Moorundi After Eyre
During William Nation’s tenure, the 96th Regiment were pulled out of Moorundi in 1846 and their stone barracks were at once appropriated as the police station. The barracks were redesigned internally. For example, a substantial room was changed into a lockup and the number of other rooms in use was adjusted to only three large ones. Otherwise the fabric of Moorundi remained pretty much the same as when Eyre lived there.
Nation was a conscientious replacement but had not the skills to make a more permanent success of the position. Perhaps through being related to the Field brothers, Henry and William, who had endured serious and bloody clashes with Aborigines near the Rufus, he was offhand with the indigenous people and rather nervous of them. He resigned his position in January 1847.
Then, without Eyre being consulted, an obscure man was gazetted to take over at Moorundi. For cronyism reasons, the Colonial Department in England made a totally inappropriate choice – an Englishman named William Lang who had never even travelled outside England!! Eyre commented, “I know nothing of him and have not seen him. He may do well or ill for the post, but I do think for a situation of that kind, colonial experience and local knowledge should have been required.”
As things turned out, Burra needed a magistrate desperately and on arrival Lang was sent there instead of to Moorundi. Moorundi was thereby saved from a totally inappropriate appointment. (Lang’s tenure of office at Burra was short and unsatisfactory. Settlers complained that his exercise of the law was inefficient and biased and in 1851 he was transferred to Willunga, where he fared no better and he was removed from office the following year. He had best have stayed in England.)
At last the government saw sense and appointed Scott towards the end of 1847 to be Eyre’s successor. Sometimes governments take a while to see the bleeding obvious.
Scott took over Eyre’s role and by all accounts did so very effectively; restoring and maintaining all the traditions Eyre had set up.
A bittersweet incident occurred when Tenbury appeared before Scott in January 1851, charged with petty assault. Although good mates who had hunted and fished together often, Scott in the true tradition of justice being blind, accepted Tenbury’s guilty plea and fined him accordingly.
And what of the stock stations along the Murray that Eyre had encouraged?
In Eyre’s words in 1845:
The dread of settling upon the Murray has so far given place to such confidence that from Wellington (near the Lake), to beyond the Great South Bend, a distance of more than 100 miles, the whole line of river is now settled and occupied by stock, where in 1841 there was not a single European, a herd of cattle, or a flock of sheep; nay, the very natives who were so much feared then, are looked upon now as an additional inducement to locate, since the services of the boys or young men save in great measure the expense of European servants. There are few residents on the Murray who do not employ one or more of these people, and at many stations I have known the sheep or cattle, partially, and in some instances, wholly attended to by them.
In the years which followed Eyre’s first explorations, sheep runs spread wherever men believed the flocks would survive. At first, most of these men were squatters hoping for quick gains resulting from rising wool prices. They depended on a reliable source of water for their flocks and proximity to the Murray River became more attractive as the northern runs were found to be drier than hoped. Later, the Murray was turned to for irrigation.
Eyre never returned to set up an irrigation system adequate to tame the mighty Murray, as he had hoped to do. In recent times the posts and bolts of one of his irrigation dams have been located. The bolts were hand made and the posts were the trunks of trees that had been trimmed and the tapered ends forced into the ground. The upshot had been crude but robust.
As stations sprung up, overlanding flowered. William Nation stated in his June 1846 report: “Within the last 6 months, many overland parties have arrived, and all bear testimony to the good conduct and usefulness of the natives generally.”
At Moorundi, floods were fought in a recurring cycle.
Mounted Policeman James McLean, who was stationed there at the time, described the floods of 1845. “The floods came down this season and the oldest of the natives never saw such rains before. The flats in the rear of the police and soldiers’ barracks had fifteen feet (4.58 metres) of water over them.”
In 1852 the massive floods known as the Gundagai Floods destroyed most of what remained of Eyre’s irrigation system. All that stood undamaged was the old floodgate that was near to his stone home. Even greater floods came in 1870 and covered the whole settlement.
James Hawker visited the site again in 1887 and reported, “I saw my old chimney standing as firm as ever, although in the tremendous flood of 1870 the water of the Murray was several inches over the top of it, and the military barracks and Eyre’s house were turning into heaps of ruins.”
Today only the patch of willows planted by Eyre survives, although the foundations of his original stone house and some further buildings are thought to have been located.