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Down the Vista of die Years

i . t ' ;; _

MRS: JOHN ROBERTSON LOOKS BACK

Chowilla and Calperum Before the Conring of Irrigation

in the pale golden sunlight ofthe morning, Mrs. John Rob ertson eat in the large and lofty dining room of her old station homestead at Calperum. Outside the wind whispered through trees planted many years ago by-the Robertsons when they first made tfveir home, hard by the River Murray. Silver haired, the old lady welcomed one, and said she would try and recall some of her life along the river, but recollections were becoming dim with the pas

sag^ of time.

"I am 86", she said, "and was bom at Lewisham, Kent, the county where the hop pickers work in the fields, and the ploughmen used to draw their straight furrows from early morning until the gloaming time. My father was a barrister practising in Kent and the Inns of Courts London. His

father was also a barrister and prac- .

tised in London.

The Voyage Out'

"When my father died," she contin ued, "mother decided to leave England and come to Australia. My brothers, Frank and George, and my sister, who

In the Chowilla woolshed

died some while ago in Adelaide, came out with my mother and me. Frank was a civil engineer, who wag trained I think, in Scotland, and who assisted to build the first railway bridge at Murray Bridge. I know he warned those in authority at the time that the work would be a difficult one. We left England, from the Port of Liv erpool, in the very, old wooden ship named the 'Murray'., commanded by Captain Begg, an old time sailor, who said that it was his and the old ship's last voyage. I cannot remember much y.bout the passage out. When we landed at Port Adelaide and were driven from the port-a small place with only a few houses as far as I can remember and the masts of many ships. like a forest-to Adelaide. I

do not remember many steamers at the port. When we arrived in Adelaide! we put up at a small- hotel called the "Murray," and not so very long af terwards, I - found myself living on the banks of the Murray river. That, I think, is a rather extraordinary co

incidence."

Becomes Squatter's Wife -

Time went on, and Miss Ella Rees George married Mr. John Robertson; the well known river -squatter, who, with his .brothers Robert and William, owned Chowilla and Calperum sta tions as well as other large tracts

of country. They were married at £?t. Luke's, Adelaide, and then touted parts of New Zealand. Arriving back in Adelaide, they boarded the foiir horse mail coach running between Adelaide and Blanchetown.

"Before leaving this part of my life", said Mrs. Robertson, "I would like to add that the Adelaide post office as It noAv stands, had not been built and I can remember the mail coaches coming ana going through the city streets while stockmen and others rode horseback" in all directions."

As far as can be remembered, the journey from Adelaide to Blanche town occupied one long day. T'ie road 'over the hills was just a bush track and no bridges spanned the "many creeks as they do today. But

as {hey drove along both Mrs. Rob ertson. and her maid: noticed the lit tle hamlets scattered along the tragic and the homes of those early set tlers who had already commenced clearing the timber ahd building

homes. i

By River Steamer to New Home

At Blanchetown they found Captain Andrew Martin' with the s,s, Paringa waiting for them. She was loaded for various stations along the river. They left the tiny river port with its tew houses, and reached Chowilla a week later after a trip on the Mur

ray she never forgot.

. 'The Paringa," said Mrs. Robert son, "was burnt to the water's edge years afterwards closfe to where the Kenmark wharf now- is."

.She found -that a stone house had been byilt for her at Chowilla. and she.Koon settled, down to a life in the bush. . "in the river bends I saw plenty of blacks," said Mrs. Robert son. "They used to come to me when their children fell sick, I told them what to do and they did It. £ used to see them in their canoes or dug outs, paddling up and down the river. In the centre of the canoes was always a Are. This fire was laid lay so that the canogrwould not be burnt."

Part of th'e station had been fenced when Mrs. Robertson arrived, and although sheep were steadily taking ?the place of cattle she remembers the large mobs of beasts still roaming the country. "Years before I arrived," and before fences had been put up, our stock ran over a great stretch of country she said. "I believe it was so larg® that it almost reached the Bro ken Hill country," But she added, "I took really little interest in station doings. "I lived a home life with my girls, Elly, Madge, Lassie, and Juliet, who were all good horsewomen and

rode the station."

Mrs. Robertson continued, "When I first arrived at Chowilla they had a cook there named Charlie Richard son. Men on the station said Charlie would , never last with me. But my man cook was with me for 20 years and that's that," said the old lady

firmly.

Old Station Identities

Casting her miemory back down the usta of years, Mrs. Robertson recalle?1 the wild riders, who built the trap yards back of the head ' station and mustered the wild horses. She brought to memory the names of some o£ the old boundary riders. There was

Jack Hall, after who the hut outback ! was called. Jack McCormac came to mind, together with Harry Tindle (buried in a river bend not far from Chowilla), and Billy Coombes ("a little boy who could ride anything"), Bill Johnson (who died not long ago)) and many other men who with quart pot and hobbles jangling from a good SneQd saddle thought nothing of eighty miles in . a day on horses hard to beat

anywhere.

Then, she said, came 'the ChafCeys, Charlie and George, who stayed at the station for some days looking over the country before they opened it up for closer settlement by means of ir

rigation.

My husband, perhaps was one of the best rifle shots' in South Aus tralia," said Mrs. Robertson, "That large silver cup there (pointing to a splendid trophy in the room) was

won by him.

Talking about; th'e horses bred by the Kobertsons, trie old lady Bald she knew little of them. There was Aus tralian Buck, a grtjat horse in his toy. The chestnut Moonlight, won three Wentworth cups, and Roebuck was one of the best jumpers, winning

a number of races.

Bush Memories

"I remember- the bush in the days wheij I was young/" she added "I have seen the wild violet all over the and, such a pretty flower, and hill sides covered with the white daisy."

Then, with "a rush of memory, she recalled incidents from river shipping

she drew a picture of Captain Nutchey on the .bridge, and visualized the dark nights when the steamers

u1® lmxik to load wo°l

be handled by. Mr. Dunk at Morgan. " xt fame the story of a great bush

re outback and the spear grass two feet high found by Mr. Robertson

«f*? ?ear 0Vf?r ma»y square miles of I that bijrnt country. I

^nvi0*6^1 Btnd she remembered, was I called by that name because after i large musters there of wild cattle the stockmen had to "tail them"* to pre vent , uiem breaking, away tot their home in the.then vinirin scrub land.

^ It was Trooper : had charge Mr ft*&°,i1Ce Corner when -^i ^!tSOn aD visited the

S ^P^ CMter years by Mr. Chai-les Katekar ^father of c. H i) who cme pa the River id the sixties.'

The-Robertsons were '^riends of the Cud mores at Paringa, :-aliti Mrs. Robertson would have Ukedto ffcake h*nd3 with Mrs-, W. Haynes, now In her 64th year

UvtaVn la a link with those early days on" Paringa.

^Talking pway. the old ladyy said that

no*Tat* knew that" in bygone years the horse mail used to leive the main traclq along the river it. Spriftt cart

Ctane ^down that ^steep ' bfnoh

.^M^h|a» almost<£* called W^face

the cliffs .oj),,to .^b level country. Th* track then wound^. across Calperum plain

to the station homestead and entered what is now Benmark through the Cres cent country. That was before any trala came to Morgan.

She reminded one that in such days there were no phones, that telegraph of Sees were very few and far apart, and

the nearest doctor to Chowilla was at j Wentworth. She recalled the joy when ( two mails instead of one each week were ;

received at stations on the river.

During later years the Robertson's changed stations, Robert Robertson tak ing Chowilla and John Calperum. "With the coming of the first English settlers to Renmark both these station families showed great hospitality and entertained largely.

Mrs. Robertson was born In the great Victorian era when perhaps the Enlplre

was at the height of its glory. She lived" in Kent about 16 years after the first train ran through part of that county, so ehe must have seen the four horse coaches travelling up and down bad roads. Her father lived in the days of both Nelson and Wellington-old times gone forever in a world rapidly changing from year to year.

The pioneer squatter lady has left the station homestead and gone back to Ade laide. At Intervals she must go back over the years again and sometimes wish for the days along the river with those old friends who with her bore the brunt of pioneering in Its ttue sense.

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