The Richter Caves

These history notes are contributed to Valley Ventures by one of our members, Max Farley.

There are Caves in the Yarramalong Valley which years ago captured wide attention. Though the early timber getters would no doubt have known of their existence, the Caves did not excite interest until 1890 when “found” by a local sawmill proprietor, John Richter. An engraving made at the time on a rock face read “These Caves were found by J E Richter in 1890”. Sightseers were attracted when the Gosford Times of 11 April 1902 wrote that “this curiosity of nature cannot be found by a stranger owing to the dense forest surrounding”. Richter acted as guide for visitors. Today the Caves are rarely visited largely because of their inaccessibility. They are said to be on the left hand (northern) side of Forest Road about 6.5 km from the corner of Bumble Hill Rd. Then an estimated 300 metres down.

An engraving on a rock face at the Richter's Caves Flora Reserve.

An engraving on a rock face at the Richter’s Caves Flora Reserve. Image: GosfordWyongHistoricSites

The Times said the Caves “are a remarkable instance of the process of weathering… in many instances the projections run to a length of six feet or more and present some designs of different forms which become quite bewildering to the beholder. These strange forms approximately represent deers’ horns, wings of birds, elephants’ ears, dish bowls etc… In some places forms like sponges or honeycomb are hanging from the ceiling; also cows’ udders with teats of various lengths and shelvings… on which eagles’ nests are perched.”

Few of today’s residents would have heard of the Caves and just as few would know of John Richter. However, if one were to accept without question everything said of him he was one of the most interesting persons ever to have lived in the Valley.

John Ernest Richter was born in Germany in 1840 and came to Australia in 1844 with his parents. The parents were headed for Queensland naively determined to bring religion to the Aborigines. Their efforts were unsuccessful and the family very soon came south, first to Victoria then to New South Wales. In 1862/1863, they moved to New Zealand following the discovery of gold there. John married in 1878 and returned to NSW in 1881 with his wife Jenny. By all accounts he had a sawmill in Wyong Creek by 1883.

A portion of the 1922 Ourimbah Parish map showing Samuel Richter's 40 acre portion and the approximate location of Richter's Caves.

A portion of the 1922 Ourimbah Parish map showing the Richter family’s 40 acre portion and the approximate location of Richter’s Caves. Image: GosfordWyongHistoricSites

Richter is said to have played many roles. However, much of this is found in a letter he wrote to his daughter at Rockhampton. The letter is reproduced in the Rockhampton Morning Bulletin of 3 July 1909. In essence, it said he:

  • participated in bloodthirsty conflicts with Aborigines in Queensland and suffered three spear wounds one of which went through his abdomen.
  • was “called upon… to battle with and hunt the blacks out of” the district of Gin Gin in Queensland.
  • explored extensively in Queensland and New Zealand.
  • had a New Zealand lake, Lake Richter, and caves carry his name.
  • built “the first building of any pretensions” put up in Rockhampton. Previously there had been only two bark huts and a “smithy”.
  • prospected with some success for gold at Canoona and Port Curtis in Queensland.
  • was a carpenter, builder, poet, writer and artist.
  • wrote “it was I who invented the first (breeching rifle) in London in 1867”.
  • was an inventor who held Patent No. 9531 for improvements for felloe saws. This is true.

Space does not allow a full explanation but there is a likelihood that John had an elder brother, Ernst, who explored and prospected in Queensland in the several years before 1862. This leaves open the possibility that Ernst Richter and John Ernest Richter were one and the same person because John claimed these exploits and achievements. The exploits and achievements themselves call for confirmation.

John’s family life was complex. His wife appeared to play no continuing role. There were no children from this marriage. This is not to say he, personally, had no children. It seems he had a daughter, Florence Richter, who was an actress of renown and performed throughout Australia. Details of her private life, including her birth, are obscure. It has also been written that Richter had a son who was born in 1889 and died in 1965. The records about this son are inconsistent.

Richter’s life in Wyong Creek from 1883 until his 1913 death in Sydney also lacks certainty. It seems likely he spent most of his remaining forty years living alone in Wyong. This would have been a major change in lifestyle for a man who had told how he had spent the earlier part of his life adventuring.

Evidence that Richter was a storyteller comes in his own words. In the 1909 letter he wrote to his daughter in Rockhampton he said that about two months previously he had stood under a veranda at Wilkinson’s Department Store in Wyong one very wet day telling a party of twelve men, mostly strangers, of his escapades. He clearly enjoyed impressing an audience.

Apart from the existence of the Richter Caves many of the details of his story have yet to be either confirmed with contemporary evidence or discounted. Every word may indeed be true. Or not.

John Richter offered some extra comments on two of his contemporaries in his 1909 letter to his daughter which appeared in a Rockhampton publication on 3 July 1909. Richter wrote that in 1862:

Mr Limmitson (Linnertson) of Wyong Creek was working for a sawmill at Wisemans Lagoons, about a mile west of Rockhampton. Henry Levett (of Wyong Creek) was also on the Dawson River Country about that time.

Hamilton Hill snr of Yarramalong was there… The blacks took a set on Hamilton, for, as you know he was not a prepossessing man, even to the people of his own (“Ham” Hill could not have been offended because he had died in 1905).

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SOURCES: Max Farley; A Pictorial History of the Wyong Shire, Volume 1-5, Edward Stinson. Image Source: GosfordWyongHistoricSites

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Pioneering Personalities: James “Jimmy” Waters (1834­‐1903)

These history notes are contributed to Valley Ventures by one of our members, Max Farley.

James “Jimmy” Waters, destined to be known as “The King of Yarramalong”, was a 21 year-old when he arrived in the Yarramalong Valley in 1856. He was with his parents, Ezekiel and Jane, together with his five surviving siblings. He had been born in Ireland and was the eldest. Ezekiel, a “stone cutter” had come to the colony from Northern Ireland in 1838 as a free settler. He was to work on building Darlinghurst Gaol. It seems government money temporarily ran out and Ezekiel was given a grant of land at Hexham. The frequency of floods in the Hunter caused him to come to Yarramalong with his family.

James very soon acquired land in the Valley in the vicinity of 304 Ravensdale Road. He called it Ravensdale Farm after a pretty valley of that name near the Waters’ home in Northern Ireland.

He appears to have been an imaginative and innovative person with a lively mind and a wide range of interests. As a farmer, he introduced “Planters Friend”, a sugar cane from which he made molasses. To crush it, he made a small mill with a wooden roller and powered by one horse. Another innovation was growing arrowroot, which he exhibited internationally and won a First Class Medal in 1876 at the Philadelphia Exhibition. In 1880 he expanded significantly by opening the first steam-powered sawmill in the district, the nearest other being at Ourimbah. It was initially at Sandy Flat below the Cemetery. He specialised in cutting “felloes” for which he designed a “Dished Circular Saw”.

James was by no means restricted to rural activities. He took great interest in the political and economic affairs of the day and presided over or actively participated in public meetings at which issues of the day were debated. Such controversial questions as Free Trade, Protectionism, Land Tax and Federating the State colonies were on the agendas. On these and other matters he was a frequent writer of “letters to the Editor”. Religion was a topic on which he had firm opinions. Though his father was a staunch Presbyterian, James himself was always ready to argue in favour of his own atheism.

Community questions received his attention. When the route of the coming railway was being considered he was active in stirring up action to have it travel through Gosford rather than Windsor as was being proposed. At a public meeting in Gosford in 1878 James “in a very able speech, MOVED: That the most direct route, and the one possessing the most general benefits, is from Newcastle, passing through Brisbane Water, and terminating on the north shore of Port Jackson”. Having in mind the bad state of Yarramalong Road, particularly in wet conditions, it was important to the settlers that the Bumble Hill Road be improved. James took part in a deputation to the Government seeking funds for this purpose. On a different topic altogether it was James who seconded a motion at the public meeting where it was resolved to open a subscription list to support the Irish Famine Relief Fund.

James was a Magistrate, a member of the Public School Board of Education for the sub-district Wyong and a Trustee of the Yarramalong General Cemetery.

There were no doctors in the Valley and James provided basic medical aid. Not only did he pull teeth and stitch cuts – he also set broken limbs. It is told that when a daughter, Stella, was badly scalded he took skin from other of his children and grafted it on to her.

He was a genial soul who enjoyed spending time with his contemporaries. An item in the Gosford Times recorded that in later life “After tea the irrepressible ‘Jimmy’ Waters makes his appearance on the scene (and) at once strikes up a controversy. He is never happy unless he is arguing the point, and he will converse with mysterious wisdom on any subject from the affinity of atoms to the immortality of the soul”. The “scene” referred to was the Yarramalong Inn, owned by his younger brother William “Billy” Waters. It was burnt down in 1917 and the publican’s son, Cleve Waters, built Linga Longa Guest House on the site. The building remains today.

James Waters and his wife Pricilla Woodbury. Photo source: Steve Waters.

James Waters and his second wife Pricilla Woodbury. Photo source: Steve Waters.

Though it is painful to record information about a person who in all other ways would be seen as an outstanding individual no matter what the century, it is necessary to do so to present a rounded picture. Social values and the expectations of women, and men too, in the 1800s were vastly different from those of today. And reliable birth control was not available. 21st century eyes would be aghast to know he fathered 17 children from two wives. He married the 16 year-old Barbara Thompson in 1854 and they had 9 children in the following 18 years. She died in 1872 in childbirth bearing the ninth. Her age was 34. He then married 22 year-old Priscilla Woodbury in 1881 and they had eight children in the next 18 years. James died in 1903 and Priscilla outlived him by 53 years.

To conclude on a positive note: at the 1929 Annual Pioneers Dinner, the 97 year old William Pescud said that “he knew all the pioneers of the district and that in his opinion no kindlier man than the late James Waters ever lived.”

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 SOURCES: Max Farley; A Pictorial History of the Wyong Shire, Volume 1-5, Edward Stinson.

The Valley’s industries

These history notes are contributed to Valley Ventures by one of our members, Max Farley.

The Central Coast was a by-passed district in its early days with the only realistic access to the Sydney market being by water from Gosford. Yarramalong Valley residents had the additional task of first getting their goods down the Valley to Gosford. The handful of early settlers were, however, subsistence farmers who relied on the few animals they had and on the food they grew for themselves. Trees were only felled to make rudimentary shelters for the family and to clear land for growing vegetables and crops and to make space for animals and poultry.

Timber

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Yarramalong Valley timber cutters

These few words cannot tell the Valley’s timber story in any detail. As more settlers arrived in the latter part of the 1800s the potential to sell cut timber grew. When the Great North Road was developed in the 1850s it became possible to send timber from the top of the Yarramalong Valley to Maitland in one direction and to Wisemans Ferry in the other. By the 1880s the easiest timber to access had been removed and it was not economic to spend effort cutting and transporting timber from higher up the Valley’s hillsides. The industry declined.

The situation changed dramatically with the opening of the railway line from Newcastle to Sydney in 1889. Transporting timber in quantity to those markets became possible. Yards for the loading of timber were established where the road from the Valley met the railway line. This was where the racecourse now is. A town, Wyong, was created. This new phase of the industry peaked about 1910 and began to fade when available trees were again becoming less available in the 1920s. With timber from the surrounding State Forests together with some regrowth, the industry continued for many years but on a vastly reduced scale. There are now no mills in the Valley.

Subsequent Industries

In 1906 it was said “that when the timber is gone, Wyong is done”. Happily this proved wrong.

The 1889 railway was not only a boon for timber. The access to the markets of Sydney and Newcastle in particular could be utilised by other industries which had been developing in the shadow of the timber industry. There were a number of these. Yarramalong Valley residents were well experienced in tending to cows, orcharding and poultry farming. It is not at all surprising those three activities expanded commercially to fill the timber void.

Dairying

WE_Book_Butter Factory

Other dates could be chosen to mark the beginning of commercial dairying in the Valley but the opening of a dairy in about 1890 by Anders Christenson at his home “The Cedars”, known as the “Stone House”, was important. It and its adjacent cheese house still remain at 595 Brush Creek Road. He also had a piggery and produced ham and bacon. From that date on, dairying expanded rapidly. In 1907 a co-operative, the Wyong Butter Factory, was set up near Alison Homestead. Farmers supplied cream to the Butter Factory to make butter which was sold in Sydney. By 1921, 200 dairy farmers were sending both milk and cream to the factory. It became known as the Milk Factory. The best dairying days were the 1950s, 60s and 70s before the industry declined. Land prices in the Valley increased to such an extent that for many it became preferable to sell out and put their capital to better use with less physical effort and a better life style.

Orcharding

WE_Book_24_Apple Orchard_Smith

Orange trees had been growing in limited numbers in the Shire for many years before the coming of the railway made citrus a commercial industry. The Salmon brothers of Wyong Creek introduced citrus into the Valley in the early 1900s and it became a major industry. Crops were not restricted to citrus but extended to persimmon and stone fruit. Both dairying and orcharding suffered a decline in the depression and after WW2 the necessary land areas were being reduced by urban growth. Large scale orcharding had virtually disappeared as a significant industry by the late 1960s.

Poultry Farming

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Early Yarramalong Valley free-range poultry farm

Poultry farming required relatively little land space and became a main industry when the citrus and dairying industries were declining. In 1961 the Central Coast was producing eight million eggs annually as well as large quantities of meat. However this industry lost its commercial significance in the Valley with the advent of egg production and poultry meat in “battery” cages. These practices do not exist in the Valley.

Change

Much changed in the latter quarter of the 1900s. Timber, dairying, orcharding and poultry farming largely disappeared. At the same time transport to other parts of the Central Coast to Sydney, Newcastle and the Hunter improved even more, particularly with the opening of the M1 (F3) freeway.

These changes had significant social effects. It became possible, particularly for Sydney people, to travel easily to the area and purchase full or part-time rural retreats and hobby farms. Land values increased (a mixed blessing perhaps); education and employment opportunities away from the Valley became available to all particularly women and young people. Cultural attractions not available in the Valley drew people to them.

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The Valley now boasts a variety of farm-stays, horse studs and even a few alpaca farms

Notwithstanding these many changes, the Yarramalong Valley has been able to retain much of its valued rural atmosphere. This is partly because a number of turf farms replaced dairies; properties devoted to horse care – breeding, spelling and riding – multiplied and specialist farms (alpaca, cattle breeding and grazing, deer, donkey, goat) appeared. Even bee breeding and, for a time, wine production. Hospitality activities (farm stays, function venues, dining locations) have emerged. There is no limit to the commercial possibilities available within the Valley to those with imagination and enthusiasm.

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SOURCES: Max Farley; A Pictorial History of the Wyong Shire, Volume 1-5, Edward Stinson.

The Beginning of Settlement

These history notes are contributed to Valley Ventures by one of our members, Max Farley.

Interest in the Yarramalong Valley started with cedar getters in the 1830s but Europeans had been travelling near and through the Valley for decades beforehand. Its proximity to the Great North Road (George Downes Drive) was alone sufficient to ensure this.

Ownership of private land began in 1840. The groundwork was unknowingly laid by Wyong’s pioneering Cape family. William Cape was a teacher and English immigrant. In 1823 he took over control of the Sydney Academy with his eldest son William Timothy to assist him. William senior put schooling aside to concentrate on Brisbane Water grants he and two of his sons had at what today we would call Wyong and Alison. They were relatively close to the coast.

William Timothy Cape [108-1863]

William Timothy Cape [1808-1863]

In 1827, William Timothy Cape became responsible for the Sydney Public School. One of his pupils was Richard Hill with whom the Capes formed a close connection. Hill would have become well aware of the Capes’ interests in the area.

Perhaps the real impetus that led to private ownership in the Yarramalong Valley started with the birth of three daughters of an emancipist, Francis Cox. Sarah Cox was born in 1806, Maria in 1809 and Henrietta in 1812. It can confidently be said that their choice of husbands led to the beginning of ownership of private land in the Valley.

Sarah married William Charles Wentworth the journalist, politician and explorer. Wentworth himself had no direct involvement with the Valley but was to smooth the way.

Maria married George Bloodworth, the son of a respected emancipist brickmaker. In the 1830s George was illegally removing cedar from Crown land in Jilliby, Yarramalong and beyond. He was not unique in this. Narara settler Frederick Hely, a one-time Principal Superintendent of Convicts, was doing the same. Bloodworth used leased land at Jilliby as a base. He apparently established a camp in a paddock immediately to the north west of Stephenson’s Bridge.

Frederick Augustus Hely [1794-1836]

Frederick Augustus Hely [1794-1836]

Henrietta Cox married Richard Hill. He had been born in 1810 as the son of an emancipated butcher. He was apprenticed as a carpenter. In the 1820s he managed Wentworth’s Vaucluse estate. Wentworth became his mentor. This led to Hill becoming a Member of the NSW Legislative Assembly (1868–1877) and of the Legislative Council (1880–1895). He had many other activities including being a pastoralist, hotelier, company director, large orchardist near Lane Cove River, magistrate, Agricultural Society Councillor and a founding member of the Aborigines Protection Board.

Hill knew of the Capes’ ownership of coastal land in the district. His new brother-in-law George Bloodworth, was operating inland in the nearby timbered Yarramalong Valley and would have drawn Hill’s attention to the Valley’s potential in a district with which Hill was already broadly familiar because of his connection with the Capes. He applied to purchase land as early as 1838. On 18 February 1840, he succeeded with a grant of 843 acres. This land went from near Yarramalong School down to and east along the southern side of Wyong Creek. It encompassed Stinsons Lane and the Yarramalong cemetery area. It has been incorrectly said that the grant was to Reverend Richard Hill of St James Church in Sydney. There was indeed a grant to the Reverend Hill but it was at Milbrodale in the Hunter.

An intriguing part of Hill’s grant was that it was made on the very day that George Bloodworth died – 18 February 1840. Was this just a coincidence and if not, why not?

Hill did not settle on his grant and possibly did not ever sight it. Significant private ownership and settlement in the Valley began c1853. By 1865 settlers had included the Balls, Beavens, Boyds, Durringtons, Fannings, Hills, Kellys, Kennedys, Lettes, Morans, O’Neills, O’Tooles, Stinsons, Tobins, Waters and Watkins. A number of these names remain familiar. They came from various places but largely from the Hunter and from Macdonald River. The Stinsons, Waters and Hills, for example, were from Hexham.

Map of Wyong Shire [by Jodi Hilton]

Map of Wyong Shire [by Jodi Hilton]

On 8 November 1854, Richard Hill sold his land to John Maximus Lette who had arrived in the Valley from Tasmania with his new wife the year before. Lette built a home on the eastern side of Stinsons Lane between Wyong Creek and the still-existing lagoon. Later the 843 acres were, in effect, divided into two with the section to the east of Stinsons Lane acquired by the Stinson family who were already large landowners in the district. The section to the west of Stinsons Lane went to the Hill family which included Alexander and Hamilton Hill. These Hills had no connection with Richard Hill the original owner. The relatively new and recently sold home at 1429 Yarramalong Road carries the name Hamilton Hill.

The settling of the Yarramalong Valley began long before Wyong township itself was established. This came about when the Sydney/Newcastle railway opened in 1887– 1889. Wyong became a transport centre for transporting timber.

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SOURCES: Max Farley; A Pictorial History of the Wyong Shire, Volume 1-5, Edward Stinson.

Why Ravensdale?

These history notes are contributed to Valley Ventures by one of our members, Max Farley.

Ravensdale Intersection

All local people know of Ravensdale as the upper part of the Valley north-west of the junction of Brush Creek and Ravensdale Roads. It seems, however, there is no consensus on why it has that name. An early mention of “Ravensdale” was on 27 August 1875 in the Australian Town and Country Journal. It recorded that “James Waters, Ravensdale, Brisbane Water,” was sending arrowroot to Melbourne for showing at the forthcoming Melbourne Exhibition. Any claim to the name being introduced after that date is clearly wrong. 

Of relevance is John Woodbury who was born in the colony in 1822 and the son of Richard Woodbury. Richard was a convict who came from Bristol in England and lived with his family in the Hawkesbury area. Valerie Ross, a respected researcher, says in her 1981 book A Hawkesbury Story, that John Woodbury married Mary Wells in 1856 “and settled at Yarramalong, their property, Ravensdale, giving its name to the district”. However, reliable official records confirming that John and Mary did in fact actually settle permanently in Yarramalong and, if so where, have so far not emerged. 

Of relevance too, is this comment by E H Stinson in the fifth volume of his Pictorial History of the Wyong Shire (1984) – “the district of Ravensdale took its name from Ravensdale Farm, the property of the pioneer James Waters… James was born in Ireland and named it after an ancestral property in his homeland.” James Waters (1834–1903) was born in Aughaloo (Augaloo), County Tyrone, Northern Ireland, as were his father Ezekiel and James’ brother Robert

Of yet further relevance are the following extracts from the Home Page of the Ravensdale Historical Society in Ireland: 

“Ravensdale is located in the Republic of Ireland just south of the Border with Northern Ireland… The name Ravensdale was introduced by the Fortesque family who were the landlords from the early 1770s. They resided at the Ravensdale Park House, a palatial house overlooking the valley… Today the name Ravensdale has been extended to include all of that picturesque valley… The Village of Ravensdale more or less in the centre of the Valley has many fine Victorian residences…”

It is noted that Castletown Old Cemetery between Ravensdale in County Louth and County Tyrone has several persons named Waters buried within it as do other cemeteries in the area. 

On the face of it, the probability is that the name Ravensdale can be attributed to the Waters family although it cannot be inferred that the Waters’ ancestral property was Ravensdale Park House. 

None of this, however, denies the Woodburys’ association with the district as property owners or occupiers or both. Resolving that question is beyond the scope of these comments but opens a challenging area for research by local historians or the Waters or Woodbury families. The closeness of the families is shown by the fact that, in 1881 after his wife died, James Waters married Priscilla Woodbury. She was the eldest daughter of John and Mary Woodbury.

Ravensdale Map

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SOURCES: Max Farley; SOURCES: Trove Digital Newspaper Archive; NSW Registry of Births, Deaths & Marriages Historical Indexes; Ravensdale Historical SocietyA Hawkesbury Story, Valerie Ross; A Pictorial History of the Wyong Shire, Volume 5, Edward Stinson; .

Fernances Country – the Real Story

These history notes are contributed to Valley Ventures by one of our members, Max Farley.

You are now entering Fernances Country [Photo Max Farley]

You are now entering Fernances Country [Photo source Max Farley]

Everyone who has travelled up Brush Creek Road knows the prominent sign declaring the entrance to Fernances Country. There certainly are Fernances in the vicinity but with many families living higher up Cedar Brush Creek, it clearly does not imply that the Fernances ever claimed all the land from that point on. Not everyone knows why the sign is there. The explanation comes from Macka Fernance of Cedar Brush Creek.

Along the Great North Road towards Wollombi the Road crosses a creek. At the crossing point there was a Fernances Crossing sign. It seems that many, many years ago a Brush Creek lady had a night out at the Wollombi hotel. Driving home after a few drinks she succumbed to an impulse to souvenir the sign. This she duly did, perhaps with the help of a companion. Her intention had been to give it to her near neighbours, the Fernances. In sober mood the next morning, she had second thoughts and decided to do no more about it. She therefore left it in her garage. The years passed and the time came for her to move away from the Valley and this involved clearing out her garage.

The authorities by then had long since replaced the sign and its loss was no longer an issue. No one by then would bother to ask questions if the original sign re-appeared. So the lady belatedly gifted it to Macka’s father, Keith Fernance, who was the Fernance family’s patriarch at the time.

Keith felt the sign should not be hidden any longer but be put to good use. He knew someone who was connected with a local body which concerned itself with these things and arranged the word “Crossing” to be replaced with “Country.” This was how the Fernances Country landmark was born. Long may it remain where it is.

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SOURCES: Max Farley.

First white child in Wyong district

These history notes are contributed to Valley Ventures by one of our members, Max Farley.

Baby1

It is a common practice for people to claim that “so-and-so” was the first child to be born in their area. Meaning the “first white child” of course. Making an unchallengeable selection is risky. Swancott, for example, said in his Blue Gum Flat to Budgewoi, published in 1963, that the honour went to James Ezekiel Waters who was born on 24 June 1859.

This overlooks the fact that John and Sarah Lette arrived from Tasmania in 1853 and settled in Stinsons Lane where they had sons Frank (1854) and Donald (1856). A daughter, Emily, came in 1859 the same year as James Waters. The Lettes left for the Kiandra goldfields in 1860 where John prospered as a storekeeper and pastoralist.

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SOURCES: Max Farley; Illustration of baby from Project Gutenberg EBook of Searchlights on Health by B. G. Jefferis and J. L. Nichols.