Narrative for ‘Reading the Country at Contact Tour’
Hepburn Shire, NAIDOC Week Activity, 26 May 2019
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What these notes contain
These notes have been prepared by Barry Golding for tour participants to access later as a post at www.barrygoanna.com. Further insights are provided on the site’s ‘Beyond Contact’ page and other posts.
These notes tease out Barry Golding’s tour narrative at the seven stops on the tour. There is also some narrative about places and sites we passed by between stops on the tour. Uncle Ricky’s important and complementary verbal narrative is not included in these notes.
‘to learn about our shared histories … [as an approach towards] reconciliation … grounded in truth’.
…. to experience a range of important sites in the Dja Dja Wurrung landscape where there is evidence of contact from the late 1830s between the peoples of the Dja Dja Wurrung Aboriginal Nation and the invading pastoralists, including John Hepburn.
The two base maps mentioned below, included separately in the tour notes, illustrate how quickly white invader knowledge of the ‘lay of the land’ in the footprint of the current (2019) Hepburn and Mount Alexander Shires improved between 1840 and 1847, as well as how quickly stations were created and new boundaries were established.
Map 1 (p.3 of participant notes): Parker’s March 1840 Sketch Map taken from E. Morrison, Frontier Life in the Loddon Protectorate, 1967, p.19, includes Hepburn’s (1838) run as well as earlier runs on the Campaspe and Coliban: including Mollison (1837), Orr, M[u]nro (1838-43), Thorn[e]loe & Ebden.
MAP 2 (p.4 of participant notes) Main 1847 Base Map: copied from inside cover of ‘A Homestead History’(Reminiscences of Alfred Joyce 1843-64, Ed. G. James, 1942), redrawn from an 1847 Upper Loddon survey Map,
- Our tour route is marked in pink; present day ‘towns’ in green; 2019 creek, river and mountain names have been added.
- RUNS: Smeaton Hill (John Hepburn, from 1838); Glengower (Dugald McLachlan, from 1839); Plaistow (Alfred Joyce from 1843); Tarringower (Lauchlan McKinnon, 1839-41); Rodborough Vale (Thomas Chirnside 1839, Donald McKinnon then E. G. Bucknall from 1844); Boughyards (Alexander Mollison from 1837, Alexander Kennedy from 1840); Holcombe.
Travel towards Castlemaine
PASS Mt Franklin (Lalgambook) & Larnebarramul (Mt Franklin crater) to right; PASS later Protectorate site, to left).
The main ‘Loddon Aboriginal Protectorate’ site was centred to the left of the road around present day Franklinford from June 1841-Dec 1848. Edward Parker was the Assistant Protector for the NW part of then Colony of Port Phillip. Hundreds of Aboriginal people (max 200 at any one time) lived or came here for safety, food and shelter whilst the Protectorate operated.
The central Aboriginal Protectorate area, radius ‘1 mile’, was for cultivation. A ‘larger 5 mile ‘radius (that went NS from approx. Hepburn Springs to Strangways, EW approx. to Glenlyon to Werona) was anticipated to be for traditional food gathering including hunting and fishing.
At the time the Loddon Protectorate closed only 30-40 Aboriginal people were living there. From April 1850 Parker was permitted to operate the Loddon station as a pastoral lease on the one square mile of land between Franklinford and the foot of Mount Franklin. [often called the ‘Loddon’ protectorate (a) because the earlier (1840-1 Protectorate) was on the Loddon River (Polodyul or Pul-er-gil yal-loke) 30km to the NW, at Neereman 6km North of Baringhup, and (b) because the current ‘Jim Crow Creek’ catchments was sometimes called the ‘Loddon’, being part of the Loddon catchment).
The last of the Aboriginal people living at the ‘Loddon Aboriginal Station’ in 1863 were forcibly removed to Coranderrk Aboriginal Reserve near Healesville, which operated until 1924. In 2019 there are approx. 2,000 Dja Dja Wurrung descendants from around 20 apical ancestors who survived to the 1860s. Henry Harmony Nelson is Uncle Ricky Nelson’s apical ancestor.
To the right is Mount Franklin. Its peak was likely called Lalgambook. Its crater was usually referred to as Lar–ne-barramul, literally ‘place of the emu’, likely on account of the shape of its nest shaped crater. The original names are far from certain.
George Robinson first visited Edward Parker’s new Protectorate station site here (in June 1841) on 19 Nov 1841. He described it as being:
… on one of the sources of the Lodden (sic.), at a place called Willam.be.par.re.mal, a short distance from Lal.gam.book. The appearance of the place on approaching is rather pleasing; it is however surrounded by broken forest ranges containing abundance of game.
Robinson provides several variations of the Aboriginal name in his diary that same week. On 21 Nov 1841 he wrote that: ‘The hill at Loddon station is called Wil.lam.be.par.ra.mal(emu house). The creek or branch of the Lodden (sic) is called Lulgambook’.Robinson wrote on 28 November 1841 that he had:
… visited the crater at the mount called Willum-parramul, otherwise Jem Crow. It is an ancient crater of large dimension. … Had a fine view.
Hepburn climbed its peak soon after his arrival in April 1838 to get a better sense of the local topography. Called (and likely dubbed) ‘Jem Crow Hill’ by Hepburn, most likely because of a popular 1830s Poem, and 1830s minstrel song that referred to it as ‘Jem Crown’ and ‘Jim Crow’ respectively. It became Mount Franklin following a visit by former Van Diemen’s Land Governor, John Franklin in December 1843. The very negative, racist historic connotations of the term ‘Jim Crow’ arguably call for the original name of the Creek and the later name of the mountain (once clarified) to be restored.
PASS the Lime Kiln (on left),operating on the northern edge Aboriginal Protectorate of during the 1840s. It supplied lime via the ‘Limestone Road’ for John Hepburn’s mansion built in 1848-9. Likely the deposit was accumulated from as carbonate rich water from a mineral spring, colloquially referred to as ‘Limestone Spring’ or ‘The Bullfrog’ until it was tapped for spa water tanks built on the site in the 1980s.
STOP 1: The ‘Big Tree’, Guildford
John Hepburn and family passed through here on the way to Kooroocheang, April 1838.
‘The Big Tree’: one of the largest Red Gums (Eucalyptus camaldulensis) in Victoria (height 32 metres; basal diameter 3m: age at least 500 years). It has a large branch graft on its northern side. The brass plaque records Burke and Wills camping here on their ill-fated northern expedition.
It is listed as a tree of State significance on the National Trust’s Register of Significant Trees of Victoria for its “outstanding size, curious fusion of branches, as an outstanding example of the species and as an important landmark“. The National Trust regards its conservation as vital to the local community and the State as a whole.
Due to its great age, numerous hollows have formed within the tree, providing habitat for many creatures. This tree is an eco-system which sustains a vast range of bird and animal life including magpies, rosellas, lorikeets, parrots, kookaburras, wood ducks, boobook owls, honey eaters, numerous species of insects, native bees and possums.
Already an ancient giant when the first white invaders arrived in the late 1830s, the Big Tree has played an important part in the cultural and social life of the Guildford community. This tree survives as an important symbol and a link between our community and its traditional owners, the Dja Dja Wurrung Aboriginal people.
John Hepburn likely camped nearby on his way to ‘take up his run’ around Kooroocheang in April 1838.
Welcome to Country & Smoking Ceremony, Dja Dja Wurrung Elder Uncle Ricky Nelson; Welcome by Hepburn Shire Mayor, Don Henderson.
STOP 2: The Loddon Valley at Strangways
This site was considered but rejected as a second Protectorate site in early 1841.
At this point we are on the fertile Loddon River flats. This was a former, important Aboriginal highway. To the south up the ‘Jim Crow Creek’ is a small amount of reasonably good volcanic soil that later became the centre of the former Loddon Aboriginal Protectorate. Opposite is the Guildford plateau, an elevated volcanic plain, which was grassland at the time of contact.
The current road between Newstead and Franklinford followed a narrow tongue of volcanic grassland that would also have been an Aboriginal highway between patches of forest on the older shales and slates. These river flats are on the same highway that Thomas Mitchell crossed and camped at near present day Newstead in October 1836, later be referred to as ‘Mitchell’s Line’.
During 1837 several pastoralists used this river highway in to explore for new country to invade beyond already ‘taken up areas’. One group including Aitken (at Mount Aitken) swung up past Mount Macedon (Terawait) and Mount Alexander (Leanganook), along the Loddon and back to Corio via Ercildoune. Another group including Thomas Learmonth explored north from Buninyong, via Dowling Forest along the Loddon and back to Melbourne via Kyneton.
The huge quartz pebble to the right of the road came out of the gold bearing gravels on the edge of the Guildford plateau, an indication of how much bigger the stream buried by the basalt was several million years ago.
This area near the former Strangways railway yards (behind Don Hepburn’s house, perhaps a distant relation) became important in the early 1841 as Edward Parker looked for a Plan B right here as the original site at Neereman proved unsuitable. Lyon Campbell and other local squatters strongly objected. The objection was mainly because this area was already taken up by stations and was too close to what had become the main ‘overlanding’ highway on Mitchell’s Line between Sydney and Portland.
Uncle Ricky talks about the big picture of Dja Dja Wurrung people, the Clans, Moieties. Language and Kulin Confederations.
STOP 3: The ‘Major’s Line’
Thomas Mitchell’s October 1836 crossing on the Loddon at Newstead (later the Gold Escort route to Adelaide): Roadside stop opposite Mount Tarrengower.
View north towards Gough’s Range (Robinson & Parker reconnaissance trip, Feb 1840 and Neereman (Nov 1840-June 1841 Protectorate Site) 6km beyond Cairn Curran Reservoir & Baringhup.
We are now pretty much on the ‘Major’s Line’, one marked by the wheel ruts of the huge wagons as they headed back from Portland to Sydney in October 1936. A few days before he had climbed and named Mount Greenock near Talbot. Once of the volcanic plains he took a compass bearing to bring him out south of Mount Alexander, which took him north of Mount Cameron, through Strathlea to Newstead then through Expedition Pass near Chewton.
We know a lot about this area in 1840 because of the incredibly detailed (and accurate) diary records of George Robinson, Chief Protector of Aborigines (1839-1850) who came here through with Edward Parker in Feb 1840. They were loaned a cart by John Hepburn and ventured down from Hepburn’s Station via the Smeaton Plain, the Stony Rises (near ‘Tuki Trout Farm’), Campbelltown, and Joyce’s Creek to where it joins the Loddon (now beneath Cairn Curran Reservoir) and to Newstead. Below Newstead they described the still massive pools downstream that John Hepburn referred to in February 1840 as ‘the fishponds on the plains’ on account of the huge Murray cod and Macquarie perch in the big water holes downstream of Newstead.
They climbed to the western edge of a rocky range (now Gough’s Range) between Mount Tarrengower and the Loddon, ’20 miles north of Koretanger’ giving them a vantage point, Robinson describes the scene in detail on 21 Feb 1840:
Near to where we stood was the last of the Mameloid [breast-like] hills … red gums, sho oak [Allocasuarina], white gum, honey suckle (Banksia) trees. The low plains were mottled or carpeted with flowers in full blossom, patches from 1 to 2 acres of white everlasting flowers and then patches of an acre or more of yellow … or the beautiful blue flower with clumps of honey suckle and gums, and the pea green reeds of the Lodden (sic), like a broad green ribbon running in a tortuous line among the varigold and beautiful landscape, the glassy surface of the water shining between the branches of the trees.
To the north is Mount Tarrengower, (called ‘Salus’ by Mitchell), thankfully retaining its original name. Where there were no trees there was lots of Kangaroo grass. (Themeda). In many places on this Feb 1840 journey, typically on the edge between the woodland and the plain, Robinson noted many ‘bark huts of the natives’ and ‘ovens’. Just to the north of Cairn Curran Reservoir is Lauchlan McKinnon’s ‘Tarrengower’ Homestead.
Uncle Ricky talks about the relations between the Dja Dja Wurrung peoples, the explorers and the pastoralists.
STOP 4: Roadside stop above Joyce’s Creek (Knee-rarp) opposite Moolort Plains.
This stop is near remnant Buloke (Casuarina) trees, where we discuss the nature and importance of humans living in places where many different ecosystems intersect.
For the next 10 km we drive south along the eastern edge of Joyce’s Creek, a ‘lateral stream between the edge of the Moolort (volcanic) Plains and the Campbelltown Forest (on the old, rocky and relatively infertile Ordovician bedrock). Joyce’s Creek like the Loddon River, was then a well-travelled and settled Aboriginal highway. Robinson reported many camp, huts and ovens ‘where the natives had been’, with many freshwater mussel and emu shells. Robinson was ‘at a loss to account for the [immense number of] wheel and cattle tracks we now met with’ near Strathlea until he realised he was actually on the Major’s Line.
Uncle Ricky talks more about the food resources here.
This area was an ecotone: teeming with food resources in every direction: Emu, Kangaroo and Yam Daisy on the Moolort Plains; Murray cod and Macquarie perch in the massive pools in the Loddon downstream of Newstead to the north; possums and small mammals in the river red gums along Joyce’s Creek and forests to the east; rich fauna and flora in the Banksia and Buloke woodlands Blackfish and freshwater mussels in the creek; 30 large wetlands on the Moolort plains with a whole range of aquatic plants, birds, yabbies.
ON the way south the bald volcanic hills gradually come into view, Powlett Hill to right, then Moorooklye, Stony Rises and Kooroocheang to far left.
STOP 5: Graves associated with the 1840 Middle Creek Massacre
This stop is 1 km north of Campbelltown on the Strathlea Road.
The memorial grave is to the left of the road on private property. On the opposite (west) side of the road verge opposite the graves is a stand of unusual and inedible Osage oranges (Maclura pomifera)
A brass plaque on the grave displays the following text:
HERE LIE THREE UNKNOWN PIONEERS OF THIS DISTRICT.
A COOK ON GLENGOWER STATIONKILLED BY THE ABORIGINES IN 1840.
A TRAVELLER KILLED BY MIS-ADVENTURE BY THE STATION DOGS IN 1841.
AND A YOUNG EMPLOYEE,
DIED FROM NATURAL CAUSES IN 1841.
MAY THEY REST IN PEACE.
The three European people buried in the Pioneer Memorial Graves were all associated with the Glengower run. This spot was first used as a burial ground following an initial disturbing incident and burial by Dugald McLachlan in winter or spring of 1840, and again in 1841.
The third burial, unrelated to the violence associated with the first and second burials, is the grave of the young son of the original informant about the massacre story, Donald (‘Rhu’) McDonnell.
The first burial is that of a cook at the Glengower station who was killed by a band of Jadwajali Aborigines returning to the Grampians after obtaining greenstone axe blanks from Mt William, near Lancefield. The Aborigines are said to have called at the station for food when McLachlan and the stockmen were away mustering sheep for shearing, and only the cook was present in the cookhouse. The cook is alleged to have added Plaster of Paris to a damper he had cooked for the Aborigines, which once ingested would have caused a horrible and painful death. An altercation allegedly followed and the Aborigines are alleged to have murdered the cook, hanging his body in the cookhouse on a meat hook. When McLachlan returned he immediately organised a punitive expedition comprised of Glengower and neighbouring Smeaton Hill stockmen.
McLachlan buried the cook, whose name is not known, at the present gravesite only 800 yards north-east of the homestead. In expectation of a reprisal raid, McLachlan released his savage hunting dogs into the station grounds (he purportedly used for hunting dingo) after nightfall. About a year after the cook’s murder in 1841 the dogs, savaged to death an unnamed visiting itinerant traveller, who was buried beside the murdered cook. The third grave is of George McDonnell, the son of shepherd (and the original informant of the oral history) Donald McDonnell, who died of natural causes in 1841.
McLachlan was well known amongst his contemporaries as very hard and ‘austere’ man. He was very fond of using guns and hunting dogs. He was described as ‘austere’, grasping, ruthless and uncompromising of men and beast even by his contemporaries.
On Middle Creek, Glengower (on private land) is ‘The Bloodhole’, the site of an 1840s Aboriginal massacre that took place approx. 8km to the west.
The Aborigines thought to be those associated with the death of the cook were tracked down with McLachlan’s dogs and they hid in the waterholes on Middle Creek. On seeing the approaching men on horseback with guns, the Aboriginal men jumped into the creek to swim to the other side or hide under water. The mounted men from the station including McLachlan fired on the Aborigines in the water. Some had hollow reeds to breathe through while submerged, which still grow at the site today. By the time the firing stopped at least 12 Aboriginal men were dead and floating in the bloody water. The place (on private property) is still known locally by some residents as ‘The Blood Hole’ or ‘Slaughter Hole’.
STOP 6: Smeaton Plains, Williams Road (do NOT leave the road reserve and enter private land)
‘A favourite place for the Aborigines’, described by G. A. Robinson in Feb 1840.
Robinson writes on 14 February 1840 that being a fine and pleasant day, John Hepburn took him to the top of Kooroocheang. Hepburn then:
‘Showed me a plain with some open forest on it, 3 miles [5km] from his house in N [northerly] direction. Said it was a favourite place for the natives. He has seen 30 women on the plains at a time digging murrnong while the men went into the forest to hunt kangaroos, opossums, &c. which are abundant.’
After dinner that same day, being summer the evening would have been light. Robinson:
‘… rode out with Mr Hepburn to the place of the native camp aforementioned. Rode over some beautiful country. The Mameloid [‘breast like’] Hills has a natural appearance when seen from the plains. And so the hills in the distance than when viewed from the top of Koratanger. The trees from Kor.ra.tanger looked diminutive but when we came to them found them large, 2 and 3 feet diameter at the butt, with large umbrageous branches . Well covered with foliage, they stood at a distance of from 20 to 50 to 50 yards and the whole which was about half a mile square, had a park-like appearance.’
Robinson’s use of term ‘park’ to describe what was an Aboriginal Australian woodland was common amongst many British squatters and explorers familiar with parks created in the ‘old country ‘around country houses and estates.
The creators of this deliberately managed Australian park were still living and cooking underneath the trees in this 1840s landscape. Robinson continued:
‘We saw the remains of from 30-40 screens or shelters of boughs where the natives had been. Also several of the native ovens or fireplaces where they baked their murrnong. Some 10 feet in diameter. … Returned through another part of the native camp. Saw some more native huts or screens. Rode round the S end of Koretanger. The dogs killed a native cat, dark color and white spots’.
PASS former Kooroocheang Swamp [private] (on right).
Several oven mounds described by Robinson have been recorded in the vicinity the former Kooroocheang swamp. Jack Sewell recalls plentiful freshwater crayfish in the swamp before it was drained in the 1960s.
There are historic records of the Brolga (Grus rubicunda) nesting around the swamp, indeed the word Kooroocheang is thought to reference the brolga. ‘Turkey Hill Road’ north of Powlett Hill references the former Bustard (Ardeotis australis) common on the local grasslands before the introduction of sheep and cattle as well as hunting.
STOP 7: Hepburn Family Private Gravesite
This site must be accessed from a gravel car park on the south side of Estate Lane, below Mount Kooroocheang, Please note that Smeaton House nearby is strictly a private residence.
John Hepburn’s decision to replace his first timber house and commission a huge new, 20 room, double storey mansion was announced in his journal on 2 April 1849. That day his family had shared ‘a pleasure party’ with neighbours on the nearby Kangaroo Hills.
The Smeaton House mansion has for the past 130 years been the private home to the Righetti family. The mansion complete with verandahs on three sides of the lower storey, stables and a coach house was finished by the end of 1850, just before the first discovery of gold at nearby Clunes. Unsurprisingly, the mansion is highly classified by the National Trust but remains private.
The Hepburn family graveyard on a nearby picturesque knoll is now owned and maintained by the National Trust. There is public walking access across privately owned paddocks to the Hepburn Graves via a car park recently constructed south of the cemetery on Estate Lane. John Hepburn was buried here in 1860. The pallbearers at his funeral comprised the men of the Creswick and District Roads Board.
At the time of Hepburn’s death in 1860, just 20 years after Mitchell’s wagons rolled through this Dja Dja Wurrung landscape, the telegraph had arrived and the railway was advancing from Geelong towards Ballarat. The first 1851 gold rush in nearby Clunes was then only nine years old, but by the 1880s had spread for 100km in every direction and totally transformed the landscape and society.
Only three of John Hepburn’s ten children plus his wife Eliza (died 1869) are buried in the family graveyard: including the two children who came overland in 1838, Alice (died 1865) and Thomas (died 1859) as well as George (who was born at the property in 1838 and died 1903). Other Hepburns buried there include the family of John Hepburn’s brother, Benjamin who died in 1888.
Aside from the Hepburn family graves and inscriptions, the exotic trees within the fenced off cemetery as well as the views are sublime (on a fine, sunny day).
One view is towards Mount Moorookyle, another is towards Mount Kooroocheang. A third vista south overlooks the valley of Middle Creek, locally called ‘Captains Creek’, through scattered, remnant, ancient woodland eucalypts.