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2-342 (Raw)

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addressee author,male,Byrne, J.C.,un
Narrative Discourse
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Public Written
Ward, 1969
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2-342-raw.txt — 6 KB

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It was in the year 1839, that the author was first induced to visit South Australia. At that time stock of every kind fetched an extremely high price in the new colony; the supply being scanty, and the demand great. The length of the voyage by sea from Van Dieman's [sic] Land presented an insuperable bar to large importations from that quarter; so that from New South Wales alone could the demand be supplied. Although the intervening country was all but unknown, and the distance was so immense between the two colonies, yet several enterprising parties had succeeded in effecting the journey with large herds and flocks. But the losses on the road had materially curtailed profits, and many lives had been sacrificed in collisions with the aborigines. Yet the prospect of large gains was too much for the human heart to resist; and the author joined two friends in the speculation of purchasing a large herd of cattle, and driving them overland to South Australia for sale. One of the partners was not to accompany the expedition, but in his stead a youth of sixteen, his son, was to join the party.
Shortly after our agreement had been concluded, a herd of cattle and about fifty working bullocks were purchased, besides a number of useful horses.
The party rendezvoused in the neighbourhood of Yass Plains, and on mustering, there turned out 973 head of horned cattle, including calves, besides 53 working bullocks, four drays, and nineteen horses. The men numbered sixteen, exclusive of the author, his friend, and the youth who had joined the party. [320]
A plentiful store of flour, tea, sugar, salt pork, and sundries had been provided with a good stock of firearms and ammunition; and on one of the drays a square punt was lodged, to aid in crossing rivers and creeks, otherwise impassable.
The men were chiefly old hands, many having been convicts long inured to every description of hardship, and caring little whether they lay down to rest within the hollow of a monster gum-tree, or the walls of a human habitation. Several years previously, two of the number had dwell for some time amongst the aborigines, and were most experienced bushmen.
No road or track marked out the way we were to take. Our course was along the banks of the River Murrumbidgee, until it fell into the Murray, and then down she latter until it entered South Australia, and emptied its waters into Lake Alexandrina.
Of personal baggage none of the party possessed much; a couple of suits of rough clothes and half a dozen coloured shirts was the wardrobe of each: and only one small tent had been brought for the accommodation of the leaders of the party.
In the depth of the Australian winter we first formed our encampment on Yass Plains, that period being the most propitious for our enterprise, as it held out the best chance of water and pasture for the stock. A single day was enough to set everything in order, and assign each his station, and on the following morning we made a start, first proceeding along the track for Port Phillip. in order to reach that part of the Murrumbidgee, where the crossing-place towards Australia Felix was situated. The distance to the river was about sixty-five miles, and as the cattle were very wild and restive, we were rather more than a week reaching it, at a place called Gundagai. There we found an inn, the house being composed of slabs covered with bark, but the customers were bosh numerous and uproarious, for there were no less than five parties 'camped' on the banks of the river, on their way with cattle and sheep to the rich and newly-discovered regions of Australia Felix.
Gundagai is about 250 miles from Sydney, and stands on the utmost limits of location in New South Wales. At this place there was usually a large punt. for the purpose of crossing the river, communication being effected by means of a cable attached to a tree on either bank. Before our arrival, owing to the rains having flooded the river, this cable had been broken when the punt was in the act of being hauled across, and once at liberty, down the stream floated the boat, until it grounded on a point three miles below. Being large and heavy, it had remained there, as it was found impossible to drag it up against the freshes. Thus all communication between either bank was interrupted, and many were delayed on their journey.
But whoever suffered, the landlord of the inn was not amongst the number, for he drove a rattling trade among the wayfarers; and in all directions about the hut were to be seen men in parties of five or six, doing their utmost to get drunk One knot particularly attracted my attention; they were stretched on a pile of split timber, with a large bucket of rum in the centre, out of which they were drinking with tin pint pots, urging all that came near them to partake of their refreshment. [321]
Our men of course could not resist temptation, and the greater part of them, in spite of all our entreaties, joined the topers. and soon became intoxicated. That night we had great difficulty in preventing the cattle from straying, and getting mixed with others, only four men remaining to assist us. Next day twelve out of the sixteen men were uproariously drunk, and loudly expressed their determination not to proceed one step further on their journey without an advance of £2 per man, and time to spend it at the inn, with some old companions they had fallen in with. This was at first resisted, but ultimately acceded to by us, for we knew that there were no other hands to be obtained, and ascertained that the distance to a police station, and a magistrate, was considerable; Yass being the nearest township.
At the end of three days the money was all spent, and an order on a Sydney merchant was given to the landlord for the amount; travellers in the interior seldom carrying ready money with them, but always paying by means of orders on Sydney. It was only on our oft-repeated determination, not to be further accountable for what he would furnish, and a threat that in case of his supplying our men with more spirits, we would report him to the Commissioner of Crown Lands, that the landlord was induced to stop his tap, so far as regarded our men. Still, it was not until we left our camping place, and had moved down the river ten miles, that the last of them rejoined us.