A Day trip driving along the M1 south means that you can reach the south coast of New South Wales from Brisbane in as little as 1.5 hours. Formerly a sugar cane timber, and banana growing area, the farms here now seem to grow macadamia nuts and various fruit trees, as well as raising beef cattle. Tourism is big here, and of course the wonderful beaches are a big drawcard. For me this area has a special significance.
History and Family history
The hinterland of Northern New South Wales coast used to be called The Big Scrub and was the site of my great grandfathers farm. He was a pioneer in this area. In 1860 the Robertson Land Act was passed and allowed for selection of areas of land in this area.
Samuel Russell was the last of the selectors in Eureka. Although he applied for the minimum 40 acres of land, he finally obtained 73 acres 21st June 1883. There were conditions attached requiring the selectors to clear a certain amount of land on their property each year. This was also necessary to make a productive farm. As the scrub was virgin rainforest, this was a difficult task. The roads were a mere track and the forest at times impenetrable.
Russell family History
Although Samuel was born here in 1853, his family had come from Wells in Somerset England. They had immigrated on the "Victory/Victoia" which arrived in Australia 4 September 1849 and settled in East Maitland.
Samuel was working as a farmer at Martin's creek, (Near Paterson NSW) and worked as on the supply boats sailing up the coasts to Ballina, before taking up the selection at Eureka, with his wife, Sarah Jemima Louisa Hale and their three children. Marjorie, Arthur and Oliver Russell attended Eureka School.
Seven more children were born before Samuel died prematurely of a heart condition, in 1877,and the family went their separate ways. Sarah remarried and became Sarah Appleton and some of the children went to live in the Kingaroy area of Queensland with the eldest daughter, Annie Sheather. Apparently one reason she married and moved away was because she was sick of minding her Mother's many children.
This is an interesting article explaining the significance of the area.
The Big Scrub, once Australia's largest area of tall subtropical rainforest, originally covered approximately 75,000 hectares extending from Lismore east to the edge of the coastal plain inland from Ballina, and from Meerschaum Vale in the south to Nightcap, Goonengerry and Byron Bay in the north, including the villages of Alstonville, Clunes and Bangalow.
Now only small scattered remnants of rainforest remain, many of them less than five hectares in area and covering less than 700 hectares in total – less than 1 per cent of the original area.
The Big Scrub was cleared by European settlers from the 1840s. The area was cleared for its valuable cabinet timber species, in particular red cedar, and ultimately to open up the land for agriculture, particularly dairying.
The mosaic of remnants stretches across the Alstonville-Dunoon plateau and provides important stepping stones for birds and bats which seasonally migrate between the forests of the coast to the south and the Nightcap and Border Ranges. The remnants are important genetic pools for seed dispersal between rainforests in north-eastern New South Wales and demonstrate the range of lowland rainforest alliances of the Mt Warning volcanic caldera.
The main Big Scrub remnants today include Uralba Nature Reserve, Booyong Recreation Reserve, Andrew Johnston Big Scrub, Victoria Park, Davis Scrub, Hayters Hill, Boatharbour, Minyon Falls Nature Reserve, Big Scrub Flora Reserve and Wilson Nature Reserve.
When the original cedar cutters arrived in 1842, they were spellbound by the trees that stood dense and tall on the river banks. The abundance of the ‘red gold’ was greater than anyone had experienced before and the quality of the timber was exceptional. More cedar cutters from the coast flocked to the district.
As the trees became scarcer in easy country, the cutters moved into more remote and virtually inaccessible country and continued their harvest. Apart from cedar, the cutters also sought valuable rainforest timber species such as rosewood and "bog onion" or "onion cedar" and, later, hoop pine, which are now scarce and limited in range.
Although the Richmond River area around Casino had been opened up by 1840 and settlements were already established along the rivers, the Big Scrub remained, for the most part, uninhabited prior to 1861.
Indeed, some scientists believe that river flats within the Big Scrub were relatively tree-free lands suitable for grazing from an early stage without massive clearing and it was these lands which were settled in the early period - including properties such as Cassino, Runnymede, Wooroowoolgen, Wyangarie, Dyraaba, Richmond Head (later named Fairy Mount), Tunstall and Lismore.
It was not until 1865, when the Freeborn brothers selected land at what is now Alstonville, under the Conditional Purchase provisions of the Robertson Land Act of 1862, that settlement of the Big Scrub commenced in earnest.
The photo at left, taken c.1908 near Jiggi Creek just north of Lismore, shows that even to clear a site for a hut was a major undertaking; clearing an entire selection would involve months of back-breaking effort for the settler and any of his children able to help.
Nevertheless, the demand for good grazing land fed a steady flow of settlers into the region as land was progressively made available for purchase.
Inroads into the wildlife were heavy but in the long term may have had less drastic permanent effects on animal populations, had suitable reserves been created and maintained. But as axes rang through the forest, trees crashed and the smoke drifted through the canopy, wildlife had no hope; its habitat was almost totally erased.
One man and his brother were able to shoot 102 wompoo pigeons from one white cedar in one morning and, on another day, filled two chaff bags with topknot pigeons and four brush turkeys; brown pigeons were too small to waste the powder on but, on the way home, one casually thrown stick killed six of them. These birds were destined for salting down as the family's food.
At the same time, previously uncommon cockatoos, parrots and lorikeets descended on the pioneer settlers’ crops "in clouds". Pademelons also proliferated and became a scourge to crops and pastures; bandicoots were more numerous than ever before and the brush possum appeared in numbers.
The settlers explained this passing abundance of some animals as crowding due to the reduction of available habitat. This may be partly true, but a more likely explanation is that the plant communities at that stage of the clearing provided better habitat for some animals than had the unbroken rainforest.
The abundance was short lived and soon the main elements of the rainforest fauna were gone. The Big Scrub was inhabited by dairy cows and open-country avifauna. There were few remaining native mammals. That situation remains today, although dairy farms have largely been replaced by macadamia nut and tropical fruit plantations.
It is hard to be critical of early cedar cutters and settlers who contributed to this destruction; the evidence of their hardiness and enterprise, their spirit and their willingness to endure harsh conditions and to pull together is too great not to feel some admiration, notwithstanding various incidents of cruelty and worse towards the Bundjalung and other Aboriginal peoples of the region.
It is worth remembering that red cedar was the first export product of the convict colony of NSW and, for a good part of the 19th century, it was the third most important economic produce of NSW after wheat and wool. As for settlers, the "conditional purchase" provisions of the 1862 Robertson Land Act meant that the selector had to clear several acres of land each year; otherwise the land could have been forfeited. In addition, the selector had to build a house and make other "improvements" to maintain his title.
In the midst of the destruction, some land-clearing practices that were consciously adopted had the effect of preserving patches of The Big Scrub for posterity. Some property owners preserved small parcels of their upper country out of respect for and appreciation of the forest's natural values. Other patches were deliberately retained as firebreaks (although rainforest is susceptible to fire and does not regrow from it as does eucalypt forest).
The modern pursuit of industrialised rainforest timber harvesting by corporate sawmillers acting with the blessing and support of the Forestry Commission of New South Wales is another matter, worthy of a separate story.
The Big Scrub was the largest and probably the richest in New South Wales but there were other “scrubs”. They were distributed, patchily, from the Illawarra district to Cape York but most have a similar history of destruction.
In New South Wales virtually all have gone and rainforest now remains as isolated pockets in the ranges or on mountainsides, much of them preserved in national parks with significant areas also in Forests NSW properties. The only sizeable areas left are in the north east of the state, in the Border Ranges.
Wells is a city located in Somerset England 22 miles from Bath. There is a medieval cathedral, with imposing architecture, and archealogists have found not only a Roman mauseleum located beneath its foundations, but also the district was home to ancient celts and their rituals, with stone circles similar to Stonehenge. The information below also indicates the area was a centre of Vikingactivity in the 9th century.
St Cuthbert's church in Wells, where several generations of the Russell family were baptised.
The Enchanting Somerset Levels
The Levels are a sizable area that stretch further south than our Wells & Area Map may suggest. The main image supplied by Tony Howell shows Glastonbury Tor and other hills 'floating' in the mist. The ground is only a few meters above sea level and an extensive network of ditches and rivers help to drain the land of excess water. Indeed some areas can be frequently underwater after heavy rains. This is an area that is perfect to explore on bicycles as the flat landscape makes for easy riding. There are many small pretty villages here including Wedmore where the Saxon King Alfred signed a peace treaty with the Danes in the 9th century.