Argents Hill: the rise of a settler community

Frank Grace

Frank Grace

The third and final installment on the Argents of Argents Hill

WHEN Allen Argent and Frank Grace arrived on the Nambucca in 1869 they found the land around Bowraville had already been selected. The pair instead turned to the rich land west of Bowraville between the North Arm and Buckrabendinni rivers.

While they chose an isolated spot with only the Indigenous population for neighbours, being sole selectors came at some advantage. Without the competition of other European selectors, Allen turned his profits from cedar cutting to take up more selections over the next decade. He amassed 320 acres.

It is no surprise that when the Post Office opened in 1882 and most of the surrounding hills were owned by Allen, that the growing community was called Argents Hill.

The beginnings of the inter-weaving of the community began when Frank married Allen's daughter Rebecca in 1872.

It wasn't until eight years later that Donald McKay arrived in the same area and took up land about two miles downstream from the Argents. His sons Angus and Alexander also selected land in 1877 on the north side of North Creek, opposite their father.

Within 18 months of Donald McKay's arrival, Luther Ballard and William Scrivener and their large families took up their selections at Argents Hill.

The growth of the community had two unique factors. The selectors at Argents Hill were mature men and most of their children were full grown and of marriageable age. In addition many were of one church, the church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, commonly known as the Mormons.

Argents Hill Church 1900s

Argents Hill Church 1900s

The first factor aided survival because the young men were valued labour at home on farms and in cedar getting. One can imagine their grown sisters made the work and isolation for their mothers easier to bear.

Being in the same church bound the community together although it must be noted not all participated, with Donald McKay being a known dissenter.

Allen Argent's second daughter Matilda had previously married Charles Churchill at Port Macquarie.

They selected at Argents Hill in 1878, adjoining Allen between the creek and what was to become the site of the Argents Hill Public School. Charles was an adept carpenter and introduced shingle roofs to the area to replace bark roofing.

Most of the Argent children married members of the Ballard family. The Scriveners, the Smiths and the Ainsworth families cemented their relationships with the Argents by providing spouses for the rest.

Rebecca Argent who married Frank Grace

Rebecca Argent who married Frank Grace

With the increase of population a school was a necessity. Land was granted and cleared by local labour. In 1881, 25 pupils gathered under a large marquee tent and the school was open.

The first teacher was Miss Anna Appleton Taylor who boarded with the Churchills. The Churchills also manned the Post Office which opened a year later.

The children of the school ranged greatly in age, some of them in their teens and attending school for the first time. It is easy to imagine children who laboured on family farms before and after school falling asleep at their desks.

The tent school would have been an inconvenient learning space but as The Government made school building largely the responsibility of the community, it took time for the locals to provide labour and funds.

Argents Hill School 1906

Argents Hill School 1906

Social functions over the early years were held at the settlers' farms. There were dances at the home of Allen and Emma Argent with Frank Grace playing a concertina and Charles Churchill assisting on the violin.

Cricket was the first sport played and William Argent had a wicket laid at his farm in 1881.

Hepzibah Ballard describes the popular event: "Players played for their dinner. The losers having to pay. The dinner was served at Charlie Churchill's home. There would be dancing afterwards and every family within miles would turn up for the event."

By 1913 a public meeting was reported in the Nambucca and Bellinger News as approving the building of a hall for community events. Once again the community dug deep, donating land and funds. There is a further report of the opening in 1915, with the current hall committee celebrating its centenary in 2019.

The isolation of Argents Hill could have led to an early foundering but the maturity and experience of its pioneers led to a successful and enduring community. They were a text book example of how helping and supporting their neighbours led to pioneering success.

This article used the resources of the Nambucca Headland Museum, the Bowraville Folk Museum, Argent family histories and the book Valley of the Crooked River by Norma Townsend. Special thanks to Faye Stuart for her assistance.

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