Over the past weeks, the story of Allan Cunningham’s 1827 Trail through the current Gwydir Shire region has been told, as a series of extracts from his log book, in the local press and on this website.
The story, recounting the discovery of new plants, rivers and streams, the naming of some of these along with ranges and valleys, and comments on the nature of the land and of his fleeting observation of the aborigines, make for a fascinating commentary on the character of the land as it was before white settlement.
Gwydir Shire Council, Warialda Tourist Group and Bingara and District VISION 20/20, hope to take this “journey” further and develop “Cunningham’s Trail” as a tourist, education and recreation Project.
Cunningham’s log provides an insight into the “colonial” view of the land. He was an Englishman and a botanist, and his observations and records tell much how he observed the land was like in 1827. He also had a “coloured view” of the Aborigine. On occasions, he referred to them as “indians” and “savages”. On his entire journey, he caught only fleeting glimpses of them, actually seeing any “in the flesh” on just two or three occasions.
Often he presumed that aborigines lived a “miserable existence” and that they “lacked the Arts of Life”, and he probably wrongly concluded aspects of their food, shelter and lifestyle by misreading their “signs”, and from his lack of thorough investigation.
In May to July of 1827, the interior of eastern Australia was in the grip of severe drought and at some stages on his journey Cunningham struggled to find water and pasture. Still, he brought his troop safely back and presented a detailed account of his journey to the Governor of the Colony.
There are clear errors in some of Cunningham’s observations and some confusing readings he gave with his sextant, odometer and compass, but a significant “discovery” from tracing his journey is that many of his campsites and river crossings are on public land today. This provides great potential to identify and promote these “stops” for tourism promotion and to mark the sites with information taken from Cunningham’s Logbook.
A draft proposal for the “Cunningham’s Trail Project” will be presented for public comment later this year. Any other feedback, information or ideas from the community will be most welcome. Please direct these to the committee through the GSC offices.
Finally, those interested in solving some of the “riddles” posed by Cunningham’s log might find next week’s article worth reading. In writing these summaries much debate has been triggered concerning some of the trail that Cunningham blazed. The next article will provide a couple more “riddles” that the “detectives” among you might like to ponder.