Chapter Seven: THE GROWTH OF GOOLWA

Young Thomas Goode, was one of the earliest settlers in the town.   He had come up from Adelaide in 1851 and started a chemist’s shop in a tent on the river bank. It wasn’t long before he found himself the local medical adviser as well.   There was no doctor anywhere along the South Coast;   people turned to Tom in all emergencies.
Accidents were common, and a troublesome type of dysentery was prevalent which he was able to treat successfully.  Soon his shop began to expand into a general emporium: dry goods, clothing, hardware, anything he could lay his hands on was sold in his little tent.

“We can’t go on like this!” said his wife in desperation as the tent began to overflow with customers, patients, and young Thomas junior, who was at the exploring stage and had to be rescued several times from trying to sample his father’s arsenic pills or carbolic solution.

“I’ll have to build some kind of a temporary house,” said Tom.   “I must go and look for some suitable timber, there’s nothing big enough hereabouts.”

He set off up the river, with Jim and Harry Winsby a Yorkshireman, Sam Shirtcliffe in two whaleboats.  The Winsbys, who had been drawn to settle at Goolwa by the prospect of future boats to be built were putting their hand to any job going as the new port began to take shape.

Sam Shirtcliffe – soon to be known to all as Shetliff – was a river pilot from Gool on the Humber.   He had his Master’s ticket, and had brought his wife and two little boys from a comfortable home where he had a steady job, to all the uncertainty and discomfort of South Australia, because he believed they would be “bettering themselves.”   A tent on the banks of the river during the winter months was not good enough for his little family.   He was only too glad to join the other men in their search for house-timber.

Everyone knew there was to be a new survey of the town, so they were all unwilling to build anything of a permanent nature.   Some distance beyond the lake, where the river gums grew straight and tall, the four men out the timber and brought it back to Goolwa to be sawn in the pit.   Soon three decent huts of planks and shingle roofs had been built, lined inside with lath and plaster walls.   The shingle made a roof that was cool in summer and watertight in winter, and each hut had a stone fireplace and chimney.  Ellen Shetliff made a pretty little home, spotlessly white and neat, with their possessions proudly displayed.   Sam, like all sailors, was a real ‘handy man’.    One of his first tasks was to make shelves for their books, which had been carefully brought out from home and were greatly prized. There is a list of those books extant, and as no family was more intimately bound up with the early fortunes of Goolwa, it is interesting to see what writings influenced their minds. There was of course the Family Bible.   Then there was Chambers’ Encyclopaedia (no record of the number of volumes), the Universal Self-Instructor, a Dictionary of Daily Wants, Familiar Lectures on Scientific Subjects, French, German, and Latin dictionaries, a Greek lexicon, Wesley’s New Testament, Lesley’s Sermons, Humboldt’s Travels and Researches, Huxley’s Physiography, and Lives of Eminent Anglo-Saxons.   A solid collection;   and in those days the books on people’s shelves were read with great thoroughness.  Amongst other treasures were Ellen’s Grannie’s old rocking chair and a large copper kettle, and the oak chest which had been Sam’s travelling companion on his voyages over the North Sea.  It was in this same little shingle hut by the river that Amelia Shetliff was born, the first white baby girl to be born in Goolwa.  Tom Goode built a sizable shop, keeping the tent for the overflow of all the merchandise he was accumulating. Before long he was made Goolwa’s first Postmaster.  He wanted to establish himself properly with a good stone building for a shop and a comfortable house, but like everyone else he was waiting for the new survey.

This survey was carried out early in 1853.   It was known as the Survey of the Town of Goolwa, (the first one in I840 had been the survey of the Town On the Goolwa). It was done by a party of sappers and miners under the direction of one Corporal Brooking.   The first quarter-acre allotments were sold at public auction on April 28th 1853.  Two buildings were already in the process of construction in the township before this new survey was completed. One was a charming residence for the Railway Superintendant, Mr Jonas.    It stands today, a graceful building of fine proportions in the local limestone with brick coigns and a semi-circular roof.   A photograph taken over a hundred years ago shows Mrs Jones standing at the front gate looking so demure with her ringlets and her crinoline and her handspan of a waist.  The other building was the Goolwa Hotel.    It was built and opened in 1852 by some people called Ray, but it soon passed into the hands of Jo Varco, who became a prominent identity both in Goolwa and Hindmarsh Island, and dabbled in all sorts of affairs besides running an inn.   He raised cattle, milled flour and became interested in the river trade.

He took over the hotel in 1854. That same year a brig, the “Mozambique” was wrecked, like so many other fine ships, on the treacherous sands of the Coorong.

The passengers and crew of the Mozambique were fortunate.  They were rescued and brought to Goolwa.   Mine host, Jo Varco, welcomed them all to his hotel, where he fed and clothed and comforted them till they were able to make their way to Adelaide.   In gratitude for his kindness, for which he would receive no payment, the  captain gave to the Goolwa Hotel from his wrecked ship:

her figurehead, a proud, high-bosomed lady with a fine head of curls; a number of cedar chairs and tables for the dining room; a staircase with cedar banister and rails; a sixty-foot mast and spars, the ship’s piano, and several water kegs.

In 1857 Varco rebuilt the Goolwa Hotel, adding an extra floor of bedrooms and balcony, reached by the ship’s staircase. and spars as floor joists, and on the roof above the stables he set the figurehead.   He filled his dining room with the cedar chairs and tables.   Most of the chairs carried the imprint of human teeth marks.   It was said that the sailors had run obstacle races along the deck with the chairs gripped between their teeth.

When the new land was put up for public auction, one of the first to buy a block was Tom Goode, who bought a quarter of an acre next to the Goolwa Hotel, between the hotel and the land taken up by the railway.   He put his hut on a jinker and had it dragged along the bank and through the new cutting by a team of bullocks and  deposited it in the centre of his block on what was to be Goolwa’s main street, called after her hero, Cadell.   Another section was taken up by William Younghusband at this public auction of land.   It was on the headland to the south of the new wharf, very near the spot where he and Cadell had stood discussing the future of the river and the possibility of a railway.  Right at the point of the elbow bend, the site commanded the best view in the town.   It overlooked the widest part of the river, with a view upstream towards Currency Creek and the entrance to Lake Alexandrina, and downstream towards the mouth.   Here the channel is forty feet deep and the waters are wide as a lake.

The rise where the house stands was later terraced for his benefit, for Younghusband was by then South  Australia’s Chief Secretary, a man of great importance in the Colony.   The long spit of land which separates the still waters of the Coorong from the foaming breakers of the ocean was named Younghusband Peninsula after him.  He built a spacious house with stone walls two feet thick, some of the rooms below ground level for coolness in the hot weather, and with cedar mantelpieces whose red grain has turned to gold with a hundred years of sunlight to bleach them.   He called his terrace Admiralty Terrace (now wrongly named Admiral Terrace).   It was not long before George Johnston bought the next block.    Later he was to build on it, after he’d gone back to Scotland to wed Lizzie Barclay, the fine house he had always hoped for – “Cockenzie”, after the village they both came from.  After the 1853 survey, buildings rose rapidly. Most were built of the local limestone with brick coigns, the bricks fired near Port Elliot.   The old Post Office, the Stables for the truck horses, a massive stone shed with a semi-circular roof on the wharf, for the receipt of cargoes; the Customs house, the Police Station and the Court House all belong to this period.  Apart from Adelaide, no place in South Australia can show a finer collection of early Victorian buildings. There
are also many weatherboard homes standing today, more than a hundred years later.

And the people who lived in them then?  They were all fairly new arrivals from the Old Country:
women with warm triangular shawls wrapped about their shoulders, with poke-bonnets shielding their complexions from the bright sun and wind of the Antipodes. There is Mrs. Goode in a long apron, sweeping out the store one morning early.   In come two women wrapped up against the cold southerly, for the weather has been bleak and wintry.  One of the women is thin and dark, the other rather short and plump with red hair and apple cheeks.

“‘Morning, Mrs Goode”, says the dark one.
“Good day, Mrs Shirtcliffe.   Cold, isn’t it? Looks like rain.   Just as well, with all the crops that’s been sown.   Only this wind dries the ground so quickly.   How are you, Mrs Johnston?   Are you settling down in your new house?”

“Och, it’s nae sae bad!” says Lizzie Johnston, shaking her red curls. “But I expected it to be hot here, an’ it cold!   It’s far wurrse than Cockenzie.”

“Aye, we all feel the winters here,” says Ellen Shirtcliffe
“We joost abaht froaze in a tent, the furst year.   We’re nice an’ warm now, it’s surprizing how coazy a wooden house can be.   My Sam’s building us a proper house oop on ridge there.  He’s afraid of river floodin;   and besides there’s plenty o’ stoane on the land, to build with.   Boot Ah doan’t knoaw when he’ll finish it, he’s that busy.”  “What parrt o’ Yorkshire d’ye come frae, Mistress Shirtcliffe?” asks Mrs Johnston.

“From Goole.   My Sam was a river pilot on the Humber.”
“Aye, is that so?   My husband was mate on the Cadell ships.   I suppose most o’ the men that come here will be frae the sea.   Have ye been here lang?”

“Mrs Goode an’ I were the first two women here, weren’t we, Mrs Goode?   Us an’ Mrs Sumner, the baker’s wife.” Mrs Goode smiles and nods.

“I hope you’ll be very happy here, Mrs Johnston. I suppose you intend to settle here, if your husband’s one of Captain Cadell’s men.” “Aye.   There’s James Ritchie’s wife cam’ oot with me in the ‘New Britain’.   I’m thinkin’ before long Goolwa will be like a parrt o’ Cockenzie.   Captain Cadell’s tellit the lads sae much aboot the river, they’re a’ wantin to come, ye ken.” As they talk a young woman walks into the store, a girl of nineteen or so.

“Good day to you, Mary Kineef,” Mrs Goode greets her with a smile.

“Good day, Mrs Goode.   Mrs Moore was wantin’ to know if ye’d be having the things she ordered.   Boots for the boys, and the printed calico?   Those boys are growing that fast!”

The girl is pretty as a painting:   her copper curls tied back with a blue bow, her colleen’s eyes smudged in with a smoky finger, dark blue under long lashes; and she talks with a soft west-country brogue.

“Mary’s been with the Moores since she arrived, Mrs Johnston;   travelled all the way from Adelaide in a bullock dray, with a cask of beer for a seat.   And her new parasol blew up into a gumtree with a whirly-wind and frightened the birds…   Two miles up the river she lives, at Laffin’s Point, and minds those two limbs of Satan, the Moore boys.”

“Ah, you mustn’t say that, Mrs Goode!    Shure it’s a bit woild they are, but now isn’t that natural in a boy?”

“Mrs Johnston’s husband is skipper of the Melbourne,” says Mrs Goode.

“He’s the one who made the first chart of the river, sounding and marking the channel all the way to
Wentworth.”

“Aye, so I heard.   My Sam says he’s got more sense than Cap’n Cadell, he rooshes at things too much,” says the Yorkshire woman in her blunt way.

“Ma Geordie says it’s a river that winds an’ winds, an’ there’s turrible snags an rrooks, he says.”

“I loike foine to see the steamers goin’ past the Point”, says Mary Kineef.

“The boys an’ me, we always watch them pass.”

So the women talk, as Goolwa women were to talk for many years to come, of river boats and river business.   The broad Yorkshire dialect, the harsh burr of the lowland Scot, the clear English accents of the home counties, and the soft music of County Heath, talking of the great river which is to bind them to it for the rest of their lives – little Mary Kineef, who is to marry Captain Henderson, another Scot with a deep-sea ticket;   Ellen Shirtcliffe or Shetliff, whose Sam is to put the biggest steamer on the river and call her after his loyal wife;    and Mrs Tom Goode, whose sons would marry Johnston girls, Geordie’s nieces.

Many a trip they would make up the Murray on board their husband’s boats, and always they would keep a daily check on the river levels as they waited for their men to come home.

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