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The House That Was Never Built
by [?]

There had been heavy rain and landslips all along the branch railway which left the Great Western Line from Sydney just beyond the Blue Mountains, and ran through thick bush and scrubby ridgy country and along great alluvial sidings–were the hills on the opposite side of the wide valleys (misty in depths) faded from deep blue into the pale azure of the sky–and over the ends of western spurs to the little farming, mining and pastoral town of Solong, situated in a circle of blue hills on the banks of the willow-fringed Cudgegong River.

The line was hopelessly blocked, and some publicans at Solong had put on the old coach-road a couple of buggies, a wagonette, and an old mail coach–relic of the days of Cobb & Co., which had been resurrected from some backyard and tinkered up–to bring the train passengers on from the first break in the line over the remaining distance of forty miles or so. Capertee Station (old time, “Capertee Camp”–a teamster’s camp) was the last station before the first washout, and there the railway line and the old road parted company for the last time before reaching Solong–the one to run round by the ends of the western spurs that spread fanlike, and the other to go through and over, the rough country.

The train reached Capertee about midnight in broad moonlight that was misty in the valleys and round the blue of Crown Ridge. I got a “box-seat” beside the driver on the old coach. It was a grand old road–one of the old main coach-roads of New South Wales–broad and white, metalled nearly all the way, and in nearly as good condition as on the day when the first passenger train ran into Solong and the last-used section of the old road was abandoned. It dated back to the bushranging days–right back to convict times: it ran through tall dark bush, up over gaps or “saddles” in high ridges, down across deep dark gullies, and here and there across grey, marshy, curlew-haunted flats. Cobb & Co’s coach-and-six, with “Royal Mail” gilded on the panels, had dashed over it in ten and twelve-mile stages in the old days, the three head-lamps flashing on the wild dark bush at night, and maybe twenty-four passengers on board. The biggest rushes to richest goldfields in the west had gone over this old road on coaches, on carts, on drays, on horse and bullock wagons, on horseback, and on foot; new chums from all the world and from all stations in life.

When many a step was on the mountains,
Marching west to the land of gold.

And a few came back rich–red, round-faced and jolly–on the box-seat of Cobb & Co’s, treating the driver and all hands, “going home” to sweethearts or families. (Home people will never feel the meaning of those two words, “going home,” as it is felt in a new land.) And many came back broken men, tramping in rags, and carrying their swags through the dusty heat of the drought in December or the bitter, pelting rain in the mountains in June. Some came back grey who went as boys; and there were many who never came back.

I remembered the old mile-trees, with a section of bark cut away and the distances cut in Roman letters in the hardened sap–the distance from Bowenfels, the railway terminus then. It was a ghostly old road, and if it wasn’t haunted it should have been. There was an old decaying and nearly deserted coaching town or two; there were abandoned farms and halfway inns, built of stone, with the roofs gone and nettles growing high between the walls; the remains of an orchard here and there–a few gnarled quince-trees–and the bush reclaiming its own again. It was a haunted ride for me, because I had last ridden over this old road long ago when I was young–going to see the city for the first time–and because I was now on my way to attend the funeral of one of my father’s blood from whom t had parted in anger.