The poor old wallaby was considered a huge pest in the old days. Any call to protect native animals was immediately cried down by farmers;
The following image is from Town and Country Journal in 1906. Even youngsters went out with guns, a bit like my bother and his friends shooting rabbits in the 1950s and 60s.
The same publication included a description of ‘wallaby drives’. They were rather like a colonial version of fox hunting, or pheasant shoots. It’s disturbing to read such accounts today.
‘Drives are sometimes made by settlers, who band together for the purpose of thinning the ranks of the marsupial herd. Occasionally a squatter entertains his town friends, or visitors from ‘home’, in this way. The stockmen do most of the hard work of rounding up, while the shooters close on a vantage ground below the rugged hills, and as the mob of 200 or 300 wallabies come swinging down, the 20 or 30 rifles pour in their leaden hail, and you can hear the echoes rumble like distant thunder along the mountains. The bounding grey mass staggers and momentarily halts at the first discharge, then breaks in every direction, making frantic leaps to escape the closing horsemen. Finding themselves blocked on every side, they at times become so confused that they either stand still or plunge blindly ahead, occasionally leaping or colliding with the horses. With the reports of the rifles, the cracking of stockwhips, shouting of men, and barking of dogs, the scene is an exciting one, and the men on foot have some narrow escapes.’
The host of a wallaby drive would put on a fine dinner at the end of the day, often followed by a ball. The following is from The Goulburn Evening Penny Post on May 30 1885;
In late July 1885, a wallaby drive was held on the property of a Mr Croaker, at Phill’s Creek near Frogmore in the Southern Tablelands of New South Wales. Among those invited were the three adult Dunnes, who lived about 7 miles further down the creek. George Dunne intended to leave earlier than his brother and sister, so he tied his horse to a fence. Unfortunately someone let it loose and it ran off. The siblings decided to stay the night with the Croakers, which turned out to be a terrible decision.
When they arrived home next morning the house has been broken into and ransacked. The cash box has been forced and emptied, the medicine chest was missing and a large quantity of bacon had been taken.
Every blanket in the house had gone, along with most of Miss Dunne’s clothes….and all the younger brother’s socks!
The Southern Argus (August 6 ) gave a vivid description of the break-in;
‘The thieves must have made a great haul, for it was obvious from the tracks that a pack-horse was used to convey their booty to it’s destination. So heavily was the animal freighted that it must have staggered and fell beneath its load; the marks of its struggle and fall were plainly to be seen.‘
AN ATTEMPT AT ARSON
Theft is one thing, but trying to burn down your victims’ house is just so much worse. The robbers collected a pile of old clothes and deliberately set fire to them in Miss Dunne’s bedroom. Fortunately the fire went out before it spread and burned down the wooden homestead. Who on earth could have acted with such malice? It seems their identity was revealed fairly easily thanks to the help of an Aboriginal tracker;
‘The police and a black tracker were sent for after some delay, and although they succeeded in tracking the footsteps of two well-known characters to their doors, they could not, after searching their houses, find any traces of the stolen property. It is anticipated, however, that the guilty persons will soon be brought to justice and rigorously punished.‘
There was no follow-up to the story, so I suspect the Dunne’s may have paid a heavy price for their attendance at Mr Croaker’s wallaby drive.