The Naming of Towns – Pine Creek and Larrimah
I have mentioned before that there are rude people (mostly the English) who think that Australian place names are the pinnacle of the bleeding obvious.
“Show me a Newtown,” they say with a certain supercilious sneer, “and I will show you a town that was once new. And as for Mount Warning, Cape Tribulation and …”
“But,” I declare, “those last two were bleeding obvious and were named by and Englishman, Captain James Cook, with the specific intention of being bleeding obvious. Mount Warning was a warning and Cape Tribulation was where he nearly sank on the Great Barrier Reef. It was tribulation, indeed.”
Still the joke persists and is often true. As I was working my way through writing up the Northern Territory towns I spent a goodly amount of time chuckling at the obviousness.
When I wrote Larrimah (nothing more than a roadhouse on the Stuart Highway) and Pine Creek I searched for their meaning. No one, not even the local Yangman people seemed to know what Larrimah meant although one very unreliable source claimed it was Yangman for “meeting place”.
Now the only reason people will remember it is because when I passed through the town, the pub, the only building of any importance in the non-town, has a Big Stubby (ie a huge beer bottle based on the original 80 fluid ounces Darwin Stubby which was introduced in 1958 to satisfy the endless thirst of Northern Territorians) outside and a pink panther sitting on a chair.
But my favourite in the naming game is Pine Creek. One of the miracles of the Northern Territory is that the explorer John McDouall Stuart crossed from Adelaide to the site of Darwin in 1862 – the first north-south crossing of the continent by a European.
Only eight years later, using Stuart’s maps (and remember he didn’t have a clue where he was going or what he was going to come across – no Google Maps for him) the government built an Overland Telegraph Line which connected Adelaide, and Sydney and Melbourne, to the world. They followed, almost exactly, the route that Stuart had taken which is why, even today, you can drive the 1500 km from Adelaide to Darwin and see old, termite-eaten poles beside the road.
Anyway, I am getting diverted. The men building the Overland Telegraph Line reached Pine Creek and one worker, Sydney Herbert, noted "This creek was by no means large, but was remarkable for the pines growing there". Hey, presto, let’s call it Pine Creek. Such a wild flight of imagination.
This, however, didn't stop the South Australian government, who were in charge of the Northern Territory at the time, from naming it Playford on 24 January, 1889 after Thomas Playford, the South Australian Commissioner of Crown Lands. This achieved little beyond confusion. The locals had no intention of changing the name – particularly as it was the name of a public servant. They insisted on calling the town Pine Creek. Amusingly, it was not officially gazetted as Pine Creek until 20 September 1973.
Now I reckon that is a good example of egalitarianism triumphing over an attempt to rule by edict. Pine Creek it was and no pompous fool in Adelaide was going to change it.
Convicts and very bad Geography
Nobody really tries very hard to get into the minds of the convicts who arrived in Australia in the eighteenth century. It fascinates me. Did they have any idea where they were going? Given that most of them would have had little or no education did they have any sense of Geography? What was life like? It must have been like being sent to the Moon or Mars. Strange animals? Strange trees and vegetation?
This occurred to me when I was writing up the towns in the Southern Highlands south-west of Sydney. One of the first European explorers of the area was John Wilson.
Now Wilson was a real piece of work. He deserves to loom large in Australian history but he has been forgotten. He was convicted in October 1785, at Wigan, Lancashire, England, of having stolen 'nine yards of cotton cloth called velveret, of the value of tenpence', and sentenced to transportation for seven years. Yes. You read that correctly. He stole cloth worth ten pence. Ten pence! And he was sentenced to seven years. And the English believe their legal system is wonderful!
He reached Port Jackson with the First Fleet in January 1788. Soon after his term expired Wilson, who had formerly been a mariner, took to the bush and lived with the local First Nation people, possibly at intervals, for several years. He may have been, as David Collins said, 'a wild, idle young man who preferred living among the natives to earning the wages of honest industry'; but in so doing he lived 'the hard way', and in his wanderings he acquired an extensive knowledge of much of the country within 100 miles of Sydney.
He established good relations with the locals, to whom he was 'Bun-bo-e', and “so definitely did he become a member of a particular band that his body, clad only in a kangaroo skin, was heavily scarred by tribal markings.”
Wilson’s moment of fame came in January 1798. Some of the Irish convicts in Sydney Town had developed a rather fanciful and foolish notion (but always remember they were no experts at Geography) that a 'New World' of white people lived about 200 miles south-west of Sydney.
They were determined to head off into the bush, walk the 200 miles, escape from the hardships of convict life and live happily ever after in this ‘New World’ settlement. Australia’s first would-be hippies! And similarly deluded.
Governor John Hunter, in order to 'save worthless lives', sent off four of these wide-eyed Irish dreamers with John Wilson as guide to see what could be found. He was confident they would find nothing and that the foolish idea of a ‘New World’ would be knocked on the head.
The Irishmen soon grew tired of the enterprise and returned to Port Jackson, but Wilson and two companions pushed on into unknown country. One of Wilson's two colleagues was John Price, aged 19, who had come to Australia as Hunter's servant.
Price kept a journal of the expedition, and this record, given by Hunter to Sir Joseph Banks and later acquired by the Mitchell Library in Sydney, indicates that the three explorers reached the Wingecarribee River, more than 100 miles south-west of Parramatta, endured severe privations and were saved only by Wilson's bushcraft.
The diary contains the first record of the shooting of a lyrebird, taken by Price on 26 January 1798, and the first written reference, on the same day, to the existence of the 'cullawine' (koala).
Why do we not remember and celebrate John Wilson? He was the first man to explore the Southern Highlands and, in the process, he discovered there were no hippies living there.
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Running pub 'easy' work
The town's previous publicans were Helen and John Holmes.
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Mr Esam agrees.
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If this doesn't fit, let me know and I'll happily remove it.
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