The View From Mount Clarence

A look back at settlement along Western Australia's South Coast

Halfway Review

Originally Posted 12 May 1014:

midpoint

Since beginning I’ve had to keep reminding myself of the motivation for taking on this project and try not to turn it into just another regurgitation of an already well-known, well-documented history. There is plenty written about Albany and the South Coast as it is and there are writers in Albany and along the South Coast offering much closer, much more vital views of the contemporary experience, which this cannot be.

So it’s probably a good time to stop for a moment, see how things are progressing and consider how to approach the remainder. What follows is a summary of the posts to date.

I set out to write a collection of stories so that I could first build a finer appreciation of the place I grew up in and then try and make some kind of comment about it relative to my experience. The idea was not to simply quote from Donald Garden, Dunstan West or the Australian Dictionary of Biography and to put up a host of pictures supplied by others to the internet, but to think about what those (and all the other sources) had to say and to cast my own opinion.

 

The View (my view) From Mount Clarence is about the lives of a group of characters who lived in Albany during the early period of settlement, and is sympathetic toward the Aboriginal experience. It’s motivated by the desire to explore the fascinating pre-existing world that led us into our own time of life and to discover and understand the effect of it on the indigenous people of the South Coast. I wanted to educate myself as to who the settlers were and to who the Aboriginal people I saw and came into contact with when I was a kid growing up in Albany in the 1960’s and 1970’s were as well, because thirty-five years after the fact I still had no idea.  There was a mystery to them, the Noongars. The mystery of their origin, their places and ways of living, but because I let it stay a mystery they remained a visual element, a group every time I returned to Australia reminding me of something I should know but had decided not to.

 

It’s my guess a great many people have gone through their entire lives, not just at Albany and along the South Coast but all over Australia, distancing themselves from that question. The stories I’ve written are about the lives of real settlers, real characters who existed in our history. I’ve written about them having come to know something of their backgrounds and circumstances and of the prevailing attitudes of the day. I’ve tried to get into their characters based on the impressions they left behind. I’ve written as accurately as possible about their specific period in time, relative to their age and experience and I’ve used my own experience as a guide to interpreting what I’ve learned, all so I can not be that ambivalent, off-putting person any more.

 

OUTDONE is only a collection of stories though and can only ever be a set of fictionalised accounts of what might have actually happened. Also, they are from the mind of an Irish immigrant kid who ended up leaving the country altogether when he was 22. Nonetheless, the hope is that they will reveal the experiences of both racial groups and not be dismissive of either.

 

It’s important for me to say again too, that the stories are drawn from an already written history. This means they are drawn from a history written by the settlers and their kind. There is no written Aboriginal history in anywhere near the same way there is a written white history. Also, not being Aboriginal myself, it’s possible only to make imaginings of what it might have been like to be Wylie/Bobby Roberts or Tommy King  or Johnny Knapp or anyone on that side of the racial divide. This means that my main characters are almost all settlers, carrying their own hopes and problems in a world they have to create for themselves. In this way I’m trying to recognise their presence and the growing presence of the town and other settlements along the South Coast in a way that does not make them out to be villains. Unless, to my  mind, they were.

 

All lives are legitimate, it’s just that some participate in events that need to be reconsidered in the light of a new era. Just as some events are harmonious, leaving a smooth, pleasant, easy or positive trace, some leave discord. Some are oblique, not clear or honest. Some events leave tremors behind that can’t settle, won’t settle, until they’re recognised for what they are. The quavering oblique spot on my own personal history was not knowing the story of an Aboriginal brother and sister I spent years with as a boy. Our lives came together, then separated because we were different. Knowing we were different was enough to allow me a great swathe of time to go about living my life as the main forces around me directed, but there was always that memory, that blanc spot that was easier to set aside than address, which never went away. Like that, this series of posts provides the background to a series of stories which lead up to and tell of a terrible event that happened along the South Coast which has always been easier to set aside than address.

 

Halfway through the collection we are at the point where the first settlers at Albany are beginning to have or raise their own children into adulthood. The first white sons of the South Coast, as we progress from story six to story ten, work actions upon the new generations of Indigenous whose way of life has been interrupted and confused, whose systems of lore and practises of subsistence are irretrievably breaking down. Through the story of Wylie (independent of but precedented by Mokare) we see a side of the Indigenous willing to go with the new white presence and through his nemesis, Wylie’s cousin Mulyabang, we see a side resistant to that. Through both, we see the influence of the white world upon the Noongar one and the struggle which takes place within the Noongar one to try and cope with the change. In the white world, the world of the settlers and their children, we see and experience their aspirations, guided by their own ideas of what they can achieve for themselves, and how these aspirations are dealt with in the face of a resistant Aboriginal presence.

 

I said to myself, perhaps in a moment of stupendous naivety, that if these stories or this undertaking could achieve one thing, it would be to show what Aboriginal families have gone through to arrive at today. I genuinely mean that. Most Australian people of European origin only go back a generation or two, maybe three. A very small core go back four or five, to the very beginning. But every Aboriginal face goes back, like those thousands of place names that are dotted all over the country, to a time which precedes the entire history of white settlement.  Hardly anyone’s lives are easy, but there are degrees of difficulty, of hardship suffering and sheer endurance in the face of  disregard, that few non-indigenous families have had to go through. These stories are an attempt at trying to explain that. They are an attempt to say, ‘Hey, guess what? I took the time to find out and now I know and I want to let you know in return that I can see, because I understand now, that your story is a bloody hard one.’

 

What I want to do with these stories is begin a guided tour, if you like; a white-led guided tour of a black history as engineered by the arriving white population. I don’t want to try and teach Noongar people about their own past, what I want to do is try and explain to those who ‘don’t want to go there’ what they’re shying from when they turn away from the Aboriginal presence.

 

That’s what I mean by a sympathetic view.

 

 

 

So, to quickly go over the first five stories..

 

  1. Time and Place

In 1818, Master’s Mate John Septimus Roe is not yet 21 years old when he first arrives at King George’s Sound. Ambitious and determined to repay the sacrifices his parents made for his education, he decides to explore the perimeter of Oyster Harbour to make some drawings.

 

John Septimus Roe is a background figure to the story of settlement along the South Coast but his presence simply can’t be ignored. He was lucky to survive his days with Philip Parker King mapping the coastline but went on to sit at the top table at colonial headquarters right the way through its forty year infancy. He knew Albany from pre-settlement times (understanding the eminence of King George’s Sound as an ideally located world-class harbour) and appointed people to his Surveyor’s Dept at Albany who mapped out the locality and wider region, giving us essential topographical images and vital land and townscape drawings as well as leaving sketches of places, buildings and individuals who we would otherwise only have written accounts of.
But Roe was much more than a facilitator, he had personal relationships with many of the characters this history is concerned with, most notably George Cheyne, Peter Belches and John Hassell, and he got to know the country well. He explored it. He was a dedicated, hard-working man who tried to make sense of a landscape no one of non-indigenous background knew or understood. It was his job to measure it and map it and name it and draw it up into shapes we could make sense of.
I think he was sensitive toward the Indigenous as well, that he was probably in the same mould as his naval colleagues, Nind, Barker and Collie. In that regard, his job was far more demanding and fundamentally different. Essentially, it was related to the demystification of the landscape for the purposes of facilitating the European usurpation of it. His job was to find the best living places for the settlers and to locate useful resources. If the settlers found it first, then it was his job to go there, set aside the Government portion then divide it up into lots for sale and register it accordingly.

 

I think there was something very conscious in the way Roe and his department recorded and maintained the thousands of Aboriginal place names given to the maps. It wasn’t just the Sureyor’s Department who kept names, I know. Most people who went out into new or previously unknown (to them) country, took landmark names from the Aboriginal people who generally escorted them, and both Department and individuals applied those names knowing they would soon claim and occupy them as their own. It was, however, the Surveyor’s Department which preserved the vast majority, and the names, though mostly misunderstood bastardised derivations, were systematically applied. For Roe, I think it was a conscious and most likely melancholy process. He knew exactly what he was doing.

 

The Surveyor’s Department, inconsequential of who was in charge if it, holds a unique place in settlement history because it is concerned with land. What the Surveyor’s Dept did in the space of Roe’s forty years as chief, was follow all the rivers and creeks of the south west and,  led by Noongar guides, isolate all the sheltered, fertile ground around them so that it could be sold. That was John Septimus Roe’s job, and he did it about as well as any person on the face of the earth at that time could.

 

 

  1. Evanescence

In 1826 an abandoned band of renegade sealers sets upon the Doubtful Islands in search of skins. Some try to take a native woman for their own but encounter resistance. An injured man is left behind to fend for himself while, amongst the natives, a young boy and his cousin spark off each other as they come across the aftermath of the event.

 

Through this story we get to experience something of the rough life spent by the sealing gangs during the turn-of-the-19th-Century boom in the fur trade. It’s important to be sympathetic toward some of the people who found themselves in that world. They were hard, brutal times led by so-called Alpha males whose rules for life were rules for basic survival. If there was a threat to their position they took all necessary action to remove it, even if that threat were another person. Their sexual needs were not met willingly and as sexual need is a survival need they bought or simply took what was available. Their labour needs were often combined with the female role but they didn’t only take women.
Amongst the gangs were criminals, men with wayward if not absent moral compasses. They lived outside of the law, physically as much as by way of action, in that the places they lived were not governed by established societies. But not all were criminals, many were from deprived backgrounds, good men finding themselves in a ruthless precarious predicament that could go against them at any time. Some didn’t survive.
The impact of the sealers on the coastal Noongar population  is hard to measure but minimal compared to what was to follow. Their forays onto the mainland along the South Coast, between Middle Island and King George’s Sound (west of there too, to Chatham Island at Walpole) didn’t happen often and the number of women they captured, damaged or killed was small compared to the later activities of land based settlers. Nonetheless, they were feared and despised by the Aborigines because whenever they did come ashore it was usually associated with an act of treachery.
Sealing took place along the South Coast from about 1800 to around the 1880’s. The first sealers were roving gangs left off by mother ships based a long distance away, usually New South Wales or Van Diemen’s land, or else America. From the 1840’s onwards sealing gangs tended to be local parties on shorter term contracts hired by local settlers with sea-based interests.
In the story I introduce the boy Wailibanginy and his cousin Mulyabang. The boys represent the two decisive attitudes adopted by the Aborigines. Waili goes with the white people. He’s a trader by nature, someone interested in bettering his lot by dealing economically. Mulyabang is a warrior. His interests are in the maintenance of traditional lore and he is not to be trifled with.

 

 

  1.  The Major’s Last Stand

In 1827 Major Edmund Lockyer commands a remote military settlement on the shores of Princess Royal Harbour. Anxiety gets the better of him as he questions his role as commander and family man during a period of high tension.
This story continues that of the predatory sealing gang led by Samuel Bailey whose arrival at King George’s Sound corresponded with the commencement of settlement at Albany. I use the tale to explore the character of the half-caste boy sealer Edward Edwards, aka Ned Tomlins. Now there was a short, tough as nails existence. I also use the story as the point at which things might have gone very wrong at Albany but through the good conscience of Major Lockyer in fact the opposite occurred.
Much has been written about the Friendly Frontier,  the relationship between Albany’s native population and its very first settlers, and for good reason. The situation is unique in the entire Australian experience. Only recently, through the publication of Tiffany Shellam’s ‘Shaking Hands On The Fringe‘, has there been an attempt by people of European descent to look at Albany’s settlement through the eyes of the Indigenous. To my mind this is a long time coming but landmark shift in perspective. By advancing thinking it paves the way for new authors to write about what is known differently. Revisionism is vital to keeping alive the memory of the past and as time slips ever forward and attitudes and emotions (fears and attachments) fade, it permits the speaking of what was once unspeakable.

 

I’ve raised the subject of reading D.A.P. West’s little book, ‘The Settlement On The Sound‘ published in 1975, a few times, not just because of the timing of the publication co-incided with a particularly pointed time in my own life and  because it was the first and most affordable history book on the town I could find, but because D.A.P. West was one of the old guard. By that I mean writing history during his time was scholarly and scholarly-ness meant speaking in a certain way, from a height mostly, and with that came a reverence for the Officers and Gentlemen of the generations leading into his. Dunstan West comes across as looking upon the settlers as honoraries, duty and obligation bound to maintain and uphold the progress of the empire and therefore beyond reproach. He can only speak as if the deeds of history were a grand exclusive thing privy only to the educated few. We’ve moved on an awful long way now, we’re long enough over that time to look back on the behaviour of the ‘history writers’ and the effects of it to make unaffected judgements relative to a wide and hungry contemporary audience.

 

All that aside, Lockyer was a decent human being and Ned Tomlins some kind of local hero.

 

The Major’s Last Stand is also concerned, through the sad story of the little girl Lockyer called Fanny, with the relationship between Albany as western most point of settlement and the Recherche Archipelago, extending 400 miles to the east. This is the South Coast as far as The View From Mount Clarence is mostly concerned and as the stories progress that relationship develops further as the settlers move east only to discover the natives they know from home have been going there all along.

 

 

 

  1. When Patrick Taylor met Charles Darwin

In 1836 a love-struck Christian settler meets a young Naturalist on Middleton Beach. They exchange views and the settler is beset by his fears.

 

This and the next story introduce us to the free-settlement of Albany and the main characters I’m concerned with. Patrick Taylor and his wife Mary Bussell are an educated middle-class couple originally with the means to live a privileged, Gentlemanly life at the Swan River Colony, but things go wrong. What initially attracted me to the story of Patrick Taylor wasn’t Patrick at all, it was his son, Campbell. In the follow-up novel to OUTDONE, the full story of Campbell Taylor’s tragic demise is told and through it is revealed a parallel tale, the continuation of the Noongar/European settlement saga along the South Coast.

 

When Patrick Taylor Met Charles Darwin is about the choices Patrick made and of his fears as they begin to haunt him. It’s about the new life not working for someone in a privileged position, about slipping into a state of disappointment when the assessments you make prove to be wrong and are then compounded by an unrelated calamity.

 

I think the subject of disappointment is one of historical significance at Albany. It’s a place that seems to have let down many of those who lodged their hopes with it, whether those hopes were well founded or not. There’s a sense of the unfulfilled about Albany, this still quite small, quite remote place positioned in the bosom of a hugely diverse and magnificent landscape. Maybe that’s just me layering my own experience over the town’s, but the history books do tell of despondency and neglect, of being held at arms distance by the Capital and feeling offended by it. This failure to progress at a comparative rate irks the competitively minded even today and still there persists the feeling the town is tired and sleepy, a place of retirement for the old rather than progress for the young.

 

That disappointment is paralleled by the poor fertility of the countryside. The rivers are more creeks or chains of ponds than  navigable waterways and most are salty, brackish at best. The land around them is rich only in patches and the patches are a long way apart, especially in the days of bullock and dray. There was also the problem of poison bush, a wild native shrub that poisoned livestock. Poison Bush killed up to a quarter of Eyre’s ewes when he drove them from Albany, via Kojonup, to York in the Autumn of 1840. It was only with the introduction of fertilizer that viable agriculture could take place, a good thing of course, but when compared to the world’s more fertile tracts the rocky, arid, bitterly forested South Coast lies a long way from the top of the list. The early settlers soon realised this and the populations they expected to follow, to flow inwards and bid-up the prices of their speculatively bought town and farm properties, never came. Not for a long, slow time anyway.

 

Patrick Taylor’s story moves between his cottage at Duke Street in the town and Glen Candy, his hilltop house on the lower reaches of the Kalgan River. This Oyster Harbour/Kalgan River association links with the earlier story of John Roe’s near death experience and the whaling stories which move east from there to Cheyne’s Beach, Two People’s Bay, Cape Riche, Doubtful Island Bay and later, all the way to Thomas River at Cape Arid, the mainland off Middle Island.

 

When Patrick Taylor met Charles Darwin introduces Patrick and Mary Taylor, John Laurence Morley and Richard Spencer to the cast of OUTDONE characters.

 

  1. Taking Advantage

In 1840 Edward John Eyre, a prolific overlanding entrepreneur, arrives in Albany on business. Outplayed by a local trader, he vents his frustration by taking advantage of a young female admirer.

 

This story brings forward that of the boy Wailibanginy, the one the overlander, Edward John Eyre, called Wylie. Wylie comes in from Cape Riche where he is shepherding for George Cheyne and Cheyne gives him to Eyre as a guide in exchange for buying a couple of town lots he has held for near enough to ten years. I don’t know if Eyre actually bought Cheyne’s lots but I do know he bought two when he was there.

 

I use the term Taking Advantage to try and describe what it was like back then. Business people needed to be ruthless to survive and they pulled all manner of fast ones  in order to try and effect sales. A quick trawl (if there is such a thing) through the advertising sections of the newspapers of that era give an idea of the liberty sellers took in promoting their products. As with the health and safety problems faced by the sealers and whalers of the day, the sort of governance that presides over fair trading today was a long way off.

 

 

Taking Advantage is set in 1840, just after Captain John Hassell had bought Cheyne’s and Morley’s Moorilup grants and combined them to form Kendenup. It represents the opening up of the Gnowangerup Shire to the pastoralists and directly reflects the paucity of naturally occurring good agricultural land. It also reflects the main living places of the inland Aborigines and the paths taken by them and the coastal Aborigines when they visited each other.  As the graziers moved inland they drew the inland Noongar families into their sphere of influence and so began the first episodes of true resistance.  Stock stealing and spearing and then the spearing of shepherds. Alexander Collie took advantage of Manyat and Mokare to ‘find’ that land and it may be that after a while, as he approached his death, Collie recognised what he’d done. His dying wish to be buried alongside Mokare may have been as much an apology as it was a show of friendship.
Meanwhile, the likes of Cheyne and Eyre took advantage of each other to profit directly from each other’s hard work and good fortune. As I say, in the story Cheyne gets the better end of it. But then again, we know Eyre survives because of Wylie, so maybe not. . .
As with the sway of political power between men I’m interested also in their sexual conquests and how these two sometimes get confused. In the story Eyre is outdone by Cheyne in a commercial deal, a thing which angers him. Eyre uses his anger to allow himself to take advantage of the affections of a female admirer.

Taking Advantage introduces, Peter Belches, the Spencer sisters, James Dunn and George Cheyne to the cast of OUTDONE characters.

In the next few posts I’ll lead into story six in the collection, The Gun, by looking at the lives of the main characters during the 1840’s.

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