Moving people & goods – activities & systems

The ease or difficulty of transport to and from, as well as within the Williams Valley, has significantly shaped its history. When road transport was extremely slow and steam shipping superior, the routes down the Williams Valley to Dungog then onto Clarence Town, then via steamers to the Hunter River and Newcastle, and then onto Sydney, meant that the Williams River district was in relatively close contact with the rest of the Colony of NSW in the middle of the 19th century. As roads improved and a rail connection crossed the Williams at Dungog town itself, the dynamics of the district changed and continued to change thereafter.

Even getting around within the district was a hazardous occupation at a time when roads were always poor and river crossings meant exactly that in the absence of bridges. As Charles Boydell put it:

“Nothing is, I think, more foolish than venturing into water without being very certain of your horse.”[1]

In 1832, Boydell was swept away trying to cross a flooded river and was forced to take shelter with a neighbour. He was not the only one, with a similar thing happening to Magistrate Thomas Cook in 1848 and there are numerous reports of deaths in comparable circumstances.[2]

Aside from the numerous river crossings, there were the hazards of the bush itself, with many early routes simply roughly marked trails. This the Rev Robert Vanderkiste, one time Methodist minister at Dungog, discovered when he became lost in the Upper Allyn Valley for six days in 1858 – an adventure detailed in his book, ‘Lost – but not forever’.[3]

By the time the Rev Vanderkiste became lost, many tracks had been made and many Europeans, now considering themselves locals, knew their way about. Earlier in the settlement period there had been great reliance on Gringai people to act as guides, or on their providing assistance, once one had become lost.[4]

For most, it was transport into and out of the district that was the focus of their concern. From the very beginning getting produce off the grants along the Williams River and down the tracks to the head of navigation at Clarence Town, or what became this town, was of primary concern. As early as 1829/30, applications for small grants to erect wharfs and storage at the ‘Termination of navigation’ on the Williams River were being made by settlers near what became Dungog, including Myles, MacKay of Melbee and Windeyer.[5] In April 1832, Windeyer wrote that:

“there being no place for deposit at the head of navigation, settlers are compelled to let their drays wait for a vessel, and only one dray load can be shipped at a time …”[6]

When Magistrate Cook requested a supply of blankets from the Colonial Storekeeper in March 1837 to distribute to the Gringai, he described the best route for such blankets to reach him; first to Greenhills [Morpeth], then ‘by Mr Cory’s boat to the Paterson’, then by ‘dry dray to Dungog’.[7] However, Williams River landowner Lawrence Myles actually carried the blankets from Maitland, a service for which he was still unpaid in October.[8] For the following two years’ blankets, Cook requested they go to Clarence Town via the Northumberland or the AAC schooner Carrington.[9]

Steamer transport dominated, but while steamers were common on the rivers, sail continued also to be used even as late as 1863.[10] Much of this river and coastal transport was carried on by the Hunter River Steam Navigation Company, renamed the Australasian Steam Navigation Company in 1851. Many in the Hunter region did not like the expansion into other areas this name change heralded and, in 1852, the Hunter River New Steam Navigation Company was formed. By 1854 this new company was operating ships called the Hunter, Williams and Paterson, and a drogher (a kind of paddle-wheeled barge) called the Anna Maria.[11]

From Clarence Town to Raymond Terrace it was two hours by steamer, then another two hours to Newcastle, with stops at private wharves when required.[12] Thereafter, it was often an overnight trip down the coast to Sydney. This compared well to a journey of four days from the Allyn River valley to Sydney for two men in a gig.[13]

Even as late as 1864, it was taken for granted that a trip to Sydney required a sea voyage, as when the Rev Sherriff of Clarence Town’s illness demanded a change of environment and it was reported that:

“His liability to extreme sea-sickness will prevent the trial at present of a residence in the vicinity of Sydney among his relatives.”[14]

Transport by ship only began to decline with the establishment of a railway link from Sydney to Newcastle in the 1880s.[15] The connecting river traffic with Newcastle, however, continued untroubled by rail competition and in 1885, the Williams River Steam Navigation Co (WRSN Co) was formed by local storekeepers in Clarence Town and Dungog, operating such ships as the Favourite, which they purchased, and the Williams and the Cooreei, which they commissioned.[16] These ships were built at Raymond Terrace and had engines made by R J Morrison & Bearby of Newcastle, the Williams costing £600 in 1883.

The Cooreei was licensed for 379 passengers and operated each way on alternative days.[17] The WRSN Co charged 3s for the trip from Clarence Town to Newcastle, a price undercut by the Lower Hunter Steamship Co with 1/6d from Raymond Terrace to Newcastle. These companies also offered ‘moonlight excursions’ and meals.[18] Though in 1880, a nephew of Christopher Lean of Fosterton near Dungog, took a steamer to Sydney and reported that a lack of bunks meant that he needed to sleep lying across ‘some casks of grog’.[19]

To and from the head of navigation at Clarence Town road travel was necessary and for bulk goods this meant bullock trains. Lighter goods, such as the mail, travelled faster by horse and were carried by contractors such as Charles Boydell, who in 1841 had the Paterson to Gresford mail contract for three times a week at £105 per year.[20] Such a route required river crossings, which were increasingly done by punt. In 1843, Boydell was sued for refusing to pay £6 in punt fees on the Paterson punt. Boydell asserted that mail was free of charge, but the court determined this applied only to government punts, which the Paterson punt was not at that time.[21]

Not a great deal is known about the nature of these punts, though one glimpse is a vivid one:

“We hope these temporary constructions will not cause us to have to record such a fatal catastrophe as occurred a few years ago near Gostwyck, when in crossing on one of their ill-constructed log arrangements, called catamarans, a man, his wife, and two children, met their death by drowning, by the capsizing of these frail and giddy rafts.”[22]

This was not the only one in poor condition and two years later there was an urgent need to replace the old punt at Paterson, which the government appears to have agreed to pay £300 to do.[23]

In 1872, three routes to Dungog from Sydney are described, little changed from those of a generation before except for coaches replacing drays. Namely, by steamer to Clarence Town, then a coach 10 miles; steamer to Morpeth and then coach; or via Raymond Terrace to Stroud, then 16 miles on horseback.[24] One who took this last route over Stroud Hill in 1878 claimed that ‘taking your horse over it is a splendid introduction to teaching him to climb the side of a house…’[25]

Travelling by horse, coach or even foot, could all be done at a reasonable pace despite poor roads, but for heavy goods, the means was bullock with, for example, the trip from Paterson to Allynbrook (30 kms) by bullock taking 12 days.[26] This dependence on bullocks to haul goods to the steamers at Clarence Town limited development, especially in bumper years when extra punts and droghers were needed.[27] Also, the lack of bridges often meant roads were closed in poor weather.

The need for bridges and better roads soon became a major issue, with many public meetings and various Colonial administrations vying for votes by using bridges as campaign promises. Petitions from the districts were common and one candidate seeking re-election in 1877 mentions roads and bridges, along with post offices and schools, as his government’s main claim for re-election.[28] This issue also led to rivalry and arguments over routes and which roads and bridges should be built first, particularly between Dungog and Clarence Town.[29] One writer complained, for example, that Dungog and Paterson were getting too much and instanced the new 1883 road from Dungog to Underbank, while another disputed that the road money was being fairly distributed among the various roads.[30]

As a result of the agitation and promises, many bridges were built in the 1870s and 1880s: such as at Dungog, 1877; Clarence Town, 1879; Paterson, 1887; Woodville, 1898; Vacy, 1898; Allynbrook, 1900; Bandon Grove, 1900; and a new Williams River bridge, now called the Cooreei Bridge, 1904. Sometimes bridges were not built at the existing river crossings, such as in 1877 when the Gostwyck Bridge was built to make a more direct route between Paterson and Dungog.[31]

The erection and opening of such bridges was a major event for the local community well aware of the impact upon their lives, as this description of the 1877 opening of the new Gostwyck Bridge shows:

“Very extensive preparations had been made for the purpose of adding eclat to the event. A band was engaged from Maitland; liberal provision was made for feasting the school children of Paterson and Vacy; and the people far and near were urged to make a gala day.

Altogether, some five or six hundred people must have come. Two arches of boughs had been erected in the centre of the bridge, and across the descent at the Dungog approach flaunted a line of flags. Two booths, which did a fair trade in liquor selling, were planted on the top of the bank. The public school children from Paterson and from Vacy were present, under the direction of their teachers; and at half past twelve a procession was formed, with the band and the members of the opening committee at its head …”[32]

Naturally these bridges began to change the dynamics of transport and movement around the district, even if only by adding the ability to move with less regard to weather conditions. However, many of the more isolated areas continued to have only low level crossings and flying foxes were used during floods on the Allyn River until the 1920s and a low level bridge connecting the community at Summer Hill with Vacy was not put in until 1930.[33] The low level bridge at Horn’s Crossing near Vacy, for example, also continued to be a problem in even moderate wet weather until a new low level (but one metre higher), crossing was built in 2002 using concrete planks recycled from the Sydney Olympic Games Village.[34]

While bridges were generally paid from Colonial government funds, roads often began as casual affairs, with even in the 1860s the best route to the ‘Barrington diggings’ reported to be via Monkerai with the trees marked for horsemen and the work done by ‘a few Dungog residents’.[35] Sometimes it was necessary to establish a new road so as to prevent the continuation of disputes and litigation over the use of tracks on private land. This was the case when a road was resumed from property by the Department of Lands in 1874.[36] However, once a road was recognised, its upkeep, before the establishment of local government at the end of the 19th century, was in the hands of road trusts made up of interested landowners. Such a “Road Trust”, for example, made up of three property owners, contracted to have a culvert built at Fosterton in 1881.[37] These road trusts had the power to levy rates on landowners, and even tolls on the users of a road.

In 1881 appeared an accounting of the kind of money these road trusts received:

“The following is a summary of the proposed expenditure on the subordinate roads of the colony under trustees for the present year:

11 miles, Seaham, by east side of Williams River, to Clarence Town, £165;

22 miles, Dunmore Bridge to Paterson and Gresford, £550;

17 miles, Gresford to Eccleston, £255;

12 miles, Gresford to Lowstock, £308;

13 miles, Lowstock to Carrabola, £130;

4 miles, Penshurst to Allyn River, £60;

8 miles, Eccleston to Upper Allyn River, £80;

9 miles, Underbank to Upper Chichester, £90″[38]

As the roads improved, so did the means of using them and coaches began to make regular journeys between specific points. Those doing so needed to apply for a ‘Coach License’, and one such application gives us an insight into traffic hazards of the time:

“Richard J. Fitzgerald applied for a license for a coach called the “Emerald,” to ply between West Maitland and Dungog. The father of the applicant, Stephen Fitzgerald the driver of the coach, appeared for him, and Mr Mitchell, one of the magistrates, said he was sorry to be the depository of a charge against Fitzgerald, but he had been told by the Rev Father Lonergan that Fitzgerald had on two occasions attempted to drive him into the ditch on the side of the road, and that on one of these occasions the lady passengers in the coach had thought the Rev Father was killed. Fitzgerald said that it was unfair for the Rev Father to take that way of making a charge against him. He denied that he had willfully driven Father Lonergan off the road, but as that gentleman rode a very spirited horse, it was in the habit of shying at the coach, and that he (Fitzgerald) could not help that. The Rev Father had already made a complaint against him to the police at Dungog, and had demanded an apology, but he had not continued the proceedings, …. The license was then granted.”[39]

Fry Brothers was a prominent company that ran coaches from Dungog to Maitland via Paterson daily from 1870, returning at midnight. The Maitland train was at 12.30am and the coach departed at 1am, arriving at Dungog at 7.30am. The coach had six horses and carried passengers plus mail and ice. A change of horses took place at Paterson with the horses kept near the Courthouse. Passengers were regularly required to get out and walk up Wallarobba hill, mid-way between Paterson and Dungog.[40] At Gresford an old homestead – Ard-Na-Hane – was used for many years as a coach stop and hotel for the Maitland to Gresford route.[41] By the mid-1880s coaches also ran between Clarence Town and Dungog:

“There is now ample provision made for travellers visiting Dungog. Mr. Oakley is now running a coach daily between Dungog and Clarence Town; he is likely to be well patronised at holiday time, but there is some fear that travellers are not yet numerous enough to make it pay in ordinary times.”[42]

Paterson was a central place for many of these routes and here Fry Brothers had a coach workshop and kept 60 horses in their stables.[43]

The gradual improvement in roads did not stop complaints, such as a description of the Dungog to Stroud Road as ‘that most shameful of all shameful tracks called a road’. The same report stated that a 1½ inch axle on a buggy broke when attempting to use this route.[44] In 1889, the Dungog to Stroud road was upgraded to a first class road, however, the next year the state of the Clarence Town to Dungog road was still the subject of much complaint, especially after an accident.[45]

Over the years routes that were at first bridle paths have been turned into roads, such as the Bingleburra Road between Gresford and Dungog, or the Salisbury Gap Road from Salisbury to Eccleston completed by Fred Rumbel.[46] Other paths, such as that between Fosterton and Bandon Grove or the end of Woerdens Rd leading over to Hilldale, were never upgraded and have gradually faded back into the bush.

Transport by foot and horse, then by coach, continued until the coming of the railway in 1911 with the first stage extension of the North Coast route from Maitland to Dungog via Paterson. Trains meant not only faster transport but the elimination of regular coach routes (Oakley and Fry Brothers) and had a severe impact on steamer transport at Paterson and Clarence Town.

This rail link from Maitland established stations at Paterson, Martins Creek, Hilldale, Wallarobba, Wirragulla and Dungog. The location of stations changed during the planning stages and greatly affected the surrounding districts. Access to trains for milk, cattle and passengers all influenced the social and economic dynamics of the immediate areas. In addition, other factors were brought into the valleys the railway line, such as the pumping station that operated near Gostwyck between 1911 until 1949 enabling the area to be linked to a piped water supply; the expansion of the blue metal quarry at Martins Creek, and the establishment of a railway workers’ barracks at Dungog.[47]

Despite the coming of rail and even cars, some river transport continued with cream boats taking not only milk but mail and people up and down the rivers, just as milk trucks travelling from dairy to dairy also took mail, bread and school students, with motor buses replacing the milk trucks only gradually after 1913.[48]

Many other aspects of pre-car and train transport only gradually disappeared from the Dungog Shire district. Bullocks continued for along time as a major form of transport, particularly for timber. Cattle have always been moved into and out of the Dungog area and as a result, a network of travelling stock routes was created that still exists, though now rarely used. The widespread use of horses meant that horse yards, places to rest and stable horses, and blacksmiths were important for many years. These included a large yard on the corner of Fosterton Rd and Stroud Rd just to the north of Dungog town, and the yards behind Dark’s store on Dowling Street.

The coming of the motor car eliminated these features, but did so only slowly. The first glimpse of things to come was in June 1901, when the first motor car came through Dungog, driven by a Dr Bennett and his wife of Morpeth.[49]

Timber getting gradually moved from bullocks to steam traction engines, with the motor lorry introduced in 1923. Although bullock teams were still passing through Dungog as late as 1911, they now were a newsworthy event. Their damage to the roads became a sensitive issue as cars became more common. In 1923, the Wallarobba Shire proposed weight limits to traffic on its roads, an idea much opposed by timber carriers and farmers alike. As part of this dispute, it was pointed out that while cars were taxed, bullock teams were not. After 1924, bullock teams were generally replaced by traction engines and after 1928, with the introduction of pneumatic tyres, the damage of heavy trucks to the roads considerably reduced.[50]

The increased use of motor cars allowed transport services to reach into areas that horse drawn coaches never did and in the 1920s:

“Mr H C Shelton notifies the public that he will be commencing on 5th instant, a motor passenger service between Dungog and Chichester on Fridays. The bus will leave Chichester at 8am and on return leave Dungog at 3pm.”[51]

The tarring of roads occurred gradually, beginning in the towns and gradually making its way out along the connecting roads. A report by the NRMA in 1937 gives an indication of the progress of tarring by that time:

“Reporting on the condition of the main road from Maitland to Dungog and Gloucester, an inspector of the N.R.M.A. states that after leaving the first mentioned town the road is tar paved for the first five miles, followed by corrugated gravel for 15 miles to Clarencetown. From this point good tar pavement is traversed to Dungog. Beyond this point there is two miles of paved road, thence fair gravel to Weismantels and Gloucester. There are several short sections of corrugated surface on this run.”[52]

The gradually increasing reliance on the motor car received a blow with the arrival of petrol rationing during the Second World War. Many cars at that time were fitted with charcoal burners that produced sufficient charcoal gas to run the engine. Large amounts of charcoal were required and many timber operators set about producing this. One example at Vacy was the Partridge Brothers, who built brick-lined charcoal kilns to supply charcoal both locally and to Maitland.[53]

Motor cars also allowed taxi services to develop, such as those meeting the trains and taking people to destinations like the Barrington Guest House. E C Barnes advertised a taxi service in Dungog in the 1920s with two cars and ‘picnic and sporting parties’ a specialty.[54] Many of these services gradually developed into bus routes. Rover Motor bus services ran from 1936 between Gresford and Maitland with three buses daily, and a late night shopping bus on Fridays would go as far as Allynbrook.[55] In the 1960s, daily buses ran between Clarence Town and Maitland and from Gresford to Maitland, as well as morning and afternoon return trains from Newcastle to Dungog. Market Days were alternate Thursdays and Fridays, with, of course, a half-holiday on Saturdays.[56]

As cars became almost universal, taxi services faded and students under subsidy became the only regular users of buses as educational resources were concentrated into fewer schools.

Heritage survivals

  • Wharves (private and public)

  • Bridle paths

  • Truss bridges

  • brick-lined charcoal kilns (Vacy)

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)

  1. Sullivan, Charles Boydell, p.26. Boydell of course lived on the Allyn River but conditions were very similar on the Williams.
  2. Sullivan, Charles Boydell, p.33 & Maitland Mercury, 12/2/1848, p.2.
  3.  Maitland Mercury, 26/10/1858, p.2 & Uniting Church, Dungog, Gateway to the forests and faith, pp.9-10.
  4. For various accounts of being lost on the Upper Williams see Maitland Mercury, 29/10/1889, p.3.
  5. Ford, Clarence Town Erring –I to River Port, pp.16-17.
  6. Ford, Clarence Town Erring –I to River Port, p.17.
  7. Cook to Colonial Storekeeper, 27/3/1837, (Dungog Magistrates’ Letterbook).
  8. Cook to Colonial Secretary, 26/10/1837, (Dungog Magistrates’ Letterbook).
  9. Cook to Colonial Storekeeper, 26/3/1838, 9/1/1839, (Dungog Magistrates’ Letterbook).
  10. Murray, Colonial Shipwrights of the Williams and Paterson Rivers, Chapter 7 (n.p.).
  11. Sullivan, Charles Boydell, p.120, Maitland Mercury, 19/6/1852, p.4. & 17/7/1852, p.2. This company merged in 1891 with the Newcastle Steamship Co. to form the Newcastle and Hunter Steamship Co.
  12. Murray, Colonial Shipwrights of the Williams and Paterson Rivers, Chapter 16 (n.p.).
  13. Sullivan, Charles Boydell, p.38.
  14.  Maitland Mercury, 3/11/1864, p.3.
  15. Murray, Colonial Shipwrights of the Williams and Paterson Rivers, Chapter 14 (n.p.).
  16. Murray, Colonial Shipwrights of the Williams and Paterson Rivers, Chapter 16 (n.p.) & Hunter, Wade’s Corn Flour Mill, p.26.
  17. Murray, Colonial Shipwrights of the Williams and Paterson Rivers, Chapters 16 (n.p.).
  18. Murray, Colonial Shipwrights of the Williams and Paterson Rivers, Chapters 16 (n.p.).
  19. Lean, The Lean Family History, p.115.
  20. Sullivan, Charles Boydell, p.81.
  21. Sullivan, Charles Boydell, p.85.
  22.  Maitland Mercury, 28/3/1871, p.3.
  23.  Maitland Mercury, 8/3/1873, p.4.
  24. Greville’s Official Post Office Directory NSW – 1872, p.229.
  25.  Australian Town and Country Journal, 14/9/1878, p.18.
  26.  Allynbrook Public School, 1869 – 1969, p.8.
  27. Hunter, Wade’s Corn Flour Mill, p.25 & Maitland Mercury, 8/4/1871, p.2.
  28.  Maitland Mercury, 17/8/1876, p.5; 23/10/1877, p.8 & 7/4/1883, p.7S.
  29.  Maitland Mercury, 28/7/1877, p.10.
  30.  Maitland Mercury, 23/10/1883, p.4 & 28/7/1887, p.2.
  31. Clements, Vacy … One Hundred & Eighty Years of History, p.133.
  32.  Maitland Mercury, 3/8/1878, p.12S.
  33.  Allynbrook Public School, 1869 – 1969, p.8 & Clements, Vacy … One Hundred & Eighty Years of History, p.140.
  34. Clements, Vacy … One Hundred & Eighty Years of History, p.131.
  35.  Maitland Mercury, 22/10/1878, p.5.
  36. Lean, The Lean Family History, p.60, Letter, 29/6/1874.
  37. Lean, The Lean Family History, p.61 & Maitland Mercury, 14/12/1867, p.4.
  38.  Maitland Mercury, 22/3/1881, p.6.
  39.  Maitland Mercury, 8/10/1872, p.3. For a detailed account of another coach accident, on the road from Dungog to Paterson, see Frank Lemon, Australian Town and Country Journal, 4/9/1880, p.2.
  40.  Dungog Chronicle, 10/8/1923.
  41. Collison & Handcock, Gresford 170 years, p.127.
  42.  Maitland Mercury, 11/12/1884, p.2.
  43. Collison & Handcock, Gresford 170 years, p.128.
  44.  The Maitland Mercury, 13/10/1883, p.3.
  45. Hazell, A Centenary of Memories, pp.6-7. [1889/1890]
  46.  Dungog Chronicle, 1/10/1926.
  47. Clements, Vacy … One Hundred & Eighty Years of History, p.138.
  48.  Allynbrook Public School, 1869 – 1969, p.8.
  49. Hunter, Croll’s Mill Dungog, 1917-1969, p. 29.
  50. Hunter, Croll’s Mill Dungog, 1917-1969, pp.29-34.
  51.  Dungog Chronicle, 2/12/1924.
  52.  Nambour Chronicle and North Coast Advertiser, 26/2/1937, p.2.
  53. Clements, Vacy … One Hundred & Eighty Years of History, pp.118-119.
  54.  Dungog Chronicle, 21/3/1922, p.3.
  55. Collison & Handcock, Gresford 170 years, p.122.
  56. Dungog Chronicle, May we introduce ourselves (n.d, c.1965?)