Recollections of a Victorian Police Officer Chapter XV page 4

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Recollections of a Victorian Police Officer by Sup John Sadleir

(full text transcription)

I had a narrow escape from some pecuniary loss that I could not well afford over this mine - ‘The Good Hope.’ I held several shares partly in trust for friends and partly my own. As the local director, Holmes, who was an old acquaintance of mine, was passing one day through Sale , the shareholders there, of whom there were several, asked his views about the mine. Holmes was perfectly frank in his report. He said that the reef showed as rich as ever, but it would no longer pay unless a tunnel which they had started was carried through; that the country was very difficult, and all the dividend he could absolutely promise was represented in the ore already raised. This report was not good enough for me. But others who also heard the report took my shares at ten guineas each. The ‘Good Hope’ closed down after paying thirty shillings dividend, and has been idle ever since.

THE DARGO HIGH PLAINS

The most difficult part of my journey, that from Grant to Omeo, was yet to come - some sixty miles across what are known as the Dargo High Plains. These plains seemed to be on a level with Mount Feathertop , which is separated from them only by deep ravine. On the south the plains appeared to vanish into the horizon, and were everywhere too soft to bear a horse’s weight except on the northern edge, where is a narrow strip of more solid ground. For the person journeying along the very edge of the plain overhanging this ravine the fear is ever present lest his horse should stumble or shy - a fear aggravated in my case by the fact that I was leading a spare horse. The view down into these awful depths at one’s very feet, range rising upon range striped with snow at this late season, February, took one’s breath away. Fearsome also for man and beast was the descent from the plains to the river Dargo below. The track was too steep for the riders to remain in the saddle, and yet it had the appearance of having been much used at one time, a circumstance that led to reflections later on. It was only by hanging on to the reins that we could get the horses to follow, and then the trouble was lest they could not check themselves on the slippery surface of the shelving rocks, and that we who led them should not be able to get out of their way. It took us a full hour to reach the river Dargo, where we found a clean, comfortable shanty kept by two bachelor brothers, who supplied us with a choice midday meal and a feed for horses. One peculiarity of such places of refreshment in those early days was the quality and inexpensiveness of the entertainment supplied. A shilling or eighteen-pence was charged for meals, and for horse feed about the same. One did not grudge the shilling extra - not asked for, but always expected - for the glass of grog that was placed before the weary traveller. The late Chief Justice Stawell, who did this journey once or twice from Bright to Gippsland, made it the rule to pay for his ‘refreshments,’ although none of these places were duly licensed!

The ascent from the river towards Cobungra where we spent the night, need not be particularly described. The road was very much the same as that by which we had descended from the plains, with this difference - that the horses were sent first, while we hung on to their tails. We got to the top in a series of short scrambles, horses and men stopping every few yards to recover their wind. One of our horses did not like his tail being used as a tow-rope, for he kicked out, striking his master on the knuckles.

Few men would care to undertake alone the journey just described. I had the good fortune to have the company of Mr Lewis, the manager of one of Mr William Degraves’ Omeo stations, and he had as guide a man who knew every inch of the country between Gippsland and the Murray district.

I have related elsewhere some of my early experiences in the north-eastern district in the fifties, when Bogong Jack or one of his allies made his regular appearance at Wangaratta, and when with equal regularity police Sergeant Myers ran him into the lock up. Sometimes it was Jack, at another time it was our guide on this journey, or one of his brothers, but the visit to Wangaratta was always a ‘put up job’ intended to set the local police on the wrong scent while certain valuable horses from Pearson’s, or Crooke’s, or Firebrace’s studs were being disposed of on the other side of the Murray. Our guide blushed at finding himself so famous when he discovered that his exploits were known to a stranger like myself. Our host at Cobungra was a fellow student in the same School of Art . These men had reformed under pressure of the police at Omeo, where that very active and efficient Sergeant Reid had the direction of affairs. There is a reason to believe that the track by which our party had come was the only practicable road to the heads of the King and Ovens rivers in the fifties, and that it was used by Bogong Jack and his friends in their early adventures. (When the Kelly bushrangers were 'out,' 1878–1880, it was thought they might find their way into Gippsland by this route. There is a narrow pass where the mountain range divides the head waters of the King and Ovens Rivers on the north, and the Wonnongatta on the south. The ridge here is but a few feet wide. Power, the bushranger, used this pass, but the Kellys never went so far afield. Still it was one of the many possibilities the police had to bear in mind during the Kelly hunt.)

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