Published as “A Retrospect of Fifty Years” on 17 February 1928
Steady Progress of Cowra
On the 20th instant the “Free Press” will have attained the fiftieth year of its existence under its original proprietor, thanks to the allegiance of genuine friends and a large and still increasing generous clientele. During that lengthy period we have contrived to withstand the buffetings of Dame Fortune, to live down the carpings of querulous and unfair critics, to defeat the aims of calumnious and vicious opponents, and to emerge from the fray with renewed vigour, fortified by the knowledge that we have endeavoured to steer a straight and consistent course, and that our sole actuating impulse has been the betterment commercially and socially of the community among whom our lot has been cast.
During our occupancy of the position of journalist here it has been our privilege to witness the sure and steady progress of Cowra and district. we have seen the place emerge from its village or embyrotic stage to that of a growing and up-to-date town, furnished with all the essential influences for the comfort, sustenance, and vigor of its people spiritually and materially. We have taken a prominent and active part in founding our principal institutions and later in establishing them on a permanent basis, but above all this there stands out in dazzling brightness the success of our efforts in securing railroad facilities for a district with such latent possibilities. Mind you, in 1878 the nearest railway stations were distant forty-five miles, being Blayney in the west and Young on the south.
Perceiving that the progress of our town and district so largely depended on the building of a railway to it, we at an early stage of our career here initiated and organised a movement which, after years of persistent strenuous battling, secured a glorious victory. Later on I will deal more fully with this eventful era in Cowra’s history. Following the assurances that the railway from Blayney to Young, which meant the completion of the connecting link of our Western and Southern systems (the first section, Young to Harden having been already an accomplished fact) an impetus was given to free selection here, and in the course of a couple of years the pick of our available land was alienated. At that period Thursday was always an extra busy day at our Land Office.
The construction of the two sections of our railway. Young to Cowra, by Messrs. George Fishburn and Co., and Carcoar to Cowra, by Messrs. Robertson Bros., was completed in 1886, and the official opening which followed, was celebrated with much eclat. From that date Cowra’s important status as a commercial centre became recognised, and the productivity of the district, as a natural sequence, progressed by leaps and bounds, and to-day both town and district are classed amongst the most progressive and prosperous in the State.
Before proceeding further it may prove of interest to our readers to be presented with a description of the town as we found it in February 1878. By comparing it with what it was then with the present the progress of the place may be better gauged.
Cowra in 1878.‘
Along the Carcoar road on the extreme western boundary of the town we start with the comfortable residence of Mr. Henry Unsworth , and nearby were the brickyards and unpretentious dwelling of Mr. Andy O’Neil and his wife and family. Proceeding thence westwards Kendall Street was entered and then the first house encountered was Madame Rigaut’s single storied stone dwelling near where the Methodist Church now stands. On the date of our visit this place was occupied by Messrs. Philip and Samuel Rheuben, the former was married and the latter single. This was practically the first house met with on entering the town proper.
Close at hand were the charred remains of a weatherboard structure, the property of Mr. Challacombe. This had been a very neat and comfortable cottage and when destroyed by fire was in the occupancy of Mr. James Ousby and family. The fire took place a short time prior to our arrival in Cowra. A wooden edifice almost at the rear was later the temporary residence of Mr. and Mrs. Ousby and family.
Moving onwards we next came to Mr. A. R. West’s weatherboard cottage in which Mrs. Adams and Miss MacDonald conducted a ladies seminary. Later this cottage became a temporary parsonage, when the Rev. J. Young, Cowra’s first Anglican Minister, went to reside there. The Union Bank now occupies the site. Further along, on the same side of Kendall Street, after crossing Brisbane Street, were the quarters of Senior Constable McCartie, the officer-in-charge of the local police station. This was a miserably small brick cottage. The Government Savings Bank is now located on the site.
Cowra’s First Official Post and Telegraph Master.
On the opposite side of the Street, some yards back from the footpath, was a non-descript wooden erection which was the postal and telegraph authorities had rented for offices, and the housing of the wife and family of Mr. John Clinch, Cowra’s first official post and telegraph master. The premises were altogether unsuitable for the purposes for which they had been taken, hence a little later, Mr. Clinch applied for and was granted a transfer to Blayney. The new premises of Messrs Squire and Pepper and Co., are on the site of the structure referred to.
The Court House Hotel, conducted by Mrs. Thomas Walsh came next. This, the latest addition to the public houses of the place, was neat building, with rubble stone walls, but of very limited proportions. Immediately opposite stood the single storey shop and residence of Messrs. Share and Berry, saddle and harness makers. This place, until a comparatively recent date, was occupied by Mr. Pardey, photographer. Now, on the same site are Mr. Pardey’s quite up-to-date studio and the attractive shop of Mr. Eggleston, general outfitter. The brick building adjoining contained the office of Mr. F.B. Freehill, Cowra’s first solicitor, the pharmacy of Mr. Charles J. Lewin, Cowra’s first chemist.
“Starchy” Butler’s Butchery.
Next to this was a wooden erection in which Mr. “Starchy” Butler ran his butchery. In those far off days butchers were privileged to slaughter their sheep on the premises, and to hang the freshly removed skins on the nearest friendly post and rail fence. It will be readily understood that the effluvia arising from this disgusting and reprehensible practice was most nauseating. The people then had little respect for the laws of sanitation or the comfort of their neighbours. Opposite to this was the shop and residence, one storey, of Charles Nathong, a Christenised Chinese, who was married to an Irishwoman. In addition to a bakery in a small way, Charley dispensed, groceries, fruit, vegetables, etc. A low wooden erection, in which Mr. Chas. McCloskey plied the vocation of saddle and harness maker, and Mr. William Whittaker that of watchmaker came next.
Crossing Macquarie Street, we found Mr. John Muir’s residence perched on a elevated pinnacle in the Presbyterian Church ground. This elevation was later cut down, and Messrs. James Smith and A.E. Thomas, having obtained a lease of the site on building conditions, they erected the shop and offices now occupied by Messrs. Martin and Co., tailors, Messrs. Dawson and Schubert, hairdressers, Messrs. J.H. Bargwanna, stock and commission agents, and Mr. E.P. Todhunter, secretary to the P. A. and H. Association and Race Club, also the District Hospital, St. Stephen’ s Presbyterian Church, the original sacred edifice, still stands on a commanding elevation far back from the Kendall Street frontage boundary.
Across the Street in a tenement belonging to Mr. D. Robertson, Mr. and Mrs. Dan Neville conducted a general store and dress-making business and next to this were the residences of Mr. Robert Stevenson and Mrs. McDiarmid. The shop of O. Gilpin Ltd. is where Neville’ s store stood, and Mrs. McDiarmid’ s residence has been supplanted by the extensive modernised shops and residence of two stories belonging to Messrs. Bylos Bros.
Returning to the opposite of the Street, the two storied store of rubble stone erected by Mr. S.G. Alford, adjoined the Presbyterian Church ground, was at the time under notice occupied as a general store and residence by Messrs. Charles and Benjamin Austin, and next door was the general store of Messrs. D. C. J. Donnelly & Co., in a wooden building at one time owned by Madame Rigaut, and later by Mr. W.R. Watt. The butchery of Mr. John Moore, a small slab building with residence attached adjoined the Catholic Church ground. On the opposite side of the Street, we met with the unique experience of seeing two hotels, the Club House and the Royal, cheek by jowl, conducted by Mr. and Mrs. D. Robertson and Mrs .Challacombe.
The “Green House”
The former was undergoing a radical change, in as capacious and substantial two storied stone building erected over and around the wooden structure, which had served its purpose for so many years. The Royal was of brick and also two storied. Alongside the latter was the original hotel, a very old wooden place, termed the “Green House”, assumedly owing to its age. The latter was occupied by Mr Thomas O’Shaughnessy and family. Thence to the river on the same side of the Street was vacant land.
We find we have omitted to mention that th site of Messrs. Austin Bros. store is where the Australian Bank of Commerce and Mrs. John E. Phillips’ Imperial Cafe now stand , and the Imperial Hotel takes up the position held by the store of Messrs. D.C.J. Donnelly and Co. The brick building in which the offices of Messrs. C.K. Rose and Co., stock and station agents, and those of Messrs. Garden and Montgomerie and Co.,Solicitors, was tenanted by the Australian Joint Stock Bank. Where Mr. J. Moore’s butchery stood, is the shops of Mr W Markham, saddle and harness maker, and Mr A J King, bicycle salesman and repairer, will now be found.
The walls of the new Catholic Church were about 6ft. high, hence the diminutive ancient edifice being used for spiritual purposes. Its existence continues to be evidenced, through its being the link which connects e Church and Convent. It is now being used as a class room, and at the period under notice, it was used as a school for Catholic children. Miss Purcell (later Mrs. E.J. Collins) being the teacher.
This brings us to the intersection of Lachlan and Kendall Streets. On the corner where the stone building known as Murray’s store stands, directly opposite the Catholic Church ground, Mr. Hugh McLeod had his smithy and vehicle building establishment. At the rear-facing Kendall Street-there were three or four small habitations, one of which was occupied by Mr. and Mrs. T. Hill and family, and other by Mrs. E. Buckley. Next, Mr McLeod’s premises in Lachlan Street, Mr Chas Stibbard had a boot and shoe and fancy goods shop, and this was adjoined by the refreshment establishment and oyster saloon of.Messrs. Richard Page and James Williams. Next to this was the Fitzroy Arms Hotel, over the destinies of which Mr. and Henry Dennis presided. The place was then devoid of its second storey, that being an addition which was made some years later.
A Rambling Structure
Bridge Street, an exceedingly narrow thoroughfare, which had evidently been resumed by the Government, with cheeseparing fidelity, with the object of affording means of access to the bridge spanning the Lachlan, separated Mr. P. Murray’ s store from the Fitzroy Arms Hotel. The store was a rambling structure of galvanised iron building, which covered a large area, and, judging by appearances, the place had been added to from time to time as the business expanded. The Lyric Theatre and shops connected therewith are now on the site. Mr. Peter Murray’ s residence was back off the Street, and on the western side of the store, Mr. William Robertson’s residence was on rising ground at the rear of Mr. Murray’ s in which Mr. William Cummings, Senr., resided. Fronting Mr. Murray’s was a long building belonging to the Fitzroy Hotel, and beside it was Mr. John Arnold’s bakery and residence. Next came the smithy and vehicle works of Messrs. Lockett and Crawford, then came the hairdressing saloon of Professor Bellerby.
This brings us to Mr. M. Skelly’s butchery, and next comes the Australian Arms Hotel the host and hostess of which were Mr. Robert Daly. The western end of the hostelry was of brick and two stories, and the remainder of the house was in its original state, with the exception that it bore the impress of age. All this has been replaced by a rather imposing two-storied edifice of brick. On the northern side of the Street were the bakery and store of John Lee ( a Chinese married to a white woman), the smithy of Seymour and Simpson, the cordial and aerated drink factory of E. Fitzgerald and butchery of Mr. James Egan. Most of these places are yet in evidence.
The bridge over the Lachlan was a long wooden structure, which seemed to have spider-like legs and an excessive amount of top hamper. It was so narrow that waggons coming from either side could not pass each other, hence the vehicle which reached the bridge first could command the right of passing across first. It was an ill-designed, shaky structure, which had been severely strained by the pressure of the flood waters in 1870, in fact we understand that the approach from the western side was considerably damaged by that historical visitation. Near the end of the bridge on the western bank a blacksmith named Pryor had a smithy and a kind of habitation of a flimsy nature for the shelter of his family. This man specialised in the shoeing of working bullocks. His stay was not lengthy, as the police warned him he was liable to a prosecution for being in unauthorised occupation of Crown Lands.
Returning to the eastern side of the river, and passing along the Canowindra road, the first place met was the cottage residence of Mr. E. Fitzgerald, cordial manufacturer, and near that was the old and deserted police barracks which later did good service as a temporary public Hospital. Further along the road, on Mr. T. J. Sloan’s property, was the dwelling of Mr. George Gillett and family. The wooden cottage in Lachlan Street belonging to Mr. N. Challacombe, where Mr. H.H. Francis has his residence, was the next place in the shape of a dwelling which met the view, and the next was Mrs. Charles Moore’s (later Mrs. J.E. Taylor) brick cottage at the corner of Liverpool and Brisbane Streets. In Brisbane Street Mr. I.J. Sloan had a cottage which was intended for the housing of the family of Mr. A.J.C. Single, Road Superintendent.
A Most Interesting Scotch Lady
. Being off the beaten track we find that in the foregoing we have omitted mention of the residence at the rear of Mr. Neville’s store, of Mrs. Kennedy (centenarian) a most interesting Scotch lady, despite her great age. She was mother of Mrs. D. Robertson, and Grandmother of Messrs. John and D.G. Robertson; Mrs. Price, another daughter, resided nearby in Macquarie Street. Of the public school and teacher’s residence of that day little now remains to be recognised, they have been so metamorphosed. If the teacher of that day, Mr. W.J. Quick were to arise from his ashes he would be completely at sea amongst the fine substantial buildings which are now on the grounds he knew so well.
Near the school enclosure, in Vaux Street, Mr. John Marman, an old military pensioner, had just completed the erection of five small wooden cottages, which he termed “Paradise Row”. In the direction of the river just off Vaux Street, the flour mill, now lying idle in Mr. H.H.S. Francis’ timber yards, was at that time leased by Messrs. Phil and Sam Rheuhen from Mr. Walsh of Kikiamah, and was a going concern. Around the corner in Lachlan Street, the building originally erected by Mr. George Lockyer for a hostelry, was occupied by masons and workers engaged in the erection of the new Catholic Church.
In the foregoing we have endeavoured to give as accurate a description of the old town of Cowra as possible, but it must be borne in mind that fifty years is a very long period to harken back. In addition to the places mentioned there were a number of very small domiciles of the ordinary bush type scattered on the outer fringe of the place belonged to Messrs. Steve Little and Still, B. Monaghan, W. Mitchell, J.B. Fitzgerald, H. Ford, Mrs. Martin, etc. At Back Creek, along the Grenfell Road, Mr. and Mrs. R. Chivers had the Horse and Waggon Inn, and at Bumbaldry, further along the Grenfell Road, a hostelry was conducted by Mr. George Wilson. Along the Carcoar road the Inns were as follows: Cross Keys, Mr. George Lockyer; Westville, Mr. J.H. Rolfe; and the Sheet 0′ Bark, Mr. James Lynch.
Thus it will be observed that the number of habitations in the town, of every description, was only between seventy and eighty at the very outside. and the population was generally esti- mated at 250 souls. This then is the centre which J. C. Ryall selected in February, 1878, as a fitting place to make his journalistic venture. Later we hope to be privileged to recount some interesting reminiscences regarding the early history of the “Free Press”.
Published on 24 Feb. 1928
Grenfell in 1868.
It may not be out of place to state here how I came to select Cowra as a field for journalistic enterprise, and in this connection it will be necessary to hark back. When I joined my father in Grenfell, where he was practising his profession as a solicitor, in 1868, that goldfield was in the height of its glory and it had a population varying from 20000 to 25,000; like most goldfields it was continually fluctuating and was an exceedingly gay and lively place.
Men of Culture and Refinement
Amongst the miners I found men of culture and refinement, some of whom were qualified to fill any position needing intellectual attainments and business ability. The fascinating lure of gold had caused them to sever themselves from home and kindred and to lead a nomadic life in quest of what, in the great majority, meant a mere ignus fatuous.
The following reefs were at the time referred to in full work and yielding good dividends to their fortunate shareholders in most instances: O’Brien’s. Homeward Bound; Outward Bound, Lucknow, Prussian, Welcome, Enterprise, Who’d a-thought-it, Britannia, White Rose, and a number of minor veins. In addition there were alluvial workings on the Main Lead, Star Gully, One Mile, Five Mile, Seven Mile, Tyagong, and neighbouring localities.
Lining George Street, the principal thoroughfare, a mere lane about 20 ft. wide, were about twenty public houses, mostly simply drinking shops, to several of which dancing halls were attached. There were about an equal number of stores with attractive fronts and quite a number of smaller establishments, which included iron mongers, jewellers, cool drinks, watchmakers, fruiterers, barbers, booksellers, newsvendors, refreshment rooms, tobacconists, chemists, photographers, and in fact almost every trade and calling was represented. The three banks, New South Wales, Australian Joint Stock and Oriental, also faced this Street. It used to be so thronged on Saturday nights that once a person got wedged in a crowd there he had to proceed onward with it to the first cross Street before release was practicable. On such occasions the dust raised by the pedestrian traffic was so dense as to bring one to the point of suffocation.
The spiritual needs of the people were well catered for by clergy representing the following sections of religious thought: Anglican, Catholic, Presbyterian, Wesleyan, Baptist, Congregational and Primitive Methodist; the Ministers attached to which mostly resided at Young.
Mr. E.A. Baker
There was only one local newspaper, viz., “The Mining Record”, owned and conducted by Mr. E.A. Baker and his sons. During the riots at Lambing Flat Mr. Baker sprang into prominence as a member of the Vigilance Committee, who took control of affairs when the populace was regarded as in open rebellion against law and order. Later Mr. Baker represented the Southern Goldfields in Parliament and attained the rank of Cabinet Minister at an early stage in his political life. Still later, while representing Carcoar, he became notorious through his participation in the notorious Milburn Creek scandal, which led to his expulsion from Parliament. An appeal to the electors later resulted in his ignominious defeat. That terminated his public life.
To return to the activities of Grenfell. That quartz mining was an important factor in the development of the Grenfell field was evidenced by the incessant monotonous noise proceeding from the various crushing mills in the vicinity. Some idea of what noise approached may be gleaned from the fact that for a year or so the following machines were in constant operation: Bevan’s, Hoppirk’s and Clyburn’s on the Star Gully; Parker’s and the Brundah (Wood’s) in the gully where the company’s dam is located; the Victoria (Cunningham’s) at the head of the One Mile; Vaughan’s, lower down in the gully, and Wellington’s and McConnell’s, at the foot of the same gully. Then there was Campbell’s in the town area, near the old Anglican and Wesleyan Churches, Kirkpatrick’s, a couple of miles out, and Martin’s, on Emu Creek, eleven machines in all stampers of which from eight to twenty per battery.
Then Grenfell was a prosperous and exceedingly busy centre, being in the zenith of its glory. As means of entertainment the place was provided with two commodious theatres, the Thistle and Criterion, which were staffed by professional actors, some of whom had previously acquired a reputation on metropolitan boards. There was a Philharmonic Society, an amateur Dramatic Club, Minstrel Club, Jockey Club, etc. Then, there were friendly societies” temperance societies, and so on.
During the ten years I resided in Grenfell I was occasionally employed in my father’s office, but the greater part of my time was devoted to practical goldmining. While engaged in the latter avocation I met with some success, but this was overshadowed by a continuous run of ill luck, which culminated in the drought of 1876-7 when my family and myself lost a large dairy herd and three first-class teams of working bullocks. Disgusted at such a run of ill-fortune, and perceiving that Grenfell’s mining days were drawing to a close, I resolved to forsake everything pertaining to groping in the bowels of the earth in quest of the fickle goddess for a journalistic career.
I had previously been a contributor to the “Town and Country Journal”, “Lang News”, “Gundagai Times”, “Burrangong Chronicle”, “Grenfell Record”, and other journals. I must here digress to refer to an incident which in a large measure influenced my sphere of action.
I noticed that Mr. Whitton, Engineer-in-chief for Railways, strongly advocated the linking up of our Western and Southern Railway systems with the object of saving expensive haulage over the Blue Mountains, hence he recommended the building of a line from Blayney to Murrumburrah to touch as near as practicable the towns of Carcoar, Cowra, Grenfell and Young. . Believing that the adoption of such a scheme would be of immense benefit to Grenfell, I, as secretary of the Freeholders and Citizens Association (a contemporary of the Progress Committee), convened a meeting of the public of Grenfell.
This meeting took place at the School of Arts and there was a large and representative gathering on the occasion. Mr. Ralph Halls (Grenfell’s perpetual Chairman), having been called upon to preside, opened the proceedings with a strong and vigorous denunciation of railway extensions. He maintained that so long as a centre was permitted to continue a terminus it progressed by leaps and bounds, but once the line was carried to a centre further along, the condition of the town which had been a terminus deteriorated to such an extent as to make it far worse than it had been originally. In support of this contention he instanced the present day condition of Parramatta, Campbelltown, Goulburn and Bathurst.
Mr. R. Hill, held similar views, and as a result, it was resolved not to take any action in support of Mr. Whitton’s recommendation. Thus Grenfell rejected the golden opportunity to secure a means for ensuring the rapid development of the agricultural resources of so very fine a district. Being naturally disappointed at the defeat of my efforts to make Grenfell a participant in Mr. Whitton’s proposal, I inwardly determined to make a further effort in connection with the matter elsewhere later on.
In the meantime, the people of Young, with the firm of Watson Bros., storekeepers in the lead, seized the opportunity to strenuously support the scheme, and with the aid of Mr. Jas Watson, a member of the Government of the day, the scheme was submitted to Parliament for approval. Eventually the construction of the first section of the line, Harden to Young, being an actuality, Young having thus become a terminus, the influence of Watson Bros., was exercised to retard the completion of the loop.
Being satisfied that Cowra was being selfishly deprived of its legitimate rights by a powerful coterie, I determined to make an effort to frustrate the aims of the combination, and with that aim in view I resolved, if sufficient encouragement was forthcoming, to start a newspaper in the little village on the banks of the Lachlan.
Canvass for Support
Before, however taking any decisive step my brother, Percy, made a canvass of the district for support, and his report was sufficiently encouraging for me to confer with Mr. W.B. Howarth, proprietor of the Grenfell Record, and my esteemed friend, the Rev. F.S. Wilson, incumbent of Grenfell, and the decision was to embark on the venture. Prior to going to the expense of purchasing a newspaper plant, it was arranged with Mr. Howarth to undertake printing of the paper at Grenfell until such time as it could be clear that sufficient inducements were presented to place the undertaking on a more permanent basis.
Published on 2 Mar 1928
Cowra in 1878
In pursuance of our promise to furnish our readers with our Cowra when we made our debut here as a pressman, we wi 11 now proceed to fulfil the obligation:
In 1878 the late Mr. John Fagan was the contractor for the mail service from Blayney via Cowra to Grenfell per two-horse coach, and as the time allowed was six miles per hour, the journey from Grenfell to Cowra took six hours and from Cowra to Blayney seven and a half hours. Compare this tortoise like progress with the means of speedy transit of the present day. In such circumstances a mail coach journey to either of the centres named was somewhat serious undertaking.
As Grenfell’s mail service was then supplied from Young, the service from Cowra to Grenfell was merely what was termed roadside. On the occasion of our initial visit to Cowra we left Grenfell by coach under the Jehuship of Joe Poole at an early hour in the morning and after being furnished with a change of horses en route at Kelly’s Creek, I was landed at the Royal Hotel, Cowra, about 2 p.m.
A Very Genial Welcome
Host Challacombe extended to me a very genial welcome and the genial boniface did his utmost to make me feel at home. I found him to be a typical warm hearted Devonman, who was brimming over with geniality and kindness. After saying this much it may be readily understood that Host Challacombe was one of the most popular of townsmen, and in his good wife, a member of the Walsh family, I found on acquaintance, possessed in a marked degree, all the most eminent virtues of the Celtic race.
With such a grand couple as host and hostess the comfort of home life was assured. I was struck with the picturesqueness of the little town and its environments, and in that respect Cowra still holds a prominent place amongst country towns. I was much relieved to find that I was not altogether a stranger in the place as I had previously met quite a number of the townsfolk at Grenfell and elsewhere. These included T. H. and A. R. West, Charles Stibbard, Hugh McLeod, Robert Grant. Robert Chivers, Patrick Daly, Frank B. Freehill, Jim Ousley, A. Middlemis, George Lockyer, the Watt family.
The Village of Cowra
On the Crown maps at this date Cowra was styled s village despite the fact that it had been a settlement of some antiquity, seeing that it had a history dating back to the early thirties. When I made the acquaintance of Cowra fifty years hence it was just emerging from its Sleepy Hollow condition and beginning to blossom into a town with all the essentials of a place aroused to a sense of its responsibilities. It had been made a fully fledged Petty Sessions and Small Debts Court town, and also had a Crown Lands Office, all of which were under the control of a gouty and irascible old gentleman named Mr. Arkins, who should have been in receipt of an invalid pension, as he was really too infirm to perform the many official duties devolving on him satisfactorily.
Just immediately prior to my arrival in the town Mr. John Clinch was appointed Cowra’s first official post and telegraph master with Mr. Reade as assistant. The status of the police station, which was under the charge of Senior Constable McCartie, with a force consisting of a mounted man, Constable John Chapman, and lockup-keeper, who also had to do town duty, Constable John Bennett, was raised to that of a Sergeant’s station.
On reflection I find that I have omitted to mention that prior to the arrival of the official postmaster (Cowra then had no telegraphic communication with the outer world), the duties of postmistress was very capably discharged by Mrs. Jones, sister of Messrs. Austin Bros., storekeepers, who furnished that lady with suitable quarters on their premises. During Mrs. Jones’ regime she most obligingly delivered postal matter to the public at all hours, and she was never a sticker for the strict observance of holidays. As a result no lady could have been more popular with the public.
The Rev. J. Young, Cowra’s first Anglican incumbent, was also a very recent arrival in the town. Through his advent the place was re-organised as a parish for the first time. Amongst the other new arrivals were Mr. Frank B. Freehill , solicitor, Mr. Chas. J. Lewin, chemist, Mr. Henry Dennis, hotelkeeper, Mr. Charles Stibbard, auctioneer, and Mr. D.C.J. Donnelly, storekeeper. The latter gentleman was a very valuable acquisition to the vitality of the community, as his extensive knowledge in respect to conducting meetings and course of procedure respecting the correction of abuses and claims to Departmental recognition were invaluable. In this clever and experienced gentleman we had a powerful and vigorous ally, and whose aid in a just and righteous cause could at all times be relied on. Mr. W.A. Stokes, the new manager of Cowra’s only bank, the Australian Joint Stock, and Messrs. Peter Murray, Freehill, C. J. Austin, H. Dennis, A. R. West, H. Mawby, A. Middlemis, W.Howey, and H. Hood were also prominent in furthering the best interests of the town and district.
Published on 9 March 1928
After residing in Grenfell for ten years, during which period the population dwindled from about 20,000 to 4,000, amongst a people of a thoroughly progressive trend, a community which was ever alive to its vital local interests, the translation to Cowra with a population of under three hundred souls could not be viewed otherwise than as a very marked descent in the social and intellectual scale. In the realms of sport the place could hold its own, in horseracing, cricket, billiards, and pigeon shooting, but there was an utter absence of an institution having for its aim the social and mental entertainment of the people.
The tradespeople were of a very worthy type, but their chief objective seemed to be money making. Indeed the community as a whole appeared to be satisfied with a humdrum existence, and indeed it was no small task to move them out of such a set groove.
Cowra Amateur Dramatic and Minstrel Club
Having had considerable experience in musical and dramatic entertainments I conferred with a number of kindred spirits, which included Mr. Lockett, of the firm of Lockett and Crawford, Mr. W.J. Quick, public school teacher, Mr. Zachary Berry, saddler, Mr. Jacob Seymour, blacksmith, and this resulted in the formation of an amateur Dramatic Club of much promise. At the first meeting of those favourable to the formation of an Amateur Dramatic and Minstrel Club a staff of office-bearers was elected, and Mr. Lockett, who was an actor of a class above mediocrity, was selected to fill the all-important post of stage manager.
“The Pirate’s Legacy,” a three act melodrama, was selected for production. The caste having been arranged, active rehearsal was entered upon and conducted with marked ability. When the caste was regarded as sufficiently proficient to make its first bow to the public, the management was faced with a most difficult task, viz., a suitable hall in which to make the presentation. The only available hall was a room of limited proportions at the rear of the Royal hotel, the place where the rehearsals had been conducted.
It was without anything in the nature of a stage, scenery, drop scene, curtain, and in fact any of the essentials for a histrionic production. Furthermore the seating accommodation for the audience was both crude and insufficient. Nothing daunted, however, the members of the Club with the aid of trestles and flooring boards, kindly lent for the occasion by a local builder, a passable stage was improvised, and with the aid of unbleached calico, coloured glazed materials, and crayon chalks, scenery of a sort was manufactured.
Eventually the opening night arrived, and the venture was greeted with a bumper house, and furthermore, it was of the appreciative order which encourages performers to acquit themselves creditably. In the intervals between acts songs and musical items were given by the company. Mr. D.G. Robertson presided at the piano on those occasions, Mr. Lockett having decided to leave Cowra, the stage managership was entrusted to another member of the Club, and the production of another dramatic piece was decided upon.
The rehearsals proceeded very satisfactorily up to the night appointed for appearing before the public, when to the chagrin of the performers in attendance a member who had been caste for an important failed to materialise, hence his part had to be read by the stage manager. This so disgusted the Club that it was resolved thenceforward to devote attention to concerts and short farces. While it lasted the Club was instrumental in raising funds for many deserving objects.
School of Arts.
Through the columns of the “Free Press” I next dwelt on the educational and recreative value to a community of such an institution as a School of Arts, and towards the establishment of such a factor for good I took the initiative by convening a public meeting at the Fitzroy Hotel. A large and thoroughly representative gathering responded, and from the very outset a very businesslike strain characterised the proceedings. It having been unanimously agreed that a School of Arts should be established, the membership fee was fixed, and an influential staff of officers was elected by ballot. In the course of a couple of days over 100 members were enrolled. Later permission was given to use the Court House for reading room and library purposes.
For a couple of years this worthy institution flourished and gave promise of being permanently established, and then the management concluded that, if freed from the restrictions of the Court room and premises were rented within reach of the business portion of the town, a greater measure of success would result. Accordingly, premises formerly occupied by Mr. James Williams, were rented.
The Institution Drooped
Thenceforward the institution drooped, the burden of paying rent and the salary of a librarian in addition to providing for the upkeep of the library and reading room, being more than the financial resources of the institution could stand, hence after a futile struggle Cowra’s first educational factor was permitted to fizzle out. Subsequently, after a lapse of a couple of years, I made an indirect effort to revive the slumbering embers of the practically defunct institution by founding a Mutual Improvement Society, and notwithstanding the fact that the membership never exceeded twenty, this embryotic Society enabled the young and intellectually inclined men of the town the means of passing away a couple of hours weekly in a rational manner.
The meetings were held in the office of the “Free Press” for which no charge was made, the lighting also being free. The members of the Society eventually arrived at the conclusion that as a site for a School of Arts had been dedicated by the Government, that this might lapse if some effort was not made to erect a building thereon. Accordingly arrangements were made with Mr. E.T. McPherson, the then manager of the local branch of the Commercial Bank, for a loan of £130, that being the estimated cost of a small brick erection.
The guarantors who entered into a bond to be collectively and severally responsible for the loan were Mr. A. E. Hemsley, solicitor, Rev J. Kimberly, Anglican Incumbent, Mr. W.B. Simpson, Clerk of Petty Sessions, Senior Sergeant McCartie, officer-in- charge of Police, Dr. F.P. Bartlett, J.C. Ryall, Henry Dennis, proprietor of the Fitzroy Hotel, E.J. Hodgson, commission agent, Thompson, shop assistant, and E.T. McPherson, bank manager.
Later Mr. McPherson stated that owing to being an official of the bank he was debarred from becoming a guarantor. Thus, the liability rested on nine.
As the building failed to return any revenue, owing to the departure of the tenants without paying rent, no interest on the loan was paid to the bank. At length, Mr. E.W. Hulle, who was the manager of the local branch, was instructed to demand payment of the debt and interest to date, about £160. Just then Messrs. Thompson and Hodgson had left the town, and their whereabouts could not be traced, the Rev. J. Kimberley had gone the way of all flesh, Mr. Dennis had gone to Canowindra and was practically bankrupt. Messrs. Hemsley and Simpson had also left the district, therefore the only resident guarantors were Dr. Bartlett, Senior Sergt. McCartie, and myself.
Messrs Hemsley and Simpson offered to pay the resident guarantors their share of the debt if released from all further liability. This was accepted, hence the local guarantors received about £60 from the absent guarantors. This was paid into the credit of the local guarantors in the local branch of the A.J. Stock Bank, with which an arrangement had been made to take over the balance of the debt. about £100. The Commercial Bank was thus paid off in full. Subsequently by renting the building to some religious bodies for a nominal sum, and the receipt of proceeds of some dramatic entertainments that had been organised by me, the debt was appreciably reduced.
The municipal Council at that time occupied one of the shops fronting Murray’s Hall, the one nearest the site of the old bridge, for meeting and office purposes. Feeling that the School of Arts building was more conveniently situated for the majority of the Aldermen, I approached the Council on the matter, and ultimately succeeded in inducing that body to rent the building at 10/- per week. The Council continued as tenants until the whole of the debt was effaced. Ultimately spasmodic efforts were made from time to time to revive the School of Arts, but it never seemed to make any headway until the late Mr. A.C. Reid identified himself with the institution. Later Mr. J.J. Molloy, post and telegraph master did much towards popularising it and paving the way for making it what it is today.
The Original Building Now Library
The original building, to which reference has been so largely made by me, is the portion now used as a library and museum. I will not deal with the institution as it is now constituted, because for some years I have not been associated with the management. I claim to have been instrumental in securing the site for the institute through the late Mr. Andrew Lynch, M.L.A., and subsequently in preventing it from passing back to the Government by causing a building to be erected thereon. Thus I claim to be the direct means of securing a valuable asset for the institute.
…….To Part Seven………