Walcha prepares to celebrate John Oxley bicentenary

Nerida  Hoy and Jane Morrison
Nerida Hoy and Jane Morrison

This week 200 years ago, NSW Surveyor General John Oxley's expedition continued east from the Pilliga Scrub to the discovery of the rich land which he named the Liverpool Plains after Lord Liverpool. 

'These valleys and hills abound with kangaroos and on the plains numbers of emus were seen,” Oxley observed in his diary. 

“We seemed to be once more in the land of plenty, and the horses as well as men had cause to rejoice at the change, from the miserable harassing deserts through which we had been struggling for the last six weeks, to this beautiful fertile country.”

Oxley was seeking to reach the coast after being thwarted in his attempts to trace the course of the Macquarie River, possibly to an inland sea, by the impassable Macquarie Marshes. Heading east he encountered further difficulties in the Pilliga Scrub and the gorge country east of Walcha before eventually reaching the later site of Port Macquarie, where a convict settlement soon followed, and making his way with great difficulty down the coast to Port Stephens.

John Oxley

John Oxley

In 1818 the exploring party led by Oxley, accompanied by his deputy George William Evans with a party of 14, largely convicts, together with 19 pack-horses, reached the Apsley River In Walcha on September 8. The group camped not far from the Millhole where a cairn for Oxley stands today.

The members of the expedition besides John Oxley were: George Evans, Deputy Surveyor General and artist; John Harris, surgeon; Charles Fraser, botanist; Patrick Byrne, huntsman and guide; James Williams, blacksmith; George Simpson, surveyor; James Blake, survey and harness; William Warner, servant to Oxley; Francis Lloyd, cook; Henry Shippey, assistant carpenter; Richard Watts, labourer; Thomas Ellis, labourer; John Dwyer, boat builders boy; Bernard Butler, butcher; and labourer John Williams. The expedition required a large amount of food and equipment.

It’s important people have an awareness of the value that Oxley added by opening up this area which allowed settlements like Walcha to exist.

Jane Morrison

Walcha Historical Society members Nerida Hoy and Jane Morrison are on the committee which has arranged a series of events on September 8 and 9 to mark the bicentenary of John Oxley’s camp on the Apsley River.

“We just want people to enjoy themselves and get into the spirit of the weekend,” said Mrs Morrison.

Mrs Hoy said she was looking forward to the children’s pageant on Sunday at Langford, depicting events from the last two hundred years in Walcha.

“I’m also looking forward to the dinner on Saturday night with our guest speaker Dr John Atchinson.”

John Oxley bicentenary preparation