Published 8 March 1934
The Village of Cowra in 1878.
Cowra was in the midst of a rich class of country with amazing potentialities, while Carcoar was surrounded by practically barren hills. Carcoar had its newspaper, it had the ear of the electorate’s parliamentary representatives. It also had in Mr McKillop, Manager of the Commercial Bank, a citizen who was unflagging in his efforts to promote and conserve the interests of his home town; Carcoar had a land office, the Police Magistrate dwelt there; it had two resident solicitors, and a District Court and Quarter Sessions. It further had a P. A. and H. Association under the auspices of which periodical shows were held; an active Jockey Club and a public hospital.
It was the head of the Stock and Pastures Districts and it was from there that the ministrations of Clergymen of various denominations were doled out sparingly to Cowra. The people of Cowra had become so accustomed to being dominated by the Carcoarians that it was difficult to arouse them to a sense of the vastly superior quality of their district resources, and it was only by persistent efforts over a fairly lengthy period that a change was effected. Once this was accomplished Cowra soon succeeded in attaining premier position.
The following remarkably fine pastoral properties were embraced within the limited radius of the town: Jerula, Cudgelo, and Warrangong, leased and owned by Mr Geo. Campbell, who later sold Warrangong to Messrs. W.H. Suttor and Bowler; Wollagabba, leased to Mr William Phillip Mylecharane; Waugoola, leased by Messrs. James and Joseph Ousby. The latter holding extended from Limestone Creek (some miles east of Wood’s Flat) to Cowra and Warwick and included Mulyan and Elmsleigh. Then on the opposite side of the river was Cucumgilliga, owned by Mrs. Keys (later Mrs. Harris). Then came Breakfast Creek, owned by Captain Panter and Mr Turner on the western side lay Bumbaldry and Iandra, leased and owned by Mr W. H. Watt. Iandra was later sold to Mr J.A. McKinnon. Next came Canimbla, leased and owned by Mr W. Hood, and Merriganowry, leased and owned by Mr John Grant.
To the north of Cowra was North Logan, Warwick and Currajong, owned and leased by Mr J. J . Sloan and family. Adjoining this was Bangaroo, leased and owned by Mr Hamilton Osborne, Neila divided by the river from Cudgelo, leased and owned by Messrs. Thompson Bros. To the west of Cowra was Shiel, owned by Messrs Rankin Bros., and Cliefden, leased and owned by Mr W.F. Rothery. As the boundaries of these holdings were unfenced, it was possible to ride or drive over miles of country without encountering an artificial obstruction.
Owing to being so far distant from a railway only a very small area of the country was cultivated, the wheat produced being barely sufficient for local consumers. Only an exceedingly small area of land had been alienated owing to there being little inducement to the average selector to embark in farming operations. Those who did attempt wheat growing were mostly of the conservative order men who were satisfied to adopt the cultural methods of their forefathers.
Hence their mode of cropping and gardening was primitive, therefore slow and expensive. When farmers came here from Victoria and South Australia and introduced modern. cultural methods, and a series of ploughing matches demonstrated the nature of horse-flesh and implements needed to achieve good results, our old fashioned and very expensive treatment of the soil vanished, and the productiveness of our land was no longer a dream, but a stern reality. Our district took a prominent place amongst the wheat producing districts of the State.
Some Local Personalities.
After passing ten years at Grenfell amongst a mining community of over 12,00 souls, where I was afforded the opportunity of mingling with men of culture with broad and advanced ideas, men whose powers of mental vision and discernment were clear, and whose actions were quick, sharp and decisive, the change to a Sleepy Hollow community similar to that met with in Cowra was very marked.
There certainly were a few notable exceptions of the recently imported type such as Messrs. P. Murray, D.C.J. Donnelly, F.B. Freehill, William Stokes, H. Mawby, W. Howey and a few others whose experience elsewhere had broadened and modernised their views.
The Apathetic Indifference
But they alone were powerless to dispel the apathetic indifference which pervaded the bulk of the community. In the gentlemen mentioned, however, I found very valuable allies in introducing and bringing about a more healthy state of affairs. Mr Peter Murray was a keen Scotch business man, who by sheer industry and close application to business had succeeded in transforming a very modest commercial concern into one of vast proportions, and this was done despite the fact that he was an acute sufferer from chest trouble.
He was a striking example of mind triumphing over matter. His state of health precluded him taking a very prominent part in public affairs, but he could always be relied upon to liberally assist with his purse every worthy movement. To me he was a very staunch practical friend. He was one whose memory I will ever cherish.
Mr Denis C.J. Donnelly, who had only recently started business as a rival storekeeper, was another valued and very helpful friend in moulding public opinion. He could claim an adventurous and stirring career in Western Australia, and on the goldfields of Victoria, Orange, Bathurst and elsewhere. He had a good knowledge of Public meetings and other functions. His services in that connection were therefore invaluable. His helpmate, Mrs. Donnelly, was one of the young daughters of Mr William Cummings, M.L.A. for one of the Macquarie electorates, and whose untiring efforts the construction of the railway over the Blue Mountains, and incidentally the amazing Zig-Zag, was very largely due. Mrs. Donnelly in addition to taking an active part in running the business of her husband also took a prominent part in religious and public movements.
Messrs. C.J. and Ben Austin who took over Mr S.C. Alford’s storekeeping business, while favouring progress, lacked initiative, hence they simply looked on while others were putting their shoulders to the wheel. Prior to the arrival of the official postmaster, Messrs. Austin Bros sister, Mrs. Jones was postmistress for a term during which she won the good opinion of the community by her thoughtful and very obliging disposition in the discharge of her duties.
Mrs. Neville had a lone hand in conducting the remaining storekeeping business of her husband, who was in failing health, being content to remain passive. Mr W.A. Stokes gave promise of being an active leading light when he was transferred to Parkes. His successor, Mr J.H. Turner later was an energetic and spirited citizen, who took his full share of all that pertains to good citizenship. Mr Frank B. Freehi11 was another very worthy townsman who also gave promise of being in the forefront with those who were bent upon securing for Cowra its fair share of public money and its proper place amongst the towns of the State, when he was suddenly summoned to Sydney to take charge of the legal practice of his late brother, Mr B. Freehill, solicitor.
Mr F.B. Freehill’s Cowra practice was taken over by Mr M.T. Phillips, of Molong, who later took a very keen interest in the town’s welfare. Mr William Howey who in early life was an apothecary in Belfast, North of Ireland, and later, in response to the lure of gold, engaged in mining pursuits, was a real live wire in our community. Mr John B. Fitzgerald, a townsman of a similar type, could always be relied upon to assist in furthering any movement calcul- ated to benefit the community. Mr Harry Mawby was attracted from Victoria by the rush to Wood’s Flat. Having been unsuccessful in his quest for the precious metal, he became an employee of Mr A.R. West, at Westville, Mr West’s property. He was an educated Englishman, who possessed a good fund of general information. He was an energetic and most useful citizen. In politics he was a very pronounced Free Trader, and regarded any other fiscal policy as rank heresy.
Published 15 Mar 1934
Mr Andrew Lynch, the genial and very popular M.L.A. for the electorate, was an Irishman, with all the characteristics of his race, which included a good stock of blarney flavoured with much natural humor. He was a favourite with the heads of public departments, by whom he was dubbed “Father Lynch.” He was essentially a road and bridges member, also a land agent, but in securing positions in the public service for friends he shone out conspicuously. In that connection, Mr Goodchap, Commissioner for Railways was more often importuned than any other of the heads, because with the extension of our railways, fresh avenues for employment opened up. He was unquestionably a most attentive and painstaking member, and I affirm this from experience.
On side of progress
Mr. John Muir, Mr. H. Ford and Mr. Hugh McLeod, would always range on the side of progress, especially the two former, who were there unfailingly when their aid was requisitioned. . Mr. Alan Middlemiss, Mr. Alfred R. West, Mr. George Lockyer, Mr. T. Walsh and Mr. B. Monaghan were all citizens of the practical order, who laboured with a will and were liberal with funds to advance every good and worthy cause. In the battle for local rights I ever found them faithful allies.
Mr. John Crosbie, an Irishman, who claimed to have been educated at the Blue Coat school, Dublin, and who passed several years in Vic., during stirring times, when he was associated with Sir John 0′ Shannessy, Mr. Gavin Duffy, and other .notable Victorian
public men. He was of the Protectionist fiscal faith, and was always a power to be reckoned with during political contests. He was a fluent speaker and could always rely upon an attentive hearing. He rarely ventured outside the political sphere. When he had any spare time on his hands, he invariably devoted it to building fireplaces and chimneys on vacant town lots.
Robert Daly of the Australian Arms
Mr. Robert Daly, the host of the Australian Arms hostelry, an Irishman, of huge proportions and great physical strength, was another identity with a history. He possessed an excellent memory and some of his recitals of incidents in his early life were most interesting.
He avowed that as a boy he was in service of Lord Plunkett, of Roscommon, Ireland, and frequently accompanied his Lordship when hunting. Later, when Lord Plunkett joined his regiment and proceeded to America, to oppose the efforts of the Americans to secure independence, he (Mr. Daly) accompanied him. As the war was at an end on arrival, the stay of Lord Plunkett in the new world was brief. Some years after returning to Ireland he emigrated to New South Wales.
After being employed in various parts of the State he finally visited Carcoar, where he was appointed chief constable, an appointment that was made by the local bench. In those days the pioneer pastoralists worked their holdings mainly with convict labourers, or assigned servants. Thus, Mr. Daly’s principal official duties consisted of pursuing such assigned servants as attempted to escape from bondage. It was his boast that in the performance of his man-hunting tasks that he had two black trackers who were such experts at tracking that they could track a mosquito up one side of a tree and to earth on the opposite side.
Mr. T.R. Icely then had quite a large number of assigned servants at Coombing Park; so had Mr. W.F. Rothery, at Cliefden. For minor offences these assigned servants were tied to a triangle at the station and given a decreed number of lashes on the bare back with a cat 0′ nine tails, an instrument which used to lacerate the flesh of the poor victim in a most inhumane manner.
As chief constable it was Mr. Daly’s duty to attend these floggings and count the strokes. He assured me that he was frequently so moved by the torture inflicted that he used to turn his back on the flogger and count so rapidly that the victim’s prescribed number of lashes were considerably reduced. That such shocking instances of brutality should be tolerated in a civilised community and imposed by men who effected the principles of Christianity is past understanding. The fact of these convicts being criminals in no sense justified treatment as members of the brute creation.
Mr. Daly’s actual age was never divulged, but it is believed to have exceeded the century. after settling down in Cowra, he became a boniface. He was twice married. His first wife died some years before I came to Cowra, Miss Patterson, of Blayney; his second wife, took an active part in religious and charitable functions.
Rev. J. Young, Cowra’s First Anglican Minister
Rev. J. Young, Cowra’s first resident Anglican Minister, and indeed, the first ecclesiastic of any denomination, being quite a recent arrival, was rather diffident about taking an active Part in local affairs for a time, but eventually his clearsightness, tact, and earnest desire to further the interests of the community, made him an invaluable ally in founding public institutions, and his powers in that respect and esteem of all classes and creeds. He was certainly the possessor of a charming personality.
Mr.George Campbell, the laird of Jerula, shone out conspicuously as a leader among men. He certainly had misgivings regarding the establishment of some proposed institutions, but when he found his pessimism was untenable, he freely admitted his errors, and added his valuable influence to the project. He was a scholar and a refined country gentleman with brilliant attainments. His education having been completed in England qualified him to enlarge his sphere of observation and eschew Parochialism.
Published 3 May 1934
In reference to the late Mr. George Campbell, he was not ashamed or afraid to confess that when he was a younger man he was a vigorous toiler, hence that his possessions were the result of industry and thrift. He was a fluent and very forcible public speaker. He had a good command of language and occasionally into high flights of oratory. He had a very kindly, sympathetic and benevolent disposition. we are aware of many instances in which he relieved distress in a most unostentatious manner. The relieved being wholly unaware of the source from which aid had come. He was truly an honourable and noble son of the soil, and one whose example could be followed with profit. He was one to whom the words of the poet could be applied, “He did good by stealth and blushed to find it fame.”
Nicholas Challacombe, of the Royal Hotel
Mr. Nicholas Challacombe, of the Royal Hotel, who before he wedded the widow Neville, sister of Mr. Thomas Walsh, of the Court House Hotel, had been engaged in pastoral pursuits, and was recognised as an authority upon sheep farming, hailed from England. He was a warm hearted, generous soul of a most unassuming nature, and who was content to take a back seat while others pulled the ropes. It was his practice upon opening the door of his hotel every morning to dispense free drinks to all and sundry who happened to be in the vicinity. as a result, a ‘dry’ and bibulous crowd invariably assembled daily to anticipate in the dole. Mrs. Challacombe was noted for her many acts of benevolence. Whenever sickness and distress prevailed this good lady was an angel of mercy to the practical type.
Donald Robertson of the Club House
Mr. Donald Robertson, host of the adjoining inn, the Club House, was also a man who took little interest in public affairs, and even in business, his good wife being the controlling influence, as experience had taught him that while she was in charge smooth running resulted. In addition to keen business instincts, Mrs. Robertson had a heart of gold, when causes of want and suffering came under her notice. she was frequently aroused from her slumbers at night to attend some suffering members of her sex, and in most instances the afflicted and destitute of food and other requisites, the good lady in addition to nursing had to furnish at her own cost all such essentials sick-bed comforts.
“Such kindly actions speak louder than words.”
Public Officer and Nondescripts.
Mr. E.J. North, Police Magistrate who resided at Carcoar, attended Cowra monthly, when the Small Debts Court was held. He was a son of Mr. W. North, who for years presided over the Water Police Court, Sydney. He was a genial gentleman, but as a magistrate was a failure. He lacked the judicial mind and temperament, hence his magisterial decisions were at times somewhat questionable. His son Mr. E.W.S. North, solicitor, who resided at and practised at Carcoar, invariably accompanied his father to Cowra. Mr. J.O. Dodd was Carcoar’s other solicitor.
Mr. John Arkins, the son of a fashionable tailor in Dublin, Ireland” was an aged official, who was appointed C.P.S. at Cowra, because it was assumed that his duties here would be purely nominal. He was a sadly afflicted man, being practically helpless from the effects of rheumatic gout, and had to be wheeled to and from his office in a bathchair. He resided in the house now occupied by Mr. Alf Harris, and on one occasion when he was being wheeled through a gate by the boy who was attending him, the chair got out of control and eventually capsized with a naturally very outraged individual. Luckily he escaped injury, but the lad had to obtain assistance from the police station for the purpose of again placing his 16st. master in the chair. Mr. Arkins was a good officer, who unfortunately retarded settlement in the district in the interests of a certain large property owner by the simple means of always informed inquirers that blocks they wished to take up were not available.
The officer in charge of the police was Senior Constable Denis McCartie, the entire force consisting of four men, including the officer in charge. The other members were: Constable Bennett (lock-up keeper), Constable John Chapman (mounted), Constable A. Matheson (in charge of Canowindra). Sen. Constable McCartie was an exceptionally clever and brilliant officer, who was later promoted to the position of Sergeant, and later still Inspector at Forbes. During the periods of indisposition of Mr. Arkins he also carried out the duties of C.P.S. here and on the demise of that gentleman he acted as mentor to his successor, Mr. Zouch, who was almost totally inexperienced, and in the course of a few months succeeded in having him qualified for promotion to Temora, which was then a very busy town.
With departure of Sergt. McCartie, and the resignation of Constable Chapman, who tendered his resignation in order to take over the management of a farm for Mr. James Ousby on the Canowindra road, there was only one member of the old staff left, viz., Constable Bennett. It was the latter’s custom every time he obtained a fresh load of wood to wander down town in search of a “drunk” to chop it up for him, and with the assistance of one of the local justices his plan usually succeeded as the sentence was invariable 14 days. On one occasion his plan did not succeed, the unfortunate who had fallen into his clutches stating that as his ribs were broken he would be unable to cut any wood. Sergt. McCartie was then sent for and that officer decided as there was not any other Medical man in Cowra to settle the question that it would be necessary to send the prisoner to Bathurst.
The prisoner then said that there was not any necessity for that, seeing that he would be able to cure himself. He accordingly produced the money to pay for two loaves of fresh bread, and these and a bucket of water were brought to him. A couple of hours later Constable McCartie was sent for and informed that the prisoner had cured himself. Asked how he had done this he answered, “Sure, I ate the two loaves of fresh bread, and then drank a couple of quarts of water. The bread swelled when the water came in contact with it, the distended stomach caused the ribs to assume their normal position. But I will not be able to cut any wood for a fortnight yet.”
Bennett had little difficulty in securing someone to replace this ingenious individual at the woodheap.
John Thomas West, One of ·the Most Peculiar
One of the most peculiar men of the day was Mr. John Thomas West. He was a man who with one exception, that of his mother, despised his kith and kin. He created an ideal in respect to human nature, the actions of all men being influenced by either selfish or base motives. He affected to stand on a lofty pedestal and to look down on his fellows as sordid creatures of circumstances. He worked as a farm laborer, miner, and shearer, but owing to his rough habits he was not very popular with flock masters.
He later became the owner of a farming property and. was eventually appointed to the bench of honorary magistrates. Some episodes in connection with his career in that capacity and elsewhere will be dealt with in the next instalment.
Published 17 January 1935
Cowra 1878 to 1935
Mrs. R. Stevenson was nominally the only newsagent in Cowra, and her husband, who was Forest Guard, maintained that he held the key to the Press of Australia. However, his contributions were happily few and far between. Amongst the prominent residents were Messrs. J.B. Fitzgerald, H. Ford, John Crosbie, W. Mitchell, J. Hardy, J. Thompson, A. Tobin, Con Murray and John MacCormack. Included in the wheelwrights and buggy builders, etc., were Messrs. Geo. Lawrence, Hugh Mcleod, Lockett and Crawford, Seymour and Simpson, W. Austin and Pryor. The latter had a smithy near the approach of the old wooden bridge and specialised in shoeing working bullocks.
Mr. C.J. Lewin was the only chemist. Two eccentric individuals, who were pronounced quacks, but impudently dubbed themselves Drs, were F.P. Flockton and W.A.T. Cherry. The old rubble stone mill, which is still in evidence in Mr. H.H.S. Francis’ yard, and was then a going concern in the hands of Rheuben Bros. The recently opened branch of the Australian Joint Stock Bank was under the management of Mr. W.A. Stokes, with Mr. E.J. Collis as accountant.
Cowra’s First Lawyer
Mr. Frank D. Freehill M.A., an intellectual and cultured Australian, who was a fellow graduate of Mr. Edmund (“Toby”) late Sir Edmund Barton, the first Prime Minister of Australia of the Commonwealth and father of District Court Judge Barton, who now presides over the Circuit in which Cowra is situated, was Cowra’s first lawyer. Mr. Charles Stibbard, formerly of Grenfell, in addition to conducting a boot and shoe and fancy goods shop, was also a stock and station agent and auctioneer. Mr. Andy Q’Neil was the only brickmaker.
Man of Variable Moods
The Clerk of Petty Sessions was Mr. John Arkins who was almost crippled with gout. He contrived with the assistance of Senior Constable McCartie to perform his duties fairly satisfactorily. He was a man of variable moods, doubtless owing to his affliction. Mr. Dan Sullivan was Cowra’s first telegraphic messenger and letter carrier. Mr. John Fagan was the contractor for the mail service Blayney via Carcoar and Cowra to Grenfell, six days per week, and his drivers were Messrs. W. H. Boxall, L. Poole, Sam Graham, Peter Toohey, George Boxall and McCormack. The journey, invariably regarded as a bone-wrecking experience, was never undertaken with any degree of pleasure.
The Police magistrate, Mr. E.J. North, stationed at Carcoar, presided here once a month,and on such days the two Carcoar legal lights, Messrs. J.S. Dodd and E.W.S. North, also attended. The local honorary Magistrates included Messrs. G. Campbell, A.R. West, I.J. Sloan, John Grant, Hamilton Osborne, W. Sherwin, S.G. Alford and John Thomas West.
The desire of the last named to occupy the position of the senior magistrate although he was the junior, led to great dissatisfaction, and eventually a roster was arranged with Mr. Thompson as chairman. This worked all right for a time, but eventually Mr. West won out, despite the fact he had to walk six miles from his selection every time the Court sat. He always put resolute faith in the evidence of the police, and hence conviction followed as a matter of course, and his sentences were inordinately severe. Many years later he met his death by his own hand after living absolutely alone all his life.
The foregoing conveys some small idea of the characters of the village of Cowra and its limited population when I first made its acquaintance. The surrounding country was very sparsely populated owing to being held under leases, mainly such as Jerula, Cudgelo, Waugoola, Milburn Creek, Cliefden, Walli, Canimbla, Merriganowry, Kangarooby, Cucumgilliga, Cocomingla, Bang Bang, Riverslea, and some smaller holdings. Agriculture was then in its infancy, barely sufficient wheat, oats, maize, etc., being grown to meet local requirements, hence Messrs. Rheuben Bros., had to go further afield in quest of grain for milling purposes.
Wood’s Flat (Woodstock) as a goldfield had then fizzled out, only a few fossickers remaining there. The Milburn Creek copper mine at Green Gully was also a relict of the past.
Koorawatha as a centre was then unknown, the only edifice in that region being Mr. George Green’s Bang Bang Inn, while the White House and a few huts represented Wattamondara,
Goolagong, on the Cowra-Forbes road, was rent in twain by a water course which placed the eastern side of the Cowra district and the western side in the Grenfell district. Its existence was due to being a stage for teamsters and travellers. It had an inn, which was conducted by Mr. Charles Broander (a Swede) and Mr. Peter Murray (of Cowra ) had a branch store in Mr. Frank S. Flint’s charge. Mr. James McInerney had a smithy, and Mr. James Hennessy was poundkeeper. That was practically all there was of Goolagong.
Canowindra was another place with faded glories, owing to the gold mines in the vicinity having ceased to be remunerative. The 1ittle village consisted of two inns, conducted by Messrs. Thomas Clyburn and Harry Dawes respectively. Mr. T. J. Finn’s general store, Mr. Joe Kerr’s butchery, Mr. J .. Dickson’s smithy, Mr, Dick Ayrton’s wheelwright and buggy building works, and the residences of Mr. Walter Murray (builder), Mr. Robin Rue (miner), Mr. Roger Davis (poundkeeeper); Mr. V,H. Dry (bailiff), and Mr. Glazier (mail contractor). The police station was in charge of Constable A. Matheson, who also performed the duties of Clerk of Petty Sessions. Courts were held monthly. At Belmore, about two miles from Canowindra, Mr. A.W. Collis had an inn and store and Mr. Thomas Galvin a butchery. While the gold mines were being worked some 300 or 400 men were employed there and Clyburn’s crushing mill was kept continuously going, but all that was a mere memory when I visited the place.
Mr. Collis sought to revive mining in the neighbourhood, and he sought to encourage agriculture by building a flour mill close to his inn, but his efforts proved a dismal failure. He subsequently passed away a disappointed and ruined man. His enterprising spirit deserved a better fate.
Published 24 January 1935
Very Estimable families
The erection of a School of Arts Hall in Canowindra furnished a means for conducting concerts and social reunions of a most enjoyable nature. In the vicinity of the village, on the banks of the Belubula, there were several very estimable families whose doors were ever open to extend a hearty welcome to friends. Amongst these may be included the following: Mr. and Mrs. Grant, of Glastonbury; Mr. and Mrs. Coady, of Mogong; Mrs. King, of Nyrang Creek; Mr. Townsend, of Townsville; Mr. and Mrs. John Ginty, of Nyrang; Mr. and Mrs. Clyburn, of Canowindra; Mr. and Mrs. Sherwin, of Canowindra; Mr. T.J. Finn, of Canowindra; Mr. and Mrs. John Grant, of Prospect Villa; Mr. and Mrs. T. Foote, of Edgecombe; Mr. W. Robinson, of Canowindra; Mr. and Mrs. P. Mudampy, of Cargo; and Mr. Ferguson, of Tilga.
As the social gatherings were conducted on informal and inexpensive lines, they were of fairly frequent occurrence and always enjoyable. I will ever retain the most memories of the kindness and hospitality of the good people of Canowindra;. Having thus endeavoured to portray the village of Cowra and district and some of the people amongst whom my lot had been cast I will proceed to deal with early public happenings.
After having been intimately associated with the early public life Grenfell, amongst an alert and very practical mining community, the change to such dismal elements and on every side in Cowra was most discouraging, as I foresaw how Herculean a task it would be to arouse such a lethargic and positively apathetic a community to a proper sense of citizenship. There were fortunately a few notable exceptions, but, as some of the old timers resented most jealously efforts to lift the backward and then stereotyped groove of torpidity, the well-intentioned few felt diffident about advancing their progressive views. Being impressed with the potentialities of the district with respect to agriculture, I determined per medium of the “Free Press” to. promote settlement with a view to the development of such a vital primary industry.
I, however, realised that a ready and cheap means of transporting grain to the seaboard must precede settlement. Some time previous to making Cowra a field for exploitation, Mr. Whitton, Engineer in Chief for Railways, submitted a scheme for linking up our Western and Southern railway system by constructing a line from Blayney to Murrumburrah, as near as practicable to the towns of Carcoar, Cowra, Grenfell, Young to Murrumburrah.
The Brothers Watson
The proposal met with the approval of the Railway Commissioners, and its construction was later authorised by Parliament. Eventually tenders were called for the construction of the first section of the loop, Murrumburrah to Young, and in due course Young was connected with the Southern Line. Messrs. Watson (William, John and George), storekeepers,
and the recognised leaders of puhlic opinion in the old mining district, perceiving that their town was deriving benefit from its being a railway terminus, with characteristic foresight and energy, promptly took measures to retard tenders being called for the construction of the second and third sections of the adopted loop line.
Their efforts in that respect were ably recommended by their brother, the Hon. James Watson, who was head of the firm of Messrs. Frazer and Co., Merchants, and was also Colonial Treasurer in the Government of the day, in addition to being the parliamentary representative of the Lachlan, in which electorate Cowra was then situated. Being aware from experience of the intriguing nature of the tactics the brothers Watson were capable of resorting to with a view to attaining an objective, and being also conscious of the power the Hon. James Watson could weld with his colleagues, I realised that I would have to enter upon a strenuous and fierce battle to obtain for Cowra due recognition of its rights with respect to railroad extension, without which settlement here could not be a success, I buckled on my armour eager for the fray when the opportune moment arrived.
While matters in that connection were in abeyance, I engaged in other activities.
School of Arts.
My first effort at bringing the place abreast of the times, was in connection with founding of a School of Arts. The public meeting convened for the purpose was well attended, and as a result a most encouraging membership was enrolled and an influential Committee was appointed. The use of the Court House (the present police station) having been granted by the Justice Department for library and reading room purposes, the institution flourished bravely for about twelve months with a membership of over a hundred. Through the apathy of the management the institution at the end of two years became non est ,and the library was packed in cases and stored in the ‘,’Free Press”.
Resuscitate the School of Arts
. Later a mutual improvement class was formed and prospered for almost twelve months, a room with seating and lighting being furnished by me gratuitously for meeting purposes.
· When the society had a membership of about thirty it.was decided to endeavour to resuscitate the defunct School of Arts, and at the same time prevent the site for a building from elapsing. Accordingly it was resolved to erect a moderate brick structure at a cost of £200. Through Mr.E.T. McPherson, Manager of the local branch of the Commercial Bank of Sydney, an advance of £1OO was obtained from the bank upon a guarantee bond being entered into by ten townsmen and £100 was voted by·Government. The little building (now the library portion of the present Literary Institute) was duly erected, and the School of· Arts was given a fresh start. It kept its head above water for a little over a year, when it again gave up the ghost. By means of of entertainments I contrived for a time to realise sufficient funds to meet interest charges. As efforts to rekindle an interest in the School of Arts the offer of a Mr. Thomas, who had been in the employ of Mr. D. C. J . Donnelly as tutor, to rent the place for twelve months at 10/- per week was accepted.
He used it for about six months for the instruction of lads in the higher branches of education, and then he decamped without paying any rent. The town having in the meantime been incorporated, the Municipal Council was paying 25/- per week rental for one room fronting Murray’s Hall, hence I with some difficulty succeeded in inducing the Council to rent the School of Arts building at 10/- per week. By this time the debt to the Commercial bank had increased to £130 through failure to pay interest, the Manager of the local branch, Hr. E. W. Hulle, called upon the guarantors, who were jointly and severally liable.
Published 4 February 1935
The School of Arts.
The erection of the modest initial building which was erected on the site set apart for School of Arts purposes, mainly with the object of securing the site for which it had been dedicated, cost £130, and this sum was loaned by the Commercial Bank when Mr. E.W. McPherson was manager of the local branch, and as customary in such instances ten guarantors were required, and these consisted of the Rev. J. Kimberley, Dr. F.P. Bartlett, Messrs. A.E. Hemsley, W.B. Simpson, H. Dennis, E.W. McPherson, O. Hodgson, J.C. Ryall, A. Tapp and Sergt. D. McCartie. After the lapse of some years during which several ineffectual efforts were made to rekindle the ashes of the School of Arts, the Commercial Bank notified the guarantors of the building debt that a writ would issue for its recovery if it were not settled within ten days.
As the bank could not select anyone of the guarantors to foot the bill, and as the Rev. J. Kimberley had passed away, Hr. H. Dennis had become bankrupt, Messrs. Tapp and Hodgson had departed for regions unknown, and Mr. McPherson had repudiated his liability on the ground of being an officer of the claimant bank, the responsible guarantors were reduced to five, viz., Dr. Bartlett, Messrs. Simpson, Hemsley and Ryall, and Sergt. McCartie. Messrs Simpson and Hemsley, who had become residents of Sydney, wrote me offering to send cheques for £15 each if the remaining local guarantors would free them from further liability.
Mr. Simpson was then an officer of the Colonial Sugar Refinery, and Mr. Hemsley was practising his profession of solicitor in the city. After consulting my co-guarantors, Dr. Bartlett and Sergt. McCartie, I wrote to Messrs. Simpson and Hemsley agreeing to accept their offer. On receipt of the two cheques we immediately paid £30 into the A.J.S. Bank to take over the balance of the debt, £100. Later I further reduced the indebtedness on the receipt of Government subsidy, proceeds of entertainment, rent and contributions. The individual who first rented the place from me at 10\- [$1.00] per week with the ostensible object of conducting an academy for boys at the expiration of three months, just as his rent became due, vanished without meeting his obligations.
Later I induced the Municipal Council to take the place as a Chamber at 10/- per week, and as that body held the place for some years, I was enabled to efface the debt with accrued interest to the A.J.S. Bank. After the Municipal Council had vacated the premises for the newly erected Council Chambers, further efforts were put forth to make efforts were put forth to make the the School of Arts a going concern, but it was not until Mr. A.C. Reid, by means of a personal canvass, placed the institution on a satisfactory basis that success was achieved. Since then, the institution under its altered title, Literary Institute has continued afloat uninterruptedly. In future contributions to deal with the various institutions in which I took a prominent part in founding under their respective headings, as by adopting this course a more comprehensive and clearer recapitulation of happenings can be unfolded in consecutive order. Thus readers will be in a better position to realise the nature of the material at my disposal and the character of the obstacles and set-backs I had to encounter and overcome in my efforts.
Published 22 Feb. 1935
Opposition from Grenfell.
While a resident of Grenfell, when Mr. Whitton, Engineer-in- Chief, submitted his proposal to connect our western and southern railway systems by means of a loop line as close as practicable to the towns of, Cowra , Grenfell and Young, I naturally concluded it would be in the interests of Grenfell to evince its approval of the scheme. accordingly, in my capacity as secretary of the Free-holders and Householders Association, I convened a public meeting. On the appointed night I found that Messrs. Hill and Halls had packed the gathering with friends and employees. Mr. Ralph Halls, who presided, to my intense surprise and disgust, on taking his seat, opened the proceedings with a strong and vigorous denunciation of railways extensions generally. He stated that in N. S. W. the trade of every town the railway passed through had been ruined. In support of his views he pointed to the condition of such towns as Parramatta, Campbelltown, Bathurst and Orange.
The rival Railway Routes
A meeting decided by a large majority to take no action with respect to the proposed loop. A couple of years later, while Young was a railway terminus, it became abundantly evident to the business people of Grenfell that much of their trade had drifted to Young, hence that the railway had very materially improved the trade relations of Young at Grenfell’s expense. When too late they realised how unwise they had been in regard to my action, Messrs. Hill and Halls were amongst the first to realise that the attraction of trade to Young had caused a very material diminution in their earnings and they were also among the first to make an effort to seek a remedy.
No assistance could be expected from Young. Cowra was busy with its own scheme and was not likely to agree to a deviation in the route and suit the needs of Grenfell, so an alternative scheme was evolved which was anticipated would blight the hopes of Cowra. The construction of a line from Borenore to Forbes via Parkes. Thus the Grenfellites submitted that a line from Forbes via Grenfell to Young would be for loop-line purposes, as the one to Murrumburrah, and furthermore, it would serve a much better class of country. The rival route met with warm approval and strong support of the people of Parkes and Forbes and every effort was made to bring the proposal into favour. Mr. Carson, who was then the member for Forbes, was very popular in the House; he soon succeeded in inducing some of his co-members to pledge their support to the scheme.
Matters at this stage assumed a rather serious phase. I was quite satisfied that the route in which Cowra was interested was the best on its merits, but was also aware that most of the members of the House would not take the trouble to satisfy themselves as to the respective merits of a scheme, but would prefer to rely on the opinions expressed by those who professed to be perfect Solomons in such matters.
Views of the Railway Commissioners
Being conscious that the views of the Railway Commissioners should carry some weight, I prevailed upon those functionaries to submit the Government a report favouring the adoption of the Blayney-Murrumburrah route. A little later Mr. Garvan whose opinion was much respected in Parliament strongly protested against further railway building until the public finances were in a more healthy condition and the need for extension became more urgent. Mr. Poole, an ex-Minister for Works, insisted upon the strictest inquiry being instituted into proposals for fresh railway construction.
Mr. Sutherland had peculiar views too with reference to new lines, Mr. J. McElphone was in favour of a line from Blayney to Cowra, but would strenuously oppose a line from Young to Cowra as the country through which the latter would run would not furnish food for a bandicoot: ‘being literally a waste’; thus members expressed diverse views. With the object of urging the Government to submit the proposed line to the House for approval I was instructed by the local Railway League to visit Sydney, with Mr. Andrew Lynch I interviewed Mr. Wright, Minister for works, whom I found most sympathetic. He assured me that if the matter rested with him it would be very speedily settled. He promised to do his utmost to induce his colleagues to submit the proposed extension to Parliament for approval with as little delay as possible.
At the close of the day I drafted a circular for presentation to the members of the House individually. Following its compilation it was placed in the hands of Messrs. John Wood and Co., of Hunter st., to be printed. When they were out of the printers hands I folded them and placed them in envelopes and addressed them to the various members.
Later I conveyed them to Parliament House and delivered them to a messenger for presentation. While seated in the gallery I later had the gratification of seeing them delivered to whom they had been addressed.
Subsequently, I was complimented with having furnished information of a very valuable nature concerning a scheme over which conflicting views had been freely expressed. I was not sorry when the self imposed task came to an end and as I had laboured strenuously without rest for sixty hours.
Published 28 February 1935
An Enterprising Effort. – Both Houses of Parliament Invited to Banquet.
Once more acting under my advice, the Railway League decided to adopt a strategical move, which, if effective, could not fail to determine the fate of our railway. As our legislators could not be prevailed upon to visit Cowra and be educated regarding the nature of the route, the character of the country for ten miles on either side of route in question, and its prospective value for agriculture, it was determined to dispatch a deputation to Sydney to interview Members of Parliament, and after furnishing with the fullest possible information regarding the route endeavour to extract a promise to vote in its favour when submitted for approval of the [Parliament].
Mr. W.B. Simpson, Clerk of Petty Sessions and Land Agent, who had officiated in the field as a surveyor for some years, undertook with the material at his disposal and information at his command to prepare a map which would convey at a glance all details concerning the route. This was an elaborate and very comprehensive production which evidenced Mr. Simpson’s skill as a surveyor and draughtsman.
The deputation appointed by the league comprised Messrs. Alex Middlemis, H. Dennis and myself. Armed with Mr. Simpson’s map the delegates proceeded to Sydney and lost no time before entering on the work they had been appointed to accomplish. The act of interviewing members of Parliament at a glance appears to be a comparatively simple matter, but experience taught the delegates that in some instances a day was lost in reaching a solitary member.
To the uninitiated such a procedure as interviewing members of .Parliament would appear to be devoid of anything. objectionable, but when it is construed into lobbying I . or buttonholing . it at once assumes a totally different phase, one which savours of inducing or attempting to influence members to do something which is not fair and square. However, such a charge could not truthfully be laid at the doors of the Cowra delegates. The Cowra Railway League had invited the two Chambers of Parliament to a banquet at Cowra and had provided facilities for a thorough inspection of the line by visiting members.
By thus acting our Railway League manifested an honest purpose. It proved that a thorough investigation was fearlessly sought and that there was nothing covert or underground in our aims. Thus, in visiting Sydney the delegates sought to clear up any misgivings or erroneous views the members might entertain regarding the nature of the country. to be surveyed by the proposed line. The delegation was armed with a comprehensive map of the route and official facts and figures. Not withstanding the honesty of our motives we had to exercise much discrimination to the selection of members to approach.
We had some hesitation in calling upon the Hon. Jas. Watson first, and to my surprise I found him most affable and very sympathetic regarding the objective of the delegates. I pointed out to him that the action of his brothers at Young had been the means of hindering the extension of the loop railway from Young to Blayney, and added that he had been accused of being behind the matter. He then assured me that I could rely upon him doing all in his power to hasten the construction of the proposed extension, and furthermore, that any influence he possessed would be exercised on behalf of the project. Such an encouraging promise from one whom we were satisfied had been a strong opponent to our railway had a most stimulating effect upon us.
As there was doubt regarding the attitude of Mr. J.F. Garvan towards the line we decided to call upon that gentleman next. He received us most courteously, and, after hearing the object of our visit he left us little hope that his support would be forthcoming at the crucial moment. He affirmed that in his opinion the country was already sufficiently well served with railways; therefore, he was strongly opposed to the expenditure of money in further lines. He maintained that most of the lines were not paying interest on the cost of construction, hence they were a heavy burden on the country.
He severely denounced the policy which sanctioned the building of political railway line which traversed country of an unproductive nature and which originated with members who were desirous of currying favour with their constituents. I remarked that the building of railways induced settlement. Mr. Garvan promptly retorted that settlement should precede railways. I argued that few men would be so foolish as to take up land for cultivation purposes until he was assured of a cheap and ready means of transporting his produce to market. Regarding the so-called unprofitable line I contended that the much increased land revenue contributed in a measure towards railway construction.
“Railways Enough in Existence”
Mr. Garvan brought the discussion to a close by saying his opinion regarding there being railways enough in existence for the opening up of the country for some time to come was unshaken. As a closing shot I pointed out that the line in which we were interested was intended to connect the western and southern railway systems, and thereby relieve the congested traffic over the Blue Mountains, and added that it was estimated that the proposed line would effect a considerable saving in expenses and wear and tear of rolling stock. Mr. Garvan then assured us that if he could be shown that the loop would serve so good a purpose he would have no hesitation in warmly supporting its construction. We then withdrew.
Published 29 April 1935
Carcoar and Blayney Proffer Co-Operation
Perceiving that the Cowra Railways League had accomplished so much towards finality with respect to the loop line, Mr. John McKillop, manager of the Commercial Bank of Carcoar, a really live townsman, and a indefatigable worker in the interests of his town, set to work and succeeded in forming a numerically strong Railway League at his end of the loop line. He then wrote to the Cowra League, on behalf of his League, offering to co-operate with a view to securing finality. The Cowra League, without giving the result of the combine mature consideration, accepted the proffered co-operation.
If, however, the inquiry had been made, it is probable that the Cowra League would have played a lone hand to the end. Results have proved that it has done Carcoar no good at all and has radically interfered with the status of our line. To suit Carcoar an extensive tunnel had to be bored through a hill, and very heavy rock cutting in an effort to reduce a very stiff grade, had to made between Carcoar and Blayney. This will be a charge for all time against the line. The cost would have been reduced fully one half and a much easier grade could have been secured if the line had been taken from Mandurama via the back of the Mount Macquarie to some point on the main western line between Newbride and Blayney. Like the Zig Zag the Carcoar tunnel was an engineering blunder and in time will be a back number.
A Combined Effort to Achieve Finality.
It being the opinion of the Cowra Railway League that prompt action should be taken to prevail upon the Government to submit for the sanction of Parliament a continuation of the loop line from Young to Blayney as early as practicable. In those days it was the practice to submit all railway construction proposals to both Houses for approval. The delegates appointed to visit Sydney in connection with the matter were Messrs. D;C.J. Donnelly, S.G. Alford, and J.C. Ryall. The branches of the League were written by the Cowra League.
It was arranged that the combined delegation should assemble at Williams’ Hotel, King Street, Sydney, prior to waiting on the Premier, who had been notified re the intention of the delegates. As previously arranged the delegates met at the appointed place on the fixed date. Besides those mentioned there were also in the delegation Messrs. Fagan, J. McKillop and C.L.L. Garland (Blayney), J.H. Glasson, J. Russrat and Wooley (Blayney). Just prior to leaving to interview the Premier the delegation was joined by the following Members of Parliament: Messrs. George Campbell, E.A. Baker, Gerald Spring, J.A. McKinnon, and E.W. O’Sullivan.
The delegation having been formally introduced to the Premier, (Sir Alexander Stuart) by Mr. Campbell, Mr. Spring made a very strong and forceful appeal on behalf of the immediate construction of the loop line and contended that the work had been unwarrantably held up. Other members followed, and during the deliverances Sir Alexander Stuart to me appeared to be most discourteous, as he never ceased writing letters and handing them to the messenger until I read some statistics which I had compiled, and when I concluded he asked me to leave them with him. In reply to the appeal made by the deputation he admitted that the line had been unduly held up and promised to immediately see that the Assembly was called upon in a day or two to decide the fate of the line.
After thanking the Premier the deputation withdrew. True to his promise the construction of the line was placed on the business paper on the night following the interview. The leader of the Opposition (Sir John Robertson) intimated that he would at the next meeting of the House table a motion of censure on the Government. As soon as a motion of that character is submitted it is customary for the Government to suspend all Parliament business.
Motion of Censure on Government.
When the railway delegates were made aware of the intended motion of censure, fearing that the motion concerning the line in the event of the Government being defeated, would lead to the indefinite shelving of the proposal, again assembled at Williams’ on the following morning. After some discussion it was resolved that a deputation should wait on Sir John Robertson that afternoon and urge him to withhold his censure motion until the motion dealing with the Blayney Harden loop line had been disposed of. Messrs. Glasson, Fagan and Alford were selected to form the deputation, the last named because he affirmed that he was acquainted with Sir John.
Later on the deputation called at Parliament House and informed the messenger that they wished to see Sir John on some very important business. It appeared that just when the messenger delivered the message that the old knight was about to preside over a very important meeting of the Opposition which had been specially convened to deal with the censure motion. Sir John returned with the messenger to where the deputation awaited him after gazing at them for a moment or so, as one of them uttered a word , the crusty impetuous old veteran, who was an adept at lurid language, blurted out, “What the h–l do you want?” As Mr. Alford who was expected to speak, did not, Mr. Fagan said, “We came here Sir John, to ask you to defer proposing your censure motion until the Murrumburrah B1ayney railway line motion has first’ been disposed of.” Sir John in a fury, responded, “1’ll do nothing of the kind. To h….1 with your tuppenny half penny railway. The vital interests of the country must not be made subservient to such a very trumpery matter.” He then abruptly turned on his heels and strode hack to the Opposition room, evidently fuming with passion. The deputation stood. aghast at being accorded such treatment and they returned to the hotel much crestfallen and reported their failure.
A feeling of despondency pervaded the deputation, as it was felt that if Sir John Robertson succeeded in carrying his motion our railway stood in danger of being once more being shelved. The situation was certainly far from cheering. Our one hope was that the censure motion might be defeated. To meet with such a setback when victory appeared to be in sight was most disheartening. The prospects of once more having to encounter further obstacles was enough to make most people relinquish their efforts. We nevertheless recognised that we were fighting for a big stake and that the fate of our district hung on the issue.
To return to Cowra with thwarted hopes we felt would dampen the ardor of our league almost to a crushing extent; still I was not without some hope.