Samuel McMillan had been stockman, drover, shepherd, coachman, bush-mailman, horse breaker, hotel proprietor and farmer and had many tales to tell. He went with his parents to a station at "Devil's River", now Delatite River, near Mansfield, when he was six. He spent his time cattle herding and bailing the cows for the milkers.
In 1852 came the gold rush and farm and shop were alike deserted for the diggings. At Malcolm's Station near Mansfield, not a man was left for seven months, all hands having gone in quest of fortune. Young McMillan and another boy were left in sole charge of 10,000 sheep. They had a task shifting hurdles every day to a different spot to hold the sheep, but life had its compensations. Kangaroos abounded in the neighbourhood and half a dozen fine horses had been left behind. With green-hide bridles and saddles of their own manufacture, the boys rode the horses to such a condition that when the disappointed gold seekers returned months later explanations were required. Some of the diggers "struck it rich" but not all returned with their wealth.
Riding with Mails
Sam lived a strenuous life. At fourteen he was riding, summer and winter, with the mails, from Benalla, round the "Devil's River", to the Mansfield district stations. In winter he had to swim his horse seven times on the day's journey - one river alone had to be crossed three times, sometimes at night. One lonely spot on the Benalla/Mansfield track, the one-time mail-man remembers with a shudder. In 1848 or 1849, several men were attacked by blacks there while travelling with sheep, and murdered. Only one man survived. He hid terror stricken in a hollow tree, with his dog. The dog attempted to bark, and the shepherd choked it with his hands in order to save his own life. Bush fires had scarred the trees, and the mailman, his imagination stirred by the ghost stories of an old bushman who lived in a shack nearby, scarcely ever dared to glance at the black and white trunks as he rode past.
Bailed Up in the Bush
One cloudy night, having just forded the backwater and come out on the track, his mount shied at the figure of a horseman. It proved to be "old Donald", who lived with his wife on the outskirts of one of the stations. He told how an armed man had burst into his hut and, in his prescence, stolen a cheque for £ 63 and some silver from under the bedding on which Donald's wife was lying ill.
With this unwelcome news ringing in his ears, McMillan rode "like mad" over hill and flat for the nearest station. A few miles on his way he saw the glint of a gun barrel in the light of the moon, which had momentarily issude from the cloud. A voice cried, "Stand! Up with your hands and give me that mail bag!"
The mailman dug his spurs into his horse and rode for his life down the track, the bushranger in hot pursuit. He reached the station in safety. The bushranger was arrested next day when he presented a cheque at a store and was sent to gaol for seven years.
The Greatest Adventure
In 1865 young McMillan began coach-driving for Edward Poole between Plenty and Whittlesea. "Did you have any adventures at the business?" he was asked. "The biggest adventure of my life," he replied, chuckling. "The boss's step-daughter ran away with me". The lady was Maria Perkins, and they were married at the Plough Inn, Janefield, which was kept by Miss Perkin's brother. The elopement ended McMillan's coaching days.
A Lost Pipe
"I learned to smoke when I was 10 and I've smoked ever since," said McMillan contemplatively stroking his beard. "A pipe's a wonderful friend. I remember a meerschaum I had once that was raffled for £ 5." There was a note of regret in his voice as he recalled how in his mailman's days, he had been riding by night, meerschaum in mouth along a bush track with gold worth £ 83 in his belt. Suddenly a man dashed at his horse's head, and something caught him in the chest - a rope stretched from tree to tree across the track. He clung to the reins, and fear sped his horse on a mad gallop through the bush. He eluded the bushranger, but never recovered his precious pipe, which dropped from his mouth when the rope struck him. Bruised and bleeding from contact with the tree trunks, he reached his destination, but never carried gold again.
Mr. and Mrs. McMillan were both proud to be Australian natives and to have reached 80 years together.
Contributed by Alma Gardner (PPPG Member No. 986)
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