John Quixote and the true history of Moggs Creek

Posted on April 10, 2017

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It was all a bit of a lark.

In 1955 a group of friends bought land at Moggs Creek, a blink-and-you-miss-it spot on the Great Ocean Road between Aireys Inlet and Lorne. The land had been recently subdivided by the Boyd family, which had owned land there since 1905.

The group was bemused by the name of the creek.  Nearby locations were named Anglesea, Airey’s Inlet, Fairhaven, Eastern View, Devil’s Corner, Grassy Creek. No mysteries there.

But Moggs Creek?

John Crook and his group of friends – a combination of imaginative beachcombers, wine drinkers, industrial chemists, film buffs and serious photographers – were stumped by the naming of their little idyll.

Who or what was Mogg? Or Moggs?

The group didn’t know. Local history, local white history at least, was a bit thin on the ground in 1955. So they made up their own history. Built their own sculptures and cairns. Took their own photographs.

They decided there had once been a Sir Samuel Moggs, a sailor ahead of his time. A navigator from Bristol, Moggs was aboard the Dutch ship the Spuit when it lost its way in 1759 and, caught by the set of the tide, hit a reef near Moggs Creek.

The group made a small statue, a bust of Sir Sam. Placed it by the Great Ocean Road near the border of Moggs Creek and Eastern View.  The wording at the base of the bust said ‘Sir Samuel Moggs landed here 29 Feb 1759. Erected by The United Moggs Organisation. 29.2.1959. The dark is light enough.’

By the roadside, Great Ocean Road, 1985. Photo by Marilyn Wendt, secretary, Anglesea & District Historical Society.

 

The group repaired or replaced the bust regularly after vandalism. It survived by the side of the road until at least the mid 1980s. Sometime thereafter it disappeared, until 2002, when it appeared on the doorstep of the Anglesea and District Historical Society.

John Crook and his friends also built a two-metre high brick cairn in the sand dunes at Moggs Creek, just up from the walkway to the beach. Hidden from view and protected from high tides, the cairn is still standing after more than 50 years.

In 1960 the group formed The Sir Samuel Moggs Society. There were annual cricket matches between the east and west sides of Moggs Creek. There were vintage wines named after the creek. A national anthem of sorts.  Car stickers that said ‘Moggs Creek Forever’.  Pennant flags that said ‘The Dark Is Light Enough’.  There was a mayor appointed for 25 years. And an army, if you believed the  Society’s Quarterly Clack newsletters.

 

Photo courtesy of Perry Gaylard

“This bottle has been in the family since the 60’s,” says Perry Gaylard on his website about Aireys Inlet and neighbouring towns and hamlets. “I’m not sure where my grandfather, Colin Gaylard, got it but I have my suspicions that my grandfather might have known the the Moving Clickers in their heyday.”

 

The whiskey, the wine, the flags and sculptures – t was all a bit of a lark.

Eventually the group went their different ways. Some kept their holiday houses at Moggs Creek, some – like John Crook in 1970 – sold up.

The group of friends made their mark in their own chosen fields, especially advertising, film and photography. The photographers, initially known as the Moggs Creek Clickers, formed Group M. A 1996 Masters thesis by Monash University student Philip Bentley said that Group M’s ‘concerted lobbying of art and archive institutions to raise the respect accorded to photography contributed to the creation of the Photographic Department at the National Gallery of Victoria in 1967’.

(In April 2017 The Sunday Age referred to the role of Moggs Creek Clicker Albert Brown in the genesis of the NGV Photographic Department.)

The young film makers formed the Moggs Creek Moving Clickers in 1957. They made 16mm short movies such as The Creature Of The Creek, Along the Beach (a parody of On The Beach), and The Mild One, directed by Fred Schepisi.

The group describes itself as ‘the oldest extant film society in Victoria’. It holds several screenings in Melbourne each year and has held an annual film festival each October at Lorne since 1968.

“Every year we raise a glass to Sir Sam at our film weekend,” says Faye Broberg, a long-time Moving Clicker. “Our traditional Sunday barbecue that weekend takes place on the site of Sir Sam’s Hunting Lodge, now known as the Moggs Creek Picnic Ground.”

Faye’s late husband Brian, an advertising artist and art director, made a bust of Sir Sam many years ago. “It was a life size, full colour bust. And Bob Edmonds, the Clickers’ treasurer for 45 years, made many of the earlier, and smaller Sir Sam statues. It was handy that he owned a fibreglass factory.”

Faye and Brian also wrote a 16 page biography of Sir Sam: “It is said of Sir Sam, that whatever you believe him to have done, he has done.”

In May 2005, the friends who had bought land at Moggs Creek in 1955 held a 50 year reunion. Not at Moggs Creek, but at a home in Melbourne, in Caulfield. They invited their circle of Sir Samuel Moggs devotees and also Moggs Creek residents past and present. There were photo albums, a slide show, memorabilia, talks, wine, and music.

Reminiscences were recorded that afternoon and it became apparent that the group, and John Crook in particular, was curious about the real reasons for the naming of Moggs Creek.

Having helped create an artificial history in his youth, Crook was now keen to find the truth of the matter, to de-bunk the self-made myth.

Energised by the reunion, John Crook, in his  late 70s, started with a Melbourne phonebook. Looked up Mogg and Moggs. Rang up people. Told them about the creek on the Great Ocean Road.  Asked them what they knew. Not much, they said. Nothing at all, more to the point.

He tried the Victoria-wide phonebook. No luck.

In mid 2005 he invited me to join him on a trip to St Arnaud, three hundred kilometres north-west of Moggs Creek.

“Bring your notepad,” he said. “I’ll bring some of my cameras.”

I had grown up with the Sir Sam yarn, my parents having bought land in Boyd Avenue in 1972. I had written about Moggs Creek from time to time. Family stories. Beach-house stories. But I was no historian.

I saw Crook as Don Quixote, the romantic adventurer of Miguel Cervante’s 17th century novel, the man who mistook windmills for giants and sheep for armies. I was Quixote’s assistant, Sancho Panza and Crook’s red Range Rover was Quixote’s horse, Rocinante. Like the novel, we were off to tilt at windmills. Or were we?

“The Boyd family owned much of the land at Moggs Creek when I bought a block there in 1955,” said Crook as we headed up the highway.  “The family had had land there since the start of the 20th century. In the early 1960s I recorded an interview with William Boyd, on a home-made reel-to-reel tape recorder. Boyd would have been close to 90 years old.

“He told me of a droving story, of a St Arnaud grazier who drove sheep down to the Otways in times of drought. At some stage Moggs Creek was unofficially known as Bellbird Creek, but when Boyd started subdividing he advertised the estate as being at Moggs Creek. He must have had good reason to do so.”

And the name of the St Arnaud grazier? Mogg. Valentine Nott Mogg.

A history of St Arnaud, Tracks Of the Years by Yvonne S Palmer, notes that Mogg owned Swan Water, a 70,000 acre property. Its homestead once included a one-mile eucalypt entrance, the family home, outbuildings, gardens, stables, cellars and the Mogg family private cemetery.  ‘[Valentine’s] family of four sons and eight daughters were all born on Swan Water. He died in 1883 at the age of sixty-three’, wrote Palmer.  The Mogg family left Swan Water in 1909. There was nothing about droving sheep south during drought.

After several hours on the road John and I arrive at Swan Water, 15 minutes outside the township of St Arnaud. The entrance is still lined by an avenue of eucalypts. We climb over a gate with a faded red and white sign that says ‘Trespassers Will Be Prosecuted’.

A hare bounds away. There are spent shotgun cartridges here and there: blue, red, black. The buildings are empty, ghostly. The stately home was never rebuilt after a fire in 1967.

Valentine Nott Mogg still has pride of place in the family cemetery. His large tomb is the centrepiece. Seven smaller tombstones are relegated to the fenceline of the graveyard.

And Swan Water still has sheep. Had their ancestors ever been to Moggs Creek? Did these sheep know, even in their imagination, of a track that could take them south to the Otways? Could these sheep lead Don Quixote and Sancha Panza out of the wilderness?

Alas, when the sheep trotted away at our approach, they headed north rather than due south.

John took plenty of photographs. I took a few notes. We’d had fun, but I couldn’t see a story.

Still, every now and then John would send me news of his quest. He meets a St Arnaud woman whose hobby is the history of Swan Water. She says the property also had a conservatory, a chapel, a tennis court and a croquet lawn. She says the 70,000 acres had shrunk to 3,700 acres by the time Valentine Mogg, in debt, sold the property. But the woman hasn’t heard of sheep being driven to Moggs Creek.

John finds relatives of Valentine Mogg, in Victoria and Queensland. None know about Moggs Creek.

Meanwhile, he has not abandoned Sir Samuel. He re-forms The Sir Samuel Moggs Society, has navy blue caps made for members, with an image of Sir Sam and ‘The Dark Is Light Enough’ printed on the peak. ‘Moggs Creek Forever’ is printed across the back.  He heads off to Warrnambool, joking how the mystery shipwreck the Mahogany might have been one of Sir Sam’s vessels.

After five or so years John and I lose contact. He has other interests, including his photography. And he has his health to consider. I have a family to raise, and stories to write.

Occasionally I return to my notes about Moggs Creek and St Arnaud. I’m looking for links, looking for dots to join. But I’m no historian. At the Anglesea and District Historical Society I meet Sir Samuel, there by the front step.

I come across a 1984 study of Moggs Creek by Di Schmied, whose family bought land there in 1960. As part of a graduate diploma in resource conservation she looked into the history, the fauna, the development and the services of Moggs Creek. She had interviewed a Miss Frances Boyd, daughter of William Boyd. “I know nothing about Mr Moggs,” said Miss Boyd. “However, someone mentioned that there was a house on the creek below the picnic ground where the half dozen or so pine trees flank the creek.”

Kit Boyd was a grandson of William Boyd, and a nephew of Frances Boyd. Not surprisingly, he lived in Boyd Avenue, less than a hundred metres from the (now demolished) 1905 home of corrugated iron and ironbark slabs. Alas, he had no light to shed on the naming of the creek, not having heard of  his grandfather’s droving story. (Kit passed away in 2016.)

I come across a 1988 booklet by Ian F. McLaren that notes: ‘The derivation of “Moggs” has not yet been determined. He could have been a surveyor, one of the electronic telegraph staff associated with the line to Cape Otway in the 1850s, or an early settler in the area: however no record of such a name has been discovered in early records.’

A history of the Barrabool Shire, Land Of The Magpie, does not refer to the settling of Moggs Creek at all.

I come across an 1890 reference in a 1987 history of Airey’s Inlet by Keith Cecil and Roger Carr. ‘In a [newspaper] letter dated 29 July, 1890 under the headline The Railway to Lorne: I am sure no man would attempt to go from the Saddle to Mogg’s Creek (or, properly speaking) Bell bird Creek…’

Then, in the same booklet, I come across Hilda Bubb. Born into hardship in 1894, in Airey’s Inlet, some of Hilda’s memories, recorded in 1968, are reprinted.  “Mr Robertson was in residence at Moggs Creek. I understand that this property was formerly occupied by a Mr Mogg, whose sons went to the Geelong Grammar School…”

Hilda Bubb is half-right, on two accounts. Firstly, Mr Robertson is actually Mr Samuel Pearce Roberts, who bought land at Moggs Creek in 1897. According to Miss Frances Boyd’s interview with Di Schmied, Roberts “is the first person we have factual evidence of existing in the region”. [Notwithstanding the clans and families of Waddawurrung country.]

Secondly, Mr Mogg’s sons went to Geelong College, not Geelong Grammar. The college has records of three students by the name of Mogg, all in the late 19th century.

William James Moggs was enrolled in 1871, son of James Mogg, ‘traveller, of Villamanta St, Geelong’.

Marcus Mogg was enrolled in 1875 ‘by Mrs V M Mogg of Swan Water, St Arnaud’.

Valentine Vincent Mogg was enrolled in 1887, also by ‘by Mrs V M Mogg of Swan Water, St Arnaud’.

Valentine Vincent Mogg, it turns out, knew a thing or two about sheep. A Geelong College obituary in 1943 said  that ‘His later interests were in grazing and sport; beside conducting his farm property in the Ballan district…he also founded the Ballan sheepdog trials, which developed into the biggest trials in Australia’.

Did Valentine Vincent Mogg know a thing or two about Moggs Creek? Were there family stories about droving sheep south to the Otways from Swan Water?

Did the Mogg family from Swan Water ever spend time or own land at Moggs Creek?

How did the little creek really get its name?

I’m no historian. I’ll never know.

And nor will John Crook. I only learnt recently that he passed away, in Ballarat, in late 2012, aged 84.

The dark is light enough.

 

Further reading, including the Neuk Estate and the  1763 Moggs Lighthouse Very Old Matured Whiskey. (Scroll down history of the Aireys Inlet and you’ll get there!)

 

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Posted in: Sea stories