COOMA, MONDAY, MAY 3, 1943
A grim story of police patrol work as well as of neighbourly co-operation lies behind the disappearance of Mr. C. W. Rugman of Banoon, Paupong, the search for him extending over a fortnight in bitter weather in country as rough and wild as any in the State, the finding of his body in the Snowy River in an almost inaccessible section, and the carrying of his remains on foot by bush stretcher, over ten miles of broken rocky bush country to Mr. P. J. Spellman’s home at Reedy Creek.
Some seven years ago Mr. Charles William Rugman, then 49 years of age, took up an area of 1872 acres of very rough Crown lease at Paupong, the lease having a considerable frontage to the Snowy. A native of Gloucestershire, England he had travelled extensively. It is understood that he had married but it is believed that he had no relatives in Australia. Some five years ago he took up a lonely residence on the property and had effected considerable improvements mainly in the way of fencing and ring-barking. He was not afraid of hard work. All of the fencing-wire, stores, etc., had to be carried by pack-horse at least four miles. He felled and split his posts, carrying them and the fencing-wire on his back to the fence positions. He loved the hills and the lonely freedom of his isolation, though he appreciated his occasional meetings and conversations with neighbours.
It was his habit to call at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Don McPhie, Kinross, Paupong each Monday for his mail. On Monday, 5th April, he called as usual. Mr. and Mrs. McPhie were at the time anticipating that they might have to visit their son Kevin who was under treatment in a military hospital. Mr. McPhie had also promised his help to Mr. Val Mugridge in cutting chaff, and Mr. Rugman undertook to be available to keep an eye on Kinross during his expected absence. He said he would call without fail on 12th April but if wanted earlier would not be far from home. When he did not call on the 12th Mr. McPhie became anxious and visited his home. Rain had fallen on the 5th and from the tracks Mr. McPhie concluded that he had left his place about the 6th or 7th and had not returned. He notified the police and neighbours and a search which continued until the 27th was instituted.
The police officers taking part were Const. 1st Class A. P. McGovern, Jindabyne, Const. 1st Class H. J. Small, Dalgety, Const. 1st Class Bickhoff, Dalgety, and Const. J. H. Berry, Adaminaby. They received the whole hearted assistance of district settlers and residents, probably 100 searchers being engaged in all and at times 50 men were simultaneously searching.
Mr. Rugman had cattle running on the Snowy and he apparently decided to have a look at them and cut some willows for feed and then to return home so as to be handy if wanted by Mr. McPhie. His tracks were found leading to the Snowy and also on the other side where willows had been freshly lopped. It is believed that consequent on the fairly heavy fall of rain the river rose after he had crossed it and he found his return blocked by the rising water. His tracks were found at intervals for some miles up the river on the Delegate side to a place known as the Devil’s Hole, about six miles above his original crossing, and here he apparently attempted to cross the river and was swept away by the current and drowned. He was not given much to riding, but was an indefatigable waker, and also a good swimmer. On previous occasions he had walked the full course round by the Devil’s Hole and back home – some 15 miles or so, thinking nothing of it.
As already indicated a very thorough search was undertaken, Constables McGovern, Small and Bickoff taking the sections in their own patrol districts. During practically the whole period of the search the weather was atrocious, snow, rain and wind making conditions most uncomfortable and difficult.
About midday last Tuesday, 27th April, Mr. P. Spellman sighted the body, caught on a rock about mid-stream near Hyland’s Yard, Reedy Creek. It had been washed down the river about nine miles. Mr Spellman returned home and reported his discovery. Early next morning a start was made with the body lashed to a stretcher made with two chaff sacks over wattle saplings. It was carried all Wednesday in relays until about 8 p.m., the grim journey being completed on Thursday to Mr. P. J. Spellman’s home, whence the body was conveyed to Cooma for examination by the Government Medical Officer, Dr. L. Wing, who found that the cause of death was drowning.
The carrier party consisted of Const. McGovern and Messrs. Fred Filtness, P. and Mervyn Spellman, Os Wellsmore, Bill and Greg Golby and Mat McGregor. They had to carry their water and food after leaving the river and Const. McGovern estimates that they travelled ten miles to Mr. Spellman’s home, over indescribably steep and rough country, the passage having to be cleared with an axe in many cases. Fortunately the weather had fined up so that they were free of rain or snow.
Interviewed in Cooma on Friday after the conclusion of official formalities Constables McGovern and Small had little to say of their own part in the extended search and vigils and the recovery of the remains, but they gave unstinted praise and thanks to Mr. and Mrs. P. J. Spellman for their assistance in providing food, meals and accommodation, to Mr. and Mrs. D. McPhie and other settlers for hospitality and assistance, and to the many public-spirited helpers, including members of the V.D.C., who helped so materially in the search and carrying. Our readers, particulars (sic) those who know the nature of the Snowy Valley area will no doubt be able to apportion to all concerned and particularly to the police officers a full meed of praise for a very meritorious performance.
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