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

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The Port Macquarie News and Hastings River Advocate (NSW), Saturday 2 June 1928

A Week on the Macleay.


Written for ‘Port Macquarie News.’


Article No. 5.

Years after, when the Macleay became more populated, a road was made to the Tableland— it being the only outlet for getting stock to market. At that time no one would purchase cattle on the Macleay unless delivered on the Tableland. About the year 1855 the first bullock dray was taken by this route. At the instigation of John McMaugh, senr., J. Warne, W. Duffety, W. Smith, T. Bradbury and J McMaugh (the latter only going part of the way) accompanied it, and the load on the dray consisted of bacon supplied by Smith and Bradbury. It took them three months to perform the journey. Two other men, named Jimmy Jago and Tommy Barraby, were also of the party, which succeeded in reaching Armidale and disposing of the load.

In the year 1857 the McMaugh family came to live in Kempsey for the purpose of obtaining education for their children, as the first Public School had just been established there and Mr. Price was the teacher. They attended this school till their father died in 1863. Mrs. McMaugh and family then returned to Pee Dee. In 1864 the house that they had just vacated in Kempsey was washed away by the flood, and the river now flows where it stood. John McMaugh, junr., assisted his mother in managing the station. All the sons grew up to be clever stockmen, strong men and fearless riders, and were famed for many deeds of ‘Derring Do,’ until Pee Dee was sold to the late Mr. C. O’Sullivan and the family was scattered.

Amongst the notable stockmen of the early days were: Ellis Reed, of Moparrabah, a most fearless rider; W. Duffety, Alick Brock, and Paddy Burns of Towal Creek; and of Five Day Creek, Dick Sole and Jim Dunn; Pee Dee – J. Chisholm and Ben Halo; and at Kunderang they had William and Ben Supple— both noted riders. After leaving the Macleay the latter went to New England, and was known as the most expert fencer. No wire in those days – split posts and rails. W. Supple remained on the Macleay and made a home at Five Day Creek. He had a large family of sons and daughters, the former of whom achieved fame as teamsters and cedar getters, and are honest, industrious men, and still make the same boast that no cedar is inaccessible to them.

In the year 1857 East Kempsey was the only township on the Macleay. Central and West Kempsey were nearly all scrub, with only a few small houses on the banks of the river. There were no roads, so the river was the thoroughfare and everyone in the vicinity had a boat. East Kempsey had then a general store, kept by the Bradburys, a blacksmith shop, one hotel, called the Bush Inn— a man named Needs was the proprietor, and all business was transacted there. Travellers from the upper river crossed over in a small punt pulled by a rope. Dr. Gabriel was the only medical man, and there was no resident clergyman till many years later.

A few of the early settlers employed the blacks; but they were too treacherous. The man known as Wabro Charlie was a native of Queensland. Mr. F. Panton brought him from there when, he was very young, and he remained in their employ till his death. He was a good and faithful servant, and the Panton family so respected his memory that they buried him in West Kempsey cemetery, and placed a tombstone over him, in the form of a broken pillar, with a suitable inscription.

That inscription is scarcely readable today, and it would be a graceful act to have it attended to.

The mail from Kempsey to New England was conveyed on a pack horse once a week, and very often the mailman was detained for days— not being able to cross the creeks and rivers. Even after the cuttings were finished it was a long time before a mail coach was able to travel that line, and it was not until the cattle runs were cut up by selectors, and the population increased, that a more efficient mail service was given the people.

An old identity who lived on the Upper Macleay in the long ago was a man named ‘Scotchie.’ He was never known by any other name. For years he made his living by carrying rum and tobacco to the different stations. He conveyed the spirits in small kegs on a pack-horse, and the tobacco strapped on the pommel of his saddle. Very often he brought the letters, etc., to the stations if he met the mailman, who would give them to ‘Scotchie’ to take on. During his slack times he was often employed at Pee Dee, and on one occasion Mrs. McMaugh, senr, and her children were left in his care while her husband and the stockmen were out on the run. The day passed quietly away until the afternoon, when two naked wild blacks appeared one at the front door and one at the back. They brandished their spears, and by signs demanded food and tobacco. Mrs. McMaugh stood gazing at them, almost paralysed with fright, and looked around for her protector; but the valiant warrior had hidden under a bed and no entreaties would bring him out. So she backed towards her bedroom door— knowing that there was a loaded gun always kept there. The blacks guessed her intentions and had their spears raised to spear her, when a stockwhip sounded on the Gap in front of Pee Dee, and as the sound was heard very distinctly in those mountains the crack of a whip sounded like a rifle fire and the blacks fled for their lives. Scotchie’s sojourn at Pee Dee was very short after that. He lived to be a great age, and died at Corangula.

An old shearer named McCormack visited the stations periodically when they carried only sheep. Being anxious to save his money, he put a hundred pounds in ten pound notes into a pickle bottle — corking it with a wad of paper — and hid it under a rock. About six months later he returned to Long Flat, and went to look for his hidden treasure, but found that the bottle was full of water owing to heavy rain. The notes were saturated to a pulp. The place is called McCormack’s Flat to this day, and is near Long Flat. The first made road up the river went through Warwick and followed the mountain ranges to the Devil’s Nook Creek, and then up the Nulla Creek and on to Guy Fawkes (New England). The first cuttings, were made at the Devil’s Nook Creek and were afterwards abandoned, and in later years those that now follow the river were substituted.

Skillion Flat was called after a shepherd’s hut built in the shape of a skillion during the time Captain Steele had sheep there. ‘The Woolshed’ in the early days was a small sheep station, five miles from Skillion Flat, and a shed was built there to receive the wool — hence the name. ?? this shed and a yard remained standing till a few years ago. Yesabah, meaning a gum tree; Toorooka, Corangula, Wabro, Torrumbi and Moparrabah are all Aboriginal names. Moparrabah — a cave. Willi Willi — plenty possum.

Elsinore was named by Captain Gray, the original owner. Bellbrook because of its running creek, was called that name by Mrs. McMaugh. senr. Pee Dee received that name owing to a bullock being found there with that brand — PD. Where the bullock came from, or who was the owner, was never found out. Towal Creek was called that name owing to a man losing his towel there while bathing. Long Flat is called so from the length of the flat where the homestead stands. Kunderang is an aboriginal name, and is the highest and last station on the Macleay, and is very rough, broken, and difficult of access. It is supposed that Hugh and Rowley Hill were the first owners of it. Hickey’s Creek secured its name from a man of that name who in the year 1854 formed a station there, where the town of Willawarrin now stands. He was killed by the blacks, and the place was abandoned as a station. Major’s Creek was named after Major Innes, who originally owned Moparrabah. Five Day Creek was so called by John McMaugh, senr., as it took them five days to take a team of bullocks and dray from Pee Dee to there when forming the station.

Mount Anderson— or Anderson’s Sugarloaf, as it is sometimes called— received its name from the man who I have already mentioned in these pages. He owned a great deal of property in the vicinity of the Mountain, and the remains of his old stock yard are still standing near the place where the police burnt down his hut. Nothing is known of his antecedents.

Bomangi is also an aboriginal name, meaning wild cattle. It belonged to Major Kemp, who formed a station there; but is such a scrubby, mountainous place, that the cattle got very wild there. Euroka was purchased by the Chapmans, an old pioneer family, and received its name from them. The proper pronunciation of the name is Eureka— ‘I have found it’— Mr. Chapman, senr., having said that the first time he saw the beautiful property now called Euroka.


‘Yes,’ Mrs. H. A. McMaugh said, ‘in the olden days before the advent of the white man, the aboriginal women used sinews of animals, such as the kangaroo, wallaby, etc., to sew the possum skins together. They also used the inner stringy fibres of the Kurrajong bark to make their nets, which they carried on their backs, suspended by a long hand or handle made of the same bark. They usually contained a very weird collection of articles— food, in the shape of a half cooked ‘possum, etc., all their valuables, and on top of all a piccaninny.

When a tree containing honey was located the women climbed the tree with the aid of a vine carried for that purpose, and steps cut in the bark with a stone tomahawk. They ate as much of the sweet food, as they could, especially the comb containing young bees in a state of larvae or pulp – it being a great luxury in their eyes. The rest of the honey was carried in a kind of hamper or dish made of bark, principally the ti-tree bark, tied at each end with currajong thread.

The women bore the principal burden — the men stalking on before with their spears and boomerangs. Some of them carried the fungus growth found in trees, which when once alight continues smouldering for days. From this they made a fire which was first produced from the sparks obtained from flinty stones, or by rubbing two sticks together till they ignited.

When a woman became a wife, a piece of kurrajong thread or the web of a large spider, which spins so strong a web that stockmen riding quickly through a scrub have been caught in it and nearly pulled from the saddle before the web would break was used. This the young woman bound tightly round the middle joint of the little finger on her left hand, and in a short time the bone separated from the rest of the finger, and the top of the little finger came off. The woman’s “outward and visible” sign of the married state was thus secured. This operation was so successful that I have seen several black women of the long ago minus this part of their finger, and there was no unsightly scar. The flesh grew quite smoothly over the mutilated joint. The young men knocked a front both out as their symbol of matrimony.

Their laws were very stringent. For example-if a man killed one of his kind he had to pay the death penalty. A ‘life for a life’ was their law, and even if the culprit found refuge with another tribe, the avenger followed him, and he paid the price. If a young man became a father before he was ‘Kaparched’ death was also his punishment. Of their ceremonies the Kaparoh and Corroboree are the only important ones. The former much resembles the Masonic ceremony. The old men hold a council, and select the boys they, consider eligible to be made men of, and at an unknown time they rush the camp, seize the lads and carried them off to the Kaparah ground, which had been previously prepared in a lonely spot some distance from the camp. A great path is chipped bare, generally up a hill leading to the ground. All the trees in a circle are carved beautifully, mostly in a diamond shape.

When all is prepared they begin a series of physical trials on the boys — only feeding them on wild food, and keeping them well watched. The Mundy, or white crystallised quartz— their sacred stone or emblem — is placed in their hands. This emblem represented God, and no black woman must ever see it under pain of death.

The boys keep their eyes fixed on the ‘Mundy,’ while the men try them with all sorts of weird noises— at night especially — principally using the ‘boora-boora,’ (a piece of wood so shaped that when attached to a piece of sinew and whirled quickly through the air, makes a most horrible and unearthly noise, well calculated to try the nerves of any human being).

The next process was to cut the flesh of the chest, arms and back with a sharp shell, and to mark the unfortunate boys with their tribal signs. Then they rushed at them with spears to try them still more — in fact, they did many things only known to themselves to make the boys brave men and warriors. If any of them failed, showed signs of grief or fear, they were taken back in everlasting disgrace, and pronounced unfit. Later on, when they all returned to the camp, there was much rejoicing, and singing the boys’ praises. They were considered-men now, could take their places as such, and were at liberty to have a wife, and have a place in the tribe.

The Corroboree is really a kind of war dance. The men painted their bodies and faces in the most fantastic manner; they then jump, dance and sing — brandishing their spears. They made every muscle in their bodies quiver. The women used to sit round in a circle, with a huge fire in the middle, and beat time on their possum skins. These were stretched like a drum on their knees. The women also joined in the singing, which was very monotonous, and long drawn out. When a death occurred in a tribe, the wailing of the women continued for days and nights, and was most mournful to listen to. The men who were the nearest relatives of the deceased, sat in the ashes, and threw ashes on their heads. They also cut themselves in different parts of their heads with a Tomahawk, as a sign of grief.

I once witnessed the funeral of a young gin. They rolled the body in a blanket and Ti Tree bark, which they bound round and round with vines till it resembled a mummy. The blacks carried it on their shoulders, the women following with loud wailing, and when they came to the paddock fence they put the corpse through the middle rail, then under the bottom one, and then over the top. This was done to puzzle the departed one, so that she would have some difficulty in finding her way back. It seemed a very unnecessary procession. Then they invariably broke up camp, and went as far away as they could from the place. Long before the aboriginals knew of the white man’s weapons they killed most of their food with spears. When they located the animals they were hunting, they went round and round them several times in circles – each time getting closer to their prey — till they were near enough to spear them.

As for fish, their quickness of sight and wonderful dexterity, enabled them to spear them in dozens, in shallow water. The old pure bred aboriginal is seldom seen now. They are quickly passing away, and the half breeds are taking their places. Many of the latter seem to inherit the vices and weaknesses of the white man— and very few of the black man’s virtues. When I was a child, my father gave the blacks their Christmas dinner, and as there were a great many aboriginals on the Manning those days, they assembled in great numbers at Christmas time, and made their camp in the paddocks. A beast was killed, and given to them with quantities of flour, sugar, tea, and tobacco. A black woman who had worked for white people, and knew something of cook ing, made the plum puddings for them, and boiled them in the big copper while the men made a huge fire some distance away, and cooked the meat. Needless to say there was great feasting for days.

On one occasion I noticed a camp a long way from the others, and curiosity led me to try and find out who they were in it. To my surprise I saw several tall, athletic looking black men, without clothing— except one kind of kilt of stripped possum skins round their waists. Their bodies were marked with strange figures in white pipe clay. Their hair was long and drawn up round on sticks about foot high on top of their heads. They looked like a horn, and gave the black men a very savage appearance. was afterwards told they were wild, uncivilised blacks, and never came near white people. However, it seemed that they did not object to eat their food.

I have known some of the aboriginals to be very faithful, honest and industrious. On the other hand, others were lazy, greedy, and very untrustworthy. One old fellow I knew was a typical black savage, with very little trace of civilisation. He generally wore as little clothing as possible. A boomerang or spear was always in his land, and he had a supreme contempt for work of any kind. His wife, who had mostly lived with white people, was just the opposite. At one time she was very sick. Jacky, her husband, made his appearance, and asked me for food for her, I filled a flour bag with fresh meat, bread, etc. He had as much as he could carry. A week after the wife came tottering along, emaciated, and said ‘Me berry hungry, missus. Never had anything to eat long time,’ said she. ‘Jacky stop in bush and eat up all you gib him.’

The old glutton never went back to the camp till he devoured all I sent his sick wife. However, it was seldom they were like that. Usually they were very kind to each other, and shared everything with them. They were also very kind to children, and were fond of them.

I believe there are many strange rites practised in the Kaparah, that are profound secrets, and no black man will divulge them.

Only one white man ever witnessed that ceremony, as they placed guards all round the Kaparah Ground, who kept strict watch. This man, who saw the ceremony, had a very peculiar taste, and lived with the blacks when a youth. He was very curious to find out the secret rites, and was caught trying to look on. They gave him his choice — Death, or to be ‘Kaparahed.’ He choice the latter, but would never tell what he went through.

The Last of His Tribe.

Yes, it was Henry Kendall who penned the following verses relating to our disappearing race of aboriginals:—

He crouches, and buries his face on his knees,
And hides in the dark of his hair;
For he cannot look up to the storm-smitten trees,
Or think of the loneliness there -
Of the loss and the loneliness there.

The wallaroos grope through the tufts of the grass,
And turn to their coverts for fear;
But he sits in the ashes and lets them pass
Where the boomerangs sleep with the spear -
With the nullah, the sling and the spear.

Uloola, behold him! The thunder that breaks
On the tops of the rocks with the rain,
And the wind which drives up with the salt of the lakes,
Have made him a hunter again -
A hunter and fisher again.

For his eyes have been full with a smouldering thought;
But he dreams of the hunts of yore,
And of foes that he sought, and of fights that he fought
With those who will battle no more -
Who will go to the battle no more.

It is well that the water which tumbles and fills
Goes moaning and moaning along;
For an echo rolls out from the sides of the hills,
And he starts at a wonderful song -
At the sound of a wonderful song.

And he sees through the rents of the scattering fogs
The corroboree warlike and grim,
And the lubra who sat by the fire on the logs,
To watch, like a mourner, for him -
Like a mother and mourner for him.

Will he go in his sleep from these desolate lands,
Like a chief, to the rest of his race,
With the honey-voiced woman who beckons and stands,
And gleams like a dream in his face -
Like a marvellous dream in his face?

This concludes our account of ‘A Week on the Macleay,’ which was taken during the last week in March, 1928 — such trip having been arranged by Mr. G. S. Hill, of Bungay, and being made in his company. We again thank Mr. Hill for his kindness — as also Mr. Frank Hill, of Comara, for his hospitality. We cannot express or keenly our thanks also to Mr. and Mrs. H. A. McMaugh, of East Kempsey, for the valuable information furnished us regarding the early days on the Macleay. The week’s holiday was one of the most interesting we have had, and it was also instrumental in bringing forth information that will be valued long after we have penned our last par. A few copies of the articles will be printed in booklet form for distribution among those concerned. Shortly we hope to have material for further interesting articles relating to the Magnificent Macleay.

— Ed. ‘Wingham Chronicle’

Written by macalba

July 10, 2013 at 8:00 am

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