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Welcome to the fourth Hay Historical Society web-site newsletter. This newsletter was supposed to be a special summer holiday reading edition but, through one reason or another, it’s a little late. It is best viewed full-screen due to the incorporation of graphics. It features the autobiographical writings of a man called Tom Booth who worked as a station-hand in the late 1870s on “Corrong” station, on the Lachlan River below Booligal. Preceding the narrative is a short account of the author’s life. Also included are short biographies of Peter Tyson, the lessee of “Corrong”, and his nephew James “Scrammy” Tyson, manager of “Tupra” station (Appendix I). In addition there are a couple of poems to which Booth refers in his writings, as well as other odds and ends to complement the story.
THOMAS BOOTH (1858 – 1943)
Thomas Booth’s parents – Thomas Isaac Booth and Emily Louisa (née Boulter) – arrived in Australia in June 1853 and settled at Hard Hill, Buninyong, on the Ballarat goldfields. Thomas Booth was born there on 28 November 1858. He had three older sisters and a younger sister Priscilla was born in 1864.
After three years at school Tom commenced his working life when he was eleven, doing a variety of jobs. He worked for a local mail-contractor taking mail on horse-back to outlying districts, and also as a butcher’s boy in Ballarat. In 1875 Tom Booth and two mates, seeking work, walked to the Wimmera district, where they worked as rouseabouts on “Warracknabeal” station. Returning to Buninyong Tom then worked on two local runs, “Peerewur” and “Lal Lal”. In the winter of 1876 Tom Booth and his mates took off again, making their way on foot to “Corrong” station on the Lachlan River near Hay, where Tom worked until June 1877. His period at “Corrong” and afterwards, based at Hay, are the subject of the autobiographical account which follows.
THE REMINISCENCES OF TOM BOOTH AT “CORRONG” STATION AND ELSEWHERE IN THE HAY DISTRICT
Chapter 5 – OVERLAND TO NSW – 1876
In the winter of 1876, I met up with my two cobbers who had accompanied me to the Mallee the previous year, and as we were again struck by the wanderlust, we decided to extend our explorations in to New South Wales.
We passed through all the stations we had called at in 1875 reaching Warracknabeal after a difficult crossing of Taylor’s Creek which was in flood. Leaving that station we tramped onto Brim Station, Bell and McGeniskie’s and Sheep Hills which was one of the largest holdings in the Mallee Belt. On Sheep Hills we saw some very big mobs of red kangaroos and it was a fine sight to watch them bounding over log and mallee fences with the “old men” driving their females before them, unlike the blacks whose wives and children are in the rear. Men were employed on these stations to shoot wild horses, wild cattle, dingoes and kangaroos. They were paid on results and some of them were making big money at it.
Passing through dense mallee scrub, we pushed on towards Swan Hill and as we came into a small clearing, two half-bred jet-black dingoes came charging at us before turning and vanishing into the scrub, which restored our courage. We had disturbed them while they were gnawing on the carcase of a dead warragul horse.
There were not many buildings in Swan Hill in 1876 and, when we were there, the punt across the river was broken down. I can remember cattle being swum across the Murray into NSW with the authorities using a trained bullock to swim the river with the strange cattle following him across. The bullock would then swim back and take another mob across. It was a fine sight to see all this going on with a dozen or so black-fellows assisting in getting the cattle into the water.
I often wonder if a record has been kept of the wonderful feats of the early pioneers. What a fine history it would make recording the time when the stock riders cut out the cattle when there were no yards and they mustered the wild horses and chased the kangaroos in the bush. To quote A.L.G. [Adam Lindsay Gordon] “The hardest day was never then too hard, when we wheeled the wild cattle at the yard” [lines from ‘The Sick Stockrider’ – see Appendix II].
Leaving Swan Hill we pushed on down the river, past Culcairn owned at that time by Mr. Miller, then crossing the river at Euston we found ourselves in NSW. We called at several stations, on one of which there was a lake where the banks were strewn with dead fish. I do not know the cause of their demise but the cormorants were feeding on their carcases. Balranald was our next stop and we found it to be a nice little town with a police station, a lock-up and a pub. It is a fact wherever there is a pub there should also be a lock-up.
Peaka Lake [Lake Paika], owned by squatter McPherson was our next stop – there is no need to say that McPherson was a Scot. The lake after which the station was named was teeming with wild-fowl of every description and it was a fine sight to witness their comings and going.
The next station on the line of communication was Jumbong
The next station on the line of communication was Jumbong[Juanbung], owned by William Tyson, but as there was a fifty mile stage between it and Peaka Lake, we could not reach our destination in one day and camped that night at Long Lake. To be more correct, we roosted in the branches of a tree. This was wild country which was teeming with dingoes and scrubber cattle and to add to our worries we met up with a black fellow who said he would be returning later with some others. Being new-chums our nerves got the better of us, if the black had returned, he would have seen proof that man had descended from monkeys for we were up a tree. We kept a fire going, but with the bellowing of the wild bulls and the howling of the dingoes we had a very restless night. This was the first and last time I went to roost.
When morning came, and it came none too soon, the margin of Long Lake was thick with wild-fowl of every description from the pelican down to the widgeon. Out on the lake we could see a flock of cormorants following a shoal of fish with some diving while others remained overhead on guard. It was obvious these creatures did not get much interference from humans. We packed our belongings and started the next 20 mile stage with our stomachs full of sodden damper and billy tea, passing through Mallee scrub before emerging onto open plains. It was on these plains the station cattle came to meet us, holding their heads and tails erect and moving at the speed of a locomotive and the noise of a tornado. The cattle would rush to within a few yards of us, blow through their noses, then wheel away showing us their heels, which we much preferred to their heads. This went on until we re-entered scrub country and by which time we were nearly scared out of our wits.
We reached our destination [Juanbung station] at sundown and found on this station another fine lake where I saw how black boys brought down the wild-fowl. Concealing themselves behind trees, they waited until the wild-fowl moved inland to feed, gradually moving further away from the lake. They then showed themselves and the game would rise in a flock as the blacks with great dexterity, hurled their waddies and boomerangs into the midst of them, killing many and wounding some. It was quite amusing to see them diving into the water to catch the wounded.
The next morning, we passed into Tupra Station, then owned by James Tyson and managed by his nephew “Scrammy Jim”. It was said that Scrammy was never happy unless he had some of his men fighting. He was a huge man quite capable of taking on two or more at once. He was as strong as a lion and had a voice like a bull. However, we did not stay long enough to test his qualities. Another yarn about “Scrammy” concerned his tendency at branding, to put his own brand on every second lamb so that when the sheep were mustered, half belonged to Scrammy and the other half to his Uncle Jim, who by rights, should have owned 90 per cent.
Our next stop was Oxley Station on the Lachlan. This was not an imposing place as appearances went, but there were plenty of wild pigs in the scrub and mangroves along the river banks. These pigs were bred very, very fine, so much so that a man slightly curved in his understandings would find it difficult to stop one in a narrow lane. Pig-hunting, or pig-sticking as it was called, was the most exciting sport you could follow. Using a shear blade tapered like a lance and bound to a pole, and mounted on a good horse, a rider could chase ‘piggy’ down and get him with a well directed thrust behind his shoulder.
At Oxley we saw blacks spearing fish and they had little trouble getting a good supply. The river was low at the time and the blacks located the fish with their toes before jabbing them with their spears.
We camped on Oxley Station that night before leaving the next morning for Corrong, another station on the Lachlan, which was owned by Mr. Peter Tyson. Shearing was due to commence in three weeks and Tyson offered us work picking up wood until it started, at one pound a week and found [food and lodgings]. Our difficulty was we were unfinancial or, in other words, ‘stoney broke’, and this was a chance to get a few pounds together to bridge the now and then. After we had gathered enough wood to burn three kilns of charcoal, Tyson was satisfied with our work and paid what was owing to us. We then settled down to await the coming shearing season.
Chapter 6 – CORRONG STATION NEAR HAY, N.S.W. – 1876-1877
We found a bunk each in the mens’ hut which already contained about sixty men who were a mixture of nearly every nation under the sun. I was told later that one of them, who I thought was the most generous soul in the hut, was a bushranger. As the shearing drew nearer men continued to arrive and, in addition, there were about twenty Chinese camped in the lignum scrub on a bend of the river.
The hut was built in the old style with a table running almost its full length and three tiers of bunks on each side. It was capital accommodation for about 80 men with the kitchen and cook’s quarters forming the rear portion. Peter, Jack and I had bunks on the top section. Each bunk had a sheet of galvanised iron for the bottom and a woolly sheep skin as the “hipper”, or mattress.
Our principal diet while waiting for shearing to begin was damper and mutton, tea, and lumpy brown sugar. A fire-place was located in the cook’s quarters and it was nothing to see a dozen dampers cooking in the ashes at once. Ashes are the principal in damper baking as in cricket and there must be an abundance of them. On another part of the fire were dozens of billys and quart pots all singing away, and it was not surprising the kitchen had low visibility.
After tea the hours were wiled away with singing, recitations and card playing, which often went on all night with quite a bit of money changing hands. The young fellows, who were mainly me, Peter and Jack, were responsible for charging the slush lamps for which we received a small remuneration. The slushy as it is called is a pannikin half-filled with clay, with a piece of tin doubled together as a burner through which a piece of moleskin is placed as a wick and inverted into the clay. The pannikin is filled with fat and you then have a complete slushy. They are hungry brutes and require a lot of feeding.
In the day time prior to shearing commencing, the shearers held amateur sports meetings with the main events being running, jumping and wrestling. Boxing events were held at night. At times the blacks came along and put on demonstrations of spear-throwing, which was interesting to watch. I have seen them with the aid of a spear-thrower (woomera) pierce a hat at seventy paces.
The little bark canoes that the blacks, mostly lubras, came gliding down the river in, loaded with piccaninnies, pups and fish, were an amusing sight and we thought we would do likewise. We cut two from the trunks of red gums, fashioning them over a smoky fire and joining the seams together. When they were finished, it was decided to hold a regatta on a lagoon near the river, using poles to push us through the water.
After some practice runs the rouseabouts challenged the shearers to a race. In those days shearers regarded themselves as gentlemen and rouses were considered to be the underlings, so it was a bold move by the rouses to race against them. The race was held in the morning, before a large crowd and towards the end, it was clear that the rouses were going to badly hurt the shearers pride by winning. We were within a few yards of the finish and leading by nearly a length when we suddenly turned turtle and our crew was precipitated into the water. The shearers had avoided humiliation by shoving a pole into the stern of our canoe, causing it to turn over.
Just before shearing was due to commence, tongs and turkey-stones were handed out to the shearers and there was great excitement as everybody got ready to take on the shearing of 100,000 sheep in Tyson’s shed which had 28 stands, with fourteen on each side.
At about the same time, there was a meeting between the rouseabouts and some of the shearers concerning the Chinese who were still camped near the river and were offering to work for Tyson at fifteen shillings a week, whereas the general wage for rouses and dolly washers was one pound a week and found. The meeting agreed unanimously to attack the ‘pig-tails’ camp and drive them off the property. We elected an Irishman named Jack as our leader and everybody at the meeting agreed to take part in the attack, which was planned for that night. I certainly did not relish the idea of hunting the unfortunate Chinese and there was no compulsion for me to do so, but when looked at square in the face, somebody had to go and it was not going to be us.
We armed ourselves with shear blades and waddies and we carried some kerosene tins which were to be used as drums to drown out shouts of the ‘pig-tails’. When everyone was ready, we moved off into the night led by Jack, negotiating several billabongs and wending our way through dense lignum scrub until we were close to the south side of their camp. The Chinese were all asleep and when Jack gave the command, we went into battle. The night stillness was broken by the clashing of kerosene tins and cries of “yah-yah-yah” as we tore down their tents and scattered their belongings everywhere, while the Chinese beat a hasty retreat and hid in the lignum. Collecting everything that remained unbroken, we then retreated back to our quarters.
In the morning the Chinese left in a body for Hay, which was 30 miles distant, and we waited in trepidation for the arrival of the Police. Several days later they did arrive, but nothing ever came of the Battle of Lignum because everybody who had been involved was suddenly struck dumb.
Finally the shearing commenced with the shearers receiving one pound per hundred. They occupied quarters separate to the rouseabouts and the rousies stayed on in the men’s hut near the homestead. Our cook was Old Ned who had a knack of always making sour bread and water-logged doughboys, but altogether it was not a bad dish-up. We were fairly happy with our lot especially when it rained, although the shearers hated the rain because it meant they were not paid while it lasted or the sheep were wet.
I mainly did picking up and yarding in and around the shed but as I had knowledge of butchering, I was often employed to kill and dress sheep. Before the shed cut out I knew a bit of everything from hunting Chinese to riding a mule. Peter Tyson was a very sociable man and he would often stop and talk to me when I was dressing a sheep. He was a great one to joke with the men but if they took advantage of his familiarity and neglected their work, they were soon discharged. I got on well with both Tyson and his son Jack, who was in charge of the shed.
When the shed cut out Jack Appleface and Peter Paddock got the urge for city-life again and they returned to Ballarat. I remained and became a permanent station-hand.
I was very much interested in the blacks who visited Corrong, particularly a young princess who was quite comely and had a graceful and pleasing appearance. She kept giving me the glad eye and I was quite taken with her. Some of the station-hands used to say to me “You’ll marry a squatter’s daughter one day Tommy” and here was I enamoured with a black princess. However, I did not have the courage to ask King Buggawene for his consent to allow me to marry his daughter.
I was always a favourite of the blacks probably because I always treated them with the respect they deserved. They saw something in me which I was and am still unconscious of to this day. When I was a boy I was sometimes told I would be a good-for-nothing and having a sensitive nature I believed it. In my view to say such a thing to a child is an unconscious crime. Despite the condemnation I received, here I was barely 17 years old doing work that many others could not.
Another fortunate trait I had was that I always seemed to command pity particularly from women. It was always the women who snoodled me away and God bless them for it. Of course they were my downfall in the end, just like David and Sampson. It is said that pity is akin to love and I believe that it is probably true.
After shearing there was a variety of work to be done on Corrong with the most laborious task being the removal of the wool clip from 100,000 sheep across the river. The bales were loaded onto a flat-bottom boat or raft attached to a cable between trees on each side. The cable was used to haul the bales across, where they were then loaded onto wagons and transported to the town of Maude 20 miles distant. Here it was put on barges but where it was taken to I cannot say.
Every Sunday morning Tyson would visit the men’s hut and call for a volunteer to ride into Maude for the mail, even though most of us would be lucky if we got one letter a year from friends or family. I can still remember Tyson speaking of a reporter for one of the Sydney papers who wrote under the name Vagabond.
After the wool was transported from Corrong I went sheep-droving. Tyson had bought 20,000 wethers from the owners of Burrabogie station east of Hay on the Murrumbidgee, which at that time was suffering a severe drought. Seven of us were engaged to bring the sheep from Burrabogie to Corrong with the boss drover being a man named Taylor. I was put in charge of the transport wagon and two horses and I was also the cook. I was rising rapidly in the world from wool-picker to drovers’-cook. As I was only 17 years old this droving job was to me a big adventure which seemed to be a sort of Burke and Wills expedition.
We started out for the sheep with me driving the wagon and the men riding and leading a spare horse each. Our first stage was thirty miles to Hay, which we reached that night and, from what I saw and heard I realised I was not in clover.
For its size and population Hay had to be one of the vilest towns inland from Sydney. It was a squatters’ town, and although it was not low because of that, nevertheless it was low. There was danger for men, let alone women, who ventured out alone after dark, as anyone who did was likely to be robbed by a gang of roughs led by a man called the Jew boy who lay in wait for their victims.
We left Hay next morning on another 30 mile stage to Burrabogie. Taylor and a few of the men had drunk more liquor than they could comfortably carry and they were late starting but they were not far behind when we stopped for a break. That afternoon a big thunderstorm broke over us drenching us to the skin and delaying our progress so much we were forced to camp for the night on a riverbend. Luckily for me, and the men too, I did not have to do much cooking as we had bought meat and bread while in Hay. Taylor was still suffering from the previous night and did not eat much at all, but he got no sympathy from me. That night we settled down on the damp earth with Taylor often waking us with his continuous snoring.
In the morning with the sun just above the horizon and the kookaburras laughing away in the red gums we loaded our gear and set off again, reaching Burrabogie that afternoon. As we had to remain where we were for several days while the wethers were mustered, branded and counted off, we made ourselves as comfortable as possible.
The manager at Burrabogie was the best I have seen at counting off. Standing in the gateway he could accurately count the sheep both on his right and left simultaneously. At that time the area around Burrabogie was in the grip of a long drought and this was a great opportunity to buy at a cheap price and reap a big profit.
Our camp was in a clump of box trees and there was no shortage of wood to keep the fire going. The word cooking can be construed in many different ways and Taylor always complained that my bread had too much acid in it, although he seemed to enjoy it. Now and again I made slap jacks (flour, water, salt and a little fat) which were eaten hot after fifteen minutes baking. On Sundays I made dough boys and there was no shortage of tough mutton which was only fit for stewing.
With the counting and branding done Taylor took charge of the sheep and we started out for Corrong. Taylor, without telling me, had sent word into Hay for a cook to relieve me of my duties and this cook met us when we were a few miles from the start. I did not ask why the new cook had been engaged but I had noticed that most of the men carried in their pockets a bottle of Mother Segal’s Syrup, which was probably a good indication my cooking was not up to scratch.
From then on I was a drover riding the spare horse, which was the ghost of the party, always on the tail of the mob, where the cook usually is, except when there are fixed camping grounds when he travels ahead. My advice is to always stay close to the cook, whether it be a she or he.
Night watch was four hours on and four off, but sometimes adjusted according to the camping ground. Most of our camps were round camps and the sheep took a lot of watching as they were starving from a lack of feed. These sheep were driven in only one mob and the tail would not reach the head until night.
While we were on the road Tyson drove past with his two jet blacks to inspect his purchase and take a salute from his men. He had bought these 20,000 sheep at three shillings and sixpence a head and in nine months they would fetch five times that price, not to mention the wool he would get from them at shearing. From his own lips he told me that in his young days he travelled along the billabongs with only one shilling and sixpence in his pocket. At that time he was almost illiterate and could hardly write his own name, but he had plenty of ambition, grit, perseverance and energy.
After crossing the bridge spanning the Murrumbidgee near Hay, we were four days travelling from Corrong homestead and everything went smoothly for me until we had two days to go. The sheep were now on good feed on the salt-bush plains and travelling easily. It so happened my watch was from 2.00 a.m. to 4.00 a.m. and I had no sooner climbed into my swag when Taylor woke me and told me to bring in the horses that had been hobbled and turned out on the place the previous night. As it was still an hour until day-break there was little chance of finding them in the dark or hearing their bells when they were about two miles away on the plains. So I refused to go. It is my belief that Taylor asked me to go because I was only a boy and he was afraid to ask one of the men.
When the horses were eventually brought in after daylight Taylor refused to allow me breakfast and wrote out a note which he told me to take to Tyson. Again I refused saying I would not go until I had breakfast and, when a couple of the men interceded on my behalf, I got my fill and set off on foot to Corrong homestead fifteen miles distant. I had no idea what was in the letter, neither did I care. After delivering the note to Peter Tyson he read it very slowly and speaking in his drawling manner he said “Well Tom, Taylor says you will not obey orders. What have you got to say to his charge?”
Putting my case as best I could I told him that I was the youngest in the camp and Taylor had made me the drudge. I also told him that Taylor was usually half-drunk and that if it had not been for his assistants the sheep would probably be spread over half of New South Wales. I put more acid on Taylor than I had put in his bread.
So Tyson had my cheque made out by Burns the bookkeeper. I was not worried about my position as I was a wanderer in the Never-Never and the earth was my dwelling-place and the sky my canopy. Neither was I a prodigal son as I had nothing to waste on riotous living, and even if I had, I would not have done so.
Chapter 7 – SEBASTOPOL WELL AND FRESHWATER WELL ON CORRONG STATION – NOV. 1876 – JUNE 1877
After Tyson had handed me my cheque he said “I want you to go out back whim-driving at Sebastopol Well”. Immediately my head was filled with thoughts of the Whim Holes near Ballarat where I got two shillings a week and found, but I decided to go. After a couple of days rest I was ready for the journey and I set off into the wilderness, leaving behind what little civilisation there was at Corrong homestead.
Before writing about Sebastopol Well I will say a few words about life at Corrong. At shearing time everything springs into life. Men appear from everywhere and there is a general intermingling of news, songs and jokes. Following this influx comes a string of hawkers, jewellers, parsons and priests. Everything bubbles and froths like yeast. With the hawkers, jewellers, parsons and priests all looking for money, the men working on the station got fleeced as much as the sheep. Money was plentiful and, as most shearers and rouseabouts did not mind spending it, many a hawker became a prominent businessman from money he made travelling from station to station with his wares.
After shearing there is a general exodus from the station, the shearers hut is deserted, and only the permanent hands remain to carry on the same old game most of them have been at for years.
Tyson’s most faithful servant was a black-fellow named Shad, who was a great rough rider. His lubra was a domestic at the homestead and they had a hut to themselves. They lived a happy and contented life which back then was a rare occurrence for most whites, let alone blacks. Miss Tyson, the boss’s daughter, would often go out riding and Shad would always follow her at a respectful distance, which proves the confidence Tyson placed in him. It was often dangerous to ride on the plains as there were numerous wild horses (warrugals) and a stallion could attack at any time. Most of the old stagers carried a pistol for protection.
Another memorable resident at Corrong was an ancient black woman called Molly, who was supposed to be over 100. She certainly looked it as she was a walking skeleton with her whole body covered in greyish patches which were caused by burns. Her tribal relatives ignored her and it was only Tyson’s governess and the ladies of the household who showed any interest in her welfare when they occasionally visited her residence, which was a hollow red gum.
When I left for Sebastopol Well, Tyson provided me with a horse, and with my swag on the front of the saddle and a water bag on the dees, I set off into the wilderness hoping I would not have an encounter with a wild stallion. I reached Tarwong before dark and was made welcome by the Molloys and treated to the Cat’s Chorus from about midnight till dawn. The next day I arrived at Sebastopol Well where the hut was occupied by two boundary riders and a cook.
The emus also ventured in from the plains to drink and it was common to see some trapped, either dead or dying, in the wire fence. There is no doubt the emu is the most stupid of creatures when it comes to going through or over fences. While the emu was not timid of humans the scrubber cattle, warragul horses and kangaroos would only approach the well at night and then it was only after they had made sure that us humans were safely in bed.
The hut at the well was built of pine logs set upright in the ground with a galvanised iron roof and a lean-to for a verandah. We called it "The Oven" because of the roasting we got in it. All my leisure moments, and there was plenty of them, were spent under the verandah. If ever a lad had time to meditate it was me and I would sit watching, with sweat pouring from my body, as little birds who were famishing for a drink fluttered into the shade of the verandah to avoid the heat. I would put some of the salty well water in a billy lid and the birds drank it avidly. Thoughts would come to me of how I had robbed birds nests of their eggs when I was a boy and now here I was being their friend.
As I wiled away these precious hours of leisure I was fascinated by the scene before me.
What little literature we had in the hut was of a frivolous nature and consisted of a few musty old novels of the Deadwood Dick style, and judging from their battered appearance they must have been with Noah on the Ark.
The two boundary riders were called Curly and Dick. Dick wore a cabbage tree hat around which was a black velvet band and a chin strap under his bottom lip kept it on his head. No horse was any good to Dick without he bucked. If he wouldn't buck of his own accord Dick would make him and when the horse gave up bucking Dick would get another that would. Most of Dick's leisure time was spent making 18 foot stock whips, which he could use with telling effect. Curly said Dick was a cross between a Red Indian and a Hottentot.
Being a descendent of the Fitzgeralds and with a head of red curly hair Dick would often try to get me to mount one of his pet bucking horses saying to me in his persuasive way "He's allright Tommy, he's quiet as a lamb". But I wasn't having any as I had already had experience of pet lambs that butt you in the "Little Mary".
While riding on the plains Dick would sometimes cut down a wild turkey with his stock whip and the old cook would make what he called a sea pie, although a plains pie would be a better title. These turkey pies were a luxury we did not enjoy every day. The wild turkeys, or bustards as they were called, would sooner perish on the plain than come into the well for a drink, probably because they knew what their fate would be if they did. They seemed to be able to survive on the night dew although in that droughty summer, dew on the plains was not a common occurrence.
Apart from the bustards the only fresh meat we had was when we killed a sheep, but mostly we survived on meat that was salted to keep it from going bad. Strange to say we hardly ever saw a blowfly probably because it was too dry for them to survive.
One morning the cook took it into his head to leave. It was a common occurrence with cooks that when their cheque grew into the teens they would develop a beer thirst. Cobwebs started growing in their throat and they could see a pub in the mirage. Painkiller and water was a substitute for grog but when that was exhausted they would go to the very gates of hell for liquor, and so it proved with poor old Cooky.
Knowing I had a bit of experience as a drover's cook Curly and Dick asked me to take over the cook's duties until we got another. I said that I would.
Three days later Curly and Dick were mustering on the plains when Curly saw what he thought was a small bunch of sheep away in the distance. On drawing nearer he then could see that it was a blanket covering the nearly lifeless form of Cooky, dying of thirst. Dismounting he managed to get some water from his water bag into the cook, who was barely conscious and delirious.
Miles away on the plain Dick saw Curly waving to him with the cook's blanket and knowing something must be wrong for Curly to be on foot, he put his nag to the gallop and rode to the spot. Hoisting Cooky onto Curly's horse they brought him to the hut and after some skilful treatment he was not too long in recovering. Within a week he was reinstated in "The Oven", which to him was a refrigerating room.
It transpired that the cook in his haste to find a pub had tried to take a short cut, became lost, ran out of water and was heading to what he thought was a lake, but was really only a mirage, when he collapsed. Unless you are a thorough bushman and big on locality it can be fatal to wander on the plains and many men who thought they could do so have died as a consequence.
It was a rare occasion when we had a visitor and when one did turn up it was usually a wanderer who had lost his way and was attracted by the light of our slush lamp, like a moth to a candle. The manager at Tarwong outstation rarely came out to the Well and when he did it was after a downpour of rain, which happened every blue moon.
Dust storms were our principal with rolly polly's as an advance guard. Often we heard the distant boom of heavenly artillery and saw flashes of lightning with the atmosphere in commotion and cumulous clouds threatening a downpour. But these storms would pass without us getting a drop of rain and next morning the plains would again be shimmering in the hot sunlight. It was a pitiful sight to see the sheep and hear their bleating as they followed the track of the storm in the hope of finding fresh water. Like the cook they were only following a mirage.
Sixteen thousand sheep watered at this well where an underground tank from which V-shaped troughs ran out was complemented by a ground tank and an excavation in the earth. The hut was situated on a sandhill surrounded by some native pines, mulga bushes and some lignum scrub. There was a small paddock to hold Bluey the saddle horse who was kept to run in the two whim horses from the plains.
I found more life here than at Sebastopol Well, as the place was swarming with fleas who revelled in the sand and defied all our efforts to deter them. The fleas remained on duty 24 hours a day.
Two men and a lad, who was me, made up the numbers at Freshwater Well. The cook was an old man who drank the painkiller as a substitute for grog and he had a good supply to tide him over the drought and keep the cobwebs out of his throat. The man who took delivery of the bucket when it was hauled up from the well was a former sailor named Jack.
Unlike Sebastopol Well all the sheep who drank at Freshwater Well were volunteers as they came in of their own accord and did not require mustering. The two whim horses were named Pumpkin and Melon and they were a pair of cunning old gentlemen if ever there was.
Our duty was to bail water at night and sleep during the day, but our sleep was controlled by the humour the fleas were in. We knew the time at night by the stars and by day from the shadows cast by the pines. As to what day it was we could not remember if it was a Monday or a Friday – all we knew was that the sun rose and went down again. None of us wore boots as we seldom went far from the hut and when one of us did, he would ride Bluey the hack. During the day great flocks of galahs would hover overhead screeching like evil souls while we tried to sleep. The emus also came in to drink and there was often a dozen or more of them around the troughs.
Jack the Sailor had an old blunderbuss and a walleyed dog, and with the assistance of both he was successful in bringing down a lot of emus. He had a big pile of skins which he intended to take home to sell in England after his pay cheque grew to the enormous sum of one hundred pounds.
One day Jack decided to take the old gun and Walleye and do a bit of kangaroo hunting. Eventually he managed to slightly wound an old man 'roo and after sooling Walleye in, Jack decided to do a bit of infighting which was probably what the "old man" was hoping for. When Jack got close enough the 'roo attempted to hug him and Jack came perilously close to having a ripping time, before making a hasty retreat up a tree while Walleye raced around below him barking and yelping. After this episode Jack applied his attention to emus and left the kangaroos to themselves.
It was our custom, after finishing bailing the water, for Jack and I to have a bath in the ground tank and then have our supper (but was really breakfast), which consisted of soda bread, a hunk of salt mutton and billy tea.
About three months after I arrived at Freshwater Well I got a severe chill which brought on acute indigestion and prostrated me out in the Never Never a hundred mile from the nearest doctor. This brought my fascination with outback life to an end for some time and the lines from The Burial of Sir John Moore, or a parody of them, came to my mind:
Finally the cook and Jack agreed that I should go into the homestead. They had no way of letting Tyson know I was coming so they packed my belongings, strapped them to my horse's saddle and gave me a blanket to throw over my head to protect me from the cold at night and the sun by day. Filled with visions of what had happened to old Cooky at Sebastopol Well I set off early and just before sundown I reached Tarwong outstation.
Pat and Mrs. Malloy were exceedingly kind to me and their cook administered a draught of painkiller which relieved my suffering very much. I set off next morning on the second stage of my journey which was to take me from Tarwong to Dry Lake where the sole occupant was "Old Scotty" who shepherded the rams.
There was a story that near Dry Lake a headless horseman was supposed to ride at night amongst the cattle, taking away the best. Scotty had spent a large part of his life at Dry Lake on his own after getting his ticket of leave from Van Diemens Land, and the only time he saw other white men was during shearing season, so it was not surprising that he was a bit eccentric. As I drew near to Scotty's hut with the blanket over my head and hanging down the horse's flanks I could see him standing outside, and when I eventually reached him he told me he thought I was the headless horseman and he had nearly rushed inside to get his gun and shoot me.
I camped at Scotty's hut that night and his food, like Scotty, was as tough as leather. The old man could digest sodden damper without any trouble, but it was beyond me and I ate nothing while I was with him. I left Dry Lake the following morning in misty rain which thoroughly soaked the blanket and the Corrong stations hands were nearly as puzzled as old Scotty when I appeared with the blanket covering my head.
The painkiller cure died out here as Old Ned the cook gave me a big glass of brandy which warmed me up. I was made as comfortable as possible and the next morning Jack Tyson escorted me to the Hay Hospital where we arrived at dusk.
CHAPTER 8 – HAY N.S.W. – JULY 1877 TO FEB. 1878
On arrival at Hay Hospital I felt quite lonely as I was still far from well and I did not know a soul, but while I was there Jack Tyson occasionally wrote to me and told me what was happening at Corrong Station.
The doctor ordered me to bed and then had a fly blister placed on my chest which he said was to stay on for three hours. Those were probably the worst three hours of my life and when to my great relief the blister was finally removed, most of the skin from my chest was adhering to it. Despite the pain it caused me the blister seemed to do some good and after about ten days in bed I was able to get up and move around.
Only one warder was kept at Hay Hospital and the patients who could move about were supposed to assist him. Some men who were able to assist were kept longer than they would have if there had been another warder. Quite a bit of malingering went on and the warder, who was fond of his whisky, was tipped freely by the wealthy patients, proving that money can heal many wounds. I got to feel quite at home and as Tyson was one of the leading subscribers to the hospital, I stood on velvet.
The dead house, as it was called was the only part of the place I was not familiar with. Although I sometimes had to help carry a corpse there, I did not hang around any longer than necessary.
Two thirds of the patients were suffering from the effects of drink, or accidents caused by drink. The rest were generally suffering from fevers or sandy blight which, in those days, was quite a serious complaint. It was caused from the bite of a fly, which closely resembles the house fly, causing one or both eyes to close up. Inflammation would set in, often causing temporary blindness. If you got bitten when riding out on the plains it was best to ride to the nearest water and remain there until the swelling was reduced. Otherwise you could become blind and stranded in the Never Never.
An instrument known as the “Button" was kept at the hospital to deal with patients who tried to stay on after they were cured, and when the warder thought a patient was malingering he informed the doctor. Then the “Button" would be produced. The patient was told to lie on his stomach with his shirt thrown over his head and the "Button", which had been heated until it was very hot, would be applied over his kidneys. Not many malingerers stayed to receive another dose of the "Button".
Sundays were visiting days and most of the patients had friends or relatives who came to see them. Even though I was the lonely boy the people were kind and would often talk to me.
After convalescing I took a position at Esplin’s Tattersall’s Hotel in Hay where I first drove a pair of horses. It was to drive Peter Tyson out to his homestead, not because he was unable to drive, but because he was unable to rise. I was nervous at first but once on the plains there was nothing to collide with as there was only one fence between Hay and the homestead.
Altogether I had three trips to Corrong and my second was with Tyson's governess in a one-horse hooded buggy. She was a stout old body and sat very close to me, which made me uncomfortable, especially when she produced a flask of brandy and offered me a nip. I refused but thanked her for her offer. I remembered Mother telling me to always thank a person for a kind act, although I forgot to thank the doctor for the fly blisters.
My next and final trip to Corrong was to deliver a telegram, and I rode a horse called Hard Times who cantered with a roll that brought on plains sickness. I spent the night with my old friend Ned the cook, who still baked sour bread, and returned to Hay next morning.
Another trip I made was to take a mob of horses from Hay to Tyson’s cattle station, “Waljeers", near Booligal on the Lachlan River. After delivering them I spent the night with the manager whose name was Bolger. Tea was the same old bush menu. Apart from Bolger the only other inhabitants at “Waljeers" were a half-caste boundary rider and his missus, who was the cook. This place was noted for its flies and millions of mosquitoes which drove the horses mad. The lignum along the river was their only shelter and if a fire was lit they would stand in the smoke for protection. It was not safe to leave a door open as the horses would enter the hut in their attempts to escape the pests.
In mustering season riders came out from Corrong homestead to cut out the fat cattle, exciting work providing you had a good horse and were a capable rider. lf not you would soon find your second seat and probably the horn.
After staying in Hay for some time I got an attack of sandy blight and decided it was time to leave. It was now February 1878 and I had been away for twenty months. Cobb and Co. coaches crossed the Old Man Plan between Hay and Deniliquin, leaving at 5 p.m. and arriving at 10.00 a.m. There were seven relays of horses on this trip and, what with a hot summer's night and the sandy blight, I did not find it fascinating.
I entrained at Deniliquin and arrived at Castlemaine that night with the next day seeing me leave the landscape behind me to return to my old home town, with plenty of experience but not much money.
Peter Tyson was born on 20 October 1825 at Appin, in the Picton district of New South Wales. He was the youngest of 11 children of William Tyson and Isabella (née Coulson). Peter’s father died at East Bargo in January 1827.
In the mid-1840s Peter Tyson’s older brothers – William, James and John – took up a pastoral run at the junction of the Lachlan and Murrumbidgee rivers.
On 2 April 1852 Peter Tyson and Margaret Ann Shiel were married at St. Mark’s church, Appin, NSW. Peter and Margaret Tyson probably joined Peter’s brothers on the Lower Lachlan soon after they were married. Their first child was born in January 1853 at “Tyson’s station” (later known as “Torrong”). The couple had the following children:
Until early 1864 Peter and Margaret Tyson were based at “Toorong”, at the Lachlan-Murrumbidgee junction. An item in the Pastoral Times of 7 May 1864 reported that Peter Tyson was to manage all the Lower Lachlan stations while James Tyson is on a three-year tour of his other properties. At this point Peter Tyson and his family probably transferred to the homestead at “Tupra” (where they remained at least until early 1866).
The squatter George Desailly, who in partnership with his brother Francis, was attempting to develop back-blocks between the Lachlan and Darling rivers. George Desailly had a dam constructed during 1865 across the Lachlan River near Booligal in order to drive water through creeks that crossed his run.
By late 1867 Peter and Margaret Tyson and their family had moved further upstream and were living at “Corrong” station. During 1868 and 1869 Peter Tyson served as a Sheep Director for the Hay District. In about 1870 “Til Til” was separated from “Tarwong” and sold. In late 1870 construction began on a “very imposing and commodious residence” at “Corrong”. The homestead was designed by a Melbourne architect and built by Witcombe Bros. of Hay, at a cost of £3,000.
In March 1875 a press report stated that Peter Tyson of Corrong had lately returned from Melbourne where he had been treated for rheumatism “and consequent contraction of the muscles”. He spent eight weeks under the care of three doctors.
Peter Tyson’s wife Margaret died on 1 September 1877 at “Coorong” station, aged 45 years. Tom Booth’s reminiscences do not mention this incident; by that stage Booth was probably working at George Esplin’s Tattersall’s Hotel. During his time at the hotel Tom made three trips to “Corrong”: to drive Peter Tyson (apparently severely hung-over) to his homestead; to drive Tyson’s governess out to “Corrong”; and, to deliver a telegram by horseback. The overall impressive is of an extremely disruptive period at “Corrong” homestead.
On 21 December 1878 Peter Tyson married Blakely Crawford at Tattersall’s Hotel in Hay. Mrs. Crawford was the widow of Sydney Crawford, former Police Magistrate of Adelaide. Shortly afterwards, however, on 28 March 1879, Peter Tyson died at St. Kilda in Melbourne, aged 53 years.
Mrs. Blakeley Tyson, widow of Mr. Peter Tyson, died on 22 March 1903, at her daughter’s residence at St. Kilda in Melbourne, aged 71 years [Riverine Grazier, 13 April 1903].
James 'Scrammy' TYSON
James Tyson was born on 22 March 1841 at Narellan, NSW, the son of William Tyson and Margaret (née Cantillon). He was baptized at St. Peter’s church, Campbelltown, on 16 May 1841. William and Margaret Tyson had six children, born between 1839 and 1855, of which James was the second-born. James Tyson probably came to the Lower Lachlan at an early age. In March 1846 Edmund Morey drove cattle along the Murrumbidgee in search of a pastoral run. From his description of Tyson’s station it is apparent to Margaret Tyson was living there at that stage, though there is no mention of any children.
James’ parents, William and Margaret Tyson, separated during the period 1855-7. At about this time William Tyson began a relationship with Emma Adelaide Adams, from which nine children were born between 1857 and the mid-1870s.
'Scrammy Jim' Tyson managed “Tupra” station for his uncle James, probably from about the mid-1860s. ‘Scrammy’ was an Australian nickname for a man with a defective or injured hand or arm [A Dictionary of Australian Colloquialisms (4th Edition) by G.A. Wilkes (1996)]; other sources define 'scrammy' as a term for left-handedness.
In the early 1870s Tyson met Harriet Logan at Oxley township (nearby to “Tupra”), where she was working as a governess to the children of a local publican. Within a few years Harriet, who was married and had separated from her husband, was living with James Tyson at “Tupra” station. James 'Scrammy' Tyson and Harriet Logan had the following children (both of them born at “Tupra”):
James ‘Scrammy’ Tyson and Harriet Logan (née Webb) were eventually married on 16 December 1881 at St. Stephen's church, Richmond, Victoria; they were able to be married on the supposition that Harriet’s husband, Thomas Logan, had died. James Tyson and Harriet Logan were once again married in 1886 at Hay (as it had been discovered that Harriet’s previous husband had been alive at the time of the 1881 marriage).
Lengthy divorce proceedings between James and Harriet Tyson, which began in 1890, resulted in the annulment of their marriage in 1892 [NSW Divorce Case Papers 1890/601]. On 28 June 1894 James Tyson and Victoria Jane Georgina Simmonds (née Sturkey; born in about 1865 at Capetown, South Africa) were married at South Yarra, Victoria. They had the following children:
On 25 May 1899 the sale of properties at Hay, Deniliquin and Oxley “in the estate of the late Hon, James Tyson” took place at the Tattersall’s Hotel at Hay. The disposal of the properties was entrusted to two auctioneers, Charles Hidgcock and George Butterworth. Among those in attendance were James Tyson (Jnr.) and Albert Tyson, administrators in the estate. [Riverine Grazier, 26 May 1899]
James Tyson’s second marriage may have also ended before he died in 1907 [refer NSW Divorce Case Papers 1906/5749a].
James 'Scrammy Jim' Tyson died on 27 March 1907 at Hay, aged 66 years. He was buried in the Church of England portion of the Hay cemetery.
Tyson’s first wife, Harriet Logan, died on 8 February 1912 at the Callan Park Asylum at Rozelle, NSW. Jane Georgina Tyson, second wife of James Tyson, died in 1956 at Chatswood, NSW.
THE SICK STOCKRIDER(1869)
by Adam Lindsay Gordon (1833-70)
Hold hard, Ned! Lift me down once more, and lay me in the shade.
Old man, you've had your work cut out to guide
Both horses, and to hold me in the saddle when I swayed,
All through the hot, slow, sleepy, silent ride.
The dawn at "Moorabinda" was a mist rack dull and dense,
The sun-rise was a sullen, sluggish lamp;
I was dozing in the gateway at Arbuthnot's bound'ry fence,
I was dreaming on the Limestone cattle camp.
We crossed the creek at Carricksford, and sharply through the haze,
And suddenly the sun shot flaming forth;
To southward lay "Katawa", with the sand peaks all ablaze,
And the flushed fields of Glen Lomond lay to north.
Now westward winds the bridle-path that leads to Lindisfarm,
And yonder looms the double-headed Bluff;
From the far side of the first hill, when the skies are clear and calm,
You can see Sylvester's woolshed fair enough.
Five miles we used to call it from our homestead to the place
Where the big tree spans the roadway like an arch;
'Twas here we ran the dingo down that gave us such a chase
Eight years ago – or was it nine? – last March.
'Twas merry in the glowing morn among the gleaming grass,
To wander as we've wandered many a mile,
And blow the cool tobacco cloud, and watch the white wreaths pass,
Sitting loosely in the saddle all the while.
'Twas merry 'mid the blackwoods, when we spied the station roofs,
To wheel the wild scrub cattle at the yard,
With a running fire of stock whips and a fiery run of hoofs;
Oh! the hardest day was never then too hard!
Aye! we had a glorious gallop after "Starlight" and his gang,
When they bolted from Sylvester's on the flat;
How the sun-dried reed-beds crackled, how the flint-strewn ranges rang,
To the strokes of "Mountaineer" and "Acrobat".
Hard behind them in the timber, harder still across the heath,
Close beside them through the tea-tree scrub we dash'd;
And the golden-tinted fern leaves, how they rustled underneath;
And the honeysuckle osiers, how they crash'd!
We led the hunt throughout, Ned, on the chestnut and the grey,
And the troopers were three hundred yards behind,
While we emptied our six-shooters on the bushrangers at bay,
In the creek with stunted box-trees for a blind!
There you grappled with the leader, man to man, and horse to horse,
And you roll'd together when the chestnut rear'd;
He blazed away and missed you in that shallow water-course –
A narrow shave – his powder singed your beard!
In these hours when life is ebbing, how those days when life was young
Come back to us; how clearly I recall
Even the yarns Jack Hall invented, and the songs Jem Roper sung;
And where are now Jem Roper and Jack Hall?
Ay! nearly all our comrades of the old colonial school,
Our ancient boon companions, Ned, are gone;
Hard livers for the most part, somewhat reckless as a rule,
It seems that you and I are left alone.
There was Hughes, who got in trouble through that business with the cards,
It matters little what became of him;
But a steer ripp'd up Macpherson in the Cooraminta yards,
And Sullivan was drown'd at Sink-or-swim;
And Mostyn – poor Frank Mostyn – died at last, a fearful wreck,
In the "horrors" at the Upper Wandinong,
And Carisbrooke, the rider, at the Horsefall broke his neck;
Faith! the wonder was he saved his neck so long!
Ah! those days and nights we squandered at the Logans' in the glen –
The Logans, man and wife, have long been dead.
Elsie's tallest girl seems taller than your little Elsie then;
And Ethel is a woman grown and wed.
I've had my share of pastime, and I've done my share of toil,
And life is short – the longest life a span;
I care not now to tarry for the corn or for the oil,
Or for wine that maketh glad the heart of man.
For good undone, and gifts misspent, and resolutions vain,
'Tis somewhat late to trouble. This I know –
I should live the same life over, if I had to live again;
And the chances are I go where most men go.
The deep blue skies wax dusky, and the tall green trees grow dim,
The sward beneath me seems to heave and fall;
And sickly, smoky shadows through the sleepy sunlight swim,
And on the very sun's face weave their pall.
Let me slumber in the hollow where the wattle blossoms wave,
With never stone or rail to fence my bed;
Should the sturdy station children pull the bush-flowers on my grave,
I may chance to hear them romping overhead.
I don't suppose I shall though, for I feel like sleeping sound,
That sleep, they say, is doubtful. True; but yet
At least it makes no difference to the dead man underground
What the living men remember or forget.
Enigmas that perplex us in the world's unequal strife,
The future may ignore or may reveal;
Yet some, as weak as water, Ned, to make the best of life,
Have been to face the worst as true as steel.
THE BURIAL OF SIR JOHN MOORE AFTER CORUNNA
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