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Billy Mateer


Mt Byron Road

In 1893 Brisbane experienced its biggest flood in recorded history. In order to get a message to residents of the impending danger, a heroic rider named Billy Mateer rode his horse over the D’Aguilar Range from Caboonbah (near present-day Toogoolawah) to North Pine (now called Petrie). He did it in one day, crossing flooded creeks and following rough bush tracks.

The purpose of this two-day ride was to honor Billy, and to visit some of the country he traversed.


Day 1.

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Petrie Railway Station

Apart from the weather and modern infrastructure, the biggest difference between our ride and Billy’s was that we’d be doing it in reverse. He started at Caboonbah and rode east. We started at Petrie and rode west.

North Pine Railway Station
(North Pine Railway Station, early 1900’s, Jeanette Edwards. Pine Rivers Library Service P2000)

Of course, the railway station was different too. It was called “North Pine” in those days…

Telegraph Machine

… and instead of phones, emails and radios, they had telegraph. Messages would be translated into a Morse Code – series of dots and dashes, then transmitted over the wires.

Henry Somerset, owner of Caboonbah Station, wanted to send a warning message by telegraph to the Brisbane Courier newspaper to warn people of the impending flood. The nearest telegraph station was in Esk, but the wires had been knocked down by storms, so he needed a reliable messenger – Billy – to ride over the range to the telegraph station at North Pine, and get the message through.

Park Run

Today dozens of joggers followed the river along smooth paths through pleasantly manicured parks.

Darb, Russel and I started our trip where Billy finished his: following the North Pine River west from Petrie towards Dayboro. Over a century ago, when most of this land was covered in thick hoop pine scrub, the easiest way to find your way from the D’Aguilar Range to Petrie would be to follow the North Pine River. This is probably what Billy would have done.

(Photo: Tony Ryan)

(Photo: Tony Ryan)

The river has since been dammed. A huge lake covers most of the land which originally surrounded the river, so we took a bit of poetic license and followed the lake shoreline, pretending it was the river.

Powerline Track

After a few kilometres we had to leave the shoreline for a while and follow hilly tracks under some power lines.

Old Driveway

We followed another strange path through the bush which looked like an old driveway, complete with a pair of concrete car tracks.

Old House Foundation

The driveway ended at the foundations of a long-gone house, complete with tiled bathroom floor.

Forty years ago, before the dam was built, people lived here.  The builders demolished houses and farms to make room for the dam, but if you look hard enough, you can still find remains like these.

Adsetts Road Lakeside Shoreline

We left the ruins of the house and followed an old road until it disappeared under the lake.

(Photo: Tony Ryan)

(Photo: Tony Ryan)

Rather than follow the road into the water, we skirted around the shoreline for a while, searching for where the road might re-emerge from the lake.

Rush Creek Road

Eventually it popped out of the water again and we followed fifty year old pavement, covered with grass and twigs, into the bush.

Rush Creek Road

In some places the bitumen was barely visible under decades of grass and debris.

(Photo: Tony Ryan)

(Photo: Tony Ryan)

Eventually the old road disappeared under the water again, but this time we decided to try a different approach…

Flooded Crossing

This section looked like it used to be an old bridge over a creek, so we put on our rubber sandals, and waded out into the water, bikes held aloft.

(Photo: Tony Ryan)

(Photo: Tony Ryan)

The old stories of Billy Mateer say that he crossed flooded creeks. At the start of his journey, Henry Somerset rowed him across the swolen Brisbane River, with a couple of horses in tow. One of the horses broke free, but the remaining horse, named “Lunatic” made it across the river with Billy and Henry.

We figured if Billy braved a raging torrent in a row boat, we could tolerate a pond-like crossing with a solid surface underfoot. It wasn’t fully authentic, but it was in keeping with the theme.

Strongs Road

Leaving Rush Creek we then followed Strongs Road west towards Dayboro.

Strongs Road was as close as we could get to the original alignment of the North Pine River, which kept us as close as we could guess to Billy’s original route. It also proved to me that it’s possible to get from Petrie to Dayboro without having to follow busy Dayboro Road.

Dayboro Wirth Crossing

We parted ways with Russel at Dayboro. Darb and I then continued our journey west from Dayboro towards Lacey’s Creek.

I’m not totally sure where Billy crossed the D’Aguilar Range. I can imagine Henry Somerset giving him simple foolproof instructions, which would work in the most inclement weather. I think Henry might have said something like this:

“I’ll row you across the Brisbane River. You should ride east to Reedy Creek. Follow that creek east. It will eventually turn into Byron Creek. Keep following it east till you meet the range. Here you’ll find several spurs – climb the one with the easiest gradient. At the top, descend another spur down the hill until you encounter the North Pine River. Follow the North Pine River till you meet the railway line”.

These instructions would have yielded a reasonably straight route with the least amount of elevation, crossing the range in the vicinity of Chambers Road passing through Mount Pleasant, and only requiring a climb up to 300 metres elevation. They also meant Billy would have been riding along the southern bank of the river, and would not have had to cross the Stanley River or Reedy Creek, an important consideration during a flood.

My friend John Wright suggested we should investigate a more southerly route using Wirth Road and Butcher Shop Creek Road. John’s rationale is that Butcher Shop Creek follows a reasonably easy spur upwards, and Wirth Road is a historic stock route, which might have been based on a traditional aboriginal pathway down the range.

This would have been a little more complicated, and involved a higher climb up to about 550 metres elevation, then followed Laceys Creek to the North Pine River. My only reservation about this is that the terrain around Wirth Road is very steep, and the vegetation is incredibly thick. Also, Lacey’s Creek can be quite violent when it’s in flood.

(Photo: Tony Ryan)

(Photo: Tony Ryan)

We took John Wright’s suggestion and proceeded via Lacey’s Creek over rolling pastures and past the old community hall.

Wirth Road

Wirth Road is steep. Our bikes were heavy. We clicked down into the lowest gear, spun the pedals, and didn’t talk much.

Wirth Road

All the while I was thinking to myself, “How would a young bloke on a horse in a storm get through here?”

Wirth Road

We met Simon at the top.

He had wisely set off before us, taking a simpler route. This gave him more time to ride at a leisurely pace and have a rest at the top while he waited for us.

(Photo: Tony Ryan)

(Photo: Tony Ryan)

We had done the climb, now we could enjoy the descent. Butcher Shop Creek is a long gentle descent. If Billy came this way it would have been a reasonably easy climb.

Butcher Shop Creek Road

Down, down, down. I took my time.  It had been a long strenuous ascent to the ridge, so it seemed fitting that I should make the descent last a little bit longer.

Butcher Shop Creek Road Butcher Shop Creek Road

At the bottom we encountered my least favourite shrub – Lantana. We had to bash through its thick sharp branches as they scratched our faces and legs.

(Photo: Tony Ryan)

(Photo: Tony Ryan)

We alternated between Lantana and a rocky creek bed. Byron Creek was dry – there hasn’t been much rain for months. During a storm this would have been a challenging place.

Bobs Camp
CowHorse

Eventually the Lantana and rocky creek beds came an end, and we arrived at “Bob’s Camp”, a delightful camp site on the shore of Byron Creek. The four-legged residents eyed us curiously.

(Photo: Tony Ryan)

(Photo: Tony Ryan)

Mt Byron Road

We had made it down to the western side of the range. In the distance, the escarpment below Mount Byron presented an impenetrable wall. Anyone wanting to climb this range from the west would need to know where they were going.

(Photo: Tony Ryan)

(Photo: Tony Ryan)

Eventually we reached the bridge over Reedy Creek. This is a complex area where the Stanley and Brisbane Rivers meet downstream from Somerset Dam (named after Henry Somerset), and upstream from Wivenhoe Dam. The upper reaches of Lake Wivenhoe have transformed this part of Reedy Creek into a series of large lagoons.

In the distance we could see the the Stanley River emerging from between the tight hills that framed Stanley Gorge. This place must be intimidating in flood.

Stanley River

The Stanley River looked serene as we rode over the second major bridge.

O'Sheas Crossing

Before crossing the third bridge at O’Sheas Crossing we stopped for a quick break beside the Brisbane River.

Caboonbah

A few kilometres later we reached Caboonbah Homestead, former home of Henry Somerset. This is where Billy started his epic journey.

Sadly, the homestead has burned down, and SEQ Water has locked the site, preventing all access to it. This meant we were unable to get a closer look or enjoy the view from the cliffs overlooking the river.

(Photo: EDelacy / CC-BY-SA-3.0) (Painting: Pam Hopkins)
(Photo: EDelacy / CC-BY-SA-3.0) (Painting: Pam Hopkins)

The original building was completed around 1890, and would have been almost brand new when Billy rode off three years later.

So far we had travelled abut 80 kilometres, or 50 miles. It had taken us most of the day. This would have been a tough ride on horseback in the rain. Billy must have been an amazing horseman. His ride is immortalized in a wonderful painting by Pam Hopkins.

Mount Beppo

We continued our ride west along straight roads beside vast cattle paddocks as the sun slowly sunk towards the horizon.

(Photo: Tony Ryan)

(Photo: Tony Ryan)

After about 100km we reached Toogoolawah. We arranged our course so we could join the Brisbane Valley Rail Trail without having to ride on the busy highway and ride the remaining short distance into town in relative peace.

Toogoolawah

This 100km epic had taken us about nine and a half hours including breaks. During that time we climbed about 1,750 metres in elevation, and I burned about 3,500 kcal.


Here’s a map of our ride (in red) over the weekend.
I’ve overlaid a guess (in yellow) of where I think Billy may have ridden.

We rode a total of about 190 kilometres in about 15 hours, climbing about 2,300 metres in vertical ascent.

Thanks Darb, Simon, Russel and Justin for making this a memorable weekend.

Thanks Andrew Demack for your kind invitation.

And special thanks to John Wright for sharing Billy’s story with me.

Mount Beppo

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7 comments to Billy Mateer

  • Ian

    Ride your bike to a bike ride…. love it. Is this a thing now?!!!

  • Kevin Christensen

    Hi Neil, thanks for sharing this fascinating story. There’s actually a movie about this called Deluge:The true story of the great Brisbane flood of 1893, And highlights Somerset’s and Mateers heroic efforts to warn Brisbane of the impending flood.It’s available for loan through the Brisbane City Council library service. I’ll be getting my copy this week. Thanks again, Kevin.

    • G’day Kevin
      Is the movie on DVD or VHS?
      The only library copy I could find was on VHS.
      Glad you enjoyed the story. We had fun riding it 🙂
      Neil

      • Kevin Christensen

        It’s on DVD and available at Mitchelton and Everton Park libraries according to the online database elibcat. It was filmed entirely in south east qld so you might recognize some of the locations! Cheers.

  • Tony Hammill

    Love what you guys do! I’m the guy who researched Billy, had articles published, commissioned the painting by Pam Hopkins and rebooted his legend etc. There are other groups following the Billy trail also and you could get together.Please phone on 3 843 0624 or email on tonyhammill@hotmail.com

    Thanks

    Tony Hammill.

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