Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Going Down South - Day 10

Our first excursion from Tathra was to the south on a day which promised "mostly sunny & 16" ... an improvement over the rain of previous days.

We both remembered Merimbula as shining and blue and perhaps it was the partial cloud cover which diminished the image or perhaps it was time and development but today it just looks like a big sprawling town, reaching back up into the hills which surround it in an ever growing thirst for fresh ground on which to build new houses. It was another retracing of previous steps but there was some refreshment to be had. The first of these was the Aquarium located near Bar Beach on the northern side of the lake's entrance. Only a small enterprise, the fish were an interesting variety and two staff were on hand, walking about the displays and talking with children about what they were viewing. They were very quick to answer questions from adults too!

We had coffee afterwards - of course. Before entering the aquarium, I had a mishap climbing over a guard rail to photograph the coastline and tore a small hole in my calf. Disinfectant, band aids, sympathy.

Lunch was at Short Point, which is just past the caravan park we stayed in with our very first tent in 1980.

Further on down the road was Eden, located at the northern end of Twofold Bay. It was once a renowned whaling area because it relatively calm, deep water attracted Southern Right Whales and Humpbacks who came in from the sea for a few days rest on their long journeys up and then down the eastern coastline of Australia. Whaling crews set out usually in two boat teams to kill the giant creatures. The first crew did the killing and the second provided back up in the event of a capsize. It could be deadly business for the men but was always fatal for the whales. In a marriage of convenience, groups of Killer Whales - much smaller than their bigger relations - used to herd the whales into the Twofold Bay for the whale boats and were rewarded with entrails and spillage in the slaughtering process. The most noted of these Killer Whales, Old Tom, has his skeleton in the Eden Whaling Museum. We know this from a previous visit made long ago with the childen. We didn't return there this trip. We have some ethics.

At the opposite end of Twofold Bay are the physical remnants of a most interesting man. Scotsman Benjamin Boyd came to Australia in 1842 after 18 years as a London stockbroker and as one of the directors of The Royal Bank of Australia. He had $30 000 in his own pocket and $400 000 of the bank's money in the other, aiming to establish business interests in Australia. After short stays in Melbourne and Sydney, he continued his voyage on his own schooner, The Wanderer, back down the NSW coastline to Twofold Bay. Ignoring the existing communities, he set about establishing his own community of Boydtown. He established nine whaling crews, built infrastructure and diversified his financial interests into cattle and farming properties throughout Victorian and NSW. On a point at the southern end of Twofold Bay, he had a 23m high tower constructed of sandstone blocks quarried in Pymont (Sydney) and transported by ship to Boydtown. Only the internal timber was of local materials. His aim was to make it a lighthouse but it was only ever used three times for that purpose, as local authorities prevented its use. Instead, Boyd sent lookouts to the top and developed a signalling system back to his whaling crews, giving his men a distinct advantage over other crews in the area. You can no longer climb the tower as the internal wooden ladders have been removed, but its imposing none the less.

On the way to the point, along Edsom Road, there is the most startling contrast between National Park preserved forest on one side of the road and land raped and denuded - apart from a handful of trees - for the woodchip plant which is the national park's neighbour. It's an insane contrast.

Apart form the tower, which stands as tall and as proud as it did 170 years ago, the other remnants of Boyd are the Sea Horse Inn, which stands on the shoreline of what was Boydtown. It was originally an Elizabethan  construction, was remodelled in the 1920's to be of Tudor appearance and now has been rendered and painted out of all recognition of its original. Today, this single, ornate building is privately owned and used almost exclusively for society weddings. A caravan park sits sleepily beside it, beautifully illustrating the conundrum which is Boydtown.

Behind it, up a very steep, deeply rutted dirt road, are the decaying remains of a church built from the red siltstone that dominates the coastline. Where Boyd's Tower stands tall and straight and unaltered by time or weather, the church is a collection of walls which are gradually falling in on themselves as their clay bricks break down and return to earth. Its aspect is delightful, looking through trees across Two Fold Bay and what would have been the spreading village of Boydtown in the mid 1840's. The major difference is who has control over these remnants. Boyd's Tower is controlled by NSW National Parks. The church is controlled by the owners of the Sea Horse Inn. One stands as a remarkable symbol of our pioneering past and the other is neglected.

What of Boyd? By the late 1840's, with his over-capitalisation in infrastructure and his zest to be in front of all his competitors, his financial situation began to shake. It rattled and rolled when the other directors of his bank wanted to see some hard evidence of business success. At that stage, his money and the bank's money were gone and a debt of more that $160 000 had been accrued. That was serious money for the times. Boyd was left with the Wanderer and decided to leave Australia for the California gold rush of the 1850's, with creditors on his tail. He failed to make any impression in California, so sailed to the Pacific where he disappeared in a cloud of mystery in the Solomon Island, apparently killed but his body was ever found. A search party returned to the Solomons a few years later but could find no trace of him either physical or through local knowledge.

As for us, we made our way home via Woolworths.

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