KIANDRA HISTORICAL SOCIETY
KIANDRA IN 1860
A SUMMER'S DAY RAMBLE THROUGH KIANDRA
Reader, have you a great-coat, a good muffler, and a pair of thigh boots? If you have, and feel disposed to enjoy a good walk on a summer's day about Kiandra, just arrange your fixings and come with me. I do not pretend to show you the City of Palaces, or the Castles of Gold, at present - they do not exist in these Alpine Regions; but that you may thoroughly appreciate the pleasures and advantages of this Alpha and Omega of New South Wales, we will commence starting from that elegant building called the Exchange Hotel; should you be at all curious to know anything about that wonderful establishment, a reference to our local journal will supply you with the desired information. There you will learn that it was the first hotel ever erected on Kiandra; and , however much you may be disappointed , after reading the very graphic description the advertisement that appears in the said local journal gives of this hotel, which now presents the appearance of some old farm house barn in its last days of rapid decline and fall - yet, reader, not many months ago it was the only comfortable house, in fact the only building, that could lay claim to the name house at all. Could you have been here when numbers of men, struggling in the snow and mud, were engaged in carrying that house into Kiandra, you would not wonder at its present appearance. You seem surprised at my saying "carrying the house," but such literally was the case, not only with that house, but with all Kiandra, for no timber fit for building purposes is to be had nearer than three miles. It is only very lately that drays have been enabled to get into this place, so that the city of Kiandra may boast of being shouldered into existence.
Before we commence our tour, let us enter, and (in a colonial phrase) do our beer, which means in the dialect of Kiandra, in this weather, brandy hot. You see that the days of a perforated nail-can, filled with charcoal and placed in the middle of the room, stifling everybody, and causing a chilly dampness to surround all, have passed, and in its place a large fireplace, with a roaring fire. I tell you this, or perhaps you might leave with the idea that there is no fire in the place, for with the mob of diggers standing before it and their steaming glasses of grog, I must admit it is very difficult to see, and to get near it would entitle no persevering individual to a great amount of praise. But let us go outside and commence our ramble; - before you start, let me call your attention to the hill we are now standing upon. This is Surface Hill, from which so large a quantity of gold has been taken - nuggets from five to twenty-eight pounds weight have been some of the prizes that have been drawn from this bank. See, there are two parties endeavouring to work in spite of the snow; should you wish to see what work men will do under the excitement of gold - come here to-night, let it be about ten o'clock, and you will find men working - two or three fires - the reflection from which will show a small white circle on the snow that looks not unlike monster bull's eyes endeavouring to throw a light upon the labours of those moving creatures that you must suppose to be men but cannot possibly distinguish; the falling of the water from various races; the low murmurs and peculiar grating sound that sticks in your ear from the conversation and work that is being carried on at the same time, will, perhaps enable you to appreciate the enjoyments of gold digging. Let us proceed. But what's the matter? I thought you might have known, from that streak of snow that's lower than any other, that it was a race, and would have avoided it; but because you have deposited your precious body in the snow and water do not complain. It's a mere trifle, I assure you, wet though I dare say you are; but you have this consolation to console yourself with - that many in their houses are no better off.
We will now take our course up Broadway. There is more traffic here, so the snow will not mislead you. You would sooner have snow than this mud, would you? Well, if you complain of this, you will complain of anything; you are not yet knee deep in it. Wait till I take you through the bog they call Telegraph Street, and with this drifting snow in your face if you do not wish yourself in Sydney, and give Kiandra your blessing, you desire the title of the patient man. You are mistaken; the roof of that place was not blown off, for a very good reason, it was never on - that is the Royal George Hotel. You could do with a glass of brandy hot, could you? Well, I am not surprised at that, considering the tumbling performance you went through in the race. We will go inside, and you will have the opportunity of seeing it. They have shingled over some fifteen feet of the roof; that long skeleton of a place was intended for a ball-room; but whether they fell short of funds or intend to have an al fresco place of entertainment so that the summer heat should not oppress them, I cannot say; but I did hear that the sign of the hotel is to be altered next licensing day. They are making a great mystery of the name it will receive at the next christening; but from private information I have obtained, as the police say I am in possession of all the facts, and Campbell's Folly vice Royal George, resigned, some say dismissed, will be the next sign that will astonish the native of Kiandra. No, I will not take another glass of brandy hot, for I have business to do - many have taken an active part in the formation of temperance societies in different parts of the world, and in Sydney in particular. It is to be hoped they will never attempt it here, for it is impossible to live on Kiandra without a small portion of that poison called alcohol to keep life and body together, as it is to drive bullocks without swearing, and having heard that even a clergyman could not accomplish the last mentioned feat without committing himself, there cannot be a very great sin in the other.
Now be careful how you slip off the steps as you come down from the Royal, and let us proceed up Broadway - you see we have bowling saloons, stores, butchers and bakers, jewellers, shoemakers and snobs. Should you require to send your friends a full length portrait of your Kiandra appearance? A photographic artist resides there, who for a very moderate sum, will condescend to oblige you. We have now reached Telegraph Street, the grand centre of the town; it crosses the Broadway. On the four corners so formed the most profitable businesses here are conducted; two public houses and two banks - the Oriental and Bank of New South Wales, the Empire and Kiandra hotels. Let us look into one of the banks; there sits a clerk, all alone in his glory, trying to keep himself warm by a fire, about large enough to put into your pipe to light it; but see the rush he makes to the door. He sees what appears to be one of the imps of darkness, wending his way along the street; his black face and clothes contrasting strangely with the snow, as he carries a large bag upon his shoulder, containing wealth most desirable here, charcoal. Notice their countenances; the doleful appearance of the clerk when in reply to his enquiries the man of coal puts on a savage grin, and utters one monosyllable - sold. It is difficult to say which is most decidedly sold, the clerk or the coal.
Looking down Broadway towards Surface Hill you have a fine view of mud larking and dray bogging - with the distant hills covered with snow that you must be a miserable being if you cannot enjoy yourself - just take a glance up Broadway, it will be quite sufficient, for I do not expect on a day like this you would ever attempt to mount that and examine he site where Kiandra proper originally stood. That sign you see about half way up the hill seems to attract your notice - those monster letters are sufficiently plain for you to see that from that building the literary wonder of Kiandra - the Alpine Pioneer is issued - but in case you should mistake the splendid picture in the centre for the sign of the Spread Eagle public house, I may as well inform you that it is supposed to represent a printing press.
We will now go down Telegraph Street - that building - the only one we can boast of is for the post and telegraph offices - they are not yet occupied. Opposite are the Kiandra newsrooms, if you can manage to cross the road we will pay a visit to the temporary telegraph office, in yonder store. You will find the station-master very obliging should you wish to send a message, or make any enquiries; and when you see the accommodation he possesses - that he should answer, much less be civil, to any question you may put, will surprise you; cross that respectable looking ditch, and before you enter read the notice on the board, "No admittance except on business." Do not be surprised, there in the corner is the telegraph. These piles of goods are not Government property; the tea and brandy, sugar and shovels, wine and flour, boxes and bales, saddles and casks that are piled up belong to a private individual, who, to oblige the public, puts himself to great inconvenience, and does not even receive their thanks. Step over those long handled shovels, and you are in the office. What does he say? He cannot send a message, for communication is interrupted with Sydney. The line inspector is despatched to see if he can find out the cause; and as you with difficulty make your way out of the office, which is beautifully carpeted an inch in depth in snow and mud, you hear the station-master blowing on his finger-ends for the purpose of imparting a little warmth to them. Look, there is a coloured gentleman with a broad grin upon his face. What does he want? See, he makes his way to the station-master and says, "I guess you can't send a message to Sydney today?" "No, Sir; communication is interrupted, I am sorry to say." "Interrupted, is it? Well, I kind of guessed it was, and I came to give you a bit of information. I have only just arrived here, but at a distance of some fourteen miles from this place I noticed one of the telegraph poles very much excited, and casting my eye up, observed about a score of messages all close together and sticking to the top of the pole. I suppose you will stand for that information." Then bursting into a loud ha ha he soon makes tracks.
Before leaving this place, allow me to call your attention to this snug room, about ten feet square. It is the honorable member for Tumut's sleeping quarters (Chas Cowper). Come inside, and you will see that even M.L.A.s are not so comfortable as one would suppose. It is certainly very dark; but look at the bed - did you ever see anything more picturesque; look at the splendid canopy formed over the head of it by sundry great coats, for the purpose of keeping that crystal stream that flows so gracefully through the roof from making it damp; you see that oil cloth at the foot prevents the three inches of snow that lies upon it from penetrating. Just fancy a night's rest in that bed, and the delightful prospect presented to you at early morn. I have it on the authority of the honorable member himself that this morning there was nothing dry in the place except his boots, he having taken the precaution to place them under the stretcher; it's true they were filled with snow, but that's nothing.
We will now resume our journey. You have a slight sideling (slope) to get up before you can get on the road. But how came you to fall, you are now covered with mud. It's a bog is it? Well, then I will not dispute with you, but in a few yards you will get on the only piece of road yet made in Kiandra. See the Government have placed four or five small bridges over the worst bogs, and made a road several hundred yards in length. I imagine it's only the commencement, for there is a bog at either end of it. This leads to Camp Town. We will now proceed to the Police court, but before you enter such aristocratic places, you had better sit down on that large boulder in the creek, and wash a little of the mud off yourself. Yes, that is the camp, but you cannot proceed that way, the snow hides several bogs and quagmires, and, like all Government approaches, it is only to be made by a great amount of circumlocution. We will take the left-hand road - you are again in error; that green wide place without a roof was never a billiard room, neither is that dilapidated tent, the Camp Inn - they are two fugitive signboards that have broken away from their moorings, and have brought up there as you see. Let us now enter the Hall of Justice, but it is vacant, and today is a court day - true it is a cold miserable place - the crow certainly comes through the shingles - there is also a fair quantity of mud - but there is no fireplace - but what has that to do with it - do not the public pay the magistrates, of course they do; then what excuse have they - if they were knee deep in snow, and their ink frozen they are bound to do their duty. What a blessing it is we have a free Press, that we can expose their doings. What does that policeman say? - The court is being held in the sergeant's room? What a pity he should have told us, for he has deprived us of giving the magistrates a little abuse in the newspapers, for we have the same privilege that others have exercised in writing letters for the edification of the public, without making any inquiries or knowing anything about the parties we so charitably abuse, of course, for the public good. We will go and visit the sergeant's room, and see if we cannot get something to write against. Now look around and see what fortunate fellows these officials are, they are assembled doing their public duty, in a room some fifteen feet square, that boasts of a table about four feet long, a fire-place with a small amount of fire, and two or three stretchers; before the fire stands the great lawyer of Kiandra, pouring out his eloquence, and monopolising the fire; at the table sits the magistrate engaged taking the depositions, the inspector of police, a constable, a member of the fourth estate in one corner taking notes under difficulties, a lady giving her evidence, and a few of the public, comprise the company assembled on this occasion.
Let us leave this place and call on the Commissioners, for they are certain, from the very liberal manner in which they are paid, to be in among quarter and enjoying themselves - but you see even commissioners cannot boast of their accommodation - in a room about the size of the one you have just left, without any fire, in consequence of the contractor for the wood being unable to deliver any. One muffled in his great coat is walking up and down to keep up the circulation of the blood, another with a ruler, the tips of his fingers almost frost bitten, endeavouring to make up some official forms, but they are constrained to be very polite to us because we (that is the public) pay them, and should they offend our dignity, we have the privilege of abusing them. You are getting tired, are you? I will not detain you much longer - those horses lying there died last night. In that small building resides the Colonial Architect; come and look at his quarters - you see his desk is covered with snow, the floor also, and his bed forms no exception to the general rule in being wet through; but remember he is another official - he must have no excuses or favours shown him; the public pay him also, so you can abuse him.
It is getting late. I will now take you to an hotel, where you can get a bed. You are afraid it will be damp; not at all; for I have secured two beds under a billiard table, and if there is such a thing as a dry bed on Kiandra, you shall have it tonight.
Reader, since you have favoured me with your company so long, I will now say farewell - should you be in Sydney - you can put on your overlander - your light clothes - your drab boots and sun yourself in George Street - should you find it too oppressive, you can go to the Domain or Botanical Gardens and enjoy the sea breeze, and remember that your visit to Kiandra was towards the end of November, 1860, in the supposed summer season, and you may then have some idea of winter in that favoured quarter, and I think you will agree with a friend of mine, who said that the one thing alone was wanted to make Kiandra perfect, and that was an earthquake.
Note: A copy of this article is included in the Appendix to Kiandra Gold.