Tales of the Tops
Acknowledgements: Scone & Upper Hunter Historical Society and the Scone Advocate 9 July 1920
Featured Image: Scenic view of Barrington Tops
“Peeps of the Past”: Back in the Sixties (1860s) written for the Scone Advocate by ‘Uandoo’
When we left Tomalla (which is on the Manning waters) for the wild cattle country, the first streams we passed were the Hunter and the two branches it receives a few miles from the head. Further on was Polblue, a swamp on the main waters of Omadale Brook. This was an oasis in summer, well covered with white clover and swamp grass, and we were always sure of finding a wild mob in the vicinity. The English clover had been introduced by Dr Gill, when the world was a good deal younger. Here was an old post-and-rail yard – a wreck, built by one of the Bowmans, who had cattle there in the fifties, from which most of the wild ones were bred. The scrubbers were not a fashionable colour, mostly yellow-brindle, some with black sides and white backs. Naturally, they varied in condition with the season, but ever on the richest pastures they could never be turned into “fats”. After passing the dividing range between Omadale and Moonan Brooks, the country, which on the Hunter side was steep and full of brush, and in parts inaccessible, opens out on the watershed to , Colo, and although swamp in parts, gives good grass for cattle. The first stream is the little Murray, so called by William McPhee, another fine bush rider. Then comes Bean Bean Plain, with the creek running through it. Parts of the swamp I the late sixties were very boggy, but dry seasons have dried it up, very much improving the feeding ground, on which for about five months of the year stock do well. Over the ridge at the head of the Brumlo is the yard (mentioned in the “Wingham Chronicle” by “Kyorie”) built by Jack Marshall and party. Jack was a wild rider, but I don’t think he ever caught enough scrubbers to make them scarce. Four miles further on are the Barrington waters, with miles of beautiful swamps. There is now a trig station at the highest point at the head of Stewarts Brook, overlooking the Mount Royal branch of the Paterson. A bridle track form Stewarts Brook leads onto Barrington Tops, going past the trig station, through Edward and Saxby holdings, and down into Mount Royal Creek, a tributary of the Paterson River.
The horses on Glenrock and the surrounding stations were, generally speaking, permitted to run wild, there being very little demand for them. A yearly muster was adhered to for a time, but later even that was omitted. This muster tested the horsemanship of the stockmen; it required a good deal of strategic skill to catch horses rather than cattle, as they are much faster. On one occasion, on the rocky spur between Barnard River and Schofields Creek, one of our most experienced horsemen, John Corbett, was after a mob of nine, which took a wrong turning. Over the precipice they went, and were smashed to jelly. Fortunately the man behind managed to jump off and pull his round in time. Another time we had our coachers (quiet horses) on Boxtree Ridge to receive a mob that was being brought down the hill. One of the lot was trying to make a bid for liberty, and he came thundering down at full gallop, Mr Corbett went out to intercept him. When the brumby came near to the waiting horseman he fell, and sliding along struck the horseman’s leg from under him. For a time horse and man were mixed up, but apparently no harm was done, though the brumby got away. Some of the horses were of good type. Several adventurous spirits built trapyards in the places most frequented by the horses, and several were caught this way. In the last muster that I remember, after picking out the best to send to Maitland, we rounded up the culls (about 200) in a corner and shot them. Shooting was the last resort, but they ate too much grass to be ignored, and moreover they disturbed the cattle when we were mustering. Shooting brought to the fore some crackshots: George Aslin (then sheep overseer at Ellerston), William Morrison and the Eipper brothers accounted for a few hundreds. At the present time there are only odd lots on the Togolo holding.
The weather on these ‘Tops’ is very changeable, subject to heavy fogs and frosts and to snow in winter. I have known snow to lie without melting for three weeks. Although the land is now leased or selected, none of the holders live there all the year round. In summer, however, the climate is beautiful, and the water is the best in the world. An interesting feature of ‘The Tops’ is the animal and bird life. Wombats, harmless but very strong creatures, may often be seen near the holes in the evening. They live on roots and grass, and like the native bear (Koalas) carry their young on their backs. There used to be great flocks of parrots of the Rosella, Lory and King varieties, but the most interesting bird was the Lyrebird, which is very shy and difficult to observe. Like the flying squirrel, it can only fly downward, but it can hop up a tree very quickly. Lyrebirds seem to delight in mocking all the birds of the bush; passing by the brushes in the evening one hears a great rehearsal. In summer the wild flowers are very beautiful. I have seen the Barrington Tops covered as a carpet with buttercups and everlasting daisies.
The Pibaimbarnie take their rise in the Tomalla range on three small tributaries above Tomalla Creek junction, some very good coarse gold ah been found. In 1877, there was a small rush to this field, about 40 men being on the ground. Some good gold was washed out, all alluvial, but owing to the difficulty of getting tucker the miners gradually left. Until very lately, however, there has always been some fossicking in the vicinity, as within a four-mile limit one can get ‘colours’, at any time by washing with a pint pot.
Thunderbolt did not pay Tomalla station a visit, although he killed a heifer in the Gummi yard, taking away only the choice meat. He also took the Campbell’s favourite old horse, ‘Bradshaw’, and Mrs Campbell’s hack, ‘Spider’, also two horses from Mr John Miller, on the Hunter. They were all recovered again, not much the worst for their trip. About that time one of the hands found in a burnt out stump a set of shoeing tools, the iron top of a carpet bag and other fixtures that puzzled us going down the bridle track from Gummi to Polyfogal, leading a pack horse. Thunderbolt met two troopers, Ellis and Hogan. The police had their rifles slung on their backs, and the bushranger, taking in the situation at a glance, let the pack horse go, slewed his horse round, and made off, Ellis after him. What happened to Hogan is not stated, but the hunted was too fast for the hunter; the outlaw cut across the Gummi out to back Gunyah, where he may have had other horses. When Thunderbolt stuck up Simpson’s Hotel in the Dennison Diggings (Moonan Brook), he had men, women and children all covered in his hand. Neil McGuiness, who had come over from the Hunter with two horses to be shod, must have been overlooked in the round up, and rushing from the short end of the verandah, he caught the robber form behind by the arms, calling out, “Come on boys, I’ve got him!” The bushranger called to the boy Mason. “Rip him with the knife!” and when Neil saw the knife coming he let go and streaked down the verandah, dodging round the corner. Thunderbolt, who was both angry and un-nerved sent a shot after him. He helped himself to Neil’s two horses, one of which was found, on being recovered later, to be shot through the ribs.