Wyong Wood Chopping

A meeting of local woodchoppers of the Wyong and Yarramalong district, c1900.

A meeting of local wood choppers of the Wyong and Yarramalong district, circa 1900.

It was like “knocking off work to carry bricks”! The timber cutters would come down from the mountains to Wyong in their hundreds on Saturdays to get supplies and to relax. Many (but not all) would go to the hotels and drink pretty heavily; and they would take plenty of liquor back with them to their camps in the hills to last them for the coming week. It was good business for the hotel keepers.

Wood chopping became a popular sport on Saturday afternoons in hotel yards, or in paddocks, and later at the Warner Sports Ground in Wyong after it was opened in 1907.

The Referree, 14 October 1903

Woodchopping contest at Yarramalong. The Referee, 14 October 1914.

Woodchopping contest at Yarramalong. The Referee, 14 October 1914.

Gosford Times, 15 December 1905

The Axeman’s Club looks forward to giving next Saturday one of the best wood chopping contents that have yet been seen in the district, which is saying a lot considering the successful events we have witnessed during the last year or two. The number of entries totals 60 – a record surely in itself. All the champions are coming so the event will be sure to attract a “bumper house”. Now, Mr Charlton, M.P. has promised to be present, and other representative men are also expected. The squaring contest will probably be one of the best that has ever taken place. The conditions are – the best two sleepers, the time limit being twenty minutes. The winner’s sleepers are to be sent by the Australian Timber Export Co. Ltd. to the Indian Exhibition. All competitors are to be admitted to the ground free. The club has now eighty members, and has prospects which must be very gratifying to those who have worked so hard during the few months it has been in existence.

Singleton Argus, 25 August 1906

1906-08-25_Singleton Argus_Woodchip Singleton Show

Notice of the handicaps for the wood chopping at the 1906 Singleton Show. Many of the names listed are Wyong and Yarramalong Valley identities. Singleton Argus, 25 August 1906.

Wood chopping became a popular event at regional shows. There was often good prize money to be had and our “gun” timber cutters were willing to travel as far afield as Newcastle, Maitland, Sydney and Bathurst to compete.

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 SOURCES: A Pictorial History of the Wyong Shire, Volume 1-5, Edward Stinson; Trove Digital Newspaper Archive.

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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 1903 Electoral Roll

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

As a rule electoral rolls don’t make interesting reading but the 1903 Federal one is an exception. Why? Because it is the first to include women.

Votes for Women

Australia became the first country in the world to extend the vote to women, along with the right to stand for Federal Parliament.

By combining the voters shown as living at Wyong Creek, Yarramalong, Cedar Brush Creek and Ravensdale we find a total of 310 persons made up of 169 men and 141 women.

Rolls show the occupations of voters. The first most striking information is that of the Valley’s 141 women, 138 were engaged in domestic duties. How things have changed! The women not listed under domestic duties were sisters Lillian and Maude Woodbury of Wyong Creek. Lillian was a school teacher and Maude taught music. The third was nurse Catherine Schofield of Yarramalong.

The overall figures can be split into sections. The first can be a combination of Yarramalong, Cedar Brush Creek and Ravensdale – the Upper Valley as it were, with the Lower Valley being Wyong Creek. The Upper Valley had 109 men and 82 women. It was male oriented compared to the Lower Valley where the figures were 60 men and 59 women. No doubt this was because the timber industry was concentrated at that stage in the Upper Valley and required male labour.

When, however, one looks at the occupations of these Upper Valley males it shows that 73 out of the male population of 109 described themselves as farmers. Yet only two said they were bushmen or teamsters. It seems that many of these farmers were in truth substantially engaged in the timber industry. In 1906 it was said that “a number of farmers put in a great deal of their time at this work, sometimes, we fear, to the neglect of their farms”.

Another point of interest was the appearance of six fishermen in Wyong Creek. Fishermen in Wyong Creek? Chinese had been fishing at The Entrance and Canton Beach since the 1860s. They had dried, smoked and pickled their catch for local consumption and for export. The opening of the railway in 1887/1889 led to professional fishermen coming to South Tacoma and sending their fish by train to Sydney. Obviously six of the fishermen gave their residential address as Wyong Creek.

In 1903, three women stood in the Australian election. Vida Goldstein – the first woman to register to stand for the Senate, polled 51,497 votes in 1903. She stood three more times over the years, up to 1920, despite never gaining a seat.

In 1903, three women stood in the Australian election. Vida Goldstein – the first woman to register to stand for the Senate, polled 51,497 votes in 1903. She stood three more times over the years, up to 1920, despite never gaining a seat.

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SOURCES: Max Farley; Australian Electoral Commission Fact Sheet 3; Wikipedia: Women in Government in Australia.

Floods in the Valley

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

So far this year [2013] the Yarramalong Valley has had two floods, one on 24/25 February and the second a week later. Floods such as these are not infrequent in the Valley. For many residents they are a significant inconvenience, for others these smallish short‐term ones are accepted philosophically as an unavoidable price to pay for the pleasure of living in the Valley. These February/March floods, however, were just babies compared to some of the past. Two earlier ones which made a lasting impression were those on Easter Saturday, 16 April 1927 and 18 June 1949. Other big ones were in 1893 and 1903. Not much is now really known about them.

The 1927 flood is said to have been the greatest ever recorded. The floodwaters covered the railway line north of Tuggerah Station and inundated homes on the west of Tuggerah Straight. In the Valley, the waters were over telephone lines with the Yarramalong Road estimated in parts to be covered by 7.5 metres. Orchards were destroyed and Smith’s Sawmill, then on the flat on the southern side of the Ravensdale and Brush Creek Roads junction, was completely submerged. There must have been extensive damage to other structures, crops, fences and stock.

The 1927 Flood in the Yarramalong and Wyong district [Photo source: Gary Gavenlock]

The 1927 Flood in the Yarramalong and Wyong district [Photo source: Gary Gavenlock]

If the 1927 flood was the biggest ever recorded, the 1949 one was apparently not far behind. It was reported that Yarramalong Road was again covered in places to a depth of about 7.5 metres and telegraph poles beside the road once more completely under water. The Sydney to Brisbane railway line was again closed south of Wyong. At Brush Creek two residents, Jack Hogan and Leonard Ingram, crossed the Creek to repair a motor vehicle. The Creek rose 2.5 meters in 30 minutes and marooned them on an “island” with the water rising rapidly. Hogan swam for help but Ingram could not swim and climbed a wattle tree and stayed until rescued. 

Sometimes more serious incidents occur. In a flood in 1950 a deceased Ravensdale resident reportedly had to be carried down the Valley by a Fernance neighbour in a utility. The Funeral Director’s vehicle could not negotiate the road. In 1963 it is told that another Ravensdale resident disappeared while returning home after dining one evening with a neighbour. His hat and walking stick were found but his body never located. 

There must be many untold flood stories. Some tragic, some serious, some humorous. It would be interesting to learn of more, particularly those which come with some sort of evidence.

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SOURCES: Max Farley; Wyong Museum & Historical Society Archives; Historic Wyong Shire DVD by Gary Gavenlock.