Most children growing up in inland New England had vivid memories of the places on the sea coast where their parents used to take them for holidays. Many camped, others stayed in little holiday homes or small blocks of flats. Some were lucky enough to have parents who actually owned their own holiday home.
New England has a big coastline. The places varied depending on proximity, where friends went and, in some cases, just the need for variety. Some went to Port Macquarie, some to Urunga or Coffs Habour, some to Byron Bay, some into nearby Queensland to the Gold Coast.
To many of those coastal centres, the tourist trade from the inland was a central source of income. To some it still is, although population shifts mean that many inland centers now seek to attract tourist from the coast instead of seeing the coast as their own playgrounds.
One year, we went to Port Macquarie for our holiday. I remember the trip clearly because while we were away Rover, our Red Kelpie pet who was boarding on an Aunt and Uncle’s property, was bitten by a black snake and died. Rover was an energetic and inquisitive dog, not really suited to a town environment. Very few Kelpies are.
Traveling to Port Macquarie was unusual for us because it was just so far away. Well, at least it seemed that way. To get there, we drove south from Armidale where we were living to Uralla and then turned south east to Walcha. From Walcha, we veered further east and then plunged down the Great Dividing Range along the Oxley Highway.
None of the roads to the coast were then sealed. The road to Port passed through absolutely beautiful country, but was narrow, winding and dusty. The big timber jinkers carrying huge logs to the mills were a constant problem, for it was hard to get past.
Port Macquarie was then a small sleepy coastal settlement, far removed from today’s large tourist centre. The scale difference is actually astonishing. At the time I am talking about, Armidale’s population was perhaps three times that of Port. Today, Port’s population is twice that of Armidale.
At Port, we played and swam on the small local beaches. I learned of Rover’s death on one of those beaches, so it stands out in my mind.
I was reminded of all this by a book I have been reading, Annabella Boswell’s Journal (Angus & Robertson 1965, reprinted 1981). Before going on, I need to give you a little history.
Port Macquarie was founded in 1821 as a penal settlement. In 1830 Major Archibald Clunes Innes (1800-1857) became police magistrate at Port Macquarie and was granted 2568 acres (1039 ha) and contracts to supply the convict population with food. Working with convict labour, he transformed the wilderness into the fabled Lake Innes, the greatest pastoral property north of Sydney. There he built a grand home. From this point he built a web of pastoral interests. The town of Glen Innes is named after him.
Annabella was his niece. In 1839, her father took the family to stay at Lake Innes, hoping to improve his health. That hope was to be unsuccessful, for he died a few years later. Annabella loved the life at Lake Innes and recorded it all faithfully in her diary, republishing it all in later books.
The result is actually very Jane Austen, a story of domestic life and manners of an upper class NSW country family in a still relatively new colony. We have dear mamma, our dear uncle, the gentlemen callers, the first NSW election campaign in which the women gathered to make favours, the piper and the dances.
The last part of the book records the decline of Port Macquarie as families leave for other climes. It also contains references to her uncle’s growing problems. The end result is not clear to Annabella, for these things happen slowly. Finally, Lake Innes can no longer be maintained.
Today, Lake Innes and all its surrounds have been recaptured by bush, the house itself finally destroyed by fire. The tracks that the gentlemen and ladies of the house used to ride along to the beach or Port no longer exist. Yet the memory lingers quite intensely in Annabella’s writing. We can see the flowers, the gardens, the people, the lifestyle, memories that would stay with Annabella for the rest of her life.