A VISIT TO WALLAROO.
South Australian Weekly Chronicle (Adelaide, SA : 1858 - 1867), Saturday 26 January 1861, page 7
TO THE EDITOR OF THE CHRONICLE
Sir — In my previous letter I made a reference to the loss of ground and time involved in passing round the head of Gulf St. Vincent, and within a short distance from its shore, when the traveller's object is, in starting from the ' Two Mile House,' Cogan's (who, by the bye, must alter his exorbitant first-class hotel charges to something in accordance with the bush-fare provided), to make away from the Gulf as fast as possible, and go northerly for Wallaroo.
When I mention how north-country visitors make Wallaroo, and save about ten miles in that melancholy and thirsty ride, as compared with the route taken by the Adelaide people, I feel assured that our active-minded and industrious new SurveyorGeneral will not be long in marking out a line that shall not only clear us of the winter's swamps, but of one stage-length of useless travelling. The Northerners, from the Clare line of road and beyond, camp at Wittwatta, a native watering-place on the Lower Wakefield, corrupted by John Bull, without much wit on his part, into Wit-water, and thence making direct for the base of the Hummock Hill, pass up to the table-land, and by a comparatively direct route, easily susceptible of improvement, reach the mines with the saving of time and toil I have now pointed out.
I closed my last with a postscript exhibiting our lack of a bread baker, as baking in a camp-oven for houses full of men, women, and children, and for barracks full of hungry young men, of whose appetites I do not wish to speak, is no joke for women who have nobody to help them, and much to hinder them. I also spoke of the entire absence of beef ; but I was not prepared for the visitation we experienced yesterday, when, owing to the steam boilers being emptied for the purpose of being cleared, no salt water was raised from the mine, and consequently the mine distillery was not only suspended, but that of Capt. France, which is also dependent entirely for its distilled water upon the salt water pump of the mine. The distressing situation of a population, and of new-comers and their cattle under even a brief continuation of such circumstances, may be easily imagined. During the week I had been the comfortable guest at Wallaroo Bay of the frank and hostipable founder of its prosperity, Capt. W. W. Hughes, whose cordiality of welcome, with that of his worthy brother, Mr. J. Hughes, the builder and architect at the mines, renders it a diflaeulty to ' clear out ' of that charming and well sheltered little harbor, of which I must now give you a sketch.
Wallaroo Bay is a handsome indent of the coast, deeper than a semi-circle, the heads of Point Hughes on the south and Point Riley on the north being about six miles apart. A stony projection of the beach on the southern side of the Bay serves as the present landing-place, the small steamer Maid of the Yarra lying during the past week within half a mile of it. A little squadron of fishing and other private boats gives some animation to the spot; the gentle heights near which are enlivened with herds of handsome goats, and occupied by the residences of Mr. Hughes and of people in his employ, with a large commodious stableyard, a couple of fishermen's tents, and the camp of a party of Sappers and Miners engaged in the process of sinking an artesian well for the supply of fresh water for the township, which is being laid out on the south side of the bay. At present the only water to be had in the locality is from wells sunk in the sand near the beach at the bottom of the Bight. This water, though drunk by the sheep and Wallaroo horses, is unfit for domestic uses, for which distilled water is now; brought in casks from the mine, five miles inland. Previously to the establishment of the works at the mine, incredible as it may appear, Capt. Hughes and his people had no other than the saline watur of these wells to drink, the effect of which upon my horses was such that constantly longing for this thirst-creating water, they lost the inclination for food, and returned to the mine in a most lank and rosinante condition. Overcoming the first effects of this nauseous beverage cattle seem to thrive upon it afterwards ; but it appeared not impossible to me that a delicately reared young thoroughbred, in taking the last bucket of the lesson, might kick it. It is to be remarked that the water of these wells has of late become much more briny than heretofore. It is, however, a curious fact that the intensely saline mineral water thrown up from the Kapunda mine is preferred to all other bv the goats and piss kept in the vicinity.
To effect a suitable landing place for goods, a small pier is requisite at the Bay, the inner or land end of which may fee easily constructed with, stone and timber at hand ; but the outer or sea end of such a pier will require to be of open construction similar to that of Glenelg.
During my stay at the seaside I found that the luxury of sea-bathing was properly estimated by the male portion of the population here, the men occasionally walking from the mines for a dip. Of the fair sex, the only instances of sea-bathing I noticed, were those of the lubras and lasses of the aborigines, a tribe of which attached to the spot by the kind treatment they experience from Mr. Hughes and his people, furnish some useful hands, who take the horses to the wells to water, do all sorts of odd jobs, and some of whom make good shepherds, while others have found work at the mine. The females help at washing linen, at which they are certainly not dabs, nor are they very keen at sharpening knives, nor yet very bright at polishing candlesticks. The figure they cut at the washtub, with their dark arms in a state of soapsuds, is more ludicrous than interesting ; and the rate at which they get though jobs of the kind exhibits a striking contrast to Anglo-Saxon energy. They certainly show somewhat more alacrity in cleaning plates, — that have mutton chops and damper on them.
Among the native tribes of this coast instances occur of tall men and women, of which ' Big Maria ' at Wallaroo, with a pickaninny at her back, at 16 years of age, is a somewhat striking specimen. Young girls among them are subject to dropsy. Of this there are two cases here at present considered by a resident medical gentleman as without remedy. Last Sunday a funeral of an elderly female took place in the Wallaroo tribe.
Fish are abundant at the Bay, and, I need hardly say, forms a very agreeable change amid the mutton everlasting to which this community dooms itself; for with a steamer coming up from Port Adelaide every fortnight, it seems quite practicable, as her voyage is under 30 hours, to have up, if not fresh beef, slightly salted, and pickled beef and pork, with occassionally a yard of sausages, a sack of vegetables aud a box of eggs, with bacon to match ; but in these matters we are rather too much hi the way of the Waggoner and Hercules. Of creature luxuries there appears no lack, nor any indisposition on the part of the people to avail themselves of them ; but of the substantialities, mutton and flour are the standing renresentatives.
I spent an afternoon on board Captain Ashton's good ship the Maid of Yarra, whan lying at anchor, and found her accommodation very good ; and when it is considered that she makes the voyage in a day and a half, while it takes three days of bodily effort to make the land journey at a greater cost, I cannot avoid preferring the water trip at this season. I ought to mention for the guidance of bathers new to this bay that it is frequented by abundance of sharks of various kinds and all sizes.
The seaside is delightfully cool, as indeed the air is inland every evening, and what is some comfort, owing to tho entire absence over two thousand square miles of the Peninsula of surface-water, such a visitation as a mosquito is utterly unknown, and snakes are not numerous, but as there is no rose without a thorn, and nature is everywhere found to balance her benefits and her banes ; so at Wallaroo, where pine trees flourish in abundance, and are the chief material for house building. She has played the inhabitants the same trick as when she introduced the domestic bug into London along with the American pines imported after the great fire for the rebuilding the city. Our native pine has also its bug, and a very bustling, bold fellow he is ; for, if sheep come near his habitat he makes for them with surprising agility and perseverance, and effecting a lodgement on their carcasses, prospers amazingly.
To enable me to gratify the curiosity of entomological friends on my return, a scientific neighbor has obligingly hunted up for me some specimens of this insect, but which have unfortunately found a premature grave in the glass phial that encloses them. The same gentleman informs me that the easiest way to detach them from the body, to which they adhere with fearful tenacity, is, to touch them with a drop of spirits of camphor, but in its absence probably brandy might make them let go their hold.
The settlers are rapidly getting up pine-tree houses in all directions, and at present are to be seen dwelling in domiciles of all kinds, from substantial stone houses through every grade of masonic art, joiner-work, and canvas, down to actual wurlies.
For some days I have been forming a very favourable opinion of the entire moral condition of this thriving community, to which I was assured the absence of public-houses greatly contributed ; but ale, spirits, &c, are purchasable in quantities of a gallon of spirits and two of ale, the effects of which are much the same whether drunk too fast in a public or a private house ; for just as I was sitting down to a page in praise of the tranquillity and morality of Wallaroo, I learn that three pitched battles, partly Cornish, partly Irish, and one of a mixed character, have occupied a considerable part of the present Saint Monday. That part of my subject, therefore, it may be prudent to postpone for the present.
The Government township is being laid out afresh at some distance from the mines and from the water cisterns ; why so, is by no means self-evident ; who the purchasers of building land are to be under such circumstances is also not apparent; certainly not miners and tradesmen. The Commissioner of Public Works will be no doubt a purchaser of a site for a Police-office and Magistrate's residence, and the sooner the better.
I am, Sir, &c.,
TOURIST. Wallaroo Mines, January 21, 1861.