Passages to the North West Plains by Michael O'Rourke.
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PASSAGES TO THE NORTH-WEST PLAINS P.6
Overland to the Hunter River
Newcastle (“the Coal River settlement”) during Governor Macquarie's time was a penal settlement in the north reached only by sea. There was still no overland route from Sydney.
The first overland journey northwards was made from Windsor (NW of Sydney) by the boat-builder and mineralogist William Parr, in November 1817. It is not clear how far he ventured. He may well have reached today’s Doyles Creek, a tributary of the Hunter between present-day Denman and Singleton. With fire and smoke everywhere, Parr found that there was little feed for his horses, and seeing that Aborigines had ‘set fire to all the ridges round about’, both in front and in his rear (probably a defensive measure), he decided to abandon the attempt.
Benjamin Singleton, 30 years old, who had accompanied Parr for a part of the way in 1817, made a second journey in 1818 accompained by three white men an an unnamed Aborigine. He penetrated beyond Pootie (Putty as it now is) but turned back before reaching the Hunter, which Aborigines told him lay to the north-east, two days’ walk away.
John Howe, chief constable at Windsor, led the third and first officially sanctioned expedition in 1819. Howe left Windsor on 24 October 1819 with a party of five white men and two Aboriginals, hoping to discover a trafficable route from the Hawkesbury to the Hunter River. It was common knowledge that convicts escaping from the Coal River settlement (Newcastle) made their way overland to the Hawkesbury, but no through road or even a track had yet been established.
The area traversed by Howe’s party is today’s Wollemi National Park. Having reached Puttee [modern Putty] on 30 October, and blocked, as Howe noted in his journal, by 'rocks, lagoons & creeks that were impassible', he sent one of his Aboriginal guides, Myles, to find the local people. Ahead lay the heavily forested country around the upper tributaries of the Macdonald River, which traverse the eastern reaches of present-day Wollemi National Park. Howes Valley, named for him, is located NE of Putty at the very top of the Macdonald. Continuing northwards, after two more days hard riding they reached the Hunter at Doyles Creek or Coomery Roy Creek. This was the area to the west of modern Jerrys Plains, closer to present-day Denman than to Singleton.
Howe's journal on 4 November 1819, before they descended to the main river, contains probably our first record of the name Kamilaroi or Gamilaraay:
... a very heavy fog ENE, which the natives [the man and two boys] say is Coomery Roy [Gamilaraay] & more farther a great way, & which appears very extensive, being seen so far as the eye can reach ... .
Gamilaraay, rendered in English form as Coomery Roy, Comeroi, Coomilary Roy, Comnaroy and so on, was used afterwards as the name of the district on the northern side of the Hunter River from the Wollombi Brook junction (west of Singleton) to the Goulburn River junction. Howe desbribed it thus: “. . . a fine country thinly timbered, and for the last hour many acres without a tree on it. One spot, I think, exceeds and 50 acres with not 20 trees on it, and very fine” (5 November, emphasis added).
Governor Macquarie asked Howe to go north again in February 1820. The expedition comprised 13 white men and two native guides. Ben Singleton was one of the white men, with others whose names would later feature among the squatters beyond the Dividing Range: George Loder jnr, Andrew Loder, Thomas Dargin, Philip Thorley and Daniel Phillips.
From Putty Creek the Aboriginal guides Myles and Mullaboy took our colonists to Howes Valley once more, and thence to Cockfighter’s Creek, which is the modern Wollombi Brook where it enters the Hunter. Reaching the nearby area of present-day Singleton on St Patricks Day [17 March], Howe gave it the name St Patricks Plains. Heading further downstream, they came upon convict cedar-getters and the small British settlement at Wallace's Plains [sic: 'Wallis Plains', our West Maitland], thus confirming at last that the river discovered in 1819 really was the Hunter.
A year later, on 21 March 1821, Macquarie promised John Howe a grant of 700 acres [280 hectares] as a reward for this discovery. Ben Singleton, the Loder brothers, and Dargin too were promised grants, and it was Singleton who took the first cattle up to Patricks Plains, in October 1821. Howe's men occupied his grant a little later, in early 1823. So began the 'white invasion' of Kamilaroi country, or at least its prelude.
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46. Wood 1972: 6; Kociumbas 1992: 151. Port Macquarie, founded in 1821, gradually replaced Newcastle as a punishment centre, the latter declining into a semi-penal, semi-free town by about 1830.
47.The words of the 19th century participants are quoted in italics throughout, to distinguish them from commentary by later writers. Parr's journal (MS 2/3623, State Records of NSW [State archives]), quoted in Foster 1985: 131 and Brayshaw 1986: 21. Commentary in Waterson and Parsons' introduction to Howe's diary (1989: xi) and Prineas & Gold 1997: 155. Parr had accompanied Oxley, Evans and Allan Cunningham along the Lachlan River earlier in the same year (McMinn 1970: 18 ff).
48. Prineas & Gold 1997: 156. Mahaffey 1985 has published the text of Singleton’s journal.
49. Howe 4.11.1819 (1989: 9), also quoted by Campbell 1929: 238; Wood 1972: 10; and Brayshaw 1986: 38. The first-ever contact between the Gamilaraay and white men probably took place some years before. According to Huntington, an “affray” (battle) took place between a large force of Aborigines and British cedar getters who had penetrated “70 miles” [110 km] up the Hunter River. This seems a very long way to go in boats, but if correct it means the whites rowed perhaps as far as present-day Muswellbrook. If so the Aborigines in question were probably Gamilaraay-speakers. - H. W. H. Huntington, "History of Newcastle and the Northern Dist
rict no.45", Newcastle Morning Herald, 11 January 1898.
50. Jervis 1945; Wood 1972: 14. Cockfighter’s Creek: named for one of Howe’s horses. ‘Wallis Plains’: named for James Wallis, Commandant at Newcastle.
51. Wood 1972: 31.