Old news from Armidale and New England

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From Tamworth to Armidale by coach in 1880

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Wednesday 15 September 1880, The Sydney Morning Herald





Cobb and Co., the ubiquitous firm of the colony, present themselves at about 5 o’clock in the evening, in the main street of Tamworth, for the purpose of conveying travellers northwards ; and mounted upon the mail coach one leaves by the Great Northern Road, in the expectation of reaching Armidale early the following morning. The sensations awakened by a coach journey through the midst of the scenes and incidents which make country life attractive and valuable are much more vivid and instructive than those which are aroused during the swift flight of a railway train, when everything that comes into view disappears immediately afterwards, and the world seems as short lived and unstable as a dream. The fields, the hills, the houses, and the people assume their natural positions and proportions, affording plenty of scope for observation and enlightenment; and while a deep interest in everything is excited by the constant change of scene, a valuable insight may be gained into the condition and progress of the country. It is not possible to properly gauge the growth of the colony by passing quickly from railway station to railway station, and going no farther than the terminal points. The towns which the railways connect are important factors in a consideration of the rate at which the country is going ahead, for they are evidences of permanent settlement, which is gradually becoming surrounded by all the aids which foster large and thriving cities ; but they do not fully indicate either the resources or the state of the country. They are subject to good or evil influences, as matters through the country generally are prosperous or backward ; but one must leave the railway towns and plunge into the interior, among the farm lands of the free selectors, the pastoral runs of the squatters, and the mineral holdings of the miners, to understand rightly what we are and what we are likely to be. Journeying from Tamworth along the Great Northern Road with an occasional stoppage, and now and then a branching off from the main route to some localities which lie back from the road, brings to light all the resources of one of the three great divisions of the colony ; and the way lies through country rich and important in many respects, but just now suffering, as every other districts, from the first effects of what many persons fear will x`prove a very serious drought.

The unusual severity of the season which is now rapidly changing to one of summer heat caused Tamworth to array itself morning after morning in frosty attire, so thick and plentiful that the town sometimes had the appearance of an English town in winter and the weather was very cold. Keen cutting winds, with clear frosty nights, make a night ride inside or outside a coach an experience that must be treated with an ample provision of rugs and a well-braced system to withstand fatigue, and with these aids to comfort the trip may be made with a considerable amount of satisfaction, if not enjoyment. While the daylight lasts there is plenty to enliven the traveller. The road runs from Tamworth by the side of the mountains, which lie at the back of the town, past a number of farms about the flat lands of the Peel and Cockburn rivers, and for a considerable distance almost parallel with the route which the railway extension to Uralla is taking. Then it goes through or round the mountains, leaves the railway-route, and heads for Moonbi and the high land of New England. The farms look well, and the farmers are said to be fairly prosperous ; but that which is most attractive just now at this part of the journey is the progress which the railway is making ; and the signs of activity for a considerable distance along the route are numerous and satisfactory. Darkness overtakes the coach in the winter season, when the days are short, before the first stage of fifteen miles is accomplished ; but the little town of Moonbi, which is the first stopping-place, presents in one of its hotels a picture of roadside inn comfort that is extremely pleasant on a winter’s night. Attention to one’s wants, a comfortable sitting-room, a blazing wood fire in a capacious fireplace which throws out a genial warmth and generous invitation to sit around and enjoy it, such as coal grates and their limited fuel know nothing of, a well-served supper, and a clean and cosy bedroom, are things not met with too frequently in the bush ; and this little inn is so well known and appreciated that every traveller and especially those known as “commercials,” who can manage to do so likes to spend a night there on his journey northwards. Moonbi, as a town or township, contains little to be proud of, but it lies within a very short distance of the point to which the railway extension has been almost, completed, and where a railway station is to be erected, and it is situated not far from the foot of the Moonbi or “Moonboy” Range, which borders the country of New England, and at one time was well known as haunt of Thunderbolt, the bushranger. In the early morning of the winter season the little town is thickly clothed with frost, and in the afternoon, when the sun is sinking and bathing the tops of the apple trees, in a rich mellow light, it is a favourite haunt of birds. To a resident of the metropolis, whose eyes seldom meet anything more attractive than stony streets and the hard repelling aspect of a thickly populated and busy city, and whose nostrils are strangers to anything sweeter or more invigorating than a muggy city atmosphere, there is something peculiarly pleasant in looking upon a winter scene in the country, and breathing the fresh, pure, bracing country air. At Moonbi it was very interesting to note the wintry aspect of the landscape in the early morning. The fields, the street, the tops of posts and fences, the roofs of houses, and the branches of trees were gaily dressed in their crisp white covering. Every sloping bank, every little accumulation of leaves or heap of sticks made a peculiarly suitable resting place for the frost, and wherever a pool of water lay a coating of ice was formed. Pumps and tanks were frozen hard, and required to be coaxed into their ordinary condition again by fomentations of hot water, and window frames were grained and scarred in most fantastic fashion by frost and ice. With very little help from the imagination, one could transform the whole picture into one of those fine old English scenes when the senses are aglow with the excitement of being in the midst of winter’s domains, inhaling their healthful and novel delights.

Further on, in the New England country, there are times when the wind whistles loudly around the corners of the houses, and rumbles about the chimneys, when the snow, falling first like feathers borne upon the breeze descends thickly and fast, and when all that is wanted is the wassail bowl, or something like it, to impart to the temperament of those sitting around the blazing logs in a snug parlour, the ruddy pleasantness and genial spirits so strongly suggested in the cosey glow of the room. The coach ride then is something much more than usually stimulating. The light from the huge coach lamps darts out on either side in fan-like rays, and away ahead in a broad bright flush, illuminating the white ground most curiously, and throwing the horses and their steaming bodies into strong relief ; the driver, closely muffled from head to foot and yet, as though he had lost his fingers, scarcely able to handle the reins and keep the road ; and the half-frozen passengers, crouching closely together for warmth, occasionally peering out over the light from the coach lamps and the patch of darkness beyond at the red windows upon which some household fire is flickering. When morning comes, and the whole landscape is seen in its shining white robe, no one can look upon it without a feeling of rapture, and those who hail from beyond the seas regard it with a peculiar interest felt only by themselves – it seems to them so much like home. But a frosty night and morning are in their way equally attractive. There is such a crystalline sparkle about the stars, such an invigorating freshness in the atmosphere, such a pleasing sensation of relief at alighting from the coach and stepping from the cold air into the gaping fireplace of, perhaps, a roadside hut, where horses are changed and where hot coffee and crisp warm toast are ready, such an odd experience of chrysalis-like existence in winter clothing, sleepiness and sleeplessness, chilliness and heat, jolting, bouncing, and falling about from one side to the other as some of the masterpieces of the Roads Department are encountered, that despite all tho discomfort – which one forgets when it is all over – the journey is well worth undertaking. Sometimes, in the ride from Tamworth to Armidale, the passengers are jammed inside the coach most uncomfortably – either crowding or crushing themselves, or incommoded by a quantity of luggage or goods – and it may be that as the passengers are left at one stage or the other, the cold in the coach grows more intense, until one’s rug becomes very much like a shoot of cold iron, and one’s toes seem to have slipped away altogether ; but then, as a recompense for all this, there are several places of considerable interest to make oneself acquainted with – such as the Moonbi Range, the township of Bendemeer and the late constable Bowen’s exploits, the town of Uralla and the adjacent Rocky River gold-field, and some other localities-each of which his attached to it either a history or some attractive incidents which the coachman can tell with great effect in lessening the discomforts of the journey.

Written by macalba

April 20, 2010 at 8:06 pm

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