© Chris Woodland
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The Deua River begins its U-shaped course to the coast in the wild mountain ranges that finger out from the tablelands towards the NSW south coast. The clear descending waters commence their seaward voyage in the area of the Bendethera caves, once an isolated farm, now part of a national park. The Deua (pronounced by the locals as 'Jewie') runs over water-polished stones and -rocks, dropping in elevation every so often as it tumbles over bubbling white water rapids to the waterhole beneath. On its journey seaward the river picks up the waters of smaller, often not flowing, tributaries. When the Deua joins with the Araluen Creek it takes the name of the town near its entrance to the sea - it becomes known as the Moruya River.
A few rugged kilometres upstream from that confluence is Moodong Creek, a tributary that generally keeps flowing after the many smaller feeder streams stop, that runs into the Deua.
However, dry times even see Moodong become a chain of small leaf- and bark-stained waterholes. Going up this creek one finds that the stream is fed by very high and steep mountains, in places too steep for cattle and horses.
After many kilometres the V-shaped valley opens up into a Y-shape, providing many protected acres suitable for grazing. This area was known as Cudgeegamah, shortened in recent years to Cudgee.The sheltered valley is surrounded by towering mountains that reach up to the high country of the tablelands and in earlier days was connected by a bridle track that ran from Dempsey's Emu Flat station all the way down through Cudgee valley and along to the Deua.
While rearing her two-year-old son Everett, Helena Eliza Davis (commonly called Nellie) built a vertical slab house in that remote valley in 1908. With the assistance of her father Harvey Davis, an L-shaped house was constructed consisting of split slabs for the walls and flooring, and shingles for the roof. The slabs and shingles were split from local timber, and it was said by the infrequent visitor in those early days of the dwelling that the shingles cut from red gum made the roof look like red tiles. A grapevine was planted there in those early days. The old vine is all that survives today. By the late 1960s the ravages of time and termites saw the old house reduced to a remaining single room, the kitchen. Iron roofing replaced the shingles, the walls were patched up, fencing wire strained between a kurrajong tree and a corner post corrected the lean of the structure for a while, but the inevitable happened sometime in the late '70s or early '80s when the place was no more.
Nellie's daughter Neta was born in that secluded valley in 1909. Later she would recall how, as a child, she would excitedly attempt walking around the top rail of the stockyard. With no permanent human company other than her mother and brother, Neta's development was centred on the day to day activities of a bush block cattle run. Occasionally there would be the excitement of a visitor. Always there was the surrounding bush, mountain slopes and wild animals. Such a remote area was forever under threat from rabbits and dingoes. It would be much later that kangaroos found their way down from the higher, more level country and became a problem. Then the redneck and black wallabies were also threatened to some marked degree by their larger relative.
Neta became familiar with horses and cattle at a very early stage, as she and Everett were the only constant support her mother had. The only way in and out of the valley was by horse or foot and all supplies were carried in by packhorses. It would be the 1950s before a rough steep track was formed by later owners to carry four-wheel drive vehicles into Cudgee, replacing the old bridle track. By that time Neta and her mother were living at Woolla, a place on the Deua River several rough kilometres above its confluence with Moodong Creek.
In 1919 Nellie gave the bush away and tried life in the city of Sydney. Two years later she and her two children headed back to the bush.
At one stage she lived at the junction of Moodong Creek and the Deua River. Here, as at Cudgee, and later at Woolla, kurrajongs trees were planted and still survive. They were probably planted near the houses to provide some shade for both horse and human, as the peppercorns of the inland were.
As she raised her children and worked the difficult and remote bush blocks Nellie became admired as a very capable woman, but a hard person. Local oral history tells of Nellie travelling a mob of cattle past the Araluen hotel and riding over to speak to some men she knew who were having a drink under the verandah. Andy Keys, a property owner and local councilor said, 'Nellie, that horse of yours looks pretty knocked up'. To which she replied, 'If you'd been between my legs as long as this horse you'd be knocked up too'. In later years men were to become very respectful of Nellie and her abilities with stock and in the bush, and with her stern reputation, gossip developed her image into a woman that men should be wary of. Some even said that if a man went near her home she would take a shot at him. Of course legends often have little to do with reality, and no man was ever shot at. The simple fact was that as Nellie grew older she preferred to stay at Woolla, keeping to herself in her bush isolation - a certain scenario to start uninformed tongues wagging.
In 1925 Neta moved with her mother and brother to take up Woolla, a picturesque bend on the Deua with towering rock-faced Beamer Mountain nearby. As at Cudgee, a house was built from the surrounding timber, this time of horizontal slabs. Corrugated iron for roofing was brought in on a horse-drawn slide over country so rough and steep that a four-wheel drive vehicle could not manage the tortuous track into the homestead sight until the 1960s. Nellie and her two children cleared the land, built the fences from logs they split themselves, mustered, branded, marked and drove their cattle out to market. Their horses were very important to them and Neta became an excellent horsewoman, winning many awards at the Araluen Sports events over several years.
In 1928 Neta's brother Vern was born at Woolla. Sometime during the '30s Everett left home and went timber cutting on the north coast of NSW. Neta and Vern remained at Woolla working the place with their mother. In later years Vern would go off to work at clearing scrub for landholders out from Braidwood. He spent time as a dogger around Cooma for the Southern Tablelands Dingo Destruction Board and picked peaches in season at Araluen. This outside work supported Woolla, which needed all the assistance it could get during leaner times.
Myrtle Davis posing at top of apple box tree after lopping to feed cattle following a severe bushfire which left only four apple box trees unburnt, Woolla; 1952. Note ladder made from round bush timber