TOWNS, PEOPLE, AND THINGS WE OUGHT TO KNOW.
Minlaton: Some Stories Of Gum Flat Forgotten Pioneer Of Yorke's Peninsula. No. XIV.
Who was the first white man to set foot on Yorke's Peninsula? The question was put to a dozen people in Minlaton who should have known. Only two of them did. He was Charles Parrinton, and he lies buried in a neglected grave in the tiny cemetery on what was once Gum Flat station, less than a mile from the heart of Minlaton. To him is due the honor of opening up the country, and it is up to the people of the peninsula to put a suitable monument over his remains.
I stood in the little cemetery of about two graves on the site of the old Gum Flat station. It was a damp, dark day, but the sun came through the clouds for a moment, and rested on the stone which marks the grave of Charles Parrinton, as though to invite me to do justice to the memory of the man who pioneered Yorke Peninsula.
I cannot tell you much about Parrinton. I doubt if anybody can. He was one of those curious products who loved to wander in lone places far from the haunts of man. In the densely-timbered country of the narrow peninsula, washed by the waters of the two gulfs, he found his ideal home — among the blacks, the emus, and the kangaroos.
Now he has made it his abode for all time, for he sleeps there in the forgotten cemetery, and only occasionally an old-timer remembers he is there.
But the fact is undeniable that he was the pioneer of Yorke Peninsula, and posterity will marvel if no action is taken to perpetuate the spot.
I was able to glean a few meagre details about the life of Parrinton. The "cemetery" is on the original Gum Flat station, and there are only two graves there — one housing the remains of a pioneer named Russ, and the other those of Parrinton. They are side by side, lost in a wilderness. Probably you would not find them unless you had one of the old pioneers for a guide — for the younger generation knows nothing of the men who made the heritage they enjoy, and probably they do not know the name of Parrinton. Some of them, I know, do not know that the old cemetery exists.
Mr. Joseph Williams told me Parrinton was a curious chap. He was an Englishman of good family who came here from Canterbury. He buried himself away from civilisation. He found a happy hunting ground in the dense scrub of the peninsula, where he made money by shooting kangaroos and selling the skins. He lived with the blacks, and came to know their habits well. Prior to coming to South Australia, he hunted in the backwoods of America. An absolutely fearless adventurer, he was just the man that Weaver wanted when he commissioned him to find a "run" on Yorke Peninsula.
Parrinton's grave is surrounded by a fast-decaying picket fence, but it is covered with bushes of white marguerites, which look as if they might have been planted by some loving hand only a month or two ago. I wonder how they got there.
I could not help feeling while I gazed on that isolated plot that romance was buried there. I also felt that Minlaton was not doing justice to the man who was actually its founder, and the founder of the peninsula. For its was Parrinton who selected Oyster Bay (now Stansbury) for Alfred Weaver. This Oyster Bay property was the first station established, on the peninsula. Then followed the "run" by John Bowden, taking in the country to the south which now includes the towns of Yorketown, Coobowie, and Edithburgh. The next arrivals were Coutts and Sharples, of whom I have no details, and then followed Anstey and Giles, who established Gum Flat (now Minlaton and Curramulka) .
I think the Minlaton council ought to make that grave its special care. The slate stone bears the inscription: —'In memory of Charles Parrinton, born at Canterbury, Kent, January 1st, 1811; died at Gum Flat, May 3rd, 1877.'
To look at the peaceful country round Minlaton, one of those rural centres where you tell yourself that nothing ever happens, you would not imagine that in the early days ferocious blacks murdered and stole, and were murdered in turn, in the bush that does not now exist. But such is a fact.
In those days, of course, there was no Minlaton. It was just Gum Flat station.
As I remarked in a previous article, in telling the story of these Yorke Peninsula towns it is impossible not to overlap. Just as when you write of early Wallaroo you find yourself embracing Moonta and Kadina, so when you write of the places further south you often find difficulty in separating Minlaton from Maitland, or Yorketown from Edithburgh. The 'runs' of those days were so large that they might easily cover the site of several distant towns.
It is a curious circumstance that portions of Eyre Peninsula should have been settled long before any settlement took place on Yorke Peninsula. Port Lincoln was taken up before any attention was given to the 'leg' across St. Vincent's Gulf. There was a reason for this.
The general idea was that Yorke Peninsula was all scrub, and practically without water.
It had been my intention to tell you the story of Alfred Weaver here. On second thoughts I will leave it for the Yorketown section. Here I will deal with George Anstey, for it was Anstey who established Gum Flat, and Gum Flat today is Minlaton.
This Anstey was the same George Alexander Anstey after whom Anstey's Hill near Hope Valley is named. The Little Para was at one time called 'Anstey's Rivulet,' after the same pioneer, who owned a special survey — as they called the early leases — in the Barossa district.
Anstey came to South Australia from Tasmania. His father was a member of the Legislative Council there. Anstey the younger was regarded as a 'big man' in the squatting line, and in 1842 he owned 10,000 sheep, a figure then only exceeded by the South Australia Company.
He was rather a picturesque figure, this George Anstey— straight-laced, conservative, and outspoken. For three whole days he was a member of the nominee Legislative Council of South Australia. If history does not lie, he made full use of those three days to tell his colleagues what he thought of them. Probably they were the three liveliest days in the history of our Parliament. Then he resigned, and in his letter to the Governor he accused the members of 'shameful preference in matters personal to themselves as to their pockets and prejudices but most mischievous to the country.'
George Anstey did not believe In mincing matters.
Such was the founder of Gum Flat. He died in England in 1895.
Troubles With Blacks.
If was in 1847 that Mr. T. Giles took up the country about Minlaton and Curramulka on behalf of Mr. Anstey. Regarding the stocking of the land, Mr. Giles has left it on record that 'It was no easy matter getting sheep round there, as the scrub grew so close to the cliffs that in some places we had to wait for low water to drive the sheep along the beach.'
One squatter who took his flocks round in the summer lost 2,000 animals through their drinking salt water.
There were two great drawbacks to the settlement of the country — the lack of water and the ferocity of the blacks. It was impossible to travel sheep in the summer, for there was no water between the Wakefield River and the Gum Flat station.
The natives had been left with the peninsula to themselves so long that they did not take kindly to the invasion when it came. It was some time before they were taught to leave the white men and their possessions alone.
One day a native was squatting In the scrub, his whole attention riveted upon a lizard he was cooking. He was so absorbed that he failed to hear a soft footfall behind him. When he looked up it was to encounter the gaze of something he had never seen before— a white man.
He sprang to his feet in terror, and became rooted to the spot with fear, trembling in every limb. The white man made friendly gestures, and presently The black held out the lizard to him as a peace offering. That was the first encounter on the peninsula of the two races. Unfortunately, relations did not continue on such a footing.
The aboriginals soon came to know the taste of mutton. They devised all sorts of ruses for stealing the white man's sheep. It was not an odd sheep or two; it was a hundred or more at a time. One of their favorite methods was to set fire to the grass. The maddened animals would scatter into the bush, where Biljim's spear did the rest.
Gum Flat had not long been settled when black brother tried this game on George Penton, the manager, whose name is commemorated in Penton Vale. Penton was a fearless fellow who would stand no nonsense. He made the blacks tear branches from the trees and beat the fire out. The blaze had a big hold, and Penton kept the natives acting as a fire brigade until they nearly died of exhaustion. They never tried that particular system with Penton again.
One afternoon when a shepherd was watching a flock about two miles from the station, the aboriginals made an attack. One section of them went after the shepherd, while another drove away the herd. The shepherd reported to Penton, who saddled up and set out after the blacks, taking a mounted companion, with him. He found the flock, but the natives had disappeared.
He guessed they would make for the scrub half a mile distant, and thither he rode. The scrub was too thick to allow mounted men to go through. Penton gave his horse to his companion, and set out on foot singlehanded to recover any missing animals.
Presently he saw the figure of a man ahead, carrying a sheep on his back. Penton gave chase. The aboriginal dropped the ewe and ran, with Penton close at his heels. There was a second black ahead of the first, and this man dropped a spear so that his companion behind could pick it up as he ran. As the blackfellow stooped to recover it Penton shot him dead. It was his life or the black's.
The incident did not turn Penton from his quest. He pushed on until he reached the camp, where he found twenty dead sheep. No blacks were to be seen. That they had left in a hurry was evident, for they had left spears, waddies, and nets behind,
Penton had no more trouble over his own sheep. His courage had overawed the blacks. That was the way to deal with them. If one showed himself afraid the savages would kill him and steal the sheep.
An instance of this sort occurred at Sharples's run, a neighboring station. The blacks attacked a shepherd near Hardwick Bay. The man ran away, and the aboriginals went after him, howling wildly. Had he stood his ground the natives would have left him alone. As it was they killed him, and mutilated his body frightfully. Of course they stole the sheep.
Penton heard of this and went after them. He found the savages in great force. They had driven the animals into a 'yard' made of brush, and signalled with their spears that they intended to stick to their booty. It was getting dark, so Penton decided to push on to Sharples's, get help, and raid the camp at daylight. Next morning a party of five set out for the camp. The ringleader of the outrage, a black who had been employed on Gum Flat station, was killed. The others fled into the bush. A number of the sheep had been eaten, but 180 were recovered.
As I said previously, to look at Minlaton today you would never credit that such scenes were enacted there years ago.
An Hour With Old Minlaton.
In the council chamber the other Monday morning I had an interesting hour with old Minlaton. Old Minlaton is represented by the veterans who, like Caesar of other days, came, and saw, and conquered. New Minlaton comprises those who are now, shouldering the burdens which have been made so much lighter by the pioneers who have blazed the track— a track which took some blazing, for the early problems of the peninsula were hard work, struggle, and the will to win.
The men to whom I talked about the seventies and the early eighties of Minlaton were Messrs. Dave Cook, James Brown, Joseph Williams and J. J. Butler (father of the intrepid airman, Captain Harry Butler), and their stories were all similar — of an endless fight against nature to reclaim the wheatland of the 'leg' from the grip of the ti-tree scrub, and to pacify the predatory instincts of the dusky warriors of the wilds, who instinctively saw in the coming of the white men the end of the black man's race.
Fifty years ago black brother roamed the bush in tribes 50 to 200 strong. Today not a single peninsula native remains—not even at Point Pearce, where the mission station houses the remnants of the fast diminishing colored people. The bush, too, is gone. All that remains of it is the limited area of scrub country lying between Minlaton and Stansbury— and the axes of the pioneers are at work there.
Here is the typical story of a pioneer, Mr. Dave Cook. It may, with slight variations, be regarded as the history of every man and woman who, renouncing the comforts of the cities, plunged boldly into the unknown to battle for the right to live.
As a youth of 14 in 1876 Mr. Cook, with his father, six brothers and four sisters, made their way overland from Rapid Bay. Two drays, drawn by 26 bullocks, and a few odd beasts, was their entire fortune. Before them lay practically unknown country. The little that was known was not encouragingscarcity of water, hostile natives, dense bush. Minlaton did not exist, not even as a name.
After leaving Port Wakefield the plucky travellers came up against the main obstacle to settlement— lack of water. Their five-gallon cask of the precious fluid was reserved for the stock. As to their own wants, they decided to take their chance of finding a well.
Time has not effaced the memories of that dreadful journey. For two days the pioneers were without a drink. They suffered the tortures of the damned. Then, towards evening of the second day, they found the footprints of a flock of sheep. These, laboriously followed, led them to the Tiddy-Widdy wells, near Ardrossan. Thus was disaster evaded by the merest chance.
Stout hearts were needed when they reached their selection. The country was a mass of ti-tree, mallee, sheaoak, and peppermint. It looked as if a lifetime of labor would make no impression on that illimitable sea of tangled scrub. But the whole family took off their coats and got to work. Today that impossible forest is one of the finest farm properties about Minlaton, and Mr. Cook sits back, a sturdy and independent veteran, and watches his boys carrying on the task from the point where he left off.
Mr. Cook was one of a family of ten. He has carried on the tradition of large families, and is the father of 13 — seven boys and six girls. He is inordinately proud of his flock, and he is justified. A more sturdy-looking group of Australian humanity would be difficult to find. You may judge this for yourself from the photograph in the supplement.
Gum Flat station was cut up for closer settlement 50 years ago. Mr. J. J. Butler in his youth was a boundary rider on the property. Most of the old homestead has disappeared, but part of the house of the original manager has been incorporated in a modern residence now the property of a Minlaton resident. The old wells, which were the only water for travelling stock south of the Wakefield, excepting, of course, the wells near the sea coast, are still in operation. You may see them about a mile out of the town on the road to Stansbury.
On the property of Mr. E. E. M. Twartz, chairman of the district council, about ten miles out of Minlaton, is an old chimney with a history. It Is the remains of a hut which belonged to a pioneer shepherd named Scott. Scott was murdered by blacks as a result of a feud. The dogs belonging to the aborigines attacked Scott's sheep, and Scott poisoned the dogs. The blacks held a council, and decided to kill Scott. In the dusk of one evening they crept on him through the scrub and speared him. Then they seized his own gun and bashed his brains out. The crime was not discovered for some time, until a boundary rider found the body. After that it was difficult to get anybody to look after sheep in that part of the country (now Brentwood) until a man named Pepper was secured. The station at that time belonged to Mr. Giles, an ancestor of the present M.P.
Minlaton has three strings to its bow —wheat, barley, and wool. Its barley is renowned, and much of it is marketed through a local pool. Like other places, it has hopes of oil, and two companies are boring in the vicinity. The town is not very large, and not very old. It was surveyed in. 1888. Like many other places, it has a habit of not doing as it is told. It began about a mile away from the present town, and was expected to stay there. It didn't do anything of the sort. Instead it crept back to where it now is, and stayed there. Several of the patriarchs—a man is a patriarch in Minlaton at fifty— remember the first religious services being held under a gum tree near the Gum Flat swamp in the days before the churches came.
There is good country round Minlaton. It is 60 miles from the nearest railway. The town has no complaints about that, but it does growl because it has no bituminous road. And while it growls it hauls it produce ten miles over the roads to Port Rickaby, from whence it comes to Adelaide, or wherever else they choose to send it, or to Port Minlacowie, through which 140,000 bags of wheat were shipped last season. Minlacowie, by the way, was responsible for giving Minlaton its name— a sort of miserable compromise between the English and the native versions. Minlacowie means 'plenty of water.'
There was no water problem in Minlaton when I was there in July, unless the problem was to get rid of it. It was lying everywhere. But in the summer there is a real scarcity. The townspeople depend for their supplies on what they can coax into their tanks in the winter. If you bore the chances are ninety-nine in a hundred that you strike salt stuff. If you are lucky you might tap a supply fit for stock, but not suitable for irrigation. The Gum Fiat wells close to the town are still a source of public supply as they were in the pioneer days. Mr. Jos. Williams told me that even nowadays he has often to cart water five miles from these wells to his farm. One curious feature of the wells about the district is that the water after a lapse of years is apt to disappear. This has not so far happened to the Gum Flat wells, but the wells at Minlacowie, which at one time provided for 5,000 sheep, are now dry.
The only piece of country on the peninsula between Moonta and Edithburgh, which is still in the pioneer stage is a small stretch on the road between Minlaton and Stansbury. there you may hunt kangaroos if you are that way inclined. But this, also, is fast disappearing before the march of civilisation. I understand there is rough country on the western 'toe' around Cape Spencer, but I can tell you nothing about it. The chairman of the district council of Minlaton is Mr. E. E. M. Twartz. He is a young man born in the district, andhas been nine years in the council. He is also chairman of the hospital board, and president of the Agricultural Society. The district clerk Is Mr. E. R. Crocker.
Grave of Charles Parrinton (right) jn the little cemetery on Gam Flat station. Parrinton was the first white man to enter Yorke Peninsula.
Historic wells on Gum Flat for which, in pioneer times, drovers used to make. Here was the only water in the interior of the peninsula after leaving Port Wakefield.
Mr. E. E. M. Twartz, chairman of district council.