This is Obed West, born in Sydney in 1807 who wrote the following newspaper article, published in the Sydney Morning Herald, on Thursday 12 October 1882. He died in 1891.
How different is Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs today compared to the wonderful descriptions Obed made in this article.
If you want to follow in his footsteps, I can provide you with a day trip by car with lunch and refreshments along the way. A maximum of three people, POA.
Not looking to take a day trip, then read this and visualise how it was.
OLD AND NEW SYDNEY.
XIX.-OUR HABOUR AND OCEAN BAYS.
From Mr. Obed West we have received the following interesting sketch of some of the harbour and coast bays close to Sydney. He says :—
“I propose to give a short description and history of the coast line and adjacent land between Elizabeth Bay and Botany. In a former letter my journey stopped at the first-named bay, and I will now renew my walk. “Adjoining Elizabeth is the well-known Rushcutter Bay. The name itself is suggestive of its origin, and it is hardly necessary, therefore, to state that the bay received its title on account of a number of men at one time coming here to cut the rushes, which grew in great abundance, and were used for thatching the houses at the time. The aboriginal name for it was ‘Kogerah,’ a name also applied to a place near George’s River. The ground running down to the bay (Barcom Glen) was always a great camping place for the blacks, particularly the slope on the Darlinghurst side, and even to a very recent period the blacks had a lingering fondness for the old camping ground. In former days I have watched them in their canoes in the bay, the gins fishing with the line, while their sable lords used their spears to get the fish that swam beneath them. It was not always, however, such peaceful sights were seen. On one occasion, just after the country was colonised, on a party of rushcutters coming into the bay they were met and fiercely attacked by a body of blacks, the result being that either two or three of the white men lost their lives. Running from the shores of the bay is Barcom Glen, and flowing through it is a stream now dirty and miserable looking, but which was at one time a beautiful running creek of pure clear water. This creek is the boundary of the city, so that Barcom Glen lies partly within the city and partly within the municipality of Paddington. The estate was granted to my father by Governor Lachlan Macquarie for the eretion of a water-mill thereon, the first one established in Australia. As soon as the grant was notified preparations were made for the erection of the mill, the timber required being obtained on the ground, the land about being thickly timbered with splendid specimens of the mahogany, blackbutt, the blood tree and the red gum. The mill was completed in 1812 – just 70 years ago -and its completion was considered to be an event of great importance in the settlement.
Governor Macquarie himself attended, and started the working of the mill, and, with some ceremony, christened the place Barcom Glen. The old mill was a single-motion one, having one pair of stones and an overshot wheel about 24 feet in diameter. It stood a few yards back from the present Liverpool-street, and a little to the west of the present residence at Barcom Glen. Near by the creek was a large dam, in which was stored the water required for working. At this time the place had the appearance of a dark and dense forest, immense mahogany trees, blackbutt, and other of the eucalyptus species growing in great pro-fusion, while in the glen leading up to the house a number of large cabbage-trees used to grow, and for years the stems of these palms, quite two feet in diameter at the base, were to be seen standing. About 200 yards from the mill a large swamp commenced, which ran down to where Bentley’s Bridge stands, and then across by the present Glenmore-Road to the bend of the gully, where the Glenmore Distillery was afterwards built. The swamp was a regular Slough of Despond, and could not be crossed. It swarmed with aquatic birds of every description, red bills, water hens, bitterns, quail, frequently all kinds of ducks, and, when in season, snipe and landrails, and at all times bronze-winged pigeons could be had in abundance. Brush wallabies were also very numerous in the vicinity, and many score of them have I shot. It may seem strange to hear that within the memory of any person living the head of the swamp was a great resort for dingoes. I have killed numbers of them where the Bus Company’s stables now stand; and often in daylight, when the day has been dull, have I seen them come up to my very door and take the poultry.
“I have seen it stated in one of your correspondent’s letters that in his time large grey kangaroos were killed about Rose and Double Bays, but this I think is a mistake, for I have never seen or heard of their being found in these places, and, from their habits, I should imagine such could not be the case, for the locality is not the kind of country they frequent. The bandicoot, native cat, and opossum were found in abundance, and it was a common sight to see the blackfellows climbing the trees in the vicinity to obtain the last-mentioned animal. It might be incidentally mentioned that the grant adjoining the Barcom Glen was given to a person named Thomas. The Governor’s carriage ran over one of Thomas’s children, and in consideration of this the Governor granted him 40 acres of land.
“At the time I write of the only dwellings that would be passed in a walk from Hyde Park to the coast were Commissary Palmer’s, at Wullahmullah; Patrick Welch’s house at Currah Gin, Barcom Glen, in Rushcutter Bay.
In Double Bay several persons lived who carried on salt-making, and the saltpans were situated in front of the late Hon. S. D. Gordon’s residence. At Rose Bay a Mr. Jenkins built a house, and near the mouth of the creek staked out a weir – or, as the blacks called it, a moul – for the purpose of obtaining a supply of fish. After Jenkins’ no house was found till Vaucluse was reached, where at this time Sir Henry Hayes resided. It was said of him that he had such a dread of snakes, then very plentiful about his residence, and was such a great believer in the efficacy of turf to disperse these reptiles, that he imported a whole shipload of it – I cannot say whether it was from Ireland -to spread round the dwelling to keep the reptiles away. At the north corner of Watson’s Bay there were two small houses in which the pilots, who were stationed at the Heads, resided. The site of the lighthouse was occupied by a small cottage, the occupant was the look-out man for the settlement, and he also had to perform the duty, not of lighthouse keeper – for then no lighthouse was built – but of light-keeper. His duty during the day was to keep a look-out for any vessel that might be approaching, and at night to keep a large fire burning in order to show vessels where they should steer. From this wood fire, which on a stormy and dark night – when it was most needed – threw a flickering uncertain glare over the sea of water beneath, to a noble lighthouse fitted with the most powerful light in the world, is a great change. The old beacon-light was the cause of more than one accident. I recollect one dark night a vessel was making for the port, and as it approached the land those on board looked for the friendly fire, but a party of blacks had camped at Bondi and had made their campfire there; the vessel, unfortunately, saw this, and mistaking it for the light on South Head, steered the wrong course and drove ashore on the Bondi beach. It may be remembered that the present light at the South Head was specially made a revolving one, so that it should not be mistaken for black’s fire, which, at the time it was built, were numerous along the coast.
“But, leaving the lighthouse and proceeding along the coast, I come to the famous fishing rock now known as Ben Buckley. The name now given to it is, however, a perversion of the aboriginal one, viz.., ‘Benbuck-along.’ Between this and Bondi was another well-known fishing rock, and a favourite one of the blacks, called by them ‘Marevera.’ At Bondi a Mr. Roberts, who at one time kept the old King’s Arms at the corner of King and Castlereagh streets, had a grant of land which he cultivated as a farm. It is pleasing to note that the aboriginal name, although pronounced by them Bundi, has been retained. It is a matter of regret to me that the significant and euphonious titles which the blacks gave to the places in the colony, and about Sydney particularly, have been discarded, while personal and harsh English words have been substituted in their places. I do not so much object to the naming of Double, Rushcutter’s, or Rose Bays, as they are both pretty and suggestive, but I neither see the beauty nor appropriateness of such names as Long, or Little, or Parsley Bay. Then we have points and bays called Longnose Point, Bottle and Glass, and after all manner of persons: and if we had but got to Brown’s Bay, or Smith’s Point, or Robinson’s Cove, I think we would have reached the height of absurdity.
“At one time Sydney was the centre of an extensive whale fishery, but the increasing traffic along our coast, together with the continued pursuit, has long since driven them away. Whales in the early days of the colony were numerous enough, and I have on three occasions seen whales driven up high and dry on the beach at Bondi and also on the Coogee beach. The next bay, now known as Nelson’s, was known to the blacks as ‘Cramaramma,’ and was a great fishing ground for them. Following this is a small bay, which is really Nelson’s, but I do not know the aboriginal name for it; indeed, I never recollect seeing them about it. The bay in front of Mr. Thomson’s residence was known to the black as ‘Coogee,’ but this name has been transferred to the bay further south, where the two hotels are, which was called by them ‘Bobroi.’
“All along the coast the sea swarmed with fish of all descriptions from the great whale to the little bream. Standing one day, about 50 years ago, on the headlands overlooking ‘Bobroi’ (Coogee), I witnessed a scene which even now comes vividly to my memory. The sea from the beach to the little rocky island was one living mass of fish of all kinds which were which were jumping from the water in all directions, their scaly sides glittering in the sunlight. The sight was indeed a grand one, which will not, I suppose, be ever seen again; but what the reason of such a congregation of fish at one place was, I am unable to say.
“Leaving Bobroi, and after passing a few rocky indentations, Maroubra Bay is reached, and I am glad it still retains the aboriginal name. I saw, many years ago, a peculiar sight in this bay. A large number of fish had been driven in toward the beach by a school of porpoises, which formed a sort of outer line, and kept guard like sentries.
The sight was a pretty one, the smaller fish darting hither and thither near the white sands of the beach, while, as each wave rose and fell, the porpoises could be seen some little distance back, like a line of soldiers. Adjacent to Maroubra is Long Bay, and then follows Little Bay. The command of language and ingeniousness in naming some of our places is indeed wonderful; just consider, as I have previously mentioned—Long Bay and Little Bay. The blacks call Long Bay ‘Boora’, and it was long before white men came to the country, and for long afterwards, the principal camping place for the aboriginals between Sydney and Botany. Seven well-beaten paths led down to the Bay, the ground around which was a great deal more open than at the present day. It is a peculiar coincidence that the native hospital for the blacks who were afflicted with smallpox was in the immediate vicinity of the site selected by the present Government for a sanatorium for our own people. From conversations I have had with the old blacks, some of whom were strongly pockmarked, I gathered that they contracted the disease from the men of La Perouse’s ships. On the south side of the bay, about 200 yards back from the beach, there is a large overhanging rock, forming a cave, and this was shown to me by the blacks as the place where all who
had the disease went. The blacks had a great horror of the disease and were afraid to go near any who were suffering. The patients were made to go into the cave, and then at intervals supplies of food, principally fish, would be laid on the ground some little distance from the cave, and those of the sufferers who were able would crawl to the spot for the food, and go back again. Under the circumstances it can be easily imagined that a great number of the blacks died, and when passing the cave in question—which was afterwards known as the Blacks’ Hospital—I have seen numbers of skulls and bones scattered about, the remains of those I was taken to understand who had perished during the prevalence of the plague.
“Another incident might be mentioned with regard to the fish in this bay. About 60 years ago the bay was what could be termed literally alive with sea mullet. They were in the bay in millions for about ten days, and were hemmed in either by sharks or porpoises. Such scenes as I have mentioned regarding the fish in these bays we do not now see on our coast, and it is a matter, I think, that is worthy of investigation by those acquainted with such matters—why this is so and what was the reason of the ones I have mentioned.
“Little Bay was a subsidiary camping ground, and leading to it were six native pathways. It is worthy of remark that I never saw the blacks nearer to La Perouse than this bay, the reason being, it is said, that they had a horror of the place from the harsh treatment they received there from the sailors of La Perouse’s ships, and also no doubt from the remembrance of the dire disease they contracted. La Perouse was known as the Frenchmen’s Gardens, Admiral La Perouse, when he stayed here, having a small piece of ground cultivated for growing vegetables for his men. I recollect seeing the tree, which marked the spot before the present monument was erected, a few days after the inscription was placed upon it by the French officers who came in search of the Admiral. The tree grew close to where the tomb is now placed, and the French officers referred to left sufficient money for the purchase of the monument which now stands at La Perouse to mark the last halting place of the French navigator. The inscription on the tree was the same as was afterwards cut on the tombstone, and some of your readers will no doubt recollect that the remains of the tree, with part of the inscription, were sent by a colonist a few years ago to France. When I first saw the inscription, I made inquiries in reference to it, and was informed that a person named Richards took the party of French officers to the spot, and then got a blackfellow called Cruwee to point out the spot where the men of La Perouse’s ships who died here were buried. Cruwee pointed out the spot, and it was on his information that the tree was marked, so that the site should not be lost. I have often conversed with Cruwee, who was an intelligent fellow, and was told by him that he was at Kurnell (opposite La Perouse) when Captain Cook sailed into Botany Bay. It was very amusing to hear him describe the first impression the blacks had of the vessels, and, although very fearful, they were curious, and would, with fear and trembling, get behind some tree and peep out at the monsters which had invaded their shores. He said they thought the vessels were floating islands.
“But, returning to La Perouse, the Government, after the foundation of the colony, established a small garrison there – a corporal and three soldiers – for the purpose of preventing convicts getting away at this point and to keep a sharp lookout for smuggling. Leaving La Perouse, and coming along the shores of Botany, a small bay is passed, which still retains its native name of “Yarra,” then Bunnerong is reached. Here Mr. Brown, of the 162nd Regiment, was granted a piece of land. He was the first of what were termed the old veterans, who received a grant at this place; but subsequently others had similar favours bestowed upon them, and the place came to be called the Veterans’ Flat. The Government, cutting a large drain through a swamp lying to the north of the bay, left the ground suitable for farming. I may mention the ground known as Sir Joseph Banks’ Gardens was included in one of these grants. I think I may fairly stop here. I have made a long journey, and may – thanks to our civilization – jump into the tramway which waits at the Sir Joseph Banks’ gate, and return to my own fireside.”
Daily Telegraph (Sydney, NSW : 1883 – 1930), Tuesday 25 August 1891, page 4
DEATH OF MR. OBED WEST.
A very old colonist passed away yesterday in the person of Mr. Obed West, of Barcom Glen, Darlinghurst. Mr. West succumbed to an attack of apoplexy. He was born in the year 1807 in a house in Pitt-street, where the spacious edifice known as Hoffnung’s-building now stands, and it is a curious statement to make, but we are informed that it is a fact, that Mr. West has never been out of the colony. Some time ago he wrote a number of articles for the press on the early history of Sydney, and he has left a long account of his recollections of colonial life in its primitive days. On January 23, 1888, in the special supplement published by The Daily Telegraph during the centenary festivities an interesting account of Mr. West and his recollections was published under the heading of ” Australian Patriarchs.” As an indication how closely Mr. West was identified with the days when Sydney was a very small town and Australia an unknown land, it may be mentioned that his father established the first mill in the vicinity of Woolloomooloo, or, as Mr. West always would have it, Wulla Mulla. Mr. West himself has been living in Barcom Glen for very many years. When he went there, there were only two houses between St. James’ Church and the ocean. One was his own house, and the other was at Bondi. This will give a sufficient idea of the immense advance in the city’s population during Mr. West’s lifetime. He has left several children, a number of grandchildren and many great-grandchild ren. One of his sons-in-law is Mr. John Cooper, brother of Sir Daniel Cooper, and another Mr. Donald M’Lachlan, chief clerk of the Works Department. His oldest son is now living at Barcom Glen. Mr. West would never allow his property at the Glen to be cut up for sale into allotments, and as a consequence it remains an oasis of verdant green and spreading forest trees in a wilder ness of terraced houses.