A Trip to the Gold Diggings #7: Tooloom to Flagstone Creek

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.

Warning: This article contains language that would be considered extremely racially offensive today, but is retained here for historical context.

Moreton Bay Courier, 17 December 1859:

Report of a Quartz Reef

Along the line of road, from Ipswich to Tooloom, I had heard reports that a quartz reef had been discovered, and the general impression appeared to be that it only needed some such discovery to make ‘our diggings’ as they are commonly, though not legally, called. A little inquiry on the fields at Tooloom satisfied me that the report was a mere canard, which some systematic hoaxer had devised to draw the rush on the Warwick route, near to which place it was said the reef existed. I had heard of the reported discovery when only a few miles from Balbi’s; so you see that news, good or bad, false or true, can find wings to travel with even amongst mountains and gum trees. It was, I believe, first reported by some clever rascal who understood word weaving and who was an adept at constructiveness in sentences so that the truth should appear only from probability, and if falsity should be proved the inventor could turn upon the rendering of his sentence and so escape the character of falsehood. The story had cost some long and weary walks to find what they could not and to see what they could not, all returning with looks as sour and dark as those ominous words on a returned cheque ‘no effects.’

Leaving Tooloom

I had calculated upon leaving to return to Koorelah before I could really make a fair start for Warwick. Fortunately I was able to find a mate who also wished to go to Warwick and we debated the prudence of obtaining the service of a black as guide, and starting for Acacia Creek by the nearest route. When I and my mate had made inquiries amongst the darkies there answered a smart looking-fellow who said his name was Peter, and he undertook to convey us so near to the place I have mentioned that there would be no difficulty after his leaving in finding the way. At an early hour in the morning our party, myself, the gentleman who was leaving the diggings, and Peter, started away, bidding the bark huts, calico tents, and shanties of all descriptions, not forgetting the coat of arms suspended outside all places of abode, the frying pans, an affectionate farewell. The site of Tooloom is well chosen for an inland town; but if the diggings should go ahead and prosper, as I hope and trust they will, the site for a town, beautifully situated and well supplied with water, is that spot between the sliprail of Tooloom cattle station fence and the foot of ‘The Falls.’

Tooloom National Park (NSW National Parks Service)

The Near Cut

After clambering the hill I have sketched previously and made all ready for a start we proceeded, headed by Peter, who wore a Turkish red ferz cap on his black and shining hair, and shouldered his tomahawk as if he was on a marauding excursion after some of the young ladies of a neighbouring man. But Peter was a married man - wedded according to the bush fashion; and, therefore, my similie does not hold. And, unlike most married men, Peter was in care about his wife, one of the express stipulations of the contract being that we should allow him to return that night, as he was fearful that in his absence some brother chum would take the liberty of eloping with his Mary. We tried to calm Peter down on this subject, but he would not be comforted, and by the oft repeated ‘baal’ with which he greeted our suggestions on the goodness of his people and our own, it was evident Mr. Peter was a thorough recogniser of the universal depravity doctrine.

For about three or four miles of the way, the way was not difficult, and though there was no track or mark to travel by that we could see, still the black held headway and we followed. After the first four miles the aspect of the country changed. We began to ascend and descend hills, and found it prudent at times to dismount that the horses might with greater safety to the men cross the gullies. Every now and then rounding some corner of a heavily timbered hill, the black’s dog, a long, lean, and ill-favoured brute, but which Peter had honored with the name of ‘Beauty,’ would startle the kangaroos, give tongue, chase for a time and return like Admiral Napier from the Baltic, having made only a slight commotion. A few miles of this kind of way brought us at last to a splendid open flat, and I began congratulating myself that the difficulties were past.

Killing a Black Snake

When just entering the flat a black snake of moderate size was soon making the best of his way to escape. The gliding reptile caught Peters eye - the tomahawk was raised and thrown with a precision and swiftness attainable by long practice. An old root followed the tomahawk quickly - the snake was disabled, eventually made a head shorter, and left as a mark of vengeance against the unwelcome crawlers.

Splendour in Solitude

The flat we had now come to spread away for miles, there was scarcely a tree upon it, and my thoughts were all for the future when a nation shall have grown and stalwart yeomen and patriarchial graziers gladden the glades with their presence, and the merry cheer from the voices of children at play prove that these now forsaken spots have ‘a local habitation and a name in the minds of a rising community.’

Climbing the Mountains

Our toil soon began. Peter led us by a way peculiarly his own. Up the sides of mountains difficult to climb did we pass, and when we had reached the elevations, on looking round there was nothing but mountains on all sides to be seen. Far away in the distance as the eye could reach were mountains, and their brown and shaggy sides, covered with timber, proclaimed the wildness of the land, and the little that the whites had already done to mark their stay. Now we descend until we reach a perfect hollow in which water is found. The horses with difficulty reach the agua puro; having found their way into the curiously-shaped place, they have to leap to gain the opposite bank. Here, in this spot, where grass had grown as high as our breasts, and where no one but a blackfellow would think of going, had a prospecting party tried a dishful. We could see the marks of the ‘fossickers;’ and then I knew that there was something more than mere rumour in the statement that parties were trying every likely place. When we passed from this gully we had a teaser. For about fifty yards I struggled bravely and led my horse; but I could not hold out, as Paddy would say, ‘for every step I took forward I took two backward,’ until I was obliged to hold to the twigs and shout for assistance. The black having taken my horse, I did manage with great difficulty to scramble up - and when I reached, if the view had pleased me from the other points, from this one it was grand and impressive. The length up the mountain must have been fully three-quarters of a mile, and when I reached the summit I was fairly tired, and am not ashamed to own it, more especially as I think there is far too much bounce practised in the talk about colonial travelling. I have before alluded to the ‘nothing’ kind of reckoning, and need not here further explain myself. It is something to me, and why should I care, though all the people had seen something grander, and been worse beset with difficulties in travelling, if I had never before encountered the like, I should tell my story my own way, and leave the issue.

Crossing a Creek

Mile after mile, all guess-work, had been done, when we came at last to a creek that seemed for a time to bid fair to stay our journey. Not that there was any water, but the rocks rose in such queer and fantastical shapes - and there was no beaten way, that I knew not how we were going to manage. The horses slipped and rushed again - then startled, and at last, with a leap, they gained a point of rock which enabled them to have firm foot-hold and so relieved what care I had as to the finish of the dangers. When we had crossed this place it seemed as if we had come upon a new country. Soon we caught sight of a marked tree which had been done by Mr. Fleming‘s party, and we were enabled here and there to trace the white man’s chop until passing the lambing-down station – the farthest out-station from and belonging to Kooreelah. Soon we came to Flagstone Creek.