Call for expansion of Port Curtis

Port Curtis Expansion 1853 original text

Argument for the potential virtues of Central Queensland

(manually translated from original scan 02 Jan 2012, Andrew Thompson)

In this historic article from The Moreton Bay Courier, 10 September 1853, the unattributed writer from Gayndah complains to the editor about the failure of southern legislators to see merit in the expansion and settlement of “Port Curtis”, an area stretching from present-day Gladstone in the south to Broadsound (Shoalwater Bay) in the north.

Bear in mind that at time of publication, Queensland did not exist, so there was no concept yet of Central Queensland. The area was simply Port Curtis, the northernmost settlement of the New South Wales colony.

In fact, when Rockhampton was proclaimed two years later, the town was, unlike its future northern hamlets of Mackay and Townsville, originally part of New South Wales. This fact would have ramifications for the fledgling colony of Queensland for another half century – and perhaps even into modern times.

Also, a lot of animosity existed at this time between the settlements of Gayndah and Brisbane, with both vying to become the capital of the future colony of Queensland. But that’s another story for another day. 😊

Returning to the article, especially interesting is that the writer makes mention of Charles Archer‘s maiden expedition which is presently underway. Additionally, and very noteworthy, is that the writer clearly despises Thomas Wentworth, who initially held disdain for Central Queensland, but would be remembered as one of its great explorers.

If you enjoy this type of article, you can find more on the Central Queensland History page. Feel free to leave any related comments at the end of this page.

Andrew Thompson, editor | historian

Manual Translation:

The Moreton Bay Courier, 10 September 1853

DOMESTIC INTELLIGENCE (From a Correspondent)

In your issue of the 13th August, just at hand, we have an epitome of the expressed opinions of some of the Sydney legislators, relative to the intention of our Government to open Port Curtis. It is not intended here to dilate upon or canvass the interests of the utterers of those opinions, because when our leading Senator is reported to have said that “he could not see any probability that this part of the country would be occupied for many years to come, as he could not believe that any squatter could be such a fool as to run away from the great markets which now existed, etc., etc., etc., he thought the vote ought not to be passed,” – it would be as ridiculous as their own speeches read to expect more wisdom from the smaller fry.

How exasperating, though, does it become, and humiliating too, when we reflect that the colony’s destinies are guided by men who only remember the necessities and the mission of the ever-pioneering flock master, when themselves are individually concerned; and who know as much of the requirements of the country as they do of its geography. An influential Native gentlemen, not many years ago, asked his amiable but English wife if “Ben Lomond” was in London; and we suppose the honourable and learned member for Sydney has all along associated and assimilated Port Curtis and Port Essington as one, simply because he has never been to either, or, wiser, because their very names are bye-words and stains in our colonial history. But it is our duty to assure the learned member that Gladstone is not at Port Essington, and we shall inevitably surprise him by narrating that already the former is hemmed in by the enterprising wool grower.

Thus on the “north-west sheep are depasturing upon the famous “Dawson River,” within seventy miles of the port. The more famous and beautiful “Burnett” rolls its bountiful tide unceasingly along, at a distance of about a hundred and twenty miles to the westward, And to the eastward, stations have already encroached within fifty miles of the Surveyor’s tents. Shall we surprise him more by saying that a party of gentleman have just returned from the newly laid-out town, and report that the country between here and there is as inviting to the roadmaker as it is to the squatter?

Apart from Mr. Wentworth, this is good news for us all; and we gather that these “pioneers” had a most successful trip to, and speak in high if not eloquent terms of, the Port. It would not be judicious to describe all its advantages and beauties as they describe or saw them, and we therefore must content ourselves with saying that the harbour, its scenery, and the adjacent country, are pronounced equally good. The statement made by gentlemen who visited the spot two years ago, has been fully confirmed, and the anomalous fact – which can be no longer doubted – that Nature has clothed the sea shore thereabouts with a description of herbed pasturage hitherto supposed to exist only at certain elevations and distances from salt water, must be referred to the geologist and botanist to account for.

We believe that all the pastoral country within a hundred miles of Gladstone, and outside the anticipated reserve, is already either occupied or marked preparatory to tendering for, and we feel justified in asserting (no doubt to the incredulity and astonishment of the geographically learned and honourable member for Sydney, that the “Mackenzie” and even “Peak Downs,” will be conducing by this time next year, to the prosperity of our future Northern Capital.

There is at present much anxiety felt to hear the result of Mr. Charles Archer’s trip. His party has been absent nearly two months – it is said they were bent upon exploring the Upper Mackenzie – and, from the known abilities and energies of all engaged in it, great are the anticipations.

When the Port Curtis party left Gladstone, the Queen of the South was unloading at Wilmot’s wharf. Her captain pronounces the harbour as second only to Port Jackson, but complains of the scarcity of fresh water. We believe this is an old complaint, as Colonel Barney likewise found but little on the shore. The shells of the edifices erected in that officer’s time, still remain unmolested by the savage – not even the marks of their rude stone tomahawks on them can be seen, nor, apparently, have they employed one bit of worked timber to cultivate their fires. Do such facts not strike you, then, that these poor creatures seem invested with knowledge of the absurdity displayed by our Home authorities, in the abandonment of the place, and does it not seem as if they were unwilling to destroy a single monument or the most trifling relic, which points at or reminds us of our colonising follies?

Who can tell the benefits which must have arisen to the Northern Districts, if Port Curtis had not been so cruelly forsaken? We can picture a large town – a busy population – cotton fields – enormous steamers “fitness for Separation”- and even a mining community. And now, what really have we? A thousand pounds, reluctantly voted to open up the second best harbour on the coast, and a Surveyor wasting it by persevering, as usual, in fixing the town in the very worst place. Though a large fresh water stream was found within ten miles of his encampment, he persists in placing Gladstone away from the necessary element. Truly our rulers in these matters are unequalled, and by their accustomed injudiciousness may mar the prospects of Young Gladstone for a while.

But it requires no prophet to foresee and foretell that a Port like it, which is fringed with country eminently adapted for arable and pastoral pursuits; singularly as advantageously backed up with the extensive districts of the Burnett and Dawson Rivers; by proximity the natural outlet for the produce of the still more extensive but unoccupied country to the northward; by unmistakeable appearance and by more than conjecture abundantly supplied with minerals; situated, too, on the right track and in the proper place for whalers to refit, and the vast oceanic steam fleet, to call at – we repeat that it does not require a prophet to foresee and foretell that such a Port is neither to be altogether marred by Governmental blunders, or senatorial selfishness.

Nor will it ever much resemble the Clarence, Wide Bay, or the Dredging-machine-requiring Brisbane. So jealous, indeed, are we of the goodness of our splendid port, that you must suffer us to correct a [pamphlet] you have published by saying that “one of the late parties had to turn back when near Gladstone, owing to swamps and impervious scrubs.” We believe neither of these evils exist near the said locality. Our information is direct from a gentleman who really went there, and he says their party saw no scrubs nearer the port than the brigalow ones on the “Dawson”, excepting a very trifling patch of an acre or two in size, on some of the high ranges; and the only swamps met with where such as usually line all salt water creeks, and seldom extend more than a few yards towards or beyond the banks. There remain, therefore, no obstacles, even in the imagination, to making good roads from the various parts of the back country down to Gladstone, and if we are not misinformed, Messrs. Hay have already set about making the one from their quarter.

We hear of large quantities of stock to be moved out to the new country as soon as the coming shearing is over, and it is gratifying thus to know that the resources and energies of the wilderness-redeeming sheep farmer are not completely paralysed by the allurements of the gold fields. Doubtless their pioneering tasks will be attended with the usual amount of personal danger and general troubles, and none can estimate them better than those who have preceded in the same way, but when they have accomplished their mission – when they have done, and done well, that which has given Sturt and Leichhardt renown, to our Surveyor-General a knighthood, and the power to do exactly as he likes – when the useful squatter has been driven further out still by the settler, and the settler by the agriculturist or planter – when the wilderness, in fact, is turned into a teeming, fruitful field – then it must be remembered – let Mr. Wentworth and his Co-Council even remember, that the “fools”, had a higher duty to perform, and Northern Australia a better destiny to reach, than merely “supplying the Southern Markets with fat stock.” She has, indeed, to become the Louisiana of the southern seas; nor will the carping of the crusty member for Sydney, the ill-timed and nonsensical attempt at wit of the legal member for Bathurst; the procrastination of the only benefited member from the Sydney Railway, or, worse still, the lukewarmness of the Colonial Secretary, stay her inevitable progress.

The whole Northern Districts have wanted a Port, suitable to represent their own goodness. It now becomes the inhabitants, therefore, to devote their energies – not paralyses – towards its development. The approaching land sale will testify their intentions.

Gayndah, August, 1853.

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