Swallow's

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Footsteps, yarns and little fibs


A little creek, a dam, and some pioneers.

Submitted: March 25, 2018

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Submitted: March 25, 2018

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We were planning to dam a small, insignificant creek to create a water source useful for firefighting, when Bert told me the locals knew it as Swallow’s Creek, so named after one Henry Swallow who long ago had farmed the area. Bert knew that little snippets like that interested me. My job was to oversee the project with Mick pulling the levers on his dozer, pushing up the clay which formed the dam. The catchment is small so we weren’t expecting large volumes of water to ever come down the creek, so we decided to make the overflow by excavating a small trench on the hard natural surface. It was on the ‘other side’ of the dam because ‘this side’ is where the access track was and where we had levelled a logging skid-site. We had originally made the skid-site for the extraction of Larch rails pulled out by Kit, the mare who did the damage to old Cassius the stallion. If you remember.

The next flood that came along caused the dam to burst!  Mind you it was an outrageously big rain! A huge volume of water scoured across Reid Road and the short distance to the river! Oops. Nowadays a house is perched on the very edge of that souring, and I often wonder… Anyway, repairing the dam, Mick managed to bog his dozer, and we buggerised around for the rest of the day trying to extricate him! Sticky mud! We even threw logs under the tracks trying to break the suction, but nothing worked! Another Bert, Sawmill-Bert, came to help with his TD6. A much smaller machine but it had a powerful winch. When a dozer, or anything for that matter – even a boot, is stuck in mud, there’s as much weight caused by suction as there is in the machine, so winch-powerful or not, Bert and his tractor were pulled backwards up the creek! Mick’s machine sat there like a half-wit wallowing sow! So using his TD6, Bert dozed a hole with a steep bank and he backed into it. It worked much like a dead-man and out popped Mick and his dozer! We used good, big culverts for the overflow this time and Mick spent a lot of extra time rolling the dam before adding more fill. He must have done a good job because it hasn’t burst since, and the pond that it formed now enhances a picnic site.

So wearing a different hat: to join with the network of forest walks, I marked out a new track which climbs up Swallow’s Creek, and onto a forest road where there’s a short walk to reach the start/finish of the Glenburnie track. But not everyone wants or is able to walk for between four and seven hours, so we built a return track that follows down the adjacent ridge to return the walker to the starting point.

When the track was first open, the local primary school came down for a school outing, which included a pep-talk from me, and then the kids would be free to walk, or more likely, run around the track. Young Gary, wasn’t listening to my waffle, instead he was risking gravity by poking around, looking for frogs in the pond. He stretched a bit too far and arsed up in the water! Of course the rest of the school kids were with me by seeing the funny side and they ribbed him for smelling like a sulphur-fart! When the laughter had died down the young school teacher who was with us said something very wise to me. ‘If it wasn’t for boys like Gary, nobody would ever have gone to the moon!’ These days, Gary’s a respected helicopter pilot!

The early pioneers had left tough times at home only to endure perhaps different, but equally tough times here down under. Henry Swallow was born in England and orphaned when he was very young. With his brother he was sent to distant family members who ran some posh school for young ladies, which wasn’t a good fit for the two boys, so they were shipped out to New Zealand, to seek their fortune (or not). Henry married Margaret Harrison in 1856, and the few pounds that she had, allowed him to buy the land that has long since been gobbled up and converted into forest. The very same piece of land that Nat Stevens farmed with his daffodil-growing wife. If you recall.

The farm didn’t turn much of a profit, so he used some of his own equipment and his horse to cultivate land and do odd jobs for other settlers around the district. Margaret was a sturdy woman who was a good mother to her thirteen kids, among them a set of twins. They were a Presbyterian family, and she became a Sunday school teacher at the local and first church in Otago, but because of her regular birthing ability, she had to suffer the tut-tuts of a conservative, critical district whenever she became pregnant.

Henry Swallow met his maker in 1906, and Margaret hung on in their cottage for another thirteen years, supported by some of her loyal children who had remained in the district. She died at the ripe old age of eighty one and the devoted couple now lie together in the Otepopo cemetery. Their plot is marked by a marble plaque with an ivy border carved around the inscription, ‘Swallow’.

We named the walking track after those hardy settlers. They have a rightful place in a history, but like so many, not remembered or celebrated. Lost in the mists of time. Walkers and travellers have no idea what Swallow’s stands for as they walk, unknowingly they tread where those hardy souls once trod.  


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