Thursday, 29 October 2015

McDonalds Track

McDonalds Track originally went from the Tobin Yallock Bridge (where the South Gippsland Highway crosses the Lang Lang River) to Morwell, and it followed the ridges of the Strzelecki Ranges and was about seventy miles (about 110kms) in length. You can see the start of the track as it is the first turn-off into Lang Lang on the Highway coming from Koo-Wee-Rup, then it went to Nyora and Poowong. Remnants of the track are still named on maps, around Poowong East, Mount Worth (the highest point of the original track) then there is another section around Childers, Thorpdale and Narracan.

The track was surveyed by Assistant-Surveyor George Thomas McDonald. He started in 1860 and it was finished in 1862. It was hoped that the track would provide an alternate route for stock to get from Gippsland to Melbourne. Once they got to Tobin Yallock they could then be shipped from Western Port Bay to Melbourne.  The Argus of January 1, 1863 published a report by McDonald of his progress and he was very confident that with the exception of a few places, a most excellent road may when cleared be had to Gipps Land....there are no creeks to cross, consequently no bridges will be required the ground is almost all good and firm, so that travelling may be performed with safety and comfort at all seasons of the year. The cost of clearing will be the chief item of expenditure, but that, together with the expense of making a few side cuttings ....should not exceed £10,000 pounds. Indeed for that sum I consider that thoroughly good road, one chain wide, could be made, which would be practical for travelling day or night. I specify a road one chain [20 metres] wide because the ridge for a large proportion of the distance would not admit of one wider, and in one or two places it cannot, without levelling, be made wider than forty-five or fifty feet [15 metres].  One of the greatest objections by the public to this road will be the scarcity of feed for stock but as the soil is generally good, I have little doubt that in the course of time hotel keepers along the road will clear and sow paddocks with grass for the accommodations of themselves and others.


Map of McDonalds Track. Source: Pack Tracks to Pastures: a history of Poowong District 
by Ross Hartnell (Poowong Centenary Committee, 1974) 


In the end the track was never used, apparently due to the fact that there were no permanent water holes along the route.  What else do we know about the Track? When McDonald created the track it was about seven foot (just over 2 metres) wide to Mount Worth and from there it ‘narrowed considerably’. All supplies and equipment had to come from Cranbourne. The area was steep, heavily  forested, some trees were 300 feet high  (about 90 metres) and often the surveying party found that they were following minor ridges and had to back track to the major ridge.  McDonald also reported that he had found coal seams along the track.

Sadly for McDonald his hopes of the route becoming a major road never eventuated and no hotel keepers ever came to provide accommodation and hospitality.  It was about 1874 that settlers began selecting land along the McDonalds Track around Poowong, and, by then, the reports were that the track was completely overgrown. Later settlers branched out from there to Poowong East and Poowong North. This area was also opened up by the establishment of a coach track from Poowong to Drouin after the Gippsland Railway was opened in 1878. The other local effect the Track had was the establishment of the township of Tobin Yallock.

The first store and hotel were built c.1867 by William Lyall (who owned Harewood) and located on part of the Tobin Yallock (or Torbinurruck) squatting run on the junction of McDonald’s Track and the South Gippsland Highway. This store and hotel became the nucleus of the town of Lang Lang, as it was officially known, though the locals called it Tobin Yallock. Tobin Yallock would eventually have a church, a Post Office, Mechanics’ Institute and other stores. Its decline began with the coming of the railway when the station, called Carrington (later known as Lang Lang), was built east of Tobin Yallock, in February 1890. By about 1894 most of the businesses and public buildings had transferred to the new Lang Lang based around the railway station.

What do we know of George Thomas McDonald? He came from Dumfries in Scotland and arrived in Victoria in 1853. According to the State Government Gazette he was employed in the Lands and Survey Office in August 1857 and was there until about 1879.  On November 24, 1869 he married Amelia Margaret Mitchell. He was listed in the marriage notice in The Argus as the District surveyor, Castlemaine District. Amelia was listed as the second daughter of the Hon W.H.F Mitchell. Sir William Mitchell was President of the Legislative Council. They had eight children  (not five as is incorrectly reported in Amelia's obituary, left) - Isabel born 1871; William born 1873; Christina born 1875 and died 1883; James born 1877, Allan born 1878; Thomas born 1880 and died 1881; George born 1882 and Sidney born 1885.  The first five were born in Victoria and then the last three were born in Queensland.

In spite of giving birth to eight children in 14 years, Amelia lived to the ripe old age of 95 and died in Brisbane in 1939. I have the impression that Amelia McDonald was a ‘good catch’ and perhaps George ‘married up’ as they used to say. Certainly in the report of her death in The Argus on July 25, 1939 (reproduced here) there is no mention her husband, only her illustrative father.

As the obituary states their daughter, Isabel, married Brigadier-General Cecil Foott. You can read his biography here on the Australian Dictionary of Biography website. Foott was born in Bourke in New South Wales and had a distinguished military career and retired to Beaconsfield Upper where he died in June 1942. Foott is buried in the Berwick Cemetery. He was in an unmarked grave until 2015 when the Narre Warren & District Family History Group discovered this whilst they were doing research into the World War One soldiers buried at the cemetery. The Family History Group, in conjunction with the R.S.L, unveiled a headstone on his grave on April 11, 2015.

Back to George Thomas McDonald - he died on February 3, 1915 aged 79. His death notice listed his address as ‘late of Rocklea and Gladstone districts’.  I can't find an obituary of him. I feel that he is a forgotten man in the history of Victoria, but now everytime you drive past McDonalds Track on the way down to Phillip Island or South Gippsland, then you will know a bit about the man behind the name.

The Queenslander  February 13, 1915



Much of the information about McDonald's survey of the the track comes from the Book - Pack Tracks to Pastures: a history of Poowong District by Ross Hartnell (Poowong Centenary Committee, 1974) 

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