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Paddy Harrington – Wye River Pioneer

Wye River’s heritage is dominated by one man – Paddy Harrington. His name is unknowingly spoken by the thousands who walk Paddy’s Path each year, as they walk the pretty link between Wye River and Separation Creek.

Few know about the real Pat Harrington and his impact on the two hamlets. How he was a skilled bushman as a teenager, a world champion wood chopper, story teller and craftsman. How he built scores of houses in the two hamlets, many of which survive today. How he owned most of the land in Separation Creek and how the twists of fate led him to lose the land and finally he died penniless in a draughty caravan on the banks of Separation Creek. He may have been penniless, but he was loved more dearly than anyone who has lived in the villages.

Here is separation Creek in the 1960s when fibro shacks were multiplying.

early houses

Pat’s story is the story of Wye River and Separation Creek.

The Harrington family held a lease of 1100 Acres in Wye and Sep from 1895. It was a rough and ready farm run by three Irish brothers including Pat’s father Pat Harrington senior, in the time before there was an Ocean Road. Pat was born in 1912, one of six children, and was orphaned at the age of 12. The girls were sent to live with relatives, but Pat hid for 4 days and stayed in Wye, growing up in the bush under the loose eyes of his two uncles.

Growing up he would help the family who were always short of cash. He would milk the cows, catch fish and set trap lines for rabbits. As a youngster, he took the farm produce twice a week through rough tracks to Apollo Bay.

In 1919 a severe bushfire destroyed most of Wye River but the Harringtons and their homestead survived.

With just the local mill and no local school for most of his childhood, he learned bush survival the hard way. Soon as a teenager he was a crack shot, a skilled axeman and knew how to harvest the sea and the bush animals for a feed.

For a few brief years from 1920, the local Wye River school was open, but for most years he was self-taught, and he opened his eyes to the outside world though books. Around this time, several local mills, once famous as the largest in the southern hemisphere closed in Wye River and Separation Creek. The 1923 flood wiped out the local mill Tram lines, and later storms had destroyed fragile jetties built by his uncles in 1899 so there was no way of getting the huge reserves of sawn wood to boats and off to market. The companies went bankrupt and the wood abandoned.

Locals including Pat knew where the wood was and how useful it would become in later years. The wood timber tram route between Wye and Separation Ck was no longer used to haul logs but remains largely intact to this day as the connector between the two creek communities,now known as Paddy’s Path.

The new Great Ocean Road

In 1922 after years of work elsewhere, work started on the part of the Great Ocean Road between Wye River and Apollo Bay. Always short of cash, the Harringtons worked on the new road. In 1924 progress was interrupted when the steamer Casino was stranded on a reef near Kennett River, and had to be lightened by offloading barrels of beer and cases of whisky. Work on the road stopped for several weeks – or was it months? – while the workers concentrated on disposing of the alcohol.

One story has Pat working on the road at the age of 10, but by 1928, at 16, Paddy was definitely working on the road. As he matured, his ability with the axe also developed, and he easily won local wood-chopping contests, one of which at Kennett netted him the equivalent of a year’s wages!

In 1932 the road was complete and Wye River became connected with the outside world. In a few years the local ‘Rookery Nook’ pub was built and the Harringtons had already set up the general store in Wye River. There was a growing interest in land for which Pat would be a beneficiary. But first the 1939 fires of Black Saturday destroyed the forest around Wye River and the war intervened.

The early road at Separation Creek, date unknown

Early Sep Ck

The War years

In 1941, Pat enlisted in the 3rd Forestry Company and sailed for Scotland. While training in UK, he helped the Australians win a woodchopping contest against the New Zealanders and other woodchopping competitions. Quickly recognised for his rifle skills as a crack shot, he was trained as a Bren Gunner. His war service included 2 periods in PNG. He contracted Dengue fever along the way, and a creeping paralysis of his right arm.

After the war, he found that the family property at Wye River had been disbursed among the family, and Pat had inherited much of the land at Separation Creek. He made sure his sisters were well looked after financially and just returned to working with his uncle growing potatoes on the flats at Wye River.

Despite the partial paralysis of his arm, soon he started building houses, starting with one for his uncle Jack at Separation Creek, built from the remnants of his house at Wye River.

Building Wye River and Separation Creek

The early houses were just a few rooms, but Pat would go on to construct 76 more substantial houses over the next 25 years!

There was plenty of wood available from the old mill stockpiles if a local knew where to look and Pat did. ‘With his axe as a plumb bob, and the horizon as a level’, the houses were not flash but they were solid, lasting to the current day, and many can still be seen in Wye River and Separation creek.

By 1950, Pat was subdividing land at Separation Creek, and by 1960 formed a partnership with Roy Stanway an estate agent from Camberwell. In later years he had a special package deal: a block of his land and a new house for 6000 pounds. As he was uninterested in money, Pat would typically get a deposit but not bother to follow up on the bulk of the payment for his house and land special. When money was short, he would start another ‘special’.

A few years ago an owner in Harrington St had to strip his old ‘Pat special’ back to the frame for the building inspector and couldn’t understand why the floor bearers were unexpectedly solid, until he discovered that Pat had recycled some huge old Wye bridge beams into the house. Typical Pat.

After the war, Pat developed a greater liking for beer, and started his daily ritual walk from his caravan at Separation Creek to the pub at Wye River along the Paddy’s Path. The story goes that unscrupulous locals would ply Pat with beer until he would inadvertently offer them some land for very low prices, and over the years he was systematically fleeced of his fortune. Pat didn’t care, it was only money, which meant nothing to him. His generosity was legendary.

Early Sep Creek

Sep Ck in the 70s

A solitary end

Having never married, Pat lived simply in his two caravans on the banks of Separation Creek, on land he had once owned. He shrugged off a flood in 1983. He had no money but was happy. He died there of cancer, alone at the age of 75 in 1987. The Harrington name lives on in Apollo Bay and the Otways with many members of the extended family, and of course the path and Harrington Street in Separation Creek.

A plaque honouring Paddy Harrington on Paddy’s Path was badly damaged in the 2015 bushfire. Locals have vowed to restore it to new when the path is permanently reopened.

Reference: Most material for this post is adapted from the excellent booklet: “The Wye, the Sep and Pat”, Jenefer Sally Hearn, 2017. The booklet can be purchased at the Wye General store, or from the author direct via sallybuttons@live.com.au.

Wye Sep Pat
Any errors in fact in this post will be mine. Photos are not from the book.
Rex Brown

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