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Coimadai is near Bacchus Marsh.

COIMADAI. (By Anders Hjorth.) At the request of Mr. A. B. O'Hara, postmaster and State school teacher in Coimadai, I have tried to compile a record of that place; from the earliest days of settlement up till now. If from the information I have obtained there should be some errors, it is not my fault—I have given them as I got them. In drawing on my own recollections, I have tried to present facts as I found them, and as they impressed me. Among those who have contributed information in connection with the earlier days, I have to thank Mr. M. McDermott, through his son, Mr. Luke McDermott, Mrs. Tilly, Miss R. McCarthy, and Mr. Joseph Bennett. Although this record may not be of much interest now, it may in future years become interesting to the descendants of the early settlers. In imagination, I have often tried to form a picture of what to-day is known as Coimadai was like, be fore and immediately after the re- treat of the great antarctic ice age, which once covered the southern parts of Australia. But I have had to give it up, as not having sufficient geological knowledge to form a representation of that in my mind. In Coimadai, indisputable traces of glacial action is evidenced from the striation of rocks fronting the creeks, immediately below Mr. J. Wightman's residence. Were the immense lime deposits then in existence at Coimadai? or were they yet in process of formation, sub- merged in the ocean depths, awaiting an upheaval in the progress of time? On one of the hills overlooking Coimadai are extensive deposits of rounded water-worn quartz pebbles, bearing evidence of what time must have elapsed for those originally, sharp-edged fragments of quartz to be rounded into their present shape, through frictional contact, by the action of water. As for the origin of the name Coimadai, or if it had any meaning, I have, not been able to obtain any information, but am inclined to believe that it is an aboriginal appellation, by the similarity of the last syllable to Gundagai and Woolomai. Coimadai, having been rich in native game, and fish in the creek, was no doubt a favorite camping ground for the, blacks, and traces of their ovens, or kitchen-middings, proves this surmise.
Laying in a depression, and surrounded by hills of volcanic lime- stone and sandstone formation, the detritus and sediments from those hills, supplied the flats with elements of great fertility, in places to a great depth. By what I can learn, when the first settlers came to the place in the fifties, Pyreete Creek, from Coimadai and a good distance below it, had a very shallow course, consisting mostly of a chain of water holes, something similar to what the Boggy Creek, east of Coimadai, presents to-day. The Pyreete Creek, in its former shallow course, left in flood time rich alluvial deposits for a good distance below Coimadai. With settlement and cultivation the forest growths were removed, and the roots of the trees on the creek, which formerly held the soil together, as well as the removal of the debris accumulated under the trees, which in heavy rains prevented the rapid flow of water, roads and cattle tracks caused a greater rush of water to- wards the creek, and a combination of those causes scoured out, deepened and widened the bed of it in places to the extent of 20 feet. During heavy and continuous rain the log fences, constructed from the timber cleared off the land for cultivation, were swept into the raging torrent of the creek, and the ponderous logs, coming into contact with its banks, added to the crumbling away of those. The bridge built in the sixties, across the creek, got its back broken by the accumulations against its supports of piles of big logs, brought down by a flood. The advent of the rabbits added their quota to the enlargement of the creek, by burrowing and undermining its banks. In the block of land known as Doubleday's, there are several small depressions, which formerly, at all times of the season, contained more or less water. At present they never hold any, no doubt owing to their drainage by the deepened creek, which is only a few chains distant.
In 1862, I had occasion to call at Coimadai, for a couple of bags of lime. Shortly after leaving Toolern I entered on a very devious track, through primeval but not dense for- est; found the kilns, in the front of which there was a small cleared space, but looking west, towards Coimadai flats, the vision was interrupted by a forest of gum and box trees, undergrowths, and reeds. I have often tried to form a theory accounting for the presence of fossilised bones embedded in the rocks of the limestone quarries at Coimadai. At Cooper's Creek, N.S.W., before its outlet to Lake Eyre, are found large deposits of bones of a fauna, now mostly extinct in Australia, the greater portion of the bones giving evidence of having formed parts of animals much larger than those which at present occupy the continent. In the accumulation of those bones an explanation has been sought by the hypothesis, that in the remote past, the animals now only represented by their bones, have in a periods of prolonged droughts become debilitated by want of food and water; when after a while, torrential tropical downpours swelled the rivers, such as the Thompson, the Barcoo, and others, and inundating the extensive level country on their lower ridges, sweeping those enervated animals into and drowning them in the raging streams, becoming eventually deposited some distance from the ingress of Cooper's Creek to Lake Eyre. Now, as we know very little of the contour of the southern part of Australia in bygone ages, might it not have been possible, that under similar climatic conditions as those which caused the perishing of the fauna in the vicinity of Cooper's Creek a big river and its confluences, might not here have swept the animals then existing on its watershed into the ocean, where, through countless ages, they became embedded in the ooze of lime-producing marine organisims, to be uplifted afterwards, either by volcanic action or other submarine disturbances, to their present position. Of course this is only a theory of mine. Through the kindness of my son-in- law (Mr. A Allen) who has been working in the limestone quarries at Coimadai, I have obtained several fossilised bones of various dimensions, some of them being very large—big enough to have belonged to some gigantic dinosaur of the past. The soil west of Coimadai is mostly all the result of volcanic disturbances; to the north, in what is called The Basins, the rock and soil formation is mostly granitic, with a few basaltic outcrops, which also occur on the eastern side of Pyreete Creek, adjoining sandstone country. A very remarkable instance of volcanic action in our neighborhood, is a patch of basaltic rock and soil, about 30 feet square, in the centre of an elevated sandstone range, known as Jerry Burke's hill, originally Collier's Range. A good many years ago, when I first noticed this patch of volcanic soil, it was solely covered with kangaroo grass, surrounding it was all low scrub, interspersed with tussocky grass, since the advent of bunny the kangaroo grass has disappeared, and only red rockstrewn soil now meets the eye.
From what can learn, the first white man to make Coimadai his domicile was a Mr. John Hopgood, who lived in a hut on the left bank of the creek, opposite to what is now known as the sodawater spring. That was somewhere in the fifties. Mr. Hopgood was also the discoverer of the lime deposits which were at first worked in a small way by him and his soils. After a while, the Messrs. Browne, Gamble and Munroe got possession of the deposits, and worked them on a larger scale, supplying the Messrs. Cornish and Bruce, contractors for the construction of Mt. Alexander railway, which was then building, with a large quantity of lime; that would be about 1860. Between 1860 and 1863, about 50 men were employed, in the various vocations connected with the burning of and carting away of the lime. A local squatter, (Mr. Brown) appears to have man- aged the works at the kilns. After a while, the company dissolved partnership, and Gamble sold out to his partners for £1000. Immediately after he opened up a lime deposit on a hill opposite, which is now known as Mr. Burnip's. Mr. Gamble did not seem to have stayed long here, but meeting Mr. Burnip at Bendigo he informed him of the existence of the deposit, which, with the block it was on, was secured by Mr. Burnip. It seems that, about the middle sixties, Brown and Munroe, abandoned their interest in the lime kilns, which were afterwards for some time worked spasmodically by F. Gulliver, sen., and his sons, as well as by Mr. T. Hop- good's sons. The output mostly went to supply local demands. In the seventies, a Mr. Blair, owner of limekilns near the Heads, on the eastern side of Port Phillip bay, got possession of Coimadai lime deposits, but, from what I can learn, he did not display much activity by increasing the output. In the eighties, Mr. P. Alkemade, a native of Holland, who had a good deal of experience as a builder and contractor, as well as of opening up lime deposits in other parts of the State, obtained possession of part of the quarries. At that time things were commencing to boom in Melbourne, through the influx of borrowed money; a number of ram- shackle buildings were demolished, to be replaced by palatial structures. Mr. Alkemade, being an active, energetic, man with insight to the future, managed to get capital by floating a company, increasing the number of kilns, and fronting them by what was, for the locality, an im- posing structure of rubble masonry. The company was floated under the name of The Alkemade Hydraulic Lime Company, and inaugurated in bumpers of champagne and other joy conducers. As Mr. Alkemade had only got possession of part of the deposits, a Mr. Debly took up the other part about the same time, and also fronted his kilns with rubble masonry, and porches where the burned lime could be drawn in all weathers. Those porches, in after years, when Mr. Debly had abandoned his portion of the quarries, often became the abode of non-residential employees of the Alkemade's, who were, by "Rambler," in one of the local papers, designated as "cave-dwellers." During the building boom in Melbourne, things were correspondingly booming at Coimadai, and a considerable number of men found employment in the various vocations required for the production of and getting away the lime, which, after being carted to Bacchus Marsh, was railed to Melbourne. In 1892, the boom collapsed, and the output at the kilns gradually declined, and ceased altogether as far as the Melbourne supply was concerned, a few bags went weekly to Bacchus Marsh, mostly carted by Mr. P. Alkemade, sen. When coming home one evening, the. dray in which he was seated capsized, and fell on him, rendering him unconscious. He was brought home, and expired, after lingering a few days, still unconscious. The output having now almost become nil, with no immediate prospect of mending, Mr. Alkemade's four sons (Cornelius, Robert, Peter and John) bought all the company's interests, price I do not know. They managed gradually to increase the output, by supplying other parts of the State, as well as Melbourne with lime, which had by this time got a good reputation. Year by year the business kept extending; production having also been cheapened by the introduction of various labor saving appliances, and the turning out of a first-class article suitable to builders. I understand that the weekly output now averages from 600 to 700 bags. Mr. Debly abandoned his part of the quarry when the boom burst. In the quarry to- day, consisting of a great pit, I am informed there is yet any quantity of stone to be obtained. The first settlers to obtain land on Coimadai flats were Mr. Win. Bennett, Mr. D. Bower, Mr. Geo. Burnip and Mr. F. Gulliver. I do not know under what clause of the Land Act they obtained their first holding, about 30 acres each. Evidently they were attracted by the opening up of the lime deposits, as, in 1861, Mr. Bennett, before he got his block, had a small store, with a wine licence, a little below where the hotel now stands. Mr. Bennett came here, from Cockatoo Gully, where, during the rush for gold in that gully, he had a bakery and store. Later on, he built a substantial brick hotel, which he enlarged during the boom. He did not run the store long, but started a bakery, being a baker by profession, his sons assisting him; after a few years the bakery was closed down. Mr. Bennett was of a jovial disposition, a typical conservative John Bull. Over his bar he had a framed inscription— "As man has proved to be unjust, I do not care to give him trust;.my care to-day is no man's sorrow; then pay to-day, and I will trust to-morrow." For thirsty souls, who did not always have cash, he would oblige them by the barter of fowls, eggs and butter. Passed on, at the patriarchal age of 94. His wife, who had been a trusty companion to him, predeceased him by a good many years. I do not know where Mr. D. Bower came from to Coimadai. His first residence was near one of the swamps, opposite Mr. R. Alkemade's present residence; later on, he re- moved to nearer the road and the bridge, where he had the first post- office, and ran the mail three times a week, to and from Bacchus Marsh. Afterwards he ran a tri-weekly mail and passenger coach to Digger's Rest, the running of which ceased when the Ballarat railway line was completed, and the mails to Coimadai were despatched from Melton, via Toolern. Mr. Bower was of an energetic, if somewhat sanguine, dis- position, and assisted in futhering and developing the resources of Coimadai. He opened up a mineral spring on his property, erected machinery, for the treatment and bot- tling of its water, and forwarded the product to Melbourne, but did not seem to have taken too well with the public, and the attempt to establish a trade in that direction was abandoned. He was the first to introduce the lucerne plant to Coimadai, and he also planted weeping willows and poplars round the swamps. Sometime in the seventies he sold his property to Mr. Blair, owner of lime deposits at the Heads. I do not know the price, but the same property was afterwards bought by Mr. Doubleday, for £25 per acre; sold again in later years to Mr. R. Alkemade, for £35—a proof of the fertility of the soil, which, with irrigation facilities, would have been greatly increased. [1]
COIMADAI. (By Anders Hjorth.) No. 3.
In the early days, before the Py reete creek had attained its present depth, the crossing of it was not at all bad; but as it was getting deeper a bridge was constructed in the six ties by Messrs Cuthbertson and Watson, which has, with one exception during a big flood, stood the occasional strain up till now. Among incidents of tragic occurrence in Coimadai, I may mention the drowning, in the sixties, of a little boy named Joseph Holt, in the sight of his schoolmates, while bath ing in a waterhole above the bridge. Mrs. Blincho, a resident north of Coimadai, coming from the Marsh late one dark night, somehow got out of the dray in which she was riding (must have got lost) wandered up to the lime quarries, and fell over the steep embankment, and was next. morning found dead at the bottom of the quarry. A hut in which an old man, Charley Anderson. lived as caretaker for Mr T. Cain's property on the Deep Creek, was one morning (in the nineties) found burned to the ground, only a few charred remains of the old man being left. In the early seventies, a: Mr. Parington's child, about four years old, was lost from our place. She was only ab sent about a quarter-of-an-hour, when search was made for her, but the then pretty dense scrub seemed to have swallowed her up. This occurred one afternoon in the month of October. Several of the neigh bours scoured the immediate vicinity that evening and night, without getting any trace of her. The loss of the unfortunate child soon be came known, and a number of people made a systematical search for her for a week, but all in vain. Some years afterwards a few bones, having belonged to a child, were found near a hollow log, nearly on the summit of Collier's range, evidently the remnants of the lost child. A neighbour of ours, Mr. G. Hogg, sen., was, while driving milk to the creamery, coming down the hill to the Boggy creek bridge, when some of the harness gave away; he collided with a strong post, was thrownout and rendered unconscious; remained thus until a few days after the accident, when he passed on. In the sixties, a boy named Michael Conway, 7 years old, rambled away from his home into the Deep Creek ranges, and was lost for five days; eventually he came out at Mr. Crow's place, near Gisborne, not much the worse for his exposure. In the seventies, a Mr. Hines came across an antimony outcrop, north of Coimadai, near the Pyreete creek. It was opened up, and exploited with varying success, off and on by different persons and companies. Antimony being a very elusive metal, with great fluctuation in value, the mine was never in continuous development; but, like an other antimony deposit near our place, only mined when the metal was dear. At present both are idle. In the late sixties, several dry years having succeeded one an other, there was great agitation in the Marsh about doing something to relieve the situation, through storage of water for irrigation. Coimadai was one of the sites chosen for a reservoir, and a survey was made, but somehow the project fell through. Coimadai was twice threatened with devastation by bush fires. Coming down from the ranges, fanned by a strong north wind, the fire entered Mr. Burnip's property, destroyed some of his log fences, but its further progress was stayed be fore it crossed the main road. Concerning the political aspect of affairs, in the early days of Coimadai, a good deal of interest was dis played, and feeling sometimes ran very high, especially when Mr. G. Berry, the then Liberal leader, was at the zenith of his power, con ending against the Conservative elements in both Houses. There were a good many staunch and sterling democrats about Coimadai in those days, and the political aspirants often used to address the electors in Mr. Bennett's commodious barn, repairing afterwards to the hotel, where non-supporters as well as supporters of the candidate, would indulge freely in the liquid refreshment provided by his more prominent backers. In the boom period (the early nineties) when the octopus railway was to the front, Coimadai, in con junction with Toolern and Bullengarook, also came forward, and demanded to-get a loop line from Holden or Bydenham, skirting Toolern and passing- through Coimadai to Bacchus Marsh. Preliminary surveys were made, but there it, ended. I remember, at one.:crowded open air meeting at Mr. Bennett's, where the project was discussed and pressed forward, in conversation with a farmer from Toolern, I disputed the paying results of tile line. "Never mind," he replied, "the money is going to-the devil, any way; and we may as well have a share of it."
In the eighties and nineties, some of the residents in and about Coimadai became notes for the successful raising of pure-bredstock. Fore most among those, and the most successful exhibitor (taking both champion and first prizes at the Melbourne and local shows) was Mr. W. Jeffrey, in the Basins. He attained to a high standard in breeding Leicester sheep and Berkshire swine. Mr. J. T. Burnip, R. Allan, and J. Bourke were to the fore with Ayreshire cattle; Mr.• Martin Cosgrove. with Jerseys; Mr. T. Bourke, with Clydesdale stallions. Mr. W. Jeffrey was also a successful exhibitor of bacon at the local shows. During the first flush of expan sion of the limeworks, in the sixties. Messrs. M. Conway, R. Wynne and MacDermott, under miner's rights, resided successively on the flat, fronting the kilns, but when slackness again prevailed, they went further afield. Mr. S. Grant (Mrs. Burnip's brother) next took up his residence on the flat, but later he selected here a few acre, and built a nice little cottage. He obtained his living mostly by working at the kilns, for the farmers, and for the Council. I think it was in the eighties that he sold his land to Mr. Blair, and went to town. The land was after wards acquired by Mr. J. Johansen, a Norwegian, and since his demise has been in occupation by his sons. Another old identity who made Coimadai his domicile for several years was Mr. Andrew Jenkins, a somewhat querulous but honest old bachelor. He got his living chiefly by splitting fencing and trapping. Occupied a hut cast of Debly's kilns; and, if I remember rightly, he died in the Melbourne hospital. His hut was afterwards occupied by Mr. John Harvey, also a bachelor, who had formerly been in the carrying of dairy produce line but some injury to his back made him abandon it; lived here a few years, but becoming very crippled, was conveyed to the Benevolent Asylum, where, I believe, his health has improved remarkably. [2]

Coimadai World War One Veterans

The Coimadai Avenue of Honour was covered with water after construction of a dam. The following may have had trees in the avenue.

Jack Allan - J.R. Bennett - William Bennett - James Bourke - Archibald Clark - William Clark - Albert Coghlan - David Coghlan - Alexander Driever - Henry Ellis - Ted Hales - James Johansen -John Johansen - William Johansen - A. N. A. O'Hara - Percy Oswin - Thomas Rawlinson - W. Wilson

Also See

Bacchus Marsh


  1. Melton Express, 18 November 1916.
  2. Melton Express, 09 December 1916.
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