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  • Writer's pictureKinglake Historical Society

Getting Along Not So Fine

In 'Oklahoma', the Rodgers & Hammerstein stage musical, the foreground story is about the hero and heroine, Curly and Laurey, but simmering in the background is the rivalry between the ranchers and the farmers in the days before the territory became a state in 1907. The farmers have built fences where the cattlemen used to drive their herds. Aunt Eller's song explains: "One man likes to push a plough, the other likes to chase a cow, but that's no reason why they can't be friends." She says they should forget their differences so that "cowboys dance with the farmer's daughters and farmers dance with the rancher's gals."
The Production Company's recent performance of 'Oklahoma' in the State Theatre reminded me that a similar situation had developed in Kinglake at about the same time. By 1907, the two main enterprises in the Kinglake district were farming and sawmilling. Both involved the carting of heavy loads, farm produce and timber, by horses teams and wagons or drays out of Kinglake to Whittlesea, Hurstbridge or Yarra Glen to reach the city markets. By this time, the original dirt tracks across the ridge had become roads of a sort but little solid foundation had been laid and heavy rain over the winter months caused the main road to become impassable in many places.

Farmer's cart on main road to Hurstbridge.
Farmer's cart on main road to Hurstbridge.

(Rainfall of 60 inches per year was not uncommon in those days. On one occasion, when asked by a visitor to the Kinglake Hotel what the local average rainfall was for the year, the publican answered, 'Five feet, sir!")
The worst damage was done by the timber-carting teams with heavier loads and a larger number of horses in each team. From 1910, the problem was solved to a large extent for Kinglake West and Kinglake Central farmers by the building of wooden tramlines from the mills to the Whittlesea railway station. But there were no tramlines at this time at the eastern end of the district.
Petitions and deputations were sent to the Eltham Shire Council by the Kinglake farmers over the next several years but, although inspections were made by the Shire Engineer and representatives of the Country Roads Board, there was no appreciable improvement in the situation. Each winter, the main road became a quagmire and, although the farmers tried to repair the worst sections themselves, they were often unable to get their produce to market.
In July 1917, Mr F. Crockford, the then owner of the 'The Oaks' property, wrote in desperation to the Country Roads Board:
"Regarding the road from the mill landing to Foster's Cutting where repairs are currently employing 10 local men. This road is now being destroyed as a far greater rate than the men are capable of repairing it. It is now one long bog getting deeper and more impassable. ...
"We have tried every means to adjust this situation without affecting the interests of the sawmill but, since we producers have protested against the destruction of our roads, a feeling of resentment has sprung up and matters are drifting into such a state that we are quite beyond our wits as to what to do.
"The timber teams, instead of helping the men working on the road, are hindering them, as the patrolman will tell you, and some of us are completely hemmed in with no prospect of getting our produce out for months.
"When you were here, you saw enough to satisfy you, I'm sure, but the roads are worse now than then and you could no more get along in your car than fly - in fact, the latter would be much easier. We earnestly ask you to stop the traffic of the mill for such time as the road can be got in sufficient repair that the farmers can cart their produce and realise some money to carry on.
Yours sincerely, F. M. Crockford, Kinglake."

The result was that the CRB ordered the closed to timber traffic for 2 to 3 months each winter. This was not appreciated by the sawmillers and there was a degree of tension in the air at these times until the main road was eventually sealed in the late 1920s. We don't know whether or not the farmers daughters were allowed to dance with the mill hands at the local dances in the meantime.

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