POSTED TO MOUNT GAMBIER IN SOUTH AUSTRALIA’S SOUTH-EAST
Border Watch (Mount Gambier, SA : 1861 – 1954), Saturday 7 July 1934, page 4
One of Mount Gambler’s oldest resident, Mrs. Elizabeth Knight, of Rosaville, will celebrate her 90th birthday on Tuesday next, July 10.
She arrived In Mount Gambler with her parents, the late Mr. and Mrs. William Powers Elliott, as a child of four years, in 1848,
when there was little evidence that Mount Gambier would be what it is to-day.
When Mrs.Knight came to Mount Gambler with her parents in a bullock dray, they travelled from Melbourne via Penola.
There were about seven buildings in the town; the rest was heavily timbered country as far as the eye could see.
She can remember the first police barracks; they were situated on the corner now occupied by Elder, Smith, and Co.’s office.
The barracks were evidently built there to be near the town cave, then the chief source of water supply in the town.
Gordon was gazetted on November 23, 1853, and drafted at once to Mount Gambier in the south-east. He was fortunate in being sent to this pleasant district which he liked so much that he chose to spend the next 12 years there. It was in the sport-loving south east that his happiest years were passed, his best verses written, and many of those daring feats of horsemanship performed that caught the attention of the Australia public, and have done as much as his poetry to make him the national hero he has come to be.
Being a good horseman, he escaped preliminary training, and 10 days after his arrival in the colony he was setting off for his new charge 270 miles distant from Adelaide, astride one of the excellent police horses.
The district was in process of being opened up in the fifties. Like the adjoining Western District of Victoria, it is rolling, open country, of volcanic origin , and has now become a most prosperous pastoral area. In Gordon’s time it was still for the most part primitive and uninhabited, covered largely with forests of eucalyptus trees, under the grey-green leaves of which kangaroos, wallabies, and all the quaint marsupials of this geologically ancient young continent still hopped out their simple lives undisturbed.
Mount Gambier was a nice little bush town, set among pretty, natural scenery. Just about here are several long-extinct volcanoes. One tiny crater in the centre of the town serves as the municipal drain. Another larger one on the outskirts has become filled with water by natural springs, and forms the lovely little Blue Lake, an around and still lake, that even on dull days has an azure colour, and under a bright sky glows like a sapphire from its rocky grey banks. Near the town quarries of limestone provided unlimited building material for the square little houses favoured by the early settlers. Hawthorn hedges, pine trees, and bright English flowers, that grew rapidly in the mild climate and rich soil of the south-east, wherever anyone has the time and the wish to plant them, give the district quite a look of the home country.
The new trooper soon felt at home in his job. He found the life congenial and the duties, though strenuous, not too exacting. The police station was manned by two other constables, a black tracker, and three horses. When at home he shared a comfortable stone cottage and carried out the regulation police business of a small bush town- patrolling, serving summonses, making arrests, and searching for lost horses. It is said that on his rounds he scorned to travel by the road, but went straight across country, putting his unschooled troop horse at the barrack yard wall and high post-and-rail fences with as much sang-froid as though he was mounted on a trained steeplechaser. Chance had brought him to a country where good horses and good horsemanship were fully appreciated, and now at last he had his fill of riding and jumping and steeplechasing- which had been so hard to come by in England. Within a few months of his arrival he was taking part in the numerous local race meetings that enlivened country life; sometimes on borrowed mounts, sometimes on his own bay horse Walker (named after friend Charley). He carried out Walker’s training himself, very carefully, and had a fair share of successes with him. Later he bought another steed, a chestnut colt that he called Mazeppa, that promised to develop into a fast galloper.
TRANSFERRED TO PENOLA SOUTH AUSTRALIA
PENOLA AND THE WINE-GROWING REGIONAL OF COONAWARRA SOUTH AUSTRALIA
Gordon arrived in Penola on June 8th 1854 and resigned there as a Mounted Police trooper to go colt breaking on November 8th 1855.
Reproducing a biography by Eileen Kaye first published in The Australasian Newspaper in serial form in 1933.
This series of articles was recovered from The Australasian newspaper by Travis M. Sellers.
Edited by John W. Adams, with permission kindly given by The State Library of Victoria.
The mounted police uniform was an imposing one, and Gordon must have cut a fine figure in it- black tunic trimmed with red braid, white cords, high shiny black boots, and a white helmet with plume and silver chin-strap, set off with a cedar baton, a revolver, and a long shiny sword. P.C. Gordon acquired a reputation as a good man with his fists in those days- not that he was ever pugnacious, but when the occasion demanded it he could, and did, successfully cope with the various unruly customers with whom a policeman’s duties bring him into contact. The rough heavy bushman was no match for his long reach and superior science. This is how he described one of his affrays: “I have not fought much lately, but it may amuse you to hear that I did hit out a few weeks ago. Our blacksmith was the victim, a strongish chap with no science. He was rather the worse for liquor and I was sober, but in damn bad humour. He hit me a chapping blow in a scuffle and roused my monkey. I got clear of him and returned the spank with interest, cutting his eye. He came at me three times, and each time I met him with the right and twice took him clean off his legs, so he dropped it altogether. They were straight fairish spanks, each left a clean knuckle gash. My left I never used. We are good friends now.”
Often his business took him far and wide across the wild countryside, and in the strange lonely bush, so different from anything he had previously known, he found something akin to his own lonely spirit. Gordon in Australia was a solitary man. Never again could he be the merry, carefree companion his friends in England had known. Not that his wild exploits were over; on the contrary, without the captain’s restraining influence and in the freer atmosphere of the colonies, many were the plucky and fearless deeds he accomplished. But the days of untrammelled high spirits had passed. That youthful hurt to his pride never quite healed, and it sapped within him some of the joy of life. He brooded unduly over the slight, and it became the first dark spot of that heavy cloud that in later years overwhelmed him. He does not seem to have felt the call to express himself in verse yet. In England he had let his boyish pride and vanity overflow into simple and vigorous rhymes, scarcely worthy the name of poetry except as the sincere outpourings of a troubled soul. In his first few years in Australia he worked off his emotions in a strenuous outdoor life. Later, when he had more leisure and less interest in his occupations, the “cacoethes scribendi” (insatiable urge to write) came upon him.
The companions he met during these years were in many ways to his taste, for the hardy countrymen possessed many of those manly qualities of pluck and endurance and good sportsmanship that he always admired. Women were few in the outback- yet being as a young man rather susceptible – he managed to have some mild flirtations. His chief lack- and it was a more serious one than he realised- was intellectual companionship; it was seldom that he met anyone with whom he could discuss the poetry and romances that he loved.
Who can say what Gordon might not have become if, during these formative years of his early manhood, his life had been passed among men and women of education and understanding who would have encouraged him to lavish less of his energy on horseback and more in cultivating his powers of reasoning, of observation, or reflection? There was a fine scholar lost in Gordon. Perhaps his natural lack of patience would have prevented him from becoming a polished poet in any circumstances. But what a mental desert any raw new colony must be to an eager, receptive, unformed mind like Gordon’s! Byron, in many ways his prototype, spent his youth if not in study at least well within the influence of the culture and wisdom and variety of Europe. Gordon, with equal sensitiveness and an undeniably good brain, lived his best years in the loneliness and intellectual solitude of the bush, reading avidly what few scraps came his way and finding almost no one with whom to discuss the things he really cared for.