In search of Peter Hibbs

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Peter Hibbs - Australian pioneer

Peter Hibbs – Australian pioneer

Not heard of Peter Hibbs? I’m not surprised. Most Australians haven’t heard of him either yet he is one of the unsung pioneers of Australia.

He came with the first fleet to Australia in 1788. He was on board HMS Sirius (one of those ships in the first fleet) when it foundered off Norfolk Island in 1790 and then was sailing master for Matthew Flinders when he made the very first circumnavigation of Tasmania in 1798/9. He then lived for almost another 50 years before dying aged 90 in 1842, a venerable age in those days.

He is buried in a cemetery at Wisemans Ferry which is a small village on the Hawkesbury River to the north of Sydney. The drive to Wisemans Ferry was a pretty run and Sydneysiders use the area as a weekend jaunt but that few visit the cemetery. But few visitors to Sydney explore this far for central Sydney. And by far, I mean less than 60 miles away!

When visitors come to Sydney there are certain things they must do. Visit the Opera House and Circular Quay is high on the list as is a visit to the Rocks, (the original settlement area of Sydney,) a trip on the Manly ferry and a visit to Bondi Beach. Following this they might visit Darling Harbour for the aquarium or casino and perhaps the Luna Park funfair. Rarely do visitors have the time or the inclination to visit lesser known parts of Sydney before their holiday is up or the hop a plane for the next part of their Australian tour.

Distances can be vast in Australia so to get the most out of what is often a once-in-a-lifetime holiday, only the famous tourist haunts are visited. Yet, get away from the inner city suburbs of Sydney and there are surprising treats in store. But to find them you still need a car because the bus and train service will only get you so far.

I began my journey in Hornsby, an outer suburb and interchange station on the rail network which is only 35 minutes’ train journey north of central Sydney. From here, the car is necessary. Car ownership is high in Australia and you can see why when such distances are involved. Even though I am less than 30 miles from the middle of Sydney there is no train or single bus service that will get me to where I am heading.

warning at galston Gorge ans still many people disobey

warning at Galston Gorge and still many people disobey

From Hornsby I have to travel via the Galston Gorge, a twisting road that takes me down one side of a valley and up the other. So steep and winding is that road that many vehicles like articulated lorries, buses, cars towing caravans or trailers are banned as they will never make the turns. That doesn’t stop people trying as it saves many more miles to go around. But when a vehicle disobeys the rules and tries to make it through they get stuck and have to be towed out backwards necessitating the road having to be closed. Fines of up to $A2,000 (say £1,200) and automatic loss of licence don’t seem to deter some people and the gorge was closed shortly after I went through because some idiot felt they could make the twists and turns.

When the road sign advises taking a bend at 5km an hour it is wise to do so or wind up going over the edge and down hundreds of feet. The advantage of the going through the gorge is not just the miles of travel it saves but there are trails through the bush that you can take which appeals to visitors and locals alike. Many years ago someone let loose some chickens; they bred and became a familiar sight. People used to take their children down in the hope of catching sight of what were christened by some Elvis chickens because they were of that breed that had a quiff on their heads like Elvis Presley once sported. Reportedly long since rounded up, there are some who claim to still see them!

After the scenery of the gorge, the outer suburbs – if that is what they should be called – of Galston, Dural and Glenorie given an idea of what Australians are like outside of that inner suburban commuter that most visitors will meet. Here the houses gradually are found on larger and larger grounds and by the time Glenorie is reached most houses sit on five acre lots which cannot be subdivided without government agreement. Signs on the roadside object to any such plan for here, a lot of locals are fruit and vegetable growers, orchid and other flower horticulturists or horse and alpaca breeders and need that larger acreage to successfully manage a business. Still, there are some strange sites such as the field on the left hand side as you near Glenorie which contains dozens of little clumps of huge logs. Is this some unusual public architecture? Has the owner decided to stock up for a very cold winter ahead?

the old Yoothamurra Kiosk

the old Yoothamurra Kiosk

From Glenorie onwards there are few houses to be seen from the road but they vary from the older small corrugated iron-roofed buildings to the huge rolling cultivated green-lawned mansions of millionaires complete with helicopter pads. Those on the right as you drive up towards Wisemans Ferry have panoramic views of the valleys to the beginnings of the Blue Mountains tens of miles away. Pull into the side of the road and gaze. You won’t find many houses anywhere with better views.

But before you get there, let me mention a relic of my youth – the Yoothamurra Kiosk. To be found on the right as you head north, this tin shack served drinks and Devonshire teas although I don’t remember them having much of an idea of what a Devonshire tea should be like. Why couldn’t they serve an Aussie afternoon snack of lamingtons (a chocolate and cocoanut covered sponge) and tea rather than what they thought a foreign afternoon tea should be like?

heralding Spring one of the first signs are deep red flowers on leafless tress

Heralding spring. One of the first signs are deep red flowers on leafless tress

Today the shack is derelict and graffiti covered but it says a little bit about a non-suburban Aussie. It hasn’t been demolished or cleared away, just left until termites, ants or nature sends it on its way. It might be an eyesore just like the old Ampol garage that has been left derelict for ten years or more on the outskirts of Glenorie but that is how things are.

In spring the road becomes colourful as the tree blossom erupts. Spring in Australia might be the time for strawberries, melons, grapefruit, oranges and lemons but it is also the time for vivid reds and yellows in the trees. And lilac.

yellow, spring flowering gum trees

yellow, spring flowering gum trees

Environmentalists aren’t happy with foreign plants and weeping willows, blackberries and other trees have attracted criticism but one plant that seems to love the climate is wisteria. There are trees rather than bushes along the roadside and huge drooping bunches of blossom hang down making an incongruous sight next to a eucalyptus tree or five!

The signs alongside the road warn of kangaroos and there are also wallabies, pademelons, (a small wallaby) and wombats that can be seen as dusk comes. In the middle of the day there will be little chance to see anything much other than birds. Even kookaburras, cockatoos and parrots know better than to venture into the heat of the day although you can still hear them in the trees. All I saw were Australian magpies, black and white aggressive birds which will swoop if you get too close to their nests in the breeding season.

the view from Hawkin's Lookout

the view from Hawkins Lookout

Not far from my destination is Hawkins Lookout at which you ought to stop. From here you get a view hundreds of feet below of the Hawkesbury River and its wide expanse. Down below there is a combination of house boats, speedboats, cruisers and self-built strange floating things to which locals head at the weekends for water skiing, fishing or just messing about. The difference is that messing about on a river as wide, as big and as remote as the Hawkesbury is about as different from UK rivers as it is possible to be. Even this far from the ocean it can be 400 metres wide. As you drop down into Wisemans Ferry, a turning on the right – Singleton Road – skirts alongside the river.

Houses perched precariously on the cliff side must have wonderful views of the weekend water-skiers. You couldn’t have them in our climate. Some winter ice and you would never to be able to salt some of those gradients!

The quiet Wisemans Ferry cemetery

The quiet Wisemans Ferry cemetery

Eventually a white painted fence reveals the small Wisemans Ferry Cemetery, the end of my journey. Here is the grave of Mary Hibbs, Peter’s wife, Richard their son and Peter himself. Today Peter Hibbs is overshadowed by the man who gave his name to the area. Solomon Wiseman was a convict who, eventually, was given a tract of land and, as convicts built the Great North Road he acquired the rights to operate a ferry across the river that enabled the road to continue, hence the name. The ferry crossing still exists. The man known as King Solomon lies in the cemetery along with his wife Jane. As part of the road network, the ferry is free to users, 24 hours a day only regularly closing for maintenance.

and the statue of Solomon Wiseman in the town

and the statue of Solomon Wiseman in the town

Here I was, within 90 minutes of the middle of Sydney with its skyscrapers, bustle and modern features. It felt, though, as if I was a million miles away for here was solitude, views, a river in which to fish, water ski or to potter about on and I felt I was a million miles away. Peter Hibbs (and my father for he is buried here as well) were in one of the pleasantest places they could be.

And hardly a tourist to be seen!

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