Travels in East Moreton, 1859 (#4): Bulimba

(From the Moreton Bay Courier, 16 February 1859)

'In my present endeavors to give your readers a sketch of the several very interesting localities situated down the river, I fear I shall fail in conveying to their minds any adequate impression of their varied beauties, or portray them with that graphic distinctness and vivid delineation the subject demands. However, they are sketches literally taken at random without any previous attempt at arrangements or premeditation, and therefore presented to the public for what they are worth.

Bulimba, Toogoolawa, Tingalpa, and other soft-sounding names, convey, no doubt, in the aborigines dialect very significant meanings of these waterside localities; and one is led to regret that the surveyors, in laying out these sections of country, do not more generally confine themselves to the native name of the several localities they map out for sale. In a recent instance “Lytton” has been substituted for “Tingalpa;” a change, in my opinion, far from agreeable or euphonious, although no doubt, done in snobbish compliment to the great novelist, who at present holds the Colonial seals of Office. However let that pass, for after all what’s in a name? Tingalpa cannot (if the minister’s name in full was added,) command purchasers, if this embryo village is brought into market prematurely.

But, before I describe to your readers any particulars about Bulimba and its neighborhood, let us start fair upon our journey, taking, as usual, Brisbane for our starting point. With this view let us at once proceed to the ferry at Kangaroo Point, and endeavor to get the crusty old charon at that place to ferry ourselves and nags over to the South bank of the river. Here, as Jonathan says, we encounter a difficulty. Money nor fair words cannot prevail upon the obstinate old coon to place the punt at our disposal; and hearing the previous pleadings of a Pring, and the impetuosity of a Walker were contemptuously treated I deemed it advisable to Dowse my expectations of making a short cut, and go round by the way of South Brisbane.

This matter accomplished, we, that is you and I, my dear reader, will, in a social, friendly, manner have a pleasing gossip as we jog along the road. There, just pull up for a moment, whilst our senses drink in this scene of beauty lying stretched out before us. This road leads us to Kangaroo Point; and from this opening we obtain a magnificent view of North and South Brisbane. See, what a noble expanse of river greets the eye upon either hand? whilst immediately beneath our vision lies the Botanical Gardens, rapidly developing the scientific arrangements of the superintendent (Mr. Hill), - and conferring a lasting debt of gratitude upon the inhabitants of Brisbane. Beyond the gardens see how beautiful the township appears to swell upwards - to the windmill ridge; - the old mill standing in the back ground, like an old familiar friend, watching the gradual advance of this young metropolis, to the honorable distinction of a city and future seat of Government.

Kangaroo Point, 1860s (John Oxley Library)
Kangaroo Point, 1860s (John Oxley Library)

As we proceed along the road towards the Point, one cannot refrain from stopping occasionally to take another passing glance at the panorama spread before us. At our left hand, upon the opposite bank of the river, we catch a view of the extensive stores and wharf of Messrs. G. Raff & Co.; as also those of John Richardson & Co., and the Custom House; whilst below us stretches the Point, the river sweeping round to our right hand in the direction of our journey. Before we proceed along the road leading us towards the new bridge crossing Norman’s Creek, let us mark the advantageous position of the Point for the future development of our manufacturing resources. With abundance of pure water to be obtained at a few feet below the surface, and an immense extent of deep water river frontage, we cannot conceive the possibility of these facts being overlooked by the speculative man of capital, on the look out, at no distant day, for a fitting site whereon to erect his factory, for the production of those articles in every day use and consumption, and only now procurable by foreign importation.

Here we pass the neat and beautifully situated residence of W. Thornton, Esq., Tide Surveyor, and Captain Thomas Collins, the latter an old salt of many years colonial experience, and who, like many other old tars, upon becoming tired of a roving sea life, took to the profitable occupation of some square miles of the Crown lands in these districts and became a grazier; or, in more vulgar parlance, a squatter.

Turning to the right, the road to Bulimba runs parallel to the river, presenting as we proceed onward a very pleasing feature in the landscape. At Norman’s Creek a very substantial bridge has recently been thrown across near its mouth, thereby shortening the distance to Bulimba very materially. Some difficulty was encountered in getting this bridge erected, through the misrepresentations of a certain squatting lord, who having purchased land upon the bank of the creek, did not want the vulgar herd to pass through it. Fortunately the Hope he entertained of barring the way was frustrated; and the approaches to the bridge, consequently, does pass through Louis’ land. Emerging from a bit of scrub land bordering the creek the wayfarer begins to ascend a rather steep incline, upon the summit of which a most enchanting view meets the enraptured gaze. The long stretch of water upon either hand glittering in the sun’s rays like burnished silver, and its margin fringed with the dark green hue of the mangrove trees, backed up by the cultivated grounds around; the elegant mansions of R. R. Mackenzie, Esq., and Captain O’Connel, forming part of the New Farm property; - the somber hue of Taylor’s Range contrasting vividly with the lighter colorings of the country spread out beneath it.

Some couple or three miles further we reach Toogoolawa Point; passing in our route a small number of homesteads occupied by the Bulimba farmers. Here again, as at Moggil, we come in contact with some families of Dr. Lang’s importation; a lot of industrious, plain, plodding men, the right sort for a new settlement, and if we speak the truth, have not apparently lost anything by their sojourn in Moreton Bay.

A large portion of the river bank was upon its first occupation by the present possessors marked by a dense scrub, all of which has nearly disappeared under the vigorous arm of the sturdy farmers; and the productiveness of the soil, thus freed from its dark covering, is abundantly evidenced by the crops of maize, oats, potatoes, and other vegetable productions obtained from it.

Most of the small settlers living at Bulimba I found were the freehold possessors of the land and had, in addition, a goodly number of milking cows and cattle; from which they derived no inconsiderable revenue – particularly in the production of the article, butter. The advantages those and other industrious men possess of grazing their cattle upon the unoccupied lands around them, help materially to forward their progressive views. But I cannot help here remarking, that at this place, and many other similar localities I visited in my journeying through the district, I was struck with the suicidal policy practiced by these small stockholders; namely, that of permitting an incestuous intercourse of their cattle, or breeding as it is termed, in and in, whereby the stock is rapidly decreasing not only in size, but in their supplies of milk. Yet, how easy I thought it would be, if a few neighbors were each to unite in the purchase of a well bred bull, for common use, and thus save their stock from deteriorating in value.

A short distance before you reach Toogoolawa Point, the road turns off on the left hand to the waterside, following which, we reach a ferry established by Samuel Buckley, for the convenience of the Bulimba people in their intercourse with the Brisbane side of the river. But, strange to say, I ascertained from the ferryman, that the Government surveyors in laying out the land for sale on the west or Brisbane side of the river, had omitted, with their usual want of forethought, to leave a public approach to the river. The consequence is, that although on the east or Bulimba side, the market carts of the farmers might be punted over to the opposite shore with facility, there is no outlet in that direction to the main road, without passing through private property; the inconvenience of which is already felt by the people using the ferry, from the disinclination of the proprietor to permit of this trespass over his land. I have no doubt the government could remedy this defect, by proclaiming the ferry to be a public one, and making a road-way (the right of which is specially reserved in the Crown grants) through the property lying opposite Bulimba.

The view of the river scenery near the point is very charming. The open cultivated lands on both sides of the river affords a pleasing prospect to the eye. The well kept grounds of Newstead, the seat of Captain Wickham, R.N., Government Resident, the farm homestead of Mr. T. Childs, in close proximity to the former, Kingholme, the residence of James Gibbon, Esq., give the west side of the river a very pretty appearance. At the point of Toogoolawa we find ourselves at the mansion of D. Coutts, Esq., one of our successful graziers, who having made I trust a competency, is farming the lands of his freehold at this place, in a spirited manner; and although I hear he has met with some drawbacks - through unpropitious seasons yet, upon the whole, I think he does not regret having entered into his present occupation. Around Toogoolawa the land is occupied, and very successfully cultivated, by a number of industrious families, who have shewed their just appreciation of the value of their several clearings by the efforts they are making to clear their land of timber, &c. The dwelling places of the Bulimba farmers I must say do not add much to the natural beauties of the place; for with true Australian carelessness, so marked in the country districts of our new settlements, no attempt at adornment is made, but in a few exceptional instances, to take away the heavy repulsive appearance of the hardwood slabs forming the exterior of their houses. When the eye of the traveller does rest upon a snug though homely cottage, buried beneath the green foliage of the honeysuckle or other pretty creepers, how it delights to dwell upon its natural beauty. Fancy, at once, invests the possessors with those social virtues of which the love of flowers very often are the sure tokens. When I see a house standing in its naked deformity, without the slightest attempt at embellishment, although the land around may be highly cultivated and the wealth of the owner evidenced by the sleek cattle and horses, I at once put the owner down as a mere money-grubber, toiling from early morning till dewy eve to accumulate money, or perchance, add acre to acre, until, when in possession of a property far exceeding the most sanguine expectations of his early career, he finds himself incapable of enjoying the gifts God has given him, and repents when too late of his folly.

Conrad Martens’ 1851 sketch of Bulimba House, home of David Coutts in 1859 (John Oxley Library).
Conrad Martens’ 1851 sketch of Bulimba House, home of
David Coutts in 1859 (John Oxley Library). Also known
as Toogoolawa, this residence is still standing.

Bulimba, in common with those properties situated upon and near the mouth of the River Brisbane, possess many valuable advantages over other less favored localities in this respect. And, further, when the contemplated improvements at the river bar are carried into effect, so as to permit shipping of large tonnage to enter the river and anchor below the Eagle Farm Flats, these farms and freeholds, with those on the Eagle Farm side of the river, will necessarily become of great value.

Passing down the river by a bush track, running at the rear of the farms at the river side, we approach the neighborhood of the Quarries, lying immediately abreast of the two islands, marking the whereabouts of the flats. A short distance before reaching the Quarries, we arrive at the residence of Charles Coxen, Esq., another of our Moreton Bay stockholders who, whilst enjoying his fortune and position at this beautiful part of the river bank, loses no opportunity of enjoying himself, in company very frequently with his wife, with boating excursions amongst the magnificent scenery of our beautiful bay, An example which will, no doubt, ere long be followed by many of his brother squatters; for what higher amount of enjoyment could these enterprising gentlemen secure for themselves and families, after perhaps eight or nine months close attention to their flocks and herds, than locating themselves for the remaining portion of the year at Brisbane, or rather its neighborhood, to enjoy the luxury of sea-bathing, and yachting, and boating excursion in the Bay.
The commanding position of Mr. Coxen’s residence gives a charming prospect up and down the river, and the view in that respect is scarcely to be equalled by any other situation I have seen. At the foot of the ridge upon which the house stands, coal of good quality has been found cropping out near the water’s edge, and a drift has been run into the hill side with the hope of coming upon a payable seam, but without success; although, I believe the worthy proprietor knows where coal is to be obtained in the neighborhood, when the time arrives that coal mining will become profitable.

The Quarry previously mentioned consists of freestone of durable quality, well adapted for building purposes; but stone of equal if not superior quality having been found nigher Brisbane, this place has not been worked for some time. No doubt when our wealthy graziers locate themselves in the vicinity of the harbour mouth, this Quarry will again become of much value to its possessor. Near the Quarries a shaft has been sunk to a considerable depth with the view of discovering “Coal;” but I understand without complete success. Whether deeper sinking will discover the treasure is problematical, although I hear the chances are very favorable. What a magical influence one is led to conclude will be the result of an extended mercantile trade with this province, by enlarged steam communication with other colonies; and then opening out the Torres Straits route to India and China for ocean steamers. The port of Moreton Bay may then, if right means are used, take rank with the finest of the Australian confederacy.

Below the Quarries, and crossing Doughboy Creek, (no very easy task for want of a bridge) we reach Tingalpa, and an open piece of low land known as Clunie’s Flats, and named after a well known military commandant of the penal times. A site has been fixed upon for the erection of a Custom House officers residence and look out place; and near which I believe the village of Lytton has been marked out into allotments for sale.

Tingalpa will at an early day become a valuable locality, and inhabited by those people whose avocations lay in the vicinity of the Bay. It possesses another advantage in being in the neighbourhood of that part of the Bay frequented by the “Dugong” fishermen; and will, when the ferry is established between Bulimba and East Brisbane, and a passable road made to the village at Tingalpa, (I can’t call it Lytton) be brought within the distance of some six or eight miles of the metropolis.

Immediately opposite the Quarries, the eye rests upon the cleared land of Eagle Farm. As we have to get a little information from the people residing in that quarter, let us for a short time cross the river, and have a look round this spot so full of painful associations of days gone; and we trust never to be again witnessed in this Island continent.

Below the cleared lands of the old farm the land continues at the same low level, only being a few feet above the ordinary rise of the tides; consequently, in a wet season, swampy. The Government, contemplating the future value of this particular locality for railway purposes have, I understand, reserved a portion of the land below the “Eagle Farm Flats,” as a railway termini; shipping lying in the secure and landlocked basin forming the entrance of the river, will, no doubt, at some future day receive their cargoes from wharves constructed upon the banks of the stream adjacent to the anchorage. Some good land lying upon the elevated ridges in the, vicinity of the bay will some day be found valuable, and made available for building and other purposes.

Between Breakfast Creek and Eagle Farm the land has been partially cleared of the scrub bordering the river; but there still remains some dense patches that requires the axe of the bushman to clear away; it being at present the rendezvous of the aboriginal tribes that occasionally come up from the coast to have a “corobbaree” or “pullen pullen,” with the half-civilized tribes about Brisbane. At these times they became a dangerous pest to the small farmers dwelling in that neighborhood. Again crossing the river, and passing through the bush in a southerly direction, we come upon the road leading to Cleveland; but as 1 have occupied the columns of your broad sheet I fear already beyond due limits, I must defer the description of that sea side locality for my next sketch; hoping that, if permitted to do so, I shall be able to give some pleasing particulars of this highly favored, though I believe, scarcely appreciated, watering place.'