‘The Landing’ (Stockyard Creek)
The South Gippsland town of Foster is primarily known these days as a farming centre. Its economy is also bolstered by tourism, particularly given its proximity to Wilsons Promontory. However, under its earlier name of ‘Stockyard Creek,’ the town began life following the discovery of gold in the area. A battery from the ‘Kaffir Hill’ mine stands outside the museum now, and across the road is a monument to the four timber getters who first discovered gold there in 1870.
Travel overland was almost impossible in those early days, and prospectors would travel by sea from Melbourne to Port Albert (to the east of Stockyard Creek), and from there, via a smaller vessel, out into Corner Inlet and then up Stockyard Creek as far as the water would allow. From there they travelled the relatively short distance overland by foot to the diggings. Later, a tramline was erected.
The place on the creek where they disembarked became known as ‘The Landing.’ Few records survive, but the following engraving and photograph give us some idea of what it must have been like.
The engraving, by Samuel Calvert (1828 – 1913), is of the SS Tarra of Port Albert, under Captain Pinkerton, arriving with prospectors at ‘The Landing’ on 12th August, 1871.
Caption: Sketch on “Stockyard Creek.” Arrival at the “Landing Place.”
The following photo is taken from the Foster & District Historical Society Inc. 2011 calendar.
Caption: “The Government wharf built at the Foster Landing in 1871.”
Maggie Somerville and I have made two trips in our kayak down Stockyard Creek from ‘The Landing’ to Corner Inlet and back again (once in January last year, and again in January this year), in an attempt to gain some sense of what it must have been like back then. ‘The Landing’ is situated only a few minutes drive south of Foster, at the end of Landing Road, a gravel road which comes off the sealed Fullers Road. It is a very quiet place these days, and it is rare to find another soul there. This year we had the good fortune to share it with three mates – a horse, an alpaca, and a black-faced sheep!
Other than the fact that it must often have been buzzing with humanity 150 years ago, one gets the sense that it has changed little since those days. The area is extremely tidal. From memory, the return journey last year was on a fairly high tide. Both the outward and return journeys this year were made on a very low tide. Indeed, the above photograph of a sailing boat tied up at the Government wharf shows just how little water was in the creek at times.
Fortunately, there is a boat ramp at ‘The Landing’ now, though it is pretty rough, and presents quite a challenge at low tide. The following photos of the ramp were taken at high tide last year.
This next photo, by way of comparison, shows the ramp at the end of our return journey this year.
This photo of Maggie in the kayak at the end of our paddle this year shows just how little water there was. Once again, it appears remarkably similar to the earlier photograph from a hundred odd years ago.
The following photos from last year give some idea of the current woodwork for supporting boats.
Here is how it looked at low tide this year.
We didn’t time the trip down from ‘The Landing’ to Corner Inlet, but my guess is it takes about 30 – 45 minutes in a kayak, paddling at a very leisurely pace. It is a peaceful, beautiful trip, which leads you past mangroves and steep mudbanks (depending upon the level of the tide), with tussock grass rising above the mangroves as you approach Corner Inlet. Thousands of small crabs live in the banks, and it is fascinating to watch the frantic retreating hordes scrambling up the bank and dropping into their holes as you approach.
There are plenty of herons, and last year a couple of wedge-tailed eagles hovered very low above us at one point. (I think they decided that we were just too big!) Once out in Corner Inlet there are large numbers of ibis, and also many gulls.
Navigation in Corner Inlet at very low tide is difficult, as you find yourself confined to narrow channels, surrounded by vast areas of mud. Last year, with a reasonable amount of water, we paddled up Dead Horse Creek to the west. This year I tried to take us up Bennison Creek, to the east, but the low water made it impossible to be sure of one’s bearings, and we abandoned the attempt.
On our return journey this year we ran out of sufficient water to float about thirty metres from the ramp. Pulling the kayak that last few metres through the mud is not something I want to do again in a hurry! That said, it really brought home to us just how well chosen the site for ‘The Landing’ really was!
There isn’t a great deal of information available about ‘The Landing’ at Stockyard Creek, or much awareness of its existence, and I am writing these notes in the hope that it may encourage others to follow in our footsteps (or paddle strokes!), or perform further research on this fascinating history. If you do decide to journey down the creek by kayak, I would advise you to try to avoid low tide if possible. The thick, black mud makes life very difficult.
Finally, a word about the eels in the creek. At very low tide there is not always room for both a kayak and an eel. Don’t be surprised (although I’m sure you will be!) if amidst a great splash of water a large fleshy eel presents itself briefly on the mud beside you before hurling itself back into the water as you pass!
2020 Port Fairy Folk Festival
Maggie Somerville and I were thrilled to be invited to perform at the 2020 Port Fairy Festival, as part of the Writers/Spoken Word section of the festival, organised by Jim Haynes.
We agreed to contribute an item (Maggie a song, me a poem) to the Aussie Morning Show on each of the three mornings (Saturday, Sunday and Monday). Maggie would launch her new CD (‘The Forest Prayed’ – poems of Dame Mary Gilmore set to music by Maggie), while I would contribute to a forum on ‘The Magic of Children’s Literature.’ I also agreed to participate in the Pat Glover Storytelling Award and, in the end, Maggie did too.
Our involvement got off to a bright start at the Saturday Morning Show, held in recent years in the Pavilion, rather than St. Pat’s Hall, where it was held when we last attended, in 2016. The Pavilion is a great venue, as it is right in the heart of the festival. The 9am start meant we were done and dusted by 10am, when the music shows started up, and threatened to drown us out. The Morning Show is held in the upstairs part of the Pavilion, offering great views of the festival from its balconies.
The show began with Jim briefly interviewing Maggie and me, as well as Di Jackson-Hill, who was launching her new children’s picture book, ‘Windcatcher’ (published by CSIRO Publishing), about the local bird, the short-tailed shearwater (illustrated by Craig Smith), and local writer Maya Linnell, who was launching her new ‘rural romance’ novel, ‘Wildflower Ridge.’ Jim was also launching his own very large new book, ‘The Big Book of Australia’s War Stories.’
Jim is an absolutely brilliant performer who always packs in a crowd, so we were playing to a full house every morning.
Thank you to Maggie for this photo of me. Here is Maggie strutting her stuff.
Bush poet Mick Coventry, from Kyabram, did a bracket of jokes and poems later in the show, exercising his particular brand of laconic Aussie bush humour. The crowd loved it!
Maggie and I had something of a programme clash, in that her CD launch was scheduled to begin while the panel discussion of ‘The Magic of Children’s Literature’ was still in progress, and I was keen to spend as much time as possible at her launch to support her. The situation was further complicated by the discovery of a technical hitch. Rather than employ a bevy of musicians to accompany her (a very expensive exercise), the plan was for her to sing along to the CD minus her vocal track, karaoke style. Unfortunately, however, there was a problem with getting it to play. This was eventually solved, but not without a good deal of angst all round!
There was still another problem, as we had no sound man to stop and start the track as needed. Fortunately an old friend of Maggie’s, Melanie Dorian, who was at the festival assisting her husband, instrument maker at ‘Rocky Creek Strings’, agreed to step into the breach.
The panel discussion was held at Blarney Books & Art, a relatively new (and excellent) combined bookshop and art gallery in the town.
More information about ‘Blarney Books & Art’ can be found here:
Jim suggested I kick off proceedings to allow me to spend as much time as possible at Maggie’s launch, and I was pleased to be able to talk about my journey as a writer – the decision to write poetry for children, and the subsequent long and rather tortuous, but ultimately very satisfying, path to the publication of ‘The Billy That Died With Its Boots On’ by Walker Books in 2014. The other members of the panel were Di, Craig and Jim. Unfortunately, I was not able to hear what they had to say, but I was told that it had all gone well, with plenty of fruitful discussion towards the end.
I was pleased to find upon my arrival back at the Pavilion that Maggie’s launch had not yet begun, so I was able to watch the whole show. Melanie did a fine job as Maggie’s assistant!
Only one track could not be played, that for the accompaniment of ‘Botany Bay’, and it was probably more effective performed acapella anyway.
More information about ‘The Forest Prayed’ can be found here:
The Forest Prayed
The Pat Glover Storytelling Award was great fun on the Sunday afternoon. Maggie’ poem, ‘A Deadly Weapon’ (a cautionary tale about taking Irish penny whistles to the Magistrate’s Court!), was extremely well received, but the winner was Eric Purdy, a Scotsman, who told a hilarious tale about deciding to wear a kilt one day, and ending up with one that was far too big for him. He described a garment that began high at his chest, descended to near his feet, and extended great distances both front to back and side to side, so that he felt like ‘a tartan shuttlecock.’ Congratulations Eric!
After final performances at the Monday Morning Show, it was time to wind down and head for home. First, though, we took the opportunity to go for a stroll along the beautiful beach…
All in all, it was a wonderful weekend at an amazing festival, and we both feel very privileged to have had an opportunity to contribute to the proceedings.
Kayaking at McLoughlins Beach
Last Sunday (7th January, 2018), I went kayaking with Maggie Somerville at McLoughlins Beach in Gippsland. It is not a place either of us have been to before, but looked promising on the map – plenty of sheltered water – and was within striking range (approx, 70 km to the east) of Maggie’s house at Foster, where we were staying.
It turned out to be a great choice!
Firstly, there was a boat ramp. Two trips last year (Tarra River, Port Franklin) had required us to launch on a slope of deep, sticky mud, which is best avoided if at all possible.
The water generally turned out to be far shallower than it looked from the shore. First destination was the pier at McLoughlins Beach. This looked a long way off at first, but we reached it in no time.
Now it was time to head south, and cross a major body of water towards what appeared to be a long sandy beach in the direction of Bass Strait. We were constantly accompanied by bird life during the journey, especially cormorants, ibis and herons. We dislodged this flock of as we searched for a spot for lunch.
As a general rule, there was a wide stretch of soft mud between the water and the sand, but we found a section there the muddy strip was relatively narrow…
…and settled down for a feast of bread, cheese and water!
Say “bread and cheese”!
Thanks for this photo, Maggie. (Sorry about the swimming togs – bought in an emergency in Foster a year or so ago!)
Time to soak up a few UVs…
…then off on the last stage of the journey, and possibly a chance to stand before the Bass Strait breakers.
We headed off across a good stretch of deep, blue water towards a stretch of sand that looked very close to the ocean. (We could see it through a break to our left.) Suddenly, we found ourselves surrounded by tiny seabirds, beautiful little terns, with their distinctive forked tails and small black heads. They were diving into the water from a great height, and at great speed, all around us. It was a truly spectacular sight to behold! (No photos, unfortunately.)
At last we made landfall. (Can you see the kayak? It doesn’t look very big, does it!)
The ocean was indeed not far away. (Again, no photos.) A sign told us that we had in fact landed on a large sandy island. 1080 had been laid to kill foxes. Dogs were banned. No wonder the terns were thriving!
Alas, it was time to make the journey home once more.
A healthy bunch of pelicans awaited us upon our return.
McLoughlins Beach – not a well known destination, but well worth a visit!