IT'S GENESIS AND EXTINCTION
THE OLD COACHING DAYS
(For Illustrations See Camera Supplement )
Those privileged to visit Fernshaw in the 'eighties will remember how at 8 o'clock, say, on a fine sum-mer morning, just when Melbourne was thinking of getting to work, happy holiday-makers were crowding into Cobb and Company's great red coach op-posite the Albion Hotel, in Bourke street, and the two fortunate ones were trium-phantly mounting the coveted box seat beside the driver. This was an essential part of the pleasure, for the driver was guide and philosopher as well as being, like Kim, "the friend of all the world."
At the welcome "All aboard!" and the
crack of the long whip, the five fine horses bounded forward. We were off now, ting-ling with exhilaration; our holidays had begun, and did not Fernshaw lie ahead? We went swinging along through Kew, following White Horse road, pulling up at Wiggins' White Horse, near Box Hill, and going on to old Ringwood to get a fresh team at The Coach and Horses there. Next stop was Lilydale, at Henry's Crown
Then "the beat and the beat of the swift horses' feet woke the echoes" as we sped past the vineyards of Baron de Pury and Hubert de Castella, on what had been Yering, one of the very early sheep runs, of which Paul de Castella was gran-ted a pastoralists licence in 1850. After passing the hop grounds of the Corranderrk aboriginal station we soon reached Morrison's Hotel, in Healesville, and changed horses for the last stage. Here the purple mountains stood sentinel around and beyond--Riddell, Monda, St. Leonards, and, in the distance, stately Mount Juliet. The road rose as we wound slowly round the luxuriant fern gullies and between the towering gums. By and by, however, the driver would gather all his forces, and with a great flourish and a shout of "Here we are," round a bend in the road, and we clattered merrily over the rather rickety bridge which spanned the sparkling Watts.
With the air of a Royal progress we pulled up at Jefferson's Hotel, then went along to Boyle's, on the garden site of which to-day stands an oak planted by Lady Denman to commemorate the visit to Fernshaw of Queen Mary in 1901. The coach later went over The Spur to Marysville, to gladden other folks on the way. Everyone was there to welcome us, for the coming of the coach, like sunrise, was the day's event, the bond with the outer world, representing news, often food supplies, and, in tourist days, much revenue. So the popular coach drivers received general homage. Of these were William Newman, Archie Grant, Charlie Hussey, Fred Simmonds, and others, who doubtless felt at the moment, as a childish admirer suggested, that it was better to be a coach-driver than a king.
We had reached our goal, and lovely it was. The little hollow of the hills in which every possible natural beauty (ex-cept the ocean) seemed focused. Moun-tains; the most wonderful trees, recalling those of the Yosemite Valley; inexhaustible gullies of choicest ferns; the most beauti-ful and varied foliage; purest air, and the constant soothing murmur of streams and runnels. Surely this was King Arthur's Valley of Avalon, the land of Spencer's Faerie Queen! Enriching and permeating all was the aromatic odour of the forest, with its allurement of cool recesses to linger in and explore. There was another aspect of the forest which revealed the stories of those who pioneered it, and with terrible toll conquered suffi-cient to wrest a foothold for their homes. Many had inquired the story of Fern-shaw's beginnings, which was like that of the Empire itself--the story of the
In the early 'sixties, and before, the famous mines of Wood's Point, notably the Morning Star, attracted the attention of diggers, who, in their hundreds, took the long trail through Mansfield. A few seeking shorter ways struggled over the Dividing Range, guided by the blacks; hence Blacks' Spur. The miners who received licences at Healesville were said to have been warned to provide them-selves with a fortnight's provisions before trying to cross the range. Among the first to attempt the crossing was a party of Englishmen who, after terrible hard-ships, cut and blazed a track through the almost impenetrable forest, over the top of what is now called the Blacks' Spur. Toiling on, they reached the Cumberland Valley, named by them after their native place. One is glad to know they found gold there! This opened the way for the pack-horse teams, one of the first being driven by W. Phillipe, taking stores to Wood's Point and Matlock. It was said that those early packmen received 1/ per lb, cartage. If they did they earned it. This was the time, too, when by the wayside a damper and pannikin of black tea cost 2/6.
Next, now over corduroy, creaked the unwieldly bullock waggon. J. Cuming and Edward Nicholls, of Fernshaw--afterwards president of the Shire of Healesville--were among the first over the Spur with their teams. Road construction by this time following, a little party, among them Messrs. Thomas Leeder, C. Sims, and A. Trask, pitched their tents, brought their familis, and afterwards made homes at Maytown, a mile from the foot of the Spur, to continue their heart-breaking task of roadmaking in the virgin forest over the mountain. A few splitters were there before them, among them Messrs. Box and Crooms and family. The palings were split in the bush, and, it was said, the girls carried them on a log high above the river to the road. Jesse Morley, whose track is still well known, was a splitter of timber and a teamster, and though his hut disappeared more than 50 years ago Canterbury bells are still blooming near its site.
The soil and rainfall being good, the set-tlers, now joined by Mr. Riddell and his family and the Nicholsons, Mr. Mason, and a few others, turned their attention most successfully to fruitgrowing. Their apples, the old-fashioned rennets, "fill-baskets," and "painted ladies," were of the best, and their raspberries, tons of them, often obtained top prices in the Melbourne market. The growers made, in carts, a wearisome journey there, not reaching home again till the third day. Medicinal herbs, sassafras bark, and the choicest blooms from the fragrant profusion of the gardens were welcomed by city chemist and florist. They were prospering, even on their small holdings, but by this time more land could not be bought, as the whole district was now State forest, and the great water conservation scheme
So the little settlement, denied expan-sion, suffered arrested development, yet with courage kept on its way. Then the whirligig of time brought the most un-looked-for change. At the end of the seventies and in the 'eighties the roads were now good; Cobb and Co.'s coaches ran regularly, and as Joshua's men re-ported well of the Land of Canaan, so did likewise the few travellers carried. Fernshaw was discovered by them; it woke up to find itself famous. Visitors first in ones and twos, and then in dozens --began to flock to this romantic spot. There had been no thought of tourists, or of accommodation for them, but the renown of Fernshaw spread, and beauty
lovers from far and wide came and would not be denied, offering to sleep in coaches, in sheds, and on tables. So temporarily extensive additions were hastily made to dwellings, and Fernshaw settled down to being called the leading tourist resort.
About 1882-1883 Mitchell and Grant ran opposition coaches. Excitement and partisanship ran high. Fares having been reduced, both lines were crowded with joyous visitors, all eager to form parties to go up "The Spur," to picnic at Mount Monda, and sec the famed Mathinna Falls, and, above all, to make the ascent of Mount Juliet, which took some climb-ing. It was, as everyone who did it knows,
a long pull and a steep one, even with alpenstocks, friendly aid, and a rest at the home of Mr Robert Hook, the forest ranger. But what mattered that, or any-thing else, when, on reaching the sum-mit, such a glorious view was toil's re-ward? Melbourne, Mount Monda, Mount Macedon, and the bay; Mount Juliet and the "Spur" snow-crowned, were winter's great attraction for city folk. Fernshaw charmed in every mood and every season. The Blacks' Spur was another popular, though strenuous trip. Its wonderful tim-ber, the growth of untold centuries, "Uncle Sam," and other immense gums often 60ft. in girth, blackwood, mountain ash, myrtle, sassafras, and wattle were the perpetual joy of forest-lovers. To explore the cool fern gullies--miles of them--Trasks Dell, Jessie's Bower, Etter's Glen--was an unfailing delight, for Myrtle Creek, the Truccanini Falls--so named after Tasmania's black queen--
watered the roots of blanket bush, Christ-mas bush, corranderrk (after which the station is named), coral, shutter, star, fisherman's net, fairy and maiden hairall of which grew in riotous profusion, as well as myriads of treeferns, whose trunks were covered by moss, lichens, cryptogamia, and staghorn. Over all was a tangle of clematis and sarsaparilla.
There were never lovelier gullies than these. They have been compared with the ravines of the Himalayas, the Hartz Mountain beyond Jeeves Town, and, nearer, to those of Cumberland Valley, but the Spur gullies made an incompar- able appeal. Everything fostered romance; it was in the very atmosphere, and lifelong friendships and many dearer associations date back to those happy times. One would like to know whether it is because of this remembrance that so many houses
are called Fernshaw.
Some exquisite places, as it was said of the Stuarts, have the power of evok-ing undying affection, and Fernshaw, even after the lapse of years, still holds her place, which has never been taken by any other. She was unique. Personally I never hear the name nor even see the word written, without the longing to go back. Distinguished visitors, Lord Brassey, Sir George and Lady Bowen, Lady Loch, members of the learned pro fessions, found respite there, and, fresh from their stage triumphs, one remem-bers there Dolores, Armes Beaumont, de-lightful Gracie Plaisted, and Emelie Mel-ville (La Belle Helene). It was the Mecca of naturalists, botanists, and anglers, and the inspiration of artists who often visited it--first Buvelot, and then Pater-
son, Gill, Von Gerard, Van Houten, Curtis, J. Mathers, and Mrs. Ellis Rowan, the
famous flower painter. It was beloved of famous photographers, such as N. Caire and J. W. Lindt, whose studio at the Hermitage contained a typical and unreplacebale collection of district views. Both contributed to a little "District Guide Book," published in 1904, to which I am indebted for some details.
Everything was at its zenith, with most brilliant prospects ahead, when the ex-pected happened. From 1885 the Metro-politan Board of Works had taken over the whole area for the Melbourne water supply, the residents were compensated, and Fernshaw was depeopled and oblite-rated gradually up to 1887 and 1888, most of the residents going to Heales-ville temporarily. The little schoolhouse, in which Messrs. Livingstone, Hossack, Connell and Hanson, and later Miss Hurst and Miss Johnston taught, and where the Rev. Messrs. Sherwin, Farrer, and G. Gladstone were preachers--there was no church--now forms part of the Heales ville school. Mr. Thomas Leeder and
family became permanent residents of Healesville. Mr. Leeder's sons are still in business there, and for many years the Misses Leeder's guest house, Blackwood House, was well known and attracted many visitors who, never ceasing to love and regret Fernshaw, still kept its mem-ory green. A few other personalities must not be forgotten. Mr. Newman and family, the Hossacks, Mr. Tom Wilder (Old Tom), well known to every angler as one wise as to the surest for trout; and the hermit (name unknown), who lived far back in the bush and was said to keep his family in luxury in Melbourne, visiting them once a year on his birth-day; and a baronet who worked on the road and would not claim his title, since the lady of his heart would not share it.
In these breathless times it is well to recall, if only for a moment, a place now non-existent that once helped to make history. It had often been said by artists that there was only one thing needed to make the Fernshaw district perfect -- a sheet of water. Well, now it has that the great Maroondah reservoir or lake, which between Healesville and Fernshaw shines for miles--but Fernshaw was lost to make it. All fine things are based on sacrifice, and the unpolluted waters of the Watts River, feeding the huge reser-voir which supplies Melbourne's great needs, was Fernshaw, sacrifice and ex-tinction. But if it now cannot be lived in, nor its mountains and gullies ex-plored, still it can be passed through and admired, even though wire-netted, and at a distance, and perhaps some who speed by in motor-cars will remember and re-gret the old-time Fernshaw of the coach-ing days, beautiful and now forbidden, but not forgotten.