A Trip to the Gold Diggings #4: Fassifern to Koorelah Range

In 1859 a wave of gold fever hit the newly independent colony of Queensland, and hundreds of men headed southwest to Tooloom, approximately 150 kilometres over the border into New South Wales. This journey of around four or five days on horseback was also taken by J. Robinson, a correspondent of the 'Moreton Bay Courier' in November 1859, and he wrote a detailed account of his travels both there and back (see map below). The result is a fascinating insight into life on the road during the earliest days of colonial Queensland, as well as the rough-and-ready atmosphere of the goldfields. The writings are reproduced in this 'A Trip to the Gold Diggings' series:
Moreton Bay Courier, 6 December 1859


MY last left you advised of my arrival at Balbi’s, and of my intention to fetch up with some intending Tooloomers, who were leaving the ‘Bush Inn,’ Fassifern, when I arrived.

On Wednesday morning, I made an early start, and, with Mr. Macdonald as a guide, I passed down the marked tree line, of which so much has been said as saving a distance of five miles, and soon after I was on the track for the noted scrub through which passengers have to pass. Under the shade of mountains, beautiful in appearance and majestic in height and boldness, the track winds circuitously until a creek is reached, at which point, skirting the water, the way is made into the scrub, which is about one mile and a-half through. To describe the roadway for horses and foot travellers here would not increase the desire that might animate the settlers in towns to try their fortune at the diggings. The reader may picture a stone staircase, very irregularly laid, by the hands of dame Nature, and ornamented with overhanging trees, from which the traveller on horseback must be extremely careful to protect his cranium. A horse also requires to be sure footed and well bottomed; and, if possessing both these qualifications, the journey may be made with an occasional slip, which, to a nervous temperament, is not the most agreeable shock though it may help eventually to induce a cure. At the top of the hill and end of the scrub, a slip rail has to be passed into Messrs. Hardy and Wienholt’s Paddock, which, by the way, is of considerable size, as large as a comfortable estate ; and after descending from no mean elevation the way is good to Moograh.

I might have been disposed to have said something of- the extent of what is called a paddock in the bush, had not my previous ride given me some faint notion of the runs, and have led me to expect that such princely estates would have also enclosures corresponding with the vastness of the country.

Moograh, an out station belonging to Fassifern, is delightfully situated on the top of a gently-rising knoll-has a small lagoon in its front, and is sheltered by mountains on all sides, save the road on which I was to travel. It gave me a clear insight into the wisdom and shrewdness of those who had made the selection. This place is delightfully situated for a village, and there is land enough, and fertile enough, adjacent to it to give all the requisites for a thriving agricultural community.

If the road I had passed through the scrub was the only approach to Moograh it would, for the purpose my fancy has indicated, be useless. Near to this point, however, the dray road joins the foot path; and having reached the point where I might with safety pursue my way alone, my guide returned, having received my thanks for his kindness. I am not prepared to discuss the prudence of the way. I was told five miles were saved by pursuing it. If I cannot praise the road I must praise the guide, Mr. Macdonald. It is difficult to become accustomed to some ways. My guide had seen the path often enough to say, using the colonial phrase respecting it, ‘Oh man! it’s nothing.’

View over the Moogerah Dam, 2012. (image here).

For two or three miles after leaving Moograh the road is level and easy to travel. I soon caught the foot passengers previously mentioned, and, as Hopeful said to Faithful, hoped to have some pleasant and profitable discourse. They were Parramatta men, who had been induced to try their luck from the representations made, but they were not in the best trim for yarning - they began to show symptoms of fatigue, and when a foot traveller is in that condition he does not want to be bothered by questions.

After descending a sharp hill I came up with a bullock-dray laden with goods belonging to Mr. Fleming, who also happened at that time to come up on his road from Tooloom. He acquainted me with the fact that the escort was ‘close up,’ and that some six hundred ounces of gold wore in their possession. I learned afterwards that two men, who were in Mr. Fleming’s company, had some three hundred ozs. in their possession, of which they were the bona fide owners and finders.

The road from this point to the ‘Fourteen Mile Station,’ belonging to Fassifern, is a series of gentle slopes, but at the time I travelled over there was a scarcity of water. From the ‘Fourteen Mile Station’ to ‘The Accommodation House’ at the foot of Kooreelah Range is about eight miles. The way is not first-class, but the road is so well beaten that a stranger cannot miss it.

Wednesday night brought me then, to the foot of Kooreelah Range, and not being disposed to try the journey further that night, I made up my mind to camp with Pat Carney, who has erected a large shanty, where he dispenses board and lodging, and gives information of the grounds of Beulah to the tired and footsore wayfarers.

I ought to have mentioned that several parties passed me during the day bound for Ipswich, and as I wanted information, I was not above asking questions. It is no easy matter to worm into a digger’s confidence. His vocation has taught him secrecy; and this, added to a trifling predominancy of acquisitiveness, which has no small degree to do with inducing the digger to leave home and friends, makes him not the most communicative subject in the world. From the various parties I learned that Tooloom was not the El Dorado it had been represented but they agreed that there was gold in payable quantities, providing a man’s desires were moderated to a fair day’s wages. One of the party, whom I will not mention, gave the average at a penny-weight a day – blowed the Ipswich Herald to Jericho for its blowing; but he sadly wandered from the path of consistent speaking when he confessed to having been on the diggings nearly five months, and was intending to return again.

Thus much for the road yarns. The Parramatta men and others also passed the parties alluded to, and when they reached the ‘Accommodation House’ were quite down in the mouth at the doleful news which they said they had heard. Mr. Carney heard their story - asked who was their informant, and when he was told he altered the tune by tolling the intending diggers that that fellow had, to his certain knowledge, taken down his ‘pile.’

A night at Carney’s, peeping between sheets of bark at the stars, though fairly lodged beside - a talk with a model bushman who took pot luck at the foot of the range - a lesson in damper making in the morning, after wandering four or five miles to find my yarraman, a stomachic foundation for the ranges, and then once more under weigh. But as a story of such a trip is better told day by day and in equitable divisions I halt and take breath before going up hill.

Koorelah Range

Up! up! up! for three or four miles, until ‘Vinegar Hill’ is neared. At this ‘pinch,’ what with loose stones and the steepness of the ascent, the place had better been named ‘The Mount of Difficulty.’ Up and down - now slipping, another time scrambling, all the while careful to make headway, with perspiration oozing from every pore, and the horse groaning and rushing until the top is climbed. Then there is a sight worth looking on. Mountain seems piled upon mountain. In the distance beneath lies range after range - the line of mountains near to Balbi’s looks small, and Switzerland cannot boast of finer mountain scenery; though in that land of poverty and independence the tops of their hills may be snow and ice-capped, the mountains of Koorelah are storm and cloud capped and there cannot be a finer sight or sketching place for a painter than the spot I have mentioned. Parrots of the most beautiful plumage chattered in the trees, seeming to exult in the grandeur, and far away as the eye could reach were ‘bush’-covered mountains, and under the eye deep glens with precipitate sides, not at all inviting to descend.

From the heights, by a circuitous course of some four miles, the traveller descends to the flats, at which point it will be found time to liquor. This, for a biped, is not very difficult, as there are a succession of deep, clear, and beautiful wells. The traveller can slake his thirst, but there is no drinking place for cattle without going half a mile down the flats, which, as I was then not acquainted with the fact, compelled my Rosinante to go thirsty a few miles further; an arrangement not at all agreeable.

All travellers over the first Koorelah Range from the ‘Accommodation House’ will be told that for the first nine miles of the way there is no water, and if they are wise they will provide themselves with some - as the difficulty of carriage will be amply repaid by the pleasure of a drink.

Along the flats the traveller passes until he reaches a solitary gunyah, which some bushman has erected, and which now serves the Escort for a halting and refreshment place. The country is good until other hills are reached. Water is to be found every three or four miles, and grass is abundant. This day I caught sight of a few cattle, the only ones I had seen for forty miles – and yet I have often heard it said that the country is taken up and stocked. All I passed up to this point may be taken up but that it is stocked as it ought to be, if the country is to remain entirely pastoral, is more than my faith will permit me to believe.

This day (Thursday), I made about thirty miles to the foot of Tooloom Range, at which place I camped under a bullock dray-heard the yarning of six return diggers, and in the morning at an early hour made haste to Tooloom.

Ascending and descending hills for a few miles brought me to a fine level country like a succession of beautiful lawns, until the slip-rail of Tooloom cattle station or paddock was reached, and an easy distance from this brought me to a splendid water fall called

Tooloom Falls

Fortunately for myself, I found a bullock dray and its attendants camped at the falls, and was, through this circumstance, enabled to devote some little attention to this natural wonder. The reader must picture some fifty or sixty feet of rock roadway, on one side of which is deep water level with the rocks, and on the other side a depth of thirty feet, that part nearest the falls being in the shape of an arc. The passage over the rocks is extremely dangerous. The action of the water has worn deep chasms and holes in the roadway, not at all favourable to the wheels of bullock drays or the legs of horses and man. That part of the rock road-way nearest to Tooloom is not more than fifteen or sixteen feet in width, and requires all the care of the drivers to make a sure passage. The usual mode of transit is to fasten on a double team of bullocks, so that those in front may keep the line straight, and thus drag over the drays. When the water rushes over the falls with great rapidity, which is always the case after heavy rains, passing would be an utter impossibility. Foot passengers have resorted to a log of timber when the water has been rushing over to secure themselves while passing the most dangerous part; but, judging from the appearance of the place in dry weather, and the not very pleasant passage afforded at such a time, when only a small quantity of water is running, I cannot say that I should feel any great inclination to risk my neck on so perilous a passage as it must be in the wet season, even though Tooloom nuggets were plentiful on the opposite shore.

The passage of the rocks I have only just barely noticed is over the Tooloom Creek, being a portion of that creek which is now so well known to many hundreds of diggers. The water on the side where the water falls must be a great depth. I saw several small turtles amusing themselves below, and I feel certain that if Albert Smith or Gordon Cumming, had seen so grand a place in their travels, the one would not have forgotten to have had it represented in transparent picture, and the other might, with poetic fancy, have pictured a lion lapping the water on the side nearest him in clear moonlight. Gold induces us all to do strange things - and gold is the guiding star over ‘Tooloom Falls.’ It is certain that many who travel in that quarter know only duty, and such I may certainly denominate the bullock drivers; since to make the passage of the falls with a laden bullock dray is not a trifling affair, or one that can be passed over without a few words of comment.

Sugar Loaf Mountain

A level road of two or three miles brings the traveller alongside the Sugar Loaf Mountain, so called in consequence of its appearance resembling a sugar loaf of gigantic magnitude. Round the base of this mountain, and for an easy distance up its sides, have prospecting parties visited. In all parts between the Falls and Tooloom proper have prospectors tried their luck, but it is difficult to report with what success, as many preserve almost a sullen silence, and labor on in hopes of meeting a rich reward.

From ‘The Falls‘ to Tooloom is called twelve miles - a long and weary twelve miles it is - but what of that, when the diggings are so near! A continuation of ups and downs and gullies, now and then a glimpse of ‘The Creek’ and at last the slaughterhouse is reached, about half-a-mile from the township, where the smell of the refuse of slaughtered bullocks is wafted to the olfactory sense in any thing but a sweet resemblance of those gales which are said to come from Araby the blest.

And now, in one half mile, we make the township of Tooloom, which, as I have run on to a great length in bringing the reader to the point, must be left for another letter.