Cowra in Days Gone Bye by J C Ryall 8/ (Pages 79 to 96)

Published 6 April 1928


The Railway Movement 

Having succeeded in establishing the School of Arts and the P. A, and H. Association I, through the “Free Press”, sought to arouse the community to a sense of the importance of moving the Government of the day to continue the extension of the Murrumburrah-Blayney line to Cowra.


Mr. Whitton’s Recommendation

Before proceeding further I may here state that some time prior to leaving Grenfell for Cowra I convened a public meeting, with the object of considering the recommendation of Mr. Whitton, Engineer in Chief for Railways, re the construction of a loop line to link up the Western and Southern railway systems by building a line of railway Murrumburrah to Blayney, to run as near as practicable to the towns of Young, Grenfell, Cowra and Carcoar. In making this recommendation, Mr. Whitton stated his objective was to relieve the heavy traffic on the steep grades of the Blue Mountains, also to facilitate the passage of rolling stock from the West to the South and vice versa.


Through the determined opposition of Mr. Ralph Halls and his Partner Mr. Robert Hill, the Grenfell people decided by a large majority that a railway to their town would be ruinous to the business community , hence it was resolved not to support Mr. Whitton’s proposal. The matter was later submitted to Parliament and Mr. Whitton’s recommendation was adopted. In those days there was no Parliamentary Public Works Committee, hence the Government in power decided straight away what public works should be proceeded with or otherwise. Messrs. William, John and George Watson ( Watson Bros. ), storekeepers, of Young, shrewd, far-seeing business men, perceiving that their town would materially benefit by the proposed railway, lost no time in placing the matter before the public of Young.


They then ascertained that the community was solidly behind them in any action they might take to attain the objective in question. Being aware that Parliament had approved of the loop recommended by Mr. Whitton, Watson Bros. decided to devote their energies towards inducing the Government to proceed with the construction of the first section of the line–Murrumburrah to Young. Their efforts in this behalf were effectively backed up by their brother, Mr. James Watson, who as Colonial Treasurer, wielded a good deal of influence with his colleagues. Eventually the line was constructed to Young, and this resulted in bringing much grief to that town, it being then a terminus.


Having succeeded in bringing the railway to their own door Messrs. Watson Bros. determined to throw every obstacle in the way of extension of the loop. and in this selfish aim they again had the powerful co-operation of their brother James, who was still Colonial Treasurer. It might here be mentioned that this “power behind the throne” (Mr. James Watson) was the Parliamentary representative of which Cowra was part. This being so made him doubly dangerous to the interests of this place, whose views on this and other public matters he was assumed to voice.


It will be thus observed that Cowra, in its efforts to have its claims to a railway respected, had to overcome the selfish influence of a very powerful coterie, which was loyally backed up by the people of Young.


Cowra Takes Action

A series of very strong editorials in the “Free Press” met with the warm support of the progressive and alert section of the community, but no one felt disposed to take the initiative. Being convinced that the future of the place largely depended on its being provided with railway facilities, I took the responsibility of convening a public meeting, and, to ensure its being representative, I personally interviewed all the leading people of the town and district. My efforts in taking this precaution were subsequently rewarded as, on the date appointed for the meeting, there was a very large and representative gathering of citizens, all of whom were bent on business.


Mr. George Campbell, who presided, in a forceful opening speech dwelt on the importance of the movement, and strongly advocated immediate and persistent action. Messrs. Donnelly, Freehill, Dennis, Daly, Mawby and others also addressed the meeting in support of the movement. Before the meeting terminated a railway league was formed and all present were immediately enrolled as members. This was followed by the appointment of canvassers for further members, and the election of an executive committee with Mr. Campbell as President, while I was entrusted with the secretarial duties. This was the inauguration of the most important epoch in the history of Cowra. At the first meeting of the executive committee matters were placed in train for carrying on a vigorous campaign, which included the appointment of sub-committees for specific duties, and the drafting of a petition for submission to Parliament.


At the following meeting my handiwork as a draftsman met with unanimous approval, and I was instructed to prepare copies of the document and to distribute some amongst members of the League residing in outlying portions of the district. Recognising that, unless business was found for the executive to transact, it might become rusty and apathetic, I arranged for the holding of meetings at stated intervals, and on each occasion I always made it my business to have a series of matters, in addition of voluminous correspondence, for consideration.


Personal House to House Visitation

To the uninitiated the gathering of a sufficient number of members to form a quorum may seem a simple matter, but to my cost I found it far from an easy task, seeing that, in addition to sending out notices, I was compelled on the appointed night to make a personal house to house visitation to remind members of their duty. When making my round of visits on these occasions I was frequently compelled to await the completion of a game or two of billiards or “devil’s pool” before the members so engaged could be prevailed upon to accompany me to the place of meeting.


This undesirable state of affairs was mainly due to the people being so unaccustomed to attending meetings of any kind. At length the copies of the petition sent out broadcast were returned duly signed, and it was then found that the attached names numbered over 2,000.


Published 13 April 1928

Petition the First Decisive Step.

The executive having decided that Mr. Andrew Lynch, the member for the district, should be asked to present the petition to the House, I was called upon to place the signatures in consecutive order and to clean the soiled sheets–a somewhat laborious undertaking.

In addition to sending the petition to Mr. Lynch I had copies of the document printed and these I addressed to every member of the House individually. Later Mr. Lynch, after referring to the presentation of the petition, said he felt exceedingly proud to be entrusted with the duty of presenting such an admirably got up and so influentially signed a compilation, and added, that it had already succeeded in impressing members with the desirability of continuing the extension of the loopline from Young to Harden.

The First Deputation to Sydney.

Finding that no matter how favorably disposed members of the House might be to the adoption and carrying out of the proposal, nothinq could be done so long as the Government of the day remained inactive, the executive decided to despatch a deputation to Sydney. The three members selected to fill the role were Messrs. James Ousby, Charles Stibbard and myself. Believing my first move on reaching Sydney was the endeavour to remove the primary obstacle to a continuation of the line from Young, I, by appointment, waited upon Mr. James Watson, Colonial Treasurer, and in the course of a lengthy interview that gentleman tacitly admitted that in order to make the loopline effective, and to fulfil the function, which was Mr. Whitton’s objective in the first instance, it was imperative that the construction of the entire loop should be completed.


In conclusion he promised to use his influence with his colleagues to submit a Bill to Parliament sanctioning the extension of the line from Young to Blayney. Having thus secured the adherence of Mr. Watson I naturally felt that one serious stumbling block had been overcome, but the sequel proved that Ministers’ assurances were not always true to brand. Shortly afterwards, with Mr. D.C.J. Donnelly, I called upon Mr. Frank Wright, Minister for Works, and who was also one of the founders of the firm of Wright, Heaton and Co.


This gentleman professed entire sympathy with the movement which was in progress, and added that having been a carrier on the Western roads for so many years, he had a thorough knowledge of the character of the country which the proposed line would serve, hence he strongly favored its construction as early as practicable. Thus two members of the Ministry had avowed themselves supporters of the proposal in which I was interested. Some members of the House, when approached, also agreed to support the proposal when it came before Parliament, but the great majority evinced a lamentable ignorance of the geography of the country and averred that they had not even heard of Cowra, Carcoar, and Blayney. These men positively refused to commit themselves in any way in respect to the construction of the line until they had been afforded an opportunity to see the country through which it would pass. The Premier, Sir Alexander Stuart, was also of the non-committal type.


The deputation, after completing their strenuous interviewing, returned to Cowra and reported at length on their city experiences. About this time a change in our electoral law gave the Carcoar electorate an additional member, hence the people of the district were for a time immersed in the throes of a Parliamentary contest. Mr. E. A. Baker, an ex-Minister, was the most popular candidate locally, and, as he made the building of a continuation of the loop line as speedily as practicable a prominent plank in his platform, and it being also recognised that, having been a Minister of the Crown, he would have a better insight into the requisite rope pulling business, his election by a substantial majority followed.


After some persuasion on my part, the executive was induced to resume duty, and, acting on my suggestion, it was resolved to invite the Government and the members of both branches of the legislature to a banquet.


Invitation to Banquet

The proposal at first sight appeared to be far too stupendous for a town and district of Cowra’s proportions, but when it was considered that the dreary drive by coach from Blayney to Cowra would deter a very large proportion of the members from undertaking such a journey, and furthermore, as the time occupied in the visit would interfere seriously with those who had to look after their business establishments (members were not paid then), it was agreed that the proposed entertainment was not impracticable. It was nevertheless hoped that some of the Ministers would endeavour to put in an appearance.


It may be here mentioned that the primary object in making such a wholesale plunge was to endeavour to convince members that we had a good case and that we did not fear a thoroughly practical investigation concerning the claims of the country the proposed line would traverse.


Further Opposition Offered.

The people of Grenfell, headed by Messrs. Hill, Halls and Co., the leading storekeepers -of the place, finding Cowra’s prospects of securing an extension of the railway from Young were daily becoming brighter, despite their opposition to a railway in any form while I was a resident of Grenfell, now determined to resort to every stratagem and device to thwart our aims. Fortunately, my lengthy residence in Grenfell qualified me to thwart many of the subtle efforts of our new foes, and I was careful, for obvious reasons, to conceal from these people as much as possible of our movements. It was a battle of wits.


Eventually Grenfell propounded an alternative scheme. This was a continuation of the proposed Borenore to Forbes line from Forbes to Grenfell. Just then Mr. W.T. Coonan was the Parliamentary representative of the Forbes and Parkes districts, and as as he was a shrewd, vigilant, and active member of the House, where he had a certain following, we realised that an ingenious and very dangerous opponent had been enlisted by the Grenfell clique. Being the possessor of a glib tongue and persuasive powers he was enabled to exercise a good deal of influence with members who knew little or nothing respecting the merits of the rival routes. In the meantime Mr. John McKillop, manager of the branch of the Commercial Bank at Carcoar, a bright and energetic citizen, entered the lists with Cowra, by forming railway leagues at Carcoar and Blayney, and the adoption of such a course, very materially strengthened our hands.

The Parliamentary Banquet.

The replies to the invitations issued to the Parliamentarians were either of the non-acceptance or non-committal order. However, in the event of a fair number turning up ample means for driving the party over the entire route were available, quite a large number of our residents of the town and district having placed their horses and vehicles at the disposal of the executive. It was arranged that the banquet should take place in Mr. J.H. Fitzgerald’s large new store, which was subsequently occupied by Mr. J.E. Taylor, Mr. Thos Watson, Mr. P. Squire, and Messrs. Squire, Pepper and Co. At length the eventual day arrived, and it was then found that out of 90 Parliamentarians only four deigned to favour us with their presence. These four were Messrs. A. Lynch and E.A. Baker, members for Carcoar, and Messrs. R.M. Vaughan and W. T. Coonan, members for Grenfell and Forbes respectively.


Mr. George Campbell presided, and the guests assembled around the festive board numbered 150, including Carcoar, Blayney and Canowindra representatives citizens. The only disturbing element at the function was attributable to a Grenfell citizen named Towel, who was partially under the influence of something stronger than water. His man informed the ticket-taker that he was an invited guest, and forcing his way in took a seat at the table, Having been apprised of the occurrence, the duty of summarily ejecting such an unwelcome intruder devolved upon me (the secretary. Thus terminated one of the pluckiest ventures that ever a small community , such as Cowra then was, ever attempted. Just fancy Cowra inviting no less than ninety distinguished guests!


Another Raid on Parliamentarians.

After a brief respite from further activities, I, at the instance of the executive, accompanied by Mr. D.C.J. Donnelly, went to Sydney. This time it was present when the Bill providing for the construction of the proposed line had its first reading in the House. It being possible that the second reading of the Bill would immediately follow the first reading. The afternoon of the day following my arrival in Sydney was the time fixed for the first reading, so I determined to make an effort to be prepared for the second reading should that take place, hence I called on Messrs. John Wood and Co., of Hunter street, and arranged with that firm’s foreman to print a circular for me by noon on the following day, on the undertaking that the copy there for was to be in hand early on the following morning.


This meant an all night job for me, as the particulars to be embodied in the circular included a mass of authentic statistical’ information, which I conceived would be invaluable to members who were in doubt as to the character of the country to be served by the proposed railway. I commenced the task at 8 p.m. and, after working continuously until 7 a.m., I had the satisfaction of compiling my self- imposed task, and at 8 a.m. the copy was in the hands of the printer. Then followed the addressing of envelopes for 90 M.’s P. By 1 p.m. I received a proof from the printer, and by 2.30 p.m. the completed job was handed to me. At 4 p.m. I proceeded to Parliament House and handed my bundles of circulars to the messenger for delivery to the members individually.


I then went to the strangers gallery, and while seated there I had the gratification of seeing my circular distributed, and I was further gratified to find quite a number of members carefully perusing a circular which was prepared in such haste and at the cost of a night’s rest. However, our anticipations regarding the Bill being taken to the second reading stage were not verified. Next day I was introduced by Mr. A. Lynch to many of his fellow members, who seized the opportunity to congratulate me upon the framing of a circular which conveyed so much information in a concise and readable form. They further expressed the opinion that such a compilation could not fail to advance the cause in which I was so keenly interested.


George Campbell

In 1881 the Carcoar electorate became entitled to a third member, and, upon receiving a wire to that effect from my Sydney representative, I immediately imparted the news to Mr. G. Campbell, and at the same time impressed upon him that in the interests of the railway it was his imperative duty to be a candidate for the new seat. He laughingly replied that politics had never been his forte. Upon further persuasion he agreed to consider the matter, and then left me. In the course of an hour he returned with a number of telegrams from Carcoar and Blayney, urging him to consent being nominated. Before handing me the telegrams to peruse he remarked “After

leaving you this morning I was strongly importuned by Messrs. T. Walsh and R. Daly to place my services at the disposal of the electors, and this was immediately followed by the receipt of these wires from the far end of the electorate. “Thus there appears to be a general desire that I should stand. In the circumstances, I feel it incumbent on me to to place myself in the hands of such influential supporters.


Mr. Campbell promptly entered on his campaign, and his tour through the district might be characterised as a series of triumphs’ much enthusiasm being manifested at all his meetings. The election resulted in his triumphant return, the opposition being ridiculously weak. With such a powerful advocate for our railway in the Parliamentary tribunal our prospects became more encouraging. Mr. Campbell was a fluent and forceful speaker, his only fault being rapidity of utterances. He was logical and sound in his reasoning, hence his utterances commanded respect. Such a type of man in support of a cause was ~ power to be reckoned with.


Premier Dominated by His Colleagues

In the Premier, Sir Alexander Stuart, Mr. Campbell had to contend with a man who was dominated by his colleagues, hence he lacked the power to give effect ‘to his personal convictions. He loved being in power, and to retain it he left himself open to be charged with much that was unchivalrous and questionable. At times he was most irritable, querulous and discourteous in his dealings with deputations, and on the whole, he was far from being a pleasant man to meet. This then is a pen picture of the man who for some time lacked the courage to insist on the completion of the loop line of railway in which Cowra was so vitally concerned.


Published 20 April 1928.


Another Strategic Man.

With a view to convincing members of the House that the country to be served by the proposed railway was deserving in the public interest of being provided with railway facilities, Mr. W.B. Simpson, C.P.S., and Land Agent, who had been an experienced qualified surveyor, was asked to prepare a map showing the amount of settlement, area of Crown lands, and character of the soil, for ten miles on either side of the proposed route. This was certainly a heavy task, but Mr. Simpson was quite equal to the occasion, the result being a very neat and comprehensive map, which conveyed at a glance information, which, if reduced to writing would have covered many sheets of foolscap.


With this formidable array of facts in a nutshell, it was decided to send another delegation to Sydney, with the objective of interviewing and bringing under the notice of every available M.P. the information disclosed in the map. This time the delegation comprised Messrs. Alex Middlemis and Henry Dennis and myself. On our arrival in Sydney we lost no time in setting about our duty, which to the casual observer must appear to be comparatively easy, but the sequel proved in many cases it was a most tedious aDd difficult matter. For instance, a man engaged in business had no time for anything which was not connected with his particular electorate. Thus, we had to hunt around for an influential member of his constituency to introduce us, and crave an audience.


Lobbying the Members

It was imperative that these members should be met at their private residences or their place of business, because we dare not approach them within the precincts of Parliament House, unless we desired to court trouble. One of the first members we met was Mr. John McElhone, who was regarded as the scavenger of the House, and he met us with the assurance that he was thoroughly conversant with the character of the country in question, therefore he needed no map to set him right.


He conceded that the country between Blayney and Cowra was worthy of a railway, but he questioned whether the country between Cowra and Young would yield sufficient revenue to pay for grease for the axles. Mr. James Gavin, manager director of the City Mutual Life Assurance Company, said he was wholly averse to further railway construction until it could be shown that the railways then in operation were returning a profit. He maintained that far too much money had been wasted on unproductive railways. Mr. Poole, ex-Minister for Works, considered himself an authority on railways, hence he needed no further information on such a subject.


Mr. Murray, Grand Master of the Orange Institution, a very old friend of my father’s family in Ireland, promised to give the railway his whole-hearted support and also would endeavour to persuade other members to follow his example. Mr. (later Sir John) See, was much in favour of the completion of the loop line. He, however, warned us that in adopting the course we were pursuing we were treading on dangerous ground, as it was a violation of Parliamentary etiquette to buttonhole members, hence he advised us to be very careful whom we approached. In reply, we pointed out it was a case of “If the mountain did not come to Mahomet, Mahomet must go to the mountain.”


The members of both Houses of Parliament had been invited to visit Cowra, and vehicles were in readiness to take them over the proposed route, therefore, as they failed to materialise on that occasion, we felt constrained to run them to earth, and place them in possession of facts which could not be confuted. Mr. See admitted that, in a measure, we were justified in acting as we were doing, but he was still of the opinion that many of the members would resent being approached in such a fashion and advised the exercise of much discrimination in seeking further interviews. Personally he had no hesitation in stating that he favoured the construction of the proposed line, hence he was prepared to vote in favour of the Bill in all its stages.


The Supporters

Thus amongst the supporters were Messrs. Gerald Spring, J.A. McKinnon, A.G. Jones, T.E. Smith, J. Hurley, A.G. Taylor, T. Waddell, J. Davies, J. Taylor, F.B. Suttor, W.P. Crick, C. Lee, J. Asliyon, Millen, O’Sullivan, Byrnes, W. Hurley, Melville, Frentin, Oakes, D. O’Connor, G. Withers, Kidd, Kidd, Garrett, V. Parkes, Farnell, Butcher, Ellis, Hanneld, See, Young Murray, Hassall, Holterman, L. Beyers, Gould, McMillan baker, Lynch, Campbell, Reid, Paul, Morton, Sir John Robertson, Dr. Ross and Mr. Poole. With such a following the Ministry was assured of a substantial majority when the Bill came on for its second reading.


Published 27 April 1928

                                                                     Another Deputation

In consequence of the undue hesitant second reading of the Bill, it was resolved to send another deputation to Sydney, consisting of Messrs. D.C.J. Donnelly, S.G.Alford and myself, and this was joined by Messrs. John Fagan and Garland (Carcoar), and H. Glasson and J. Hussart (Blayney). These local representatives, accompanied by Messrs. Campbell, Lynch, Baker, Mackinnon, Spring and E. W. 0′ Sullivan, M’s L. A. waited on Sir Alexander Stuart (the Premier-CWR) by appointment, the customary introduction being made by Messrs. Lynch, Campbell and Baker. Mr. Spring spoke very trenchantly on the neglect of the Government to complete the purpose of the measure authorising the construction of such an important public work as the proposed loop line.


Messrs. Lynch, Baker, Campbell, Donnelly and Garland followed with addresses in a similar strain. Whilst these deliverances were under way the Premier appeared to be preoccupied with other business, as he kept on continually writing memos and handing them to the messenger for delivery elsewhere, until I read some statistics I had compiled. Then he remarked, “Oh! That is more businesslike. Something to the point.” Then, at his request I handed him the paper. His reply to the deputation was very brief, being in effect that the representations made would be submitted to his colleagues for consideration, and he was hopeful that what was asked for would be conceded.


Sir John Robertson.

A month or so later we had the gratification of seeing the Blayney-Murrumburrah Railway Bill once more restored to the business paper of the House. But once more it promised to be blocked, this time through Sir John Robertson tabling a motion of censure on the Government, and this was set down for the same day as the second reading of the Bill in which we were so deeply interested. The Cowra executive fearing that the matter be shelved indefinitely, decided to send another delegation to Sydney to endeavour to persuade Sir John Robertson to defer his motion until after our Railway Bill had been dealt with. Accordingly the representatives of the Cowra, Carcoar and Blayney Leagues proceed post haste to Sydney, where on the morning of their arrival;, they had a conference at Williams Hotel, King street.


It was then decided to appoint three of their number to wait on Sir John Robertson that afternoon at Parliament House, and ask him to allow the Railway Bill to take precedence to his censure motion. The choice fell on Messrs. S.G. Alford, Henry Glasson, and John Fagan. Mr. Alford was chosen as he said he was acquainted with Sir John Robertson. When they repaired to Parliament House subsequently Sir John, as Leader, was about to preside over a caucus meeting of the Opposition, but upon being apprised by the messenger that the delegation desired to see him, he at once came to the waiting room.


The Impetuous.Old Knight

Then as none of the trio spoke, the impetuous old knight, after glaring at them for a few seconds, bellowed out, “What the ( ….) do you want?” Mr. Fagan thereupon finding that Mr. Alford evinced no disposition to state the object of the mission, said “Sir John, we came here to ask you to postpone your censure motion until the motion dealing with the Blayney-Murrumburrah railway had been disposed of.”

The reply was characteristic of the irascible veteran, hence was brief and forcible. It ran thus: “To ( …. ) with your two-penny ha’penny railway. The best interests of the country cannot be made subservient to such a trumpery matter.” He thereupon turned on his heel and abruptly retired. A little later the discomforted trio returned to their brother deputationists and reported the failure of their interview.


Next day, in company with Mr. E. A. Baker, I called on Sir John at the Reform Club, and found him the very essence of affability. After recalling some reminiscences in relation to my late father, whom he knew very intimately, he referred to the incident of the previous afternoon.

He said that a more inopportune time could not have been selected by the deputation for an interview. He had attended the Caucus meeting of the Opposition on that occasion with a fixed determination to take measures to drive the Stuart administration out of office, and then at the very outset he was asked by an outside body to defer action.


Upon it being pointed out that all that was sought was a mere postponement of his motion for a very brief space, he retorted: “The (……) Government is running the country to ruin and should not be allowed to hold office a moment longer than can be avoided.” He then added , “You need have no fear regarding your railway, which I personally favour. When I get into power, which will be immediately, I will lose no time re having the measure authorising its construction submitted to the House. Your railway is perfectly safe in my hands.


The fearless, honest old knight subsequently redeemed his promise, and the passage of the all important measure eventuated. This was promptly followed by tenders being called for the construction of the line in two sections, viz., Young to Cowra, inclusive of an iron bridge across the Lachlan, and thence to Blayney.


Messrs. George Fishburn and Co., were the successful tenders for the No. 1 section, and Messrs. Robertson Bros., for the No. 2 section. In a comparatively brief space of time the building of the No. 2 section to the Western bank of the Lachlan was sufficiently advanced to enable the contractors to run a train from Young for the conveyance of merchandise and general produce. To meet requirements in this connection, a temporary platform of sleepers and a small office were built near where the gatekeeper’s house now stands.


Shortly after the 1ine was assumed to be in running order, there was a torrential rainfall, which was the means of making huge gaps in some of the embankments, which was evidently due to the departmental construction engineer not having made adequate provision for the gateway and flood waters at the various openings and waterways. At Mr. Fishburn’s urgent request I made an inspection of some of the washaways and satisfied myself that an error of judgement had been committed by the engineer, hence, I intimated to Mr. Fishburn that I would deal with the lapse through the columns of the Cowra Free Press. To my amazement Mr. Fishburn then placed his hand in his pocket and drew forth a bundle of hanknotes, which he pressed me to accept as some recompense for my trouble.


Offer Spurned

I indignantly spurned what I conceived to be a bribe, and I informed Mr. Fishburn that anything that I might write on the subject would be the outcome of a sense of duty. My article appeared in the “Free Press” and this resulted in a departmental inquiry which, I subsequently ascertained, terminated in favour of compensation being awarded to the contractors. Thus I was the direct means of contributing to the earnings of the firm. Nothing further, however, was offered in the shape of a quid quo pro.


Cowra’s first station master

When the line was once more placed in running order, with Mr. Donnelly, I was deputed to wait on the Minister for Works, and urge him to take the completed portion of the 1ine out of the contractors’ hands. The request was acceded to, and Mr. Nixon, of the relieving staff, was placed by the Railway Department in charge of the station. Thus Mr. Nixon was Cowra’s first station master. The official taking over of the completed portion of the first section of the line–Young to Cowra–was duly celebrated by conducting a celebration on our original showground, when the occasion was seized for congratulatory addressees by our members, Messrs. Campbell and Baker, and other prominent citizens.


The bridge over the Lachlan not completed until several months later. With the exception of the large cylinders for the piers, the whole of the ironwork for the superstructure of the bridge was imported from Belgium, in the face of the fact that a huge ironstone lode of exceeding richness exists in the Broula range, within ten miles of the bridge site. That such a vast amount of mineral wealth, located practically at our very doors, should remain undeveloped is a reproach to citizens of an enterprising turn. Eminent geologists, who have visited the lodes, expressed the opinion that the ironstone was simply a cap to a lode rich in copper, silver, and gold.


Mr. D.C.J. Donnelly always regarded the Broula range as a second Mount Morgan. He paid parties of men to prospect portions of the range, and on one occasion a party in his employ, struck a well defined lode formation, which contained small pockets of ore, and on this being assayed gave a return of 40 ozs. of gold and 120 ozs. silver per ton, but, as the pockets of ore were few and far between, the discovery would not pay to work, and, as Mr. Donnelly’s financial resources were limited, operations in quest of deposits of greater proportions had to be discontinued.


While the bridge was in course of construction we made it a practice to visit the work at frequent intervals, and on one occasion we found that a cylinder for one of the piers on the western bank of the river had at a depth of about 15 feet encountered a bar to further progress before the stipulated depth had been attained.


The diver

To overcome the obstacle a diver had to be called from Sydney. Being rather curious to ascertain how the diver would surmount the intrusive snag, we again visited the bridge site when the diver was to commence operations. Shortly after coming on the scene the diver appeared on the platform across a portion of the cylinder encased in his submarine garments. The headpiece having been adjusted, and the necessary provision made for a supply of air while submerged satisfactorily arranged: the diver descended the ladder which was secured inside the cylinder. Upon his reaching the bottom a pick and shovel were lowered to him, and in a comparatively brief space of time he succeeded in removing the debris from the log, which was then found to have a girth of nine feet. This done he returned to the top of the cylinder for a smoke and brief rest.


When he again descended to the depths, he brought with him an auger, large hammer and chisel. With the auger he bored a series of holes around the large log close to the edge of the cylinder, and when the circuit had been completed he connected the holes by cutting away with the chisel the timber left between the holes. The same procedure was adopted on the opposite side of the cylinder. Finally, with gelignite and a mawl and wedges he reduced the bulk of the log until it was small enough to be hauled to the surface.


Other logs that were met with while sinking other cylinders were disposed of in a similar manner. The whole operation was both unique and interesting. The spectacle of seeing a diver fully equipped working in about fifteen feet of water, so far from the seaboard was so uncommon, that it was not to be wondered at that large numbers of our townsfolk were daily on the scene while the diver was engaged.The timber (red gum) was in a splendid state of preservation, despite the very many years it had remained buried in the earth.



Published on 4 May 1928


Old Cowra  A Retrospect of Fifty Years

A Railway Bridge Incident.

While the building of the bridge was in progress the Lachlan came down a banker, and the occasion was seized by some enterprising citizens to conduct a so-called regatta, which was really a race upon planks a foot wide and from 10 to 12 feet long, propelled with an improvised paddle. Small prizes were offered for first, second and third, and the course was from the site of the railway bridge to the traffic bridge. There were six or seven contestants. A good start was effected, but by the time a hundred yards of the course was traversed the majority of the would-be champion scullers were in difficulties. Some came to grief through colliding with snags, others were whirled around in eddies, and in every instance the participants were treated to a bath in the mud-stained water, much to the amusement of the large number of spectators lining the banks.


Amongst the competitors was a recent arrival named Logan, a hairdresser, who boasted that he possessed considerable aquatic experience, having been the winner of several sculling events in Sydney. He came on the scene attired in faultless white, and was evidently determined to give the back-blockers a taste of his prowess and skill.

He took the lead at an early stage, and was ridiculing the efforts of his opponents, when his plank encountered a snag and he was precipitated head first into the greatly discoloured stream to his chagrin, which was intensified by the roars of laughter which followed. When the discomforted boaster emerged from his involuntary bath and mounted the steep river bank his discoloured (once white) apparel clinging to him, he was greeted with ironical sallies. The crestfallen oarsman then made a precipitate retreat to his home followed by the jeers of Young Cowra.


The event was won by old Sam Norstedt, a Norwegian sailor, who, despite several capsizes and immersions, doggedly persevered to the end. Being the only competitor to complete the course, he was awarded the whole of the prize-money. That was Cowra’s initial effort in connection with aquatic competitions. .

Another Episode.

Mention of Sam Nordstedt reminds me of another incident in which he was one of the principal actors, but, before recording it I will refer to our first rifle club. Mr. D.C.J. Donnelly, who was a fairly good gunman, purchased a service Martin-Henry rifle, a weapon which had a habit of kicking most viciously I and the more it was used and the hotter it became the more intensified became its kicking proclivity.


The Rifle Club Prize

At the outset of this new form of sport here, Mr. Donnelly used to provide a few friends who claimed to have some pretensions to markmanship with ammunition for an afternoon’s shoot, but, as cartridges then cost from £1 to 30/- per hundred the votaries of the gun determined to relieve that gentleman of the expense of finding material for them, consequently a club was formed to purchase a stock of cartridges. The range, 200, 400 and 600 yards was selected on the Common, at the rear of Bellevue Hill. The target was of old cases, and the scorer’s pit, or shelter, was to the left of the frail target. Later I was given, by Mr. George Fishburn, a boiler plate, which proved a less destructible material to arrest the flight of the deadly bullet. Matches for sweepstakes were of frequent occurrence, and close and exciting contests were not uncommon.


On one of these occasions, Sam Norstedt was the highest scorer and William Mitchell, a miller in charge of Donnelly’s Phoenix Flour Mills, came next. Some of the wits of the club signified that the event would be marked by the presentation of a gold medal to the winner and a silver cup to the runner-up. Accordingly the same night about a dozen of the most active members of the club met at Howey’s Great Western Hotel. Mr. Howey, upon being voted to the chair, expressed the pleasure he experienced at being asked to preside over such an important function.

He then after extolling the brilliant and phenomenal markmanship of Messrs. Norstedt and Mitchell, presented the former with a gold medal enclosed in a morocco case, and the latter with a silver cup embellished with gawdy ribbons. Drinks having been ordered by the recipients, their health was drunk with enthusiasm. When Nordstedt was in the act of responding, he was greeted with roars of laughter, and this led him to conclude that he had been the victim of a practical joke, hence he removed his trophy from his case, and holding it up by the ribbon, to which it was attached, gazed long and critically at it, after which he became convulsed with laughter.


The alleged medal was one of those old time pennies, which weighed an ounce, deftly coated with gold bronze, and the supposed silver cup was a highly burnished jam tin, cut to resemble a cup. Mitchell, a solid gent, who invariably took a serious view of matters, regarded the joke as an insult to his intelligence, but, after fuming for a brief space, his vials of wrath being exhausted, he became reconciled to the inevitable. Mr. Howey, who was a noted wag, possessed a very keen sense of humour, hence he could always be relied upon as a valuable aid in the preparation of a harmless practical joke.


Having touched upon this humorous incident I trust I will be pardoned if I further digress from the railway subject to outline another amusing episode.


Mr. Henry Dennis

Mr. Henry Dennis, the licensee of the Fitzroy Arms Hotel, was an inordinately vain man, but very illiterate. He was intensely proud of his personal appearance and especially his flowing beard. It was his ambition to possess and to be something better than his fellow man. He professed to be a profound thinker, and prided himself on his eloquence, but his claims in that connection were so preposterous as to make the man an absurdity, seeing that his command of English, or indeed any other tongue, was confined to a very narrow and shallow range. He possessed a pair of grey horses, which were certainly superior to the average equine, and of these he was intensely proud. With these animals he was an invariable visitor to the annual shows at Grenfell and just as invariably won the prize for pair of buggy horses.


On one of these occasions the return of the victorious and vain-glorious Dennis to Cowra synchronised with a vacancy in the Parliamentary representation of the Carcoar district, also a meeting of the local P., A. and H. Association. Knowing that Dennis was inflated with the notion that his oratorical powers entitled him to a seat in our legislature, I, just before proceeding to the (P.A.& H. Assoc.) meeting, dashed off a requisition to him to offer himself as a candidate for the vacant seat, and this was couched in the most extravagant terms of flattery.Reference being made to to his commanding personal appearance; his very pronounced oratorical gift; his amazing debating powers; his magnetic influence; his skill as a tactician; and a host of other inestimable essential qualities, which in a brief space would entitle him to assume the leadership of a great party in the House.


At the conclusion of the P., A. and H. Association meeting, I handed this to Mr. Howey, and he was so tickled with it that he was prompted to read it aloud to the gathering. Thereupon it was decided to sign and present it forthwith, accordingly over twenty signatures were appended. This was followed by an adjournment from the meeting place (Royal Hotel) to the Fitzroy Arms Hotel. Dennis, having been summoned, Mr. Henry Mawby, after referring to the object of the mission of so many influential citizens, read the requisition to him without betraying the slightest indication of its true purport. Dennis, in response, expressed his appreciation of the high honouur which had been conferred upon him by such an influential body of citizens, and begged his good friends to accord him time to consider matters before deciding definitely what course he should adopt.


It was sanguinely assumed that Dennis would stand treat as an evidence of his gratitude, but as he did not do so, the customary “shilling in” had to be resorted to prior to the withdrawal of the jokers. The whole affair was a fiasco , because it was never for one moment imagined that Dennis would take the adulatory and fulsome terms in which the requisition was couched, at all seriously. The action was, however, the means of doing Dennis a good turn Immediately following the presentation just mentioned a telegram was despatched to the Sydney dailies announcing that Mr. Hy Dennis the popular host of the Fitzroy Arms Hotel, had been invited by a large body and influential body of electors to offer himself as a candidate for the vacant seat in the Carcoar electorate.


Just at that time Dennis was in financial straits, and his Sydney creditors were about to apply the screw, but the fact of his having been asked to stand for Parliament caused the more hostile of his creditors to assume that Dennis was likely to be a power to be reckoned with in the near future, so they agreed to give him a new lease of life.


Some days after the presentation of the requisition, Mr. Simpson, C.P.S., one of the signatories, happened to call at Dennis’ Hotel and in the course of conversation with Mr. and Mrs. Dennis, he assured them that the requisition was a hoax, and advised Dennis to treat it as such. For a time Dennis declined to view the matter in other than a serious light, but, upon the utter absurdity of some of the passages in the requisition being pointed out to him, he reluctantly agreed to treat the matter as a joke. Some time later, Dennis called on me, and after handing me a written document, he said, “1 want you to publish this as my reply to the requisition.” On perusing the document, I found to my chagrin that it contained an intimation of his intention to stand and contest the election against all-corners.


After I had finished the perusal of the paper, he asked me to return it to him to correct a passage, and when this was done he tore the sheet into fragments, and remarked that he knew from the outset that the matter was a hoax, and that he never had the remotest intention of seeking political distinction. I expressed pleasure at his decision, and assured him if he had stood I would have felt constrained to record my vote in his favour, but that I would never have asked others to follow suit.


Thus ended a comedy which which was nearly culminating in a manner which was never anticipated. Several years later Dennis was forced to dispose of his Hotel and to take a far less pretentious hostelry at Canowindra, where he ended his days.


 ………………to Part NINE