|Chapter Title||THE FREE SELECTOR.|
|Newspaper Title||Bathurst Free Press and Mining Journal (NSW : 1851 - 1904)|
|Trove Title||The Mount Macedon Mystery|
CHAPTER X. THE FREE SELECTOR. Victorian legislators as a rule do not stand high in the estimation of the more thoughtful portion of the community. Occasionally a demagogue rises who with glib promises to the masses attains a temporary popularity not warranted by the Acts he places on the Statute Book, but taking our Houses of Parliament in General their members have done much to deserve the respect of the people. Assuredly one of the most beneficial steps that was ever taken to ensure the prosperity of Victoria was the system of free land selection, which was inaugu- rated in the "sixties." Like every other innovation its first principles, crude as they necessarily were, may have aided to swell the already large estates which the act was intended to prevent, but the general result of the new departure has been to settle on the land a sturdy yeomanry— which, we are told, is the backbone of a country. Judging by the history of France this is true, for the policy which aims at mak- ing each man his own landlord tends to soIve the great problem, exemplified in the Irish Question, of national quietude. If the axiom that an Englishman's home is his castle be true, how much more forcibly may it be applied to the man who owns the fee simple of the soil surrounding his house. Such ownership produces a sense of in- dependance which cannot fail to raise the standard of mankind in the country which allows such an opportunity to its inhabitants. The whining tone, the crouching gait- and general marks of grovelling subser- vience typical of the semi-paupers in the
old land, who scarcely own the rags which cover them, and who, if not par- tially supported by the parish, are pen- sioners of noblemen or other landed magnates, is noticeably absent in coun- tries that allow the many, and not the few to possess the land. Nothing is perfect of course in this im- perfect world, but with all their faults the Australian Land Acts have done much to ensure the future stability and prosperity of this great continent, which, like the rising sun, is now beginning to throw a few straggling beams on the hori- zon of history, lighting it up with the rosy tints of dawn, and foreshadowing the dazzling effulgence which will mark the meridian of Australia's progress. Amongst the foremost to take advan- tage of the first land act was Rennie. Since the mysterious disappearance of his tourist companion, Edgar, with its tragical surroundings, he had remained in Melbourne, shunned by his few ac- quaintances, and feeling that he was sus- pected of knowing more than he cared to divulge of the fate of his late com- rade. The missing man's father had come over from Sydney to seek for his son, and he had offered a reward of £1000 for his dis- covery alive or dead. It was in vain, for though numerous search parties eager to obtain the reward scoured the mountain ranges, not the slightest trace could be found, and after a stay of three months in Melbourne, the disconsolate father returned to his lonely and stricken home.
He had several interviews with Rennie during his visit, and though his mind was clouded with suspicion against him at first, his sinister thoughts were gradually removed, and he left the young man with the full conviction that he was perfectly innocent of any part in his son's disappearance. Rennie solemnly assured him that he would make it his life's task to lift the shadow that had thus suddenly fallen across their lives, and darkened the future of both, and with this assurance the old man departed, feeling that as long as Rennie lived no effort would be spared to solve the strange pro- blem. During the first rush of land selection it was not necessary to go far inland for a suitable area, and Rennie had a bewilder- ing choice of good lots. The stigma of guilt, however, which was attached to him by his fellow men, and which the newspapers gave wide publicity to by many insinuations, made him to some extent a misan- thrope. His gregarious instincts had, for the time,been effaced by the ruthless hand of the slanderer and the false judgment his fellow men had formed of him, and he decided to withdraw as much as possible from the world, that is, as much as would be consonant with his desire to unravel the mystery of Charles Edgar. The mountain peaks of Macedon and Diogenes posssessed a fascination for him, and he felt uneasy when out of sight of these towering land marks. His quest for land, combined with his desire to avoid the busy haunts of men, led his footsteps into the heart of the Black Forest, and about ten miles from Macedon, and in full view of the mounts, at the source of the Campaspe river, he decided to settle The locality at that time was indescrib- ably wild. Immense trees grew so thickly that in some places the beams of the sun never penetrated. In spots, patches had been cleared away by the great whirlwind of fire on Black Thursday, which ravaged the cele- brated forest. Choppy ranges and narrow valleys serrated the country like the teeth of a saw, and left out small tracks of flat land. The soil was, however, excel- lent. The wood cutter and the saw-miller had begun their work of subduing the forest on different sides of Rennie's selec- tion, but some miles from him. Towards Woodend the timber was being rapidly sent to Melbourne, whilst the mining districts of Blackwood and Daylesford were gradually extending their clearings into the primeval woods. To-day the black forest exists but as a legend and the scene of many strange ad- ventures, yet thirty years ago the axe had scarcely touched it ; so do we progress in this young and vigorous land. The head of the Campaspe, which, rising in the heart of the forest, flows through the fertile districts of Carlsrhue, Kyneton, past Bendigo, and over the northern plains of Elmore and Rochester into the Murray at Echuca, was a roman- tic and beautiful spot. Starting from a clear spring it in a short distance is augmented to a peren- nial stream. Flowing over a rocky bed the water is so crystal like that the small black fish, with which it abounds, can be plainly seen swimming around at a depth of five or six feet, while the tiny — so called trout — float, visible like amber specs, at even a greater depth. In a distance of five miles from the source there are no less than four water- falls of surpassing loveliness. At these places the solid rock has by some means been scooped out, probably by the washing away of soft strata, and the never-ceasing action of the water has caused the most curious and gro- tesque formations. Some of them rise out of their liquid bed statue like, as horrible and repel- lant as Chinese Gods, whilst others as- sume the shape of different birds and animals. In one instance, a magnificent rock, about ten feet high, exactly resembles a petrified Kangaroo, whilst another is the verisimilitude of a gigantic squatting duck ; indeed, a small zoological collection in stone could be made here. Strange hollows and bore holes are worn in the solid rock, some of them saucer shaped, and others perfectly round and apparently bottomless. These are filled with the crystal water, and teem with small fish. It would be a paradise for the eel, but these serpent like fish are not found in any river north of the Dividing Range , After running over the vast table rock where the natural museum of curiosities is placed, the bright water falls over a ledge of rocks a distance of about fifteen feet, sparkling like diamonds, into a still pool below, which numerous wild fowls make their haunts as abundant food is found, and the solemn quietness of the spot makes it still more acceptable. The banks are lined with the wild rasp- berry, over which the wattle tree bends, and towering above all, those grand old Titans of the forest — the eucalypti — throw out their protecting arms, the whole forming a picture of river beauty seldom equalled and never excelled. The first ten miles of the Campaspe in a succession of scenes like this, after which a remarkable change for the worse takes place when it runs through settle- ment, and it becomes a prosaic and muddy beaten course. From near Bendigo
to its estuary it is an uninviting and un- romantic channel. The river may be taken as an emblem of human life. Starting out with the purity, quiet and innocence of childhood and romance of youth, which looks at the world with the bright, though delusive eyes of Hope. Contact with the reality speedily works a change for the worse. The innocence and peace of childhood dis- appears before the sin and storms of the world, and the purity of our youth is supplanted by the turgid passions of our more mature age. Tho glowing anticipations — the castles in the air — of our early years, fade away and leave nothing but the dull and spirit- less thoughts — the " might have beens," of declining age, and we glide into the grave to mix our dust with generations who have gone before us, and who started out on the river of life with the same bright promise. Human life has many similes. Rennie had some difficulty in pursuad- ing himself to settle down in the wild and lonely paradise he had selected for his home. Used to cheerful company, and brought up in a city, it required no slight wrench to former habits to bury himself in his hermit like retreat. He was a comparative novice to bush life, but when he finally determined to become a free selector on the Campaspe, he went into the work with vigor. Employing a few experienced bush- men, they soon cleared a few acres and built a substantial log house, after which they fenced in the ground, and Earnest Rennie had fairly joined the army of small settlers who were fast over-running the colony. He had seven hundred pounds and ex- pectations from Home, so that he was in an immeasurably better position than most other selectors, who took up land with scarcely enough capital to pay the survey fees, and who for years after toiled like galley slaves in abject poverty in what was frequently a vain attempt to obtain the fee simple of the ground. Men like Rennie who had capital ulti- mately bought out such struggling people, and increased their original small hold- ings to dimensions which were ample to combine grazing with agricultural pur- suits. Within twelve months of Rennie's settlement at the head of the Campaspe, nearly the whole of the land along the river had been pegged put and applied for by various people, so that the pioneer soon had neighbours who frequently broke in upon the privacy of his wild retreat.