David Henderson Narrative

David Henderson - Creswick Historical SocietyDavid Henderson Narrative – edited transcript from interview 11 November 2021

Download: 1. Intro David Henderson schooling and teaching
Download: 2. Family arrival & Aboriginal presence and great grandfather memory
Download: 3. Early Days in Cabbage Tree
Download: 4. David & Grandfather in the bush
Download: 5. Ah Youngs stall & garden 1min
Download: 6. Cabbage Tree and enterprises
Download: 7. Cabbage Tree boundaries & Map
Download: 8. Chinese works diet gardens
Download: 9. Hermit huts Cabbage Tree South
Download: 10. Davids childrens books plus intro

On the 11 November 2021 David Charles Henderson was interviewed at his home in Creswick by Janice Newton and John Petheram with a view to clarifying parts of his life story and some historical evidence relating to the Cabbage Tree area of early settlement southeast of Creswick. The interview was transcribed to text and this ‘narrative’ version produced with some explanatory comments (in brackets), based on discussions with David and information from his booklets. David was born in 1935 in Ballarat near the present Bunnings’ car park in Creswick Road. Aged about two years, he moved to Creswick. He attended Creswick School Number 122, and subsequently completed five years at Ballarat High School. During his years at Creswick, David spent a lot of time in the bush, learning about the past in the mining areas from his mother Adelaide and mother’s father, Charles Buckland. The family’s first house is marked on the map as Polinelli’s (from his book ‘Sites and People of Early Cabbage Tree’). ‘My uncle bought Pollinelli’s place and rented it to us for a couple of years until he got married’. After about two years staying here David’s father built two rooms at the family home, where David remained until he left home. This site was on Cabbage Tree Flat, about a mile from Pollinelli’s. As ‘it was the practice then to leave at Form Five then go to Teachers College’, David then completed Primary Teacher education at Ballarat Teachers College. Upon his graduation he ‘let them send me where they would, to get around Victoria and have a look’. First he went to ‘Balmoral, then Timboon, then Derrinallum, Laver’s Hill and finally Dimboola.’

When David met his wife to be (Margaret, known as June) he ‘was a bit cheeky. I said I needed a school with a residence and I said I would go down to see the Director (of Education), which I did. In 1957 I married and got residence in Toolondo, half way between Balmoral and Horsham.’ Throughout his life as a teacher David raised a family of three sons (David 1958, Greg 1959, Andrew 1960) and one daughter (Meryn 1962), taught as an Acting Principal at Clunes, then for his final eight years teaching, he moved to the ‘1850s school replica’ at Sovereign Hill Historical Park. While working there, in 1982 he set up the second, Denominational, School at Sovereign Hill. By this time David had begun to produce some of the twenty or more books he has published on historical themes. These included a sequence of stories of the voyage to and living on the Ballarat goldfields from a school girl’s point of view, which were sold as class sets to ‘flash schools’ who visited Sovereign Hill and single copies to other schools. These were mainly for use by the visiting teachers, who had little idea of the realities of life for children on the Goldfields. David published booklets on Fossicking, Sluicing, Hunting, Fishing, cooking with a Camp Oven, and history of Gold mining methods used in and around Slaty Creek. Some of these booklets may be obtained through the Creswick and District Historical Society. (See list below)

 The Family Tree. David’s mother, Adelaide Henderson, was born Adelaide Buckland in 1913, daughter of Charles Buckland (b 1887) and Elizabeth Buckland (nee Ross). Elizabeth was the grand-daughter of William Ross (1816- 1892) who arrived from Ireland in 1854.  Elizabeth’s father, Adelaide’s grandfather, William J Ross (1854-1939) was born in 1854 on the shipping ‘roads’ of Port Melbourne. ‘They called them the ‘roads where the ships anchored. The ships didn’t come into the port because the crew would have deserted and gone to the goldfields.’ William and his mother would have been taken to shore in a row boat after the birth on board. ‘I imagine they went to the gold rush in Creswick.’ (Of course Ireland was very bad at that time because they had the potato famine.) ‘They built the (Ross) hut in Creswick. I don’t think they were ever living in Ballarat.’ Ultimately this great grandfather Ross got Miner’s Disease (dust in lungs). We used to go to where they lived on Christmas Day. Great grandfather (William J Ross) was just ‘locked away in the spare room…he was in his 80s. I never saw him. I just knew he was there.’ Where was Cabbage Tree? The area of Cabbage Tree went along and quite close to Slaty Creek but there were no hard and fast borders to Cabbage Tree. “Well, I don’t know that there’s a start and end to Cabbage Tree.’ ‘Up Cabbage Tree hill, until Bernaldos’ …that was still Cabbage Tree.’ It did not go right (north) past Humbug Hill to old Melbourne Road. Petticoat Road was still Cabbage Tree but not Mopoke Creek … it included Humbug Hill and the bottom of Longs Gully was (also) Cabbage Tree. Early Days in Cabbage Tree One of the earliest memories of David’s great Grandfather, possibly from around 1858 -1860 when he was 4-6, was his observations of Aboriginal Corroborees ‘in a gully’ near to their home (north-west and up the hill). He and his siblings used to hide behind trees to watch these events, then crept away. There was music and dancing but the numbers present in the group has not been passed down the channels of memory. (This area is part of the Dja Dja Wurrung country, but may also have been visited by Wada wurrung people whose country lies only a few kilometres south.) ‘A lot of people think of the bush as a lonely place then, but in those days it was a vibrant place.’ The busy period went from 1860s to 1930s’ - during and well after the Creswick Gold Rush. When the Cabbage Tree school opened it had 68 students (The records are still available.) ‘It was an Education Department School formed when some earlier schools combined. Mr Calistro remembered watching the School that was on Cabbage Tree Flat being moved on rollers to the other site. The school must have been well built as they had to cross creeks. They cut a series of logs and they would roll the school building forward (using bullock teams), then get the back log and move it to the front of the others, acting as rollers, and push forward. That was a time when people didn’t always go to school, particularly girls, but girls went to that one.’ (It also catered for adult night classes.) This situation did not necessarily reflect a greater commitment to education (- parents may have wanted to be free for mining work). ‘Three or four pupils started when they were three years old, whether it was to get rid of them…? One of them was Gordon Tait who walked up with the teacher who boarded at the (Railway) hotel at the corner here. Gordon walked up to school from Creswick to Cabbage Tree and that was a long way, almost four miles. And there was another little boy who walked through the bush full of holes (shafts) and everything else from the other side… three miles, when he was only three years old, on his own.’

The school, begun in 1868, survived until 1930. As well as the school there was a lot of mining, ‘a lot of sluicing went on, and (later) dredging of course.’ Dredging started in late 1890s and continued to 1926. I know because ‘my mother was born in 1913 and when she was 11 or 12 she used to collect her father’s wages from the Dredge Company office on Slaty Creek Road and then walk across the road and buy vegetables from Ah Young’s wife at their market garden at Humbug and then to her home near Cairn’s Dam’ (See cover in Attached part of David’s booklet.) `The ‘Manilla people, were Spanish speaking Chinese, mainly men and originally from the Philippines. They mainly worked the Mopoke Gully area for gold. Most came to Creswick via the California Rush (where they had learned valuable mining skills). The majority of all Chinese got off (the boat) at Robe, South Australia and walked across to Castlemaine. They found gold while going through Ararat, of course, so a lot of them stayed there. In Creswick there was a big (mainland) Chinese settlement down near the Swimming Pool (now Calambeen Park), ‘with opium dens and whatever’. We do not know whether there was interaction between these Chinese and the Cabbage Tree people. Most of the (mainland) Chinese came to pay off usurers’ debts in China. Those who didn’t die here (Creswick) went back to China. This is different to the Bendigo Chinese many of whom stayed. (The Italians who came also stayed.) ‘Some Chinese (in Creswick village) had a large market garden strip right down to Clunes Road.’ They adapted quickly to growing what the local people wanted to eat (and would buy from the garden).


The Chinese above Cabbage Tree didn’t buy any food except ginger. They grew everything else. They must have had a sparse food supply until their first crop came in. When bush fires burned the area (in the 1970s) excavation showed only ginger jars in the remains found (in old Chinese living sites). When Grandfather Charles Buckland first came to Creswick at age 12 he worked for Pollinelli. He took a team of big horses into wild bush among mine shafts and loaded a wagon with four ton of wood and carted it (over the Great Divide) to the Ballarat Hospital. Later as an adult he worked for the Russells, cleaning their water races until Bert Russell was killed and his Sluice finished. He had been sluicing and walked under a bank and a rock fell on him….probably in the early 1900s. The extent of the sluicing projects became apparent when locals were searching for wombats and foxes in the Slaty Creek area. David said ‘I reckon you could see from Space the large Chinese works here (along Mopoke and Slaty Creeks). Many other enterprises are mentioned in David’s book Sites and People of an Earlier Cabbage Tree, including Quinn’s Brewery, hotels, banks, stores and dredge offices. They used to get their water to make the beer from the other side of Newlyn, so they did not rely on local water, as it was too dirty from mining. Apparently there were two hotels near the brewery. One was called The Rose of Australia and the other was owned by Bird’s Eye Martin, the Kangaroo. Most of these hotels were just shacks. (David did not know about Kangaroo Hotel but Kangaroo Gully comes into Pikes Dam just above Cabbage Tree near Petticoat Gully).


There was a Chinese shop marked on the map where it says Mrs. Venables. It ended up as Bernaldos. I read somewhere that Fred the German must have come and done some sluicing this side of Cabbage Tree Hill, because that road going up beside the creek from the first ford is called German Fred’s Hill.’ Pollinelli had an orchard and a winery but it would not have been on a large scale. (See further mention below.) There was a fellow who had a boot snobbery, he made and mended boots (a most important commodity for miners). The 1930s Depression: Huts at Cabbage Tree ‘There are areas up near Pike’s Dam where all the hermits were living in mud huts. There was a well-known lady who went from one hut to another’, sharing herself around. I have just written a book about hunting ….there were no pensions in those days and no child endowment and a woman who had lost her husband (or whose husband was ill) and was looking after all the kids ‘had few options. ‘She used to go around the men’s camp. I have tremendous respect for that woman. A sick husband, couldn’t work.’ David’s Early Memories of Cabbage Tree ‘There was nothing (much for other boys) to do in the bush but I always remember that my grandfather was the grandfather every kid should have. We went fox hunting, rabbiting and fossicking for gold.’ (During the interview, David produced and played the fox whistle used for attracting foxes.) ‘Pollinelli used to grow grapes and imported (arranged the migration of), Italians to make wine out of his grapes. Underneath the house, just about the whole house was an enormous cellar. I imagine that in the off season the Italians may have stayed there and done all the sluicing along Long’s Gully, because they had a fairly big dam for those days.’ Behind Pollinelli lived Haley who had cherry orchards. (No 28 on map). The land remains private and people still live in the Pollinelli house. Methods of Gold Seeking, small to large. ‘I am reading the history of Creswick at the moment.  Apparently Creswick gold was discovered (first along Slaty Creek) from the Ballarat end of the creek, by people called Berry (around 1852). They moved to the top end of Masons Gully and Drakes, then from there into Lincoln Gully, Creswick. ‘This was alluvial gold. ‘We haven’t got much reef gold here. But where the alluvial gold comes from, nobody knows, because it is only at Tavistock Hill and Humbug Hill where it has come to the surface. It came from a long way away because it is all water worn. And the stones in the creek are all water worn. It came from a long way.’ The first gold seekers were panning (in mainly Slaty Creek and its tributaries, then Creswick or Back Creek). ‘The creek was worked over and over again by everyone including the Chinese (and later in the 1930s) Depression it was tossed over again and again then too.’ ‘Paddocking’ was done on flat areas near a creek (and involved digging-over (hoeing) a large area and washing the loosened the dirt in pans or larger tubs and cradles). They also constructed walls to stop the loose gravel falling into creeks. Cradling was similar to panning but with panning you are limited to about a shovelful of dirt. For both, you do it in or near the creek. (‘Puddle mills’ pulled by a horse use much more water but can process more dirt per day. There were dozens in this area. The Chinese may have used ‘hand-powered puddle mills’.) After that, they started using large scale sluicing (with water from races). ‘There were people like the Russells who built a big dam and carried water for miles and miles in races. Their water supply was more constant. They used a hose to wash away the dirt into a sump. The flow had enough velocity to throw the water and gravel up onto the trestles. A box with ridges that caught the gold was used (sluice box). The hose would have been a pipe about 1 foot in diameter, reducing to about 2 inch diameter with enough final fall. They had a fall big enough to create enough pressure to throw that wash dirt up onto the trestles. Early sluicers and the Chinese dug up the earth (from shafts) and waited ‘till winter when the water was available to wash that out.’ With water races they could get gold higher up from the creek. ‘I got my gold from where this race came into the creek. (David was a very successful fossicker.) They (small scale miners) had very little water to wash their dirt (to yield gold). It would have been a muddy mixture going into the creek and gold will float on dirty water, like a needle in a glass of water (so much gold would have been lost at such places). The water races which Bragg and Eaton used to sluice the top of Humbug Hill relied on a fall of a few inches in a mile. They relied on the creek and dams being filled by rain in flood times. The one that the Chinamen used further up Slaty Creek, they built races out of Masons Gully and places like that because they only had a (small) dam twice as big as this house, to grow vegetables and do sluicing. ‘I believe they got water from up at Mason’s Gully using races.’

Russell’s dam was taken over by the Council eventually, when Russell died. They made it part of the Dean water system. The big hole (west of Humbug Hill - called Russell’s Sluice) was caused by sluicing with water from old Melbourne Road. The Cosgrave Dam water supply used now (by the water board) was built in 1976 because Dean Reservoir became too small. They used to run it through Russells’ race to cross the road from the Koala Park. Then later, at the turn of 19th and 20th century they started using hydraulic sluices. Humbug Hill was sluiced by Bragg and Eaton. These races only fell a couple of inches a mile. Bragg worked on the top and Eaton at the bottom (of Humbug Hill). There was sluicing done below Cairns Dam.

Much more detail on gold seeking methods is available in David’s booklets listed below. Bibliography of Books by David Charles Henderson.

Series of small booklets - with stories of children’s lives in mining days in Creswick. Used with classes at schools visiting Sovereign Hill 1990s

Henderson DC (1989) Golden Tales 1 Natalie and Kim in Ballaarat & the Mystery of the Golden Eye Mine.

Henderson DC (1989) Golden Tales 2 Natalie Visits her Country Cousin.

Henderson DC (1991) Golden Tales 3 Julie Returns to the Goldfields.

References on History of Cabbage Tree/ Slaty Creek area, and mining history and techniques

Henderson DC (nd.approx 2010) Sites and Peoples of an Earlier Cabbage Tree, Creswick & District Historical Society, Creswick, Victoria (Mentions Ross children viewing corroboree site in 1850’s.

Henderson DC (2012) Gold in Slaty Creek and Nearby.  Creswick & District Historical Society, Creswick

Henderson DC (nd approx. 2012) The David Henderson Map.  Creswick & District Historical Society, Creswick

Henderson DC and Van Beveren J.  Video.  Gold Puddlers of Creswick.  Chinese hand-powered puddle mills. (nd.2018)  Creswick & District Historical Society, Creswick

Janice Newton can be contacted on 0437 573 586

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