RICHMOND RIVER PIONEERS SOCIAL REUNION
COURTESY OF RICHMOND RIVER HISTORICAL SOCIETY
RICHMOND RIVER PIONEERS' SOCIAL REUNION.
ANECDOTES AND REMINISCENCES.
Queenslander (Brisbane, Qld. : 1866 - 1939), Saturday 14 June 1902, page 1285
The first social reunion for the purpose of collecting together the pioneers—or those of them who are still in the land of the living—to give them an opportunity of relating their experiences in the early history of the district, was held in the Australian Hall, Ballina, on Thursday evening, and was a success beyond anticipations. Four hundred people were present, including about ninety of the old people, who came from such distant parts as the Brunswick, Casino, Byron Bay, Woodburn, Coraki, Lismore, and the surrounding district. When the hall doors were opened at 8 o'clock the rush by the public for seats was reminiscent of a Sydney theatre on opening night. The hall was decorated with greenery and bunting, while the walls were hung with emblematic tools of the pioneer days-to wit, cross-cut saws, old axes, slides, muskets, etc. The gathering was the first of its kind in New South Wales, and included in the crowd were many ladies. The early settlers occupied a conspicuous place at the tables, and the presence of so many greybeards was a sight long to be remembered. The stalwart, wiry appearance of these old men, with their beaming countenances, made it hard to realise that they were men who had suffered the innumerable hardships and privations incidental to pioneering, and who had done such yeoman service in transforming the district from a wilderness to a veritable garden.
The Minister for Education (the Hon. J. Perry) was to have presided, but in his absence Alderman T. Martin (Mayor of Ballina) took the chair. The Mayor and aldermen of the principal towns on the river were also present.
The Mayor proposed "The Pioneers of the Richmond River District," saying the present generation knew little of the hardships and privations those men had to undergo with the difficulties of travelling without horses or roads, through immense and impenetrable scrubs. The people of the Brunswick had to walk here for rations, and carry them back along the beach. As many as forty-two vessels had been bar-bound here at a time, but this would never occur again. The pioneers had laid the foundation of the district.
Mr. C. Jarrett (Ballina) responded. He could not describe what the early settlers had undergone. If they went anywhere by land they had to cut their way through the scrubs. Getting out the cedar was a very dangerous work, in which many lives were lost. The blacks were troublesome, and every sawyer went about armed with a gun— the old flint musket—and a dog, and these guns often missed fire. One of the first places worked for timber was Tirrania Creek, and in May, 1849, a great flood took place, when the river rose 40ft. in one night, and swept away all their timber. That night a black north-easterly gale was blowing at sea, and the schooner Sally, which left the Tweed loaded with cedar, capsized, but the timber prevented her sinking. All on deck perished, and the vessel was driven on the beach a mile north of the Brunswick River. Two timber getters, Steve King and John Boyd, were travelling along the sea shore, and seeing in the distance some black object, thought it was a log which had been cast up by the sea. A blackfellow (aboriginal) who was with them had better eyesight, and said it was a " Marrandoey" (a ship). They hastened up to it, and found the vessel high on me beach, bottom up, with her masts gone. King, putting his hand on the vessel, remarked, " God help the poor unfortunate that were in this ship," whereupon a faint coo-ee was heard, and thinking that it came from the bush, they looked there for some of the crew, at the same times answering the coo-ee, which was repeated. The native now told them; "Docriki" (white man)"in Marrandoey" (Ship), and they, to their astonishment, found that someone was imprisoned in the wrecked ship. Sending the blackfellow to the nearest habitation, some miles distant, for an axe, they cut a hole in the bottom of the ship, and liberated the two men— this captain and a passenger. They had had a terrible experience in the ship before being finally cast up on the bench and left by the receding tide. The captain's legs were lacerated by nails in the cabin lining, which had broken loose and washed to and fro in the cabin. The two men had to perch up on the cabin beams out of the water, the captain being naked. The latter did not succeed in this altogether, through there being a keg of rum at hand. The captain broached the rum and drank copiously, advising his companion to do likewise, as he knew they were doomed. Brown, however, wisely declined, and getting the keg, took out the cork and let it run out, and a terrible task he had afterwards to hold up his helpless companion out of the water until washed ashore. They were taken to the sawyers' camp and kindly attended to. It was six weeks before the captain could walk to Ballina and take passage to Sydney. Brown left for the Tweed, and thence went to Moreton Bay. The passenger (Brown) had a gun when rescued, which one of his rescuers was desirous of obtaining, but the reply was that it cost too much money to give away.
Mr. H. French said he came to the river in the schooner Northumberland in 1842. They came from the Macleay River. The schooner Sally, the first to enter the river, had been here before them. They dropped anchor off Ballina, but there was not a single habitation or sign of life in sight. Going up the river, at what is now Pimlico Island, they got aground on a mud bank. The sawyers got drunk on some Pimlico ale, and that is how the island was called Pimlico. Proceeding up the river, the overhanging scrub was so close that the yards caught in some boughs, breaking them, and they fell on the deck. The place was called the Devil's Elbow (now Swan Bay). At Codrington the first timber-getters who came over from the Clarence settled. Here the first pine was cut They had to go from Ballina seventy miles up the river to get fresh water, as there had been a long period of dry weather. Opposite Gundurimba the blacks assembled in swarms. One man was induced to swim across the river, and while doing so some of the whites in the most wanton manner fired their guns at the man in the water. The bullets struck close by, but did not hit him. In those days they had often to wait three months for a schooner from Sydney, and he was once without boots for three months until a vessel arrived. When he got the long-looked for boots he slept in them. (Laughter.)
Ex-Alderman Norris (Lismore) said he landed in Ballina from the schooner Josephine in 1847 and was now 75 years of age. The day he landed he first saw Mr. William Smith (who died at Lismore last month), C. Jarrett, sen., and J. Eyles He (the speaker) came here just from the' old country, and expecting to see cities like in England. When he landed he was dressed in swallow-tail coat, frill-shirt, and bclltopper hat. The first man he. met was old Dan Woods with torn moleskin trousers, and he was rather astonished to see Eyles pay the old man £250 as his cheque for cedar. The cedar-getters asked who the “swell" was, and one "drunk" knocked his bellhopper-hat down over his eyes, while another “drunk" commenced to saw his coat-tails off with a knife. One of the first sights he saw was two men wheeling a "drunk" in a wheelbarrow and emptying him in an old sawpit. (Laughter.)
Mr. W. Yabsley (Coraki) said the pioneers had worked hard for the present generation. They had found it a howling wilderness, and left it a paradise. When they camo the land was infested with vermin and clothed with thickets and jungle; the river also full of snags, sandbanks, and rocks. He hoped to see the good work the pioneers had so well begun carried on by the younger people. He had met that day men whom he had not seen for forty years. He had lived on the river fifty-five years, and it was hard to realise that this magnificent district was then a wilderness.
Mr. E. Ross came to the Richmond in 1855. He paid £6 for his passage and 5s. for his dog. The blacks outnumbered the whites by fifty to one. Grafton then consisted of five huts, and there were no roads. He and started to ride to Casino, and on their way only met two men and a bullock team. There was only one hotel in Casino, and this was built of slabs, with a bark roof. The court was held in a room in the public-house. Going into this room, and speaking to another man, a man came up to him and told him he was a constable, and he must be orderly. His reply was that he (the constable) was not very orderly himself. He was called a "new chum," and asked to have a “ball" (a drink). There was no road to Lismore and it- was a bog the whole way. There were no vessels trading to Lismore then, and his first work was boiling cattle for their fat. He had to watch the fires and wheel the boiled meat into the river, and he looked upon the job us white slavery. One job he had to do was to take two boats down to the Heads with hides, and bring back stores. He had blacks with him, who used to land and find their “tucker” in the shape of paddymelons and “boorabees”. At Ballina a black gin ran away with his damper. At Broadwater they got aground, and had to throw some of the cargo overboard to get off. He denied that the pioneers were all drunkards.
Mr W. Gollan said he came here from the South Coast in 1866. There were even then no roads. Two delegates sent up here to report took three months before they could get back to the South Coast. He had to walk from the Clarence along the beach to Jerusalem Creek at Woodburn. The scrub overhung the bank so much that in the evening the water looked as black as ink. A man, Captain Marsh, who had been an officer in the Army selected at Woodburn. The latter was pulling his crop of corn, which he put in a sack and carried through the scrub to his hut. When he built his house he had to cut an opening in the scrub, and carry everything on his back. It rained for six solid weeks, and there was a big flood. When a schooner came with horses the latter had to be put on a plank in the gangway and tipped overboard in the surf. They then swam ashore. It often took three months to get supplies from Sydney, and they were often hard pushed for clothing. On one occasion he had fixed a frame by the fire to dry a shirt which he had washed. The wind blew it into the fire and the loss was a serious one to him. (Laughter.) They missed their cat once, and when a big carpet snake was killed shortly afterwards the mystery was solved.
Alderman W. Webster (Ballina) had been here forty-nine years, and had- seen the progress of the district from the slide (the only mode of locomotion then). People now could not imagine how hard it was to travel in those days. His first billet was 5s. a week driving bullocks.
Mr John Jarrett related some of his reminiscences of forty years ago. On one occasion, when he was at work " surfing" timber, he left his horse grazing with the saddle and bridle on, when a big iguana got on to the horses leg, which caused the horse to bolt away along the beach. After going two or three miles back he came, and, running out to stop him—" strike me (you may not believe me) if there was not a goanna sitting up in the saddle holding the reins, and his tail flogging the horse, which accounted for his speed" (Great laughter.).
Mr. W. Nolan (Mayor of Coraki) proposed " Prosperity to the District," and in doing so referred to the good work of the pioneers. Mr. Thomas Russell, sen. (Ballina), a resident of forty years; Mr. W. J. Riley (Mullumbimby), a resident of thirty years; Mr. W. W. Dixon, the pioneer schoolmaster of the district; Mr. Geo. Jarrett (Newrybar); Mr. A. Hunter, who brought the first telegraph line here twenty-seven years ago; Mr. J. McKinnon, who said that the sugar industry had carried the pioneers through; Captain Storey (Coraki); and Mr. F. G. Hewitt (Lismore), a resident of fifty-two years, all responded.