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A Week on the Macleay – article 3 of 5 (1928).

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The Port Macquarie News and Hastings River Advocate (NSW), Saturday 28 April 1928

A Week on the Macleay.

Written for ‘Port Macquarie News.’


Article No. 3.

On March 28, 1928, the writer was introduced by Mr. G. S. Hill, of Bungay, to one of the few remaining old original pioneers of the Macleay River — in the person of Mr. H. A. McMaugh. Mr. and Mrs. McMaugh now reside at East Kempsey,

Though over 77 years of age, Mr. McMaugh is still an active man, has a remarkably good memory, and can tell some interesting stories of his experiences on the Upper Macleay in the days long since passed. Mr. McMaugh informed the writer, at the outset of the interview that he had lived in the Manning district over 50 years ago.

‘Yes,’ he proceeded, “I lived at Coopernook for some, time. I was born at Five Day Creek, on the Upper Macleay, 77 years ago. My father and mother were amongst the very early settlers on the North Coast. I was reared at Pee Dee. You have heard of Pee Dee. Of course you have! The late Con O’Sullivan presided over the destinies of Pee Dee till his death. Mrs. O’Sullivan and some of the family still have it. Pee Dee is a fine property.

‘I lived at Pee Dee till I was old enough to get married. I went to Coopernook later, and there married Miss Caffrey, and resided at Coopernook for ten years. I think there is a place on the Upper Manning to-day that is known as ‘Caffrey’s Flat,’ called after my wife’s father, who was killed through being thrown from his horse between Wingham and Taree.

‘After leaving Coopernook, I went to Wabra Station, on the Upper Macleay. I bought the station. At that time there were 5,000 cattle on the station, and at least 1,000 horses. The whole run comprised something like 60,000 acres. I held Wabra Station for about seven years. When I sold the station Mrs. McMaugh, the family and myself came to reside in Kempsey.

‘Yes, I had money in the early days. I paid £13,000 cash for Wabra Station. I had good and bad luck during the time I held it. However, the fact is that the Bank of N.S.W. got it at the finish. It’s just another instance of the ups and downs of the man on the land in Australia — more downs than ups.

‘So far as I know, Wabra Station has since been cut up into what are considered ‘living areas.’ and sold. I have been living in Kempsey ever since selling out.

‘Yes, I was in Kempsey in the year 1864, and the biggest flood I ever clapped eyes on occurred in the Macleay at that time. The floods of recent years have been trifles compared to the one that deluged the Macleay district in the year 1864.

‘There was no direct road to West Kempsey at that time— I am speaking of 1864. And, again, there was no road between Kempsey and Armidale —only a bush track. The people today sing out loudly about disadvantages they now have. The early pioneers did not complain — it was useless. They just worked and worked and kept on working. It was a case then of working your own salvation out — or going to the wall. Some went to the wall — but they did so after paving the way for others, and made their battle easier.

‘My late father was one of the organisers who took on the task to get a bullock team through to Armidale from Kempsey. The party— led to a great extent by my late father — cut a track up by way of what is known as ‘The Guy Fox.’ Do you know that it took six months for that bullock team to reach Armidale from Kempsey. To-day one can leave Central Kempsey at 9 o’clock in the morning, and be in Armidale by 4 o’clock in the afternoon, or a trifle later. Yes, things have progressed since the days when my dad and mother toiled on the Upper Macleay. Why, to-day you get to Armidale from Kempsey in an hour or so by aeroplane. It’s really marvellous.

‘My father was managing a station for Captain Steele at Belgrave in the early days. In fact my father was the first to establish Towal Creek Station for Captain Steele. The Hill Bros, own the station property to-day. ‘The Australian aboriginals were very bad those days. Some or them were most troublesome— but one can not wonder that they were, seeing that the white men were taking their hunt ing grounds from them. My father had many narrow escapes from being killed by the blacks on the Upper Macleay in the very early days of settlement. The blacks on one occasion killed a man at Long Flat, on the Upper Macleay, cut his head off, and stuck it on a pole.

‘Yes, the blacks also ‘killed two shepherds and their wives at Kunderang Station, for years owned by the late Mr. Joseph Fitzgerald. Mr. Fitzgerald died there not so very long ago, as the result of a riding accident. The blacks. on that occasion also drove away 1,000 sheep.

‘My father was one of the party that went in pursuit of the blacks with the police. Sergeant Clogger, I believe, was in charge of the police and trackers. No. Lieutenant Polding and Sergeant Scott had charge of the black-trackers.

‘I well remember a bushranger named Wilson, who frequented the Upper Macleay. However, Mrs. McMaugh has some particulars recorded in regard to Wilson. Wilson was once put up the chimney at a hut near Pee Dee. This was at Jim Dunn’s hut. The police happened along suddenly, and for a while Jim hardly knew what to do. The police asked for a pannickan of tea, and the only thing to do was to make a fire outside and boil the billy. The policemen did ask what the idea was in making the fire outside at the open, chimney, but evidently a satisfactory answer was a big lump of butter in his pocket when he went up the chimney, and the heat of the chimney melted most of it. Jim said the butter was dripping down into the fireplace. However, Wilson made his escape while the troopers were having some tucker. ‘My father once left the station on the Upper Macleay with a mob of cattle for Port Macquarie. He left an old man in charge during his absence. My mother was also there. A party of blacks evidently knew my father had gone away, and came to the homestead, asking for ‘Bacca.’ The old man left in charge cleared out when he saw the blacks. However, just when it looked as though there would be trouble, a whip cracked, and the blacks made off — thinking that stockmen were coming.

‘My mother used to put on men’s clothes when the men were away from the station, and she also knew how to use a gun. My father captured a 1 noted black in the early days, known as ‘Mogo.’ A reward was offered by the authorities for the capture of ‘Mogo.’ The reward was fixed at £50. My father blackened himself, and went into a blacks’ camp at Towal Creek, where ‘Mogo’ was camped. He overpowered and captured him with the assistance of others with whom he was accompanied. ‘Mogo’ was taken to Belgrave Police Station, and was later shipped to Sydney. He died on the vessel. My father did not get the reward. The police authorities in Sydney, instead or seeing that he got the reward, told him ‘to be more careful with the next prisoner he took charge of’ — to bring him along alive.

‘Kangaroos and wild cattle were plentiful on the Upper Macleay in the early times— as also were wild horses. We shot about 500 wild horses on Wabra Station just after we bought it. My father was a great horseman. I could ride most animals that ever looked through a bridle in my young days. I once went from the Upper Macleay to the New England district for the purpose of riding a noted buckjumper of the time. I rode him to a standstill.

‘I remember Warwick Racecourse (on the Macleay River) when it used to attract the people from near and far— all the people there were then to attract. They used to have great racing— no bookmakers and no ‘pulling horses’ those days. They raced for the love of the sport. The Oakes and Moore families had some great horses — as also had the Chapman and the Cheers’.

[Photograph on NLA Trove website]


The above represents the photos of two ancient Macleay River Aboriginals. Both of them have long since been called to the folds of their fathers. Old Charley Warna —the shorter of the two black fellows — died at the age of 118 years. The tall blackfellow was known as ‘King Billy.’ When the photo was taken he was just on the verge of 100 years of age. ‘Why, the Oakes family had 200 horses drowned at Seven Oaks in the 1864 flood. In addition, 500 cattle were drowned on the Macleay. Two blackfellows were also drowned at Seven Oaks, and at least four people lost their lives in the flood at Kempsey proper.

‘There were no roads and no bridges in the early days. I also remember that where the Macleay River runs now below Kempsey there was a house and land property. The 1864 flood altered things. The original Seven Oaks Station was on the opposite side of the river in early times to where it is to-day. The old homestead was washed away by the 1864 flood.

‘An old blackfellow once told me a story about Trial Bay. It was to the effect that a Miss Madden came from England, and was on her way to Port Macquarie. However the boat was caught in a storm, and was blown into Trial Bay. The blacks had never seen a sailing vessel before. Some of the sailors got ashore, and were speared by the blacks. Miss Madden was captured by the blacks. The late Johnny Spokes could have given a lot of information about this matter. Johnny Spokes only died a few years ago.

‘Yes, Johnny Spokes once had a narrow escape from being murdered by the blacks, on the Upper Macleay. They knocked him on the head, but he got away. The blacks settled a party of cedar cutters. I remember the blacks chasing a mob of cattle down the river when I was at Pee Dee, and they had to be driven off — that is to say the blacks.

‘I remember Wabra Charley, who used to work for the Panton family, and whose remains are buried in the Kempsey cemetery. The grave is marked by a broken pillar to-day, and the inscription is scarcely readable. It would be a good idea to have the inscription attended to before it is completely obliterated. Wabra Charley was a faithful servant to the Panton’s. I remember well when he died, and the circumstances. The inscription should be renewed. ‘The most of the fat cattle in the early times were sent to feed the prisoners in Port Macquarie Gaol. £1 per head was a fair price for fat bullocks those days. Cedar cutters were numerous on the Upper Macleay, where cedar cutting was the principal calling.

‘Mrs. McMaugh and myself have reared a family of 12 — seven boys and five girls. They are all alive to-day. My mother kept a big store and butchery at East Kempsey in 1864. She did much to help the flooded out people in the big flood of that year. ‘ Nearly all the people lived on corn meal bread when I was a boy, and bark houses were all the fashion. ‘By the way, a horse was once found at the head of Willy Willy Creek that was supposed to have been left there by Wilson the bushranger. It was really the offspring of Wilson’s animal. The scrub was very dense in the locality. Willy Willy Creek runs under a large rock, and it is called the Rock Bridge. Very few white men have seen it. This place is situate at the foot of a very high mountain, known as ‘The Black Hill,’ and another known as ‘Jacob’s Ladder.’ About 65 years ago a shepherd was killed in a hut at Fetor’s Creek by the blacks on Towal Creek Station. William Dufty (the overseer) saw a blackfellow near the hut. They chased him on horseback, and ran him into the Macleay River at Trappo Flat. The blackfellow swam to a rock in the middle of the river. The men threw stones at him from each side of the river for several hours, but the black used his tomahawk as he would a heilaman, and every stone was skilfully guarded off.

‘Lieutenant Polding, who was in charge of the black police at Nulla Creek in the early times, made a raid on the blacks on Five Day Creek on one occasion in particular. The black police used to wear red bands round their heads to distinguish them from the wild blacks, and thus prevent them from shooting each other. The black police took everything else off when surrounding a wild blacks’ camp — everything but the red band. ‘They brought in a black girl on that occasion. She was between 12 and 13 years of age. I remember my mother taking the girl food. However, she would neither eat nor drink, and was sent on1 to Kempsey. Later she was taken to Sydney.

‘Many years ago William Lawrence and I were exploring the Black Mountain on the Upper Macleay. We were trying to get round a very steep siding. My horse tripped and fell. It rolled about 50 yards, and then got caught in some rocks. Lawrence got down and lifted one of the animal’s feet to try and release him. The rocks suddenly gave way, and over a cliff went Lawrence and the horse. I expected to find them both killed. Fortunately, there were a lot of grass trees growing there, and they had fallen on some of these. Lawrence was not much hurt, but the horse was considerably injured. We had to stop at the bottom of that cliff till next morning, and it was one of the most uncanny sights I remember having experienced. It imprinted itself on my memory ever after. Dingoes evidently smelt the blood from the injured horse, and they came in packs to the top of the cliff, and howled dismally throughout the night. We walked about ten miles next day through thick jungle to a selection, where I got a horse to ride to Wabra.’

(To be Continued.)

Written by macalba

June 26, 2013 at 8:00 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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4 Responses

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  1. The story of the shepherds and their wives being killed by Aboriginals at Kunderang is often cited, but the McMaugh family is the sole source of the information. There are at least three difficulties with the story. First, the two murdered couples never appear in the census records for Kunderang submitted by Land Commissioner Massie at that time. Second, sheep were never run at Kunderang, so it’s hard to know why there would have been shepherds or how a 1,000 sheep were stolen. Finally, there is no evidence of a punitive raid by the police in response to the supposed murders. The story is most probably a McMaugh fabrication.

    Bob Harden

    June 26, 2013 at 11:10 pm

    • The history of these murders is also recordered in the dairies of my great grandfather charles booth of georges creek where my family still reside. I came across this article while look up history of the macleay and once started to read about the mentioned murders and the 1 of postman who had his head cut off and put on a pole was already a familiar story as i read b4 as told by my ggrandfather

      Ben Booth

      February 14, 2014 at 12:38 pm

    • McMaugh’s have not need to lie about our history!….thanks for sharing your opinion!

      Jo McMaugh

      January 25, 2015 at 12:12 pm

      • *no

        Jo McMaugh

        January 25, 2015 at 12:12 pm

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