The feat of climbing Baga
THE origins of the name “Mount Jim Crow” are unclear, though there is no doubt over the term’s deeply racist roots.
“Jim Crow” became the vernacular for racial segregation laws in the United States from the 1940s until the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965.
This week, the Darumbal elders were relieved for the landmark, and nearby Mount Wheeler, to be re-named.
Mount Jim Crow will now be called Baga.
In February 1886, an essay on the “feat of scaling Jim Crow” was published in The Morning Bulletin. An edited extract follows:
ON the road to the popular watering-place of Yeppoon there is no more attractive object than Jim Crow Mountain.
While the coach halts at the Old Dairy Inn, you can see the tree-crowned summit of Jim Crow down the road the coach goes, peeping out from amid the bush, like the pull of a curly-headed imp from among enwrapping blankets.
As the coach proceeds on its journey, and just beyond Jim Crow Creek, you have the peculiar eminence of the same name rising on the left, about a quarter of a mile from the highway.
Its sides are steep and precipitous, and as you twist your neck, and turn your face upwards, so as to get a good view of them, the pines on its top seem to be kissing the clouds, or mingling with the cerulean blue of the atmosphere.
When you reach the ridge near Cowan’s homestead, on the return journey from Yeppoon, Jim Crow stands out in bold relief in the foreground, and at one part of its front a bare ragged rock looks like the ruins of an old castle.
From the hills beside Yeppoon; from the rising grounds over by Mount Wheeler; from the northern slopes of the Berserkers, and from the eminences near Yaamba, Jim Crow is always an easily recognisable and conspicuous object in the landscape.
As seen from the highway it appears to be inaccessible, but we have heard that the sanctity of its summit has been desecrated by human footsteps.
What one man has done another may dare, so if you care to join us, kind reader, we will make up a party of four, including yourself, and essay the feat of scaling Jim Crow.
Making up our pack of impediments, and putting the horse in the buggy, occupies more than an hour after lunch; but early in the afternoon we leave behind the city’s dust and clamour, and trace at a moderate pace the windings and ups and downs of the Yeppoon road as far as the Old Dairy Inn, about thirteen miles from Rockhampton, and about the same from Yeppoon.
Between peep o’ day and sunrise on the following morning we are awakened by a concert of birds, most sweet and musical.
There are no sustained songs, but countless snatches, agreeable in their melodious variety. Breakfast is disposed of as soon as ready, and before the sun has got above the tree tops we are pacing the path to Jim Crow.
Mr Wyatt has been some nine years resident within easy distance of it, and has never known anyone to reach the top.
He himself has attacked it several times, but has always failed. On hearing that last night, had the hour not been late, we would, of course, have returned to town.
This morning the discouragement gives elan to our movements. The creek is soon reached, where the machine for driving the piles of the new bridge will soon be in position; and we hold over to the left.
On the west side of the mountain there seems to be a haunch with a slope to the top.
From the grassy flat near the creek we enter on rough ground, strewn with fragments from the cliffs above.
Among these are several varieties of ferns, the common Brake and a species of Polypodium being the most abundant. Penetrating the scrub on the west side of the peak we find the sloping moss we had our eye upon is detached, and a gulf, crowded with vegetation, separates it from the main eminence.
From this gulf, however, a natural shoot seems to lead well up to the top.
Though it is filled with sharp loose stones, we toilsomely scramble up the lane. At the top of it the fragments of rock are jammed in such a way that only one member of the party can get over it.
The others, indeed, are not anxious, as there is only another shoot down the other side. Two go down the shoot again, while we – you and I, reader scramble up one side, and round a moss of detached rock. It is bare of trees; we are high above the tree tops at this point, from which we infer there is a precipice below us which we cannot see, and we have a splendid view of the Pine Mountain, and the country to the north of Jim Crow.
All this we survey with interest from a safe place. Resuming our scrambling, we get down a cleft to the top of the shoot, which we had failed to reach the other way.
The slope above us is not quite perpendicular; it is seamed and cracked, and plants grow here and there.
The ascent might be practicable that way, but coming down would be troublesome. On a little terrace at the base of steep cliffs, on a rock wallaby track, we walk, and crouch, and creep along the north side of the mountain.
There are great rents in the rocks, filled with rocks, loose soil, and plants. Several of these natural shoots are tried in vain. We clamber round to the side next to the highway, disturbing several rock wallabies, who are evidently unaccustomed to human society. Perched on fragments of rock, they mark our movements, and pop out of sight in the clefts and fissures when alarmed.
At last we come to an open- ing that seems to lead up a good way. Our advance guard reports it impracticable as the others then shouts “Come on.” We can see a good way ahead, to a mass of rocks.
Both hands and feet are needed. A mass of rock resting on others and forming a cave seems to bar our way. “There’s a hole at the top,” comes from above, and crawling our way up a sloping chimney we pass thc barrier. At the Maidenbower Craigs, near Dumfries, there is a similar passage in the rocks, and the legend is that only maidens can pass it. Ladies are not likely to attempt “The keyhole to Jim Crow,” as we may call it.
Following the fissure we come to the pinch, where there is no getting over or under the fallen mass, and we must scramble round upon a surface of smooth slippery rocks.
There must be no looking down at this point. Boots are drawn off, and on hands and knees and toes the feat is accomplished.
Just above is the shrub-clad rounded slope which ends at the top. Resuming our boots and picking our way leisurely we have no difficulty in reaching the top.
All this while we have been puzzling ourselves at intervals about the name Jim Crow, associating it with the refrain of one of the earliest of Nigger Minstrels’ songs:
Turn about, wheel about, And do Just so;
And every time you wheel about
Jump Jim Crow.
Action was suited to the words at the last line.
But that song was popular long before – no, beg your pardon, Mr James Smith – not before the mountain was made, but before the country was explored.
Jim is not a hero worthy of such a memorial. But here, at the top, we seem to find a solution of the question of name.
From the trunk of a pine tree a patch of bark has been cut in the fashion customary with surveyors, and on the wood, neatly engraved with a chisel “+ HC PP JC.”
The cross is at the top and Jim Crow’s initials modestly placed at the bottom. Till we have some other explanation, we will understand this mountain bears the name of its first surveyor, and as he evidently reached the top of it, he is entitled to the honour.
From the top of Jim Crow the prospects are most comprehensive.
Here, on the southeast side, is a jutting outcrop of rock on which we can seat ourselves safely, and look almost sheer down to the flat near the creek.
Spreading away from the base of the hill is the sombrehued dingy green bush.
It always puts us in mind of a carpet on which much wear has tarnished the colours, and rendered the figures incomplete.
On the left our view is bounded by the hills inland of Taranganba and Mulambin, the bulkiest and loftiest of the range being Mount Wheeler.
At one place we obtain a view of a small portion of one of the Keppel Islands; beside Mount Wheeler is a glitter of sun-lit sea; and south of it the bold Wreck Point of Mulambin, and the islet a mile off it in the offing.
Beyond the latter, on the sea horizon, are several islands of the Keppel group and the smoke of a passing steamer.
To the right of these, in the foreground, is the country around Mount Wheeler, and in the Cawarral district. Unless we were aware it was not the case we could believe the country to be a dead flat.
Looking down upon it we see no difference where lesser heights and hollows occur. Our eyes wander over a wide expanse of bush to Mount Larcom, standing out blue in the distance.
More to the right again are the Berserker peaks, but so altered in position and form as seen from this point, that we fail to recognise them.
Farther round the horizon are the hills about Stanwell and Westwood, though we cannot make out Table Mountain. To the west of us the prospect is bounded by the hills near Yaamba, with Mount Etna preeminent.
In some places the deeper tints of the bush mark the situation of waterholes and damp ground. Among the most beautiful objects are the selectors’ clearings.
There is the little house, with its iron roof showing white in the sunshine; the clusters of dark foliaged fruit trees adjacent; the lovely green sward of the cleared land; and the grey green of the portion where the trees have only been ringbarked. These are holes worn in the carpet of bush.
From the northern side of the crest the prospect is interrupted by a clump of pines; but low down on our left is the Iron Pot, which may be regarded as Jim Crow’s little brother among peaks; the homestead and cleared country around Mount Hedlow, and the Pine Mountain. Immediately to the right is the clearing around Mr Cowan’s homestead, and in the distance beyond it Barmoyea, Nuncoobah, and the hills beyond Woodlands. On this side the prospect is not relieved by selectors’ clearings, but the aspect of the distant hills is very grand.
Insects and plants, peculiar to the place, attract our attention, and an hour passes quickly.
There are no birds at this elevation just now; they have sought the cool shade of the lower scrub.
Time flies, and our initials having been recorded on a proper tree, we begin the somewhat perilous descent. Where there are shrubs and foothold it is easy enough, but at the pinch it is a case of slide and jump.
Our return through “The Keyhole” is not a graceful performance, but we are glad to get through it any way.
The appetite caught at the top of Jim Crow is a fine one, which gives zest to the excellent roast beef and pudding Mrs Wyatt has in waiting.
‘‘ AS YOU TWIST YOUR NECK, AND TURN YOUR FACE UPWARDS, SO AS TO GET A GOOD VIEW OF THEM, THE PINES ON ITS TOP SEEM TO BE KISSING THE CLOUDS.
TREE-CROWNED SUMMIT: Mt Jim Crow renamed to its traditional name, Baga.