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Title: From Chart House to Bush Hut - Being the Record of a Sailor's 7 Years in the Queensland Bush
Author: Bryde, Charles W. L.
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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[Illustration: The Dreary Monotony of Grey Sea and Greyer Sky.]


FROM CHART HOUSE TO BUSH HUT

Being the Record of a Sailor's 7 years in the Queensland Bush

by

C. W. BRYDE



H. H. Champion
Australasian Authors' Agency
Melbourne



_DEDICATION._


_To those sturdy battlers, among whom I have lived for seven years, I
doff my hat in respect; and dedicate My Book_



PREFACE.


The idea in mind is to present, as far as possible, a true picture of
life in the Scrub, as I had experienced it. With this end in view, I
have neither glossed over the difficulties and disabilities, nor
enlarged on the advantages, of selection life in the Scrublands. I have
tried to make the book a fairly reliable and interesting guide to anyone
thinking of tackling the life. With what success I leave the reader to
determine.

THE AUTHOR.

"Up North."



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS.


The Dreary Monotony of Grey Sea and Greyer Sky    Frontispiece

I went with them to where they were chopping                49

I had some 20 acres brushed, and two or three felled        66

We had a really decent comfortable little house up         143



CONTENTS.


Chapter.                                              Page.

    I.--Newcastle (N.S.W.)-Chile Coal Run                9

   II.--One night in Port Jackson                       15

  III.--Good-bye to the Sea                             20

   IV.--I Become a Land-lubber                          26

    V.--Northward Ho!                                   33

   VI.--The Promised Land                               38

  VII.--My Selection                                    44

 VIII.--I start as a Land-holder                        55

   IX.--Camp Life                                       61

    X.--Colonial Experience                             68

   XI.--Home Again!                                     75

  XII.--Scrub Life                                      79

 XIII.--The Cyclone                                     86

  XIV.--Effecting Improvements                          92

   XV.--More Improvements--Bullockies                  101

  XVI.--An Accident                                    108

 XVII.--Social Amenities                               113

XVIII.--Burning Off                                    119

  XIX.--Wardsman and Deckhand                          125

   XX.--Married                                        134

  XXI.--Starting Housekeeping                          138

 XXII.--Struggling Along                               142

XXIII.--Joyful Experiences of Cow-Cockying             149

L'Envoi                                                156



From Chart House to Bush Hut



CHAPTER I.

THE NEWCASTLE (N.S.W.)-CHILE COAL RUN.


The trans-Pacific run is the most god-forsaken, monotonous trade in the
world, I think. Our steamer was fairly fast for a tramp, and we were
twenty-four days on the Eastbound trip and twenty-seven back to
Newcastle--coal one way and ballast back. Not a solitary sail nor point
of land to break the dreary monotony of grey sea and greyer sky, clear
across to Valparaiso--5000 miles. Following the Great Circle track, you
get down to 53 degrees or 54 degrees south latitude. In winter it's
cold--blowing a gale pretty well all the time--and your ship's like a
half-tide rock. In summer pretty much the same conditions prevail, with
fog added. Occasionally there is a day when it's not blowing--then it
rains. And there's ice to be looked out for at this time of the year,
too, which is an added pleasantry.

Sweeping up on the Great Circle for Valparaiso, you close in gradually
with the Chilean coast, the first land sighted being usually the rocky
highlands round Curramilla Point, the high sierras of the Andes being
obscured by mist most times. Occasionally one gets a glimpse of noble
Aconcagua, the mighty 26,000 ft. Andean giant. I shall never forget my
first sight of it. It was about six p.m., and we were then about 260
miles from the mountain. The sun was setting. All at once there appeared
on the starboard bow a huge irregular truncated cone in the heavens,
enlarged by refraction to an incredible size. It was a deep rose red,
and every crevasse, ledge and spur was pencilled with distinctness. Talk
about awe-inspiring grandeur and beauty! Every man-jack in the ship
turned out to gaze and gaze while it slowly faded; and then, suddenly,
puff! like a candle blown out, it was gone.

On arriving at Valparaiso you moor to buoys, in about thirty fathoms of
water. Instantly a horde of coaley pirates, who look (and smell) as if
they never washed, swarms aboard and starts to cast adrift all your
carefully prepared cargo gear, and alter it to suit themselves. You try
and explain that "thisee ropee no boyno' ere," and are thereupon
informed "Usted no sabe nada, pilote," or something like that, so you
give way. Big lighters bump all the paint off alongside. Work goes on
night and day, and in less than a week the coal is all out, and away you
wallow to sea again. No chance of going ashore. Officers and engineers
have to be here, there, and everywhere, for the lumpers pinch worse
than--well! worse than the mate of a ship moored near a Government
dockyard, and _that's_ saying something. They make a trade, too, out
of bringing aboard bottles of the awful muck the lower class Chileño
delights in, such as casash, potato caña, etc., one glass of which makes
a man see snakes for a week. I really think some sailors would guzzle
kerosene out of a whisky bottle. Anyhow, you're glad to get to sea for a
rest.

Then the long dreary run of 7000 miles back "along the parallel" starts!
nothing to see, nothing to break the awful monotony, till you strike the
Australian coast again--Newcastle, for more coal.

You arrive on Wednesday night. "Sure of a Sunday this time!" you think.
Vain hope! A boat comes alongside about 11 p.m. (Ship at anchor in the
stream.)

"Ready for fumigation, mister?"

"Oh! ----," you think, but don't say, for the officials can make things
extremely unpleasant for you if they like. So its "Turn out, men, and
get the stuff aboard." Five barrels of sulphur, and about four hundred
little tin dishes to put it in. Ladle the sulphur in, each dish
half-full, and pass it below. A lick of methylated spirits in each, a
match, and the choking blue reek rises. On hatches! and batten well
down; plug the ventilators--and then damn well go and camp on a stage
slung over the bows, for nowhere else will you escape the caustic fumes.
Sleep? I like to hear you! We've been getting cargo gear ready at sea
this day, and we'll be all day to-morrow again, and no sleep this
blessed night. Can you wonder at the men going on the drunk? My personal
sympathy is with them, but I daren't show it, or I'd lose my job, get no
reference from the skipper likely, and be ruined.

We spend the night coughing, choking and cursing, and about 8 a.m.
(Thursday) orders come to go alongside in the Basin. We go--and it's
pandemonium let loose. The muffled roar of coal dropping in tons, clang
of trimmers' shovels, hoarse shouts, stamping and crashings, with an
occasional spasmodic clattering winch by way of variety.

All hands are on the beer ashore, and won't show up till Saturday at
earliest. That leaves three officers and two apprentice boys to handle
the ship, shift back and forth every half-hour or so, take stores
aboard, put on 'tweendeck beams and hatches as required, and attend to
the multifarious jobs connected with being in port. There isn't an
earthly chance of going ashore further than the fruit shop over the way,
especially for the mate, who has to be there all the time.

Finally the truth slowly comes home to you that you will be finished on
Saturday night--8000 tons of cargo and bunkers in three days. At 7 p.m.
on Saturday down comes the Navigation Department's inspector, with his
hydrometer, to watch you finish. 8.30, and she's nearly down. You watch
the marks closely, the inspector, grimly impassive, giving you no
assistance.

"Can I put another truck in, sir?" I ask.

"You're loading her, mister, not me," is his discouraging reply.

You test the water with your hydrometer. Ah! Brackish. She'll stand it.
So. Another? H'm! Something in the inspector's eye warns you, so you say
"No" reluctantly to the impatient head-stevedore, for you're due for a
wigging if this cargo's a waggon short of last voyage's.

"Um!" says Mr. Inspector musingly. "If you'd put that aboard, mister,
I'd have made you dig it out again." Helpful!

I had that sort of thing to put up with from the same man seven voyages
running. I used to pass watches at sea comforting myself with dreams of
punching his head, and trying to think of some way of upsetting him. No
go! All the annoying power possible was his.

At 9.30 the head stevedore reports the cargo all trimmed down. Tide's at
11.0. Right! You go to turn out all hands and find them dead-oh. After
much shaking, you manage to get four more or less fit for duty, albeit
soreheaded and groggy on their pins, so you make a start getting
hatch-beams on. Fore and main hatch iron-work is in place, when the
skipper and pilot hurry aboard.

"Single up, Mr. Senex."

"Ay, ay, sir!" (Sotto voce: "God's curse to this infernal life.") Then,
with a roar, "Break off there, and stand-by fore and aft."

Just singled up, when a sound like a mill wheel is heard, and Brown's
old "Bungaree" comes alongside and makes fast.

"Let go fore and aft!" and away we go with a dismal shriek from the
steam whistle, which, with water in the pipe, makes a snarling sound
aptly expressive of our own feelings.

There's a lop of a sea outside the breakwaters, and the five derricks we
still have up sway dangerously--to say nothing of the funnel, the guys
of which are yet adrift. However, we drop anchor outside and all hands
spend the night very pleasantly till nearly daybreak, securing gear,
sorting out hatch covers and getting them on, setting up back stays, and
so on.

A short spell of broken sleep, then, at 8.30 a.m. on this restful Sunday
we finish clearing up the decks and wash down. Skipper comes aboard at
noon, with all his papers in order. A hurried lunch, last letters handed
to the agents' clerk; farewell! Up anchor, and so away again to sea--for
a rest!

Thus it goes on, voyage after voyage the same. I had nine trips to
Valparaiso and back, and it nearly broke both health and heart before I
managed to cut the bonds and free myself from such slavery. The owners
gave me £10 a month as mate and no overtime for any of us, till we
kicked like hell and threatened to go on strike; then we got 1/- an
hour! and were looked on as mutinous.

A nightmare of a life. And though things are better now, I believe, than
they were in my day, still it's past and done with for me, thank God!



CHAPTER II.

ONE NIGHT IN PORT JACKSON.


Eight bells, noon. Our steamer, twenty-six days out from Talcahuano,
lurched and rolled under the rapidly expiring influence of the snorting
sou'-easter which had dogged us all the way across the Pacific. Ahead,
clear-cut and blue in the rainwashed atmosphere, a stretch of the New
South Wales coast. A point on the port bow, a little white finger
pointing upward.

Sydney! The very thought of the place warmed our hearts with visions of
the rest, beer, girls, picture palaces, newspapers and so forth,
according to the particular bent of the individual seaman.

Magic name! The growling A.B.'s grew suddenly good-tempered, and evinced
a certain alacrity in obeying orders from which nearly four weeks' bad
weather had divorced them. Occasionally they even smiled. The skipper
grew cheerful, and the mate (me) ceased his everlasting faultfinding,
and cracked a mild joke with the men now and again--which called forth
its due meed of obsequious merriment. Once he even said, "It's going to
be a fine evening after all, Mac," to an engineer, who nearly fell over
his doorstep with the shock of being addressed with courtesy for the
first time in a month.

Heavily our old hooker wallows along, and we raise the land fast.

"Anchors all ready, Mr. Senex?" from the skipper.

"All clear, sir."

"Right! See everything ready for the pilot."

"Ay, ay, sir!"

A half-hour passes, and South Head is close aboard, the surf breaking
high. Another few minutes and the "Captain Cook" slides in a piratical
fashion from behind a rock and makes for us. After some difficulty, for
we are light ship and rolling heavily, the pilot hops aboard.

"You're to go up to Woolwich, Cap'n. The dry dock's all ready for you.
Full ahead, please. Port a bit," and we make for Watson's Bay. A little
manoeuvring, then--"Stand by your anchor.... Let go!" and away goes
the mudhook with a roar and a cloud of rust-dust.

In another few minutes a smart launch comes alongside, and the port
medical officer mounts the side-ladder, slowly and majestically, as
befits his official dignity. He's a broth of a boy all right--the
biggest man I ever saw, I think. He looked about eight feet, and built
in proportion. His boots would have made a London policeman green with
envy, and he had a fist like a boxing-glove. Big as he was the suit he
had on that day was too large, and hung on him like a purser's shirt on
a handspike. A sport though, he took the rather audibly expressed
surprise his appearance created in the mustered lines of the crew in
good part, and proceeded to examine us for smallpox symptoms. A pause.
Then the captain--"Where's the second engineer? Mr. Senex, I thought you
had seen----"

"ALL right, sir. I'll go and rouse him up," and away I went.

Diving down the engineroom ladder, I find Mr. Crafter frantically
tugging with a spanner at a refractory nut.

"Doctor's waiting, Crafter."

"Blast the doctor!"

"Right-o, old chap," I answered; "but the skipper sent me----"

"Tellim t' goter'ell!!" (Here the nut gave suddenly, and he sat
down--hard.)

From the safe altitude of the first grating, I said sweetly, "All right,
old man; I'll give him your message. Er--did it hurt?" and raced up the
ladder just in time to miss the flying spanner.

Crafter came up, sweating and purple-faced, grumbling about disturbing
men at important repair jobs, was pronounced free from small-pox, and
instantly returned to his labours.

Medical and Customs inspection were over by 4.30 p.m., when we got under
weigh, and proceeded up the harbour. Its beauties were even more
enticing than usual to our sea-pickled eyes, as we slowly passed point
after point, finally bringing up alongside the wharf at Woolwich Dock at
tea-time. By this it was nearly calm, just a faint breeze wrinkling the
placid water, and the sky cloudless. The daylight gradually merged,
through dusk, into the soft radiance of a glorious full moon.

I leaned on the rail, drinking in the calm, peaceful beauty of the
night. Across the water the innumerable lights and subdued hum of the
city, the coloured lights of the moving shipping here and there, and the
white reflection of South Head in the distance, the broad path of
moonlit water, broken every now and then by a brilliant firefly of a
ferry boat streaking across it. Nearer at hand, rocky, brush-covered
points, romantic and inviting. Above all, and pervading everything, the
subtle perfume of the faint breeze--a scent of flowers, hay, gum leaves,
and warm rich earth, the very breath of the Goddess of Health. I don't
know how long I stopped there, dreaming and thinking of the contrast
between this haven of peace and the last month of turmoil, before I woke
to the fact that I was dog-tired and had better turn in. Couldn't sleep,
though. An hour or so of restless tossing about, and I was out
again--the night more beautiful than ever. There was another form
leaning on the gangway, pyjama'd, like myself.

"Hello, Crafter--that you? Isn't this just A1 at Lloyd's?"

"By jingo, Senex, you've said it. A chap ought to be shot for sleepin'
on a night like this. What say we clear out and go up country, eh?"
(with a laugh).

"Dunno about that; but are you game for a stroll ashore?" I asked.

"Right you are!" And away we went.

We met nobody. There was no Caliban of a John Hop to point out the
impropriety of our appearance on a public road in pyjamas and carpet
slippers, and we walked on up Hunter's Hill way, Lane Cove glimmering
through the trees on one side and the sweet-scented brush on the other.
We fairly bathed in the beautiful night, plucked handfuls of gum leaves
and buried our noses in them. We wandered on until the declining moon
warned us it was time to get back. We reached the ship again about 3
a.m., and had no difficulty in getting to sleep this time.

That glorious night! It will live in my memory, for then and there was
born the idea--not so long afterwards acted on--to say good-bye to the
sea life and crowded old England, and make a home for myself in this
wide, free young land. I have never regretted doing so.

I have had seven years of the hardest kind of pioneering, in a heavy
scrub district, and am not so very well off, financially, now; yet, if I
knew I was to have another similar period on top of this, and I could
have a good competence living in any other country in the world by
asking for it to-morrow, I'd choose Australia and the pioneering without
a second's hesitation. And that's what _I_ think about it!



CHAPTER III.

GOOD-BYE TO THE SEA.


Again we were approaching the Australian coast. On this trip from
Valparaiso we had experienced fine weather, for a wonder, and made (for
us) a record run of twenty-five days. The weather had been beautifully
fine.

A faint breeze right ahead brought us a heart-quickening perfume--that
smell of the land which even the most desert place seems to possess, and
which only the "deep-waterman" knows how to appreciate to the full. Your
landlubber's nose couldn't detect it. As I climbed to the bridge after
tea, and took a good long sniff of it, I determined that this would be
my last trip. To the devil with ploughing the raging main! It would be
ploughing the flowering earth after this, I thought.

Out of the South-East a long, low swell came slowly sliding, telling of
wind to come, which we would just escape, and making our old hooker roll
regularly and not at all unpleasantly. Silence; broken only by the quick
muffled beat of the propeller, or the musical tattoo of a fireman's
shovel below, indicative to the trimmer that more coal is wanted in the
stokehold; or by a sudden laugh or burst of rough song from the
fo'c'sles. I strolled back and forth on the bridge, thinking how sick of
the sea I was, and scheming how the devil to break my iniquitous three
years' agreement without going to the length of deserting.

Slowly dusk settled down, and the brilliant colours of the sunset faded
out. No land yet. Heigh-ho! Well, 'twon't be long now, and please the
pigs, I won't leave it again once I get my hoofs on to it. Suddenly the
captain's voice broke in on my reverie.

"If you don't sight Sugarloaf by eight bells, Mr. Senex, pass the word
to the third mate to keep a bright lookout, and let me know when he sees
it."

"Ay, ay, sir!"

More reverie, leaning on the rail gazing ahead. Now, if I'd a farm, I'd
put in ten acres of spuds, and get so many tons, etc., etc., and there'd
be a couple of cows to milk, of course, and the girl 'ud be in the house
singin' away ... and I'd get a good night's sleep instead of this cursed
turning out every time old Fuz-buz wants you ... and I'd have a few quid
in the bank likely; different to this tenner-a-month job, and----

Seven bells! "All's wel-l-l-," in musical cadence from the crow's nest.
Right!

A few minutes later, and a momentary faint glow on the rapidly darkening
horizon attracted my attention.

"Ha! Revolving light. That's her."

I sent down to the captain, who came up at once and took a squint
through the night glasses. "All right. Sugarloaf. How's her head?"

"S. 69 degrees W., sir."

He takes a bearing and pops below. A moment later--"Steer 72 degrees,
Mr. Senex."

"Seventy-two degrees it is, sir," and course altered accordingly.

Sometime in the wee small hours beyond twelve I am roused out by the
sudden stoppage of the ship's steady heart-beat, and find we are off
Newcastle, burning a blue light for the pilot, who comes out to us in a
few minutes, and we are soon anchored off the Dyke, pending medical
inspection later in the morning. On this occasion the fumigation launch,
with its cargo of brimstone and crew of attendant imps, left us in peace
for the time being. We got it before noon though, as usual good and
hearty, and ate our lunch with streaming eyes and rasped throats in,
literally, a hell of an atmosphere.

When we went alongside to our usual berth in the afternoon we were
informed cheerfully by the stevedore, as we were used to being informed,
that we "would be away by Sunday."

"Not I, if I can help it," thinks I to myself. "How to get out of this
damn ship without leaving my money behind?"

First I packed up all my gear; got the Customs to examine and pass it;
engaged a launch to come alongside at a time when I reckoned the skipper
would be up town; had the chests taken right up to the railway station,
and consigned to Brisbane forthwith--to be left till called for. Thus I
committed myself: I couldn't go to sea without the garbage, and the same
was safe and handy if I cleared out. I had made up my mind to do this if
there was no other way, for I had just received news that my brother had
got his second mate's ticket, and had cheerfully shouldered the
responsibility of supporting our mother in England; and I had no other
ties. Anyway I thought I would have a good showing with the medical
officer of the port, for I had been troubled with migraine and nerve
troubles for months--"all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy" with a
vengeance.

First, however, I put the acid on the skipper.

"Want to be paid off, sir; sorry, but really I can't stand this life any
more."

"You? What? How the Sheol am I to get another man in your place?" he
answered. "Why! Even if I could get a man mad or drunk enough to go on
this run, I'd have to give him £12 a month, and what do you think the
owners would say at my paying off a £10 man to engage another at £12? No
fear, Senex, here you stay, old chap, and don't make any mistake about
it."

"Thanks, sir. But look, er--you'd better look out for another man, sir,
all the same."

"Humph!" and off he trotted ashore.

He was a decent chap to me, and I was sorry to give him trouble, but----

Here I may mention one of the injustices of English maritime law. On
being engaged at home, one signs articles for three years. This is a
survival of old sailing-ship days, when ships were often away that
period. Nowadays no man expects to be away anything like that time. If
he did never a man would sign on. But if the ship happens to be
pitchforked on to a run like this Pacific trade, well--there you are,
stuck fast, and you can't get out except on one plea--a medical
certificate of unfitness.

I went to the best private practitioner in Newcastle. He made a thorough
examination, and gave his opinion that I had been for months unfit to
hold my responsible position, and gave me a certificate to that effect.
Armed with this, I again bearded the captain.

"No good, old chap," he said. "I'm sorry, but I have my own position
with the owners to look at if I let you go."

So off I went to the port medical officer, a grave and courteous
gentleman, who listened sympathetically to my tale of woe.

"Well," he said, "of course I can't possibly issue an order for your
discharge if there isn't something radically wrong with you. You know
that. However, strip, and let's have a look at you." A long examination,
then, "Hum! There'll be no difficulty about _you_. Y'ought to have
been out of it long since. But, understand now, I'm going to emphasize
your attacks of migraine--blindness--and if you come here looking for a
job again I won't pass you. You burn your boats behind you if I issue
this order."

I was willing, and with the order for my discharge like a waving battle
flag, I metaphorically knocked out the captain, who capitulated to that
mandate, and paid me off on Saturday. On Sunday morning, 28th February,
1912, I watched, from the balcony of my hotel, the old ship pass between
the breakwaters and proceed to sea. I did have a pang or two, for she
had been my home for four years, and I had enjoyed many a good time
aboard her. Good-bye, old hooker, and good luck go with you! A last long
look, and I slowly turned away and faced the unknown future. I was
twenty-seven years of age, with £70 in my pocket, and all Australia to
pick a home in.

"The chance of my life," I thought. "It'll be my own fault if I don't
make the most of it." And so downstairs to lunch, the slight cloud of
regret at leaving the old ship dissipating as I hummed to myself the
sailor's chantey, "Off to Philadelphia in the Morning"--only it was
Brisbane, not Philadelphia, in my case.



CHAPTER IV.

I BECOME A LAND-LUBBER.


When I was a brass-bound apprentice on a wind-jammer, aged sixteen, I
visited Melbourne on my first voyage, and became acquainted with the
young lady who now enjoys the honour of being Mrs. Senex. Naturally
then, when the idea of settling in Australia occurred to me, Victoria
was the State I first thought of. I applied to the Government, stating
my case, and their reply was a very distinct damper. Regarded in the
light of a hint not to come, it was a verbal brutality:--

    "The amount you mention is utterly inadequate to make a start in
    Victoria, and we should not advise you to leave your present
    employment until something more certain and easy eventuates."

A distinct "Tite-Barnacle" flavour about it altogether. New South Wales
was my next try. Far more encouraging. I could certainly come to that
State; I would be put in touch with farmers in whatever district I
selected, and when I thought I had enough experience to start for myself
they would do their best to find me land. Also they sent me some
pamphlets.

Then Queensland. Ah! that _was_ something like a hospitable
invitation:--

    "Certainly you ought to make a decent start with the amount you
    mention. Even with nothing you are welcome if willing to work. We
    hope you will decide to come.... If you are not afraid of work and
    a bit of roughing it, you should command success," and so forth.

Accompanying this missive was a parcel of pamphlets on which six
shillings postage had been paid. So I reckoned Queensland was good
enough for me, and it was--and is.

I watched my ship leave Newcastle on the Sunday. Next day I was in
Sydney enquiring about a boat for Brisbane. It was the time of the
Badger tram strike, and, as most people remember, shipping was being
held up. However, the company I went to said they were running a special
boat on Wednesday, and I might squeeze in. Went steerage, of course; had
to study economy now. And it _was_ a squeeze-in all right. She was an
awful old tub. I won't mention her name. The steerage bunks were two
high and two abreast--four in a section. My berth was on the cold hard
deck under a bottom bunk, whose inhabitant had, of course, an unpleasant
habit of spitting. Two blokes camped on the table, and several, like
myself, on the deck. Well, I hadn't forgotten my old sailor dodge of
"pricking for the softest plank," so it was no particular hardship to
me, and I passed a fair night.

I went on deck about 6 a.m., in time to see my old pal, Sugarloaf,
abeam.

The weather was clear, blowing a bit, and a good lop of following sea.
Breakfast was at 7.30. When the bell went I was on the fo'c'sle head,
and waited a minute or two before leisurely descending. The mob was
jammed round the table like peas in a pod, jaws working overtime, eyes
hungrily roaming over the table, hands ever and anon reaching like
talons for the eatables. I accosted the steward, poor man, who, with a
care-lined face, was hovering round like an unquiet spirit.

"Can't help it, sir," says he; "you'll just 'ave t' do the same as th'
others--grab what ye can, and Go delp the last man. Cripes! They are a
'oly lot er cormorants this trip."

So I grabbed a spud, a ragged lump of meat, and a hunk of dry bread,
which were all I could effect salvage on, but it kept the worms quiet.
After that I was always anchored in mid-table half an hour before meals,
and held on like grim death against the rushing tide when the bell went.
Very soon half of them were squatted round the table like vultures half
an hour before time, so my dodge failed in the end.

They were a merry, rough, happy-go-lucky crowd. Mostly shed hands,
rouseabouts and suchlike, bound for Rockhampton and Townsville. They
soon jerried that, if I was a pretty smart seaman, I was also an
extremely raw new chum; and the old, old gohanna farm tale was sprung
off on me with enthusiasm. I didn't know what a blooming gohanna was. I
was also advised to keep my eye open for a few likely-looking emus when
I got settled, as there was good money in their plumes. I got a bit
suspicious of fifty-foot carpet snakes, but swallowed cannibal blacks
and crocodiles in the Atherton scrub. North of Townsville, I was
informed, it rained for nine months, and then the rainy season started.
I caused a good deal of amusement all right, and the roars of laughter
might have been heard all over the ship when I mentioned casually that I
had some heavy blocks ashore in my baggage, with a view to hauling down
scrub timber. (N.B.--The blocks were stolen from my ship, but as I
originally stole them from the Standard Oil Co.'s wharf in New York, I
reckoned I'd a proprietary right to them. You'll find the mate of the
average tramp an accomplished pincher. He's got to be, the way owners
cut requisition lists). They enquired if I had any idea what scrub was
like. I said "No, but I supposed it was just ordinary trees." More
merriment.

It was late in the evening when we arrived in Brisbane. I got ashore at
once, and chartered a cabby to take me to some decent place to camp. He
did, and charged me five shillings for a five minutes' journey to that
fine caravanserai, the People's Palace. Next morning I was early at
Roma-street station, enquiring for my traps from Newcastle. They hadn't
arrived, and wouldn't do so for a week or more--congestion at
Wallangarra. Bestowing my blessing on the Railway Department, I strolled
down to the Lands Office, and interviewed the gentleman with whom I had
corresponded aboard ship. Let me pay a tribute to his courteous
urbanity, and the patience with which he answered the innumerable
questions I was inspired with.

    "Yes, Mr. Senex, Queensland has good soil ... er--it _is_ suitable
    for growing potatoes. Yes, it _is_ possible to go dairying in the
    State. Orchards? Oh, yes! Fruit grows here," and so on.

How he must have laughed when the brand-new, fresh-minted, new chum left
him! Well, I learned that among the earthly paradises abounding in
Queensland the district of Atherton was, for climate, scenery and
general farming purposes, the nearest approach to Heaven in the State. I
could do anything there--grow my beloved spuds (my dad was Irish, by the
way), or dairy, run an orchard, or raise chooks. In fact, the trouble
was not so much what to grow as what not to raise, in case of swamping
the market, off twenty acres.

Of course it was Atherton for me after that--you bet! Couldn't get there
quick enough. I found time, though, to worry the Department of
Agriculture a bit, and I have no doubt they were very delighted to see
the last of the infernal bore who "wanted to know, you know," and
wouldn't be satisfied with the assurance that Atherton _was_ a good
place.

"Yes; but," said the bore, "have you ever been there?" And when they
said "No," the bore opined that they couldn't know so very much about
the place after all, and doubtless caused secret fist-shakings behind
his unconscious back.

One brilliant gentleman told me he'd give me a half-fare concession to
visit Gatton College next day, and, in the joy of getting something for
nearly nothing, I forgot to worry them any more. The other gentlemen
probably stood him a drink that afternoon.

I thoroughly enjoyed that trip, and it was queer to think that at Gatton
I was further away from the sea than I had ever been since I was born,
and I don't think I bored the College people. I was such a palpable
"newey," with such an eager interest in everything and so easily
entertained. I caused one of the principals a heart-throb though when he
turned round and caught me clambering over the fence en route to pat old
"Spec," one of the savagest bulls in Queensland, I think, standing
treacherously quiet on the other side. I was hauled back by the neck,
while "Spec" boomed his disappointment and pawed up the earth in
showers. I would have liked to have stayed there a week, admiring the
beautiful, sleek cattle and dropsical pigs, snoring in bloated
contentment, but the setting sun and the 8 p.m. train took me back to
Brisbane.

I went to the Lands Office next day and worried them some more. They
gave me a railway concession as far as Gladstone, and I left, staggering
under a pile of maps, plans and pamphlets, which I afterwards
conscientiously waded through and finally used for papering the walls of
my bush humpy to keep the draughts out.

About 9 p.m. that evening I boarded the Gladstone mail train, and found
myself one of a herd of males penned up in a bare wooden "three-in-one"
dog-box of a carriage, with a mouldy odour of mildew, sulphur and
antediluvian "Flor-de-Cabbagios" hanging about it. A short wait, a long
whistle, a jarring jerk or two, and we slowly rumbled out of Brisbane
into the moonlit country, and into the romantic mystery veiling the
unknown life before me.



CHAPTER V.

NORTHWARD HO!


The train appeared to go very much faster than it really did, being
rather a narrow-gauge line; still fungus didn't grow on the wheels. We
stopped at every station, and each stop was hailed by the same enquiry
from a half-sozzled bloke in our pen, "Say, g-guard, thish-h North
Pi-ine?" When we got there he refused to believe it, saying he didn't
"re-rec-kernize" the place. Guard whistled, waited for the engine's
answering toot, then hauled the beery one out by the scruff of the neck,
jumped aboard, and left him squatting on the gravel.

The press eased at every halt, until finally there were only half a
dozen of us left. I amused myself for a while gazing at the countryside
lying calm and peaceful in the moonlight, as we rattled along. Then,
just as I was thinking about forty winks, up spoke an old chap in one
corner, grey-bearded, sunburnt, and attired in dungarees, grey woollen
shirt and patched coat.

"Look, blokes! I' ben sufferin' torches with these 'ere dam boots all
day, and I'm goinner take 'em orf."

"All right," we grinned; "fire away, Dad."

He shed his canoes, disposed of his "torchered" feet comfortably along
the seat with a sigh of relief, and proceeded to fill a villainous old
pipe, which presently filled the carriage with fumes.

"Py yingo, Dat!" said a stout, good-humoured Swede next me. "You'
tobaggo schmells stronk. Fot brandt is 'e?"

"It's good ol' R----," said Dad, slowly removing the pipe from his gills
and waving it about to point his remark. "Some people ses it stinks, but
they won't give it a fair go. It'll do me. Smokes good, 'n only 'bout
'alf the price of the other stuff, and grown and mannyfactered right
'ere in the country. I likes it all right."

I asked him for a pipeful to try, and he shoved a plug across. I found
it all right, in spite of its strong reek, and have always smoked it
since. Subsequent experience makes me think that if Australians only
would try their own country's productions a bit oftener, there might be
perhaps fewer strikes and more work to be got. However----

"Noo chum, ain't yer?" asked Dad, as I handed his plug back.

"Yes," I answered, "bound up for Atherton."

"Ah!" he returned, "that's the place fer cows n' corn;" then, puffing at
his old gumbucket with drowsy contentment, "I mind when I wis up there
in '90...," and a small flow of anecdote. He was an accomplished
raconteur; had been all over Queensland, mostly mining; possessed the
usual retentive memory of the illiterate, and really turned out to be
what in more polished circles is usually referred to as a "charming old
gentleman." He told us most interesting yarns of his experiences. Mines,
sheep, prospecting, scrub-felling, fire and flood--pretty well
everything. I must say though that he didn't string me on, but, knowing
where I was bound, gave me some sound advice which I laid to heart.

Thus we passed the night, yarning, smoking, dozing; while the train
rattled and bumped along. Going up a steep grade somewhere near the
Glasshouse Mountains, the carriage got quite a perceptible tilt fore and
aft, and the long series of terrific jerks the engine gave, in her
efforts to negotiate the pinch, brought my heart into my mouth thinking
what would happen if a coupling broke and sent us adrift back down the
grade. Daybreak showed us scrubby, measly-looking forest country, flat
and uninteresting. Then, about 10 a.m., Bundaberg. A wash, some tea, and
a bit of a leg-stretcher along that fine wide avenue, Bourbon-street.
Back to the train, more hilly stretches of forest gradually merging into
the dismal mangrove-bordered mud flats, and we slowed down and brought
up at Gladstone.

Into the main street I went under the guidance of my fellow-travellers,
three of whom were Gladstonians, and popped into a pub for lunch
(_only_ for lunch, of course), where my Scandinavian acquaintance,
who possessed a quiet sort of dry humour, created a bit of a
disturbance. The dining room was full. Soup was served, the hostess,
distinctly an Irish woman, personally attending to us. Olaf smelt his
soup, made a face, cascaded the liquid with his spoon, and generally
made it apparent that something was wrong. The hostess, with the
danger-signal flying in her cheeks and all the room's attention
attracted, bore down on us.

"And is the soup not t' yer liking, sirr?"

"Vell, ma'am," said Olaf, "do you know fot dey gall dis stupf een
_my_ contree?"

"An'-phwat-wud-they-be-afther-callin'-the-good-soup-in-yeer-counthry?"
with terrific emphasis.

"Soup, ma'am!" said he quietly, and went on drinking it with gusto, for
it was good.

Not quite in the best of good taste, perhaps; but the roar of laughter
was good to hear, and the hostess joined in with a good-humoured, "Gwan
wid ye, y' heathen."

Lunch over, we boarded the train again for the ten minutes' run to the
long curve of wharf where the A.U.S.N. boat was lying. A few minutes'
bustling confusion, whilst we burrowed in the heap of baggage for our
personal belongings, and I superintended the embarkation of my chests,
which had miraculously turned up from Wallangarra the previous
afternoon. Then myself, Olaf and old Dad boarded the steamer; they were
bound for Townsville. Half an hour sufficed to get the mail bags and
some odds and ends of freight aboard, then again I heard the old
familiar orders, "Single up!" "Let go aft!" etc., and felt quite out of
it because it had nothing to do with me. Away we went down the harbour,
and bore up towards Mackay as the sun slowly sank behind the landward
hills.

It was a fine night, and after tea I spent a good while promenading the
poop, watching the dim shapes of the points of land coming abeam and
passing in slow procession astern. I built many castles in the air, and
I smile as I think how many fortunes I made between Brisbane and Cairns.
But wouldn't life be a dreary business if a bloke didn't let his
thoughts take wing occasionally and let him forget the monotonous grind
of daily routine?

Hallo! Six bells. A musical call from the look out, the staccato answer
from the bridge, and I went below, tumbled into a sufficiently
comfortable bunk and knew no more until the morning.



CHAPTER VI.

THE PROMISED LAND.


I thought Townsville the hottest place I'd ever struck (I hadn't at that
time experienced a summer north wind in Melbourne; that pleasure was
reserved for the week I spent down south when I got married), and caught
myself finding points of similarity between it and Aden; rather unfairly
though, for later on I found Townsville to be not too bad at all; also
there are a lot more trees and green stuff than one would suppose,
looking at the place from seaward. On arrival we transhipped into
another little steamer running up to Cairns. Had time for a run round
town, and a raid on a fruit store; then all aboard! and away we went,
rushing frantically North at the furious speed of nine knots.

For a wonder our tub arrived in fairly decent time in Cairns, 6 a.m. to
be precise, and I had to fly round to collect my gear, and get up to the
station in time for the 7 a.m. Atherton train. I only got a fleeting
glimpse of Cairns on this occasion, but subsequent visits gave me the
impression of a rather warm but very pretty little town, with wide,
well-cared-for streets, some fine buildings, plenty of splendid old
shady trees, and innumerable gardens in a riot of tropical colour. The
mosquitoes are a bit hot though.

Our train, after passing through some swampy-looking, flat, scrubby
country, got into a teeming tropical wilderness of green. Houses
embosomed among cocoanut palms and mango trees--canefields, banana and
pineapple plantations line the railway on both sides. Pity though, as I
found afterwards, that such a large Chinese element is settled
hereabout. The heathen shouldn't have so much of such a brilliant,
beautiful Paradise.

After leaving Freshwater, the line starts to ascend. You look ahead, and
see the high range, with a huge cleft in it, up which the line goes--the
Barron Gorge. Here and there landslides disclose the rich red soil,
contrasting vividly with the lavish tropical green clothing every foot
of ground. The grade becomes steeper, and the panting engine seems to
have all her work cut out. Higher and higher, past a brilliant jungle of
wild mangoes, bananas, ferns, figs and strange beautiful flowers. Now
the great cliff towers hundreds of feet over our heads, and on the other
side is a sheer drop of more hundreds into the brawling torrent below.
Soon the tunnels start (eleven, I think it is) in quick succession.

The first voyagers along this line (I, of course, being one) stop out on
the platform. The sophisticated stay inside and close doors and windows.
We soon learn why, for in each tunnel we outsiders are subjected to a
machine-gun fire of hot cinders and flue from Puffing Billy ahead.
However, the glimpses of the Gorge, Cairns and the sea--'tween
tunnels--are well worth getting smutty for.

Now the tunnels are left behind at an elbow of the Gorge, and the view
from here is really magnificent. You must be six or seven hundred feet
above the river bed, and can view its sinuous course to the sea, through
the rich cultivated lands below, all bathed in the brilliant sunshine.
That white cluster is part of Cairns, and the huge blue plain of sea
makes a background to a picture hard to beat. There are several places
between this point and the Falls, where (provided one is not a lady) one
could lean out and spit 700 feet into the river, if you felt so inclined
or your pipe turned dog on you.

On the other side of the train a chaotic waste of huge grey
boulders--up, up, up--until you rick your neck looking to see how high
they do extend. Still the prolific vegetation, with different types
appearing now. The other side of the gorge from the river level to
summit, and right and left as far as you can see, is one unbroken,
close-packed mass of timber of a rather sombre sage-green foliage. Miles
upon miles of it--and still we import timber into this benighted
country. When will we get sense enough to hang instantly anyone
describing himself as an importer?

We cross several spider-web-looking trestle bridges, then pass the
lovely little Stoney Creek falls, streaming like a white lace curtain
into a limpid pool below, and so close to the train that after a heavy
rain storm the spray wets the carriages. A very sharp curve, past Red
Bluff, where the big landslide occurred some years ago; another curve
back, and we are in the Upper Gorge. Instantly a distinct drop in
temperature is apparent, and a cool refreshing breeze fans the heated
brow. A few minutes more brings us to the Barron Falls; so close that
seemingly one could jump from the carriage into the--well, the place
where the falling water ought to be, and is--in flood time only.

Ordinarily the falls are disappointing. All you see is a long, broad
slide of blue-grey, water-polished rock, going almost sheer down some
750 feet or so, with a few comparative trickles flowing down. See it in
flood though, in the early months of the year, and nothing could be
grander or more imposing. The train fairly rocks to the earth-shaking
crash of the mighty mass of water. The noise is literally stunning.

We are on the Tableland now--level country more or less right through to
Atherton. From Kuranda on it is somewhat monotonous forest country,
until after passing Rocky Creek I espied a cultivated plain, with a grey
wall of high timber, close, compact, apparently impenetrable--the
Scrublands at last!

My heart bounded as I looked at it. I had been told of its enormous
timber, with gruesome tales of accident and mischance falling it. When
you chopped trees from a springboard, I had been informed, you had one
foot in the grave, and the other on an orange peel. But it was so new
and enchanting to me. I wanted to get at it now! at once!

We were presently in the maize country. It looked beautiful. Miles of
waving, dark green, tasselled corn just cobbing. Past Tolga, then a
short ten minutes' run, and Atherton at last about one o'clock. I bolted
some lunch, then, with a map of the district I wanted to see first under
my arm, dived into the local Lands Office.

"I want to see this place, please. How do I get to it?"

"Oh, ah, yes! Not a bad district. Bit far out, but perhaps it _is_ the
nearest to the railway at present. Well, the Malanda train leaves at 3
p.m. Enquire for John Raynor at your station. He'll show you round."

"Oh, good. I can get to my station to-night easy?"

"Yes; there's a pub there. Just come up?"

"Only arrived this morning."

"Oh, well, glad to see you, and we hope you'll stop up here. Anything we
can do for you, you know----"

"Thanks. I'll remember. Good-day," and away I went.

Three o'clock couldn't come quick enough.... Into the train....
Cornfields again.... Tolga ... more corn ... thick belts of scrub close
aboard both sides. Then grass paddocks, with cattle knee-deep in the
rich herbage, gazing at us with round-eyed nonchalance as we rattled by.
Ah! So this is the famous Atherton country, eh? Well, it looks good.

Here's my station. Out I tumbled with my luggage. At last! I made my way
to the pub and enquired for Raynor, who was away, but would be back
to-morrow, so I put up there for the night. It was a rough shop in those
days. Some timber cutters and teamsters were in town (one pub and the
station), and most of them were half-seas over. Consequently it was
about 1 a.m. when I got to sleep. Never mind; to-day I would see my
selection. The country looked so good to me that I thought the devil
himself wouldn't drag me out of it.

If I could have seen the future! Well, I don't know. I think I'd have
gone on with it. Anyway, I'm glad I did. Who'd sell a farm to go to sea?



CHAPTER VII.

MY SELECTION.


Bright and early I was out, and had a plunge in the beautiful clear
creek running nearby. Let me say here that the permanent clear sandy
creeks are one of the chief attractions of the Tableland. Practically
every selection has one. Most have two or three.

I got back to the pub in time to greet Raynor. Someone in the train the
previous day had told him about me, and he had ridden in early to see
me. He was a tall, dark, stoutish man, good humour writ large over his
rather weather-beaten face. He was clean shaved, save for a scrubbing
brush under the nose, and was somewhat untidily dressed in the
prevailing style of grey flannel and dungarees. He gave me a good firm
hand grip (I loathe your bloke who tenders you a limp lump of dough).

"Cheero, bloke," says he; "I b'lieve you're goin' to settle out 'ere?"
His voice was very high-pitched, and he spoke with a drawl.

"Yes," I said. "That's if I can get a block."

"You'll have no difficulty," he answered. "There's whips o' blocks out
back o' my place, and y' oughter find one to suit."

"How about 48?" I asked. This was one I had picked on, when poring over
the multitudinous plans and descriptions I got in Brisbane.

"It's a goodey," he said. "I reckon about the best one left for soil and
handiness, but there ain't no mill timber on it."

"Oh, blow the timber! I want a block of land."

"That's the sort," he replied. "Well, look. I can't go out with you
to-day, but you go right out to Liston's place. Ye can't miss the way;
just foller the wheel tracks. Y'oughter get there by one o'clock, and
you'll find a bloke there called Terry O'Gorman. He'll put you right.
His block's next 48."

"Good-oh; thanks," I answered. "Comin' in to breakfast?" (as the bell
went).

We went in, and during the meal he gave me a lot of information about
the district and my future neighbours. He gave me the impression of
being a quiet, shrewd, straight sort of a fellow.

Breakfast over, Raynor bade me a cheery good-bye, and I prepared for the
tramp. New dungaree pants, new thunder and lightning striped cotton
shirt, new tan leggings, sparkling new billy in one hand, and a shot-gun
in the other--in case I saw anything to shoot en route--and a black hard
felt hat! Verily a Verdant Green among new chums.

The folks at the pub all came out on the verandah to see me off. I
thought, English fashion, they were good simple people, and kind to give
me a send off. Oh, Lord! _I_ was the simpleton, and they were enjoying
the joke. By the way, a week's sojourn here thoroughly eliminated that
"superiah" feeling--much to my benefit. In this new life the people were
all _my_ superiors, and I mighty soon recognised it.

Off I set. The track led through open forest, skirting the scrub, and if
there was ever a better imitation of a switchback, I want to know! Up
and down, up and down, mile after mile, until I, unused to such toil,
was nearly worn out. However, I came at last to a clear "pocket," where
the road branched. "Ha!" I thought, "Raynor said it was only a mile and
a half from here," and, turning to the right, entered the scrub. The
track was only about sixteen feet wide, cut nearly straight. On either
hand the impenetrable jungle of prickly undergrowth and close-packed
huge trees towering a hundred feet or more overhead, shutting out the
sunlight. It was beautifully cool, but the road, dry hitherto, was now
very muddy, and I trudged on ankle deep, three steps forward and one
back. Half an hour of this, then suddenly, like a door opening, I was
out of the scrub, with a big grassed clearing either side of the road,
and several little houses in sight. The second was Liston's, and I
reached it in a few minutes. A rosy-cheeked woman, with several fine
sturdy youngsters standing shyly behind her, greeted me.

"You'll be Mr. Senex? My name's Liston. Mr. O'Gorman'll be here in a
minute. He's just up the paddock with Dad. Come in; I'm sure you're
dyin' for a drink o' tea."

I just was. I think that tea and home-made bread and butter were the
sweetest things I ever tasted. The house was built of rough split
timber, adzed slab-floor, iron roof, with an open fireplace and big
"colonial" oven taking up all one end. Though so rough, it was
spotlessly clean, and woman's hand, with a little drapery, a few framed
prints and knick-knacks, had made it look comfortable and homely, as no
mere man ever could. While I was enjoying my tea I heard a snort
outside, and presently the house quivered perceptibly. I looked up in
some surprise.

"It's all right," laughed Mrs. Liston. "It's only ol' Biddy scratchin'
herself. Come here, Bid!"

I stared, thinking it queer that one lady should so openly speak of
another's little idiosyncrasy, until I saw a horned head appear in the
doorway, and I knew Biddy for the family's pet cow. The laughing
children swarmed over her, to show me how quiet she was, climbed on her
back, hung round her neck, gave her crusts, and so on, the cow taking it
all quietly, licking her nose with about a yard of raspy tongue, and
looking at the kids with a calm eye like a benevolent old grandmother.
Truly a domesticated animal!

Presently Dad and O'Gorman came home. Dad was a tall, thin, sinewy man,
with sandy hair and moustache, his tanned face making the blue eyes look
strangely piercing. Very Scotch and very quiet, and, like all pioneers
with wife and family dependent on their exertions, with many
worry-graven lines on his forehead. Behind him was a large merry, red
face, like a harvest moon, ornamented by a drooping yellow moustache and
a broad grin. Surely, I thought, this must be the home of good-tempered
men, and this O'Gorman is the happiest-looking bloke I've seen in years.
He was over six feet, strongly built, active, and, like Raynor, his
chum, had that sunny nature that nothing ever seems to put out. They
welcomed me warmly, and, after a little talk, told me it was too late to
go out to my fancy for a block that day, but I could stop there
over-night and go out next day. Meanwhile I could come up into the bush
and watch the men chop scrub. They had a bite, then took their axes, and
I went with them to where they were chopping. It had been brushed (i.e,
undergrowth chopped down), and didn't look too bad. I eagerly watched
them, fingers itching to get hold of an axe. It looked easy enough. One
or two trees came down, and I could contain myself no longer.

[Illustration: I went with them to where they were chopping.]

"Let me have a go, Mr. Liston."

"All right," he laughed. "Don't cut yourself though."

He stood by me while I bogged in. Half a dozen chops, and they started
laughing. The cut, instead of being smooth, like a wedge out of a
cheese, looked as if it had been chewed--all steps and stairs, top and
bottom. I got wild, chopped harder; the back of the axe hit the top of
the cut, and down she slithered, the point going through my boot, making
a painful cut. They were much concerned, till they saw it was nothing to
worry over.

"Never mind, old chap. We all had to learn. You'll have to start with a
light four-pound axe. You'll soon pick up the knack."

I said nothing, thinking of the seven and a quarter pound one the
storekeeper in Atherton had rung in on me. I spent the rest of the day
wandering round the paddock and cultivation patch. They had plenty of
vegetables growing with but little care, save keeping weeds down.

After tea we sat round the fire yarning, I giving some of my experiences
and telling them of foreign countries I had visited. The kids listened
wide-eyed to one who had actually been past Townsville, until the mother
packed them off to bed. The night was spent comfortably enough in a bit
of an outhouse, though I was disturbed several times by the infernal
Biddy, who mistook my blanket for a new kind of fodder.

In the morning the kids roused me out early, and I went with the ragged,
happy, laughing crowd to see Biddy and her mates milked. This looked
easy, too, so of course I, eagerly thirsting for experience, had to try
it. I couldn't get a drop, and presently Bid expressed her disapproval
by putting her hoof into the bucket. After that I left matters to the
juvenile experts.

What struck me most about the people up here is their fine independence.
They don't make a calling stranger uncomfortable by apologies for their
place, ostentatious dusting of seats, etc. You are welcome, as a matter
of course, to pot-luck or the inevitable tea and cake, and if you don't
like it you can go--courteously enough--to the devil; with no more fuss
made over the Governor-General than over a passing swaggie. Eager to
offer and loath to accept help of any kind; treating mishaps and
heart-breaking set-backs with a sort of humorous growling, having a
sturdy determination at the back of it to make a do of things. A quiet
people, without any of the facilities townsfolk consider essential,
doing some of Australia's best work in their quiet way, for a return,
during the first few years, that a "wage-slave" would laugh at.

O'Gorman took me out after breakfast, and we quickly entered a "pad"
through the dense scrub. Oh, that journey! Steady heavy rain had set in;
every blooming thing in the scrub seemed to have prickles on it, or else
a sting, and I soon got scratched to pieces. Dodging a swinging
lawyer-vine tendril, I ran my face on a stinging tree and was in agony
all day. About an hour after this we debouched on to a twelve-foot wide
muddy track.

"This is your main road," said O'Gorman.

I said, "Oh! Is it?" took a step forward, and instantly went over my
knees in the mud. I struggled out, leaving a boot embalmed two feet deep
in the process. I cut up a sugar-bag and tied this round my foot. We
proceeded along the track, painfully crawling along the edges, since it
was impossible to negotiate the river of mud that was "my" road. Deeper
and deeper into the heart of the bush we went, the solemn green
stillness unbroken save for a few musical bird calls. Muddier and
muddier became the track, and lower and lower my heart until I was
nearly in danger of treading on it. Finally, panting and exhausted, we
reached a big clearing, almost completely overgrown with sarsaparilla
bush, inkweed and wild raspberry.

"Ah! Here we are," said my guide. "This is Braun's--next yours."

Again I ejaculated, "Oh! Is it?"

We followed a pad through the weeds until we came to a dilapidated,
mildewy slab hut. We entered, and were met by a dank, musty smell, like
a vault, hinting at long absence of human inhabitants. Lizards and
spiders flitted here and there on the walls; a black snake shot across
the floor and dived through a hole; in the fireplace a rusty billy or
two and the grey ashes of a fire dead these three years. The rain beat
steadily on the roof, leaking through here and there with a dismal
"plop," and a chill breeze breathed through the numerous chinks between
the slabs. It was the apotheosis of misery.

"Mr. O'Gorman," I bleated, "did anyone ever really _live_ here?"

"Of course," he answered. "I did; camped here wi' Braun six months. And,
look, my name's Terry. Blow yer 'mister.'"

I laughed in spite of myself. "Righto, Terry. Well, let's go and view my
estate."

We went down a chain or two further, and hit a fine, clear, rushing
creek. On the other bank a dense jungle came down to the water, the edge
a tangled mass of lawyer-vines climbing half-way up the trees. Terry
halted and, with a wave of his hand, invited my attention to that
serried bulwark of thorns, prickles and stinging abominations.

"There's your place, Charlie."

My heart was too full. "B-but what am I to do with it?" I wailed.

Here was a fine end to my dreams of fortune-growing spuds!

"Do with it!" he laughed. "Why! Get a brush-hook and axe, and a good
load o' tucker, and bog in like a man. I'll give y' a week to give ye a
fair start."

I turned away. Never shall I forget the helpless feeling of sickening
disillusionment.

"For God's sake, Terry, let's get back," I said. And we went.

We said little on the return journey, reaching Liston's at dusk. I felt
a bit better after tea. Next day was fine and bright. Terry was going to
his place (across "mine" and the furthest out), and I went along. My
spirits were better to-day, improving, like the landscape, in the
sunlight. We had a rare feast of big ripe passion fruit growing wild on
the creek, then crossed and examined the soil--good red stuff mostly.

Wandered round a bit, Terry calling my attention to the good water
supply, and got a glimpse of some tall, ghostly Kauri pine; I felt some
of my former enthusiasm revive. I turned suddenly to Terry.

"Begob, old man, I'll take it, and chance the ducks," I said.

"Good enough!" he answered, slapping my back. "You won't be sorry, and
neither will I, for I'll get a neighbour at last."

Back we went in the afternoon, after measuring off some of his scrub,
and I went right into the pub to be on time for the Cairns train in the
morning.



CHAPTER VIII.

I START AS A LANDHOLDER.


I went straight to the Land Commissioner in Cairns, and entered his
office waving a map. "Look here, sir," says I, "I want 48. How do I get
it?"

He laughed. Having got over the shock of my unceremonious entrance, he
seemed inclined to enjoy me, setting to work to draw me out, not a hard
task in those enthusiastic days. Toil, and long, close acquaintance with
Cow, have soured me these times. He asked me what I intended doing with
the land, and I at once plunged into a stream of talk which kept his
eyes twinkling, and sent his hand to his mouth now and then.

"All right, Mr. Senex," he said at last. "There's nobody in for that
block, so you won't have to ballot. I'll wire to Brisbane to-day. Come
in again first thing to-morrow."

I paid my £5 deposit, thanked him, and withdrew. Next morning, bright
and early, I was back, and shortly afterwards the return wire arrived
from Brisbane that 48 was allotted to me. With a mind at ease, I spent
the day wandering round town, got a skiff and pulled up the Inlet, and
otherwise enjoyed myself in my own way. A night spent in slapping myself
and swearing at the mosquitoes, then breakfast, the Atherton train
again, and so back to what I was beginning to regard as home.

I stopped overnight at the pub and made arrangements for my
multitudinous baggage to go out by six-horse buckboard next day. What a
load of useless gear I had, to be sure! It cost me about £8 first and
last to bring the stuff up from Newcastle, and not half of it was any
good. Next day it took us half an hour to load it all up, including a
dozen ten-foot sheets of iron for a house sometime by and bye.

I enjoyed the trip in the forest country, but when we hit the scrub--oh,
Lord! The panting prads dragged us up innumerable hills, and slid on
their haunches down the succeeding pinch, with the buckboard skidding
from side to side of the road after them. On the infrequent levels we
went at a slow walk, half-way to the axles in sticky mud, numberless
roots and half-submerged stumps, jarring and bumping, occasionally
tilting our vehicle at an uncomfortable angle. Heavy going, all right!

We reached Braun's just before dark--it seemed to be at the end of the
world after our journey--and found O'Gorman and a mate there, who were
to commence falling scrub on the former's place next day. The stranger
was introduced to me as Len Vincent, a fine young fellow about twenty
years of age, tall, slimly built, active; all wire and whipcord; curly
black hair, thoughtful, dark brown eyes, and a full direct glance. An
attractive young fellow and an excellent specimen of young Australia.
The two of them had cleaned out the old shack, and, with a roaring fire
going, billies boiling, whips of tucker, and a fine bright young moon
silvering the clearing outside, the place looked cheerful--even
comfortable; and I felt the old romantic feeling return in full force as
we sat yarning and smoking round the comfortable blaze after tea. The
night was just chilly enough to make the fire acceptable. The dense
walls of heavy timber close at hand, the light breeze rustling through
the treetops; the sound of the brawling creek, with its legions of
croaking frogs; the call of a pair of mopokes, which sounded anything
but dismal to me, and the wailing note of some other unknown night-bird
in the depths of the scrub--all combined to make up a picture very
strange and enchanting to me, who had been used to nothing but sea and
sky for thirteen years. I had actually had only about four months
ashore, in spells of a few days at a time, in all that period.

We were just thinking of turning in, when I nearly jumped out of my skin
at a sudden grating, ear-splitting screech right overhead--to be
repeated a moment later at the end of the clearing.

"What the devil's that?" I asked.

"Oh," said Len, "it's only an ol' fig-'awk. Bird, you know."

Which reassured me. But it sounded like a mad woman being tortured. I
lay some time looking at the flickering firelight, and finally drifted
off to sleep. About five minutes later I was roused by a clattering of
plates, and, looking drowsily round, saw the fire blazing up, my two
friends dressed and busy cooking. The buckboard driver was still snoring
over in his corner.

"Hullo, chaps," said I, with some hazy idea that supper was on. "Aren't
you turning-in to-night?"

"Turn in!" laughed Terry. "Why, it's 5.30. Time to turn out."

I jumped up. "Cripes! I thought I'd only been asleep five minutes."

Breakfast of cold salt beef, pickles, bacon, "puftaloons" (a species of
fried scone), and unlimited tea was despatched with gusto, and the
chorus of birds then warning us of impending daylight, off we set.

Those birds! I wonder now if there is any other country on earth with
such a truly cheerful lot. First is the chowchilla--thousands of him in
the scrub--with a rich musical note something like water dropping
rapidly down a deep well--"Plop! ... plop! ... perloplop." He starts in
the dark. Pewee is next; then the jackass heartily laughs the sleep out
of his eyes, closely followed by the sweet-toned magpie. Presently
another bird says "Gitterwoork!" in a tone of good-humoured reproach;
don't know what his proper name is. We always call him the get-to-work
bird. Finally the big pigeons, with their deep cooing notes, join in,
and for an hour or more this choir keeps its chorus going, to greet the
sun as he slowly rises. There isn't a note in it that isn't cheerful,
but as the district opens up, and the idiot with the gun gets his fine
work in, I suppose most of them will depart. I have actually seen fools
shooting ibises, on suspicion of their eating fruit and corn and
distributing weeds, no less! not having the sense to see that the bird's
long thin curved beak is incapable of negotiating anything but
caterpillars, slugs and such-like. The old Egyptians knew how many beans
made five when they declared this bird sacred, with the death penalty
for killing one. Pity we didn't have some such law now to check the ass
with the yard of gas-pipe.

We three, leaving the buckboard bloke putting his horses in, went across
the clearing and through my scrub to Terry's place, getting soaked to
the waist en route in the dew-laden grass. It was broad daylight by this
time, and Terry was soon swinging "Douglas" (pet name for axe), and, on
Len's introducing me to a brush-hook, we got to work on the undergrowth.

I don't know what malign imp presides over the brushing department, but
no matter where or how you hit anything it invariably falls on top of
you, and every damn thing has spikes on it. Well, the hooks were sharp,
work went with a swing, a fresh breeze fanned our heated faces, and when
Terry had the billy boiling at noon, his cheery shout of "She's off,
boys!" ringing out through the trees, I ate the salt beef and damper,
and jam and damper, with an appetite I hadn't enjoyed for years.

A short spell, then work again, and by the time the setting sun said
"knock-off," Len and I had chewed through a couple of acres, and Terry's
splintery array of stumps showed that he hadn't been idle. Back to the
barn, we rebuilt the fire, shook out our blankets to see no snakes were
camped in them, had tea, yarned and smoked a bit, and, my heavy eyelids
being quite incapable of being kept up longer, we tumbled into our
"naps," and by nine o'clock were enjoying the untroubled sleep of
healthily tired manhood.



CHAPTER IX.

CAMP LIFE.


Next day we all set to on my place. I solemnly allowed Terry the honour
of cutting the first lawyer-bush on it. We found it fairly easy going,
and, after getting a start, I kept on with the brushing, while the other
two commenced falling. They bogged in to such good purpose that I had
hard work to keep ahead of them, and by sun-down there was pretty well
an acre brushed and felled, and my heart swelled as I looked at it with
a feeling of achievement. I really had made a start!

After this my two mates went on working on Terry's place and I on mine,
being now fairly well qualified to use a brush-hook; we met at meals,
and of course at night. I would be working away, not doing too bad, but
thinking I was doing double it, when I'd hear Terry's jovial yell,
"She's off, boys; she's off!"

Then away I would go twenty chains or so to where they were working, to
find them just making a start. There's an attractive sort of picnicky
atmosphere about these al-fresco repasts in the bush. There is the fire
in front of us, to be carefully stamped out afterwards; the sooty billy
full of tea, with a palatable little tang of wood smoke in it, stands
near-by. We, each seated on a bit of bag, or our hat, lean comfortably
against the spurs of the handiest tree, the overhanging dense foliage
making pleasant shade. In front the fresh-fallen scrub sends forth its
characteristic pleasant, sweetish smell. If you are on the side of a
hill, you catch a glimpse, over your falling, of miles of rolling
scrub--a tangle of all shades of green--with perhaps the blue hills in
the far background. We have been working hard, and have appetites that
many "townies," having forgotten what it is like to be naturally,
healthily hungry, refer to as savage or voracious. Our digestions might
be worth a million dollars to the dyspeptic Rockefeller. Ergo, our beef
and damper are food of the gods, and the black billy tea is pure nectar.

Presently the vacuums (abhorred alike by man and nature) being
comfortably filled, we lay back and lazily smoke for a few minutes,
watching the white Trade clouds sail majestically overhead. The snoring
breeze fans our faces refreshingly; there are no mosquitoes in this
favoured place to worry us; it is good to be alive. Then turn to again
with a will, slog away till dusk, and so home to the old barn. If you
feel like it, run down to the little flat on the creek, where Braun made
a garden long ago, and various vegetables are running wild, holding
their own with the weeds in this generous climate. We can always get a
pumpkin, cucumber, or some chokoes and beans. Then tea, yarn and smoke,
perhaps a game of crib; turn in, read a bit, if not too tired; lights
out, and a chorus of snores till morning.

This is in fine weather, like that first week I spent at the barn. When
wet, like the succeeding month, well--that's a cow of another colour
entirely. You go out grumbling, get wet through almost at once, and have
to tramp back home for lunch. You spend half your time picking dozens of
bloated leeches off yourself. Every rotten log you touch leaves a legacy
of microscopic scrub-itch parasites on you, which drive you nearly
frantic at night, until you bathe yourself in kerosene. The sky is a
uniform sheet of grey; the trees become a dismal sage-green, half-hidden
by the grey rain squalls drifting across the clearing. A dank weeping
fog settles down 'tween squalls, which drifts in and wets everything.
You are wet through, your pants cling coldly and stiffly, like canvas,
and all is misery. Home at night, and the wood is damp and burns badly,
emitting volumes of stinging smoke, which an erratic breeze blows back
in clouds into the main room--to hang about in clouds impossible to
dissipate. Your "nap" is clammy and uninviting. Everything feels sticky,
as if wet sugar had touched it, and your best boots get covered with a
green moss. But it's an ill wind, etc., and the neighbouring cow cockies
screech with joy to see the grass grow an inch a day, as it can do up
here, while their collective Strawberry likens herself unto a barrel of
generous proportions, and her udder swells beyond the (cocky's) dreams
of avarice.

Frogs are a bit of a nuisance sometimes. They have a habit of coming
into the camp o' nights, and often you wake with a start as something
clammy and cold comes plop on your face or chest. Going out at night
with a hurricane lamp, you tread on dozens. You can always tell when you
tread on a frog. He goes "pop," like a cork coming out of a bottle.
There are countless millions of them, all sizes and colours, from the
great black fellow as big as your boot down to the beautiful little
light green tree-frog, about the size of the top joint of your little
finger. He's a handsome little chap, with two narrow myrtle-green
stripes down the back, red gold shining eyes, and queer little
spatulated fingers and toes.

We took it in turns to be cook of the mess, and a hell of a mess I did
cook up, my first attempt at damper. However, I got into the way of it,
and was soon a fair cook, even rising to the height of boiled puddings
occasionally. Saturdays were washing days, and the three of us would
knock off at dinner time, go down to the clear rushing creek, strip,
have a "bogie," and wash the discarded change before donning the clean
duds. Afterwards one of us would tramp two miles or so to where the
storekeeper's cart came out, for the week's tucker. Sometimes he didn't
come, and that meant a weary tramp of ten miles into the township, and a
still wearier tramp back again, with perhaps a thirty-pound load slung
on your shoulders, arriving back after dark, utterly deadbeat, covered
in mud from various and frequent falls. Queer how soon one learns to
pick up a track. I used to wonder at first how blokes found their way
round in day-time in the scrub; yet in three weeks or so behold your
humble servant cautiously picking his way along a pad in the scrub at
night, and getting through all right. It's a fool's game though in the
dark, for if an old man carpet snake happens to be in your road, and you
step on him, well--you'll get hurt!

I had a narrow squeak once. It was pitch dark, and I had just crawled
through a slip-rail, making for a pad to Braun's, when I brought up all
standing, with my outstretched hands on a horse's rump. Braun had come
out on a visit to his place, and it was his frisky young colt that had
poked his way through the scrub trying to get back. If that happened a
hundred times, in ninety-nine the bloke would be kicked to death before
he could say "knife." I was the lucky one.

[Illustration: I had some 20 acres brushed, and two or three felled.]

I went on working for about six weeks, by which time I had some twenty
acres brushed and two or three felled--not so bad for a new hand. Then
one day I had a good long think over my affairs. It was mid-May, and my
licence to occupy would not be issued before September. Until I had that
document I would not be able to borrow from the Agricultural Bank, and
my slender resources were reduced to about £20. Right here I made one of
the biggest mistakes in my life. I ought to have stayed on, working away
and cutting expenses (one could live very comfortably on ten shillings a
week those times); then in July gone down to the sugar mills below the
range in the Mulgrave Valley, coming back at the end of the year to burn
off, with a good cheque in my pocket, never being more than twenty miles
away. Instead of that, I came to the decision to go South and get away
to sea again for six months or so. Unfortunately, I didn't know anything
about the Mills, and didn't like to palm myself off as an expert mill
hand. I thought even the "rat-gangers" had to be skilled men. Afterwards
I was one of a rat-gang myself for a while, and found one only had to be
expert at "dodging Pompey." However, I had to learn by experience, so I
let a contract to young Len to fall what I had brushed at thirty-five
shillings an acre, paid him £16 in advance as _bona fides_, and the
end of May found me in Townsville, dead broke, wondering if I'd have to
tramp the way down to Newcastle, and how the devil I was to earn the
cash to pay Len for the balance of my falling.



CHAPTER X.

COLONIAL EXPERIENCE.


It was the first time in my life I had been "stoney," and I didn't like
it a little bit--especially in Townsville, where there was so little
doing at that time. I went down to the wharf, with some hazy idea of
being able to stow away aboard one of the boats. Walking along pretty
disconsolately, I came on a Liverpool tramp just completing discharging.
"Ten to one," thought I, "she's bound for Newcastle. If only--well, here
goes. They can only chuck me ashore." So I went aboard, saw the mate,
and explained my position. He was kindness itself.

"Wait till I see the old man," he said. A few minutes' wait, then, "Come
along. Skipper wants to see you."

I went up with him, and found the "old man" in the chart-house. A
stoutish, good-natured man, with pince-nez and a black spade beard.

"Ah! good day, Mr.--er--thank you!--Senex. Have you your papers? Let me
see them please." A short investigation; then to the mate, "All right,
Mr. Andrews, make your own arrangements."

"Thanks, sir," said he. Then to me, as the skipper nodded and we left
the chart-house: "Good enough, old chap. You'll take the settee in my
room till we hit Newcastle. Run up town for your duds. We're sailing
just after lunch."

I wrung his hand. Talk about thankful! I didn't waste much time up
town, and got back aboard inside the hour. She was a happy ship, as
is always the case when the skipper is a decent sort, and it was
quite a holiday trip. Always having been a good hand with palm and
needle, I managed to make myself useful during the passage. Arrived
in Newcastle, I ceased to be a gentleman of leisure, and started that
soul-wearying business--looking for a job. Nothing doing! So I borrowed
a few pounds from the ship's tailor (I found now the advantage of
always having dealt square when I was mate before) and went down to
Sydney. Same thing there.

Oh! those weary, weary days, tramping round and trying to keep my
appearance sufficiently smart. I always hated towns in general, and from
that time loathed Sydney in particular, as being associated with my
period of submersion. From sneaking furtively into sixpenny hash-joints
I got to going in brazenly, and the day I spent my last sixpence I
plumbed the depths by pocketing some slabs of bread off the table. I
think I ought to say here that I was surprised at the quality and
quantity of the grub these places dispense. Don't know how they do it at
the price. I'll bet there's any amount of men bless them--as I did--when
down on one's luck.

That night I slept out in the open. I was really down now. Next morning
I did what I ought to have done at once instead of wasting the time
looking for an "officah's" job--went down to the wharves after an A.B.'s
berth, and got it inside two hours. I kept the job until I got enough to
pay Len for my falling. The ship was a collier running round to South
Australian ports from Newcastle. Never once did she hit Melbourne, where
the only girl in the world was, which was a sad disappointment; but
still we lived well, had good times, and made good money--indeed, more
than I was formerly getting as a deep-water mate.

Only one exciting incident occurred in the time I spent aboard, and that
was one awful night in a heavy South-Easter off Montague Island, when
some spare spars on the fore deck broke adrift. With the decks full of
water, these charged up and down like battering rams, and started the
bridge-deck bulkhead and fore-hatch coaming before we got them
secured--a job which took all hands most of the night.

I left her early in October, sent Len his cash, then, as I wanted to try
and get some cockeying experience and, if possible, learn to milk before
I returned home, I took a trip to the Richmond, having heard a lot of
this splendid district.

Do you think I could get employment? Not on your life! I tramped on,
trying place after place, offering to work for tucker just for
experience, which only succeeded in arousing suspicion. Finally I
drifted into Broadwater Sugar Mill, and became a member of the Rat-gang.
Now indeed were the mighty fallen with a vengeance! It was £1 a week and
tucker then, and the barracks were great barns, sub-divided into sties
by walls of corrugated iron, whitewashed, depressing, hideous as the
walls of Hell. There was a large element of Sydney tagrag and bobtail
there, and one had an uncomfortable sort of feeling that one was in a
species of chain-gang.

Yet even that place had compensations, and I have happy recollections of
glorious Sundays spent lying naked on the splendid curve of beach
between Evans Head and the Richmond entrance basking in the life-giving
Australian sunlight, and every few minutes taking a header into the
blue-green foam-capped breakers bursting on the sand.

I endured being in the Rat-gang until I had enough to pay my way North;
then one glad day, when the sun seemed to shine once more, I turned my
back on the place, and, with £5 in my pocket, cheerfully shouldered
"Matilda," and turned my face towards Byron Bay. I had entered that mill
a crusted Tory. I left it, well--I won't say an I.W.W. (not being quite
a lunatic), but certainly a fervid Labourite.

I enjoyed that walking tour. Between Ballina and Byron Bay one gets some
beautiful land and sea-scapes. I guess the bloke who rushes round in a
motor car never has time to appreciate half of what he goes to see.
Tramping along on Shanks's pony one can stop and admire occasionally. I
lay under the beam of Cape Byron light that night, slept like a top, and
was up early next day to try and make Murwillumbah by dark. Didn't do
it.

I crossed the lovely little Brunswick River by punt, and made the pace
along the fine road winding up the height of land between the river and
Crabbe's Creek. About half-way up, with a rock-wall overhead and a
precipitous drop of some 300 feet below--no fence either--a trap
overtook me, containing a little girl and a middle-aged lady. She pulled
up, offered me a welcome lift, and I climbed aboard. There was a
vixenish, sore-mouthed mare pulling us, and all went well until we
reached the top of the rise. Here the old lady tightened her grip on the
reins for the descent, and instantly the brute in the shafts shook her
head, pranced about a bit, and at last fairly bolted down the long
winding road, the trap swaying and skidding along behind. I shut my eyes
at every curve. The old girl kept her head though, and with pale lips
spoke quietly to the four-legged demon that was racing us to
destruction. Then came a four-chain straight, with oblivion beyond, the
road curving in so sharply that, looking down on it, one seemed to be
going straight over the bump. I never felt so scared before in all my
experience of close calls at sea, for I had always had to be flying
round; while here I could only sit tight and do nothing, as I didn't
know "B from a bull's foot" about a horse, so couldn't offer assistance.

I was aroused from the contemplation of a sinful past by a snapped
command from the lady. "Lean well in towards me!" I obeyed. The horse's
head came level with the turn. She threw her whole weight on the
starboard line, and we whipped round the curve like a shot, skidding
fully six feet broadside on towards the edge, and--we were safe, for a
long, straight, gentle grade led down to the level, and the frisky
beast, having shot her bolt, so to speak, became amenable to discipline
before we reached it. I left the trap near Crabbe's Creek station,
paying the old lady a compliment on her splendid nerve. Cripes! There
wasn't six inches between our wheel and the edge as we swung round that
corner!

I got along at a good pace now, as rain was threatening and it was
getting dusk, keeping my weather eye open for a likely place to camp.
Presently a "tick-gate" barred the way, and just beyond was the tent of
a road maintenance man, where I craved shelter for the night. With
typical Australian hospitality he not only granted it at once, but
insisted on my sharing his tucker as well. I was glad of the shelter
that night, for the rain poured in torrents, and I slept all the sounder
for the row it made outside.

Next morning I left my hospitable host and made tracks for the Tweed.
Passed through Murwillumbah, a pretty little rather sleepy town, about
noon, and boarded a boat for the Heads, being instantly asked for my
fare, and regarded with dark suspicion while I was forking it out. Got
down to the Heads at 4 p.m., getting a glimpse of boiling white surf on
the bar as we shot out of the swift current into a quiet little dock,
where we disembarked, and once more my ready foot pressed the soil of
Queensland.



CHAPTER XI.

HOME AGAIN!


I went straight across to the ocean beach, and swung along at a good bat
over the hard sand of that beautiful curve of foreshore. Made my camp
that night on the sand just south of Corrumbin. The mosquitoes were as
the sands for multitude and tigers for ferocity, and I went to sleep
completely covered up, head and all. Damme! They bit through the
blanket! Woke up somewhere about midnight to find it raining hard. Pitch
dark, no shelter and no tent. What a night! I sat there in the pouring
rain, huddled in a blanket, wet, shivering and miserable until dawn
appeared, the sun, shortly springing from the ocean, bringing a fine
warm day with him. I stripped, tied all my wet belongings to bushes,
where they soon flapped themselves dry, and, as soon as I got
sufficiently warm, raced across the sand and plunged into the foaming
surf. Ten minutes in the water, then, panting and refreshed, I dived
back and collected my duds. Was scrambling into them when I heard a
chatter of voices, and a bevy of ladies with attendant squires, all in
fantastic bathing rig, hove in sight on the beach. Thank the Lord for
those sheltering bushes! If I'd only been a couple of minutes longer in
the surf--oh, Lord! I didn't have any bathing trunks. I didn't know of
the big hotel on the creek just back of me.

That night sickened me of carrying "Matilda," so I took the evening
train from Corrumbin, and arrived in Brisbane late at night.

On the journey an unpleasant, shabbily smart individual fastened to me.
A terrible talker, whiskered, dressed in white ducks, with somewhat
"busted" white pumps on his hoofs, and with a swaggering, boastful air,
he combined a habit of pointing his remarks with a contortion of his
features and a clearance of his nasal organs. Of course he was an
importation, informing us in a loud voice that he was from 'Ome, and I
blushed for him. He alighted for a refresher at nearly every station,
having to race violently after the train, and board it under way. It got
quite interesting at last to the other occupants of the carriage.

"He'll miss her this time." "Ay, she don't stop long here." "There's the
whistle! He's done." "'Ere he is. Look at him running. Two to one he
don't do it." "He will!" "He won't!" "He--begob, he's just managed it!"
and presently the nuisance was among us again, stinking of whisky and
more voluble than ever. He hung on to me until next morning, when he
asked me as a special favour to lend him a pound. I told him his price
was too high, but I'd give him five shillings to go away. He took it and
went. He got to windward of me though, for I found when settling up at
the pub that he had told them "his mate" would foot the bill. I did so,
to avoid trouble--like a fool. He had held forth on the train about his
politics, which were Liberal; but his dealings with me were a regular
War Profits Act.

At the pub I heard a chap asking for pick and shovel men for a job out
Laidley way--rate eight shillings a day. I had heard a lot of this
district, and thought it a good opportunity to see it and earn tucker as
well, so I volunteered.

I stuck it ten days, being by that time so blistered, sore and generally
used up that I could hardly crawl. I therefore handed in my resignation
and left, richer by about £3, and the knowledge that the Atherton
country looked heaps better than this, at that time of the year, anyhow.

I waited in Brisbane a while for a mate who wrote he would join me there
and come North with me, but when my funds had reached £4 I gave him up,
and cadged another railway concession to Gladstone from the Lands
Department after making futile efforts to work my passage on shipboard.
Got the boat at Gladstone and arrived in Cairns on 3rd December, 1912,
with just enough to pay the fare to Atherton, where I arrived at noon
next day without sufficient to buy a feed.

I slipped into the lavatory, hastily doffed my glad rags, and climbed
into flannel and dungarees once more. Ten minutes after leaving the
train I was gaily tramping the long road out to my selection, my old
friend "Matilda" caressing my shoulders, penniless, happy and blithely
whistling, glad to think I would soon be home again.

I stopped at a cocky's house a mile or two out, and offered him an
hour's work for a feed.

"Righto, bloke," he said. "Freeze on to Douglas there and cut us some
firewood."

I cut him a good pile, and the decent pot not only gave me a good square
feed, but enough to carry along for another as well. Armed with this I
marched along to the Barron River, where I found the river was up owing
to recent rain, and I nearly got drowned crossing the atrocious ford of
slippery stones which the "powers that be" consider safe, wading waist
deep in the rushing stream.

I finally reached the barn at 7 p.m., where I found Len and Terry just
finishing tea. Their welcome made the welkin ring. I don't quite know
what the welkin is, but anyhow it rang. And wasn't I just glad to get
back to where I was known and there were friendly faces to greet me! We
talked sixteen to the dozen, and at ten o'clock, with hearty
good-nights, we turned in, and again I slept the heavy sleep of the
tired under the hospitable roof of Braun's old barn.



CHAPTER XII.

SCRUB LIFE.


Next day I was up with the sun to see what my burn was like, Terry
O'Gorman having let my place go when he burnt a fortnight before. I was
assured that I had a good burn, but when I saw the black waste,
gridironed with logs and strewn with big stumps, I was a bit dismayed.
What on earth could I do with it to make a living? It looked pretty
hopeless.

I tried to get a fire going round some of the big stumps, but, of
course, they wouldn't burn, being too green. When I looked at the place,
and thought how many years it would be before it was clear of refuse, it
made me feel despairing. Of course, I know now that I had a really good
burn, and was lucky, and that in five years I would be able to plough
patches, with no other effort than dropping a match here and there, when
the logs had rotted a bit; but experience has to be learned. I tried
digging a patch, but that was hopeless, the ground being a network of
roots, almost impossible to dig among; so I gave that up too. I could
have planted corn easy enough; but then, even if the roads had been
decent, the price of haulage to the station would have been more than
the crop would fetch; so there was nothing to do but sow grass in the
clearing. Plenty of rain lately had brought Braun's paddock into seed,
and I set to work to reap it. A week's work gave me more than enough to
sow my burn.

Of course, I made a botch of the sowing at first, putting on about five
times as much as was necessary, but soon got the hang of it, and a
week's work finished it, a faint green sheen down on the creek showing
that the seed was good and fertile. Then I got to work on a creek flat
where the silt was piled high over the maddening roots, and got a number
of vegetable seeds put in. All sorts of garden truck here grow
prolifically, almost without cultivation. Terry and Len finished sowing
the former's place same time as I did, and next day proposed a trip out
to the Range by way of a holiday. As I hadn't been there I was eager to
go.

The track lay through dense scrub all the way, being an old road well
made forty years ago, and disused for a decade. It was used hauling
cedar out to the Range, with a view to shooting it down the mountain
side to the Mulgrave River, down which it would be rafted to the sea. As
they salved only about one log in twenty the scheme didn't pay, so was
abandoned, and the road, with its bridges and box-cuttings, went to
ruin. We tramped along and, in an hour or so, saw, as through an open
door at the end of the avenue of scrub, the sunlit grass of the open
forest at the range head, and a glimpse of a gum tree or two. Presently
we were waist deep in the lush grass, clambering over the mouldering
cedar logs lying there by the score, with the scent of the gums strong
in our nostrils, and the shrilling of the cicadas nearly deafening us. A
few minutes more and we were standing among gigantic granite boulders,
looking down at such a glorious view as I had never seen before.

The Trade wind was snoring strong on this exposed position, and there
was a champagne-like exhilaration about the slightly rarified,
gum-scented air which set us laughing and romping like school-kids. The
Range went almost sheer down 2000 feet or more to the Mulgrave Valley at
our feet. On the other side, facing us, stretched a heavily timbered
range of mountains. At each end to right and left was a glimpse of blue
sea, and in the background to the extreme right the blue mass of Bartle
Frere, Queensland's highest mountain. Winding along the valley floor ran
the narrow violet ribbon of river, flecked with white here and there,
where were rapids. I found it hard to realise that those low bushes were
really tall trees, and that that narrow blue streak of water was half a
mile wide in places. I think one could notice a man moving on the white
sandbanks, the atmosphere is so clear. Away to the left, where the
valley opened out, could be seen the chess-board of cultivated
canefields, with Gordon Vale and its mill embosomed among them. Further
still, a bit of Cairns, the Inlet and the blue sea, with a tiny speck or
two on it, which close investigation showed to be steamers entering or
leaving the port.

The Range, steep as it is, is clothed from foot to summit with grass and
timber. The ground is gravelly; the formation free granitic. There is
plenty of water there, as elsewhere on the tableland. We shot a couple
of scrub turkeys (megapodii) on our way home. Good enough eating but
gamey, and one soon tires of them. They are about as big as a good-sized
rooster. I'd never go after them with a shot-gun unless I was really
hungry. When started off the ground the poor wretches just make for the
handiest branch, and squat there. A shot-gun is plain murder, while a
pea rifle will give them a sporting chance, for if you miss they are off
a hundred yards or so to another branch, and one must want a change of
diet pretty badly before one will force a way through prickly
lawyer-vines after him.

Just before we turned into Braun's a huge cassowary, with three chicks,
stalked on to the track ahead. We stopped dead, and the beautiful bird
then hesitatingly came towards us with her slow, dainty step, and we had
a real good "dekko," as she turned her handsome blue and red head this
way and that, eyeing us with eager curiosity. Terry then said "Boo!" and
she was off like a shot. Not being "sports," not one of us had even
dreamed of raising the gun at her.

Christmas Day was at hand--beautifully fine. Last one I had spent making
up for Valparaiso before a howling Southerly; a tremendous sea was on,
and it was freezing cold.

Len took me in to his parents' place to spend the day, and I was
introduced to Dad, Mum, and a host of strapping brothers and sisters.
Dad was a fine-looking, middle-aged man, tall and spare, with short,
square-cut, sandy beard, thoughtful grey eyes, good-humoured smile,
and spoke concisely and deliberately, laying emphasis on every other
word, thus:--"_Well_, Mr. Senex, I am _delighted_ to _make_ your
_acquaintance_." He was a more or less self-educated, well read man, a
most interesting companion and a keen debater, though rather prone to
excitement in argument. Lastly, he was the most confirmed optimist I
have ever met. Mum was a handsome Junoesque blonde, sharp of eye and
tongue, distinctly the boss, and inclined to make the most of it. Rather
cold and hard perhaps, but kind-hearted enough. They were very good to
me in my early struggling days, and I was glad to accept their
ungrudging hospitality.

Christmas Day passed with the usual accompaniment of pudding and other
fairly solid comestibles, and I stopped there overnight, as a picnic had
been arranged for next day to go and see the famous Lake Barrine. The
day was bright and clear, and about twenty of us set out through the
dense scrub along a fairly good road. After an hour or two's march we
turned into a narrow pad, and presently saw a blue gleam through the
trees. It was a steep descent, and the first effect of the sight of the
lake was, queerly enough, that of looking right _up_ at it.
However, we were soon at the water's edge, and I got my first view of
the deep cobalt blue mere, lying calm and peaceful, embosomed in the
dense scrub.

It is about a square mile in extent, very pretty, dangerous to bathe in
if one is a poor swimmer, as the banks are steep and very deep (the
water being six feet deep only eight feet from the bank). It is locally
considered unfathomable, which probably means that a forty-fathom line
would bottom it. Still one could get comfortably drowned there. I have
heard enthusiasts compare these little lakes, Eacham, Barrine and
Euramoo, to the Irish Killarney, which is a wild absurdity, though the
lakes are pretty enough to be worth going to see. The three of them,
about three miles apart, are perched on the very lip of the Range, 2500
feet above sea-level, and are the craters of extinct volcanoes. Barrine
is blue, cheerful and bright; Eacham is green, cold and depressing, and
one has a feeling as of some dreadful Thing just below the surface,
waiting for one's foot to slip. Euramoo I haven't seen, though only a
mile or two away, since the scrub is impenetrable. The blacks think
these lakes "debil-debil," and won't go near them after sundown.

Our party boiled the billy, explored round a bit, played the usual
picnic games, and had a dip in the enticingly cool water. I, who can't
swim, in spite of my thirteen years at sea, cautiously kept within reach
of the overhanging shrubs growing close to the water. Then, as the cows
must be milked though the heavens fall, and those who had some to put
through were beginning to get restive, we packed up and wended our way
home again, I going straight out to the barn to be in trim for work next
day.

The next three weeks I worked at clearing a site for a house, planting
panicum grass on the creek banks, and attending to the vegetables,
which, with a few good rainy days, were looking well. The rainy season
burst on us early in January, and for nearly a fortnight it poured in a
steady, ceaseless torrent, drumming on the iron roof of the barn until
one had almost to shout to be heard. By mid-January my grass was a foot
high, pumpkins running all over the place, and I had about three
thousand cabbages coming on well, which I thought to make money out of
by and bye.

Terry and Len were timber-cutting on the former's place, in spite of the
wet. When it got really too bad, we stayed in the barn, played crib,
mended clothes, got axes and brush-hooks to a razor-like sharpness, and
so on. One thing about the wet weather was that it was warm, and it
didn't matter how soaked you got, so long as you wore the universal
short-sleeved grey flannel, and changed at once on coming home. You
could work then in the wet all day without ill-effect.



CHAPTER XIII.

THE CYCLONE.


The cyclone was heralded by a week of stifling hot weather. As a general
rule it isn't hot up here, the thermometer rarely climbing to 90 deg.,
and then only on an odd day in November; but that week was awful. From
being unable to work, it got to be an effort to move. The nights too
were hot, a most unusual circumstance. Every day the sky would bank up
with heavy, hard-edged clouds, leaving just an inverted saucer of smoky
blue at the zenith, through which the sun appeared at noon, strong
enough to throw a shadow, but not bright enough to make your eyes water
looking at him. The birds, after their morning carol, were silent, and
by noon each day the stillness was weird. Nature seemed to be waiting
for something; there was not even a breath of wind to stir the lifeless
trees. We got to have a feeling that we ought to talk in whispers, a
creepy sensation--almost of fear. Occasionally there was a faint far-off
air-tremor, rather than sound, of thunder. On the fifth day Len, Terry
and I were lying about the barn, too languid to move, when, about noon,
there was a sudden change. It got quickly cold and the sky to the
South-East banked up, tier upon tier, with blue-black clouds. The zenith
was covered, and the clouds commenced rushing across it, rapidly
whirling and dissolving as they went, in rather an awe-inspiring
fashion.

"It's coming, blokes, whatever it is," said Terry quietly.

On the word, like a bucket suddenly tipped over us, a deafening roar of
rain on the roof, ceasing in two minutes as suddenly as it came, and
dying hissingly away up the paddock. Silence again. Then, in the
distance, a sound like a slowly-expelled breath, only continuous, and
rapidly getting louder as it drew nearer. A few minutes later, and with
a rush and a roar, wind and rain were on us. There was not much force in
the wind--just about half a gale--but it was its sudden shock that was
rather startling. Wind about S.E., and a good deal of thunder and
lightning, which gave us the idea at first that it was only a heavy
thunderstorm. It kept the same force pretty well until 5 p.m., when it
shifted to South, and commenced to show us what it really could do.
Crash after crash from the scrub near-by showed how the wind was testing
the trees.

Just at this time two swaggies, who had come up the Range, banged at the
door. We let them in, soaked and shivering, nearly in a state of
collapse with long exposure to the driving rain. We gave them hot tea
and dry togs, and while they were getting warm again we, nearly naked
(so as not to wet any clothes!), went outside and gathered a big pile of
firewood, to keep a roaring blaze going all night.

By half-past six it was blowing a heavy gale, and the old barn was
creaking and straining like a ship at sea. We put a big back log on the
fire, piled her up to keep going all night, and were just going to turn
in, when there was a hammering on the door, which we had well secured
against its being blown in. We fell over each other scrambling to see
who the devil it was, and discovered two neighbouring bachelor
selectors, who had been camped in a tent pitched inside a rough shed
half a mile away. A dead tree had come down fair across their camp with
the two of them in it--a miracle of an escape. They just pulled
themselves out of the wreckage, and, with their lives in their hands,
crossed through the scrub in the dark to Braun's. They didn't seem to
think anything of it--sort of "all in the day's work" idea. It was nine
o'clock by the time they had finished tea, and the hurricane was going
full bore.

The hoarse roar of the wind drowned every other sound. A huge dead elm
came down just astern of the barn, missing the end by about four feet,
and we never heard it; indeed, we never knew anything about it till
morning. The rain was driving in fine spray, wetting everything, so we
rigged the swaggies' "fly," and the seven of us crowded under it like
sardines in a tin, managing to keep just about damp.

None of us slept though, being too much concerned about the possibility
of the barn coming about our ears. However, it weathered the gale
triumphantly. At midnight, in a furious squall, the wind veered to S.W.,
and the door got the full force of it. It gave, the top hinge went, and
inside she came on top of us. Away went the tent, split in half, and in
about two ups we and everything we possessed were soaked through. It
took the lot of us about ten minutes to re-secure the door, and we spent
the rest of the night huddled round the fire, the furious back draught
blowing smoke and flame in all directions.

About 3.30 a.m. the wind shifted again to about W.N.W. and blew harder
than ever. The barn swayed perceptibly, but the corner posts were three
feet in the ground, and went solid up to the roof, and that saved us.

It was daylight now, and we could see the clearing. What a difference!
It looked as if a titanic steam-roller had been all over it: weeds, dead
trees, bushes, all levelled flat. We, who a few hours ago had to part
the bushes to get in the door almost, now had a clear view of the whole
clearing. It would have cost Braun pretty well £50 to do the work the
wind did gratis for him that night in his clearing.

At about 7 a.m. there was a lull, and shortly after it became clear that
the storm's back was broken, the unbroken grey pall of sky commencing to
break up into clouds and scud. The wind slowly veered to N.N.W.,
lessening in force all the time, but kept at hard gale till after
midnight, when it died down rapidly, and by 3 a.m. it was calm, sky
clear, and stars shining brightly.

While the gale was on I slipped down to see the creek, and found the
little brawling stream transformed into a raging torrent twenty feet
deep. Even while I looked, the bank higher up gave way, and for a
hundred feet or so slid roaring into the current.

After the weather cleared up I went across to my own clearing, to find
numberless little water-courses all over the place, and the grass!
well--you could fairly hear it growing. In a week (say, five weeks after
sowing), it was good enough to have turned stock on to, had I possessed
any.

I went in towards the line, thinking to get a job clearing wreckage
somewhere, but there were too many willing volunteers already at it.
Most of the roads were blocked by falling timber, and everybody had
suffered more or less, either by loss of stock, or through having their
buildings unroofed.

I took the opportunity, while in town, to interview the local
storekeeper with a view to credit, which he willingly granted on
explaining my position. The country storekeeper! Go where you will, one
of the principal topics of conversation is sure to be the iniquities of
the local storekeeper. But we couldn't do without him. By extending a
liberal credit he enables one to stay on the farm until one's footing is
secure, and if his prices are a bit stiff, it ought to be remembered how
many bad debts he contracts, and what a risky thing it is to give credit
to a comparatively unknown man. If it be true that the farmer is the
country's backbone, it is equally true that the storekeeper is the one
who stiffens that backbone till it can stay erect of itself, and often
prevents it from breaking. I know. I'm one of the vertebræ, and I'd
often have been dislocated but for old "Stores."



CHAPTER XIV.

EFFECTING IMPROVEMENTS.


After the satisfactory interview with the storekeeper I tramped out home
with a light heart. I wouldn't starve for a month or two, anyhow, and
now the first thing to be done was to erect a house. I had fourteen
ten-foot sheets of iron, and though some of them were a bit battered
owing to an irresponsible bloke thrashing out seed on them while I was
away, still they were good enough for an eighteen-by-twelve humpy. The
building was to be of rough-split bush timber. I chose red oak for the
purpose, mainly because I didn't know of any of the other good
splitters, like silky oak, young maple, or ash. With a crosscut I cut
the tree up into three-foot lengths; then, with a maul, wedges and axe,
split these up into a species of short weatherboards.

My two mates being now away on holiday, there was nobody to show me how
to start right, so of course I met endless difficulties, which made the
work back-breaking. An experienced "bushey" would have had all the
required timber split in about four days. It took me exactly three
weeks.

Then came the erection. Four corner posts, which I would have three feet
in the ground, and going right up to the roof, for stability in case of
cyclones, of the hardest timber I could find, which was also the
heaviest, as I thought it would be the most likely to last in the
ground. As a matter of fact, these rot quickest. The four posts weighed
about five hundredweight each, and I had to "fleet jig" them with block
and tackle over the log-strewn paddock up to the site, and then erect a
derrick to get them into their places. It was interesting enough, but
Lord! how slow.

Then wall plates and ground plates--the former one end at a time with
the tackle; then lash that end while I tackled the other end up and
nailed it. "Dinkum yakker" all right, and about three-parts of it not
necessary, if I'd only known. I think "Senex's house" was the topic of
amused conversation all over the district for months after.

The studs were saplings on which I left the bark, thus making a fine
harbourage for all sorts of biting, stinging and stinking vermin. On to
these went the slabs, weatherboard fashion. Then the roof, with a nail
in every corrugation, in the concaves instead of the convexes, and the
mansion wanted but a floor. I got a bloke to buy me some second-class
boards from a mill on the line, and bring them out to me. The cartage
came to ten shillings more than the price of the timber, but, as he had
to wait nine months for me to pay him, he deserved it.

Next, I put in a fireplace with the roof of it at the wrong angle, so
that the smoke came pouring into the main room all the time the fire was
going. Finally, I set the guinea stamp of aristocracy on the mansion by
inserting a cracked glass window. It was raining nearly all the time I
was building. I had spilt a gallon billy of boiling water over my feet
through the handle coming adrift, and, to add to the difficulties, I had
to hump the floor boards about a mile through the mud, fallen timber
preventing the cart getting right out. Anyhow, it was finished at last.

I felt so proud the first night I camped in it that I couldn't sleep,
and got up several times to walk round and admire the shanty in the
moonlight. On one of these peregrinations (I clad in an airy costume of
a single shirt), I suddenly felt something cold and wriggley under my
foot. I must have jumped about fifteen feet. Turning round, I saw a
black snake squirming about. I must have stepped on his neck. Otherwise,
I don't know how I escaped a bite. I got a stick and finished the little
devil. Nobody seems to pay much attention to black snakes up here. They
always whip out of the way, and don't attack unless actually interfered
with, and they're easily killed with a light stick.

About this time I got a small brushing job from a mean person who gave
me ten shillings an acre to cut four acres thickly grown with the
accursed stinging tree. I found afterwards that thirty shillings an acre
is little enough for tackling this dreadful stuff. However, I got it
done, and was laid up for a week in consequence. No sleep through the
pain, and blood coming from nose and ears while working in it. There
must be a frightfully deadly poison in the plant. The bare inhalation of
the smell of the fresh-cut stalks makes you vomit, and brings blood from
the nose in a few minutes, while the least touch on any part by the bush
causes agonising pain, which lasts for weeks sometimes. There is no
palliative.

I then got a job from a neighbouring selector to brush twenty acres, so
I shouldered "Matilda" and went to camp with him. It's the devil's own
job "Matilda-ing" in the Rainy Season. The tracks are knee deep in mud,
and the paddocks, what with logs and interlaced seed stems on the grass,
are nearly impassable. I don't know of anything so tiring as trying to
wade through a paspalum paddock in seed. I anticipated being a month or
so with this chap, Barker. He was a bachelor, young, fair-haired, rather
shifty blue-grey eyes, a quick and uncertain temper, and as sarcastic as
the devil. Although twenty-four, he was practically illiterate, owing to
having had to milk cows from about six years of age, there being
therefore no time for schooling. As is always the case, this misfortune
had bred in him a suspicion of anyone educated, and a disposition to try
and take him down a peg, to show that he was as smart as the other, in
spite of lack of education. This sort of thing is inevitable.

I must give him his due though--he had "made good." He cleared out from
the cow-slavery when he was fifteen years old and started for himself;
told a fib about his age, got a selection, and felled most of the scrub
himself. When twenty-one he sold out for £800, and took a partly
improved place further out, going in for fattening "beefers." A dry
spell nearly ruined the game youngster, so, sickening of the South, he
sold out, came up with a wad, got a block here, and started in to fall
all the scrub as before. He had about a fifteen-acre paddock with a
house on it when I made his acquaintance. His place is worth £1000
easily now.

His mate was an Irish-Tasmanian named Paddy (of course); middle-aged,
tall, lank and dark, with a long melancholy face like a cow, and very
weather-beaten. Quite uneducated, but an absolute glutton for work, and
with a very decided weakness for beer--lots of it for choice. He was an
artist with the axe, putting a scarf in a tree as neat as a saw cut.
Good-tempered, he had a quiet humour that floored Snappy Barker every
time, as thus:--

Barker: "Hey, Paddy! I was down at Blogg's yes'day, and they was runnin'
yer down summat crool."

Paddy: "Was they? Well, why dinyer stop 'em? Yer could, easy."

Barker: "'Ow could I?"

Paddy: "Oh! Don't you start runnin' me down to 'em. Then they won't git
startit."

The three of us were to tucker together, and as they had ordered a big
stock, which had been left at a house three miles off, the first job we
did was to hump the stuff out. It was raining hard--as it did almost
every day of the six weeks I was with them. We had an old pack-horse. My
road was bad enough, Lord knows; but Barker's was literally waist deep
in mud in places, covered with a repulsive green slime and bubbling with
foul-smelling gas when disturbed. There was a whole cask of salt beef
among other things, and this was the first thing we tackled. We emptied
the meat into corn sacks, and loaded the old horse and Paddy with that,
while Barker and I slung the cask, with about five gallons of salt
pickle in it, on a pole between us, and started out home. We struggled
up the first slippery hill.

"Blow this," said Barker. "We'll lighten up."

We emptied out part of the pickle, and proceeded. After we had ploughed
along a mile or so, I said "Blast the stuff!" so we emptied out some
more. A little further, and we mutually damned it, and jettisoned the
whole cargo, finding even the empty cask all too heavy on that dreadful
road. It took us the next two days to get the balance of the stuff out.
We got sick of unloading the old nag, hauling him out of the bog, and
loading him up again.

It would have been an enlightening sight for the city
"go-on-the-land-young-man" person to have seen us slowly crawling along
between the gloomy walls of scrub, squash! squelch! splash! covered
with mud and sweating with the heat, Paddy ahead with two bags of
tinned stuff, Barker next with two fifties of flour slung by straps
over his shoulders, I last with two dozen of jam in my shirt, and a
seventy of sugar across my neck, with sacking round it to keep it a bit
dry. By cripes! It made us appreciate Barker's dry snug little crib,
really beautifully built of split-out stuff, roof and all. It was quite
waterproof.

I would have quite enjoyed living there, if only it hadn't been for
Barker's infernal tongue. He soon found I didn't take very much rousing
up, so of course it was a great joke to "gittim wild." With this end in
view, he assumed a particularly galling habit of patronisingly referring
to me as "Me good mahn," or more often "Me good little mahn." I
think he must have spent his hours devising ridiculous names, and
springing them on us at night. Paddy suffered in silence under "Me
little gohanna;" his dog, with a sort of Zulu touch, was dubbed
"Little-snake-with-the-teeth-so-sharp-and-big;" while I was driven to a
state bordering on homicidal mania by a week of "Me little axe-handle
breaker," because I fractured the handle of the doddery firewood
axe--already badly sprung and wobbling--which he had sworn should last
the year out.

The more we expostulated, the worse he got. He had a pair of cats
("Curse-guts" and "Stinker"), of whom he was so fond that he took them
to bed with him at night, and then blamed me for bringing fleas to the
camp, after a night spent in scratching himself. With as much sense of
music as a cow, he used to drone out all day the one song he knew in a
dismal monotone. It was a doleful ditty; something about "Why did they
sell Killarney?"

He was very superstitious, and I'm ashamed to say that I once or twice
got my own back on him through this weakness--but only when very wild.

I made him lose a night's sleep once through suddenly jumping out of
bunk, opening the door, slamming it to again, and then turning wild-eyed
to Barker, whispering: "It's there again, Jack!" He was keen on his
garden, and he and Paddy had about a dozen different kinds of vegetables
growing, with bananas and pineapples to beat the band. When the latter
were ripening we had to light big fires to keep the flying foxes off,
and it gave one a creepy feeling to lie round one of the fires before
turning in, swapping yarns, and watching the countless myriads of bat
things stream steadily across the sky in an unbroken cloud by the hour
together. (Note for orchardists: These pests don't alight anywhere near
a decent blaze.)

I finished my contract with Barker by the end of May, and got enough out
of it to renew my credit with the storekeeper, and pay the £3 inspection
fee for survey of improvements, prior to borrowing from the Agricultural
Bank, so that I could go on falling on my own place. I applied for £120,
to fall sixty acres; the loan was granted. Payment by instalments as
work proceeded, and terms twenty-one years at five per cent. interest.
Getting my old friend Len Vincent to help me, I re-started on my own
place early in June.



CHAPTER XV.

MORE IMPROVEMENTS--BULLOCKYS.


The weather had fined up and remained so for months. Beautiful warm sun,
tempered by the cool breeze by day, and cold, sometimes frosty, nights.
It was ideal weather for work; and Len and I worked well, ate well,
slept well, and for the first time I started to throw off the effects of
all that worry and nerve-strain I had undergone at sea.

Those glorious days! We would be off just after daybreak, red-nosed and
shivering, clad in thick garments and heavy coats, with perhaps a frost
on the grass. Ten minutes with the axe and off came the coat. Another
ten, and the extra pair of pants followed suit, and by half-past eight
the benignant sunshine reduced one to pants and shirt. How you could
work! and when lunch-time came, eat!! It was good to be alive, life was
rosy, and every lungful of the glorious crisp bush-scented air put fresh
manhood into us.

Then the still more enchanting moonlit nights. Small print could be read
with ease by the moonlight, and with the air so still the howl of a
lonely dog three miles off came clear and distinct. From the hut we
could see mile on mile of rolling scrub, sombre and still, and in the
distance a long line of scrub-clad hills, clear cut against the
star-strewn, ink-blue sky. The spirit of the romance of pioneering took
possession of us. We were the only inhabitants of a new-found beautiful
world; we were shipwrecked on an unspoiled pre-Adamite island; we were,
well--just a couple of enthusiastic bush-lovers, with some ability to
appreciate the beauty of old mother Nature.

Len was a good mate, and time passed on winged feet. On Sundays we
tramped in for tucker and spent best part of the day at the open house
his hospitable parents kept. We had whips of vegetables from my garden,
until Braun in an unlucky hour gave Ellison permission to turn a few
cows into his paddock. Now my cabbage garden was down on the creek at a
place where several big trees had come down, the spaces between being
filled up with smaller timber. This formed a barrier that I thought no
mortal cow could ever get over. I didn't know cows.

At 8 p.m. one night three thousand beautiful cabbages and about a
quarter of an acre of other green stuff formed a patch of cultivation to
gladden the eye. At 7 a.m. next day I, newly-arisen, came to the door of
the hut just in time to see the last of a line of ten dropsical, bloated
cows see-saw over the impregnable logs out of a trampled muddy waste
that had been a garden. I rushed down. Too late by hours. Absolutely
nothing remained, save a few mangled stalks. Oh! my cabbages! that were
to have paid the storekeeper's bill, rent, rates, and left a few pounds
in hand. Gone! all gone! With murder in my heart and profanity on my
lips, I chased the horrible wretches, who, grunting with distension and,
I fondly hope, suffering pangs of indigestion, could hardly get up a
slow trot. The tangled grass tripped me up, and I could only stand
swearing impotently, and throw a few futile sticks at the brutes
waddling heavily across the creek, where they lined up on the opposite
bank, turned round and grinned--_grinned_ at me. Ever see a cow
grin? Wait till they manage to crawl into your cultivation patch, or
land a hefty kick home when you're putting the leg-rope on, and then
you'll find out. I know now why the conventional devil has horns and
hoofs. The monks of old who first pictured him kept cows. That's why.

I swore at them until my breath failed, while the light breeze gently
waved the frosted grass against my bare legs and turned my nose blue,
then scurried back to the house. Len laughed unfeelingly, told me to put
a secure fence up, and grow some more. He gave me a hand with the fence
on Sunday. We always put off play-time jobs like that till Sunday.

Terry O'Gorman had come back to his place by this time, doing a bit more
falling, and it was quite like old times again, for, of course, the
three of us camped together. Terry was great on springboard work. A
springboard is a six-inch by one-inch board four feet long, with a
horse-shoe bolted on one end point up. You cut a notch two inches deep
in a tree, insert the board, and stand on it to chop, the point of the
shoe being driven by your weight into the upper edge of the notch and
holding firm. Terry would go up three "lifts" (twelve to fifteen feet)
without nervousness. The advantage is that the higher you go the easier
it is to chop, the grain of the wood being straighter. When the tree
goes, you scuttle away as best you can. I have heard it described as
chopping with one foot in the grave and other on a bit of orange peel;
but it's not quite that bad.

About a month after we commenced falling I actually got a "divvy" out of
my place. A local bullocky had an order for "some small Kauri pine," and
some on my block were the handiest, so I got £5 for about 12,000 super
feet (worth over £200 in Sydney, I suppose), and I thought myself lucky
to get that.

Pardy, the bullocky, was a big, rough, dark-complexioned bloke, with a
shambling walk, a rough tongue and a heavy hand. He absolutely didn't
care a damn for anybody or anything. The only way we could get the
timber out was across a steep gully with a little muddy ditch at the
bottom. It was hard work for the bullocks to come up dragging the empty
jinker, but going down! Pardy would snig his log to the brow,
then--whish! The whip sent skin and hair flying, and the poor brutes
took the descent at a canter, the log behind skidding from side to side,
while Pardy would stand on the brink cracking that awful whip, yelling,
"Go it! you ---- sons of ----! Head over turkey; I thot she wud," as
they brought up all standing in the little creek, bullocks in an untidy
mob, log broadside on, and the polers down. How on earth he didn't kill
half his team every time, I don't know. The place is known as "Pardy's
jump-up" to this day.

All sorts and conditions of bullockys! There was Pardy, sweating and
swearing, and knocking his cattle to pieces, without enough breath left
at night to cool his tea with, and yet not doing nearly as much as his
rival Robin Hood, who, with a team of young steers and cunning old
"stags" only, would haul a 20 per cent. bigger load to the railway an
hour quicker than Pardy; never raising his voice; just talking quietly
to his beasts, and never more than flicking the whip at them. He had
their confidence! A striking example of what kindness and patience will
do.

Jack Bayton was another one. He had a team of magnificent animals that
could pull the guts out of any other on the road. He could haul some
astonishing loads, but used to let the brutes just dodge along, while he
admonished them with loving profanity. "Baldy! Baldy!! You ----! I'll
teach y' ter go pokin' inter the scrub!" (Baldy was after shade and a
spell.) Flick! would come the whip without force enough to kill a fly,
and Baldy lazily resumed the track. Or perhaps Spot would stop and reach
for a bunch of Commonwealth weed. "Ha! you Spot! ---- you, ye blanky ol'
----! I'll ---- well teach yer about wastin' time eatin' weeds." Spot
looks back with a sleepy eye, shoves out, gets his weed, and walks on
calmly chewing. A fat lot he cares about Jack, who affectionately
apostrophises him. "Luk a' that now! Jevver see sich an ol' ----!
Cunnin' as a ---- ---- rat, so he is." Jack thought the world of his
team, and cripes! they could pull when they let themselves out. It was a
treat to see his plodding team swaying up a long hill, without a pause,
with 2500 of bulloak, perhaps, aboard. Very few would do it.

Tom Faringdon was another type again. Big, black, hairy as Esau, a
bloodshot eye, bristly beard and a frightful temper. Doesn't take long
for that sort of man to upset a team. Let his waggon get stuck, and then
watch the circus. What ho! A frightful stream of language. Still stuck.
Then the whip, till the fall was sticky with blood; then frantic rushes
fore and aft alongside the team, digging into their ribs with the butt
of the whip. His voice would be nearly gone by this time, and, with his
Mephistophelian face and glaring eyes, he looked a perfect fiend. Next
he uses the whip handle--smash! smash! smash! along the unfortunate
shivering line, who, lowing with fright, don't know what to do. The
handle breaks across a bullock's back. A frantic howl; down goes his
hat, and he dances it madly into the mud, while his hands (like old "Dad
Rudd's" when the horses went down the well) are raised, but not in
prayer, to Heaven. Then, extremes meeting, he gets so mad that he
becomes calm, and so finally gets the team clear--to repeat the whole
process another half-dozen times before he reaches the station yard.

Well, good or bad, your slow, plodding bullocky is the true pioneer.
Always first in the field, following the fresh cut tracks after timber
in country that perhaps years after will be thrown open for
selection--and his old tracks made the future main roads of the
district. He has a rough, lonely life. Works hard, lives hard, ay! and
sometimes has to die hard too. Collectively, a brave, hardy and useful
member of the mighty Brotherhood of Labour.

Len and I went on chopping, the days passing pleasantly, the work
interesting. Occasionally we attended a dance at the school house on
Saturday nights (of which more hereafter), which was the only break. We
had about thirty-five acres down, and then came----



CHAPTER XVI.

AN ACCIDENT.


The August day was bright and fine, but very gusty.

"Don't like the looks of it at all," said Len, after breakfast. "Too
windy to be safe."

"Think we'd better stop home?" I hazarded.

"M--m! Can't spare the time," he demurred. "Got our work cut out to
finish in good time for the burn, you know, so guess we'll chance it."

"Righto!" I answered. So 7.30 a.m. saw us at it as usual. I was on a
"mad" patch--trees leaning every way--on the side of a hill. I had sent
several drives up; then had to go among the fallen stuff to send the
last four trees of that patch down hill. The last one of these four was
a long willowy crowfoot elm, and as he had a bit of a lean uphill I
"nicked" him well, to make sure he'd go; scarfed the others, and then
started on the driving tree. It was blowing fresh and I was a bit
nervous. I hurriedly got the belly cut in, and had the back in near
enough to make him start talking (i.e., cracking a bit), when a strong
gust came along, making the trees sway dangerously. I stood a second or
two undecided whether to go or stay, and "he who hesitates is lost." A
sharp crack! and the long crowfoot broke back over the scarf,
automatically becoming the driver, and sending the whole lot down on top
of me. "Oh, Christ!" I panted, and made a jump for safety. A stumble, a
slip, and I was down. Up again, and, with the whistling rush of the
falling trees loud in my ears, I turned to face and, if possible, dodge
them, as the fallen stuff round prevented my jumping aside. The first
trunk missed, but tore the shirt off my arm as it swept to earth,
throwing me off my balance; then a whirling stick split my head open,
sent me down on my face, and next second I was buried in falling limbs.
Whack! whack! whack!

I suppose the whole business was only a matter of seconds, but to me it
seemed like an eternity. Half-stunned with fright and the bursting crash
of breaking branches, with the breath beaten out of my body, I thought
at each fresh thump: "This has done it! N-no, not quite yet." Then a
sudden silence and a slowly dawning realisation. "Why! I'm not dead!"

I lay a second or two gathering my scattered wits; then slowly raised my
head, which sang like a kettle. I was in a sort of rustic grotto of
green stuff piled six feet over me. Lord knows how I escaped being
killed. Then I set to work to overhaul myself. Didn't feel the least
pain. Good! But hallo! What's the matter with my left arm? There should
be no joints between elbow and wrist, and here's at least two. I felt an
insane desire to laugh as I waggled the injured member about, with the
blood running down my face from my cut head. Both bones were broken
twice, and the wrist as well, but that seemed to be all; so, under the
circumstances, I had got off fairly easy. I crawled out with some
difficulty, lay down, and coo-eed for Len.

There's something about the call of a hurt man that can't be mistaken,
and Len dropped his axe and raced for me at the first sound of my voice.
Again I felt the hysterical desire to laugh at the sight of him
tumbling, scrambling, tripping over the jumble of fallen stuff in his
eagerness to get to me. He rushed up. I must have looked rather
startling--pale and blood-stained, and the shirt half-torn off me.

"My God! Charlie! What's happened?"

"All right, Len," I answered. "Ain't going to snuff it yet; but my arm's
broke, and I feel awful sick."

"Well, tell us what to do, ol' chap," he said, fluttering round like a
distressed hen. "I feel as useless as the fifth wheel of a coach; but
tell us what to do, and I'll do it."

He got a bit of a stick, and we bound the arm to it with the remnants of
my shirt. Then, with his assistance, I crawled painfully over the fallen
stuff, down and up the steep banks of a creek, and so to the hut. Didn't
feel any pain, only a dreadful sick, vomity sensation. I lay down a bit
while Len brewed a strong mug of tea; swallowed that; felt a heap
better; dragged on my Sunday-go-to-meetings, and prepared for the tramp
into hospital. My back was bruised to a jelly nearly, but I didn't feel
it. A real injury seems to be its own anaesthetic somehow. We left the
humpy about ten o'clock on the ten-mile journey to the station, I
cheerfully ruminating en route on this being the end of everything. I
wonder how many times since then I've had the same thought: "Oh, Lord!
this set-back really _is_ the end." Oh, well! It's all in the day's
work.

We tramped in. Nobody had a buckboard in those days, and I couldn't ride
a horse. We got to the station about half-past three, and had to wait
for the lengthsmen to finish a job they were at before taking me in on
the pump-car, meanwhile telephoning for the ambulance to meet me at the
next station. I sat down, and, for the first and only time in my life,
fainted.

Finally I got into Atherton Hospital, sick and shaky, about 6 p.m., and
didn't I suffer that night! My arm ached, my head ached, the left
shoulder was hurt somehow and also ached, and my back was one huge ache.

I got over it all right, though my arm was very weak for two years
after. What with one thing and another I was in hospital six weeks, and
if it hadn't been for worrying over the selection would rather have
enjoyed the holiday. The cheerful nurses called me "Skipper" (every
patient had a nickname), and were rather inclined to "pet" me. Take it
all round, I had rather a fine time.

I needn't have worried either, for several of the blokes out there left
their own pressing work and bogged into my scrub, doing it under
regulation price, so that I wouldn't have to find any cash over what the
bank had advanced. I don't know about the towns, but in the Bush you'll
always find them willing to help a lame dog over a stile like that.
You've only got to be sick to find out how some, perhaps intolerably bad
tempered, hitherto unfriendly neighbour will turn-to and do his bit for
you with a will. You don't find that sort of spirit much at 'Ome in the
Old Dart.



CHAPTER XVII.

SOCIAL AMENITIES.


Atherton Hospital was a very good country hospital in those days. Now,
what with added buildings, increased staff, X-ray plant, and so forth,
it can hold its head up with a metropolitan institution. It wants to be
good, too, in a rising place like the Tableland, where there are so many
accidents in the bush. I was glad of the change, but my heart being in
the scrub, I welcomed the day when the doctor said I could go back. I
was just in time to see the last trees of my falling go down. The bank
paid me, I settled all outstanding accounts, including storekeeper's
bill for seven months, and had about £5 left. Couldn't do any heavy
work, but got the promise of a wardsman's job at the hospital for the
following January, which, being fairly light toil, I thought I could
tackle.

Meanwhile I put in the time reaping seed in O'Gorman's, to sow my
falling when it was burnt. Len's twenty-first birthday happened, and his
hospitable parents gave a big party to celebrate it. Everybody was
invited, and came as soon as possible after evening milking, and what
with dancing, singing and a splendid supper the evening was a great
success. I made the first speech of my life on this occasion,
congratulating Len, and presented an admirable picture of stuttering
nervousness. "Steele Rudd's" selection stories are somewhat apt to give
the impression that bush folk mostly attend such "do's" in rough boots
and patched clothes. Practically all the settlers here started like
myself, with nothing to speak of, and all were still in the struggling
stage; but there wasn't a bloke among them who didn't have a good suit
carefully packed away for such occasions, no matter how badly off he
was. Same with the girls. All had tasteful frocks, neat blouses and good
shoes; and the bright eyes, rosy cheeks and superabundant energy, which
is imparted by this glorious climate (in which, according to certain
interested persons, the white man can't live), with the laughter and
chatter of happy young people, make a cheerful scene, good to look at.

On such occasions, usually held at the school-house, Mrs. Bloggs and
Mrs. Jimson, who haven't been playing speaks on account of "things I
'eard you'd bin sayin' about me," bury the hatchet, and unite in
condemning the tale-bearing party. Roberts forgets that Robinson's bull
broke the fence, got into his cultivation, and that he had to repair the
fence himself. All is peace and friendly feeling. Everyone is bent on
casting care to the winds and enjoying himself or herself--for that one
evening, anyway.

Music, more or less sweet, is discoursed by an accordion. The M.C., who
usually takes his duties very seriously, bellows his orders at
intervals. Perhaps it is "S'lect y'r pa-ardners f'r a walce." Then is
Bill seen slouching shamefacedly up to Ethel or Maude, "'Ow erbout
gittin' up with us f'r this one?" Maude giggles, squirms, and finally
says, "Oh, all right." They go through the dance amid a fire of such
witticisms as, "'Ello, Bill, when's it comin' orf?" or, "Nar then, Mord,
I'll tell y'r mar!" Bill, not a very brilliant controversialist,
contents himself with, "Ah! garn!" while Maude, with high disdain,
answers, "D'y' think I'd 'ave him? Pooh!" So poor Bill feels sat on.

Now and then you see big men like Pardy bending nearly double, painfully
"treading the mazy" with bits of kids of twelve or thereabout, as there
are often not ladies enough to go round. Now and again the chatter of
voices is stilled and we hear, "Mr. Ransome will oblige the comp'ny with
a song." Mr. Ransome forthwith proceeds to oblige, in a voice hoarse
from long and fervent swearing at refractory bullocks, and is inclined
to crack on the high notes. He gives us "Eileen Alannah." Later on, Mr.
Furney also obliges. He is short and spare, and, to the great
astonishment of his audience, renders "Let me like a soldier fall," in a
roaring basso that makes the roof rattle.

As eleven o'clock strikes certain of us slide off, collect sticks, build
a fire, and suspend a kerosene tin of water over the blaze. When that is
boiled there is a general yell of "Supper," and hampers, which the
ladies have generously provided, are opened, and their hidden wealth of
sandwiches and cake revealed. The community have by general levy long
ago accumulated a large stock of crockery, specially for such ceremonies
at the present. The catering is all arranged beforehand. Mrs. A. brings
tea, sugar and milk. Mrs. B. some sandwiches, and so on. There is always
more than the company can assimilate, and this surplus it is the custom
to divide among any far-out bachelors who may be present--a gift most
acceptable, as I know from experience.

One notices that the gentlemen, no matter how rough in their work-a-day
world, are naturally chivalrous, and take care to see every lady
provided for before commencing to imbibe tea themselves.

It is midnight now, and those who have plenty of cows, and little
assistance, slide off home. The others resume dancing with more vigour
than ever. Mr. Daney obliges with several songs. He is a bit of a dandy,
got up to kill in a chocolate-coloured suit, dark blue waistcoat and
cerise tie. He has rather a pimply face, a perpetual grin and
damp-looking, wispy, straw-coloured hair. He is nervous and continuously
wipes his hands on a handkerchief held for the purpose. He is a fair
tenor, much inclined to tremolo. His first number, "To a manshun in the
cit-e-e-e," etc., is received with much applause, which moves him to a
second effort, "Please, Mr. Conductor, don-putmeyoff the ter-rain,"
which is also taken kindly. Rubbing his hands harder than ever, he comes
up to us, a broad smile on his rather weak face, "Ah! I'm makin' myself
popular, ain't I?" Poor "Algy's" songs always run to sugary sentiment,
so of course, "Don't go down in the mine, daddy," is his closing piece.
Give him his due though, he could work; but, being easily bamboozled, it
was usually for someone else, with little profit to himself. He was also
an excellent hand among the cows.

About 3 a.m. the party breaks up, and you see the hurricane lamps, like
dancing fireflies, disappearing in the scrub, many of the people to go
right on milking as soon as their glad rags are off, and get a few
hours' sleep after breakfast.

Another time, perhaps at the annual break-up of the school just before
Christmas, all hands assemble at the school-house for a picnic. The
school reserve is like a miniature saddling paddock at race time. The
ladies are all there, clad in their best; scores of happy, laughing
kiddies romping round, also togged up, and the men folk in soberer hues,
but all in their best. All forget their worries and try to pretend they
are children again; and the onlooker smiles at the sight of bearded men
and stout ladies playing "Jolly Miller," "Puss-in-the-corner," and so
on, until he finds the infectious spirit of the day seize him, and he
too joins in.

The schoolmaster presently puts the children through their paces under
the parents' eagle eyes, and prizes are distributed--not without some
murmurs and vague insinuations of favouritism from the mothers of the
unsuccessful. Plenty of cash having been collected by weeks of busy
canvassing, the winners obtain substantial rewards at running, jumping,
climbing, etc. The ladies, as usual, provide the more solid portion of
the bountiful spread, but there are always plenty of lollies, fruit and
aerated waters besides.

Usually a bloke with a camera happens along some time in the afternoon,
and then for a few minutes everyone loses his or her individuality, and
combines in one hideous smirk with the conventional idea of looking
pleasant. The long warm day draws to a close, and the kids, tired out,
start off home, some to early bed, others to change hurriedly into muddy
duds and milk cows. The milking is rushed through this evening, and the
elders re-congregate at the school for a dance, which lasts until the
"wee sma' hours ayont the twal!"

It all sounds simple enough in the telling, but go and live in the Bush
a short time, and then see how you will enjoy these unceremonious little
reunions; and contrast that feeling with the blasé indifference with
which, when living in town, you attended a theatre or some other
entertainment. Towns? Not on your life! Give me the great, quiet,
hospitable Bush. The life is more natural, less strained--more human.



CHAPTER XVIII.

BURNING OFF.


It was time to burn-off. Since Braun's paddock would inevitably go when
I fired, Braun himself, with philosophic acceptance of the fact, had
dismantled the old barn and told me to go ahead. However, he had rented
his paddock to old Pardy for a few months, and that nuisance had his
bullocks there.

Like a damned ass, I went to give him notice that I intended to burn.
Cripes! Wasn't there a storm! "---- ---- it!! You burn, and see what
I'll do. Only bit of (sanguinary) grass I can get in the (luridly fiery
improper) district, and now ---- ----!!!"

I reminded him of the possibility that rain might come any day, and the
Rainy Season was due to burst on us in a fortnight. No use. The old cow
wouldn't hear of any compromise. If I burnt he'd blanky well burn _me_.
"Selfish old rotter!" I muttered, and retired in dudgeon. I, of course,
wasn't selfish. I went to see old Paddy, and took him and Barker into my
confidence.

"Yer a fool," said Paddy. "If yer don't fire now, yer'll lose yer
charnst, and then yer'll be ----'d (ruined). Fat lot Pardy'll care ef
y'are! 'E's only got a few bullocks, and they won't starve. Whips o'
grass on th' road, and ef y' don't git y'r burn, y'll be like Barney's
bull. Don't say nothin'. Just burn." Sensible advice.

Then Barker: "Well, me little frogs whisker" (I winced), "if I was you,
I'd burn, and if thar-role snake's ears" (I writhed) "ses owt, just
scruff 'im." Not so good, this, I thought, seeing that Pardy weighed
fifteen stone, and I nine and a half.

However, in spite of their opinion, I pusillanimously decided to hold
off for a fortnight, and then fire without notice. They agreed to come
and help me, but opined they wouldn't be wanted, as it would be raining
before then. A week went by with only a light thunderstorm; then the sky
commenced banking up every night, to the southward. On the tenth day the
bank came up to the zenith, with mutterings of thunder in the distance.
Off I went to Barker's camp, and got there sweating.

"Come on, blokes; I'm burnin' to-morrow. Blast Pardy. We'll burn the
grass round the hut to-night."

"Too late, I'm feared," said Paddy, looking at the sky. "But we'll come,
anyhow. Got 'ny tucker?"

"Whips," I answered; "just fetch your blankets."

We went back on the run, reaching my place at dusk, and, arming
ourselves with green bushes, fired the grass round the humpy. The sun
being off it, it went slowly, and was easily kept within bounds. In an
hour we had the hut standing safely in a burnt patch of about a couple
of acres. Then tea and bunk. But there was no sleep for me. The sky
remained overcast, and the wind cold. I was in and out like a
jack-in-the-box all night. About 2 a.m. there was a few minutes' slight
drizzle, and my heart sank. At first streak of dawn ("sparrow-crack," in
the vernacular) we were out, choked down some breakfast, then crossed
into Braun's and drove Pardy's bullocks into a timber track in the
scrub, cooping them up safely with a few bits of barb wire across the
entrance. The morning was misty.

"Um!" said old Paddy. "Might be fine after all. That mizzle las' night
won' 'urt. Wasn' 'nough ter but damp the top stuff; 'n if the sun comes
out bright and 'ot bye and bye, it'll make the bark split on the big
logs, 'n yer'll git all the better burn f'r it."

How anxiously I waited! At eight o'clock out sprang the sun in full
strength. Nine--ten--then eleven o'clock came, and the day was one of
the hottest I have ever felt up here. Half-past eleven!

"Now, me little frogs' ears," said Barker. "A few buckets of water ready
at the hut; then away she goes a million!"

We got the water, then went up to the scrub, running along the edge of
the falling and lighting up all round as we went, as quick as possible.
Then back to the hut, fired all the grass round the burnt patch, and
stopped there to watch the building. Before long we wished we hadn't
stopped, but by that time we daren't try to cross the burning grass,
roaring away in the daytime. It wasn't too bad the first half-hour.
There was just the thin blue reek from the crackling grass, and in the
background the thicker smoke, rapidly increasing, from the scrub. Every
now and again a darting tongue of dark crimson flame, with a fresh
volume of oily black smoke, told that the line of fire was quickly
joining up round the clearing. A little while longer, then, as the air
inside the sixty-acre patch got heated and rarified, a strong breeze
rose, setting into the fire from all sides, and going upward in the
heated area, as through a funnel. At once a steady muffled roar was
audible, and some trees left standing in the falling had quite big
branches torn off and whirled aloft.

The falling was now fired all over by flying sparks, and the fire
speedily assumed the appearance of a huge waterspout of thick oily black
smoke sky-high, shot with innumerable flickering tongues of crimson
flame. It roared like a titanic engine under tremendous steam pressure.
As the smoke bellied out overhead and slowly overspread the sky, the
sunlight faded, and gave place to a dim yellow twilight, which had an
inexpressibly depressing effect on the spirits--a sort of "something
going to happen" feeling. The strong draught whirled and eddied the
smoke clouds round, nearly suffocating us in the hut, but, with
streaming eyes and mouths covered by cloths, we kept a sharp look-out,
extinguishing any sparks that alighted on or near the house. At one time
it struck awe to our hearts to see a billowing cloud of flame, like a
crimson cloth being shaken out, some sixty feet right overhead.

In the midst of it all there came a wild yell from Braun's, "Hay! Hay!!
Hay!!! You in that 'ut there. I see yer. Wer's me bullicks?" and there
was Pardy dancing excitedly about on the creek bank. "Oh, lemme get
atchyer. You wait, you Senex, yer ---- cow. I'll burst yer fer firin'!"

"Yer bullocks" (cough, cough) "are all right. They're" (cough) "penned
up in Ellison's" (cough) "track. Can't get out," I wheezed, eyes, nose
and lungs full of smoke. "Fire caught by acci" (cough) "dent."

"Accident!! Acci-oh, Gord! If I cud ---- Blanky good job fer you me
bullicks is safe, but t'wont keep me 'ands off o' yer fer burnin' me
grass. Accident!!! Yer COW! I'll ---- you ----," and just here the grass
suddenly caught at his feet and went roaring past him. He took to his
heels up the paddock, and we saw him no more. A minute or two later and
the fire leaped on to the old barn, and the poor old place, my first
home in the bush, disappeared in a whirling gust of flame.

About 4 p.m. we managed to dodge away, our heads feeling like pumpkins,
the worst of the fire being over, and by six o'clock it had died down,
leaving a charred black waste, with innumerable twinkling lights all
over it, which, in the gathering dusk, gave the impression of a city
seen in the distance by night. For weeks after our eyes were blurred,
and match or lamp flame was surrounded by a broad blue halo. Barker's
eyes, always weak, were bleeding profusely long before we left the hut.
The sole remains of Braun's old barn were one charred post and a few
little heaps of nails, and his paddock was as clean and bare as a
billiard table. A week later, covered with the new green shoot, it
looked lovely, and has never had a weed in it since.

I kept carefully out of Pardy's way for a week or so, but he soon cooled
down, for on the evening of the day after I fired the rain came
suddenly, like a tank emptied on the roof, as it does in the tropics,
and kept up continuously for thirty-six hours. In a week there was "feed
for dogs" all over the district, but it was a near go for my burn. I set
to work sowing my paddock carefully and well, finished the job by
mid-January, and by the end of the month the grass was shooting well,
giving every promise of the last being every bit as good a paddock as my
first burn. My luck was "in" then.



CHAPTER XIX.

WARDSMAN AND DECKHAND.


At the beginning of February I took up my duties as wardsman at the
hospital. The young lady, who had been patiently waiting some ten years
or so for me in Melbourne, had written to say that she thought we would
be better struggling along together, and she was willing to rough it
with me, even if she had to live in a tent. So I told her to have all
ready for New Year, 1915, and in the meantime I would devote the whole
of 1914 to making a cheque.

With this end in view I would do the light graft at the hospital until
the end of May, then, conquering the feeling of dislike, go down to the
Richmond again, and try for a job as deckhand aboard one of the tugboats
hauling punts of cane up and down the river--technical work, not too
hard and well paid. So I communicated with the manager at the mill,
explaining that I was a fully qualified sailorman, and received a reply
that if I would guarantee to stop the full season he would guarantee me
a berth. So that was all right.

I soon fell in with the hospital routine, though continued close
companionship with sickness, and sometimes death, had a depressing
effect on my sensitive, rather highly-strung nerves.

We always had a Chinaman or two, and it made my gorge rise to see the
pretty white nurses attending to some of the specimens, though the
washing of 'em fell to me (ugh!). I remember one dreadful old morphia
fiend, about seventy, who was brought in dying, and who passed out next
day. I was detailed to watch him die, and perform the necessary offices
immediately after death, but being called away for a few minutes, I
missed his actual passing. When I returned he was lying there, his
glassy eyes, shrivelled monkey face and dropped jaws, exposing the long
yellow decayed fangs, making a perfectly dreadful sight; and even in
that minute or two the horrible flies----. God! the mere sound of a
blowfly has made me feel sick ever since then.

There was another old fellow named Ah Chi who also passed out, and in
connection with whose death the matron made a peculiar "mistake in
identity." His son had told her to ring up No. 16 when old Ah Chi passed
in his checks. She rang up No. 60--a business house presided over by a
gentleman named Archibald Davidson. I imagine his surprise, and
presumably pleasure, on hearing through the telephone a sweet feminine
voice, "Is that Archie?" One could imagine the said Archie tumbling over
himself to do the polite, and wondering if he should address the fair
unknown as "Yes, pet; you're the one."

The sweet voice continues: "Hospital. Matron speaking. Look here,
Archie; your father died last night, and as the weather's so hot you'd
better make arrangements for the funeral at once."

Quoth Archie: "What the devil are you talking about, madame?"

"W-why, isn't that Ah Chi, Chinatown?"

"Good Lord, no! This is Davidson, Messrs. Blank and Co." Collapse of
matron.

I had to sit by the bedside of more than one alien watching them die;
mostly at night, for the reason that, if they possibly can, they will
get up and try to crawl away somewhere just before their passing. An
unpleasant job, sitting waiting, like a ghoul or a vulture, and trying
not to seem impatient.

None of us objected to attending the little Japs, though. They were
always scrupulously clean, and, though nobody save a fool wants to see
many of them knocking round here, yet they are real men one can respect,
aye! and like--in their own country.

Every week saw fresh scrub-falling accident cases brought in. One in
particular ought to be recorded, as showing that peace hath her heroes
as well as war. An old chap, aged about sixty, scrub-falling by himself,
had a tree jump back at him, jambing his foot and grinding it to pulp.
He tied a bit of string round below the shin, cut off the bits of foot
still dangling, and then crawled two miles through the scrub to a road.
The cream cart passed shortly, outward bound.

"What's up, Bill?"

"Oh, had a bit of an accident" (he had his coat over the leg). "Pick me
up when you come back. Y'll only be about twenty minutes or so, eh? Oh,
well, I can last double that," and he lit his pipe.

Old Buckboard whipped his nags to a canter, and got back in less than
the quarter-hour. Then he saw the injury.

"Christ!" he said; "if I'd seen that, their bloomin' cream cud a' gone
t'ell."

"Yes, I know," said old Bill. "That's why I didn't show it yer."

After it was fixed up at the hospital, the doctor was sympathising with
him.

"'S all right, Doc," he broke in; "I'll be savin' footgear now."

The weeks passed on, and I, being personally associated with the rest of
the staff, saw things that the casual patient never heeds. For instance,
the gentle, patient nurses, never out of temper, always calm, cool and
prompt. No complaints, despite the comparatively meagre pay and long
hours; the querulous complaints of sick men, made irritable by long
hours of pain, passing over them like water off a duck's back, or to be
met with a cheerful smile, and a "Well, now, cheer up; it's not that
bad, I'm sure." Only when off duty and "done up" does the mask drop a
little. And mighty little real gratitude they get from the average
patient, or thanks either, beyond a few conventional phrases.

Just before I left the hospital there came tragedy to my selection. Old
Paddy and a mate were falling my road, the council having decided to
fall all roads adjacent to cleared selections, and the son of a
neighbouring selector, a lad some twelve years old, used to bring their
tucker out to them. On this occasion the lad had stopped to watch them
let a big drive go, although they had told him to trot along. Paddy's
mate was at work on the driver, while he himself was brushing round
their next drive.

A call: "Look out, Paddy; she's crackin'."

Paddy trotted along to the boy, who was astride a slow old mare that
wouldn't get a move on. "Come on, kid. Git a bit further off. Told yer
t' git outer this before."

A wild yell: "She's comin' back! Run, man, run!! Oh, Gord! the boy!"

The lad dug his heels into the mare's ribs, but she only shook her head,
and started a slow walk. Paddy made a jump for him, caught him round the
waist, and tried to drag him out of the saddle. Too late. Next second
the tree caught the boy across the shoulders, drove him into the horse,
and both into the earth, Paddy being thrown to one side with but a few
bruises and scratches. Imagine the feelings of the poor mother!
Outwardly though she took it like a Spartan; but it was no surprise that
when her baby was born, five months later, she went West without an
effort to hold on to life, heart-broken. May her soul find rest! Make no
mistake; the slain trees can, and do, often get their revenge.

I left the hospital towards the end of May, all square, and with enough
over to get to the Richmond, where I had to show up by 25th June. I saw
the Lands Commissioner to obtain permission to leave my selection for a
short while.

"That's all right," he said. "So long as it's bona fide wage-earning,
and we know where you are, we don't penalise a selector with a good
record. Drop me a post card once a month, and you can stop away till the
end of the year." I thanked him and promised.

Next day I was on the "briny" en route for Brisbane; had rather a stormy
passage down. I paid a duty call to the Lands Office, and informed them
I was highly satisfied, and into the willing ears of several reporters
poured a glowing account of the district, which duly appeared in next
day's papers.

I went by train to Lismore, and on to Broadwater by boat, and I enjoyed
the interesting boat trips up the Tweed and down the Richmond. I got to
Broadwater about 6 p.m. on a dismal day pouring with rain, to find a
strike on and the mill hung up. I won't say anything about the strike,
but, well--a pound a week and tucker isn't much, now is it? I had cut
things rather fine--in fact I had only about five shillings left; so I
interviewed the manager, who gave me permission to camp in the barracks
along with a couple of decent blokes who came regularly from Sydney each
year, and who, being like myself under an award, didn't join the strike
camp.

They remembered me. "Hello, Senex, you here again?"

"Yes; and damn near broke, too."

"Cripes! You're not the only pebble on the beach. We are, too."

"Well, what are you going to do about tucker?" said I.

"Reckon the best thing we can do is to have what you sailor blokes call
a tarpaulin muster," said Jim. "What you got, Bill?"

Bill turned out his pockets. "Oh! seven and a sprat."

Jim had eight bob, and I five and six. By combining our resources and
buying cheap stuff "in bulk" we lived eight days on that lot, till the
strike finished and work started. Jim had built a fish trap, which was
mainly responsible for our success, the river teeming with fish of all
sorts. I was duly appointed deckhand on one of the tugs, powerfully
engined but slightly ancient. The bloke in charge was rather a martyr to
liver complaint, but he was ordinarily so decent that one could easily
be tactful, and pass over the livery bouts. The engineer was German, but
when the war started he became "Hanoverian"--as indeed I believe he was,
only he didn't say so before. Not at all a bad sort, but apt to lose his
head when things went wrong.

We'd be toddling along with a string of empty punts astern, when the
regulation "doodlum-clink" would suddenly change to a series of terrific
bangs. A wail of despair from below. "It's der whackum (vacuum) agin!"
Then would we tie up to the handiest wharf and effect repairs, with much
banging of hammers and clashing of tools thrown angrily about. Next day,
perhaps, we would haul a punt off a shallow place, stirring up much mud.
A few minutes later a powerful smell of burning rubber, and loud oaths
in a strong German accent, would apprise us of another disaster. Up
would come the "sheaf," tearing his hair and dancing on his cap. "What's
wrong, Franz?" says our skipper, with that quietly sarcastic attitude
which is more maddening than a blow.

"Blitzen und picklehaubes! Der Cotdom gon-denzer iss choged vit zand!!"

"Well, clear the damn thing then. What'r'ye makin' such a fuss for?"

"But der rupper backing iss burnt!" with much gesticulation.

"Well," says the skipper, with a disgusted look. "Want me to give you
one o' m' boots to mend it with? Put a new bit of rubber in!"

Franz, not apparently having thought of it before, dives below again,
and we wait until the orgy of oaths, bangs, thumps and thumb-smashings
has ceased, and he comes up again, wiping his brow, to inform us that
"she's all right now till someting eless goes."

But it was always the "whackum," and it "went" pretty often, in fact
nearly every day for a month, and Franz talked wildly of "shucking his
yob." This statement roused old Tom (the skipper) to ribald contumely.
"What! You 'shuck' your 'yob.' Why! a bloomin' charge of dynamite
wouldn't shift you, and you know it, and" (with bitter emphasis) "you
can't stuff me with that, old 'shap.'"

At last one day Franz's bête noir broke so badly that we were left
alongside a downstream wharf for ten hours while he took the whole
caboodle up to the mill in a launch, to be properly seen to. After that
it went all right. Time passed quickly, the work was interesting, even
the deckhand's job calling for the exercise of some brains and
common-sense, and I averaged about £12 a month right through.

It was a bitter satire on deep sea life. When I was mate of an 8000-ton
steamer I got £10 and find my own uniform, instruments, etc., and had a
position to live up to. Here, deckhand on a little tub we could have
carried on our poop, I was actually banking more than my pay as mate, no
position to keep up, and, having no responsibility, sleeping well at
night!

We sometimes came up late, and the river on a fine night is really
beautiful. We brought up the last load of the season on 22nd January,
1915, and the same night I took passage in the "Brundah" for Sydney,
with about £60 in my pocket. She was due at Broadwater at 10 p.m., and I
went up to old Tom's place to bid him good-bye.

At nine o'clock we heard a siren. "Hello, she's before her time. Hurry
up, Charlie." She had just cast off when I reached the wharf, so I
chartered a trap and drove hell for leather through a pelting rain storm
to Wardell. I tumbled into the ferry skiff, tipped the boatman to put me
alongside the "Brundah," scrambled frantically aboard, to find--she was
going to tie-up till daylight. In due course we left the river, arrived
in Sydney after a rather stormy passage, and thus ended the second stage
of my journey.



CHAPTER XX.

MARRIED.


I got the wedding ring in Sydney. I was always rather a bashful person,
and I went from shop to shop without entering, because there were girls
behind the counter. At last I came to one. Ah! a man here. This'll do
me. And in I dived.

"Yes, sir; and what can I get for you?"

"Er--er--I want some wedding rings, please" (as if I were a Mormon).

"Certainly. Miss Blithers, attend to this gentleman, please."

Forward stepped a perky miss from the back of the store. It was early in
the morning, and I was the only customer. Whether purposely or not I
don't know, but she took me to the end counter, where a couple more
girls were lying in wait for me, put down about a dozen trays of rings
in front of me, and smiled. I blushingly pulled out my marked size-card,
and they smiled some more. Finally I chose one and a keeper; then--

"May I congratulate you?" smilingly.

"Oh, er--yes--er--thank you."

"Sydney?"

"Er--no; Melbourne."

"Indeed." Then very archly: "Now I'm sure she's dark." (I am gingery
myself.)

Before I knew where I was I had hauled out her picture from my breast
pocket and handed it over.

Instantly: "M-m-m-m! Cream Sicilian.... M-m! Jap. silk.... M-m! Ducky
shoes ... love of a hat ...," and so forth. Finally the photograph was
handed back.

"Yes; she does look a real good sort. We hope you'll be very happy."

My opinion of them at once rose ten beans. I bade them good-bye and left
the shop, followed by their cheerful grins.

That night I boarded the boat for Melbourne, speculating most of the
passage as to whether She would be down to meet me, how She would look,
and so on. It was nearly five years since we had bade good-bye to each
other--for a few months! The familiar landmarks slipped by--Montague
Island, Cook's Pigeon House, Mt. Imlay, Queenscliff, then Melbourne
wharf at 11 p.m.

And She was there to meet me all right--with a chaperone (I suppose
that's the correct term. Anyway, it was her aunt), who discreetly turned
her back to our meeting, and, giddy old thing, ogled a big policeman,
who was looking at us with a kind of amused tolerance as of one who had
been all through that kind of thing long ago and got past it. We
chartered a cab, and got the last train home by a hair's breadth.

The day was fixed for a fortnight ahead, and the time passed in a
whirlwind of visits and introductions to about half the population of
that Melbourne suburb, I should think. Then there was the preliminary
visit to the reverend gentleman who was to "pass the reef point."

I'll never forget that day. We had missed the train, and had to walk,
say, three miles over some flat open country. I've been in Calcutta in
the height of the South-West monsoon; in a place called Infernillo
(anglicé "little Hell"), a dreadful desert spot up the Gulf of
California; in Santiago-da-Cuba in July--but never in my life have I
felt such an unbearable scorching heat as on that awful walk in the hot
North wind in Melbourne. The kindly old clergyman showed us his
thermometer--109 degrees in a stone-walled room and the blinds drawn.
And they call it a hell of a day up here in North Queensland when the
mercury touches 85 degrees! Give a dog a bad name----

The momentous day came round in due course. The augury was excellent. A
brilliant sun, cool breeze, and, as I stepped on to the verandah in the
early morning, a flight of white seagulls wheeling round overhead. What
better omen could the most superstitious desire?

The ceremony was quickly over. I am burdened with four Christian names,
and when the parson came to "I, Charles William Reginald," etc., he
transposed the names, and there was a dreadful moment, while I
hesitated, wondering whether I would be properly married if I alluded to
myself as "William Charles." However, I courageously said I was Charles,
the minister smiled, and we were soon spliced hard and fast. My best man
had the ring ready at the right moment, and of course the blessed thing
wouldn't go on, and I had to use brute force to get it on to its proper
finger. Then the wedding breakfast, where doubtless, under the combined
influence of love, lemonade and excitement, I made numerous speeches,
and soared to heights of windy verbosity seldom heard outside Parliament
House. Following that the usual photographer arranged us on the lawn and
snapped us in the usual fashion; then, ho! for the station and
Australian wharf, where lay the good ship "Canberra," which was to have
the signal honour of bearing us North.



CHAPTER XXI.

STARTING HOUSEKEEPING.


Rapidly the splendid "Canberra" ploughed her way North. Fine weather
attended us, making our trip a perfect honeymoon. The wretched confetti
having completely given us away, the ship's personnel seemed to regard
us with a sort of proprietary air of paternal amusement. In due course
we reached Mackay, where there was a lop of a sea alongside, sufficient
to keep the tenders rolling and bumping, and prevented the side ladder
from being lowered. The passengers desirous of going ashore had
therefore to be gathered into the embrace of a cargo net six at a time
and slung overboard on to the tender's deck per derrick, like so many
bags of spuds. It was the funniest spectacle imaginable (to the
onlooker) to see the sling load go down by the run on to the tender's
deck, the contents to go sprawling like a spilt handful of peas. Of
course it can't be helped, with the tender rising and falling four or
five feet in the seaway.

In Townsville we had rather a nasty experience. Went for a motor boat
picnic with a large party across the bay. Coming back late at
night--dark, rainy and blowing fresh, with high following sea--one of
the party went overboard. It was some time before he was missed, then we
'bout ship and headed into it, continuing until we had "all hands and
the cook" bailing. Another illustration of the needle and haystack
business, so we gave up, and finally got inside the Breakwater about 2
a.m. About half-way to the town wharf the engine gave a protesting
cough, slowed and stopped. No petrol left aboard. So it was a fairly
"close go."

We transhipped at Townsville into a dirty old tub belonging to another
company and left about noon for Cairns. That night we slipped forrard on
to the focsle head, and stood leaning on the stem head, watching her
sharp cutwater shearing along and admiring the play of phosphorescence
in the backwash. A perfect night. The dim coast slipping past, the dull
beat of the engines, the plunging hiss of the stem ploughing the watery
furrow, and that strange tropical smell, coming on the faint land
breeze, gave an air of romance to this part of our trip, and we were
loath to go below and lose any of it.

We were roused out in the morning in time to see the twinkling lights of
Cairns just paling to the first faint streaks of dawn. Then the landing,
a hurried rush to the station, and by the time we had settled down we
were half-way to the Range. The weather was beautifully fine, and the
country round Atherton looked its best, giving a splendid first
impression to a "newey." There happened to be a buckboard waiting at our
station, which took us right out to Ellison's place, where Mrs. Ellison,
who had been expecting us, gave us a hospitable welcome.

I found many changes round the place. A road, sixty feet wide, had been
cut through the scrub right out to my selection, though a lot of
side-cutting and bridge construction would still be necessary to make it
navigable for a buckboard. Len, Terry, old Paddy and some others had
enlisted for the war, and I frankly admit I felt a bit ashamed and sort
of lonely when I heard of it. The wife and I had waited nearly twelve
years for our taste of happiness, and if the authorities wanted me they
knew where I was. Poor old Paddy had celebrated his departure by a
glorious burst, and his final farewell to the crowd on the station was,
"'Sall ri-ight, you shaps, b-but (hic!) y'all have er go whe-nen
subscrichun (hic!) gess goin-nin."

There was a young fellow who had gone named Jimmy McKay. He had the
place adjoining mine opposite end to Terry O'Gorman, and we decided to
camp at his little iron shack till I got a bit better place erected on
my own farm. So, a day or two after arrival, the wife and I carried our
belongings over to Jim's little shack, along the muddy scrub tracks. It
was the wife's first introduction to scrub life. Every few yards we had
to stop while she picked the blood-thirsty little scrub leeches off
herself, and she spent that night crying quietly, scratching scrub-itch
and leech bites, and nursing the place on her arm where the cursed
stinging tree had got her through the coat sleeve. Poor girl! She was
dreadfully homesick, and the open fire and camp oven cookery had lowered
her spirits some more. She stuck to it like a Briton though, and never
said anything. Jim's humpy was a very depressing place, too, situate at
the bottom of a hollow in the scrub. Only ten acres of a clearing, and
the dense wall of standing timber glooming down on the house in a
pessimistic fashion.

She soon shook down to it, however, and in a few days I started with a
mate named Jack Redburn, who kindly volunteered to give me a hand,
splitting out the stuff for a new house. Thus we started housekeeping
together. Quite penniless, no income assured, and the future extremely
uncertain. Rather funny to look back on, but grim enough at the time.



CHAPTER XXII.

STRUGGLING ALONG.


I used to set out at six every morning to go over to my place, where my
mate, Jack Redburn, would be awaiting me, and we worked until dark
putting up the house. He was a good bushman, and in ten days or so we
had a really decent comfortable little house up. Eighteen by twelve it
was, with a ten-by-ten kitchen attached, all rough lined and ceiled. It
was a lonely time for the wife, and I often felt my way home in the dark
to find her crouched alongside the smoky fire, starting at every sound
from the scrub.

[Illustration: We had a really decent comfortable little house.]

She and I carried our stuff over to the new place, having to make a long
detour through the scrub to avoid scrambling about in Jimmy's overgrown
loggy clearing, but the end of March saw us comfortably installed. Mrs.
Ellison made us a present of a wee dolly stove she had used at first, so
there were no more scorched aprons and smarting eyes for the wife, and
the only fly in the ointment was how to make a bob or two. Though so
early in the year, people were anticipating a dry spell, as the Rainy
Season had not, so far, been up to much, as the grass wasn't as
plentiful as it should have been. On that account there wasn't much
doing. My first move, after talking things over with older settlers, was
to get some cows.

Two "purple patches" of advice:--

DAD VINCENT: "Lord _love_ yer, man! Of _course_ you've done the _right
thing_! Look at _me_. Came up here with _no experience_, a _wife_ and
thirteen _kids_. I've been _submerged_ half a dozen _times_, and _look_
at me now. Get some _cows_ and good _luck_ to you."

OLD PARDY: "So yeh've got married? Well, a man's a blanky lizard ef 'e
can't knock out a blanky livin' in the bush. Git some blanky cows; and
dairy!"

So I put the fear of a drought away from me. Such a thing had never
happened before in the thirty years' history of the Tableland. Cows were
fairly cheap. Therefore--borrow some more cash from the Agricultural
Bank and buy cows. Good. I applied for £200 and got it without any
trouble.

Then Bayton the bullocky offered to take some pine off my place at
sixpence a hundred (two pounds odd in Sydney!) and give me the cutting.
I jumped at it, and he took about twelve thousand feet. This gave me
enough money to get six coils of barb wire (it hadn't risen much up to
then), and about £3 over to renew my credit with the storekeeper. That
was the last money he got for twelve months; yet he never worried me. I
was only one of scores on his books that year, but he always got more
kicks that thanks, and of course was a profiteer.

I used the wire to fence my road line; then made a deal for sixteen
cows, a bull and seven twelve-month heifers for my £200, and thought I
was all sagalio. Four cows were milking, and the others were supposed to
be in calf, but weren't. We made a bit of butter and sold it to some
bachelor neighbours for about two months, and that paid the rent. Then
the green grass disappeared, the cows went dry, and the two calves that
had come with them died.

I assisted the maintenance man putting up a bridge near my place, and
that paid for rates. A week or two cutting timber nearby for Hood and
Bayton, and the half-yearly interest bill worried us no more; then their
bullocks got too weak to work, so that source of income stopped too. And
"Old Store's" account rendered kept on mounting up, although we lived on
rice and beef-shins, made a seventy-pound bag of sugar last six months,
and a fifty-pound bag of flour eight weeks. A nightmare of a time!

So July came along, with some hard frosts. Now frost up here is
invariably followed by rain within two days in a normal year, which
causes the grass to get a spring on at once, as the days are always warm
and bright. But in this infernal year there was no rain, so the grass
got completely settled--above ground, that is. It sprang again in a
night once the rain came at the end of the year. My cows were wandering
out through Braun's paddock all over the country searching for a bit of
green stuff, and I nearly tramped my legs off looking for them to keep
them dipped and clear of ticks. Half the time I couldn't find them, so
that with ticks and starvation the herd got down to ten.

August. Still no rain! Got a job brushing for old Pardy, and had to walk
four miles each way to work and back every day, so averaged about 30/- a
week, which had to be hoarded over against bank interest at the end of
the year. And the storekeeper's bill still rose!

October. Will it _ever_ rain again? Dismal tales from everyone of dying
stock, bankruptcy and ruin. My remaining cows could hardly stagger, and
their ribs stood out like the black notes on a piano. I managed to get
them home, when they were too weak to play up, let them into my banana
patch, and the twenty clumps kept them going for a week or two. They
even pawed out and ate the roots. My bull got into a very rough paddock
not far away, fell down a steep stony creek, broke a leg and died there.
The outlook was as hopeless as financial stability under Freetrade.

November came, and old Omar's "blue sullen vault of sky" glared
remorselessly down on us for over a fortnight of the month. No rain--not
even the distant muttering promise of coming thunder. Then, on the 20th
November, about 2 p.m., there was a sudden long roll of thunder in the
distance. Two cows had calved, and I had the poor, miserable, staggering
wretches in the bails, trying to force down their necks a bit of
watercress I had found in the creek over a mile away.

I whipped out of the shed.

Thank God! There, rapidly rising over the trees to the South-East, was a
long bank of black cloud. The thunder grew louder, and a cold refreshing
wind suddenly sprang into being. We could see and smell the grey
drifting curtain of rain that spelt Resurrection! A faint pattering on
the roof. Louder; louder yet! until it became a deafening roar that kept
up for over an hour. Salvation! The drought had broken at last. I went
out and bathed in the rain, absorbing it in every pore. I think it's the
only time in my life I was delighted to be wet through. It was just in
time to save my remaining cows.

I had left but seven cows, and six twenty-month heifers--say, £118
worth; but the debt of £200 to the bank still remained, and the
storekeeper's £40 had to be remembered, and the--oh, but why recall such
misery?

Apropos the drought. It wasn't really a drought at all. I remember once
going from Sydney to Melbourne by train, and after Albury the whole
country was literally bare as a board. Well, up here, at the worst time,
there was knee-high dry grass somewhere in every paddock; but the fool
cows, never having been used to anything but green feed, simply starved
sooner than look at it. A few that did take to it here and there kept in
fair nick throughout, but of course didn't give any milk. I'll bet there
isn't a Victorian cocky who would have thought it anything worse than
just a bit of a dry spell. And, too, out of the hundreds of creeks
running through the scrublands, I only saw one that had gone dry. I
shall never forget the delicious smell of the wet earth after the first
rainstorm, and that night, all over the paddocks, there was a pæan of
praise from countless millions of frogs. Now, where the dickens do these
blokes get to during a dry spell? We hadn't heard a croak for at least
six months (or when the cows croaked they didn't do it audibly).

Next morning there was a faint green sheen all over the place, and in a
week the grass was six inches high. The cows bogged in, their ribs
disappeared, and four more calved. Thus about the middle of December I
was a bloated capitalist, owning land and stock, with six cows milking
and one more to come in, and reckoned it was high time to lend my
support to the local butter factory and commence sending in cream.



CHAPTER XXIII.

JOYFUL EXPERIENCES OF COW-COCKYING.


So I went in to interview the factory people. I had to go to the expense
of a new pair of boots for the occasion. I hadn't been wearing boots for
months, but could hardly go in in bare feet. I had to take shares in the
factory, and buy a separator--on terms; and right here is where I found
for the first time a use for the chest full of blocks I had brought up
to haul the scrub down with. I sold the lot to old Pardy for a fiver and
paid for my boots, deposit on shares and separator, and exes. in town
out of it. In due course the separator was brought out, in pieces on a
pack horse the last mile or so, and erected in the split slab dairy.

What an event the first separating was! What though I forgot to clean
the vaseline out of certain little holes and corners, and the cream
wouldn't pass through; that, in my anxiety to avoid turning too slow, I
went at eighty revolutions instead of sixty, and the final result hardly
covered the bottom of a gallon billy. We owned property! stock!!
machinery!!! and we washed up the glistening new parts afterwards with
pride and joy, which soon faded, by the way. And it rained, and kept on
raining--probably to make up for the drought. The moisture poured in
chilly streams through the rusty old iron roof of the bails, and
sometimes I got nearly as much rainwater as milk. The roads speedily
became bogs, and the creeks rose, and kept high for weeks. I was wet
through morning, noon and night, and everything in the house got damp
and mildewed. Boots looked, and smelt, like old bronze. Of course, we
wouldn't have been so miserable had we possessed a good big house, good
bails, yards, fences, and so forth; but these luxuries needed
cash--which I hadn't got, so I had to put up with makeshifts.

Braun was away somewhere and wouldn't fence his creek boundary. I
couldn't. So behold! when I stepped out in the dismal, grey, misty dawn
two cows would be in Braun's, one at Domino's Hill, two miles off one
way, one in O'Gorman's, and the others playing hide-and-seek over about
five hundred acres of overgrown, loggy paddock. The result was that I
was often only starting to milk at 10.30 a.m. In the afternoon it was
much the same. You would follow them up to see where they planted. Go
back to the place at 4 p.m. No sign of them. After an hour's search you
might come across them at the end of O'Brien's or Braun's or O'Gorman's
or somewhere--but never the lot of them together. Finally I got hold of
some plain wire and ran four wires along Braun's. Then other people's
stray steers came along, walked through it wherever they pleased, as
steers will, and kept me all my spare time patching up that makeshift.
But it kept the cows home, anyway.

Then carrying the cream. I had to take it down to a place opposite
Liston's, three miles away. Had neither horse nor money to buy one.
Tried to carry a can down by myself once, but never again. Ever try to
carry thirty pounds or so of liquid in a sixteen-pound can, all smooth
and polished tinned steel? Try it and see how she goes. The weight keeps
shifting, and one staggers round all over the shop, and staggering on a
muddy road nearly knee deep, things happen. You soon find yourself
plastered thick from head to foot. The wife volunteered to help, so we
slung the cursed can on a stick and carried it on our shoulders that
way. Tramp, tramp through the bog, puffing and panting in the steamy
heat across two deep creeks and along slippery "sidlings," struggling
down to Roden's, where we left the cans to be picked up by the carter
sixteen hours later and taken into the train, which eventually took it
to the factory, where the cream was almost invariably graded
second-class.

One day sticks in my memory. It had been intensely hot, and we got to
Roden's late. There we heard a tale of woe. Mr. Roden was in hospital,
and there was only Mrs. Roden and a kid to milk thirty cows. Of course
I, like an ass, offered to help, forgetful that I had my own to see to,
and by the time I thought of my own affairs it was getting dusk and the
delayed thunderstorm threatened. We hurried off, I with two empty cream
cans slung, Chinaman fashion, on a stick across the shoulders, the wife
with a billy containing a jewfish still alive, which Mrs. Roden had
given her--a special luxury we hadn't tasted for a year. We had just got
into the thick scrub when the storm burst on us. It speedily became
pitch dark, and there we were, two miles from home, the rain pouring in
buckets full, drenched and shivering, slowly picking our way among the
innumerable roots and stumps by the lightning flashes' flickering glare,
I in front, the wife behind hanging on to my belt. Every now and then I
would feel a jerk, and a flop and smothered groan apprised me that the
wife had fallen down again. Then a wail, "W-where's me fish?" and we
would both be down on our knees in the mud feeling round for that
precious fish until a lightning flash showed us where it was. Finally I
slung the cans to one side and half-led, half-carried the poor girl
home.

When we arrived at the brow of a short steep pinch leading down to our
creek, we realised the impossibility of walking--just sat down in the
mud and tobogganed down it. We reached home, covered with mud, drenched
and exhausted, at 8 p.m. The cows weren't milked that night.

This was about the end of March. In the following October our first
child was born. Of course we didn't know. Still, what might have
happened! Well, just about this time I heard Hood had a horse for sale,
so I went and saw him. He was an old steeplechaser, twenty years old,
and very thin and ribby. He stood about six feet high at the shoulder.

I asked Hood what he had on him. "Thirty bob," said Hood.

"Done," said I, and dragged the moke home.

We called him Napoleon Bonaparte, and stood looking at him that evening,
telling each other he wasn't too bad at all. The old, old saggy-kneed
animal would look "noble" when he picked up a bit; he showed quality,
didn't he now? in spite of his age--and so forth, until, our eyes
meeting, we burst out laughing, with a simultaneous exclamation, "'On
Our Selection' to the life."

We found the old chap would eat anything, being used to kids petting
him; so we filled him up with odds and ends of porridge, cabbage stalks,
bread, spud peelings, and so on, and, strange to say, he did pick up. He
was a whale on separated milk, and got plenty of it. Anyway, the poor
old fellow carried the cream (attached to his back by a weird
contrivance of cornbags and rope) for two years, so he paid for himself.
Then he got sick and developed a booming cough--a very curfew, tolling
the knell of Bona-parting.

I called in a bloke to look at him.

"Oh," says he: "it's on'y gripes. Give 'im a good 'earty kick in the
guts. That'll settle 'im."

I didn't try the recipe, and poor old Boney settled himself that
night--in the cowyard; and I had to cut him up and drag him away in
sections for cremation.

What sickening shocks we did have that year, to be sure! Our first
cheque was sixteen shilings for the month, after share-money and
separator instalment were deducted. Then the long-suffering storekeeper
stopped credit, and for a while we lived on what we could grow, with
scrub turkey, and once or twice bandicoot. The latter weren't bad, in
fact, very palatable; but they looked ratty. The Government remitted the
year's rent, but bank interest and rates had to be met; and my biggest
cheque for the year was £8. Oh, it was a daisy time! However, my cows
had all had heifer calves; I brought them safely past weaning point, and
got £4 a head for them on the top of a risen market that the week after
was fallen to £2. This was one of the rare strokes of luck I have had,
and paid two-thirds of Old Store's account, renewing credit.

In October a daughter was born to us, who, thanks to the dreadful
climate (whites can't live up here, you know) hasn't had a day's
sickness yet! In December my young heifers calved, and the cheques each
month from the factory increased, so that I got clear of debt, and
actually felt what having a few pounds in the bank was like. I managed
to keep the 1917 crop of calves. It was a good year.

In 1918 things went swimmingly again, but a plague of caterpillars ate
me out, and I lost half the youngsters, but still I crept ahead a bit
financially. In June my son and heir made his appearance. Another
miserably bright, bonny, rosy-cheeked victim of the climate. At the end
of the year Hood had a look at my timber, and offered to cart logs to
the mill, and haul the resulting sawn timber out again if I paid for
cutting the logs up; he to charge cartage as a cash deposit to me on my
standing timber. I jumped at the chance, for, lo! here was a new house
for us. I could just manage to scrape enough cash together to pay for
cutting at the mill. In February, 1919, I got the house up, paying for
its erection with two young heifers.

Now we had indeed turned the corner, and could begin to believe that our
struggling days were really behind us. A month or two later Hood, who
had shifted out close to us, made a proposal to join forces: I to look
after the cows, of which he had a decent herd; he to work his bullocks;
all proceeds to be pooled and shared.

It has worked well, for he is a white man and a good mate. We have had a
plague of caterpillars again, but got over it without serious loss, and
it really looks as if we were at last firmly on our feet, with a
prospect of a continued comfortable competence--thanks mainly to the
unselfish self-denial and splendid management of that greatest of all
blessings--a good wife. We aren't millionaires yet, but can't growl, and
are infinitely better off than our town brethren, with all their picture
palaces, handy shops and what not. Anyhow, the rosy cheeks of our two
splendid kiddies would be enough to reconcile us to the, perhaps,
somewhat lonely life. In spite of (perhaps because of) hard struggles
and difficulties overcome anything but easily, neither of us feel
inclined to quit even now that we could, and with the passing of time
the little home we have carved out of the scrub for ourselves becomes
more homely and dearer to our hearts.



CHAPTER XXIV.

L'ENVOI.


In concluding an effort like the foregoing, it is, I believe, the usual
thing for the author to tender a few words of good advice. A thankless
job, perhaps, for a wise man doesn't want it and a fool won't take it.
However, in case any reader might be contemplating scratching a living
out of the scrub, I offer him the following, free, gratis and for
nothing:--

 1. Decide on your district; think carefully before taking a block; get
it; then hang on to it till all's blue, for blocks aren't so easy to get
now-a-days, and the time is gone when a bloke could say, "'Ere! I'm
chuckin' this, and goin' for a block closer in."

 2. Get your scrub down as quickly as possible. Standing timber won't
bring in a penny in a lifetime, and mill timber's a rotten reed to lean
on for an income. Fifty acres of grass, well fenced, will, at agistment,
bring in tucker and a bit over after the first year, even if you don't
use it yourself.

 3. Never go working alone in the scrub. Always try to have a mate with
you, and never wear smooth-soled boots in the scrub, unless you want to
go to hospital.

 4. Don't be afraid of the State Agricultural Bank. It's cheap money, and
they won't (since they can't) foreclose for twenty-one years, provided
interest is paid when due. The bank's assistance enables you to stop on
your block instead of going away to work. Go as far as they'll allow you
for scrub-falling and buying cows, but not for house-building or other
unproductive work. Let Strawberry pay for that. Leave private banks
alone.

 5. Get grass seed in at once after the burn, and don't sow all one kind,
no matter how good a feed it is. Her Majesty Queen Cow likes a change,
like ourselves.

 6. Don't start dairying until you have a good fence round the place.
Then buy a few good cows and a _good_ bull. Be wary buying milkers
from a dairyman. Better get springing heifers.

 7. Here get married. Weigh well the advantages of a widow with, say, a
couple of children able to milk. If she has a little cash, all the
better. Then it won't matter if she's not beautiful and is ten years
your senior.

 8. If your early milking arrangements are rough, it'll be all right if
you keep everything scrupulously clean. Slap the whitewash round. It's
cheap, and, like a parson's coat, occasionally covers a multitude of
sins.

 9. Don't sell your young heifers when weaned if you can struggle along
without doing so. Breeding up your own herd, you know what you've got.
Also your old originals won't live for ever.

10. Try and grow a bit of hand-feed for your cows as a stand-by, no
matter how good a dairying district you're in.

11. Never lose your temper, no matter how rorty your cows may be. Cows
are very sensitive, and respond to quiet treatment quicker than any
other animal. If you go down to the bails in a temper, the cows know it,
even if you're quiet with them. They get uneasy, and hang on to the
milk. I learned this by experience.

12. Keep your heart up and battle along. Don't let set-backs break your
spirit. The sticker gets there--like the postage stamp. But, make no
mistake, you'll need a heart to tackle the scrub.

                 *       *       *       *       *

And that's the lot, blokes. Hello! milking time. I must get away after
the cows. I wish you luck. Well--hooray!

"SENEX."


  THE SPECIALTY PRESS PTY. LTD.
  174 Little Collins Street
  Melbourne



                 *       *       *       *       *



Transcriber's note:

Printer's inconsistencies in spelling, punctuation, and hyphenation
have been retained.





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