History of "Glenburn" Cowwarr
After leaving the farm, "McLaughlins'" (also historical) on Rintoul's Creek, Tyers, we bought a farm from Jack Hammill comprising 180 acres and known as "Glenburn", Cowwarr. Having no knowledge of any local or family history of the district, I determined to find out what I could. The Thomson River flats being rich soil, any sort of farming could be carried on, and being near to the mountain goldfields, the area interested me.
The late James Derham, residing on the boundary of the next farm, used to visit on Saturday nights and as he was born and bred in Cowwarr from a pioneering family, he could enlighten me. Mistakenly thinking that Scottish people had given the property its name, I was informed by Bert - "No Missus, it named after a racehorse."
Mr. Jack Hammill, the former owner, inherited the farm from his father, also Jack, whose father (named James) had married Mary Mitchell. They hailed from Cornwall, arriving in Australia in the 1840's to 1850's, gold being the drawcard. In about 1889, James bought land on the Cowwarr flats which he named "Truro" after the town in Cornwall, and farmed it successfully. As well, the Hammills went in for horse transport and kept a good number of heavy draught horses which they used to carry goods from Port Albert to Walhalla. Sixteen horses were required to pull one heavy 4 wheeled dray, one of which vehicles stood under the cedar trees in a state of dilapidation when we came to the farm.
"Glenburn" and "Truro" have been in the forefront of all the floods that have roared down the treacherous Thompson Gorge. Said to be the biggest in living memory was the flood of 1891; 1916 saw the next. A lifelong resident on the river, the late Winnie Archer, told me that floods occurred about every 13 years.
The original "Glenburn" homestead was demolished in the late 1920's and a smaller house was built for the sharefarmer, Les Archer. Several items from the old house were used in the new one, such as the large old stove with the name "Kangaroo" stamped on it. This stove took a barrow load of wood to heat the oven. It was an antique, and I now regret the scrap iron merchant taking it away.
In 1952, continuous rains, from April to Christmas, washed the Cowwarr flats. At what was called "the Swing Bridge", a popular picnic area, a break away cut out. The force of this river when in flood has to be seen to be believed. Gradually, a new river bed was gouged out (now known as Rainbow Creek), resulting in very severe erosion with acres of good land being washed away. Every rise in the stream caused the banks to cave in. After a time the original Thomson River bed dried up and one could walk up it, so it was imperative that the weir at Cowwarr be constructed.
Rainbow Creek in flood has taken 3 of our bridges; the first was two large Mountain Ash logs with planks across, which soon caved in. The second named "Tower Bridge", was designed with the level above the sides of the stream so that logs washed down in floods would not build up against the decking. This bridge was designed by my son, James Junior, and built by him and his brother, John, then aged 17 and 16 - a really perilous job for amateurs. "Tower Bridge" withstood many floods and lasted until 1976 when it became unsafe.
A bridge is essential for us to have access to the main part of the farm, and as the stream bed is now wide and very deep, specialist bridge builders had to be consulted. The new bridge had just been completed when the disastrous flood on June 2nd 1978, came down. Inches of rain had fallen overnight in the Walhalla mountains and the volume of water had to come down the drain. It brought down huge trees which had been felled on the Thomson Dam work site, and which built up against the bridge. We watched all day, helpless, until about 4 p.m. when the strong structure could take the strain no longer. With a mighty road the bridge vanished forever, as also did two lots of irrigation equipment, pumps and fences. In their place, when the water went down, was a sea of mud, ruined land littered with logs and debris. How James (my son) faced this destruction I'll never know.
Another bridge was built, in steel this time, and there have been no serious floods since.
Thus is the history of the treacherous river which has been flowing for millions of years, from the mountains of the Great Dividing Range down to the sea.
The flats, which were a jungle of huge living and fallen trees, were cleared in the 1880's, when 50 acres was the limit allowed one person, and land was needed to grow food for the increasing population on the goldfields. As the song says -
"Old man river just keeps on rolling along"