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Muswellbrook, Merriwa, Mudgee: Aborigines and Settlers 1817-26

Muswellbrook, Merriwa, Mudgee: Aborigines and Settlers 1817-26

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Published by vasilefs
The exploration of east-central New South Wales involved finding an overland route from Sydney to the Hunter Valley and a trafficable pass into the north-west plains (the Liverpool Plains). This paper covers the work of John Oxley, John Howe, William Lawson and Allan Cunningham. Their interactions with the Aborigines are carefully sketched, and there is an extended account of the conflict between settlers and Aborigines in the Hunter Valley, 1825-26. A further theme is the original nature of the vegetation in the region. The explorers' observations are read in the light of modern research.
The exploration of east-central New South Wales involved finding an overland route from Sydney to the Hunter Valley and a trafficable pass into the north-west plains (the Liverpool Plains). This paper covers the work of John Oxley, John Howe, William Lawson and Allan Cunningham. Their interactions with the Aborigines are carefully sketched, and there is an extended account of the conflict between settlers and Aborigines in the Hunter Valley, 1825-26. A further theme is the original nature of the vegetation in the region. The explorers' observations are read in the light of modern research.

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Published by: vasilefs on Dec 24, 2009
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04/21/2013

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© Michael O'Rourke Passages to the NW Plains
PASSAGES TO THE NORTH-WEST PLAINS
THE COLONIAL DISCOVERY ANDOCCUPATION OFEAST-CENTRAL NEW SOUTH WALES,1817-26OXLEY, HOWE, LAWSON ANDCUNNINGHAMMUDGEE, MERRIWA, ANDMUSWELLBROOK 
Incorporating an extended discussion of the armedconflict between Aborigines, settlers and police in theHunter Valley, 1825-26.
 by
MICHAEL O’ROURKE
mjor (at) velocitynet (dot) com.auCanberra, AustraliaDecember 2009
Introduction 3Aboriginal Alliance Networks 3Oxley’s Liverpool Plains 8Overland to the Hunter River 17To Mudgee and the Liverpool Plains 20Colonisation of the Upper Hunter Valley 23Into the Liverpool Plains 28Occupation of the Upper Hunter 33Conflict: October 1825 40Conflict: May-June 1826 44Conflict: July-August 1826 45Conflict: September-October 1826 51Sequels 54EARLY MEETINGS BETWEEN ABORIGINES AND BRITISH (Appendix) 54SOURCES AND REFERENCES 58
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© Michael O'Rourke Passages to the NW Plains
… they may rather be likened to a lake, interspersed with islandsclothed with wood; or in other words they form one great vast  plain, in which are insulated woody spots
… [from a hill]
we could  see, even to the horizon, immense plains of 
the greatest verdurewithout a tree upon them
. … I have never seen aught like them, and can only compare them to the boundless savannahs or pampas of  America, 
- W H Breton 1833: 104, 106, describing the south-east quadrantof the Liverpool Plains.
The first colonists were told that the
Commeroy
 
[Gamil’raay]
would come down from the North and sweep them away ...
- William Ridley 1873: 291.
Much has been said of our dispossessing the blacks of their land,but this did not inflame their minds against Europeans,
[as]
 generally speaking they were glad of settlers residing amongst them, for the sake of obtaining bread, tea, sugar, rum, tobacco and clothing, which were procurable, in exchange for game, going onmessages, for postage departments in the bush, and various other employments for which they were admirably adapted.
- L E Threlkeld.
1
 
... the Governo
[Ralph Darling]
is afraid the people in England will laugh at him for declaring war against the blacks.
- Robert Scott, 1826.
2
1
In his
 Australian Papers
, ed. Gunson 1974: 57.
2
Scott, letter to his sister, 22 September 1826, quoted in Milliss 1992: 60. The Governor hadactually told London that the Hunter Valley Aborigines were '
a few naked Savages who,however treacherous, would not face a Corporal's Guard' 
(Darling to Hay, 11 September,HRA xii: 575).
2
 
© Michael O'Rourke Passages to the NW Plains
Introduction
This paper brings together the doings of Aborigines, colonial explorers (who oftenused Aboriginal guides), the colonial landholders, and convict workers.It also brings together river catchments. For the local historians, quite unlike thefirst colonists, often seem hemmed in by dividing ranges. I almost ignore both theLiverpool Range and the Dividing Range proper so as to be able to range across theMudgee region, into the north-west plains, and up through the Hunter basin. But indoing so I describe both the approach to, and the crossing over of, the key mountain passes: Pandoras Pass
1
 in the west and the Murrurundi Pass [Nowlands Gap] in theeast.Among other things, I explain that much of the Liverpool Plains was
naturallytreeless
and that most of the rest was open woodland. The extensive wheat farmingthat began at the end of the 19
th
Century did not,
in this part 
[repeat: in this part]
of  New South Wales
(NSW), require massive forests to be cleared. Such forest (thick 
 scrub
) as there was could usually be worked around. There was some tree-clearing but it was not massive.
2
I also examine why
 so few Aborigines
seem to have lived on the rich LiverpoolPlains; and whether the clashes between Aborigines and colonists in the middle andupper Hunter Valley in 1825-26 really constituted
a “general rising” by the Aborigines
.The examination here of the Hunter River troubles is a more extensive and detailedthan the short account in John Connor’s
Australian Frontier Wars
(2002). I haveventured to correct several mistakes of his. I also show that the term ‘war’ is rather overblown. I hasten to add that
 Frontier Wars
overall is a very clear, comprehensive,useful and accurate account. It is especially pertinent as a reminder that, as well ascivilians, the military and police were active on the frontier before 1830.The secondary literature on the process of exploration is fairly strong, and I haverelied mainly on it. In a couple of cases, however, I have gone to the primary sources.First, the fine details of Cunningham’s 1825 trip down Coxs Greek almost toBoggabri are published here for the first time, taken from his manuscript journal. (Ifelt obliged to look closely this episode, as his party were the first to visit the Tambar Springs district, where I had the privilege to be raised [1951-68]. Cf Catullus LXIII:
 patria o mei creatrix, patria o mea genetrix, ego quam miser relinquens ..
.) Second,the ‘Hunter Valley War’ of 1825-26, which I first examined in the 1990s before Mr Connor’s book appeared. The primary sources are easily consulted, or most of them,having been printed in the great reference text
 Australian Historical Records
(“HRA”).
Aboriginal Alliance Networks
The Aboriginal peoples of the Murray-Darling basin originally belonged to a number of ‘culture blocs’ or ‘alliance networks’. The largest and best known are theKamilaroi [
Gamilaraay
or Gamil’raay: pronounced “gumm-ill-rye”] in the central-north, and the Wiradjuri [correctly:
Wirraadhurraay
] in the central-south, each with
1
The modrrn practice is not to use apostrophes in place-names.
2
NB: I do not deny that many trees were removed. If one compares a satellite map, egGoogle Map, of the region, one can easily see large cleared areas that on Lang’s map (2008)show as woodland. Cf Lunt et al. 2006: 9: “we suggest that [only] 1–3 billion large trees have been cleared from the Murray–Darling Basin, rather than the 6.3 billion large trees suggested by Walker et al. (1993)”.
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