Travels in East Moreton, 1859 (#7): Boggo to Wolston

(From the Moreton Bay Courier, 12 March 1859)

'Having, in my last article, left off my sketch of the south-western suburbs somewhere in the neighborhood of the farmsteads about Yeerongpilly, I will, with your permission, renew my rambles, and detain your readers, for a brief period, upon those auriferous looking quartz ridges overlooking the valley of the Brisbane, in the direction of Boggo, and as we rest ourselves beneath the wide spreading branches of some forest monarch, under whose shade in-all probability the Arab of the wilderness in generations past loitered and held coroboree, ere Cook or Tasman sighted the shores of New Holland. Let us endeavor to derive some information about this particular locality, and the varied scenes we have visited together in our journeying through the district.

The banks of the Brisbane, comprising a portion of the parish of Yeerongpilly, is rather densely filled in with scrub; and in years past large quantities of pine timber was obtained therefrom, but the increasing demand of that useful description of timber, has denuded these, and similar scrubs of most of that article, driving the sawyers and splitters to a greater distance from water-carriage, to obtain the needful supply for building purposes.

Although the present high rate of wages given to laboring men employed in farm husbandry, in a great measure impedes agricultural operations, and the clearing of heavily timbered lands, yet the rich and productive nature of the soils situated upon these and other navigable waters, amply repay those who have had pluck enough in their composition to set to work and clear the land of these impediments. The only regret one feels in looking over the various cleared land in this neighborhood is, that the proprietors of these clearings should be content, or rather compelled, from their limited resources, to adopt, the one unvarying principle of cultivating only maize and potatoes; the demand for which from our limited population is not at all times equal to the expectations of the growers.

I must admit the temptation to cultivate these products is very great, because our small farmers calculate upon getting two crops a year from potatoes and maize, whilst in cultivating cotton for instance, want of experience in the general system of management, deters all or most of our small landholders from making the attempt to produce cotton wool. Yet one would hope that the fact the cotton uncleaned was sold at Mort’s auction mart, in Sydney, at 5d. per lb., this return will be found upon making calculation, far beyond what may be expected from the present price of corn and potatoes.

Let your correspondent here throw out a suggestion for the earnest consideration of those employed in agricultural operations, or desirous of seeing this important branch of home industry encouraged. The suggestion I am about to offer occurs to my mind in consequence of seeing in my peregrination through the district, the sad deterioration of late years in our horticultural productions; for instance, we find, in many places, the pine dwindled away to a fruit so small and irregular in its growth as to be valueless; - the banana also pithey and tasteless. Large quantities of these trash are forwarded to Sydney for sale which, when contrasted with the very fine pine apples and bananas grown nigher the metropolis, creates a prejudice against the consumption of these articles.

Wurtemburg Farm, 1880s. Watercolour by C.G.S. Hirst (SLQ). 

To remedy this growing evil the suggestion I have to offer is, to revive the Moreton Bay Agricultural Society; which, to the lasting shame of many of us, was allowed to fall through want of support. Let everyone interested in the future prosperity of these districts take an active interest in its progress! Let every effort be made to induce the holders of small farms to cultivate the proper description of cotton, arrowroot, sugar plants, pines, bananas, and the thousand and one other semi-tropical productions, which we have sought to grow, but which, except in a very few instances, has never been successfully tried. To encourage our farmers in their desires to improve their growing crops we have a Botanical Garden, conducted by a skilful man, over ready, I believe, to convey every information in his power to those who will ask his assistance. The gentleman entrusted by the Government with the superintendence of these grounds, I am sure will do much to encourage a thoughtful and judicious mode of culture amongst the community in which they have cast their lot. Let me, through the medium of this article, urge upon those interested, to call an early meeting of the friends of progress, to once more have that useful institution an Agricultural Association established amongst us.

Beyond Oxley Creek, a distance of some eight or nine miles from Brisbane, the land on the south bank of the river remains in a state of nature until you reach Wolston, the grounds and residence of S. Simpson, Esq., late Commissioner of Crown Lands for these districts. Wolston is some two miles on the Brisbane side of Woogaroo, bounded on one side by that river, the whole freehold comprising, I should think, something like one thousand acres of open forest land, all securely fenced in and laid out in convenient paddocks, mostly used for horse stock, of which the proprietor has a goodly number. The gardens and grounds are neatly laid out, the former possessing some really good trees, shrubs, &c.

Wolston House, a stone and brick farmhouse built in 1852. (SLQ) 

The country lying between Wolston and Oxley’s Creek must eventually, particularly the land bordering the river, become available to the small farmer and cultivator. The scrub land is of the richest description, and the patch of open forest lying at intervals, and at the back of the scrubs is also well worthy of a poor man’s purchase. The daily passing and repassing of our river steam fleet, adds another valuable feature to these river side localities; and one cannot doubt but that so soon as our land regulations are placed in the hands of the Moreton Bay Government, the sale of those waste lands will be both rapid and profitable to the colony and the purchaser.

Let me draw your readers’ attention, particularly those dwelling in other lands, to the following facts and particulars. The rivers Brisbane, Pine, Logan, and Cabulture empty themselves into the waters of our magnificent Bay, within an area of say 25 miles. These rivers are navigable for some distance from their mouths, particularly the two former. Upon all these rivers millions of acres of productive land is unsurveyed and unsold, affording ample space for the industrial exertions of thousands of our fellow creatures, coming from whatever part of God’s creation they may.

If we are therefore led to view the future occupation of these lands by a people desirous of improving their present condition, let us hope every endeavour will be used by our legislators to bring them into the market upon terms favorable to the occupiers of them. Every friend to the future progress and prosperity of Moreton Bay, might then anticipate to see those views realized, which were ably set forth in the Hall of the Brisbane School of Arts, in the year 1857, by Mr. William Brookes, in a lecture delivered 'Upon the cultivation of cotton,' and as the lecturer observed, some future historian may, in speaking of Moreton Bay, use terms something like these: 'Around the Bay and stretching away for miles, are clusters of farms supporting a large population, who are principally engaged in the cultivation of cotton. They are not only a well-to-do, but a contented and prosperous community. In the far inland districts there is a vast extent of country which supports millions of sheep, thousands of cattle, and droves of horses. Thus is the country divided between the pastoral and the agricultural interests, and the best understanding exists between them. The time has been when this colony was spoken of as a pastoral country only; but now it is a flourishing territory, giving ample support to both interests.'

As we sit under this gum-tree, and cast our eyes along the valley through which the Brisbane flows, can we doubt the realization of some portion at all events of this graphic picture? Surely not! There are those amongst us who will live to see the thousands of acres of unbroken forest, stretching away in the distance without any sign of habitation, peopled up by the starving thousands at present congregated together in vast masses in the streets, alleys, and by-ways of the cities and towns of the old country. Did time and space permit me, I fain would pursue this subject further; but for the present must leave the question of cotton growing to another opportunity, or I should say to more abler hands than mine.

Oxley Creek, circa 1922. (State Library of Queensland) 

A Moreton Bay Agricultural and Horticultural Society, when again formed, would find ample materials within their reach to place the matter before the members; and I doubt not the results of their experience and practical working will soon establish the fact that the cultivation of cotton wool would rank in equal importance with that of our staple export wool.

The country lying between Woogaroo and the Teviot, and the head of Oxley’s Creek, is occupied by small proprietors of stock, principally cattle, all of whom appear to be gathering round them a valuable property in that particular, rude plenty is apparent with them all, the wayfarer being sure of a good feed and a shake down, should his journeyings lead them into their society.

A very excellent road is in the course of formation between Ipswich and the metropolis of Brisbane; the distance between the two townships being by this route, about twenty three miles. The traveller at no distant period proceeding to or from either of those localities, may in all probability be enabled to choose the river or the road, by which to proceed on his journey. The steam-boats conveying by one and the mail-coach by the other. The latter route with an ordinary four-horsed coach could no doubt be passed over in something like a couple of hours, whilst the river route, a distance of 55 miles, occupies by the steamers at present from four to six hours, a difference in time of much importance to men of business. At present I am sorry to say, we are not in Moreton Bay quite fast enough to pay much attention to a few hours waste time, in a journey of 20 odd miles. I calculate, if ever we get Separation, the old slow coaches on the road-way of life at present down here, will soon get knocked out of time, and pushed off the road, by young England fraternising with, young Australia for the purpose of going a-head, and doing their duty as citizens of a great nation.

Having, in my previous sketches, endeavored to portray (though I feel very faintly) some of those places visited in my rambles through East Moreton, I will bring my pleasant task to a close by observing, for the attention and guidance of those in lands far away, that upon the rivers mentioned in the previous portion of this article, and their numerous tributaries falling into their waters, immense tracts of maiden soil lie upon their margins only awaiting the occupation and labors of man to convert them into productive wealth; and that speaking of East Moreton only it must be borne in mind that the western portions of this magnificent province are every way equal, if not in some measure superior, to the districts I passed over; and for many many years there will be ample scope and space available for the settling down of, I may say, millions of the human family; and that the present residents and part occupiers of the settled lands are barely conversant with the productive capabilities of the land they live in. In fact, we have the land, but we want labor, and gold to make the province of North Australia the most valuable of her Majesty’s Australian possessions.

We may not, and perhaps it will ultimately be found better if we do not, find those auriferous treasures so widely dispersed in the mother colony and Victoria; but whether we do or do not discover a gold field, we may with confidence assert, and without fear of contradiction, that Moreton Bay possesses a soil if not literally auriferous, is a golden land to the fortunate possessor of it, as witness the exports for 1858, us per last return published in the columns of the Courier gave a total of £550,000, and which is considered by parties acquainted with those matters, as much under the real amount. However, be that as it may, we have much to be proud of in this respect when we take into consideration the very limited number of inhabitants in the northern districts, and the wide field we have for future improvement.

In conclusion, should I have been so fortunate in these sketches to have given an hours amusement to your numerous readers, or induce one soul to think well of the land of our adoption, your public correspondent will consider himself amply repaid, and well pleased to find his wish to benefit his fellow man has been accomplished.'