A Trip to the Gold Diggings #8: Flagstone Creek to the Condamine

A Trip to the Gold Diggings #8: Flagstone Creek to the CondamineIn 1859 a wave of gold fever hit the newly independent colony of Queensland, and hundreds of men headed southwest to Tooloom, approximately 150 kilometres over the border into New South Wales. This journey of around four or five days on horseback was also taken by J. Robinson, a correspondent of the 'Moreton Bay Courier' in November 1859, and he wrote a detailed account of his travels both there and back (see map below). The result is a fascinating insight into life on the road during the earliest days of colonial Queensland, as well as the rough-and-ready atmosphere of the goldfields. The writings are reproduced in this 'A Trip to the Gold Diggings' series.

Warning: This article contains language that would be considered extremely racially offensive today, but is retained here for historical context.

Moreton Bay Courier, 20 December 1859

Flagstone Creek

I calculated this point of the journey to be about eighteen or twenty miles from Tooloom. This was the point at which Peter was to leave us and return again to his Mary. The poor fellow must have had terrible hard work to have made his camp before sun-down, as it was nearly three o’clock in the afternoon when he left us. The difficulty of the way at the points where I have mentioned may be judged by the fact that we had been nearly eight hours on the way without any rest, the pace of the blackfellow being, on an average, three and a-half miles an hour. I forgive that rascal Peter for the ability that he displayed in appropriating my knife, which he borrowed to cut a stick and did not remember to return. Let the knife and the handy guide go back to Mary. If any brother of the tribe played falsely while Peter was earning white money, the knife may help to avenge Peter‘s wrongs, and make him famous amongst the gunyahs of Queensland as a desperate avenger of violated honor. If Sterne moralized on a dead ass, and ill-used his wife, as the old literary chronicles tell, surely I have a right to moralize on Peter and his Mary. And thus in my mind, after the approved silence outwardly of the Quaker, but from the inward expression of the soul, bade I Peter farewell.

‘Return oh Peter, child of these wilds, again to thy dwelling on the hill side of Tooloom. There are yet four hours ere the orb of day sinks behind the western horizon. Go Peter - seek thy many, wander still these hills of thy fathers, and have no connection with the white man, for thy skin remits a perfume far less fragrant than roses, and thy taste for human flesh savours too much of the tiger of the jungle. Go Peter – say not the white man is unkind. Think, Peter, think on the glory of the race of thy fathers, and like Merwin of old, hang thy spear and waddie in the sunshine, for great deeds belong to thy race.’ Exalted in fancy, when the imagination had gone thus far, by the cry of ‘bosh.’ Fancy said, ‘you will be charged with imitating Macpherson in his Ossian.’ ‘Never mind,’ I replied, ‘he pretended that he found Ossian in old manuscript. I am therefore only the imitation of a deceiver, but there is no one to say that Ossian is not original; It is so original that an old newspaper hack should write books like it at so much per mile, and get rich into the bargain.

But here my readers may say, why not talk about Flagstone Creek? Presto! Peter is gone. The creek, then, is bottomed with huge rocks, and in some parts the water has worn circular in which the water remains when the other parts of the creek are dry. The passage of the creek presents a singular appearance - a rocky roadway; the name was aptly given, and he who first bestowed its natural cognoma was a better judge of proper names than many of the Yankees. In the rocky bottom of the creek the action of the water had worn deep round holes, and these in the dryest seasons contain water. The taste of the water thus retained and kept stagnant under the rays of the sun, I cannot describe as pleasant. The day that I passed the creek was not a very warm one, and yet the water in these natural rocky wells was quite warm. I should not wish a finer week’s holiday than tracing and examining Flagstone Creek, since at all the points that I looked upon it, there were indications of the great changes which have taken place by the action of the water and from other causes - sufficient to repay any inquirer who did not measure the knowledge obtained by the gold it might bring. With the settlers for miles round Flagstone Creek is well known, and is spoken of as more than a gully, which information, as Australian fashion goes, will satisfy your readers that I have not spent too much time at the creek, where I was bereft of the services of Peter the black.

Acacia Creek

A few miles from Flagstone Creek is Acacia Creek. For the first three or four miles on the way from one point to the other the country is not very inviting; but no sooner are the hills climbed and something like the level obtained than the traveller is sensible of a change of temperature and soil. Two or three miles of level travelling from where the hills terminate brings the passer to Acacia Creek, near to which is the residence of a Mr. McLean, a relative of he who is known as ‘Jack McLean, of Westbrook.’ As it was quite time that both horse and man rested - and as I did not really wish to go farther that night, I hugged myself with thought that the day’s journey was done, even though I had not up to that time, caught sight of the Condamine. Suffice it to say that I did not remain at Acacia Creek, only long enough to rest myself and horse. I partook of the hospitality that was offered, but the invitation was given in a manner which I interpreted as ‘we shall be much obliged if you don’t.’ I would, at any time, prefer a pot of tea and a camp at the foot of a gum tree, than where travellers are only tolerated because it would be inhumanity to turn them adrift. I am sorry there is a growing opinion that hospitality at the stations is dying out; and that where it is accorded it is with that coldness which makes a sensitive mind wish there was ‘a house of accommodation,’ where charge would be made at every stage. The great change which is likely shortly to take place politically, and the chances are that legislation may decide on the distribution of this magnificent territory, should teach all graziers a little lesson, which I may portray to them parabolically.

Parabolic Teaching for Squatters

Before the commencement of the Russian war, when political feeling ran high, it was believed in political circles that the power would not long be confided alone to the aristocratic circles. Up from the lower and middle classes men had soared into public life and there was a growing feeling against the ‘Upper ten thousand’ as a class. When the tide of war rolled fiercely – when the lists of death came month after month from Scutari, Varna, Alma, Inkermann, and from the trenches before that doomed city which held out so long and obstinately, the names of the sons of the aristocracy, ah, and even of the holders of titles themselves, came amongst the mournful lists. Then the people saw that England’s aristocracy (which is the finest in the world) could fight as well as do the amiable, and once more they helped on the car adorned with flowers; and once more they dozed into apathy and were satisfied that they might change for the worse. My meaning is so plain that the graziers need not quarrel if I leave them to find the moral; and each may then adapt it to himself.

The Condamine

Oh for a pen that would write itself without the trouble of guiding; and oh for a brain more worthy than mine to do justice to the country upon which I am entering. ‘The Condamine, the Condamine,’ shouts my companion with all the ardour of a German coming in sight of his beloved Rhine. And there it is - a silver streak stretching away in the distance, while the country on all sides is beautifully verdant, and the cattle that roam the plains delight themselves in fatness. Since I have resided in the colony this was the first day that I could realize the idea that I was in a country like England. The roads were finer than I had ever previously seen on this side of the old ocean. Talk of Macadamised roads! In many places these mean, rough stones sticking up in dirty ways. Here, in sight and near the Condamine, the roads were as level as a bowling green, and not even her gracious Majesty, in the Home Park, has finer roads to drive on than those which natural soil has favored on the road from Acacia Creek to Warwick: but I halt at ‘ The Elbow,’ - and having mentioned the river I set out in quest of, I should not do justice if I skipped the description of as fine a sixteen miles of country as it was ever my fortune to look upon.

Palmerin Street, Warwick, ca. 1868. (Qld State Library)

The Elbow

Before I further relate the story of my travels I would wish to make mention of the sympathy which is shown on behalf of the repeal of the duty on gold. All the diggers and those in the immediate neighbourhood of the diggings, argue that the diggers are amongst the largest consumers and should not, therefore, pay duty on that article which they obtain from the earth through so much toil. They had prepared a memorial in favour of the abolition of the duty when I was at Tooloom, and the document was in course of signature. Thus much by way of a reminder where I had come from. My story legally and truthfully picks me up at ‘The Elbow,’ at which place I received the greatest hospitality from a gentleman who holds a responsible situation on the station to which that beautiful part of Queensland belongs.

From 'The Elbow’ to Warwick is sixteen miles - a splendid road, the description I gave previously I intend to answer for here. Now the traveller goes through a splendidly flat country, while on his right meanders the Condamine. After rising a very slight elevation there is little for half a dozen miles to admire save the beauty of the way and the thinness of the timber. All at once breakage is made on to a large plain, covering some square miles, and here the land is rich, and ready for the plough as soon as there shall be a liberal land scheme, and speculation shall provide what is needful for the prosperity of small farmers. Here I began to experience the truth of what I had formerly heard and feel by actual observation that Warwick and its adjacent plains should be the granary of the colony. What more can I say than that plain after plain was crossed until we began to run down the fence of Canning Downs paddock. Talk of the advantages of an early residence in a new country? In no case was it more perceptible than by looking on the splendid paddock I have mentioned. It was the prince of paddocks; and when I heard of pre-emptive rights and all such stuff I fancied those who allowed the appropriation of such princely places on such easy terms were not wise in their generation for those that may come after. I make no crossroads to call special attention to any English feelings I may have experienced. To sermonise for a month on the extent of stations, and the great advantages possessed by the lessees would not alter the facts or make the country less beautiful. It did appear, however, to my simple mind rather against the grain to see a large place like the paddock, so close to the town of Warwick locked completely up from the people, more especially as the Condamine, I was given to understand, runs through the well selected and beautifully-adapted spot for any purpose. In writing thus, I may state that I have no animosity against the squatters as men. They have only taken advantage of a fortunate chain of circumstances and done what every sane man would have done similarly situated - made the best of it.

The Day’s Journey Done

If every fifty miles travelled afforded as much food for reflection as those have which I have passed over since I left Tooloom, every traveller would be ‘a reflector’ on a large scale, and would weary if he knew not how to time his paragraphs and round his sentences. All day long had I inquired about Warwick, and the scenes presented had more than far answered the description or my expectation. In the shades of night I pass a number of homesteads and am at last in Warwick. The air feels English like; but here I may remark, that my testimony should be carefully received, as the ride across the open plains, and the healthy appearance of the cattle, the luxuriance of the grass, and the cool breeze had, perhaps, excited me to an undue appreciation of that part of Queensland in which I found myself. I take my leave of the day’s riding and day’s working with an earnest hope for the future of the district of Warwick; and though not gifted with the spirit of prophesy, it requires not the wisdom of a seer to foretell a great increase in population and wealth to this part of Queensland as soon as its capabilities, soil, and climate shall be understood.