial and kindly man.
Interestingly, with the centenary of the settlement of Melbourne approaching, the Hobart Mercury of 3rd October, 1934 reproduced in part an earlier article indicating that both Thomas and William were present at a meeting of Port Phillip settlers on 1st June, 1836. Amongst the unanimously carried proposals was one stating that:
"all subscribing parties pledge themselves to afford protection to the aborigines to the utmost of their power, and, further, that they will not teach them the use of firearms, or allow their servants to do so, nor on any account to allow he aborigines to be in possession of any firearms."
It was also unanimously carried that:
"all parties do bind themselves to communicate to the arbitrator any aggression committed upon, or by, the aborigines, that may come to their knowledge, by the earliest opportunity, and that he be empowered to proceed in the matter as he may think expedient."
Despite their early acquisitions and prominence in the settlement of the Port Phillip district, the Roadknights did not retain the majority of their acreage. Their holdings were significantly reduced as a result of bad business deals and a move by the government to reclaim a significant amount of land for a Wesleyan Mission to "maintain and civilize" the local Aboriginal population. Again, Pascoe states that Roadknight worked to thwart the intentions of the missionaries whose venture ultimately did not succeed. In the end, the land was sold off, but the Roadknights did not reacquire any of their forfeited acres and by 1870 little of their holdings remained.
Meanwhile, after the death of his second wife Elizabeth, in 1857, William married for a third time in 1860 to Helen Buchanan, however the marriage did not last long as William died on 25th November, 1862.
William Roadknight is buried in the Eastern Cemetery
with his second wife, Elizabeth
Barwon Crescent then passed to his son Thomas who with his son Alfred Hill Roadknight became a noted stock and land agent in Geelong. Thomas and his wife Caroline (nee Hill) lived at "The Crescent".
Their son and heir Alfred was also one of the earliest crop of students produced by the recently-established Geelong Grammar, by that time located in Maud Street, Geelong. Thomas died on 28th October, 1891, leaving the house to Alfred who leased the nearby property Barwon Grange for the next couple of years until his mother vacated Barwon Crescent.

Thomas and his wife Caroline are also buried in the Eastern Cemetery and their
headstone notes that Thomas died at "Barwon Crescent"
Alfred then lived at The Crescent until its eventual sale in 1907. Alfred himself lived a further 14 years. He died in 1931 and is also buried in the Eastern Cemetery with his wife (Emily Harriet Carr) like his parents and grandparents before him.
Grave of Alfred and Emily Roadknight in the Eastern Cemetery
Finding photographic material for this post has proven hard to come by. Whilst the Roadknights' holdings were extensive in the middle of the 19th century, it seems that nothing other than the odd place name here and there remains of their "empire". Barwon Crescent is long gone, demolished to make way for the woollen mills of the 1920s and I can find no (online) photos dating to that period, nor can I find their name on the early maps of Victoria.
There are however, quite a number of Roadknight descendants today and the Roadknight name did crop up fairly regularly in the national newspapers of the 19th century, usually with respect to appointments to committees and land transactions however, during Thomas' tenure at Barwon Crescent in the 1870s, the orchard was leased to a market gardener by the name of William Stenton and it was in 1876 that trouble arose....

10 April, 2013

Doing things by half

Last Sunday was that time of the year again - the first Sunday after Easter, which means it was Geelong Half Marathon time again. And yes, once again I bit the bullet, signed up and spent the week prior trying to forget what I'd done and what I would have to do.
Preparation-wise I'd done most of the right things. I trained, I tapered (I could really get used to tapering), I collected my race number, I ate carbs the night before, I had the right breakfast and I arrived at the river in plenty of time. Fearing a repeat of last year's event when they were dropping like flies in the heat (see The hotter half), the organisers had decided upon an earlier start time of 8am. So, a few minutes after the hour I, along with 918 new-found running companions, headed out from under the James Harrison Bridge, around the common and along the Barwon aiming for Breakwater before the long haul up to Fyansford and back.

Yes, I am in there!
The weather was a sunny 15.8°C and rose no more than about 5 degrees for the time I was on the course. A little too warm to be ideal, but it did mean a much more comfortable wait at the starting line. I wasn't at all sure what my pace would be, but I was aiming for a time under 1hour 45minutes, so I made sure I found the "1hr 45min bus" (the pace runner guiding anyone aiming to finish in that time) and kept him under close surveillance - a strategy which got me through the hoards during the first 5-6km of the race at somewhere near my target time and feeling comfortable.

Running with the "pace bus" to the left and wearing an Aussie flag
From there, I picked it up a little and set my own pace. So far so good. There was enough shade to keep things bearable and I managed to drink rather than inhale water at the drink stops - I've never been good at simultaneous running and drinking.

Just past 7km and heading for the drinks station
Then somewhere near the 12km mark a slightly curious thing occurred. I moved to pass a couple of slower runners. As I did so one of them - a guy - encouraged me to "push through it". In 2010 when I ran my fastest time, I was passed near the 9km mark by a quicker runner - also a male - who encouraged me to stay at a comfortable pace (or words to that effect). I did not know either man, did not see them again and would not recognise them if I did, but on both occasions, their encouragement ringing in my ears, I went on to post good times. Whoever you were - thanks! 

Having passed the halfway mark, it was a matter of trying to make the most of things before I hit the wall which I knew was likely to be waiting for me around the bend on Red Gum Island, just before the 15km mark. It's always been there in the past and this time was no different, except perhaps that things started to become a little less pleasant around the 14km mark. Knowing what I was likely to be in for, I continued to talk myself out of that particular mindset for a further 3-4km, leaving only a 4km grind to the finish line.
Around 2km to go and about to be caught by runner #712
It wasn't pleasant and it wasn't pretty (photographers should probably be banned past the 15km mark of the route) but I finished faster than I'd started and was almost a minute clear of the pace bus with a time of 1:44:07. Not my best time, but not too far off and well within the 1hour 45minute target I was hoping to beat.
Not a bad morning's work and then I was able to stand around and analyse the whole affair over a free sausage with the crew from Geelong Runners, some of whom ran and some of whom supported and all of whom had a ball.

Geelong Runners!
This year's half marathon (my 5th run in this particular race) was a milestone for the Geelong Cross Country Association as it marked the 25th running of the event for which we all received commemorative medals. When I first ran in 2009, the field totalled 495 and for several years before that, numbers had hovered around the 400 mark (if anyone knows how many lined up for the very first race in 1989 I would love to know). Last year, following progressive increases, 953 runners competed and this year, although only 919 runners completed the course, the event was sold out with a record 1200 entrants.
Before the race we were informed that around two thirds of this year's participants were from out of town - clearly word is spreading! Not surprising really, as this is a good, relatively flat course, with only a couple of kilometres round the common which are not sealed and great views of the Barwon to help keep your mind off your lungs and legs!
The best view of all - spectators at the finish line!
Which brings me to another point. I have spent many hours running and racing along the Barwon through Geelong and have even run at Barwon Heads, right at the mouth of the river, but it occurs to me that perhaps I should expand my repertoire to include some formal races along the river where I have not run before. One opportunity would be the Barwon Heads Sheepwash Classic over 4 or 8km beside and across the river mouth which run on Easter Saturday each year (guess that one will have to wait until next year), whilst the towns of Inverleigh and Winchelsea both host fun runs.
However, another rather intriguing alternative has been announced and I have the chance to get in at the ground floor with the inaugural race scheduled for the long weekend in June. Run Forrest will be raced over either a 10km course from Forrest township along the Barwon or a 21km loop course from Forrest to Lake Elizabeth and back.
The Lake Elizabeth track...in summer...
The weather would no doubt be freezing, the hills would be murder (I wouldn't be setting any PBs here!) and I haven't tried trail running before, but the scenery would be amazing and I would have a chance to run a section of the river (along the Red Carpet mountain bike trail) which I have never seen before....decisions, decisions!!

04 April, 2013

Good in any emergency!

The Barwon River is not generally associated with great voyages of exploration. It is after all, only a relatively short river, flowing through a predominantly inhabited landscape in a temperate climate; not exactly the kind of place you'd expect to find an Antarctic explorer, right?
Well, perhaps not recently, but in January, 1907 the future Antarctic explorer Bertram Armytage undertook a journey which saw him scull a kayak from Geelong to Barwon Heads as part of a 10 day journey around Port Philip Bay.
Armytage was a local boy, born in 1869 into the prosperous Armytage family at Wooloomanata Station near Anakie. His father Frederick William Armytage was the sixth son of George Armytage, the progenitor of one of Victoria's most successful nineteenth century dynasties.
As a young teenager, Bertram spent three years being educated at Geelong Grammar School, before transferring to Melbourne Grammar in 1885.  In what was probably his first year at the school - by then situated in Maud Street, Geelong - he would no doubt have come in contact with that champion of the Barwon and rowing enthusiast James Lister Cuthbertson about whom I have blogged previously. Perhaps it was he who first encouraged the young Armytage to develop his considerable skill with the oar as he went on to row for Jesus College, Cambridge where he "won his oars", by which I gather it was meant that he rowed in the head crew for his college.

Bertram Armytage in 1894 from the Como Collection,
National Trust of Victoria. Como in Toorak was another
Armytage property
Upon his return to Australia he spent time at Wooloomanata and then at another family property in Queensland before joining the military and serving in the Boer War as an Imperial Officer.
After the war he seems to have lived the life of a socialite in Melbourne and London, satisfying his need for action and adventure by participating in what today would be seen as endurance sports. It was in preparation for one such deer-stalking trip in the New Zealand Alps that he decided to undertake a circumnavigation of Port Philip Bay - by kayak.
The craft he had purpose-designed for the task was an early kayak based on the model of the Inuit people of the Arctic who used timber and sealskin to construct their craft. Here perhaps the similarities ended as Armytage's custom-designed kayak had curved ends described as being like an Italian Gondola and was weighted with lead, giving it self-righting properties. It had a thin timber skin and he adapted the hollow areas normally used for buoyancy, to carry equipment then, in a nod to his rowing days, he rigged a sliding seat and sculls to the craft which produced significantly greater speed than the usual paddle used with a kayak.
So, on the morning of 15th January 1907, sufficiently stocked with supplies of bananas and chocolate which he had learnt from his deer-stalking exploits were the best energy foods available, he took to the water at Point Cook and headed towards Geelong. By lunchtime he had made it as far as Little River where he stopped for a lunch of bananas before ploughing on to Point Wilson where he spent the night.

Corio Bay with the You Yangs in the distance
The next day saw him enter the inner harbour of Corio Bay at which point he decided to alter his plan to follow the line the bay, deciding instead to have his kayak transported to the banks of the Barwon from whence on the following day, he sculled his way to Barwon Heads, arriving in the early evening. He had timed his run to co-incide with high tide to ease his passage through the very shallow Lake Connewarre - I can relate to that problem! - and was apparently treated to the sight of large flocks of water birds blissfully unaware of the impending approach of the hunting season.
Lake Connewarre
No fool, he then spent a day or two running some tests on the resilience of his craft before attempting the highly risky passage across The Rip.
Having satisfied himself that with the right weather conditions and a certain amount of luck, the crossing was possible, on 21st January he set out once again, taking the very sensible precaution of leaving his luggage with "Messrs Stephens" who then guided him across The Rip in their fishing boat. Just why Armytage chose to alter his route to include the Barwon and a Rip crossing from Barwon Heads is not stated. This route was shorter than staying inside the bay and rowing around the end of the Bellarine Peninsula, but I am guessing that for the sake of an extra 20-30km, it would have been far safer to cross The Rip insde the Heads, however the safe option did not usually appeal to Armytage.
Newspaper reports describing the trip confirm that Armytage chose the more dangerous route, presumably due to the open water which also had to be crossed outside the bay. In the end, the attempt was a success and crossing The Rip itself proved less troublesome than negotiating the seas breaking over reefs off Barwon Heads.
Looking towards The Rip from Barwon Heads Bluff and the stretch of
water traversed by Armytage. The opening between Point Nepean (right) and
Point Lonsdale (left) is approximately 3.5km wide
By 4pm he had reached Sorrento, his intended destination for the day. After spending the following day there, he once again took to the water, facing difficult conditions as he made his way around the coastline. He encountered rough seas off Mt Martha, being forced to bail water out of his kayak and the stretch from Frankston to Mordialloc saw him facing a headwind and more rough water.
Finally however, on 25th January, he completed the final stage of his journey which appears to have taken him from Mordialloc, past St Kilda and then - through a thunderstorm - up the Yarra to Edward's Boathouse at Princes Bridge. Why he did not return to Point Cook which is mentioned as his starting point is not clear. Is it possible that he in fact departed the previous day from Edward's Boathouse, overnighting at Point Cook before The Argus (2nd March, 1907) takes up the tale?
Part of Armytage's intention in undertaking his journey around the bay was to improve his fitness for an upcoming deer-hunting trek in New Zealand which was to take place later in the year. On his way to New Zealand however, he got wind of an upcoming Antarctic expedition to be led by Sir Ernest Shackleton. Armytage quickly determined that he would join the party and with an introductory letter in hand, made himself known to Shackleton.

Bertram Armytage in the Antarctic
After some close questioning, Armytage was invited to join the party and given the role of assisting the geologists (including one by the name of Douglas Mawson) and of caring for the several Manchurian ponies  which were to be used by the explorers in their attempt to reach the South Pole.  The Nimrod Expedition as it was known, departed from New Zealand on 1st January, 1908. A base camp was set up at Cape Royds and "Shackleton's Hut" which still stands today, was erected. Whilst Armytage did undertake some treks during the expedition (leading at least one to the north), he was not amongst those who made the attempt to reach the South Pole. The group was unsuccessful in its attempt, however Shackleton and his companions did reach a point further south than any other explorer at that time.
 In an inverview given after the party's return, Shackleton himself described Armytage as "loyal, serious and good in any emergency".
Shackleton's Hut, Cape Royds, taken from Wikipedia
The geographic South Pole was finally reached on 14th December, 1911 by a party lead by the Norwegian Roald Amundsen. Armytage however, did not live to learn of the party's achievement.
After returning from the failed Nimrod Expedition and being feted in both London and Melbourne, he applied for a position with the War Office in London but was unsuccessful. Upon returning to Melbourne, it is believed that his thwarted ambitions may have lead to his suicide on 12th March, 1910. At the time of his death, his wife (related by marriage to the well-known Chirnside family) and young daughter were in London.
In 1920 his mother established the "Bertram Armytage Prize" with a grant of £500 in his memory. The prize is awarded annually in the field of medical science at Melbourne University.

NB: details of Armytage's journey around the bay were taken from an article published in The Argus, 2nd March, 1907.

01 April, 2013

Things that go "squeak" in the night

Not all the creatures seen along the banks of the Barwon River are to be found during daylight hours. When darkness falls, the rustles, squeaks and screeches of the nocturnal creatures begin...and so do my problems!
Besides the fact that a darkened river track is not the best place for a lone female, there are other factors which make it tricky to gather material for a nocturnal blog post. Not least of these is the fact that my camera is really not up to the challenge of night photography and to be honest, neither is the photographer!
One of these days I might get the right equipment and take a course which teaches me how to use it, but until then, I will have to make do with a few blurry shots taken during an occasional early evening stroll with the family.
So, what is out there on the cool, dark banks of the Barwon? Well, probably quite a bit that I have yet to notice, but also a number of things which I have experienced. Firstly, there are those nocturnal creatures which - conveniently enough for me - are happy to make an appearance during daylight hours. The so-called Nankeen Night Heron which I have shown in several previous posts does not seem to discriminate too much as to time of day or night. Nor for that matter do mosquitoes! I have also caught the occasional Possum of indeterminate species blinking at me from the foliage of an overhead branch, but my only photos have been nocturnal.

Probably a Common Brushtail Possum
(if you look on just the right angle)
There is however, one other creature which frequents the Barwon - and for that matter, the trees in my backyard -  and that is the Grey-headed Flying-fox. During the warmer months, they can often be seen flying over the river through Geelong. I have seen them in the eucalypts near the rowing sheds and also in the Moreton Bay Figs at Barwon Grange.
I imagine that they are members of the colony of flying-foxes which took up residence in Eastern Park overlooking Corio Bay in 2003 after being evicted from the botanic gardens in Melbourne. Just on dusk and well into the evening, these fairly substantially-sized bats can  be seen flying out from the gardens to look for food. On a warm evening, hundreds of them pass over our house, heading south-westerly towards the Barwon. The flapping of their wings is quite distinct and not at all like that of a bird.

Grey-headed Flying-fox in the Eastern Park colony
Also distinct is the racket they make in the various trees which surround us - screeching and chattering away as they stop off en route for the odd plum or fig, although I gather their main diet consists of pollen and nectar from eucalypts, melaleucas and banksias which they are willing to travel up to 50km to find. In doing this, the bats play a substantial role in pollinating the region's flora.

A very odd Christmas tree!
As mentioned, my skills are not up to photographing the passing parade of an evening, however it is a relatively simple matter to visit them during daylight hours when they are at home in the park.
The racket made by the colony as they hang from the branches like some form of macabre black fruit can be quite loud. This is, I am informed, the way parents communicate with their offspring during the summer months. The other means of communication is by smell - and that can be quite pronounced too!

Bats in the Eastern Park colony
 From an initial population of around 4,000 bats, the population in the Geelong colony had risen substantially by 2010 to somewhere upwards of 20,000. The figure suggested for 2011 was somewhat lower and I have not been able to find a more recent estimate of their number at this stage.
Good night!
Whilst they are only passing visitors to the Barwon, the river is however of some significance to the bats. In flight, they use it as a landmark by which to navigate to and from the colony as well as flying down to swim in the water then drinking by licking the moisture from their fur.
Finally, there is one other nocturnal breed which can sometimes be found lurking along the banks of the Barwon after dark and that is of course the geocacher. For those in need of enlightenment the Geocaching.com website will help. In addition to the expected array of caches which can be located at any hour of the day or night, there is a rather devilish night cache located towards the Breakwater section of the river which took us several hours and three trips to track down during which time we heard many rustlings but saw little in the way of nocturnal wildlife.
Well these are just a few of the nocturnal beasties I have seen along the river to date and as long as the weather holds for a while yet, I will hopefully be able to venture out to see if I can acquaint myself with a few more creatures of the night along the lengths of the Barwon.