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.


Coyne’s Leap

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

“Coyne’s Leap” has a place in the Yarramalong Valley’s legends. As is the case with legends, the actual facts are sketchy but John Coyne became legendary by leaping on horseback over a turpentine tree 2.75 metres in diameter while being pursued by two policemen also on horseback. This occurred 300 metres to the west of Wyong Creek School. The tree had fallen down from the adjoining steep hill and rested across the creek bed near the bridge that leads to the residences at 633-643 Yarramalong Road. The dry creek was the best path through the thick bush. The police were unable to make the leap themselves and Coyne vanished. He was described as a notorious “bushranger”. At that time the word “bushranger” not only meant the Ned Kelly variety but included all manner of persons stealing food and goods from homes and farmhouses.

The legend does not say when this happened but the Advocate reported (3 November 1977) that Matthew Woodbury had said the incident was in the 1840s. This is quite possible because bushrangers were active in Brisbane Water at the time. The legend also does not say why Coyne was being pursued. He may very well have been a bushranger. If the Leap was in the 1840s, it was not for murder because this did not enter the picture until 1855.

The Bushranger Pursued by E.C. May. May, E.C. (Edgar C.), 1867-1920.

The Bushranger Pursued by E.C. May. May, E.C. (Edgar C.), 1867-1920.

Research shows the most likely John Coyne was a 21 year old convict who arrived on the ship Portland (2) in 1833. He had been given a 7 year sentence having been tried in Galway.

The Leap was not the only reason John Coyne became part of the Valley’s history.

On 3 August 1855, Gosford Coroner J Harrison found that Mary Woolley, Robert Woolley’s 44 year old wife, had been murdered. Robert Woolley was a settler living with his wife where Woodbury’s Inn was later situated. The Woolley’s 5 year old child, named Robert after his father, was present while his mother was being murdered but he hid. Coyne was charged for her murder and sent to Sydney for trial. For reasons now obscure, he was not actually brought to trial but was discharged.

In May 1856 Coyne did stand trial for stealing a “draught chain” from the Ourimbah Sawmill Company. The evidence was that the chain had been stolen about 18 months previously – which would have been in about September 1854 and before the murder. It was known Robert Woolley was to be involved in the 1856 legal proceedings as a witness against Coyne. Coyne, knowing this, may have been badly disposed towards Woolley. Perhaps he merely confronted his wife in Robert’s absence and the situation got so out of hand that he ended up murdering her. This is conjecture but after 157 years it is not possible to know.

After these events John Coyne vanished from the records.

Time passed, and the next appearance of a John Coyne was in the Sydney Morning Herald on 12 March, 1872. It reported that “A woman named Aveline Littler was murdered while travelling in a cart to Windeyer on Wednesday. A man named John Coyne, or Conn, has been arrested on suspicion. A tomahawk stained with blood on it has been found, and in size corresponds with the cuts through the woman’s hat”.

On 3 June 1872 the Evening News reported that John Conn, or Coyne, sentenced to death at the last sittings of the Criminal Court for having on the Mudgee Road, murdered a woman named Emmeline Littler, was hanged within the precincts of the (Bathurst) gaol at nine o’clock this morning. His head was severed by the fall”. The hanged man was 59 years old, the age that John Coyne, the 21 year old 1833 convict, would have been in 1872.

Writing in the Advocate of 20 July 1977, Edward Stinson said that “Some time later (after the Leap) Coyne was captured and put on trial… I have heard that his life came to an end when he was hanged in Bathurst Gaol”. The “some time later” could have been some 30 years later.

Robert Woolley Snr continued to live in the Wyong area for some years after his wife’s death and died in 1869. According to the Electoral Rolls their son, Robert, saw his life out in Cedar Brush Creek, Yarramalong and Lemon Tree. He died in 1925 and was buried in Yarramalong Cemetery. Stinson’s linking of the Woolley murder and the Bathurst hanging was not published until 52 years after Robert Jnr’s 1925 death.

Did Robert know that a man was hung in Bathurst in 1872 for a non-related murder and that man was his mother’s murderer? Did he have the comfort of knowing his mother’s murderer had met justice?

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SOURCES: Max Farley; Illustration is a drawing entitled, The Bushranger Pursued by E.C. May [trove.nla.gov.au].

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.