McDonalds Track originally went from the Tobin Yallock Bridge (where the South Gippsland Highway crosses the Lang Lang River) to Morwell. It followed the ridges of the Strzelecki Ranges and was about seventy miles (about 110kms) in length. You can see the start of the track as it is the first turn-off into Lang Lang on the Highway coming from Koo Wee Rup, then it went to Nyora and Poowong. Remnants of the track are still named on maps, around Poowong East, Mount Worth (the highest point of the original track); then there is another section around Childers, Thorpdale and Narracan.
The track was surveyed by Assistant-Surveyor George Thomas McDonald. He started in 1860 and it was finished in 1862. It was hoped that the track would provide an alternate route for stock to get from Gippsland to Melbourne.
The Argus of January 1, 1863 (1) published a report from George McDonald of his progress and it makes interesting reading -ROAD TO GIPPS LAND.
(FROM THE PUBLIC LANDS CIRCULAR, DEC. 27.)
The accompanying report has been received from Mr. Assistant-Surveyor McDonald, of the progress he has made with his survey of a road to Gipps Land, from Yallock to Morwell.
Survey Camp. Yallock,
4th December, 1862.
Sir, I have the honour to forward here with a plan of my survey for a new line of road from Melbourne to Gipps Land, viá Cranbourne and Yallock, which I propose shall diverge from the Lower Gipps Land road at Tobin Yallock bridge and join upon the upper road at the Morwell bridge.
In compliance with your instructions, I made it my duty to keep along the Dividíng Range-a task of great difficulty, on account of the irregularity of the country and of the density of the scrub. I have nevertheless succeeded in accomplishing it; and am most happy to state that, with the exception of a few places, an excellent road may, when cleared, be had to Gipps Land.
The range, as you will observe on this plan, is crooked, yet the distance is very little in excess of that by the Fern-tree Gullies, while in every other respect this road will be infinitely superior, as there are no creeks to cross, consequently no bridges will be required. The ground is almost all good and firm, so that travelling may be performed with safety and comfort at all seasons of the year.
The cost of clearing will be the chief item of expenditure, but that, together with the expense of making a few side cuttings at the places indicated below, should not exceed £10,000. Indeed, for that sum I consider that a thoroughly good road, one chain wide, could be made, which would be practicable for travelling day or night. I specify a road of a chain wide because the ridge for a large proportion of the distance would not admit of one wider, and in one or two places it cannot without levelling be made wider than forty five or fifty feet.
One of the greatest objections by the public to this road will be the scarcity of feed for stock, there being a length of nearly fifty miles in which the only herbage to be obtained is ferns, sword-grass, and a small quantity of creeping grass, which last in some places climbs from bush to bush, making travelling very painful work to the pedestrian. Even were the grass plentiful, the density of the scrub would prevent advantage being taken of it. But as the soil is generally good, I have little doubt that in the course of time hotel keepers along the road will clear and sow paddocks with grass for the accommodation of themselves and others.
Although no creeks are crossed by the road, yet there are few points of it at which water cannot be obtained at all seasons of the year, by clearing a short distance to the creeks on either side, [Here follows a list of points at which improvements are suggested, plan of which can be seen in the Board of Land and Works office.]
I have now seen a large portion of this country, and find a great similarity in it. Everywhere the scrub prevails, so that no view of any extent can be obtained, not even from the highest hills. Nature generally presents her shady side in this district, as the face of the sun is generally veiled by the scrub. Indeed, during the few days I was engaged in the open country at the Morwell, I found the glare most oppressive, and was glad to get back to the scrub again.
Bush fires have destroyed a large quantity of the timber, which now looms round on every side like huge gaunt skeletons. The look is not the worst, however, as branches are constantly dropping with a force considerably increased by a fall of two hundred and fifty or three hundred feet. At one of my camping places a limb fell upon the mess tent, and almost frightened the life out of the men in the adjoining tent. Fortunately, no one was hurt.
During the winter and after a heavy fall of rain the earth loosens at the roots of the dead trees, when large numbers of them fall with a crash, which at a distance resembles the sound of a cannon. Several times after storms I have been obliged to send back men to clear the logs from the track, and the carter invariably carries an axe when going for stores.
I observed only one place which appeared to have escaped the fires, and there the timber attained a magnificent size, the scrub also was large in proportion and tolerably open but I have invariably found where the timber was dead the scrub was dense, and the converse.
I have met with no surface indication of gold; but at a creek during my return from the Morwell one of the men made shift to wash two pannikinfuls of earth from the bed of the creek, in the lid of the ' billy,' and found a large percentage of black sand; indeed, I thought he had got several specks of gold, which on close examination proved to be unfounded.
The scenery in many of the gullies is of a most charming description, and were it not for the difficulties of access, would well reward some of our distinguished artists for visiting. I trust, however, that the time is not far distant when they may do so with ease. The immense quantities of fern-trees, with the innumerable forms and shades of the gums, lightwoods, wattles, musk, hoyles, and various other small shrubs, together with the gracefully tapering form of the sassafras, combine to form scenes of the most enchanting beauty, the description of which is utterly beyond the power of pen or pencil.
I beg to state that I have the black sand, also specimens of the coal and lignite, and trust shortly to have the honour of submitting them for your examination.
I have the honour to be, sir,
George T. McDonald.
The McDonald's Track was a surveying and logistical feat as all the supplies had to be transported from Cranbourne, the vegetation was often impenetrable and the terrain was difficult.(2). Sadly for George McDonald his hopes of the route becoming a major road never eventuated, apparently due to the fact that there were no permanent water holes along the route (3), and thus no hotel keepers ever came to provide accommodation and hospitality. It was from the start a seven foot wide 'dray track' straddling the survey line was constructed to within approximately four and half miles of Mt Worth - the highest point on the route. From there it narrowed considerably (4). The 'Dray Track' can be seen on the map. above. Due to the lack of use, the vegetation began to re-grow and an early account of the track likened it to a tunnel due to the dense vegetation - The sight which met the eyes of the pioneer selector when he approached the western fringe of the hazel scrub on McDonalds track was that of a narrow, winding, darkened lane or tunnel about seven feet in width, curving to the right and left to avoid the huge gum trees (5).
It was about 1874 that settlers began selecting land along the McDonalds Track around Poowong, and, by then, the reports were that the track was completely overgrown. Later settlers branched out from there to Poowong East and Poowong North. This area was also opened up by the establishment of a coach track from Poowong to Drouin (the Dray Track) after the Gippsland Railway was opened in 1878 (6).
What do we know of George Thomas McDonald? He came from Dumfries in Scotland (8). According to the State Government Gazette he was employed in the Lands and Survey Office in August 1857 and was there until about 1879.
On November 24, 1869 he married Amelia Margaret Mitchell at her parents house in Barfold, near Kyneton. He was 34 and she was 24 years old. George was listed on the marriage certificate as being the son of James and Isabella (nee Bustard) McDonald and Amelia was the daughter of William Henry Fancourt and Christina (nee Templeton) Mitchell. W.H.F. Mitchell was a member of the Legislative Council. You can read his entry in the Australian Dictionary of Biography, here.
The couple had eight children - Isabel (born 1871), William (1873), Christina (1875 - 1883), James (1877), Allan (1878), Thomas (1880 - 1881), George (1882) and Sidney (1885). The first five were born in Victoria and the last three were born in Queensland (9).
In spite of giving birth to eight children in 14 years, Amelia lived to the ripe old age of 94 and died in Brisbane in 1939. I have the impression that Amelia McDonald was a ‘good catch’ and perhaps George ‘married up’ as they used to say. Certainly in the report of her death in The Argus on July 25, 1939 (reproduced below) there is no mention her husband, only her illustrious father.
As the obituary of her mother states their daughter, Isabel, married Brigadier-General Cecil Foott. You can read entry in the Australian Dictionary of Biography, here. Foott was born in Bourke in New South Wales and had a distinguished military career and retired to Beaconsfield Upper where he died in June 1942. Brigadier General Foott is buried in the Berwick Cemetery. He was in an unmarked grave until 2015 when the Narre Warren & District Family History Group discovered this whilst they were doing research into the World War One soldiers buried at the cemetery. The Family History Group, in conjunction with the R.S.L, unveiled a headstone on his grave on April 11, 2015.
(1) The Argus, January 1, 1863, see here.
(5) Hartnell, op. cit.,p. 27
(6) Hartnell, op.cit., passim. I have written about the Gippsland Railway line, here.
(9) More details on the children - information from the Victorian and Queensland Indexes to Births, deaths and marriages and family notices newspapers.
Isabel Agnes McDonald - born 1871 at Castlemaine, married Captain Cecil Henry Foott in 1901, died December 1926 in Queensland. Read her obituary in the Brisbane Telegraph, December 30 1926, here.
William Alexander Fancourt McDonald - born 1873 at The Lodden. Died January 1952 at Gladstone, QLD.
Christina Annie McDonald - born 1875 at The Lodden. Died January 1883 in Queensland.
James Edward Fancourt McDonald - born 1877 at Castlemaine. He was a Doctor. Died May 1954 in Toowoomba, QLD.
Allan Robert Fancourt McDonald - born 1878 at Castlemaine. Died October 1939 in Townsville, QLD.
Thomas Herbert Fancourt McDonald - July 1880 - April 1881, born and died in Queensland.
George Fancourt McDonald - born September 1882 in Queensland. Enlisted May 1915 and Died of Wounds in France March 22, 1918.
Sidney Fancourt McDonald - November 1885 in Queensland. He was a Doctor. Died August 1947 in Brisbane.