Camperdown, Victoria

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Mr. John Powell, who is living retired at the east end of Fergusson street, is the fourth person interviewed in this series of articles who claims Geelong as his native town. He was born at South Geelong on 24th June, 1848, so that to-morrow (Friday) he will reach his 84th mile-stone in his journey through life. His parents spent several years in Geelong after coming out to Australia from County Clare, Ireland, before going on to Ballarat soon after gold was discovered at Golden Point in October, 1851. His father followed up mining pursuits and was doing so when the riots between the police and miners occurred in 1854. It was the first conflict arising from political causes between a section of the Australian people and constituted authority. John Powell's father became actively interested in the turmoil and it was while going to work one morning that he was met by the police and arrested. His home was within half a mile of the Eureka Stockade that had been erected by the miners, and the mother and large family were very much upset at the im- prisonment of the head of the house. The Ballarat riots were brought about by drastic action by the police, acting under authority from the Colonial Secretary, Leslie Vesey Foster Fitzgerald, in inflicting heavy toll for miners' licences. The riots reached a climax on 4th December, 1854, when at daybreak that morning, 100 mounted men and 176 foot of regular troops and police stormed the Eureka Stockade held by the miners, who are believed to have been about 250 strong, many half armed only, and led by Peter Lalor and a Hanoverian named Vern. In twenty minutes all was over, the discipline of the attacking force soon prevailing. The troops lost two officers and six men killed and twelve wounded, while the insurgents had 26 men killed and many wounded, amongst whom was Peter Lalor, who lost an arm. Of 125 miners who were arrested, all but 13 were acquitted and these latter were subsequently liberated. Peter Lalor was subsequently liberated. Peter Lalor was subsequently made Speaker of the Legislative Assembly of Victoria and knighted. A Royal Commission was appointed regarding the trouble with the miners and the fee exacted for permission to dig for gold, and the recommendations made by the Com- mission formed the foundation for the goldfields' legislation of all the colonies. Although only six years old at the time, Mr. John Powell can remember Peter Lalor, whom he saw before the riots and afterwards when he was getting about minus an arm. After leaving Ballarat a family of twelve now including the parents, the Powells went to Winchelsea, and in 1860 they came further into the Western district and reached Camperdown. They camped on the flat in a tent alongside the brewery that was owned by a man named Jackson, alongside which was a creek, located on the east side of Cressy road and close to where the railway line is now situated. Later they moved into a bark hut. Then only 12 years of age, John Powell thought Camperdown was a very miserable place. He went to work at once and was learning to drive bullocks when he was able to use a bullock whip, and also tried his hand at any kind of job that came his way. Bullocks, horses or general farm work he tackled as the work came along, and as a "Jocky" he had a deal of experience. Bullock teams were to be found on all roads —speed was not essential then, but reliability and the question of negotiating the poor roads and boggy country was best performed by bullock power. Mr. Powell knew practically all the bullock drivers on the roads at that time, and trips into the Heytesbury forest and out on to the plains to Lismore, Darlington and other parts further north were not infrequent. Over the fireplace in the front room of his home is the enlarged photograph of a waggon and four span of bullocks he was driving when a young fellow, which was taken on the site of the Clock Tower in Manifold street. Mr. Powell is shown in charge of the bullock whip, with a brother in law alongside the waggon. This picture was taken about 1866 and the carte de visite was sent to the old country and the coloured enlargement made which now adorns the space above the man- telshelf. The load contained sawn timber from a sawmill down Bruck- nell way and was being conveyed to Lismore. Speaking of the Clarkes who had been working a large herd on a dairy at "Werna" for the Manifolds, Mr. Powell said there were four brothers — Tom, Harry, Adolphus and another —who were all aged men when he first knew them. At that time they were only milking a few cows, having taken on farming after the run was divided into paddocks and they also went in for sheep and cattle. Adolphus Clarke was a fine old man and a splendid boss. Associates with Powell when he was employed at "Werna" were Dick Boyce, Alf Clarendon and a little German named Hermann, also Richard Davis, the present owner of the flour mill, who was then only a lad, and Jim Paisley, who afterwards conducted a boarding house at the corner of Pike and Fergusson streets, and now known as Yeoman's. Upwards of 56 years ago Mr. Powell planted that fine row of elm trees from the gate entering "Werna" homestead up to the cutting on the Colac road. The main avenue of elms in Manifold street had been planted previously, but not long be- fore. Another event about which he has a keen remembrance was that at Clarkes, which was the first farm in the district, he drove the first reaper and binder that came to Camper- down. He did not find it a difficult task and the amount of crop he was able to get over was a revelation compared wiih the primitive sickle or reaping hook that he had wielded so long and so often before the advent of better appliances. After the demise of Adolphus Clarke the other brothers and their families left the district and Mr. Powell lost touch with them. Jack Clarke, a champion bicycle rider of the world in bygone days, was a son of Adolphus Clarke, and he went to America some years ago and had not returned. A daugh- ter (Bessie Clarke) later on became Mrs. Willan and went off to New Zealand. Later on after her hus- band's death, Mrs. Willan returned to Victoria and had on several occa- sions paid Mr. Powell a visit. An- other incident that occurred to Mr. Powell's mind about "Werna" was the number of raids that used to be made on the orchard by the youth of the town, and he had seen as many as a dozen jumping the or- chard fence while at work in the paddocks. Eventually Mr. Adolphus Clarke placed an old muzzle loading gun in a fruit tree with a string at tachment for the purpose of frighten- ing the depredators. The scheme was successful and several lads got the fright of their life. At this time Mr. Powell went to live in Wilson street alongside Dick Boyce and they became brothers-in-law when they married the Misses Hannan. He had a similar experience to that of Mr. John McMahon's, mentioned in last Thursday's issue, by which a special trip had to be made to Colac to have the marriage ceremony performed owing to there being no Catholic clergyman in Camperdown. The same priest, Rev. Michael Neylan, officiat- ed and the wedding took place at the Colac Presbytery on 17th July, 1873, Powell at that time being 25 years of age. After the marriage signa- tures had been made, Father Neylan came across to young Powell, touch- ed him on the shoulder and said: "Look here, young fellow, that job will just cost you £12!" Mrs. Powell died some time ago, two days before the fiftieth anniversary of the wed- ding. Among other occupations that he grew expert at as a lad was shearing, and at 15 years he had his first ex- perience on the boards as a blade shearer at Watch Hill, a station on the eastern banks of Lake Coranga- mite, and thence onwards for many years he followed up this lucrative vocation, during which time he shore in all parts of Victoria, but only once crossed the border and that was at Rutherford's station on the other side of the Murray River. In time he became a pretty fast shear- er and on some boards he was regarded as the "ringer," viz., the fast- est man in the shed. He had seen faster men, but the best man he ever knew with the shears was Davie Fenton, the father of Dan Fenton of Donald's Hill and Jim Fenton of Camperdown. He used to run sheep and sheep with him, but Fenton was as tough as wire and finished with a better tally. Among stations that he (Powell) had worked on was Struan (now Gnarpurt) where he put up his highest tally of 180 sheep for a day's shearing; at Currie's Lara station, where he worked 46 years ago, Mack's Berrybank estate, Wilson's Gala estate, now Dr. Lang's property and many others. When the Darlington bridge was washed away in the big flood about fifty years ago, the biggest flood that he had ever seen, he had the job of carting timber out for the new structure. The flood extended for miles on either side of the Emu River. The great flow of water had impressed itself on his memory, and it was a sight that he would never forget. The top rail of the old bridge at McKinnon's on the Emu was just showing, and it was marvellous that a mail- man named Jack Wilson was able to cross it from the Terang side. On that side there was an hotel close to the river with the mile post in front of the door and the flood rose until the bar was a couple of feet deep in water. The hotel was kept by a foreigner named Silvie. About 40 years ago he had another experience while driving a team of bullocks on the plains out near Lismore. Seeing a lot of wild turkeys he decided to have a shot at them, using a pony he had with him to stalk them. Letting the bullocks proceed on their way he got close enough to the turkeys to chance a shot. He used an old muzzle- loading gun, black powder and paper in place of wads. It was summer time and the grass knee deep. The discharge from the gun set the grass afire, and it looked as though the whole countryside would be burnt. However, a mob of men quickly put in an appearance and the flames were subdued after about fifty acres of grass had been consumed. He then went off after his bullocks, fully expecting trouble as the result of the unfortunate happening, but nothing eventuated. Shortly after he married he decided to try his hand at farming and securing about 180 acres near "Basin Banks" on the far side of Lake Bullen Merri. He cleared the timber on the property right down to the water's edge and then put in his crop, having ploughed right down the hill to within a stone's throw of the lake. He remained on this property for 28 years and it was on this picturesque spot that all but one of his family were born. His nearest neighbour was the father of the late Donald McDonald, of "Werna." Mr Tom Potter now owns the property. In 1913, the year before the disastrous drought, he decided to make another shift and transferred his stock and possessions to a home at Skibo on the Darlington road. The change, however, proved to be a calamitous one, for next year he lost 180 head of cattle and a number of horses and other stock, being only one of many in all parts of the State who suffered great hardship in the appalling 1914 drought. After that setback he came into Camperdown and has been a resident of the town ever since. Having been a resident of Camperdown and district for 72 years he has seen it in its good and bad times, and knew practically all the inhabitants of the early days. Amongst the bullockies that he remembers were Jim Gellie, the Graylands, Lynn, Clarendon and many others. There were only two hotels when he arrived in 1860, the Leura and the Camperdown, and another two-storey hotel down at Old Timboon, kept by Mr. Cousens. John McMahon, Fred Wright, Pat Dillon, McCabe, John Walls, Jim Henderson, Dick Boyce and many other old-timers he often recalls when seated by his fireside, and he has been particularly pleased to read the present series of articles about early Camperdown identities.[1]

Names associated with Living in Camperdown

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Leslie Fitzgerald

John Powell
  1. Camperdown Chronicle, 23 June 1932.