Alias “Reedy Creek”

The place name of Reedy Creek crops up seemingly everywhere in colonial Australia, often to be later discarded or superseded by other names. Even today, a search of the NSW Geographical Names Register returns 121 applications of the name.

In my family history research into people living in the area between Mudgee and Cassilis I encountered the name in differing contexts that gave little precision to the question of exactly where Reedy Creek was.

One of my favourite poems of Henry Lawson, who grew up in the Mudgee area, is called “Reedy River”, and I’ve often surmised that it was really about Reedy Creek and that he changed the name for poetic effect. When you think about it, a creek is more likely to be reedy than a free flowing river. In mentioning the poem I risk disappearing down a rabbit hole as it also mentions Rocky Creek – but that’s a story for another post.

One of the puzzles was that I found the name used in the 1840s in connection with both the names Moolarben and Deridgeree, locations that are some 20 kilometres apart. I pored over old parish and county maps endeavouring to pin it down but to no avail.

Enlightenment finally came when I read a parliamentary report from 1864 and realised that, like some of the desperadoes who then inhabited the region, a river could have an alias, although not for criminal purposes.

This report was published in the Sydney Morning Herald of 2 November 1864 and is about the survey of a railway between Muswellbrook and Mudgee. In it, the author P.D. Brown of the Engineer’s Office of the Railway Department, wrote:

“… Treating the subject as a whole, and finding, on extensive inquiry, that the Mudgee traffic to Muswellbrook, in preference to the direct Goulburn route, which is shorter, takes either a direct route through Cassilis, or, branching from near Collaroy, across the Munmurra towards Deridgeree, and thence by the general line of watercourse of Goulburn (alias Reedy Creek, above junction of Munmurra) by brown line towards Mudgee …” (p.8).

The alias was evidently in use by 1839 when land was advertised for sale by the government and was described as “Six hundred and forty acres, parish unnamed on Moolarben Creek; bounded on the south by the third section line north of a measured section of 640 acres on Reedy Creek …” (NSW Government Gazette, 26 January 1839, No. 385).

Enlightenment didn’t help that much with my research questions as “Reedy Creek” was very much a linear concept, and could refer to anywhere along a river straight line distance of 30 kilometres but much more as it meanders. The Goulburn River is reckoned to commence in the vicinity of Ulan, where Moolarben Creek and Sportsman’s Hollow Creek converge. From there to the Munmurra River is “alias Reedy Creek”.

Just downstream from the commencement of the river, where Ulan Creek converges, once stood the Reedy Creek Inn, built by John McDonald in the 1850s to serve the traffic on the Mudgee to Cassilis road.

Much of Reedy Creek traverses gorge country unsuitable for close settlement and there was only one village, Ulan, near it. For the remaining pastoral or farming properties that were close to the river Reedy Creek served as the locality name. I have two examples in my records – from a baptism in 1847 where the residence name is “Moolarben, Reedy Creek” and a newspaper obituary from 1920 where the birthplace is “Reedy Creek, Crowie”. It’s where the name is used without a secondary identifier that creates problems. An 1847 newspaper account of the murder of Joseph Palfrey at “the Rivulet” contains many references to precise locations such as Coggan, Cassilis, Bylong, Drummond’s Flat, etc but several references to Reedy Creek are unqualified and thus the location of the events described as occurring there can’t be determined with any precision.

The alias has persisted as a cultural concept to this day, as exemplified by the Wikipedia page for the Goulburn River that contains a photo of the river captioned “Goulburn River – Reedy Creek” – not put there by me I should add!

If you look for this Reedy Creek using the search facility on the NSW Geographical Names Board website you won’t find it. To do that you need to select the option to “Download all GNR records” which will download an Excel spreadsheet. Find “Goulburn River” on that and you’ll find Reedy Creek listed as a previous name. Which isn’t quite correct as it was the former name for only part of the river.

For the avoidance of doubt, I should mention another Reedy Creek that could be confused with “alias Reedy Creek”. Commencing in the 1860s, and in connection with a gold rush, the lower section of Cooyal Creek before it enters Wyaldra Creek, was often called Reedy Creek. This can be seen on the 1885 Town Map of Wyaldra and the 1887 Parish Map of Gulgong. This “alias Reedy Creek” is only about 20 kilometres distant from the older one. It now seems defunct, at least as far as the Geographical Names Board is concerned, but according to Trove was in local use as late as the 1940s, for example in relation to the Reedy Creek bridge at Home Rule.

I’ll leave the last word to Henry Lawson after all:

Reedy River

Ten miles down Reedy River
A pool of water lies,
And all the year it mirrors
The changes in the skies,
And in that pool’s broad bosom
Is room for all the stars;
Its bed of sand has drifted
O’er countless rocky bars.

Around the lower edges
There waves a bed of reeds,
Where water rats are hidden
And where the wild duck breeds;
And grassy slopes rise gently
To ridges long and low,
Where groves of wattle flourish
And native bluebells grow.

Beneath the granite ridges
The eye may just discern
Where Rocky Creek emerges
From deep green banks of fern;
And standing tall between them,
The grassy she-oaks cool
The hard, blue-tinted waters
Before they reach the pool.

Ten miles down Reedy River
One Sunday afternoon,
I rode with Mary Campbell
To that broad, bright lagoon;
We left our horses grazing
Till shadows climbed the peak,
And strolled beneath the she-oaks
On the banks of Rocky Creek.

Then home along the river
That night we rode a race,
And the moonlight lent a glory
To Mary Campbell’s face;
And I pleaded for our future
All through that moonlight ride,
Until our weary horses
Drew closer side by side.

Ten miles from Ryan’s Crossing
And five miles below the peak,
I built a little homestead
On the banks of Rocky Creek;
I cleared the land and fenced it
And ploughed the rich, red loam,
And my first crop was golden
When I brought my Mary home.

Now still down Reedy River
The grassy she-oaks sigh,
And the water-holes still mirror
The pictures in the sky;
And over all for ever
Go sun and moon and stars,
While the golden sand is drifting
Across the rocky bars

But of the hut I builded
There are no traces now.
And many rains have levelled
The furrows of the plough;
And my bright days are olden,
For the twisted branches wave
And the wattle blossoms golden
On the hill by Mary’s grave.

4 thoughts on “Alias “Reedy Creek”

  1. […] Although John Snow and Elizabeth Anderson had 5 children between 1839 and 1847 the single piece of documentary evidence for John is the baptismal register of St John the Baptist Church in Mudgee. This records that all 5 children were baptised on 9 March 1847. It describes the parents as John Snow, farmer, and Elizabeth Anderson, mother. It also says that their residence was at Moolarben, Reedy Creek. […]

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