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´╗┐Title: The Confessions of a Beachcomber
Author: Banfield, E. J. (Edmund James)
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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The Confessions of a Beachcomber by E J Banfield



"If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he
hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears."
THOREAU


To the Honourable Robert Philp, M.L.A.
"Exact in his life,
Extensive in his charity,
Exemplary in everything he does,"
THIS BOOK IS RESPECTFULLY DEDICATED BY ONE WHO OWES
TO HIM MUCH OF HIS LOVE FOR TROPICAL QUEENSLAND.



    CONTENTS



    PART I


    INTRODUCTION

    CHAPTER I

    THE BEACHCOMBER'S DOMAIN
    OFFICIAL LANDING
    OUR ISLAND
    EARLY HISTORY
    SATELLITES AND NEIGHBOURS
    PLANS AND PERFORMANCES

    CHAPTER II

    BEACHCOMBING
    TROPICAL INDUSTRIES
    SOME DIFFRENCES
    ISLAND FAUNA

    CHAPTER III

    BIRDS AND THEIR RIGHTS
    A CENSUS
    THE DAYBREAK FUGUE
    THE MEGAPODE
    SWAMP PHEASANT
    "GO-BIDGER-ROO"
    BULLY, SWAGGERER, SWASHBUCKLER
    EYES AFLAME
    THE NESTFUL TREE
    "STATELY FACE AND MAGNANIMOUS MINDE"
    WHITE NUTMEG PIGEON
    FRUIT EATERS
    AUSTRALIA'S HUMMING BIRD
    "MOOR-GOODY"
    THE FLAME-TREE'S VISITORS
    RED LETTER BIRDS
    CASUAL AND UNPRECISE

    CHAPTER IV

    GARDEN OF CORAL
    QUEER FISH
    THE WARTY GHOUL
    "BURRA-REE"
    FOUR THOUSAND LIKE ONE
    THE BAILER SHELL
    A RIVAL TO THE OYSTER
    SHARKS AND SKIPPERS
    GORGEOUS AND CURIOUS
    TURTLE GENERALLY
    THE MERMAID OF TO-DAY
    BECHE-DE-MER

    CHAPTER V

    THE TYRANNY OF CLOTHES
    SINGLE-HANDEDNESS
    A BUTTERFLY REVERIE
    THE SERPENT BEGUILED
    ADVENTURE WITH A CROCODILE
    THE ARAB'S PRECEPT

    CHAPTER VI

    IN PRAISE OF THE PAPAW
    THE CONQUERING TREE
    THE UMBRELLA-TREE
    THE GENUINE UPAS-TREE
    THE CREEPING PALM
    MAUVE, GREEN AND GREY
    STEALTHY MURDERERS
    TREE GROG

    CHAPTER VII

    "THE LORD AND MASTER OF FLIES"
    A TRAGEDY IN YELLOW
    COLOUR EFFECTS
    MUSICAL FROGS
    ACTS WELL ITS PART
    GREEN ANT CORDIAL
    WOOING WITH WINGS
    THE GREED OF THE SNAKE
    A SWALLOWING FEAT


    PART II

    STONE AGE FOLKS

    CHAPTER I

    PASSING AWAY
    TURTLE AND SUCKERS
    A "KUMMAORIE"
    WEATHER DISTURBERS
    A DINNER-PARTY
    BLACK ART
    A POISONOUS FOOD
    MESSAGE STICKS
    HOOKS OF PEARL
    "WILD" DYNAMITE
    A CAVERN AND ITS LEGEND
    A SOULFUL DANCE
    A SONG WITHOUT WORDS
    ORIGIN OF THE SOUTHERN CROSS
    CROCODILE CATCHING
    SUICIDE BY CROCODILE
    DISAPPEARANCE OF BLACKS

    CHAPTER II

    GRORGE: A MIXED CHARACTER
    YAB-OO-RAGOO: OTHERWISE "MICKIE"
    TOM: HIS WIVES: HIS BATTLES
    "LITTLE JINNY": IN LIFE AND IN DEATH
    THE LANGUAGE TEST
    LAST OF THE LINE

    CHAPTER III

    ATTRIBUTES AND ANECDOTES
    COMMON AND INDIVIDUAL RIGHTS
    THE "DEBIL-DEBIL"
    CLOTHING SUPERFLUOUS
    BROTHER AND SISTER
    THE RAINBOW
    SWIMMING FEATS
    SMOKE SIGNALS
    THUNDER FACTORY
    THE ORACLE
    A REAL LETTER
    A BLACK DEGENERATE
    JUMPED AT A CONCLUSION
    PRIDE OF RACE
    "YANKEE CHARLEY"
    MYALL'S BAKING
    EVERYTHING FOR A NAME
    THE KNIGHTLY GROWTH
    HONOUR AND GLORY
    FIRE JUMP UP
    SLOP TEETH
    A FASCINATED BOY
    AWKWARD CROSS-EXAMINATION
    THE ONLY ROCK
    SAW THE JOKE
    ZEBRA'S VANITY
    LAURA'S TRAITS
    ROYAL BLANKETS
    HIS DAILY BREAD
    HUMAN NATURE
    AN APT RETORT
    MISSIS'S TROUSERS
    DULL-WITTED
    STRATEGY
    LITERAL TRUTH
    MAGIC THAT DID NOT WORK
    ANTI-CLIMAX
    LITTLE FELLA CREEK SAILOR
    A FATEFUL BARGAIN
    EXCUSABLE BIAS
    THE TRIAL SCENE
    A REFLECTION ON THE HORSE
    TRIUMPH OF MATTER OVER MIND
    THE RUSE THAT FAILED
    THE BIG WORD
    MICKIE'S VERSION
    HONOURABLE JOHNNY
    THE TRANSFORMATION
    MONEY-MAKING TRICK
    HONOURABLE CHASTISEMENT
    "AND YOU TOO"
    PARADISE

    CHAPTER IV

    AND THIS OUR LIFE

    * * * * *



PART I



THE CONFESSIONS OF A BEACHCOMBER



INTRODUCTION


Does the fact that a weak mortal sought an unprofaned sanctuary--an
island removed from the haunts of men--and there dwelt in tranquillity,
happiness and security, represent any just occasion for the relation of
his experiences--experiences necessarily out of the common? To this
proposition it will be for these pages to find answer.

Few men of their own free will seek seclusion, for does not man belong to
the social vertebrates, and do not the instincts of the many rule? And
when an individual is fain to acknowledge himself a variant from the
type, and his characteristics or idiosyncrasies (as you will) to be so
marked as to impel him to deem them sound and reasonable; when, after
sedate and temperate ponderings upon all the aspects of voluntary exile
as affecting his lifetime partner as well as himself, he deliberately
puts himself out of communion with his fellows, does the experiment
constitute him a messenger? Can there be aught of entertainment or
instruction in the message he may fancy himself called upon to deliver?
or, is the fancy merely another phase of the tyranny of temperament?

We cannot always trust in ourselves and in the boldest of our illusions.
There must be trial. Then, if success be achieved and the illusion
becomes real and transcendental, and other things and conditions merely
"innutritious phantoms," were it not wise, indeed essential, to tell of
it all, so that mayhap the illusions of others may be put to the test?

Not that it is good or becoming that many should attempt the part of the
Beachcomber. All cannot play it who would. Few can be indifferent to that
which men commonly prize. All are not free to test touchy problems with
the acid of experience. Besides, there are not enough thoughtful islands
to go round. Only for the few are there ideal or even convenient scenes
for those who, while perceiving some of the charms of solitude, are at
the same time compelled by circumstances ever and anon to administer to
their favourite theories resounding smacks, making them jump to the
practical necessities of the case.

Here then I come to a point at which frankness is necessary. In these
pages there will be an endeavour to refrain from egotism, and yet how may
one who lives a lonesome life on an island and who presumes to write its
history evade that duty? My chief desire is to set down in plain language
the sobrieties of everyday occurrences--the unpretentious homilies of an
unpretentious man--one whose mental bent enabled him to take but a
superficial view of most of the large, heavy and important aspects of
life, but who has found light in things and subjects homely, slight and
casual; who perhaps has queer views on the pursuit of happiness, and who
above all has an inordinate passion for freedom and fresh air.

Moreover, these chronicles really have to do with the lives of two
people--not youthful enthusiasts, but beings who had arrived at an age
when many of the minor romances are of the past. Whosoever looks for the
relation of sensational adventures, exciting situations, or even humorous
predicaments, will assuredly be disappointed. Possibly there may be
something to interest those who wish to learn a few of the details of the
foundation of a home in tropical Australia; and to understand the
conditions of life here, not as they affect the man of independence who
seeks to enlarge his fortune, nor the settler who in the sweat of his
face has to eat bread, but as they affect one to whom has been given
neither poverty nor riches, and who has proved (to his own satisfaction
at least) the wisdom of the sage who wrote--"If you wish to increase a
man's happiness seek not to increase his possessions, but to decrease his
desires." Success will have been achieved if these pages reveal candour
and truthfulness, and if thereby proof is given that in North Queensland
one "can draw nearer to nature, and though the advantages of civilisation
remain unforfeited, to the happy condition of the simple, uncomplicated
man!"

In furtherance of the desire that light may shine upon certain phases of
the character of the Australian aboriginal, space is allotted in this
book to selected anecdotes. Some are original; a few have been previously
honoured by print. Others have wandered, unlettered vagrants, so far and
wide as to have lost all record of legitimacy. To these houseless
strangers I gladly offer hospitality, and acknowledge with thankfulness
their cheerful presence.

Grateful acknowledgments are due to Mr F. Manson Bailey, F.L.S., the
official botanist of Queensland, for the scientific nomenclature of trees
and plants referred to in a general way.

E. J. BANFIELD.
BRAMMO BAY, DUNK ISLAND,
November, 1906.



CHAPTER I



THE BEACHCOMBER'S DOMAIN


Two and a half miles off the north-eastern coast of Australia--midway,
roughly speaking, between the southern and the northern limits of the
Great Barrier Reef, that low rampart of coral which is one of the wonders
of the world--is an island bearing the old English name of Dunk.

Other islands and islets are in close proximity, a dozen or so within a
radius of as many miles, but this Dunk Island is the chief of its group,
the largest in area, the highest in altitude, the nearest the mainland,
the fairest, the best. It possesses a well-sheltered haven (herein to be
known as Brammo Bay), and three perennially running creeks mark a further
splendid distinction. It has a superficial area of over three square
miles. Its topography is diversified--hill and valley, forest and jungle,
grassy combes and bare rocky shoulders, gloomy pockets and hollows,
cliffs and precipices, bold promontories and bluffs, sandy beaches, quiet
coves and mangrove flats. A long V-shaped valley opens to the south-east
between steep spurs of a double-peaked range. Four satellites stand in
attendance, enhancing charms superior to their own.

This island is our home. He who would see the most picturesque portions
of the whole of the 2000 miles of the east coast of Australia must pass
within a few yards of our domain.

In years gone by, Dunk Island, "Coonanglebah" of the blacks, had an evil
repute. Fertile and fruitful, set in the shining sea abounding with
dugong, turtle and all manner of fish; girt with rocks rough-cast with
oysters; teeming with bird life, and but little more than half an hour's
canoe trip from the mainland, the dusky denizens were fat, proud,
high-spirited, resentful and treacherous, far from friendly or polite to
strangers. One sea-captain was maimed for life in our quiet little bay
during a misunderstanding with a hasty black possessed of a new bright
tomahawk, a rare prize in those days. This was the most trivial of the
many incidents by which the natives expressed their character.
Inhospitable acts were common when the white folks first began to pay the
island visits, for they found the blacks hostile and daring. Why invoke
those long-silent spectres, white as well as black, when all active
boorishness is of the past? Civilisation has almost fulfilled its
inexorable law; but four out of a considerable population remain, and
they remember naught of the bad old times when the humanising processes,
or rather the results of them, began to be felt. They must have been a
fine race, fine for Australian aboriginals at least, judging by the stamp
of two of those who survive; and perhaps that is why they resented
interference, and consequently soon began to give way before the
irresistible pressure of the whites. Possibly, had they been more docile
and placid, the remnants would have been more numerous though less
flattering representatives of the race. You shall judge of the type by
what is related of some of the habits and customs of the semi-civilised
survivors.

Dunk Island is well within the tropical zone, its true bearings being 146
deg. 11 min. 20 sec. E. long., and 17 deg. 55 min. 25 sec. S. lat. It is
but 30 miles south of the port of Geraldton, the wettest place in
Australia, as well as the centre of the chief sugar-producing district of
the State of Queensland. There the rainfall averages about 140 inches per
annum. Geraldton has in its immediate background two of the highest
mountains in Australia (5,400 feet), and on these the monsoons buffet and
break their moisture-laden clouds, affording the district much
meteorological fame. Again, 20 miles to the south lies Hinchinbrook
Island, 28 miles long, 12 miles broad, and mountainous from end to end:
there also the rain-clouds revel. The long and picturesque channel which
divides Hinchinbrook from the mainland, and the complicated ranges of
mountains away to the west, participate in phenomenal rain.

Opposite Dunk Island the coastal range recedes and is of much lower
elevation, and to these facts perhaps is to be attributed our modified
rainfall compared with the plethora of the immediate North; but we get
our share, and when people deplore the droughts which devastate
Australia, let it be remembered that Australia is huge, and the most
rigorous of Australian droughts merely partial. This country has never
known drought. During the partial drought which ended with 1905, and
which occasioned great losses throughout the pastoral tracts of
Queensland, grass and herbage here were perennially green and
succulent--the creeks never ceased running.

Within the tropics heat is inevitable, but our island enjoys several
climatic advantages. The temperature is equable. Blow the wind
whithersoever it listeth, and it comes to us cooled by contact with the
sea. Here may we drink oft and deep at the never-failing font of pure,
soft, beneficent air. We have all the advantages which residence at the
happy mean from the Equator bestows, and few of the drawbacks. By its
fruits ye shall know the fertility of the soil.

Birds are numerous, from the "scrub fowl" which dwells in the dim jungle
and constructs of decaying leaves and wood and light loam the most
trustworthy of incubators, and wastes no valuable time in the
dead-and-alive duty of sitting, to the tiny sun-bird of yellow and
purple, which flits all day among scarlet hibiscus blooms, sips nectar
from the flame-tree, and rifles the dull red studs of the umbrella tree
of their sweetness.

The stalled ox is not here, nor the fatted calf, nor any of the mere
advantages of the table; but there is the varied harvest of the sea, and
all the freshness of an isle clean and green. The heat, the clatter, the
stuffy odours, the toilsomeness, the fatigue of town life are abandoned;
the careless quiet, the calm, the refreshment of the whole air, the tonic
of the wide sea are gained. From the moment the sun illumines our hills
and isles with glowing yellow until it drops in fiery splendour suddenly
out of sight leaving a band of gleaming red above the purple western
range, and a rippling red path across to Australia, the whole realm of
nature seems ours to command.

OFFICIAL LANDING

Dunk Island was not selected haphazard as an abiding place. By
camping-out expeditions and the cautious gleaning of facts from those who
had the repute of knowing the country, useful information had been
acquired unobtrusively. We were determined to have the best obtainable
isle. More than one locality was favourably considered ere good fortune
decided to send us hither to spy out the land. A camp-out on the shore of
then unnamed Brammo Bay--a holiday-making party--and the result of the
first day's exploration decided a revolutionary change in the lives of two
seriously-minded persons. A year after, a lease of the best portion of
the island having been obtained in the meanwhile, we came for good.

Wholly uninhabited, entirely free from traces of the mauling paws of
humanity, lovely in its mantle of varied foliage, what better sphere for
the exercise of benign autocracy could be desired? Here was virgin
country, 20 miles from the nearest port--sad and neglected Cardwell cut
off from the mainland by more than 2 miles of estranging ocean, and yet
lying in the track of small coastal steamers--here all our pet theories
might serenely develop.

But it was an inauspicious landing. With September begin the north-east
winds, and we had an average experience that afternoon. Was it not a
farce--a great deal more than a farce: a saucy, flippant imposition on the
tender mercies of Providence--for an individual who could not endure a few
hours of tossing on the bosom of the ocean without becoming deadly sick,
to imagine that he possessed the hardihood to establish a home even in
this lovely wilderness? We had tents and equipment and a boat of our own,
a workman to help us at the start, and two faithful black servants.

The year before, we had made the acquaintance of one of the few survivors
of the native population of the island--stalwart Tom. Although our project
and preparations had been kept fairly secret, he had overheard a casual
reference to them; had made a canoe, and paddling from island to island
with his gin, an infant and mother-in-law, had preceded our advent by a
week. His duties began with the discharging of the first boatload of
portable property. He comes and goes now after the lapse of years.

They spread out tents and rugs for the weak mortal who had greatly dared,
but who, thus early, was ready to faint from weariness and sickness. They
made comforting and soothing drinks, and spoke of cheery things in cheery
tones; but the sick man refused to be comforted. He wished himself back,
a participator in the conflicts of civilisation, and was fain to cover
his face--there was no wall to which to turn--and fancy that the most
dismal sound in the universe was the surly monotone the north-easter
harped on the beach. We reposed that night among the camp equipment, the
sick man caring for naught in his physical collapse and disconsolation.

But the first morning of the new life! A perfect combination of
invigorating elements. The cloudless sky, the clear air, the shining sea,
the green folded slopes of Tam o' Shanter Point opposite, the
cleanliness of the sand, the sweet odours from the eucalypts and the
dew-laden grass, the luminous purple of the islands to the south-east;
the range of mountains to the west and north-west, and our own fair
tract-awaiting and inviting, and all the mystery of petted illusions
about to be solved! Physic was never so eagerly swallowed nor wrought a
speedier or surer cure.

Feebleness and dismay vanished with the first plunge into the still
sleepy sea, and alertness and vigour returned, as the incense of the
first morning's sacrifice went straight as a column to the sky.

Over half a century before, Edmund B. Kennedy, the explorer, landed on
the opposite shore, on his ill-fated expedition up Cape York, to find the
country inland from Tam o' Shanter Point altogether different from any
previously-examined part of Australia. We gave no thought to the gallant
explorer, near as we were to the scenes of his desperate struggle in the
entanglements of the jungle.

The island was all before us, where to choose our place of rest, and the
bustle of the transport of goods and chattels to the site in the thick
forest invisible from the sea began at once. Before sunset, tents were
pitched among the trees, and a few yards of bush surrounding then
cleared, and we were at home.

Prior to departing from civilisation we had arranged for the construction
of a hut of cedar, so contrived with nicely adjusting parts and bolts,
and all its members numbered, that a mere amateur could put it together.
If at the end of six months' trial the life was found to be unendurable,
or serious objection not dreamt of in our salad philosophy became
apparent, then our dwelling could be packed up again. All would not be
lost.

The clearing of a sufficient space for the accommodation of the hut was
no light task for unaccustomed hands, for the bloodwood trees were mighty
and tough, and the dubious work of burning up the trunks and branches
while yet green, in our eagerness for free air and tidiness, was
undertaken. It was also accomplished.

For several weeks there was little done save to build a kitchen and shed
and widen the clearing in the forest. Inspection of the details of our
domain was reserved as a sort of reward for present task and toil.
According to the formula neatly printed in official journals, the
building of a slab hut is absurdly easy--quite a pastime for the settler
eager to get a roof of bark or thatch over his head. The frame, of
course, goes up without assistance, and then the principal item is the
slabs for walls. When you have fallen your tree and sawn off a block of
the required length, you have only to split off the slab. Ah! but suppose
the timber does not split freely, and your heavy maul does; and the
wedges instead of entering have the habit of bouncing out as if they were
fitted with internal springs, and your maul wants renewal several times,
until you find that the timber prescribed is of no account for such
tools; and at best your slabs run off to nothing at half length, and
several trees have to be cut down before you get a single decent slab,
and everybody is peevish with weariness and disappointment, the rudest
house in the bush will be a long time in the building. "Experience is a
hard mistress, yet she teacheth as none other." We came to be more
indebted to the hard mistress--she gave us blistering palms and aching
muscles--than to all the directions and prescriptions of men who claim to
have climbed to the top of the tree in the profession of the "bush." A
"bush" carpenter is a very admirable person, when he is not also a bush
lawyer. Mere amateurs would be wise if they held their enthusiasm in
check when they read the recipe--pat as the recipe for the making of a
rice-pudding--for the construction of even a bark hut. It is so very easy
to write it all down; but if you have had no actual experience in
bark-cutting, and your trees are not in the right condition, you will put
your elation to a shockingly severe test, harden the epidermis of your
hands, and the whole of your heart, and go to bed many nights sadly ere
you get one decent sheet for your roof.

We do not all belong to the ancient and honourable family of the Swiss
Robinsons, who performed a series of unassuming miracles on their island.
There was no practical dispensation of providential favours on our
behalf. Trees that had the reputation of providing splendid splitting
timber defiantly slandered themselves, and others that should have almost
flayed themselves at the first tap of the tomahawk had not the slightest
regard for the reputation vouched for in serious publications.

But why "burden our remembrance with a heaviness that's gone?" Why recall
the memory of those acheful days, when all the pleasant and restful
features of the island are uncatalogued? Before the rains began we had
comfortable if circumscribed shelter. Does not that suffice? Our dwelling
consisted of one room and a kitchen. Perforce the greater part of our
time was spent out of doors. Isolation kept us moderately free from
visitors. Those who did violate our seclusion had to put up with the
consequences. We had purchased liberty. Large liberties are the
birthright of the English. We had acquired most of the small liberties,
and the ransom paid was the abandonment of many things hitherto deemed to
form an integral part of existence.

Had we not cast aside all traditions, revolting from the uniformity of
life, from the rules of the bush as well as from the conventionalities of
society? Here we were to indulge our caprices, work out our own
salvation, live in accordance with our own primitive notions, and, if
possible, find pleasure in haunts which it is not popularly supposed to
frequent.

Others may point to higher ideals and tell of exciting experiences, of
success achieved, and glory and honour won. Ours not to envy superior
qualifications and victories which call for strife and struggle, but to
submit ourselves joyfully to the charms of the "simple life."

OUR ISLAND

    "Awake, O North Wind, and come, thou South,
    Blow upon my garden, that the spices thereof may flow out."

Our Island! What was it when we came into possession? From the sea,
merely a range displaying the varied leafage of jungle and forest. A
steep headland springing from a ledge of rock on the north, and a broad,
embayed-based flat converging into an obtruding sand-spit to the west,
enclose a bay scarcely half a mile from one horn to the other, the sheet
of water almost a perfect crescent, with the rocky islet of Purtaboi,
plumed with trees, to indicate the circumference of a circle. Trees come
to the water's edge from the abutment of the bold eminence. Dome-shaped
shrubs of glossy green (native cabbage--SCAEVOLA KOENIGII), with groups
of pandanus palms bearing massive orange-coloured fruits; and here and
there graceful umbrella trees, with deep-red decorations, hibiscus bushes
hung with yellow funnells, and a thin line of ever-sighing beech oaks
(CASUARINA) fringe the clean untrodden sand. Behind is the vistaless
forest of the flat.

Run the boat on the sand at high-water, and the first step is planted in
primitive bush--fragrant, clean and undefiled. An empty jam tin or a
broken bottle, spoors of the rude hoofs of civilisation, you might search
for in vain. As difficult would it be to find either as a fellow to the
nugget of gold which legend tells was used by a naked black as a sinker
when he fished with hook of pearl shell out there on the edge of the
coral reef,

One superficial feature of our domain is distinct and peculiar, giving to
it an admirable character. From the landing-place--rather more up towards
the north-east cusp than the exact middle of the crescent bay--extends a
flat of black sand on which grows a dense bush of wattles, cockatoo
apple-trees, pandanus palms, Moreton Bay ash and other eucalypts, and the
shapely melaleuca. This flat, here about 150 yards in breadth, ends
abruptly at a steep bank which gives access to a plateau 60 feet above
sea-level. The regularity of the outline of this bank is remarkable.
Running in a more or less correct curve for a mile and a half, it
indicates a clear-cut difference between the flat and the plateau. The
toe of the bank rests upon sand, while the plateau is of
chocolate-coloured soil intermixed on the surface with flakes of slate;
and from this sure foundation springs the backbone of the island. On the
flat, the plateau, and the hillsides, the forest consists of similar
trees--alike in age and character for all the difference in soil--the one
tree that does not leave the flat being the tea or melaleuca. In some
places the jungle comes down to the water's edge, the long antennae of
the lawyer vine toying with the rod-like aerial roots of the mangrove.

The plateau is the park of the island, half a mile broad, and a mile and
more long. Upon it grows the best of the bloodwoods (EUCALYPTUS
CORYNBOSA), the red stringy bark (E. ROBUSTA), Moreton Bay ash (E.
TESSALARIS), various wattles, the gin-gee of the blacks (DIPLANTHERA
TETRAPHYLLA). PANDANUS AQUATICUS marks the courses and curves of some of
the gullies. A creek, hidden in a broad ribbon of jungle and running from
a ravine in the range to the sea, divides our park in fairly equal
portions.

Most part of the range is heavily draped with jungle--that is, on the
western aspect. Just above the splash of the Pacific surges on the
weather or eastern side, low-growing scrub and restricted areas of
forest, with expansive patches of jungle, plentifully intermixed with
palms and bananas, creep up the precipitous ascent to the summit of the
range--870 feet above the sea. So steep is the Pacific slope that,
standing on the top of the ridge and looking down, you catch mosaic
gleams of the sea among the brown and grey tree-trunks. But for the
prodigality of the vegetation, one slide might take you from the cool
mountain-top to the cooler sea. The highest peak, which presents a
buttressed face to the north, and overlooks our peaceful bay, is crowned
with a forest of bloodwoods, upon which the jungle steadily encroaches.
The swaying fronds of aspiring palms, adorned in due season with masses
of straw-coloured inflorescence, to be succeeded by loose bunches of red,
bead-like berries, shoot out from the pall of leafage. In the gloomy
gullies are slender-shafted palms and tree-ferns, while ferns and mosses
cover the soil with living tapestry, and strange, snake-like epiphytes
cling in sinuous curves to the larger trees. The trail of the lawyer vine
(CALAMUS OBSTRUENS), with its leaf sheath and long tentacles bristling
with incurved hooks, is over it all. Huge cables of vines trail from tree
to tree, hanging in loops and knots and festoons, the largest (ENTADA
SCANDENS) bearing pods 4 feet long and 4 inches broad, containing a dozen
or so brown hard beans used for match-boxes. Along the edge of the
jungle, the climbing fern (LYNGODIUM) grows in tangled masses sending its
slender wire-like lengths up among the trees--the most attractive of all
the ferns, and glorified by some with the title of "the Fern of God," so
surpassing its grace and beauty.

September is the prime month of the year in tropical Queensland. Many of
the trees are then in blossom and most of the orchids. Nocturnal showers
occur fairly regularly in normal seasons, and every sort of vegetable is
rampant with the lust of life. It was September when our isolation began.
And what a plenteous realisation it all was that the artificial emotions
of the town had been, haply, abandoned! The blood tingled with keen
appreciation of the crispness, the cleanliness of the air. We had won
disregard of all the bother and contradictions, the vanities and
absurdities of the toilful, wayward, human world, and had acquired a
glorious sense of irresponsibleness and independence.

This--this was our life we were beginning to live--our very own life; not
life hampered and restricted by the wills, wishes and whims of others;
unencumbered by the domineering wisdom, unembarrassed by the formal
courtesies of the crowd.

September and the gin-gee, the quaint, grey-barked, soft-wooded tree with
broad, rough, sage-green leaves, and florets massed in clumps to resemble
sunflowers, was in all its pride, attracting relays of honey-imbibing
birds during the day, and at night dozens of squeaking flying-foxes.
Within a few yards of high-water stands a flame-tree (ERYTHRINA INDICA)
the "bingum" of the blacks. Devoid of leaves in this leafy month, the
bingum arrays itself in a robe of royal red. All birds and manner of
birds, and butterflies and bees and beetles, which have regard for colour
and sweetness come hither to feast. Sulphur-crested cockatoos sail down
upon the red raiment of the tree, and tear from it shreds until all the
grass is ruddy with refuse, and their snowy breasts stained as though
their feast was of blood instead of colourless nectar. For many days here
is a scene of a perpetual banquet--a noisy, cheerful, frolicsome revel.
Cockatoos scream with excitement and gladness; honey-eaters whistle and
call; drongos chatter and scold the rest of the banqueters; the tiny
sun-bird twitters feeble protests; bees and beetles maintain a murmurous
soothful sound, a drowsy blending of hum and buzz from the rising of the
sun until the going down thereof.

The dark compactness of the jungle, the steadfast but disorderly array of
the forest, the blotches of verdant grass, the fringe of yellow-flowered
hibiscus and the sapful native cabbage, give way in turn to the greys and
yellows of the sand in alternate bands. The slowly-heaving sea trailing
the narrowest flounce of lace on the beach, the dainty form of Purtaboi,
and the varying tones of great Australia beyond combine to complete the
scene, and to confirm the thought that here is the ideal spot, the freest
spot, the spot where dreams may harden into realities, where unvexed
peace may smile.

There is naught to remind of the foetidness, the blare and glare of the
streets. None of

    "The weariness, the fever and the fret,
    There, where men sit and hear each other groan."

You may follow up the creeks until they become miniature ravines, or
broaden out into pockets with precipitous sides, where twilight reigns
perpetually, and where sweet soft gases are generated by innumerable
plants, and distilled from the warm moist soil. How grateful and
revivifying! Among the half-lit crowded groves might not another Medea
gather enchanted herbs such as "did renew old Aeson."

Past the rocky horn of Brammo Bay, another crescent indents the base of
the hill. Exposed to the north-east breeze, the turmoil of innumerable
gales has torn tons upon tons of coral from the out-lying reef, and cast
up the debris, with tinkling chips and fragments of shells, on the sand
for the sun and the tepid rains to bleach into dazzling whiteness. The
coral drift has swept up among the dull grey rocks and made a ridge
beneath the pendant branches of the trees, as if to establish a contrast
between the sombre tints of the jungle and the blueness of the sea.
Midway along the curve of vegetation a bingum flaunts its mantle--a
single daub of demonstrative colouring. Away to the north stand out the
Barnard Islands, and the island-like headland of Double-Point.

Rocky walls and ledges intersected by narrow clefts in which the sea
boils, gigantic masses of detached granite split and weathered into
strange shapes and corniced and bridged at high water-mark by oysters,
bold escarpments and medleys of huge boulders, extend along the weather
side. No landing, except in the calmest weather, is possible. To gain a
sandy beach, the south-east end of the island, passing through a deep
channel separating the rocky islet of Wooln-garin, must be turned.
Although there are no great cliffs, no awesome precipices on the weather
side, the bluff rocks present many grotesque features, and the foliage is
for the most part wildly luxuriant.

From what has been already said, it may be gleaned that in the opinion of
the most interested person the island is gilt-edged. So indeed it is, in
fact, when certain natural conditions consequent on the presence of coral
are fulfilled. A phenomenally high tide deposited upon the rocks a slimy,
fragile organism of the sea, in incomprehensible myriads which, drying,
adhered smoothly in true alignment. With the sun at the proper angle
there appeared, as far as the irregularity of the coast line permitted, a
shining band, broken only where the face of the rock was uneven and
detached--a zone of gold bestowed upon the island by the amorous sea. But
on the beach the slime which transformed the grey and brown rocks was
nothing but an inconsistent, dirty, grey-green, crisp, ill-smelling
streak, that haply vanished in a couple of days. As I see less of the
weather side than I do of the beach, I argue to myself that it is nearer
perfection to be minus a streak of dirt than plus a golden edge.

At no season of the year is the island fragrantless. The prevailing
perception may be of lush grasses mingled with the soft odour of their
frail flowers; or the resin and honey of blossoming bloodwoods; or the
essence from myriads of other eucalyptus leaves massaged by the winds.
The incomparable beach-loving calophyllums yield a profuse but tender
fragrance reminiscent of English meadow-sweet, and the flowers of a
vigorous trailer (CANAVILA OBTUSIFOLIA), for ever exploring the bare sand
at high-water mark, resembles the sweet-pea in form and perfume. The
white cedar (MELIA COMPOSITA) is a welcome and not unworthy substitute in
appearance and perfume for English lilac. The aromatic pandanus and many
varieties of acacia, each has its appointed time and season; while at odd
intervals the air is saturated with the rich and far-spreading incense of
the melaleuca, and for many weeks together with the honeyed excellence of
the swamp mahogany (TRISTANIA SUAVOSLENS) and the over-rich cloyness of
the cockatoo apple (CAREYA AUSTRALIS). Strong and spicy are the odours of
the plants and trees that gather on the edge of and crowd in the jungle,
the so-called native ginger, nutmeg, quandong, milkwood, bean-tree, the
kirri-cue of the blacks (EUPOMATIA LAURINA), koie-yan (FARADAYA
SPLENDIDA), with its great white flowers and snowy fruit, and many
others. Hoya, heavy and indolent, trails across and dangles from the
rocks; the river mangrove dispenses its sweetness in an unexpected
locality; and from the heart of the jungle come wafts of warm breath,
which, mingling with exhalation from foliage and flower, is diffused
broadcast. The odour of the jungle is definite--earthy somewhat, but of
earth clean, wholesome and moist--the smell of moss, fern and fungus
blended with balsam, spice and sweetness.

Many a time, home-returning at night--when the black contours of the
island loomed up in the distance against the pure tropic sky tremulous
with myriads of unsullied stars--has its tepid fragrance drifted across
the water as a salutation and a greeting. It has long been a fancy of
mine that the island has a distinctive odour, soft and pliant, rich and
vigorous. Other mixtures of forest and jungle may smell as strong, but
none has the rare blend which I recognise and gloat over whensoever,
after infrequent absences for a day or two, I return to accept of it in
grateful sniffs. In such a fervid and encouraging clime distillation is
continuous and prodigious. Heat and moisture and a plethora of raw
material, leaves, flowers, soft, sappy and fragrant woods, growing grass
and moist earth, these are the essential elements for the manufacture of
ethereal and soul-soothing odours suggestive of tangible flavours.

I know of but one particular plant that is absolutely repellent. Its
large flowers are of vivid gold, pure and refined; the unmixed odour is
obscene. A creeper of the jungle bears small yellow flowers (slightly
resembling those of the mango, save that they are produced in frail loose
cymes instead of on vigorous panicles), the excessive sweetness of which
approaches nauseousness. But its essence mingles with the rest, and the
compound is singularly rich and acceptable.

On sandy stretches and along the deltas of the creeks are fragrant,
gigantic "spider lilies" (CRINIUM). I do not pretend to catalogue
botanically all the plants that contribute to the specific odour of the
island. I cannot address them individually in scientific phraseology,
though with all I am on terms of easy familiarity, the outcome of
seasoned admiration. They please by the form and colour of their
blossoms, and ring ever-recurring and timeful changes, so that month by
month we enjoy the progress of the perfumes, the blending of some, the
individual excellence of others. In endeavouring to convey to the unelect
an impression of their variety and acceptableness, am I not but
discharging a debt of gratitude?

As far as I am aware, but four or five epiphytal orchids add to the
scents of the island; and as they have not Christian names, their pagan
titles must suffice--CYMBIDIUM SUAVE, ERIA FITZALANI, BULBOPHYLLUM
BAILEYI, DENDROBIUM TERETIFOLIUM and D. UNDULATUM. The latter is not
commonly credited with perfume; but when it grows in great unmolested
masses its contribution is pleasant, if not very decided. The pretty
terrestrial orchid (CYRTOSTYLIS RENIFORMIS) is delicately fragrant, but
the great showy PHAIUS GRANDIFOLIUS (the tropical foxglove) and the meek
GEODORUM PICTUM (Queensland's lily of the valley) are denied the gift.

The forest, the jungle, the grassy spots, the hot rocks (with hoya and
orchids), and even the sands, with the native sweet-pea, are fragrant. A
lowly creeping plant (VITEX TRIFOLIA), with small spikes of
lavender-coloured flowers, and grey-green silvery leaves, mingles with
the coarse grasses of the sandy flats, and usurping broad areas forms an
aromatic carpet from which every footstep expresses a homely pungency as
of marjoram and sage. The odour of the island may be specific, and
therefore to be prized, yet it gladdens also because it awakens happy and
all too fleeting reminiscences. English fields and hedges cannot be
forgotten when one of our trees diffuses the scent of meadow-sweet, and
one of the orchids that of hawthorn. "Scent and silence" is the phrase
which expresses the individuality of our island, and better "scented
silence" than all the noisy odours of the town.

However showy the flora of the island, the existence of kindly fruits
must be deplored. Immense quantities, alluring in colour and form, are
produced; but not a single variety of real excellence. The raspberries
(two kinds) have but little flavour; the native "Cape gooseberry"
(PHYSALIS MIMIS), which appears like magic when the jungle is felled and
burnt off, is regarded with hostility, though unworthily, even by the
blacks; the" wild" grapes are sour and fiery, and among the many figs
only two or three are pleasant, and but one good. "Bedyewrie" (XIMENIA
AMERICANA) has a sweetish flavour, with a speedy after-taste of bitter
almonds, and generally refreshing and thirst-allaying qualities; the
shiny blue quandong (ELAEOCARPUS GRANDIS), misleading and insipid; the
Herbert River cherry (ANTIDESMA DALLACHYANUM), agreeable certainly, but
not high class; the finger cherry "Pool-boo-nong" of the blacks
(RHODOMYRTUS MACROCARPA), possesses the flavour of the cherry guava, but
has a most evil reputation. Some assert that this fruit is subject to a
certain disease (a kind of vegetable smallpox), and that if eaten when so
affected is liable to induce paralysis of the optic nerves and cause
blindness and even death. Blacks, however, partake of the fruit
unrestrictedly and declare it good, on the authority of tradition as well
as by present appreciation. They do not pay the slightest respect to the
injurious repute current among some white folks. Perhaps some trick of
constitution or some singularity of the nervous system renders them immune
to the poison, as the orange pigment said to reside in their epidermis
protects them from the actinic rays of the sun. Does not Darwin assert
that while white sheep and pigs are upset by certain plants dark-coloured
individuals escape. At any rate blacks are not affected by the fruit,
though large consumers of it, and many whites also eat of it raw and
preserved, without fear and without untoward effects. Some of the Eugenias
produce passable fruits, and one of the palms (CARYOTA) bears huge
bunches of yellow dates, the attractiveness of which lies solely in
appearance.

Quite a long list of pretty fruits might be compiled, and yet not more
than half a dozen are edible, and only half that number nice. The
majority are bitter and acrid, some merely insipid, and of the various
nuts not one is satisfactory.

Why all this profuse vegetation and the anomaly of tempting fruits and
nuts cram-full of meat and yet no real food--that is, food for man? Is it
that man was an after-thought of Nature, or did Nature fulfil herself in
his splendid purpose and capacities? She supplies abundantly food
convenient for birds and other animals lower in the scale of life, but
man is left to master his fate. Even when uncivilised he is called upon
to exercise more or less wit before he may eat, and the higher his grade
the more stress upon his intelligence.

When one contemplates the unpromising origin of the apple of today, and
the rich assortment of fruits here higher in the scale of progression
than it, imagination delights to dwell upon the wonders which await the
skill of a horticultural genius. The crude beginnings of scores of
pomological novelties are flaunted on every side. The patient man has to
come.

EARLY HISTORY

To that grand old mariner, Captain Cook, belongs the honour of the
discovery of the island. The names that he bestowed--judicious and
expressive--are among the most precious historic possessions of Australia.
They remind us that Cook formed the official bond between Britain and
this great Southern land, and bear witness to the splendid feats of quiet
heroism that he performed, the privations that he and his ship's company
endured, and the patience and perseverance with which difficulties were
faced and overcome.

In his journal, on 8th June 1770, Cook writes--"At noon we were by
observation in the lat. of 17 degrees 59 minutes and abreast of the N.
point of Rockingham Bay which bore from us N. 2 miles. This boundary of
the Bay is formed by a tolerable high island known in the chart by the
name of Dunk Isle; it lay so near the shore as not to be distinguished
from it unless you are well in with the land... At this time we were in
the long. of 213 degrees 57 minutes, Cape Sandwich bore S. by E. 1/2 E.
distant 19 miles, and the northernmost land in sight N. 1/2 W. Our depth
of water in the course of this one day's sail was not more than 16 nor
less than 17 fathoms."

In those history-making days the First Lord of the Admiralty was George
Montagu Dunk, First Earl of Sandwich, Second Baron and First Earl of
Halifax, and Captain Cook took several opportunities of preserving his
patron's name. Halifax Bay (immediately to the north of Cleveland Bay)
perpetuates the title; "Mount" Hinchinbrook (from his course Cook could
not see the channel and did not realise that he was bestowing a name upon
an island) commemorates the family seat of the Montagus; Cape Sandwich
(the north-east point of Hinchinbrook) the older title, and Dunk Isle the
family name of the distinguished friend of the great discoverer of lands.

From this remote and unheard of spot may, accordingly, be traced
association with a contemporary of Robert Walpole, of Pitt and Fox, of
Edmund Burke, of John Wilkes (of the NORTH BRITON), of the author of THE
LETTERS OF JUNIUS and of JOHN GILPIN, and many others of credit and
renown. The First Earl Sandwich of Hinchinbrook was the "my lord" of the
gossiping Pepys. Through him Dunk Island possesses another strand in the
bond with the immortals, and is ensured connection with remote posterity.
He gambled so passionately that he invented as a means of hasty
refreshment the immemorial "sandwich," that the fascination of basset,
ombre or quadrille should not be dispelled by the intrusion of a meal.
He, too, was the owner of Montagu House, behind which "every morning saw
steel glitter and blood flow," for the age was that of the duellist as
well as the gambler.

Rockingham Bay was so named in honour of the marquis of that title, the
wise Whig premier who held that while the British Parliament had an
undoubted right to tax the American colonies, the notorious Stamp Act was
unjust and impolitic, "sterile of revenue, and fertile of discontent!"

Cook and his day and generation passed, and then for many years history
is silent respecting Dunk Island. The original inhabitants remained in
undisturbed possession; nor do they seem to have had more than one
passing visitor until Lieutenant Jeffereys, of the armed transport
Kangaroo, on his passage from Sydney to Ceylon in 1815, communicated with
the natives on then unnamed Goold Island. Captain Philip P. King,
afterwards Rear-Admiral, who made in the cutter MERMAID a running survey
of these coasts between the year 1818 and 1822, and who was the first to
indicate that "Mount" Hinchinbrook was probably separated from the
mainland, arrived in Rockingham Bay on the 19th June 1818. He named and
landed on Goold Island, and sailing north on the 21st, anchored off
Timana, where he went ashore. "Dunk Island," he writes, "a little to the
northward, is larger and higher, and remarkable for its double-peaked
summit."

Those natives who are versed in the ancient history of the island, tell
of the time when all were amazed by the appearance of bags of flour,
boxes of tobacco, and cases of goods drifting ashore. None at the time
knew what flour was; only one boy had previously smoked, and the goods
were too mysterious to be tested. Many tried to eat flour direct from the
bag. The individual who had acquired the reputation of a smoker made
himself so sick that none other had the courage to imitate him, and the
tobacco and goods were thrown about playfully. In after years the
inhabitants were fond of relating how they had humbugged themselves.

The next ensuing official reference of particular interest is contained
in the narrative of the voyage of H.M.S. RATTLESNAKE, by John
Macgillivray, F.R.G.S., naturalist of the expedition. The date is 26th
May 1848, and an extract reads--"During the forenoon the ship was moved
over to an anchorage under the lee (north-west side) of Dunk Island,
where we remained for ten days. The summit of a very small rocky island,
near the anchorage, named, by Captain Owen Stanley, Mound Islet
(Purtaboi), formed the first station. Dunk Island, eight or nine miles in
circumference, is well wooded; it has two conspicuous peaks, one of which
(the north-west one) is 857 feet in height. Our excursions were confined
to the vicinity of the watering-place and the bay in which it is
situated. The shores are rocky on one side and sandy on the other, where
a low point runs out to the westward. At their junction, and under the
sloping hill with large patches of bush, a small stream of fresh water,
running out over the beach, furnished a supply for the ship, although the
boats could approach the place closely only at high-water. Among the
most interesting objects of natural history are two birds, one a new and
handsome fly-catcher (MONARCHA LEUCOTIS), the other a swallow, which Mr
Goold informs me is also an Indian species. Great numbers of butterflies
frequent the neighbourhood of the watering-place; one of these (PAPILIO
URVILLIANUS) is of great size, and splendour, with dark purple wings,
broadly margined with ultramarine, but from its habit of flying high
among the trees I did not succeed in catching one. An enormous spider,
beautifully variegated with black and gold, is plentiful in the woods,
watching for its prey in the centre of a large net stretched horizontally
between the trees. The seine was frequently hauled upon the beach with
great success. One evening through its means, in addition to plenty of
fish, no less than five kinds of star-fishes and twelve of crustacea,
several of which are quite new, were brought ashore. Among the plants of
the island the most important is a wild species of plantain or banana,
afterwards found to range along the north-east coast and its islands, as
far as Cape York. Here I saw for the first time a species of
Sciadophyllum (BRASSAIA ACTINOPHYLLA, the umbrella-tree) one of the most
singular trees of the eastern coast-line of tropical Australia; a slender
stem, about thirty feet in height, gives off a few branches with immense
digitate dark and glossy leaves, and long spike-like racemes of small
scarlet flowers, a great resort for insects and insect-feeding birds.
Soon after the ship had come to an anchor, some of the natives came off
in their canoes and paid us a visit, bringing with them a quantity of
shell-fish (SANGUINOLARIA RUGOSA), which they eagerly exchanged for
biscuit. For a few days afterwards we occasionally met them on the beach,
but at length they disappeared altogether, in consequence of having been
fired at with shot by one of two 'young gentlemen' of the BRAMBLE on a
shooting excursion, whom they wished to prevent approaching too closely a
small village where they had their wives and children. Immediate steps
were taken in consequence to prevent the recurrence of such collisions
when thoughtless curiosity on one side is apt to be promptly resented on
the other if numerically superior in force... The men had large
cicatrices on the shoulders and across the breast and belly, the septum
of the nose was perforated, and none of the teeth had been removed. I saw
no weapons, and some rude armlets were their only ornaments."

Tam o' Shanter Point derives its title from the barque of that name, in
which the members of the Kennedy Exploring Expedition voyaged from
Sydney, whence they disembarked on 24th and 25th May 1848. H.M.S.
RATTLESNAKE had been commissioned to lend Kennedy assistance, and
Macgillivray relates that everything belonging to the party (with the
exception of one horse drowned while swimming ashore) was safely landed.
The first camp was formed on some open forest-land behind the beach at a
small fresh-water creek. On the 27th Mr Carson, the botanist of the party,
commenced digging a piece of ground, in which he sowed seeds of cabbages,
turnips, leek, pumpkin, rock and water melons, pomegranate, peach-stones
and apple-pips. No trace of this first venture in gardening in North
Queensland is now discernible. No doubt, inquisitive and curious blacks
would rummage the freshly turned soil as soon as the back of the
good-natured gardener was turned. It occurred to me that possibly the
pomegranate seeds might have germinated, and the plants become
established and acclimatised, but search proved resultless. Carson makes
no reference to the coco-nut palm which once flourished at the mouth of
the creek. The inference is that the nut whence it sprang drifted ashore
after his attempt to civilise the vicinity by the planting of seeds.
Dalrymple refers to the tree which, at the date of his visit (September
1873), was "about fourteen feet in height, but without fruit!" It grew to
a great tree, and blacks found in the fruit a refreshing, nutritious
food; but an evil thing came along one day in the shape of a thirsty
Chinaman, and as he could not climb the tree he cut it down, and blacks,
even to this day, hate the name of Chinaman. Opposite the Point is the
Island of Timana, known to some as "the Island on which the Chinaman was
killed!" Whether "the Chinaman" was the person who cut down the coco-nut
palm is not known, but somehow his fate and that of the palm have become
associated.

The only traces of the expedition of half a century ago are marks upon
trees at the mouth of the Hull River--2 miles to the south, at the spot
which it appears to have crossed. The object of Kennedy's expedition was
to explore the country to the eastward of the dividing range running
along the north-east coast of Australia. Difficulties assailed them at
the outset, as many weeks passed before they got clear of Rockingham Bay,
its rivers, swamps, and dense scrubs fenced in by a mountain chain. The
cart was abandoned on July 18th and the horses were packed. An axle and
other ironwork of a cart was found many years ago in the neighbourhood of
the upper Murray River. As the axle was slotted for the old style of
linchpins, no reasonable doubt exists as to its identity, and its
discovery affords collateral proof of a statement published in Mr
Dalrymple's official report--"It is noteworthy that several gins of the
Rockingham Bay tribe now in service in private families, and with the
native police are unanimous in their statements that an elderly white man
is still resident amongst them, and they associate his capture with
'white fellow leave him wheel-barrow along a scrub.' Kennedy abandoned his
horse-cart in the scrub of the Rockingham Bay Range before these gins
were born!" Kennedy's expedition was a disastrous failure. The brave
leader was killed by the blacks far up Cape York Peninsula while he was
heroically pushing on to obtain succour for his famishing and weary
followers. Three only were subsequently rescued. All this has, perhaps,
little to do with Dunk Island: but the scene is so close at hand that the
temptation to include a slight reference to one of the most sensational
and romantic episodes in the exploration of Australia could not be
resisted.

Twenty-five years lapsed, and then another official landing took place.
In the meantime the island had been frequently visited, but there are no
records, until the 29th September 1873, when the "Queensland North-East
Coast Expedition," under the leadership of Mr G. Elphinstone Dalrymple,
F.R.G.S., landed. Three members of the party have left pleasing
testimonies of their first impressions, and I turn to the remarks of the
leader for geological definitions. He says--"The formation of Dunk Island
is clay slates and micaceous schist. A level stratum of a soft, greasy,
and very red decomposing granitic clay was exposed along the southwest
tide-flats, and quartz veins and blue slates were found on the same side
of the island further in!" The huge granite boulders on the south-east
aspect and the granite escarpments on the shoulders of the hills above
did not apparently attract attention.

One feature then existent has also disappeared. The explorers referred to
the belt of magnificent calophyllum trees along the margin of the
south-west beach, and Mr Dalrymple thus describes a vegetable wonder--
"Some large fig-trees sent out great lateral roots, large as their own
trunks, fifty feet into salt water; an anchor-root extending
perpendicularly at the extremity to support them. Thence they have sent
up another tree as large as the parent stem, at high-water presenting the
peculiarity of twin-trees, on shore and in the sea, connected by a
rustic root bridge." These trees have no place or part now.

My chronicles are fated to be tinged with the ashen hue of the
commonplace, though the scenes they attempt to depict are all of the
sun-blessed tropics.

SATELLITES AND NEIGHBOURS

Consultation of the map will show that Dunk Island has four satellites
and seven near relations. Though not formally included in the Family
Group it stands as sponsor to all its members, and overlords the islets
within a few yards of its superior shores. The official chart has been
revised,

Only a few examples of current titles are given, as the crowding in of
the full list would have obscured the map in a maze of words. Many of the
geographical titles of the blacks are without meaning, being used merely
to indicate a locality. Others were bestowed because of the presence of a
particular tree or plant or a remarkable rock. Some few commemorate
incidents. Two places on Dunk Island perpetuate the names of females. The
coast-line is so varied that specific names for localities a few hundred
yards apart hardly seem necessary; but the original inhabitants, frugal
of their speech, found it less trouble to strew names thickly than to
enter into explanations one to another when relating the direction and
extent which the adventures and the sport of the day led them. Few names
for any part of the island away from the beach seem to have existed,
although the site of camps along the edge of the jungle, and even in
gullies as remote as may be from the sea, are even now apparent. Camps
were not honoured by titles, but all the creeks and watercourses and other
places where water was obtainable were so invariably, and camps were
generally, though not always, made near water.

Brief reference to each of the satellites and neighbours of Dunk Island
may not be out of place; if only to preserve distinctions which were
current long before the advent of white folks, and to make clear remarks
in future pages upon the different features of the domain over which the
Beachcomber exercises jurisdiction. Not to many men is permitted the
privilege of choosing for his day's excursion from among so many
beautiful spots, certain in the knowledge that to whichsoever he may
elect to flutter his handkerchief is reserved for his delight; certain
that the sands will be free from the traces of any other human being;
certain that no sound save those of nature will break in upon his musings
and meditations.

Purtaboi, the first and the nearest of the satellites, lies
three-quarters of a mile from the middle of the sweep of Brammo
Bay--always in view through the tracery of the melaleuca trees.
Mung-um-gnackum and Kumboola, to the south-west, are linked at low-water
spring tides to Dunk Island and to each other; and Wooln-garin, to the
south-east, is separated from the rocky cliffs and ledges of the island
by 300 yards of deep and swiftly-flowing water.

Purtaboi--dainty and unique--its hill crowned with low-growing trees and
shrubs, a ruddy precipice, groups of pandanus palms, beach lined with
casuarinas, banks of snow-white coral debris, ridge of sharped-edged
rocks jutting out to the north-western cove and out-lying reef of coral,
tangle of orchids and scrub all in miniature--save the orchids--gigantic
and gross and profuse of old-gold bloom. In October and November hosts of
sea-birds come hither to nest, and so also do nutmeg or Torres Straits
pigeons, blue doves, peaceful doves, honey-eaters, wood-swallows, the
blue reef heron, and occasionally the little black cormorant. The
large-billed shore plover (ESACUS MAGNIROSTRIS) deposits her single egg
on the sand, merely carelessly whisking aside the casuarina needles for
its reception.

Hundreds of terns (six species) lay their eggs among the tinkling coral
chips, and discarding all attempts at concealment, practise artistic
deception. So perfect is the artifice that the eggs are frequently the
least conspicuous of the elements of the banks of drift, broken coral and
bleached shells. Not until each square yard is steadfastly inspected can
they be detected, though there may be dozens around one's feet, the
colours--creamy white with grey and brown and purple spots, and blotches
and scribblings--blending perfectly with their environment. The eggs, by
the way, are a great delicacy, sweet, nutty, and absolutely devoid of
fishy flavour. When the downy young are hatched they, too, are almost
invisible. They cunningly lie motionless, though within a few inches of
your hand, and remain perfectly passive when lifted. Snoodling beside
lumps of coral or beneath weather-beaten drift-wood, they afford
startling proof of the effect of sympathetic coloration. When one stoops
to pick up a piece of wood, whitened and roughened by the salt of the
sea, and finds that more than half its apparent bulk is made up of
several infants in soft swaddles, crowded together into a homogeneous
mass, the result is pleasing astonishment. Only when individuals of the
group move do they become visible to their natural enemies. These tender
young birds enjoy no protection nor any of the comfort of a nest; and if
they were not endowed from the moment of birth with rare consciousness of
their helplessness, the species, no doubt, would speedily become
exterminated, for keen-sighted hawks hover about, picking up those which,
failing to obey the first law of nature, reveal themselves by movement.
If the wind is tempered to the shorn lamb, what is the provision of
Nature which enables so tender a thing as a young bird, a mere helpless
ball of creamy fluff, to withstand the frizzling heat with which the sun
bleaches the broken coral? Many do avail themselves of the meagre shadow
of shells and lumps of coral, but the majority are exposed to the direct
rays of the sun, which brings the coral to such a heat that even the
hardened beachcomber walks thereon with "uneasy steps," reminding him of
another outcast who used that oft-quoted staff as a support over the
"burning marl." Gilbert White relates that a pair of fly-catchers which
inadvertently placed their nests in an intolerably hot situation hovered
over it "all the hotter hours, while with wings expanded and mouths
gaping for breath, they screened the heat from their suffering young."
Parental duty of the like nature does not appear to be practised for the
benefit of the young tern; but they are well fed with what may be
considered thirst-provoking food. Thirst does occasionally overcome the
instinct which the young birds obey by absolute stillness, and a
proportion of those which give way to the ever-present temptation of the
sea falls to the lot of the hawks. Mere fluffy toddlers, with mouths
gaping with thirst, slide and scramble down the coral banks, waddle with
uncertain steps across the strip of smooth sand to be rolled over and
over in their helplessness by the gentle break of the sea. They cool
their panting bodies by a series of queer, sprawling marine gymnastics,
swim about buoyantly for a few minutes, are tumbled on to the sand, and
waddle with contented cheeps each back to its own birthplace among
hundreds of highly-decorated eggs, and hundreds of infants like unto
themselves.

The parents of the white-shafted ternlet (STERNA SINENSIS), the most
sylph-like of birds, with others of the family, ever on the look-out,
follow in circling, screaming mobs the disturbance on the surface of the
sea caused by small fish vainly endeavouring to elude the crafty bonito
and porpoise, and take ample supplies to the ever-hungry young. How is it
that the hundreds of pairs recognise among the hundreds of fluffy young,
identical in size and colour, each their particular care?

The picture "where terns lay" testifies to the solicitude of Nature for
the preservation of types. The apparent primary carelessness of the terns
in depositing their eggs is shown, when the chicks are hatched, to have
been artfulness of a high order. At least a dozen, if not more, young
birds were sharply focused by the camera, but so perfectly do their
neutral tints blend with the groundwork of coral, shells and sand that
only three or four are actually discernible, and these are perplexingly
inconspicuous. A microscopic examination of the photograph is necessary
to differentiate the helpless birds from their surroundings.

On another island within the Barrier Reef several species of sea-birds
spontaneously adapted themselves to altered circumstances. They, in
consonance with the general habits of the species, were wont to lay their
eggs carelessly on the sand or shingle, without pretence of nests. A
meat-loving pioneer introduced goats to the island, the continual
parading about of which so disturbed the birds, and deprived them of
their hope of posterity, that they took to the building of nests on dwarf
trees, out of the way of the goats. That birds unaccustomed to the
building of nests should acquire the habit, illustrates the depths of
Nature's promptings for the preservation of species; or is it that the
faculty existed as an hereditary trait, was abandoned only when its
exercise was unnecessary, and resumed when there was conspicuous occasion
for it? On a neighbouring island of the same group unstocked with goats,
no change in the habits of the birds has taken place.

Among the rocks of Purtaboi, in cool dark grottoes, the brown-winged tern
rears her young. She often permits herself to be trapped rather than
indicate her presence by voluntary flight. One of the most graceful of
the sea-swallows this. Brown of back and greenish-white under surface;
noisy, too, for it "yaps" as a terrier whensoever intruders approach the
island during the brooding season; and its puff-ball chicken, crouching
in dim recesses, takes the bluish-grey hue of the rock.

The Blue Reef heron builds a rough nest of twigs on the ledges of the
rocks, sometimes at the roots of the bronze orchid (DENDROBIUM
UNDULATUM), and endeavours to scare away intruders by harsh squawks,
stupidly betraying the presence of pale blue eggs or helpless brood. When
the blue heron flies with his long neck stiffly tucked between his
shoulders, he is anything but graceful; but under other circumstances he
is not an ungainly bird. Occasionally my casual observations are made
afar off, with the medium of a telescope. Then the birds are seen
behaving naturally, and without fear or self-consciousness. The other day
the cute attitudes of a beach curlew interested me, as he stood upon a
stone just awash, and ever and anon picked up a crab. A blue heron
flapped down beside him, and the curlew skipped off to another rock. In
a minute the heron straightened his neck, poised its long beak for
striking, and brought up a wriggling fish, which with a jerk of its head
it turned end for end and swallowed. Another actor came within the field
of the glass--the mate of the heron, alighting on the stone beside her
lord and master. He was in a peckish humour, and instantly the tufts on
his shoulders, the long feathers on the neck, and the rudimentary crest
were angrily erected, and he made a peevish snap at her. You can imagine
his reproof--"Get away from this. Don't crowd a fellow. Go to a rock of
your own. This is my place. You spoil my sport!" Then, remembering that
domestic tiffs were not edifying to strangers--and there was the sober
brown curlew looking on--the bird let his angry feathers subside, and made
way for his spouse on the best point of the rock. Each on one leg, they
stood shoulder to shoulder, the very embodiment of connubial bliss. I
noticed, too, that the mistress was allowed to fish to her heart's
content, the master never raising a feather in remonstrance, though she
gobbled up all that came along.

Low-lying Mung-um-gnackum, the abode of the varied honey-eater, the
tranquil dove, and the brooding-place of the night-jar (CAPRIMULGUS) and
lovely Kumboola, lie to the south-west, a bare half-mile away.

Kumboola's sheltered aspect is thickly clad with jungle; a steep grassy
ridge springs from the blue-grey rocks to the south-east; and on the
precipitous weather side grow low and open scrub and dwarf casuarina.
Here is a natural aviary. Pigeons and doves coo; honey-eaters whistle;
sun-birds whisper quaint, quick notes; wood swallows soar and twitter.
Metallic starlings seek safe sleeping-places among the mangroves, ere
they repair last year's villages, and join excitedly in the chorus; while
the great osprey wheels overhead, and the grey falcon sits on a bare
branch, still as a sentinel, each waiting for an opportunity to take toll
of the nutmeg pigeons. The channel-billed cuckoo shrieks her discordant
warning of the approaching wet season; and the scrub fowl utters those
far-off imitations of the exclamation of civilised hens. Sundown at
Kumboola towards the end of September, when the sea laps and murmurs
among the rocks, and great white pigeons gather in thousands on the dark
foliage, or "coo-hooing" and flapping, disappear beneath the thick leafy
canopy, and all the other birds are saying their good-nights, or
asserting their rights, or protesting against crowding or intrusion, is
an ever-to-be-remembered experience. Added to the cheerful presence of
the noisy birds, are the pleasant odours which spring from the jungle as
coolness prevails, and the flaming west gives a weird tint of red to the
outlines of the trees, and of purple to the drowsy sea.

Of entirely different character is the last of the satellites to be
mentioned, Wooln-garin. Lying 300 yards off the south-western end of Dunk
Island, across a swift and deep channel, it is naught but a confused mass
of weather-beaten rocks, the loftiest not being more than 50 feet above
high-water. A few pandanus palms, hardy shrubs and trailers, and
mangroves, spring from sheltered crevices, but for the most part the
rocks are bare. The incessant assaults of the sea have cut deep but
narrow clefts in the granite, worn out sounding hollows, and smoothed
away angularities. Here a few terns rear their young, and succeeding
generations of the sooty oyster-catcher lay their eggs just out of the
reach of high-tide. A never-ending procession of fish passes up and down
the channel, according as the tide flows and ebbs, though they do not at
all times take serious heed of bait. To one who generally fishes for a
definite purpose, it is tantalising to peep down into the clear depths
and watch the lazy fish come and go, ignoring the presence of that which
at other times is greedily snapped at. Turtle, and occasionally dugong,
favour the vicinity of Wooln-garin which on account of its distinctive
character is one of the most frequented of the satellites.

The neighbouring islands include Timana, 2 1/2 miles from the sand-spit
of Dunk Island and 1 1/2 mile from Kumboola. Bedarra lies a little to the
southward; Tool-ghar three-quarters of a mile from Bedarra; Coomboo half
a mile from Tool-ghar; and the group of three--Bud-joo, Kurrambah and
Coolah--still further to the south-east. These comprise the Family
Islands of the chart.

On Timana are gigantic milkwood trees (ALSTONIA SCHOLARIS) which need
great flying buttresses to support their immense height, their roots
being mainly superficial. For many generations two ospreys have had their
eyrie in one of these giant trees, fit nursery for imperial birds! With
annual additions, the nest has attained immense proportions, and as years
pass it will still further increase, for blacks capable of climbing such
a tree and disturbing the occupants are few and far between. Great
distinction and pride, however, are the lot of the athlete who secures
the snowy down of the young birds to stick in tufts on his dirty head
with fat, gum or beeswax, for he will be the admired of all admirers at
the CORROBBOREE. Vanity impels human beings to extraordinary exertions,
trials and risks, and the black who desires to outshine his fellows, and
who has the essential of strength and length of limb, will make a loop of
lawyer vine round the tree, and with his body within the loop begin the
ascent. Having cut a notch for the left great toe, he inclines his weight
against the tree, while he shifts the loop three feet or so upwards. Then
he leans backward against the loop, cuts a notch for his right great toe,
and so on until the nest is reached. There has been but one ascent of
this tree in modern times, and the name of the black, "Spider," is still
treasured.

A heavy, slovenly-patched mantle of leafage, impervious to sunlight,
covers the Isle of Timana, creating a region of perpetual dimness from
western beach to eastern precipice, where orchids cling and palms peer on
rocks below. All the vegetation is matted and interwoven, only the
topmost branches of the milkwood escaping from the clinging, aspiring
vines. Tradition asserts that not many years since Timana was much
favoured by nutmeg pigeons, now sparsely represented; but the varied
honey-eater and a friar bird possessing a most mellow and fluty note,
cockatoos and metallic starlings are plentiful. Although there is no
permanent fresh water, the pencil-tailed rat leaves numerous tracks on
the sand, and scrub fowls keep the whole surface perpetually raked.

From a mound adjacent to the beach a black boy brought fifteen eggs as we
picnicked on the beach, and though some of them were nigh upon hatching,
not one was covered with white ants--which, an authority asserts,
particularly like crawling over the eggshells, so as to be ready when
wanted by the chicks. Nor have I ever seen an instance of this alleged
exhibition of self-sacrifice on the part of the white ant. Another boy
had eaten his very substantial lunch, but the eggs were tempting and he
baked two. One, and that new-laid, is ample for an ordinary mortal. The
condition of the first resembled that which the embarrassed curate
described as "good in parts"; but "Mickie" was not nice over a
half-hatched egg. Indeed, was it not rather more piquant than otherwise?
The second proved to contain a fully developed chicken. Now the chick
emerges from the shell feathered, and this, but for the unfortunate
accident of discovery, would have begun to scratch for its living in a
day or so. Mickie flicked away the fragments of shell from the steaming
dainty and laid it snugly on a leaf. "That's for Paddy"--an Irish
terrier, always of the party. It was an affecting act of renunciation.
Presently "Paddy" came along; but "Paddy," who, too, had lunched,
bestowed merely a sniff and a "No, thank you" wag of the tail. "What, you
no want 'em? All right." No second offer was risked, and in a moment, in
one mouthful, the chick was being crunched by Mickie, feathers and all.
The menu of the Chinese--with its ducks' eggs salted, sharks' fins and
tails, stewed pups, fowls' and ducks' tongues, fricasseed cat, rat soup,
silkworm grubs, and odds and ends generally despised and rejected--is
pitifully unromantic when set against the generous omnivority of
Australian blacks.

A mile beyond Timana is Bedarra, with its lovely little bays and coves
and fantastically weathered rocks, its forest and jungle and scrub, and
its rocky satellite Pee-rahm-ah.

Several of the most conspicuous landmarks are associated in the minds of
blacks with legends, generally of the simplest and most prosaic nature.
About this rough rock Pee-rahm-ah is a story which in the minds of the
natives satisfactorily accounts for its presence.

In the far-away past two nice young gins, they say, were left by
themselves on Dunk Island, while the others of the tribe went away in
canoes to Hinchinbrook. Tiring of their lonesomeness, they made up their
minds to regain the company of their relatives by swimming from island to
island. Kumboola was easily reached; to Timana it is but a mile and a
half, and a mile thence to Bedarra. Leaving the most easterly point of
Bedarra, they were quickly caught in the swirl of a strong current and
spun about until both became dazed and exhausted. As they disappeared
beneath the water they were changed to stone, and the stone rose in
fantastic shape, and from that day Pee-rahm-ah has weathered all the
storms of the Pacific and formed a feature in the loveliest scene these
isles reveal.

The largest of the neighbouring isles, Bedarra, has less than a square
mile of superficial area; the smallest but 4 or 5 acres. The smaller are
made up of confused masses of granite, for the most part so overgrown
with fig trees, plumy palms, milkwoods, umbrella-trees, quandongs,
eugenias, hibiscus bushes, bananas and lawyer vines, as to be
unexplorable without a scrub-knife; for the soil among the rocks is soft
and spongy, the purest of vegetable mould, and encourages luxurious
growth. The jungle droops over the grey rocks on the sheltered side.
Twisted Moreton Bay ash and wind-crippled scrub spring up among the
clefts and crevices on the weather frontage--the south-east--while a
narrow strip of sand, the only landing-place, is a general characteristic
of the north-west aspect. Birds nest in numbers in peace and security,
for the islets are off the general track. Seldom is there any disturbance
of the primeval quietude, and in the encompassing sea, if the fish and
turtle suffer any excitement, rarely is the cause attributable to man.

The islands immediately to the south-east form the Family Group--triplets,
twins and two singles. I like to think approving things of them; to note
individual excellences; to familiarise myself with their distinguishing
traits; to listen to them in their petulance and anger, and in that
sobbing subsidence to even temper; to their complacent gurglings and
sleepy murmurs. One--and the most Infantile of all--not of the Family, has
a distinctive note, a copyright tone which none imitates, and which
becomes at times a sonorous swelling boom, a lofty recitative, for even an
island has its temper and its moods.

PLANS AND PERFORMANCES

"The folly of this island! They say there's but five upon this isle; we
are two of them; if the other three be brained like us the State
totters!"


The scheme for the establishment of our island home comprehended several
minor industries. This isle of dreams, of quietude and happiness; this
fretless scene; this plot of the Garden of Eden, was not to be left
entirely in its primitive state. It was firmly resolved that our
interference should be considerate and slight; that there should be no
rude and violent upsetting of the old order of things; but just a gentle
restraint upon an extravagant expression here and there, a little
orderliness, and ever so light a touch of practicability. A certain
acreage of land was to be cleared for the cultivation of tropical fruits;
of vegetables for everyday use, and of maize and millet for poultry,
which we proposed to breed for home consumption. Bees were to be an
ultimate source of profit. There are millions of living proofs of direct
but vagrant descent from the Italian stock, with which we started,
humming all over this and the adjacent islands to-day.

How we went about the practical accomplishment of our plans; in what
particulars they failed; what proportion of success was achieved, and the
process of education in rural enterprises generally, it were idle to
account. Rather, an attempt must be made to give particulars of the
project as a whole as it stands after a period of nine years. Be it
understood that we depended almost solely on the aid of the blacks. Means
at command did not permit the employment of even a single white workman,
save for a brief experimental period. Indeed, there is yet to be found in
Australia the phase of tropical agriculture which affords payment of the
ruling rate of wages. The proximity of countries in which cheap labour
predominates counterbalances the minimum demand of white men in these
parts. Those who have had experience of aboriginals as labourers,
understand their erratic disposition; yet with considerate treatment, the
exact and prompt fulfilment of obligations and promises, the display of
some little sympathy with their foibles, interest in their doings, and
ready response to any desire expressed to "walk about," they are not
wholly to be set at naught as labourers. Some are intelligent and honest
to a degree, and when in the humour will work steadily and consistently.
When not in humour, it is well to accept the fact cheerfully.

Here I must have leave to be candid, so that the reader may be under no
misapprehension as to the exact circumstances under which the undertaking
progressed. Income from the land as the result of agricultural operations
was not absolutely necessary. This acknowledgment does not imply the
possession of, or any disrespect for, "the cumbersome luggage of riches,"
nor any affectation; but rather an accommodating and frugal
disposition--the capacity to turn to account the excellent moral that
poor Mr Micawber lamented his inability to obey. Profit from the sale of
produce and poultry would have supplied additional comforts which would
have been cordially appreciated; but if no returns came, then there was
that state of mind which enabled us to endure the deprivation as the
Psalmist suffered fools. And shall not this be accounted unto us for
righteousness? Shall we not enjoy the warm comfort of virtue? We were at
liberty to reflect with the Vicar of Wakefield--"We have still enough
left for happiness, if we are wise; and let us draw upon content for the
deficiencies of fortune." Certainly, we were not inclined to risk that
which thriftily employed provided for all absolute necessaries on the
chance of securing that which might, after all, prove to be superfluous.
At least, there remains the consciousness of having lived, and of having
wrought no evil (not having interfered in recent Federal Legislation),
and being able to enjoy the sleep which is said to be that of the just.

Occasionally there are as many as four blacks about the place. They come
and go from the mainland, some influenced by the wish for the diet of
oysters for a time. "Me want sit down now; me want eat oyster." At rare
intervals we are entirely alone for months together, and then cultural
operations stand still. Twice, a considerable portion of the plantation
was silently overrun by the scouts of the jungle, and had to be
re-surveyed in order to locate smothered-up orange-trees. Our staff,
domestic and otherwise, usually consists of one boy and his gin, and save
for the housework, affairs are not conducted on a serious or systematic
plan. The spur necessity not being applied, there is no persistent or
sustained effort to make a profit, and, of course, none is earned.

In a few months from the felling of the first strip of jungle and the
burning off of the timber and rubbish, however, we grew produce that went
towards the maintenance of the establishment. That pious old man who
lived to the majestic age of 105, and during the last ninety years
existed wholly upon bread and water, was not the only one who had "a
certain lusting after salad." Until we grew fruit, the papaw, the
quickest and amongst the best, vegetables were more necessary.

Our plantation, all carved out of the jungle, has an area of 4 1/2 acres.
We have orange-trees (two varieties), just coming into bearing, and from
which profits are expected; pineapples (two varieties), papaws, coffee
(ARABICA), custard apples, sour sop, jack fruit, pomegranate, the
litchee, and mangoes in plenty. Sweet potatoes are always in successive
cultivation, also pumpkins and melons, and an occasional crop of maize.
Bananas represent a staple food. We have had fair crops of English
potatoes, and have grown strawberries of fine flavour, though of
deficient size, among the banana plants. Parsley, mint, and all "the
vulgar herbs" grow freely. Readers in less favoured climes may hardly
credit the statement that pineapples are so plentiful in the season in
North Queensland that they are fed to pigs as well as horses. Twenty good
pines for sixpence!--who would cultivate the fruit and market it for such
remuneration? Hundreds of tons of mangoes go absolutely to waste every
year. The taste for this wholesome and most delicious fruit has not yet
become established in the large centres of population of Australia. At
one time the same could he said of bananas; but now the trade has become
prodigious. The era of the mango has yet to come.

The original cedar hut now forms an annexe to a bungalow designed, in so
far as means permitted, as a concession to the dominating characteristics
of the clime. Around the house is an acre or so given over to an attempt
to keep up appearances.

Poultry are comfortably housed; a small flock of goats provides milk and
occasionally fresh meat. There are two horses (one a native of the
island) to perform casual heavy work; the boat has a shed into which she
is reluctantly hauled by means of a windlass to spend the rowdy months;
there is a buoy in the bay to which she is greatly attached when she is
not sulking in the shed or coyly submitting to the caresses of the waves.

It may have been anticipated that I would, Thoreau-like, set down in
details and in figures the exact character and cost of every designed
alteration to this scene; but the idea, as soon as it occurred, was
sternly suppressed, for however cheerful a disciple I am of that
philosopher, far be it from me to belittle him by parody.

A good portion of the house represents the work of my own unaccustomed
hands. I have found how laborious an occupation fencing is, and how very
exasperating if barbed wire is used; that the keeping in order of even a
small plantation in which ill-bred and riotous plants grow with the
rapidity of the prophet's gourd, and which if unattended would lapse in a
very brief space of time into the primitive condition of tangled jungle,
involves incessant labour of the most sweatful kind. A work on structural
botany tells me that "the average rate of perspiration in plants has been
estimated as equal to that of seventeen times that of man." Only dwellers
in the tropics are capable of realising the profundity of those pregnant
words. Nowhere does plant life so thrive and so squander itself. And to
toil among all this seething, sweating vegetation! No wonder that the
trashing of sugar-cane is not a popular pastime among Britishers.

Given a quiet and contented mind, a banana-grove, a patch of sweet
potatoes, orange and mango and papaw trees, a few coffee plants; the sea
for fish, the rocks for oysters; the mangrove flats for crabs, and is it
not possible to become fat with a minimum of labour? Fewer statements
have found wider publicity than that the banana contains more nutriment
than meat. I have good reason to have faith--faith in it. In Queensland
every man has to find money for direct and indirect taxation; but apart
from the imposts upon living, moving and having being, what ready money
does a man want beyond a few shillings for tea, sugar and other luxuries,
and some few articles of essential clothing? But I am attempting to
describe a special set of circumstances, and would not have it on my
conscience that I indirectly offered encouragement even to a forlorn and
shipwrecked brother to abandon hope of becoming the prime minister of the
Commonwealth, and to enter upon a life of reckless irresponsibility such
as mine.

As soon as test and trial proved in this special case that life on the
periphery of the whirl of civilisation was not only endurable but "so
would we have it," arrangements were made with the Government of the
State for a change in the tenure upon which the right of possession was
upheld.

In obedience to those altruistic tendencies which, with due recognition
of the law of self-preservation, comprehend the duty of man, it is
necessary that the terms and conditions upon which others may acquire
freehold estates in tropical Queensland--the most fruitful and the most
desirable part of Australia--should be briefly detailed. As insurance
against intrusion, a small area of the island had been secured from the
Government under special lease for a term of thirty years, at the rental
of 2 shillings 6 pence per acre per annum. This lease was maintained
only for the period during which our verdant sentiments were put to the
test. That phase having passed without the destruction of a single
illusion, no restraint was imposed upon the passion to possess the land.
Negotiations resulted in a certain acreage being proclaimed open to
selection, and in such case the original applicant has the prior right.
What is termed under the exceedingly liberal land laws of Queensland an
agricultural homestead may comprise 160 acres, 320 acres, or 640 acres,
in accordance with the classification of the land as of first, second, or
third quality. The selector must pay 2 shillings 6 pence per acre at the
rate Of 3 pence per acre for ten years, and must reside continuously on
the land. Five years are allowed for the completion of
improvements--house, clearing, fencing, cultivation, etc., which in
valuation must equal 10 shillings, 5 shillings, or 2 shillings 6 pence
per acre respectively, according to the classification of the land. At
the end of the five years the selector may pay in a lump sum the second
moiety of rent, making the total 2 shillings 6 pence per acre, and he is
thereupon entitled to the issue of a deed of grant of the land in
fee-simple. Otherwise payments may extend over the term of ten years,
when the land becomes freehold. Briefly, for the sum Of 2 shillings 6
pence per acre distributed over ten years, in addition to a trifle for
survey fees (also payable in easy instalments) and the construction of
improvements equal in value to 2 shillings 6 pence per acre, the freehold
of land unsurpassed in fertility in the whole world may be acquired. The
selector may build his own hut and erect his fences of timber from his
clearing, and the officials assess improvements on a liberal scale. Who
would not be a landed proprietor under such terms? Other clauses of the
Land Act are far more encouraging. Not only are payments held in abeyance
until the selector is able to meet them out of his earnings from the
land, but in special cases monetary assistance is afforded him. Literally
the meekest of men may inherit the choicest part of the earth.

What has been said of the natural features of Dunk Island is applicable
to the coastal tract extending, say, 300 miles, than which no land is
more fertile. A very notable advantage is enjoyed here. Brammo Bay is but
three or four minutes' steam from the track of vessels which make weekly
trips up and down the coast, and by arrangements with the proprietary of
one of the lines we have the boon of a regular weekly mail and of cheap
carriage of supplies. Without this connecting link, life on the island
would have been very different. The Companies running parallel lines of
steamers, one skirting the coast and the other outside the islands in
deep water, have done much to open up the wealth of the agricultural land
of North Queensland. Trade follows the flag. Here the flag of the
mercantile marine has frequently been first planted to demonstrate the
certainty of trade.

Without apology, a few facts are submitted which utterly condemn the
practicability of one department of island enterprise, and which possibly
(without protest) may provide a reason for the placing of other branches of
industry beyond the pale of recognition by those who devote every moment
of time to, and make never-ending sacrifices of ease and health and
comfort on behalf of, what folks term the main chance. When after some
expenditure in the purchase of plant and material, and no little labour,
the couple of beehives that formed the original stock of a project for
the harvesting of the nectar which had hitherto gone to waste or been
disposed of by unreflecting birds, had increased to a dozen, and honey
of pleasant and varying flavour flowed from the separator at frequent
intervals, hopes ran high of the earning of a modest profit from one of
the cleanest, nicest, most entertaining and innoxious of pursuits.

No one who takes up bees and who studies their manners and methods can
allow his admiration to remain dormant. It is not the fault of the bees
if he does not become ashamed of himself in some respects; nor are they
to blame if the wisest men fail quite to comprehend some of the wonders
they perform. Only by those "who list with care extreme," are their
gentle tones heard aright; and even from such are some secrets hidden.
How is it that an egg deposited by the queen-mother in a more than
ordinarily capacious compartment hatches a grub, "just like any other,"
which grub, feasting upon the concentrated food stored within its cell,
expands and lengthens and emerges an amber queen in all her glory?
Bee-keepers learn that the queen and the drones are the only perfect
insects in the hive, the hoard of willing, bustling slaves being females
in a state of arrested development. Each worker might have been a queen
but for the fact that environment and a special food were not vouchsafed
in the embryonic stage. By making artificial queen-cells, which the
workers provide for, men bring about the birth of queens at will. Not yet
has the secret of the manufacture of royal jelly been revealed. But is it
not the common belief that the spacious compartment and the special food
work the transformation of what otherwise would have been a brief-lifed
toiler to an insect of majestic proportions, regal adornment and imperial
instinct, whose wants are anticipated and who has no duty to perform save
that of increasing and multiplying her faithful subjects? Man controls
the development of an insect. May not those who complain of the disparity
between the births of females and males still listen to hope's
"flattering tale"? Such is one of the homilies of the hive.

Interest in bee-culture grows; and some of the habits of the insect came
to be understood and, inevitably, admired, the while all convenient
vessels available, even to the never-to-be-despised kerosene tins, were
utilised to store the nectar garnered from myriads of blossoms. But as
time passed the fair prospects faded. Less and less quantities of honey
were stored. The separator seldom buzzed with soothing melody as the
honey, whirled from the dripping frames of combs, pattered against its
resonant sides. Bees seemed less and less numerous. An air of idleness,
almost dissoluteness and despair, brooded over some of the hives. The
strong robbed the weak; and the weak contented themselves with gathering
in listless groups, murmuring plaintively. If the hives were inquiringly
tapped, instead of a furious and instant alarm and angry outpouring of
excited and wrathful citizens, eager to sacrifice themselves in the
defence of the rights of the commonwealth, there was merely a buzzing
remonstrance, indicative of decreased population, weakness and
disconsolation.

The cause of so great a change in the character and demeanour of citizens
who erstwhile worked as honey carriers all day, and who during the hot,
still nights did duty as animated ventilating fans to maintain a free
circulation of air through the hive, had to be investigated. Soon it was
revealed in the presence of two species of birds, the Australian
bee-eater (MEROPS ORNATUS) and the white-rumped wood-swallow (ARTAMUS
LEUCOGASTA). The former is one of the handsomest of the smaller birds of
Australia, its chief colouring being varying shades of green with
bronze-brown and black head and blue back; and to add to its appearance
and pride two graceful feather-shafts of black protrude from the green
and yellow of the tail. It travels in small companies of, say, from four
and five to a couple of dozen, and in its flight occasionally seems to
pause with wings and tail outspread, revealing all its charms. Fond it
is, too, of perching on bare twigs commanding a wide survey, whence It
darts with unerring precision to catch bees and other insects on the
wing. If its prey takes unkindly to its fate, the bird batters it to
death on its perch ere swallowing it with a twitter of satisfaction. The
wood-swallow wears a becoming suit of soft pearly grey and white, to
contrast with its black head and throat. It has a graceful, soaring
flight and a cheerful chirrup. At certain seasons scores congregate on a
branch, perching in a row, so closely compact that their breasts show as
a continuous band of white. When one leaves his place to catch an insect,
the others close up the ranks and dress the line, and on returning,
wrangle and scold as he may, he needs must take an outside place. Let a
bush fire be started, and flocks of wood-swallows whirl and circle along
the flanks of the circling smoke, taking flying insects on the wing, or
deftly pick "thin, high-elbowed creatures," scuttling up tree-trunks out
of the way of the flames. Those were the marauders who confounded
anticipations of a comfortable livelihood in the decent calling of an
apiarist. They devoured bees by the hundred every day. Every hive paid
dreadful toll to them, for they found food so plentiful, and with so
little exertion, that they made the vicinity of the hives a permanent
abiding place. For a brief season I found myself confronted by a problem.
I had to apply my own favourite theories and arguments to myself and
weigh against them practical advantages. Honey was plentiful and, given
that the bees were protected against voracious enemies, might have been
stored in marketable quantities. But was I not bound by honour as well as
sentiment to protect the birds? Was not my coming hither due to a certain
extent to a wish for the preservation of bird-life? Was there not in my
presence an implied warranty to that effect? Had not the island since my
occupancy become a sanctuary, a city of refuge, a safe abiding place, a
kingdom where all the birds of the air--save tyrants and cannibals were
welcomed with gladness and enthusiasm? Had I not warned others of the
dreadful consequences that would befall any disturbance of the sacred air
by so much as the unauthorised report of a gun? How then was I to deal
out justice to the defenceless bees that I had hurried hither,
willy-nilly, without consideration of their likes and dislikes and their
multitudinous descendants? How protect my investment in apiarist plant?
How maintain the stock of honey, white, golden and tawny brown,
excellent, wholesome delicious food, and still preserve the natural
rights, the privileges of the birds? Had not the birds the right of prior
occupancy and other legitimate claims, in addition to sentimental demands
upon my conscience? Not only, too were the birds beautiful to look upon
and of engaging habits; not only had they become companionable and
trustful; not only were they among the primeval features of the island
that I was so eager to leave unspotted from the world; but they were
eminently useful in the work of keeping within bounds the rampant host of
insects to which mankind is in the habit of applying the term injurious.

It took no long time to make up my mind. Gladly came the determination to
abandon the enterprise rather than do violence to the birds. Fortunately
a kindly friend took the entire plant and the hives off my hands. We are
the worse off in respect of honey; but we have the birds, and the thought
comes that there are now hundreds of colonies of bees from the original
stock, here and on the mainland, working out their own destinies. Had the
enterprise been allowed to flourish, it would have been at the cost of
the lives of hundreds of graceful birds; and hundreds of others that now
merrily make so free would have been scared away. The money that would
have been spent in cartridges is applied to the purchase of honey from
foreign parts. No one is much the worse off. Indeed, my friend who
purchased the stock is the richer by my abandonment of the calling, and
am not I conscious of consistency?

So, these my vocations drift into the gentle and devious stream of
inconsequence. It would be vain-glorious, no doubt, to assert that there
is placid indifference to vain-glory, which Carlyle declares to be, with
neediness and greediness, one of the besetting sins of mankind; but am I
not free from the cares that obtrude on those of tougher texture of mind
who find joy in the opposite to this peace and unconcern for the rewards
and honours of the world? Better this isolation and moderation in all
things than, racked with worries, to moan and fret because of non-success
in the ceaseless struggle for riches, or the increase thereof; better
than to bow down to and worship in the "soiled temple of Commercialism"
that haughty and supercilious old idol Mammon; better than to offer
continual sacrifices of rest, health, and the immediate good of life to
appease the exacting and silly deities of fashion and society.

There may be some who, in a disparaging tone, will at this stage of my
confessions enter an accusation of impracticableness. To such a charge I
would plead guilty; but to those who proffer it, I neither appeal, nor do
I fear their judgment. These writings are for those who see something in
life beyond the mere "getting on in world," or making a din in it.



CHAPTER II



BEACHCOMBING


"For the Beachcomber, when not a mere ruffian, is the poor relation of
the artist."

In justification of the assumption of the title of "Beachcomber," it must
be said that, having made good and sufficient provision against the
advent of the wet season (which begins, as a rule, during the Christmas
holidays), the major portion of each week was spent in first formal and
official calls, and then friendly and familiar visits to the neighbouring
islands and the mainland.

Duty and inclination constrained me to find out what were the states and
moods of all the bays and coves of all the isles; the location and form
of rocks and reefs; the character of shrubs and trees; the nature of the
jungle-covered hilltops; the features of bluffs and precipices; to
understand the style and manner and the conversation of unfamiliar birds;
to discover where the turtle most do congregate; the favourite haunts of
fishes. I was in a hurry to partake freely of the novel, and yearned for
pleasure of the absolute freedom of isles uninhabited, shores untrodden;
eager to know how Nature, not under the microscope, behaved; what were
her maiden fancies, what the art with which she allures.

But there was an excuse, rather an imperious command, for all the
apparent waste of time. Before the rains came thundering on the iron roof
of our little hut, the washed-out and enfeebled town dweller who gave way
to bitter reflections on the first evening of his new career, could
hardly have been recognised, thanks to the robustious, wholesome effects
of the free and vitalising life. Fourteen, frequently sixteen, hours of
the twenty-four were spent in the open air, ashore and afloat.

What a glowing and absolutely authentic testimonial could be written as
to the tonic influence of the misrepresented climate of the rainy belt of
North Queensland on constitutions that have run down? According to
popular opinion, malaria ought to have discovered an exceptionally easy
prey. Ague, if the expected had happened, should have gripped and shaken
me until my teeth rattled; and after alternations of raging fever and
arctic cold, I ought to have gone to my long home with the fearful shapes
of delirium yelling in my ears. But there are places other than Judee
where they do not know everything. At the fraction of the fee of a
fashionable doctor, and of the cost of following his fashionable and
pleasing advice--a change to one of the Southern States--in three months
one of the compelling causes for the desertion of town life had been
disposed of by agreeable processes. None of the bitter, after-taste of
physic remained. I knew my island, and was on terms of friendly
admiration--born of knowledge of beauty spots--with all the others. I had
become a citizen of the universe.

During this period of utter abandonment of all serious claims upon time
and exertion came the conviction that the career of the Beachcomber, the
closest possible "return to Nature" now popularly advocated, has charms
none other possesses. Then it was that the lotus-blossom was first eaten.

Unfettered by the laws of society, with the means at hand of acquiring
the few necessaries of life that Nature in this generous part of her
domain fails to provide readymade, a Beachcomber of virtuous instinct,
and a due perception of the decency of things, may enjoy a happy life.
Should, however, he be of the type that demands a wreck or so every month
to maintain his supplies of rum or gin, and other articles of his true
religion, and is prepared if wrecks do not come with regularity, to
assist tardy Nature by means of false lights on the shore, he will find
no scope whatever among these orderly isles.

The Beachcomber of tradition parades his coral islet barefooted, bullying
guileless natives out of their copra, coco-nut oil and pearl-shell; his
chief diet, turtle and turtle eggs and fish; his drink, rum and coco-nut
milk--the latter only when the former is impossible. When a wreck happens
he becomes a potentate in pyjamas, and with his dusky wives, dressed in
bright vestiture, fares sumptuously. And though the ships from the isles
do not meet to "pour the wealth of ocean in tribute at his feet," he can
still "rush out of his lodgings and eat oysters in regular desperation."
A whack on his hardened head from the club of a jealous native is the
time-honoured fate of the typical Beachcomber.

Flotsam and jetsam make another class of Beachcomber by stimulating the
gaming instincts. Is there a human being, taking part in the rough and
tumble of the world, who can honestly make confession and say that he has
completely suffocated those inherent instincts of savagedom--joy and
patience in the chase, the longing for excitement and surprise, the crude
selfishness, the delight in getting something for nothing? Society
journals have informed me that titled dames have been known to sit out
long and wearisome evenings that they may obtain some paltry favour in a
cotillon. And when the sea casts up its gifts on these radiant shores, I
boldly and with glee give way to my beachcombing instincts and pick and
choose. Never ever up to the present have I found anything of real value;
but am I not buoyed up by pious hopes and sanguine expectations? Is not
the game as diverting and as innocent as many others that are played to
greater profit? It is a game, too, that cannot be forced, and therefore
cannot become demoralising; and having no nice feelings nor fine shades,
I rejoice and am glad in it.

And then what strange and varied things one sees! Once a "harness-cask,"
hostile to every sense, came trundled by waves eager to expel it from the
vicinity of these oxless but scented isles. It overcame us as we sailed
by, 20 yards off, and the general necessity for temperate diet and
restricted dishes came as a sweet and a comforting reflection. No marvel
if the ship whence it was ejected was in bad odour among the sailors.
Leaving, as it lurched along, a greasy, foul stain on the sea, it may
have poisoned multitudes of uncomplaining fishes during its evil course.

Occasionally a case of fruit, washed from the decks of a labouring
steamer, drifts ashore. One was the means of introducing a valuable
addition to the products of the island. It gave demonstration of how man
may unwittingly, and even in opposition to his wit, assist in scattering
and multiplying blessings on a smiling land--blessings to last for all
time, and perhaps to amend or ameliorate the environment of a budding
nation.

Many years ago--in 1878, to speak precisely--a ship laden with fragrant
cedar logs from the valley of the Daintree River--140 miles to the north--
touched on Kennedy Shoal, 20 miles to the south-east of Dunk Island.
Crippled though she was she managed to make Cardwell, where she was
temporarily patched up, and whence she set sail for Melbourne. It was the
critical month of March, and the MERCHANT--clumsy and cumbersome, but a
good and safe ship given ample sea-room--before sailing many miles on her
course, was caught in the coils of a cyclone, the violence of which is
well remembered by old residents on the coast to this day, and was lost
with all hands. She is supposed to have struck on a reef to the southward
of the Palm Islands, as the bulk of her cargo was cast ashore in Ramsay
Bay, Hinchinbrook Island. Portions of the wreckage were found on the
Brook Islands; her figurehead--the spread eagle of the United States--and
a seaman's chest were picked up on the beach here. Her windlass, with a
child's pinafore entangled with it--for the skipper had taken his wife and
two children to bear him company--drifted on the South Franklands, 40
miles to the north, and a large portion of the shattered hulk on a reef
eastward of Fitzroy Island, 25 miles still farther up the coast. Fate did
her worst for the poor MERCHANT, and not yet content, relentlessly
pursued two (if not more) of the vessels which sought to recover her
cedar, strewn on the treacherous sands of Ramsay Bay. Some of the logs,
however, drifted to our quiet coves, and portions remain sound to this
day. One more promising and accessible we beachcombed. It provided
planks for a punt, besides various articles of furniture, and gave me
some most practical homilies on contentment. Having found and duly
salvaged that log, it was necessary to cut it up; and then I began to be
thankful that pit-sawing was not forced upon me as a profession in the
days of inexperienced youth. Pit-sawing is deceptive. It has the
appearance of being easy, though not genteel, when others are the
toilers, and in the red dust, torn by the polished steel teeth from out
the heart of the dull log, do you not "inhale the balmy smells of nard
and cassia which the musky wings of the zephyrs scatter through the
cedared groves of the Hesperides?" Is not that fragrance sufficient
compensation for your toil, with the clean red planks profit over and
above legitimate earnings? Yet that long saw tugs at our very
heart-strings, and you know that to get a real, not merely sentimental,
liking for the craft of the sawyer, you must take to it very young,
before the possibilities of other occupations and pastimes have distorted
your genius. This worthy lesson comes from the gentle art of
Beachcombing.

Again, a German barque, driven out of its course, found unexpectedly a
detached portion of the Great Barrier Reef 200 miles away to the south.
When the south-easters came, they pounded away so vigorously with the
heavy runs of the sea that in a brief space nothing was left of the big
ship save some distorted fragments of iron jammed in among the
nigger-heads of coral and the crevices of the rocks. A few weeks after,
portions of the wreck were deposited on Dunk Island, and the beach of the
mainland for miles was strewn with timber. That wreck was the greatest
favour bestowed me in my profession of Beachcomber. Long and heavy pieces
of angle-iron came bolted to raft-like sections of the deck; various
kinds of timber proved useful in a variety of ways. What? was I to leave
it all, unclaimed and unregarded--in excess of morality and modesty--on
the beach, to be honey-combed by white ants or to rot? or to honestly own
up to that sentiment which is the most human of all? Without affectation
or apology, I confess that I was overjoyed--that my instincts, pregnant
with original sin, received a most delightful fillip. I wallowed for the
time being in the luxury of beachcombing.

Upon sober reflection, I cannot say that I am of one mind with the pastor
of the Shetland Isles who never omitted this petition from his long
prayer--"Lord, if it be Thy holy will to send shipwrecks, do not forget
our island"; nor yet with the Breton fishermen, who to this day are of
opinion that wreckage is the gift of God, and who therefore take
everything that comes in a reverential spirit, as a Divine favour,
whether casks of wine or bales of merchandise. But, after all, who am I
that I should claim a finer shade of morality than those, with their
sturdy widespread hands and perpetual blessing? My inherent powers of
resistance to such temptations as the winds and tides of Providence put
in their way have never been subject to proof. Does virtue go by default
where there is no opportunity to be otherwise than virtuous? The very
first pipe of port, or aum of Rhenish, or bale of silk, which comes
rolling along may wrestle with my morality and so wrench and twist it as
to incapacitate it for ordinary usage for months, or may even permanently
disable it. And must not I, venturing to regard myself as a truthful
historian, frankly admit a sense allied to disappointment when the white
blazing beaches are destitute of the most trivial of temptations?

No, the grating of the battered barque, upon which many a wet and weary
steersman had stood, now fulfils placid duty as a front gate. No more to
be trampled and stamped upon with shifty, sloppy feet--no more to be
scrubbed and scored with sand and holystone; painted white, it creaks
gratefully every time it swings--the symbol of security, the first
outward and visible sign of home, the guardian of the sacred rights of
private property, the embodiment of the exclusive. Better so than lying
inert under foot on the deck of the barque thrashing through the cold
grey seas of the Baltic, or scudding before the unscrupulous billows of
Biscay.

Moreover, what notable and precise information this derelict timber gave
as to the strength and direction of ocean currents. The wreck took place
on the 26th October 1900 in 18 deg. 43 min. S. lat., 147 deg. 57 min. E.
long., 72 1/2 miles in a direct line from the port of Townsville, and
about 200 miles from Dunk Island. She broke up, after a11 the cargo had
been salvaged, early in January 1901, and on Tuesday, 5th February, at
10 a.m., the seas landed the first of the broken planks in Brammo Bay.
Then for a few days the arrivals were continuous. For over 50 miles along
the coast the wreckage was scattered, very little going farther north.

Nothing goes south on this part of the coast. Yes, there is one exception
during my experience. A veritable cataclysm coincided with a stiff
north-easterly breeze, and hundreds of bunches of bananas from
plantations on the banks of the Johnstone River--25 miles
away--landing-stages and steps, and the beacons from the mouth of the
river, drifted south. Most of the more buoyant debris, however, took the
next tide back in the direction whence came.

When there are eight or ten islands and islets within an afternoon's
sail, and miles of mainland beach to police, variety lends her charms to
the pursuit of the Beachcomber. Landing in one of the unfrequented coves,
he knows not what the winds and the tides may have spread out for
inspection and acceptance. Perhaps only an odd coco-nut from the Solomon
Islands, its husk riddled by cobra and zoned with barnacles. The germ of
life may yet be there. To plant the nut above high-water mark is an
obvious duty. Perhaps there is a paddle, with rude tracery on the handle,
from the New Hebrides, part of a Fijian canoe that has been bundled over
the Barrier, a wooden spoon such as Kanakas use, or the dusky globe of an
incandescent lamp that has glowed out its life in the state-room of some
ocean liner, or a broom of Japanese make, a coal-basket, a "fender," a
tiger nautilus shell, an oar or a rudder, a tiller, a bottle cast away
fat out from land to determine the strength and direction of ocean
currents, the spinnaker boom of a yacht, the jib-boom of a staunch
cutter. Once there was a goodly hammer cemented by the head fast upright
on a flat rock, and again the stand of a grindstone, and a trestle, high
and elaborately stayed. Cases, invariably and disappointingly empty, come
and go, planks of strange timber, blocks from some tall ship. A huge
black beacon waddled along, dragging a reluctant mass of iron at the end
of its chain cable, followed by a roughly-built "flatty" and a huge log
of silkwood. A jolly red buoy, weary of the formality of bowing to the
swell, broke loose from a sandbank's apron-strings, bounced off in the
ecstasies of liberty, romped in the surf, rolled on the beach, worked a
cosy bed in the soft warm sand, and has slumbered ever since to the
soothing hum of the wind, indifferent to the perplexities of mariners and
the fate of ships. The gilded masthead truck of a smart yacht, with one
of her cabin racks, bespoke of recent disaster, unknown and unaccounted,
and a brand new oar, finished and fitted with the nattiness of a
man-o'-war's man, told of some wave-swept deck.

That which at the time was the most eloquent message from the sea came
close to our door, cast up on the snowy-white coral drift of a little
cove, where it immediately attracted notice. Nothing but an untrimmed
bamboo staff nearly 30 feet long, carrying an oblong strip of soiled
white calico between two such strips of red turkey twill. Tattered and
frayed, the flags seemed to tell of the desperate appeal for help of some
forlorn castaway; of a human being, marooned on a lonely sandbank on the
Barrier, without shelter, food or water, but not altogether bereft of
hope. BECHE-DE-MER fishers have in times past been marooned on the Reef
by mutinous blacks, and left to die by slow degrees, or to be drowned by
the implacable yet merciful tide. A makeshift rudder well worn bespoke
strenuous efforts to steer a troubled boat to shelter, but this crude
signal staff, deftly arranged, told of present agony and stress. It might
have been the emblem of a tragic event that the Beachcomber single-handed
was not able to investigate. As a matter of fact, it was only a temporary
datum of one of His Majesty's surveying ships engaged in attempting to
set the bounds of the Barrier.

Rarely do we sail about without enjoying the zest of the chance of
getting something for nothing. Not yet has the seaman's chest,
brass-bound, with its secret compartments full of "fair rose-nobles and
bright moidores," been lighted upon; but who can say? Perhaps it has
come ashore but now, after leagues of aimless wanderings, and awaits in
some cosy cove the next Beachcombing expedition. That from the ill-fated
MERCHANT came hither years before my time, and was, in any case,
pathetically unromantic.

Peradventure there are many who deem this solitary existence dull? Why,
it is brimful of interest and sensation. There are the tragedies of the
bush to observe and elucidate; all cannot be foreseen and prevented, or
even avenged. A bold falcon the other day swooped down upon a wood-swallow
that was imitating the falcon's flight just above my head, and bore it
bleeding to a tree-top, while I stood shocked at the audacity of the
cannibal. A bullet dropped the murderous bird with its dead victim fast
in the talons. There are comedies, too, and you have the wit to see them,
and in these Beachcombing expeditions expectation, fairly effervesces.

One lucky individual--a mere amateur--casually picked up a black-lip
mother-of-pearl shell on an island some little distance away. It
contained a blue pearl, the price of which gave him such a start in life,
that he is now an owner of ships. May not other tides cast up on other
shores other oysters whose lives have been rendered miserable by the
presence of pearls?

Byron says--"Even an oyster may be crossed in love." Science, more
precise and frank than the frankest of poets, tells us that oysters are
afflicted with tapeworms, and to kill the germ of these indecent pests,
enclose them in untimely tombs, which from the human standpoint are among
the most lovely and precious of gems. The assertions of the scientific
are often the reverse of poetical. We are constrained to believe them,
but like our poetical delusions better, and for the origin of the pearl
prefer the quaint fable of the Persians to the unpleasant fact of the
zoologist. A drop of water of ineffable purity falls from heaven to the
sea, an oyster gapes and swallows it, the drop hardens and ripens, and
becomes a pearl; and who is so devoid of the perception of purity, beauty
and worth as to despise a pearl?

Here about, pearls were found. We delight in them, though they prove the
previous existence of a filthy ailment. Any oyster may contain a pearl, a
pearl of great price--a thing of beauty, a joy for ever. Every gold-lip,
every black-lip oyster, is a chance in a lottery. Was there ever a
Beachcomber so pure and elevated of soul as to refuse the chances that
Nature proffers gratuitously? My meagre horde includes pearls of several
tints, black, pink, and white. They represent the paltriest prizes. in
the lottery that no Government, however paternal, may prohibit, being
mere "baroque," fit only to be pounded up as medicine for some Chinaman
luxuriously sick. Yet there is a chance. Some day the great prize may be
drawn. And then, "Canst thou draw out leviathan with an hook?" The
Beachcomber may be perverted into--well, the next best on the list. Yet
they say in pitiful tones, those who rake among the muck of the streets,
"What a dull life! What a hopeless existence! He is out of it all!" Yes,
with a gladsome mind, and all its sounds, if not forgotten, at least
muffled by music, soft as dawn, profound as the very sea.

Kennedy Shoal has been mentioned incidentally. Some miles further north
are two bare sandbanks. Prior to the year 1890 they were occupied by a
BECHE-DE-MER fisherman, whose headquarters were on the chief of the South
Barnard Islands--some 12 or 14 miles to the north. In fateful March of
that year a cyclone swooped down on this part of the coast with the
pent up fury of a century's restraint. The enormous bloodwood-trees torn
out by the roots on Dunk Island testified to the force and ferocity of
the storm. The sandbanks, are isolated, dreary spots, the highest portion
but 2 or 3 feet above the level reached by spring tides. A cutter--THE
DOLPHIN--with a crew of aboriginals, in charge of a couple of Kanakas, was
anchored at the shoal, and as the cyclone worked up, the Kanakas decided
that the one and only bid for life was to run before it to the mainland.
It was a forlorn hope--so forlorn that four or five of the aboriginals
declined to take part in it, deeming it safer to trust to the sandbank,
which they imagined could never be entirely swept by the besoms of the
sea. The cutter fled before the storm, only to capsize in the breakers
off the mouth of the Johnstone River. Clinging to the wreck until it
drifted a few miles south, the Kanakas and crew battled through the waves
and eventually reached the shore. Of those who placed their faith on the
sandbank not one was spared. The seas raced over it, pounded and
flattened it. The men upon it were unconsidered trifles.

The tall and handsome Scandinavian whose fortune thus assailed was at his
home with his wife and children and brother. His yacht--THE MAUD--in the
height of the storm, began to drag her anchor. He and his brother went
out in a dinghy to secure her. At dusk the wife, young, petite and
pretty, with strained anxiety watched the efforts of the men to beat back
to shelter. Darkness came, blotting out the scene and its climax. Never
after was anything seen or heard of the brothers or the yacht. And for
nearly a fortnight the disconsolate wife and her little ones were alone on
the island.

Ten years later, on one of the two bare patches of sand, another
BECHE-DE-MER smoke-house was built. While the owner a swarthy Arabian,
was out on the reef miles away, a phenomenally high tide occurred. His
wife--a comely girl of British descent--was alone on the shoal. She
watched the rising water apprehensively, until all the sand was covered
save the few feet on which the frail shelter stood. One more ripple and
the floor was swamped. Then, wading and swimming, she managed to reach a
punt, and so saved her life. Since then these patches of sand have not
been regarded as a safe outpost even by those most venturesome of
people--BECHE-DE-MER fishers.

This is not an apology, but a confession; not a plea of defence, but a
justification--a fair and free chronicle, a frank acknowledgment of the
tributes of impartial Neptune--Neptune who gives and who takes away--who
stealthily filches with tireless fingers, and who, when in the mood, robs
so remorselessly, and with such awful, such majestic violence, that it
were impious to whimper. Who beachcombed my three rudders, the one
toilfully adzed out in one piece from the beautiful heart of a bean-tree
log, another cunningly fitted with a sliding fin, and that of red cedar
with famous brass mountings? Who owns the pair of ballast tanks once
mine? Who the buoy deemed securely moored? Who the paddles and the
rowlocks and the signal halyards, lost because of Neptune's whims and
violence? Beachcombing is a nicely adjusted, if not quite an exact art.
Not once but several times has the libertine Neptune scandalously seduced
punts and dinghies from the respectable precincts of Brammo Bay, and
having philandered with them for a while, cynically abandoned them with a
bump on the mainland beach, and only once has he sent a punt in return--a
poor, soiled, tar-besmirched, disorderly waif that was reported to the
police and reluctantly claimed.

A mind inclined to casuistry, could it not defend Beachcombing? Does not
the law recognise it under the definition of trover? Why bother about the
law and the moralities when it is all so pleasing, so engrossing, and so
fair?

The Beachcomber wants no extensive establishment. His possessions need
never be mortgaged. The cost of living is measurable by a standard
adjustable to individual taste, wants and perceptions. The expenditure of
a little manual labour supplies the omissions of and compensates for
the undirected impulses which prevail, and the pursuit--not the
profession--leads one to ever-varying scenes, to the contemplation of many
of the moods of unaffected, unadvertised Nature. Ashore, one dallies
luxuriously with time, free from all the restrictions of streets, every
precious moment his very own; afloat in these calm and shallow waters
there is a never-ending panorama of entertainment. Coral gardens--gardens
of the sea nymphs, wherein fancy feigns cool, shy, chaste faces and
pliant forms half-revealed among gently swaying robes; a company of
porpoise, a herd of dugong; turtle, queer and familiar fish, occasionally
the spouting of a great whale, and always the company of swift and
graceful birds. Sometimes the whole expansive ocean is as calm as it can
only be in the tropics and bordered by the Barrier Reef--a shield of
shimmering silver from which the islands stand out as turquoise bosses.
Again, it is of cobalt blue, with changing bands of purple and gleaming
pink, or of grey blue--the reflection of a sky pallid and tremulous with
excess of light. Or myriad hosts of microscopic creatures--the Red Sea
owes to the tribe its name--the multitudinous sea dully incarnadine; or
the boat rides buoyantly on the shoulders of Neptune's white horses, while
funnel-shaped water spouts sway this way and that. Land is always near,
and the flotsam and jetsam, do they not supply that smack of
excitement--if not the boisterous hope--bereft of which life might seem
"always afternoon?"

These chronicles are toned from first to last by perceptions which came
to the Beachcomber--perceptions which lead, mayhap, to a subdued and sober
estimate of the purpose and bearing of the pilgrimage of life. Doubts
become exalted and glorified, hopes all rapture, when long serene days
are spent alone in the contemplation of the splendours of sky and sea,
and the enchantment of tropic shores.

TROPICAL INDUSTRIES

Was there not an explicit contract that some of the experiences and
events of a settler's life should be duly described and recorded? How to
fulfil that obligation and at the same time avoid what is ordinarily
regarded as the dull and prosaic, the stale, the flat, the unprofitable,
is the trouble. I would gladly shirk even this small responsibility, even
as greater ones have been outmanoeuvred, but a written promise
unfulfilled may be troublesome to a conscience, which, when reminiscent
of ante-beachcombing days, is not altogether unimpressionable.

Well, the life of a settler--the man who drags his sustenance, all and
every part of it, from the soil in tropical Queensland, as a mere settler
very closely resembles that of others who cultivate. If an abstract of
the universal experience were obtainable, it would very likely be found
to go towards the establishment of a standard from which many would
cheerfully desire many cheerful changes. After all, that represents a
condition not altogether monopolised by settlers.

Yet, when once the life is begun, how few there are who attempt to
withdraw from it? It grows on the senses and faculties. It appeals to the
emotional as well as to the stolid humours. The cares of this world as
expounded in town life, and the sinfulness of never-to-be-acquired riches
are foreign to the free, bland air which has filtered through the myriad
leaves of the mountain, and which smacks so strongly of freedom.
Sometimes the settler takes up studies and relieves the sameness of his
duties by pastimes. One never went to his maize field, along narrow
gloomy aisles through the jungle, without a net for the capture of
butterflies. His humble home was as resplendent as the show-cases of a
natural history museum. But he was singularly favoured. A lovely
waterfall was the jewel on his estate. That was the shape of beauty that
moved away the pall from his dark spirit and gave colour to his life and
actions. Another took to collecting birds' eggs; another to the study of
botany; another to photography. Each wreathed, according to his
predilections, a flowery band to bind him to the earth, finding that even
the life of a settler may be filled with "sweet dreams, and health and
quiet." But the great majority seem to have taken to the scrap heap of
Federal politics with such ardour that they clutch but the fag ends of
the poetry of life.

Many become great readers and are knowing and knowledgeable. Those who
drift away from country life are for the most part men who hustle after
the coy damsel fortune by searching for minerals, and just as many who
have succeeded in that arduous passion settle quietly on the land. Each
may and does desire amendments to and amelioration in his lot. There is
still left to all the healthy impulse of achievement, the desire for
something better, the noble and inspiriting virtue of discontent.

Rare is a deserted home. Even the first rough dwelling of a settler
possessing the slenderest resources is invested with tender sentiments.
There is his home--a poor one, perhaps, but his own, and to it he clings
with desperation, sees in and about it attractions and beauty where
others perceive nothing but untoned dreariness, unrelieved hopelessness.
His little bit of country may be remote and isolated, but Nature is warm
and encouraging, and profuse of her stimulants here. She responds
off-hand without pausing to reflect, but with an outburst of goodwill and
purpose to appeals for sustenance. She has no despondent moods. She never
lapses in prolific purposes. She may be wayward in accepting the
interferences of man, but all her vigorous impulses are expended in
productiveness. She cannot sulk or idle. Kill, burn and destroy her
primeval jungle, and she does not give way to sadness and despair, nor
are any of her infinite forces abated. Spontaneously she begins the work
of restoration, and as if by  magic the scar is covered with as rich and
riotous a profusion of vegetation as ever. Nature needs only to be
restrained and schooled and her response is an abundance of various sorts
of food for man.

The routine that cultivators of the soil have to obey is diverse, but the
life of the dweller in the country in tropical Queensland can be asserted
with perfect safety to be more comfortable than that of the average
settler in any other part of Australia. There are no phases of
agricultural enterprise devoid of toil, save perhaps the growing of
vanilla, the very poetry of the oldest of pursuits, in which one has to
aid and abet in the loves and in the marriage of flowers. But vanilla
production is not one of the profitable branches of agriculture here yet.
We have to deal only with things that are at present practicable.

Whether the settler grows maize, or fruit or coffee, or as a collateral
exercise of industry gets log timber, or raises pigs or poultry, the life
has no great variations. If he farms sugar-cane, being resident within the
zone of influence of a mill, he belongs to a different order--an order
with which it is not intended to deal. My purpose refers only to men who
do not employ labour, who have to depend almost solely upon their own hard
hands. The conditions upon which the land is acquired demand personal
residence during a period of five years and the erection of permanent
improvements, such as fencing, thereon, and there are not many who take
up a selection who are in the position to pay wages. The selector must do
the clearing, and the preparation of the soil for whatever crop in his
experience or the experience of others is considered the most
remunerative. During this period his love for the particular piece of
land by-and-by to become his own begins. More realistically than anyone
else he knows the quantity of his energy and enthusiasm, his very life,
the land has absorbed. It becomes part of himself even in the early days
of toil, and though when in the fulness of time and the completion of
conditions he may lease the land to Chinese cultivators, and become a
resident landlord, he cannot leave the place even for the attraction of
town life, for possibly the rent he receives does not make him
independent quite. At any rate he lives on the land. The alien race does
the hard work, and takes the greater portion of profit; but he enjoys the
luxury of possession, and must make sacrifices accordingly.

I am fearful of entering upon a description of the cultivation of maize,
or bananas, or citrus fruits, or pineapples, or mangoes, or coffee, or
even sweet potatoes, because experience teaches me that others know of
all the details in a far more practical sense.

Would it not be presumptuous for a mere idler, an individual whose
enterprise and industry have been sapped by the insidious nonchalance of
the Beachcomber, to tell of practical details of cultural pursuits--the
enthusiasm, the disappointments, the glowing anticipations, the
realisation of inflexible facts, the plain emphatic truths which others
have reason to know ever so much more keenly?

But it may be forgiven if I generalise and say that the minor departments
of rural enterprise in North Queensland are in a peculiar stage--a stage
of transition and uncertainty. Coloured labour has been depended upon to
a large extent. Even the poorest settler has had the aid of aboriginals.
But with the passing of that race, and prohibition against the employment
of any sort of coloured labour, the question is to be asked, Can tropical
products be grown profitably unless consumers are willing to pay a
largely increased price--a price equivalent to the difference between the
earnings of those who toil in other tropical countries and the living
wage of a white man in Australia?

Fruit of many acceptable varieties can be grown to perfection with little
labour in immense quantities. Coffee is one of the most prolific of
crops. Timber is obtainable in magnificent assortment and unrealisable
quantities. Poultry and pigs multiply extraordinarily. Apart from bananas
the fruit trade is shifty and treacherous. The markets are far away and
inconstant, the means of transport not yet perfect. Many assert that not
half the pine-apples and oranges, and not one-hundredth part of the
mangoes produced in North Queensland are consumed. That the quantity
grown is trivial in comparison with what would be, were the demand
regular and consistent, is self-evident. We want population to eat our
produce, and then there will be no complaint.

In the case of coffee a plentiful supply of cheap labour is essential to
success. Those who by judicious treatment of the aboriginals command
their services have so far made profit. A coffee plantation suggests
pleasant, picturesque and spicy things. The orderly lines of the plants,
in glossy green adorned for a brief space with white, frail, fugitive
flowers distilling a deliciously sweet and grateful odour, the branches
crowded with gleaming berries, green, pink and red, present pleasing
aspect. As a change to the scenery of the jungle, a coffee estate has a
garden-like relief. But picking berry by berry is slow and monotonous
work, vexatious, too, to those mortals whose skin is sensitive to the
attacks of green ants. Then comes the various processes of the removal of
the pulp, first by machinery, finally by the fermentation of the still
adhering slimy residuum; then the drying and saving by exposure to the
sun on trays or on tarpaulins until all moisture is expelled; and the
hulling which disintegrates the parchment from the twin berries; then
winnowing, and finally the polishing. Do drinkers of the fragrant and
exhilarating beverage realise the amount of labour and care involved
before the crop is taken off and preserved from deterioration and decay?
A few berries that may have become mildewed during the slow, tedious and
anxious process of drying in the sun, may violate the delicate flavour
and aroma which the grower has been at pains to secure and fix. In coffee
it is as with many other features of rural life in Australia. The men who
undertake the production are for the most part those who have gained
their knowledge by personal experience on the spot. Reading and the
advice of experts who have graduated in countries where climatic
conditions are diverse and where the labour is cheap, yet skilled by
reason of generation after generation of occupation in it, do not
complete necessary knowledge. Problems have to be faced that have no
theoretical nor official solution, and blunders paid for, until by the
process of the elimination of mistakes the right way is discovered.
Losses mount up until either patience and means are exhausted, or success
crowns the application of intelligent enterprise. Then, when the coffee
planter, self-taught, in each and all of the departments of culture and
preparation, glories in the assurance of his capabilities to offer to the
world an article of indubitable character, he discovers that the vulgar
world, for the most part, prefers its coffee duly adulterated; indeed has
become so warped and perverted in perception that the pure and undefiled
article is looked upon with suspicion and distaste. Its flavour and aroma
are quite foreign to the ordinary coffee drinker. The contaminated
beverage is regarded as pure, and the genuine article is soundly
condemned as an imposition, and the seller of it is liable to be accused
of fraud. It is in a similar position to the good grape brandy which
Victorians produce, and which drinkers of some imported stuff (described
as one part cognac and three parts silent spirit) fail to recognise as
real brandy. If coffee is not muddy and thick and does not possess a
mawkish twang of liquorice, it is suspected. The delicate aromatic
flavour, the fragrant odour, the genial and stimulant effects are now
almost unknown, except in limited circles. North Queensland is capable of
growing far more than sufficient coffee for the Commonwealth, but coffee
is not a popular Australian beverage, and as it entirely loses its
specific balsam and identity under the manipulation of manufacturers, it
cannot get the chance of becoming popular. Australian wines, Australian
spirits and Australian coffee might well be the popular beverages of
Australians. But preference is given to foreign importations, of the
genuineness of some of which there are strong grounds for suspicion; or
in the case of coffee its elements are so disguised by adulteration that
a revolution in public taste must take place before it can possibly find
general favour.

But there are other branches of tropical agriculture to which the settler
may devote himself. Rubber offers belated fortune. Cotton, rice, tobacco
and fibre--plants flourish exceedingly, and in the production of ginger
and some sort of spices and medicinal gums, profit may be possible. The
manufacture of manilla rope from the fibre of the easily cultivated MUSA
TEXTILIS may be a remunerative industry. It is amply demonstrated that
butter quite up to the standard of exportation is to be manufactured in
tropical Queensland.

No one need starve or pine for lack of wholesome appetising and
nutritious food while the banana grows as it does in North Queensland,
and common as it is, the banana is one of the curiosities of the
vegetable world. One writer says: "It is not a tree, a palm, a bush, a
vegetable, nor a herb; it is simply a herbaceous plant with the stature
of tree, and is perennial." He adds that the fruit contains no seed,
though he qualifies the latter statement by remarking that he has heard
of fully developed seeds occasionally appearing in the cultivated fruit
"when left to ripen on the tree," and further that wild varieties of the
banana which propagate themselves by seed are reported to be found in
some parts of Eastern Asia. A high botanical authority includes in his
description of the species indigenous to Queensland, "Fruit oblong,
succulent, indehiscent; seed numerous; tree-like herbs. Herbs with
perennial rhizome."

There are three if not more species of bananas native to Queensland, and
they form a conspicuous feature of the jungle. With remarkable rapidity
one of the species shoots up a ruddy symmetrical, slightly tapering
stem--smooth and polished where the old leaf-sheaths have been shed--to a
height of 20 and 30 feet, producing leaves 15 feet long and 2 feet broad,
small and crude flowers, and bunches of dwarf fruit containing little but
shot-like seeds. The energy of these plants seems to be concentrated in
the production of an elegant and proud form, the fruit being a mere
afterthought. But the effect of the broad pale green leaves, even when
frayed and ragged at the edges in and among the dark entanglement of the
jungle is so fine that the absence of edible fruit may be almost
forgiven.

In the most popular of the cultivated varieties, the far famed MUSA
CAVENDISHII, there is little of graceful form, save the broad leaves
mottled with brown. All the vitality of the plant is expended in
astonishing results. A comparatively lowly plant, its productions
in suitable soil are prodigious. In nine or ten months after the
planting of the rhizome, it bears under favourable conditions a bunch
weighing as much as 120 lb. to 160 lb. and comprising as many as
forty-eight dozen individual bananas. So great is the weight that to
prevent the downfall of the plant a stake sharpened at each end--one to
stick in the ground and the other into the soft stem--is needed to
buttress it. Before the fruit has fully developed, other shoots have
appeared; but each plant bears but one bunch, and when that is removed
the plant is decapitated and slowly decays, and the second and third and
fourth shoots from the rhizome successively arrive at the bearing stage
and are permitted to mature each its bunch and then fated to suffer
immediate decapitation. And so the process goes on for five or seven
years, by which time the vigour of the soil has been exhausted, and
moreover the rhizomes, originally planted about a foot deep, have grown up
to the surface, and are no longer capable of supporting a plant upright.
Then a fresh planting of rhizomes elsewhere takes place. It must not be
thought that the banana defertilises the soil. Phenomenal crops of sugar
cane are produced on a "banana-sick" land.

A traveller relating his tropical experiences glorifies the banana,
stating that he has eaten it "ripe and luscious from the tree!" In
North Queensland bananas ripening on the plant frequently split, and
seldom attain perfect flavour. The ripening process takes place after the
fully developed bunch is removed and hung up in a cool, shady, well-aired
locality. Then the fruit acquires its true lusciousness and aroma. Other
climes, other results, perhaps; but a banana, "ripe and luscious from the
tree," is not generally expected in North Queensland. The fruit may
mature until it falls to the ground, yellow and soft, yet lack that
delicate finish, that benign essential, the craft of man bestows. It
would seem that the plant has been cultivated for so long a period that
it has become dependent upon man not only for its existence but for the
excellence of its crowning effort. An abandoned banana grove soon
disappears, for although seeds are undoubtedly produced, the occasions
are so rare that the reproduction of the cultivated varieties depends
solely upon the rhizome, and these very speedily deteriorate if
neglected. Another feature of the banana, of which man takes full
advantage, is that though the bunch be removed before the fruit is
matured as to size, the ripening process proceeds, just as though there
had been no untimely interference. The bananas may be small, but will, as
a rule, be almost as sweetly flavoured as those allowed to develop on the
plant. Yet the superfine aesthetic essence is not for the delight of
those to whom the fruit is tendered after it has undergone a sea voyage.
Let there be no misunderstanding with respect to the desirableness of the
coastal tract of North Queensland as a territory capable of supporting a
large, prosperous and healthful population. It is no part of the present
purpose to extol the mineral or the pastoral districts. They lie apart.
But in North Queensland agriculture is almost solely confined to the
coast and is essentially tropical. The tropics represent that portion of
the earth's surface wherein man may live with the minimum of exertion,
where actual wants are few, and wherein ample comforts may be enjoyed by
those who seek them with a quiet mind and easy understanding. Although
the question may be perhaps beyond proof, it might be safely asserted
that a larger proportion of men of the yeomen class, represented by those
who have succeeded in tropical agriculture in North Queensland, are
independent to-day, than of the men in Victoria and New South Wales, who
devoted their energies to sheep-farming, wheat-growing and dairying. Out
of the comparatively few sugar-cane farmers in North Queensland, a
considerable percentage have acquired independence, and many wealth. Few
have failed. Fortunes have been made and are being made out of sugar
lands; immense profits have been earned and are being earned in the
production of bananas, and from other easily grown tropical fruits, good
incomes are realised. When private enterprise invests many thousands of
pounds in the building of jetties and tram-lines to facilitate the
shipment of fruit, evidence in support of these statements is
unnecessary.

The prosperity of the farmer and fruit-grower in North Queensland does
not unhaply depend upon himself, but upon the existence of large
populations within reasonable range. Land of unsurpassed fertility and
meteorological conditions which represent perfection for the growth of
all fruits, ranging from the tomato to the mango, and, with few
exceptions, all the commoner as well as all the more delicate, but none
the less desirable vegetables are the heritage of the people. If the
coast of North Queensland does not in a few years support a large,
well-to-do, lusty, and therefore contented population, it will not be
because of the lack of any of the essentials, but because the population
has failed elsewhere, and that consequently there is no demand for the
easily grown fruits of the earth.

Each and all of the branches of cultured industry mentioned (with the
exception of the growth of sugar-cane) were at disposal for trial here.
Soil, climate and aspect are extremely favourable when not approaching
absolute perfection, while the advantages of direct communication with
the markets are unique. But my disposition, "that rash humour which my
mother gave," impelled me to disregard all the encouraging prospects of
fortune, and to easily tolerate circumstances and conditions under which
few would remain content. True it is that some few acres of jungle have
been cleared and various sorts of fruit-trees planted, that corn and
potatoes are grown, and that there are evidences of work; but no one is
better qualified than I to realise the insignificance of the results of
my labours in comparison with what they might have been, had the
accomplishment of them been undertaken with harder hands and more
determined purpose.

SOME DIFFERENCES

"The weather may be extremely fine; but not without such varieties as
shall hinder it from being tiresome."


What higher or better reward could be desired than the reflection that
one had attempted to assist in the dispersion of the mists of ignorance
which obscure some of the aspects of the land of his adoption? Australia
is vast and of infinite variety. The efforts of an individual isolated by
remoteness and the sea, must necessarily be circumscribed.

No Australian is able to affirm that his knowledge of the country is
entirely satisfactory to himself. There are some points upon which the
best informed stand to the correction of others whose general knowledge
may be admittedly inadequate. We who are scattered about in odd and
out-of-the-way corners, pick up in the school of experience scraps of
local knowledge, and may without presumption present them to others to
confirm and to conjure with.

The term "Australia" as generally used ignores most of the continent out
of sight of Melbourne and Sydney, though both Victoria and New South
Wales could be stowed away in little more than half the area of
Queensland. Do we reflect that Australia includes some of the driest
tracts in the world, as well as areas in which the rainfall approaches
the phenomenal--that not very much more than half of the territory of the
Commonwealth lies within the temperate zone--that there are as marked
differences between Tasmania and North Queensland as between the South of
England and Ceylon? That the one is the land of the potato, apple,
apricot, cherry, strawberry and blackberry, and the other the land of
sugar-cane, coffee, the pine-apple, mango, vanilla and cocoa; that though
there exist no imposing geographical boundaries, such as chains of lofty
mountains or great rivers to emphasise climatic distinctions, these
distinctions nevertheless exist, and that they imply special policies on
the parts of Government and Administrations.

Do we realise that the voice of the tropic half of Australia is drowned
in the torrent of the temperate? It may be possible to misrepresent
opinions and to obscure the fair view of things, to defeat aspirations;
but are we to be denied the right of being heard and of explaining
ourselves. Politicians to whose loud and profane voices electors listen,
have declared that North Queensland shall become a desolate and silent
wilderness, rather than that their views shall be gainsaid. Do such as
these reflect that North Queensland is a fruitful country, capable of
producing food and immense wealth, and giving employment to millions, and
that other nations will not stand idly by and see the worth of so much
land wasted because of the vanity of men who do not, and who apparently
will not, endeavour to comprehend the magnificence of its extent and the
width of its capabilities. The world is not so vast that any part of
it--still less a part so situated and so highly favoured as this--can be
left unpeopled. If not peopled by Australians or those of British blood,
it will assuredly be by people for whom the average Australian entertains
but scant respect.

Australians cannot with justice complain when the good old folks at home
blunder in their geography and perceptions, the while that so much local
misapprehension prevails.

Error was ingrained in the youthful days of middle-aged Australians. Their
school-books told them in swinging rhyme that they lived in a world of
undiscovered souls, that 'twas Heaven's decree to have these lost souls
brought forth; that man should assert his dignity and not allow "brutes"
to look upon him. Discoveries are still being made. Heaven's decree is
replaced by the decree of wild talkers, the dignity of man is found to be
the vanity of a paid politician, and but few of the "brutes" of Australia
are left to look down upon anything. But there are some of saving grace
who frankly acknowledge shame upon finding how little they really know
of their native country.

Young Australians were once taught that Australian trees cast no
shade--that the edges of the leaves were presented to the sun to avoid the
heat of the cruel luminary; that Australian flowers had no scent, and
Australian birds no song; that the stones of Australian cherries grew on
the outside of the fruit, that the bees had no sting, and that the dogs
did not bark. In those days a gentleman with a military title improved
upon the then popular list of contradictions by asserting that in
Australia the compass points to the south, the valleys are cold, the
mountain-tops warm, the eagles are white, and so on. Many accordingly
took their natural science as "Tomlinson" did his God--from a printed
book--and that compiled in England. Until they began to investigate they
were puzzled by contradictions. The first prompt bee-bite--there are many
varieties of Australian bees, some pugnacious and pungent--diverted
attention from the school-book romances. It was discovered that thousands
of square miles of Australian soil never catch glimpses of the sun in
consequence of the impenetrableness of the shade of Australian trees;
that the scent of the wattles, the eucalypts, the boronias, the hoyas,
the gardenias, the lotus, etc., etc., are among the sweetest and
cleanest, most powerful and most varied in the world; that many of the
birds of Australia have songs full of melody; that the so-called
Australian cherry is no more a cherry than an acorn; that the Australian
dog (though "the only true wild dog in the world") is deemed to be a
comparatively recent introduction--a new chum of Asiatic origin who
entered the glorious constellation of the State something before the era
of exclusive legislation--so naturally he does not bark, for barking is an
evidence of civilisation; but he soon learns the universal language of
the dog.

Many years ago most of this gross and superficial ignorance was brushed
away here, though now and again evidence crops up that a good deal yet
adheres in the old country. Australian school-books of the present day
contain so much that is grossly false and misleading of the natural
conditions of certain portions of the Commonwealth as to leave no room to
doubt the present duty. We are continually making mutually beneficial
discoveries, and may it be granted these efforts be blessed with happy
purpose. All is not known yet even in Australia. The number of
"observers" who believe that snakes swallow their young in time of
danger, and allow them to emerge when it is past, and that the end of the
death adder to avoid is the tail, which is fitted with a slightly curved
spur, become fewer every year; but we are still sincere in many of the
honourable points of ignorance. Some discredit such facts as climbing
fish, oysters "growing" on living trees, birds hatching eggs without
sitting on them, egg-laying mammals and mammals producing young from eggs
within their bodies, plants that sow the seed of continents to be--yet
these facts are of everyday occurrence here.

As to climate, will general credence be given to the statement that Dunk
Island is more "temperate" than Melbourne? We experience neither the
extreme heat nor the extreme cold of the metropolis of Victoria--nearly
2000 miles to the south; we have four or five times the volume of rain,
yet a greater number of fine days--days without rain. The general
principle that where the rainy days are fewest the amount of rain is
greatest, is apt to be forgotten. During 1903 the rainfall of Dunk Island
amounted to 153 inches. What is meant (to follow the phrase of Huxley)
when one says in technical language that the rainfall of a place was 153
inches for a certain year? Such a statement means simply that if all the
rain which fell on any level piece of ground in that place could be
collected--none being lost by drying up, none running off the soil and
none soaking into it--then at the end of the year it would form a layer
covering that piece of ground to the uniform depth of 12 feet 9 inches!
An inch of rain signifies 114 tons, or 27,000 gallons per acre!

Let me repeat that in 1903 the rainfall here totalled 153 inches. During
the same period the mean rainfall of the State of Victoria was 27.36
inches. In one locality, reputed to be the wettest, 42.11 inches were
registered, and occasioned no little surprise. In another Australian
state, among the natural advantages of land offered for close settlement,
was catalogued an annual rainfall of 18 inches; in another an official
inducement of an average rainfall of 27 inches was offered, in yet
another 24 inches, with a not too shrewd note that 15 inches of rain was
ample.

Some of the denizens of a dry area in Victoria find it hard to credit the
simple facts recorded by my rain-gauge. The rainfall for the month of
January 1903, on Dunk Island was 26.60 inches, only 0.76 inches short of
the mean for the whole year in Victoria, and more than twice the quantity
that blessed the thirsty soil in some parts of Queensland. The total
rainfall of the wettest locality in Victoria was 42.11 inches. Here the
month of March alone gave 44.90 inches.

At Thargomindah (South-Western Queensland) 11.37 inches were registered
for 1903, and 9.82 inches for 1904. The two driest months of Dunk Island
fell short by a trifle more than 2 inches of the total fall for 1904 for
that parched area. At Eulolo (Mid-Western Queensland) 13.68 inches
represented the sum of the blessing for 1903, while during 24 hours in
December that year the Dunk Island gauge registered just 11 inches, and
that quantity was 3 inches more than could he spared for Eulolo for the
whole of 1904.

During 1904 Cape Otway Forest (Victoria), registered 40.92 inches,
Townsville (North Queensland) 26.32 inches, and Dunk Island--only 110
miles from Townsville--94.14 inches. That was a dry year with us. What
is known in this neighbourhood as "the drought year" gave just 60 inches.
Plants unaccustomed to such hardship, and therefore devoid of inherent
powers of resistance, then gave way with pitiful lack of resource, and as
speedily recovered on the return of normal conditions. Yet the 60 inches
of "the drought year" represented more than twice the average rainfall of
London.

The average annual rainfall for the State of Victoria during the last
thirty years has been 26.68 inches. Townsville (considered to be one of
the driest places on the coast of North Queensland) averaged 45.54 inches
during the period of thirty-four years.

Twenty-five miles further north the rainfall for 1904 exceeded that of
Dunk Island by 6 inches more than the average rainfall of the upper basin
of the Thames Valley, which is given as 28 inches. Australia is big--there
is bigness in our differences.

Here in the tropics we have the finer weather--no excess of either heat or
cold, no sudden, constitution-shattering changes. At Wood's Point
(Victoria) rain fell on 185 days in 1903, and on 166 days in 1904. At
Dunk Island rain occurred on 107 days in 1903 and On 92 days in 1904. We
had many more days of picnic weather, notwithstanding our overwhelming
superiority in quantity of rain. Moreover, in the tropics the bulk of the
rain falls after sundown. After a really fine day in the wet season the
hours of darkness may account for several inches of rain. Here over 12
inches have been collected between sundown and nine o'clock the following
morning.

Particular references are confined to seasons three or four years past
because recent official data, necessary for enlightening comparisons are
not available, but in confirmation of statements concerning the
meteorological conditions of the coast of tropical Queensland, the
record of rainfall at Dunk Island since 1903 may be quoted:

1904                         94.41 inches.
1905                         89.06   "
First nine months of 1906   134.70   "

Of the latter total, 56 inches occurred in February, two days (6th and
18th), accounting for 22.95 inches--more than half the average rainfall of
the State of Queensland.

An illustration--homely but graphic--of climatic differences may be
given. During the first five months of 1904 the rainfall of Dunk Island
amounted to 75.15 inches, the lowest monthly record being May (5.30
inches) and the highest March (29.05 inches). At the end of May on the
Burdekin Delta--150 miles to the south--the sugarcane was beginning to be
affected by the hot, dry weather, and irrigation was about to be resorted
to. Here in January it became necessary to repair the roof of the
boat-shed, and to keep the ridge covering of paper-bark in position,
two long saplings were tied parallel with the ridge pole. At the end
of May these saplings were taken down in order that the whole of the
thatch might be renovated, when it was found that both had started to
grow, several of the shoots being 8 and 10 inches long. While sugarcane
was languishing for lack of moisture, 150 miles away down the coast,
a roughly-cut sapling exposed on the roof of a building found the
conditions for the beginning of a new existence so favourable and
stimulative that it had budded as freely as Aaron's rod. "Through the
scent of water it had budded and brought forth boughs like a plant."

Nearly as much misapprehension prevails in the Southern States of the
Commonwealth as to the characteristics of North Queensland as seems to
prevail among the good old folks "at home" as to Australia generally. If
the few facts presented excite even mild surprise, they will not be
altogether out of place in these pages.

Dunk Island has a mean temperature of about 69 deg.; January is the
hottest month with a mean of 87 deg, and July the coolest, mean 57 deg.
Taking the official readings of Cardwell (20 miles to the south), I find
the greatest extremes on record occurred in one year, when the highest
temperature was 103.3 deg. and the lowest 36.2 deg. At Geraldton (25
miles to the north) the extremes were 96 deg. and 43.4 deg.

Rainfall and temperature, the proportion of clear to cloudy skies, calms,
the direction, strength and the duration of winds, do not wholly
comprehend distinctive climatic features. There are other conditions of
more or less character and note, some hard to define, yet ever present.
Here the air is warm and soothing, seldom is it crisp and never really
bracing. Hot dry winds are unknown, but in the height of the wet
season--which coincides with the dry season of the Southern States--the
moisture-laden air may be likened to the vapour of a steam bath. While
the rain thunders on the roof at the rate of an inch per hour, inside the
house it may be perspiringly hot. After a fortnight's rain the damp
saturates everything. Neglected boots and shoes grow a rich crop of
mould, guns demand constant attention to prevent rust, and clothes packed
tight in chests of drawers smell and feel damp. But the atmosphere is so
wholesome that ordinary precautions for the prevention of sickness are
generally neglected without any fear of ill consequence.

However sharply defined by reason of the personal discomfort it inflicts,
this steamy feature of the wet season is no more a general characteristic
than the hot winds are of Victoria. Warm as the rains are, they bring to
the air coolness and refreshment. Clear, calm, bright days, days of even
and not high temperature, and of pure delight, dovetail with the hot and
steamy ones. The prolifigacy of vegetation is a perpetual marvel; the
loveliness of the land, the ineffable purity of the sky, the glorious
tints of the sea--green and gold at sunrise, silvery blue at noon, purple
pink and lilac during the all too brief twilight, a perpetual feast.

For six months it may be said the prevailing wind is the south-east,
followed by gentle breezes from the east and north-east. North-easters
begin in September and are intermittent until the beginning of the wet
season. The south-east monsoons are regular and consistent; the
north-east, which precede the rainy monsoon, fitful and wayward, never
continuing long in one stay, and lasting but four out of the twelve
months. Rare is the wind from the west, rarer from the south-west.
North-easters are a pronounced feature. They work up by diurnal and
easy grades from gentleness to strength, thunder coming as a climax.
After a succession of calm days and days of gentle breezes from the
east-south-east and east, the north-easter begins softly, and daily
gathers courage and assumption, to find in the course of a week or
two its haughty spirit subdued by thunder and rain showers. Calms
prevail for a few days. Easterly breezes come, to give way to the
north-east again, and so the programme is repeated with variations
which none may foresee, and which set at naught the lengthiest experience.
At last, at Christmas or the New Year, the rains come with a boisterous
beginning. A north-easter accompanied by thunder lasted a whole July
afternoon. It was as strange as a crop of mangoes would have been at
that time of year.

During the cool season--a generous half of the year--dews are common--not
the trivial barely perceptible moisture called dew in some parts, but most
ungentle dew, which saturates everything and drips from the under sides
of verandahs as the sun warms the air; dew which bows the grass with its
weight, soaks through your dungarees to the hips, and soddens your thick
bluchers, until you feel and appear as though you had waded through a
swamp; dew which releases the prisoned odour of flowers irresponsive to
the heat of the sun, which keeps the night cool and sweet, which with the
first gleam of the sun makes the air soft and spicy and buoyant, and
inspires thankfulness for the joy of life.

Are we not all apt to fall into the error of estimating the character of
a country by its extravagances rather than its average and general
qualities?

North Queensland has the reputation of being the home of malaria and the
special sport of any cyclone that may have mischief in view. Being
tropical, we have malaria, but it is of no more serious consequence than
any one of the ills to which human flesh is heir in temperate climes. It
does not exact such a toll of suffering and death as influenza, nor as
typhoid used to do in crowded cities; nor is it as common as rheumatism
in damp and blustering New Zealand, where the thermometer ranges from 100
deg. in the shade to 24 deg. of frost. Malaria touches us lightly, and it
is chosen as a bugbear with which to scare people away. A southern
critic, honestly pitiful of our ill state, urges that the experiment of
destroying those mosquitoes which disseminate the germ of malaria, by
sealing up lagoons and swamps with kerosene, is worthy the attention of
town and country residents in tropical Queensland, "where attacks of
malaria are felt every summer." Mere idle words of pernicious
consequence. Many a wretch who has done less mischief than "these
utterers of forged tales, coiners of scandal and clippers of reputation,"
has had his liberty restricted. But a small and an annually lessening
proportion of our population suffers from malaria, and yet all have the
renown of an annual attack! In that case the writer ought to have had
twenty-five attacks, and thousands of others, lusty and toneful fellows,
forty and forty-five attacks. With as much claim upon reason might
one say that because of the sudden jerks of their climate (40 deg.
of difference within twelve hours) all Victorians have to make
three changes of raiment every day in order to avoid ill consequences;
or that every man, woman and child in merry England has had instead
of expects or dreads or hopes to have appendicitis, since King
Edward the Peacemaker suffered, and renown came upon that disorder.
Malaria is fleeing before civilisation. It cannot--at any rate in North
Queensland--long endure the presence of the white man.

Unfeigned pity is bestowed upon the denizens of North Queensland on
account of the pains and penalties and discomforts alleged to be the
sentence of all who dare select it as home. We who know can but smile and
wait; and ever call call to mind pleasant and happy experiences,
everlasting truths and "the falsehood of extremes."

Even in the matter of cyclones--often quoted as one of its
detriments--North Queensland has nothing to hide. At intervals Nature
does indulge in a reckless and violent outburst, but not more frequently
here than in other parts of the world. Year after year the seasons are
passive and pleasant, and in every respect considerate of humanity and
encouraging to humanity's undertakings. Then, abandoning for a few hours
her orderly and kindly ways, Nature runs amok, raving and shrieking. Her
transient irresponsibleness and mischievousness are then cited as
everyday, persistent vices. Not so. Nature is rational even in her most
passionate moments. Vegetation, rank and gross as in an unweeded garden,
requires vigorous lopping and pruning. These twenty-year-interval storms
comb out superfluous leaves and branches, cut out dead wood, send to the
ground decayed and weakly shoots, and scrub and cleanse trunks and
branches of parasitic growths. All is done boldly, yet with such skill
that in a few weeks losses are hidden under masses of clean, insectless,
healthy, bright foliage. The soil has received a luxurious top-dressing.
Trees and plants respond to the stimulus with magical vigour, for lazy,
slumbering forces have been roused into efforts so splendid that the
realism of tropical vegetation is to be appreciated only after Nature has
swept and sweetened her garden.

A more vivid and more idealised medium than the poor one which with
diffidence I employ were essential if entertainment alone were sought in
these pages; but even faint and imperfect etching of one Australian
scene, little known even to Australians, may in some degree tend to
enlightenment.

Many have told of the thin forests of Queensland, the open plains, and
the interminable downs whereon the mirage plays with the fancies of
wayfarers; and of the dust, heat and sweat of cattle stations. Has not
the "Never Never Country" inspired many a traveller and more than one
poet? It is well to realise that we have such bountiful land, and to be
proud of the men capable of investing its vastness, monotony and prosaic
wealth with poetic imagery. Is it not also wise to remember now aagain
that Queensland possesses two types of tropical climate, accentuated by
boundaries having far great significance than those which divide tropical
from temperate Australia, and worlds apart in their distinctions? Is not
the land of the banana, the palm and the cedar, entitled to recognition,
as well as the land of the gidyea, the boree, and the bottle-tree? Who
has yet said or sung of the mystery of the half-lit jungles of our coast,
in contrast to the vivid boldness of the sun-sought, shadeless western
plains; of our green, moist mountains, seamed with gloomy ravines, the
sources of perennial streams; of the vast fertile lowlands in which the
republic of vegetation is as an unruly, ungoverned mob, clamouring for
topmost places in unrestrained excess of energy; of still lagoons, where
the sacred pink lotus and the blue and white water-lily are rivals in
grace of form, in tint and in perfume?

If I am successful in convincing that North Queensland is neither a
burning fiery furnace nor yet a sweltering steamy swamp; that the country
is not completely saturated with malaria; that there are vast areas which
no drought can tinge with grey or brown, where there are never-failing
streams, where cool fresh water trickles among the shale and shattered
coral on the beaches, where sweet-voiced birds sport and resplendent
butterflies flicker, then these writings will have been to some purpose.

ISLAND FAUNA

While the bird life of our island is plentiful and varied, mammalian is
insignificant in number. The echidna, two species of rats, a flying fox
(PTEROPUS FUNEREUS) and two bats, comprise the list. Although across a
narrow channel marsupials are plentiful, there is no representative of
that typical Australian order here, and the Dunk Island blacks have no
legends of the existence of either kangaroos, wallabies, kangaroo rats or
bandicoots in times past. But there are circumstantial details extant,
that the island of Timana was an outpost of the wallaby until quite a
recent date. A gin (the last female native of Dunk Island) who died in
1900 was wont to tell of the final battue at Timana, and the feast that
followed, in which she took part as a child. This island, which has an
area of about 20 acres, bears a resemblance to a jockey's cap--the sand
spit towards the setting sun forming the peak, a precipice covered with
scrub and jungle, the back. Here, long ago, a great gathering from the
neighbouring islands and the mainland took place. Early in the morning
all formed up in line on the sand spit. Diverging, but maintaining order,
men, gins, piccaninnies, shouting, yelling, and screaming, and clashing
nulla-nullas (throwing-sticks), supported by barking and yelping dogs
swept the timid wallabies up through the tangle of jungle, until like the
Gaderene swine they ran, or rather hopped, down a steep place into the
sea, or fell on fatal rocks laid bare by the ebb-tide. Those who partook
of the last of the wallabies have gone the way of all flesh, and the
incident is instructive only as an illustration of the manner in which
animals may suddenly disappear from confined localities, leaving no relic
of previous existence. Considering the bulk of Dunk Island (3 1/2 square
miles), and recognising the rule that islands are necessarily poorer in
species than continents, it is yet remarkable that no evidence of
marsupials is to be found, and that the oldest blacks maintain that none
of the type ever existed here.

Though the drawings in caves depict lizards, echidna, turtle and men,
there is no representation of kangaroo or wallaby. It is highly probable
that if such had been common, the black artists would have chosen them as
subjects, since nearly all their studies are from Nature.

The largest and heaviest four-footed creature now existent on Dunk Island
is the so-called porcupine (spiny ant-eater or echidna). An animal which
possesses some of the features of the hedgehog of old England, and
resembles in others that distinctly Australian paradox, the platypus,
which has a mouth which it cannot open--a mere tube through which the
tongue is thrust, which in the production of its young combines the
hatching of an egg as of a bird, with the suckling of a mammal, and which
also has some of the characteristics of a reptile, cannot fail to be an
interesting object to every student of the marvels of Nature. When
disturbed, the echidna resolves itself into a ball, tucking its long
snout between its forelegs, and packing its barely perceptible tail close
between the hind ones, presenting an array of menacing prickles
whencesoever attacked. While in this ball-like posture, the animal, as
chance affords, digs with its short strong legs and steel-like claws,
tearing asunder roots, and casting aside stones, and the ease and
rapidity with which it disappears in soft soil are astonishing. The
horrific array of prickles presented as it digs an undignified retreat,
and the tenacity with which it holds the ground, have given rise to the
fiction that no dog is capable of killing an echidna. No ordinary dog is.
He must be cunning, daring, brave, insensible to pain, and resourceful.
Then the feat is quite ordinary. Indeed, once the trick is learned, the
trouble is to keep the dog from attacking its innocent, useful and most
retiring enemy. The echidna has the ill-luck to possess certain subtle
qualities, which excite terrific enthusiasm for its destruction on the
part of the dog. Either there is an hereditary feud between the dog and
the echidna, which the former is bound in honour to push to the last
extremity, or else the dog regards the prickly creature as a perpetual
affront, or specially created to provide opportunities for displaying
fanatic hatred and hostility. No dog of healthy instinct is able to pass
an echidna without some sort of an attempt upon its life. The long
tubular nose of the echidna is the vital spot. This is guarded with such
shrewdness and determination as to be impregnable. But the dog which
pursues the proper tactics, and is wily and patient, sooner or
later-regardless of the alleged poisonous spur--seizes one of the hind
legs, and the conflict quickly comes to an end.

By the blacks the echidna, which is known as "Coombee-yan," is placed on
the very top of the list of those dainties which the crafty old men
reserve for themselves under awe-inspiring penalties.

Next in size to the echidna is the white-tipped rat (UROMYS HIRSUTIS?),
water-loving, nocturnal in its habits, fierce and destructive. A
collateral circumstance revealed absolute proof of its existence, which
had previously depended upon vague statements of the blacks. Cutting
firewood in the forest one morning, I came across a carpet snake, 12 feet
long, laid out and asleep in a series of easy curves, with the sun
revealing unexpected beauty in the tints and in the patterns of the skin.
Midway of its length was a tell-tale bulge, and before the axe shortened
it by a head, I was convinced that here was a serpent that had waylaid
and surprised or beguiled a fowl. Post-mortem examination, however,
proved once more the unreliability of uncorroborated circumstantial
evidence. The snake had done good and friendly service instead of ill,
for it had swallowed a white-tailed rat--the only specimen that I have
seen on the island.

Next comes the little frugivorous rat of russet brown, with a glint of
gold on its fur tips. A delicate, graceful creature, nice in its habits,
with a plaintive call like the cheep of a chicken; preferring ripe
bananas and pine-apple, but consenting to nibble at other fruits, as well
as grain. The mother carries her young crouched on her haunches, clinging
to her fur apparently with teeth as well as claws, and she manages to
scuttle along fairly fast, in spite of her encumbrances. The first that I
saw bearing away her family to a place of refuge was deemed to be
troubled with some hideous deformity aft, but inspection at close
quarters showed how she had converted herself into a novel perambulator.
I am told that no other rodent has been observed to carry its young in
this fashion. Perhaps the habit has been acquired as a result of insular
peculiarities, the animal, unconscious of the way of its kind on the
mainland, having invented a style of its own, "ages ahead of the
fashion."

Mr C. W. de Vis, M.A., of the Queensland Museum, who has considerately
examined specimens of this rat, pronounces it to be extraordinary, in
that it combines types of three genera--the teeth of the mus, the mammae
of the mastacomys and the scales on the tail of the genus UROMYS. In the
bestowal of a name he has favoured the latter genus. The animal has been
introduced to the scientific world under the title UROMYS BANFIELDI, by
Mr de Vis, who, referring to it as "eccentric," says, "The female first
sent to us as an example of the species had no young with her, nor were
her mammae much in evidence; consequently, the advent of a specimen
caught in the act of carrying young was awaited with interest. Fortune at
length favoured our correspondent with an opportunity of placing the
correctness of his observation beyond question. (A mother with a pair of
infants attached to the teats was chloroformed and sent to Brisbane). On
arrival, the young were found detached. The conical corrugated nipples
are, compared with the size of the animal, very long; one, especially,
20 mm. in length, calls to mind a marsupial teat."

By the examination of adult specimens the age at which the young
disassociate themselves from the mother has been ascertained. Long after
the time of life at which other species of rats are nibbling an
independent way through the world, U. BANFIELDI clings resolutely to its
parent, obtaining from her its sole sustenance. Not until the "infant" is
nearly half the size of the mother does it begin to earn its living and
trust to its own means of locomotion.

The presence of the echidna in three colours--black, grey, and straw--and
two species of rats emphasises the absence of marsupials, unaccountable
unless on the theory of extermination by the original inhabitants in the
remote past.



CHAPTER III



BIRDS AND THEIR RIGHTS


"As the sweet voice of a bird,
Heard by the lander in a lonely isle
Moves him to think what kind of bird it is,
That sings so delicately clear, and make
Conjecture of the plumage and the form."


Frankly it must be admitted that the idea of retiring to an island was
not spontaneous. It was evolved from a sentimental regard for the welfare
of bird and plant life. Having pondered upon the destructive instinct
which prevails in mankind, having seen that, though the offences which
man commits against the laws of Nature are promptly detected and
assuredly punished, they are yet repeated over and over again, and having
more pity for the victims of man's heartlessness and folly than regard
for the consequences which man suffers in the blows that Nature inflicts
as she recoils, the inevitable conclusion was that moral suasion was of
little purpose--that there must be more of example than precept. In this
particular case how speedy and effective has been the result will be seen
later on. Man destroys birds for sport, or in mere wantonness, and the
increasing myriads of insect hosts lay such toll upon his crops and the
fruit of the earth which by the exercise of high intelligence and noble
perseverance he has improved and made plentiful, that the national loss
is to be counted by hundreds of thousands. In this, as in all other
interferences with natural laws, we blunder unless we reckon


"With that
Fixed arithmic of the universe,
Which meteth good for good, ill for ill,
Measure for measure."


There may be a sort of satisfaction in the reflection, that for, perhaps,
every insectivorous bird wantonly killed, some proportion of its weight
in silver has to be paid indirectly by the country. But the satisfaction
is of no avail to the dead bird nor to the species, unless the taxpayer
feels the smart and becomes indignant. We want to save the lives of the
birds, and the silver, then to moralise; not kill the bird and be
compelled to spend the silver in destroying insects that the bird would
have delighted to consume, and moralise upon the destructiveness of some
hitherto insignificant bug or beetle, which has suddenly developed into a
national calamity.

So it was resolved, as other phases of island life matured, that one of
the first ordinances to be proclaimed would be that forbidding
interference with birds. That ordinance prevails. Our sea-girt hermitage
is a sanctuary for all manner of birds, save those of murderous and
cannibalistic instincts. We give all a hearty welcome and make friends of
them if possible. During the eight years of our occupancy many shy
creatures have become quite bold and familiar; though I am fain to admit,
with disappointment, that but slight increases in the species represented
have been noticed. Four strange species of terns, which are wont to lay
on the bare reef patches of the Barrier, now visit Purtaboi regularly
every season, depositing their eggs among those of two other species,
which in spite of disturbance by the blacks, year after year refused to
abandon the spot. Possibly the fact that a haven of refuge has been
established has not been widely promulgated among our friends. Those who
are with us or visit us have peace and security, and are for the most
part friendly and trustful.

Man--the late-comer, the last work, the perfect form--is not always
kindly disposed towards the lower orders, though the dominion he
exercises over them is absolute. Were not the beasts of the field, the
birds of the air, the very fish of the sea, given over to his arbitrary
authority? Here the interest in birds is mainly protective. The printed
law of the land says in ponderous paragraphs all duly numbered and
subdivided, that it is unlawful to kill many Queensland birds; and the
pains and penalties for disregard thereof, are they not set out in
terrifying array? But who cares? Take, for an example, the lovely
Gouldian finch. The law makes it an offence to kill the birds, or to take
their eggs, or to have them in possession dead or alive. Yet trappers go
out into the habitation of the bird and snare them by the thousand. Fifty
thousand pairs have been sent away in a single season. Not one tenth of
those which twitter so faintly and yet so sweetly to their tiny loves of
their own land and their erstwhile freedom, ever live to be gloated over,
because of their fatal gift of beauty, in London or on the Continent.

A CENSUS

While this census ignores several birds of the island as to the identity
of which doubt exists in the mind of the compiler, it acknowledges the
presence of all permanent residents familiar to him, as well as casual
visitors, and those which stay for a few hours or days, as the case may
be, for rest or refreshment during migratory flights. Chastened by the
half-averted face of irresponsive science, the glowing desire to inflate
the list gave way to the crisper sort of satisfaction which is like the
joy that cometh in the morning.


BIRDS OF PREY

White Goshawk                ASTUR (LEUCOSPIZA) NOVAE HOLLANDIAE.
Goshawk                      ASTUR APPROXIMANS.
Sparrow-Hawk                 ACCIPITER CIRRHOCEPHALUS.
Wedge-tailed Eagle           UROAETUS (AQUILA) AUDAX.
White-bellied Sea-Eagle      HALIAETUS LEUCOGASTER.
White-headed Sea-Eagle       HALIASTUS GIRRENERA.
Kite                         MILVUS AFFINIS.
Black-shouldered Kite        ELANUS AXILLARIS.
Black-cheeked Falcon         FALCO MELANOGENYS.
Grey Falcon                  FALCO HYPOLEUCUS.
Black Falcon                 FALCO SUBNIGER.
Kestrel                      CERCHNEIS (TINNUNCULUS) CENCHROIDES.
Fish Hawk or Osprey          PANDION LEUCOCEPHALUS.
Boobook Owl                  NINOX BOOBOOK.
Rufous Owl                   NINOX HUMERALIS.
Lurid Owl (De Vis)           NINOX LURIDA.

PERCHING BIRDS

Pied Crow-Shrike             STREPERA GRACULINA.
White-winged Chough          CORCORAX MELANORHAMPHUS.
Manucode                     PHONYGAMA (MANUCODIA) GOULDI.
Yellow Oriole                ORIOLUS FLAVICINCTUS.
Yellow-bellied Fig-bird      SPHECOTHERES FLAVIVENTRIS.
Drongo                       CHIBIA BRACTEATA.
Magpie Lark                  GRALLINA PICATA.
Brown Shrike-Thrush          COLLYRIOCINCLA BRUNNEA.
White-bellied Cuckoo-Shrike  GRAUCALUS HYPOLEUCUS.
Little Cuckoo-Shrike         GRAUCALUS MENTALIS.
Barred Cuckoo-Shrike         GRAUCALUS LINEATUS.
Caterpillar-cater            EDOLIISOMA TENUIROSTRE (JARDINII).
Pied Caterpillar-eater       LALAGE LEUCOMELAENA.
Northern Fantail             RHIPIDURA SETOSA (ISURA).
Ruffis-fronted Fantail       RHIFIDURA RUFIFRONS.
Black and White Fantail      RHIPIDURA (SAULOPROCTA) TRICOLOR
                                 (MOTACILLOIDES).
Leaden Fly-catcher           MYIAGRA RUBECULA (PLUMBEA).
Blue Fly-catcher             MYIAGRA CONCINNA.
Pied Fly-catcher             ARSES KAUPI.
Shining Fly-catcher          PIEZORHYNCHUS NITIDUS.
White-eared Fly-catcher      PIEZORHYNCHUS LEUCOTIS.
Spectacled Fly-catcher       PIEZORHYNCHUS GOULDI.
Black-faced Fly-catcher      MONARCHA MELANOPSIS (CARINATA).
Tawny Grass-Bird             MEGALURUS GALACTOTES.
Rufous-breasted Thickhead    PACHYCEPHALA RUFIVENTRIS.
Sun-bird                     CINNYRIS (NECTARINIA) FRENATA.
Dusky Honey-eater            MYZOMELA OBSCURA.
Yellow White-eye             ZOSTEROPS LUTEA.
Varied Honey-cater           PTILOTIS VERSICOLOR.
Fasciated Honey-eater        PTILOTIS FASCIOGULARIS.
Yellow-tinted Honey-eater    PLILOTIS FLAVA.
Friar Bird                   PHILEMON CORNICULATUS.
Helmeted Friar Bird          PHILEMON BUCEROIDES.
Flower-Pecker
    or Mistletoe Bird        DICAEUM HIRUNDINACEUM.
Black-headed Diamond Bird    PARDALOTUS MELANOCEPHALUS.
Eastern Swallow              HIRUNDO JAVANICA.
Swallow                      HIRUNDO NEOXENA (FRONTALIS).
White-rumped Wood-Swallow    ARTAMUS LEUCOGASTER.
Shining Starling             CALORNIS METALLICA.
Noisy Pitta                  PITTA STREPITANS.

PICARIAN BIRDS

Large-tailed Nightjar        CAPRIMULGUS MACROURUS.
Roller or Dollar-Bird        EURYSTOMUS AUSTRALIS.
Bee-eater                    MEROPS ORNATUS.
Blue Kingfisher              ALCYONE AZUREA.
Little Kingfisher            ALCYONE PUSILLA.
Leach Kingfisher             DACELO LEACHII.
Sacred Kingfisher            HALCYON SANCTUS.
Mangrove Kingfisher          HALYON SORDIDUS.
Bronze Cuckoo                CHALCOCOCCYX PLAGOSUS.
Koel                         EUDYNAMIS CYANOCEPHALA.
Channel-bill                 SCYTHROPS NOVAE HOLLANDIE.
Coucal                       CENTROPUS PHASIANUS.

PARROTS

Red-collared Lorikeet        TRICHOGLOSSUS RUBRITORQUIS.
Glossy Cockatoo              CALYPTORHYNCHUS VIRIDIS (LEACHIT).
White Cockatoo               CACATUA GALERITA.
Red-winged Lory              PTISTES ERYTHROPTERUS.

PIGEONS AND DOVES

Rose-crowned Fruit Pigeon    PTILOPUS EWINGI.
Purple-crowned Fruit Pigeon  PTILOPUS SUPERBUS.
Purple-breasted Fruit Pigeon MEGALOPREPIA MAGNIFICA.
Allied Fruit Pigeon          MEGALOPREPIA ASSIMILIS.
Nutmeg Pigeon                MYRISTICIVORA SPILORRHOA.
White-headed Fruit Pigeon    COLUMBA LEUCOMELA.
Pheasant-tailed Pigeon       MACROPYGIA PHASIANELLA.
Barred-shouldered Dove       GEOPELIA HUMERALIS.
Ground Dove                  GEOPELIA TRANQUILA.
Little Dove                  GEOPELIA CUNEATA.
Little Green Pigeon          CHALCOPHAPS CHRYSOCHLORA.

GAME BIRDS

Brown Quail                  SYNAECUS AUSTRALIS.
Scrub Fowl                   MEGAPODIUS DUPERREYI (TUMULUS).
Bald Coot                    PORPHYRIO MELANONOTUS.
Little Quail                 TURNIX VELOX.

RAIL

Pectoral Rail                HYPOTAENIDIA PHILIPPINENSIS.

CRANE

Crane or Native Companion    ANTIGONE AUSTRALASIANA.

PLOVERS, ETC.

Stone Plover                 BURHINUS (OEDICNEMUS) GRALLARIUS.
Long-billed Stone Plover     ORTHORHAMPHUS (ESACUS) MAGNIROSTRIS.
Turnstone                    ARENARIA (STREPSILAS) INTERPRES.
Pied Oyster-catcher          HAEMATOPUS LONGIROSTRIS.
Black Oyster-catcher         HAEMATOPUS UNICOLOR.
Masked Plover                LOBIVANELLUS MILES.
Red-capped Dottrel           AEGIALITIS RUFICAPILLA.
Black-fronted Dottrel        AEGIALITIS (MELANOPS) NIGRIFRONS.
Red-necked Avocet            RECURVIROSTRA NOVAE-HOLLANDIAE.
Curlew                       NUMENIUS CYANOPUS.
Whimbrel                     NUMENIUS VARIEGATUS.
Barred-rumped Godwit         LIMOSA NOVAE-SEALANDIAE
Common Sandpiper             TRINGOIDES HYPOLEUCUS.
Greenshank                   GLOTTIS NEBULARIUS (GLOTTOIDES).
Snipe                        GALLINAGO AUSTRALIS.

SEA BIRDS

Crested Tern                 STERNA BERGII.
Brown-winged Tern                 STERNA ANAESTHETA.
Sooty Tern                   STERNA FULIGINOSA.
White-shafted Ternlet       STERNA SINENSIS.
Black-naped Tern             STERNA MELANAUCHEN.
Noddy                        ANOUS STOLIDUS.
White-capped Noddy           MICRANOUS LEUCOCAPILLUS.

IBISES

White Ibis                   IBIS MOLUCCA.
Straw-necked Ibis            CARPHIBIS SPINICOLLIS.

HERONS

Plumed Egret                 MESOPHOYX PLUMIFERA.
White Egret                  HERODIAS TIMORIENSIS.
White-fronted Heron          NOTOPHOYX NOVAE-HOLLANDIAE.
Reef Heron                   DEMIEGRETTA SACRA.
Little Mangrove Bittem       BUTORIDES STAGNATILIS.
Yellow-necked Mangrove
    Bittem                   DUPETOR GOULDI.

POUCHERS

Little Cormorant             PHALACROCORAX MELANOLEUCUS.
Darter                       PTOLUS NOVAE-HOLLANDIAE.
Masked Gannet                SULA CYANOPS.
Red-legged Gannet            SULA PISCATOR.
Brown Gannet (Booby)         SULA SULA (FIBER).
Lesser Frigate Bird          FREGATA ARIEL
Pelican                      PELICANUS CONSPICILLATUS.

DIVER

Black-throated Grebe         PODICIPES NOVAE-HOLLANDIAE.

DUCKS

Black Duck                   ANAS SUPERCILIOSA.
Grey Teal                    NETTION (ANAS) GIBBERIFRONS.


Why have we no residential parrot, though cockatoos are plentiful; no
scrub turkey though the megapode scampers in all directions in the
jungle; no common black crow, nor butcher bird, though other shrikes (the
magpie for instance) come and go; no wren, no finch, no lark? Scrub
turkeys (TALLEGALLA LATHAMI), mound builders like the megapode, are
plentiful all along the coast, at certain seasons visiting the scrub
which margins the opposite beach, but they are not found on these
islands. The blue mountain parrot (red-collared lorikeet), the red-winged
lory, the black cockatoo (Leach's), and other well-known species, fleet
and venturesome, to whom two miles and a half of "salt, estranging sea"
cannot be any check, certainly do not use the island for nesting as birds
of "innocent and quiet minds" might. Gauze-winged butterflies flit across
the channel, occasionally in great numbers. What law restrains virile
birds from the venture?

The absence among the residents of swimming birds, save the beach
frequenters, is due to the lack of open fresh water, though there are
indications of the past existence of at least one swamp, and also that it
was drained naturally by the fretting away of a sand ridge by the sea.

How is it, that though we have echidna in three different colours--black,
grey and straw--there is no typical marsupial, large or small, no iguana
(rather, monitor lizard), though a fair variety of other reptiles, from
white, house-haunting geckoes to carpet snakes? Though the CYCAS MEDIA is
plentiful on the seaward slopes of the adjacent mainland, no trace of
that interesting old-world plant has been discovered here. and but one
casual representative has been found of the graceful fan palm (LICUALA
MUELLERI), another relic of the far beginning of Australia. No doubt the
seed whence the single fan palm sprung would be brought hither by a
nutmeg pigeon; but there is no bird-carrier for the CYCAD, and the set of
the current is opposed to its transport by the sea.

In birds and in mammals and in plants, wide-spread Australian groups are
unrepresented.

THE DAYBREAK FUGUE

Before there is any visible sign of the break of day, some keener and
finer perception than man possesses reveals it to the noisy pitta, or
dragoon bird, which in duty bound makes prompt proclamation. Man trusts
to mechanism to check off the watches of the night; birds to a
self-contained grace more sensitive if not so viciously exact. The noisy
pitta bustles along the edge of the jungle rousing all the sleepy heads
with sharp interrogative whistles before there is the least paling of the
Eastern sky. He scents the sun as the ghost of Hamlet's father the
morning air. His version of "Sleepers, wake," echoes in the silence in
sharp, staccato notes. Seldom heard during the heat of the day, they are
oft repeated at dusk and late in the evening. Of all the birds of the day
his voice is the last as well as the first, and from that the natives
derive his name, "Wung-go-bah."

As the dawn hastens a subdued fugue of chirps and whistles, soft,
continuous and quite distinct from the cheerful individual notes and
calls with which the glare is greeted, completes a circle of sounds.
Wheresoever he stands the listener is in the centre of ripples of melody
which blend with the silence almost as speedily as the half lights flee
before the pompous rays of the imperial sun. This charming melody is but
a general exclamation of pleasure on the recovery of the day from the
apprehension of the night, a mutual recognition, an interchange of
matutinal compliments. Those who take part in it may be jealous rivals in
a few minutes, but the first impulse of each new day is a universal
paean, not loud and vaunting, but mellow, sweet and unselfish.

THE MEGAPODE

The cackle and call of the scrub fowl (MEGAPODIUS DUPERREYS) are
nocturnal as well as sounds of the day, being repeated at intervals all
through the night. Rarely venturing out of the shades of the jungle, the
eyesight of this bird is, no doubt, specially adjusted to darkness and
subdued lights, and is thus enabled to detect and prey upon insects which
during the day lurk under leaves and decayed wood, or bury themselves in
the surface of the ever moist soil. Astonishment is excited that there can
by any possibility be any grubs or beetles, centipedes and worms,
scorpions and spiders left to perpetuate their species, when the floor of
the jungle is raked over with such assiduity by this powerful and active
bird. During the day the megapode is sometimes silent, but ever and anon
it gives way to what may in charity be presumed to be a crow---an
uncouth, discordant effort to imitate the boastful, tuneful challenge of
the civilised rooster. In common with "Elia" (and others) the megapode
has no ear for music. It seems to have been practising
"cock-a-doodle-doo" all its life in the solitary corners and undergrowth,
and to have not yet arrived within quavers of it. It "abhors the measured
malice of music."

The inclusion among the birds of the air of such an inveterate land
lover, a bird which seldom takes flight of its own motive, is permissible
on general principles, while its practical exercise of rare domestic
economy entitles it to special and complimentary notice. Reference is
made elsewhere to the surpassing intelligence of the megapode in taking
advantage of the heat caused by the fermentation of decaying vegetation
to hatch out huge eggs. Long before the astute Chinese practised the
artificial incubation of hens' and ducks' eggs, these sage birds of ours
had mastered it. Several birds seem to co-operate in the building of a
mound, which may contain many cartloads of material, but each bird
appears to have a particular area in which to deposit her eggs. The
chicks apparently earn their own living immediately they emerge fully
fledged from the mound, and are so far independent of maternal care that
they are sometimes found long distances from the nearest possible
birthplace, scratching away vigorously and flying when frightened with
remarkable vigour and speed, though but a few hours old. I come gladly to
the conclusion that the megapode is a sagacious bird, not only in the
avoidance of the dismal duty of incubation, but in respect of the making
of those great mounds of decaying vegetable matter and earth which
perform the function so effectively. In a particularly rugged part of the
island is a mound almost completely walled in by immense boulders. In
such a situation the birds could hardly have found it possible to
accumulate by kicking and scratching so great a quantity of debris. The
material was not available on the site, and as the makers do not carry
their rubbish, it was puzzling to account for it all, until it was
noticed that the junction of two boulders with an inclination towards
each other formed a natural flume or shoot down which most of the
material of the mound had been sent. As the rains and use flatten the
apex fresh stuff is deposited with a trifling amount of labour, to afford
an illustration of "purposive conscious action."

The megapode seems to delight in flying in the face of laws to which
ordinary fowls are obedient. While making a law unto herself for the
incubation of eggs, she scandalously violates that which provides that
the size of the egg shall be in proportion to the size of the bird.
Though much less in weight than an average domestic fowl, the egg that
she lays equals nearly three of the fowl's. Comparisons between the egg
of the cassowary (one of the giants among birds) and of the common fowl
with that of the megapode, are highly complimentary to the latter. A fair
weight for a full-grown cassowary is 150 lb., and the egg weighs 1 lb. 6
oz. A good-conditioned megapode weighs 3 lb., the egg 5 1/4 oz.; ordinary
domestic fowl, 4 lb., egg 2 oz. The egg of the cassowary represents 1 per
cent. of the weight of the bird, the domestic fowl's 3 1/8 per cent., and
that of megapode no less than 11 1/2 per cent of its weight.

When these facts are considered, we realise why the homey head of the
great cassowary, the layer of the largest of Australian eggs, is carried
so low as she bursts through the jungle; why the pair converse in such
humble tones and why, on the other hand, the megapode exults so loudly so
coarsely and in such shocking intervals, careless of the sentiments and
of the sense of melody of every other bird.

Though the powers of the flight of this bird are feeble it inhabits
islands 3 and 4 miles further out to sea than their most adjacent
neighbours. The laboured way in which a startled bird flies across the
narrow expanse of my plantation proves that a long journey would never
be undertaken voluntarily. Not many months ago some blacks walking on the
beach on the mainland had their attention attracted by a bird flying low
on the water from the direction of Dunk Island, 2 1/2 miles away. It was
labouring heavily, and some little distance from land fell exhausted into
the sea. When it drifted ashore--a godsend to the boys--it was found to be
a megapode--and the feat was camp talk. None could credit that a
"kee-rowan" could fly so far.

SWAMP PHEASANT

The swamp pheasant, or pheasant coucal (CENTROPUS PHASIANUS) is also an
early bird, and a bird of varied linguistic capabilities. Folks are apt
to associate with him but one note, and that resembling the mellow gurgle
of cream from a bottle, "Glooc! glooc! glooc! glooc!" An intimate
knowledge of his conversational powers leads one to conclude that there
are few birds more widely accomplished in that direction. He does use the
fluid phrase mentioned, but his notes and those of his consort cover
quite a range of exclamations and calls. Just as I write a pair appeal
for a just recognition of their accomplishments. That which I assume to
be the lord and master utters a loud resonant "Toom! toom! toom! toom"
a smooth trombonic sound, "hollow to the reverberate hills," which his
consort answers with a series of "Tum! tum tum! tum!" on a higher but
still harmonious key, and in accelerated tempo. This, I fancy, is the
lover's serenade, and the soft assenting answer; almost invariably the
loud hollow sound is the opening phrase of the duet. "Sole or responsive
to each other's note," the birds make the forest resound again during the
day, especially in the prime months, and even these notes find varied and
pleasing expression. Free and joyous as a rule, occasionally they seem to
indicate sadness and gloom. During and after a bush fire the birds give
to the notes a mournful cadence like the memories of joy that are past, a
lament for the destruction of the grass among which last year's
dome-shaped nests were hidden. The swamp pheasant also utters a contented,
self-complacent chuckle, that resembles the "Goo! goo! goo!" of a happy
infant, and occasionally a succession of grating, discordant, mocking
sounds, "Tcharn! tcharn! tcharn!" The chuckle may be an expression as if
gloating over the detection and assimilation of some favourite dainty,
and the harsh notes a demonstration of rivalry, anger and hostility. The
more familiar and more frequent note is the "Toom," repeated about
fourteen or sixteen times, and the thinner, softer response.

The bird resembles in plumage a pheasant. Cumbersome and slow of flight,
clumsy in alighting, he frequently loses his equilibrium, and is
compelled to use his long tail as a counter-balance, as he jumps from
branch to branch ascending a tree, in order to gain elevation, whence to
swoop and flop across the intervening space to the next. When compelled to
take wing from a low elevation, the flight is slow and laboured in the
extreme. He is a handsome fellow, the ruling colours being glossy black,
brown and reddish chestnut. One writer describes the bird as half hawk,
half pheasant, another as a non-parasitic cuckoo; another "really a
cuckoo"; another a swamp or tree parrot with the foot of a lark. Without
daring to attempt to dispute any of these descriptions, I may say that
the bird is a decided character and possesses the charm of originality.
He has become so confiding that he will perch on the gatepost as one
enters, assuming a fierce and resentful aspect, and he will play "hawk"
to the startled fowls. He eats the eggs of other birds and kills chicks;
but his murderous instincts are rarely exhibited, and then only, perhaps,
when his passions are aroused. He does not (as far as my observation
goes) kill for food, but merely because Nature gives him at certain times
and seasons a fiery, jealous disposition, and a truculent determination
to protect his family.

"GO-BIDGER-ROO!"

As the sun shines over the range, the plaintive cooing of the little blue
dove, such as picked the rice grains from the bowl beside rapt Buddha's
hands, comes up from among the scented wattles on the flat, the gentlest
and meekest of all the converse of the birds. The nervous yet fluty tones
are as an emphatic a contrast to the vehement interjections and commands
of the varied honey-cater (PTILOTIS VERSICOLOR)--now at the first
outburst--as is the swiftly foreshortening profile of the range to the
glare in which all the foreground quivers.

Once aroused, the varied honey-eater is wide awake. His restlessness is
equalled only by his impertinent exclamations. He shouts his own
aboriginal title, "Go-bidger-roo!" "Put on your boots!"
"Which--which-which way-which way-which way you go!" "Get your whip!" "Get
your whip!" "You go!" "You go!" "None of your cheek!" "None of your
cheek!" "Here-here!" And darts out with a fluster from among the hibiscus
bushes on the beach away up to the top of the melaleuca tree; pauses to
sample the honey from the yellow flowers of the gin-gee, and down to the
scarlet blooms of the flame tree, across the pandanus palms and to the
shady creek for his morning bath and drink, shouting without ceasing his
orders and observations. He is always with us, though not always as noisy
as in the prime of the year--a cheerful, prying, frisky creature, always
going somewhere or doing something in a red-hot hurry, and always making
a song of it--a veritable babbler. His love-making is passionate and
impulsive, joyous almost to rowdyism.

BULLY, SWAGGERER, SWASHBUCKLER

The drongo shrike is another permanent resident; glossy black, with a
metallic shimmer on the shoulders, long-tailed, sharp of bill and
masterful. He has a scolding tongue, and if a hawk hovers over the
bloodwoods he tells without hesitation of the evil presence. He is the
bully of the wilderness of leaves, bouncing birds vastly his superior in
fighting weight and alertness of wing, and clattering his jurisdiction to
everything that flies. When the nest on the nethermost branch of the
Moreton Bay ash is packed with hungry brood, his industry is
exhilarating. Ordinarily he gets all the food he wants by merely a
superficial inspection; but with a family to provide for, he is compelled
to fly around, shrewdly examining every likely looking locality. Clinging
to the bark of the bloodwood, with tail spread out fan-wise as additional
support, he searches every interstice, and ever and anon flies to the
Moreton Bay ash, and tears off the curling fragments of crisp bark which
afford concealment to the smaller beetles, grubs and spiders.

With the loose end of bark in his bill, tugging and fluttering, using his
tail as a lever with the tree as a fulcrum, and objurgating in unseemly
tones, as the bark resists his efforts, the drongo assists the Moreton
Bay ash in discarding worn-out epidermis, and the tree reciprocates by
offering safe nesting-place on its most brittle branches.

The drongo is a bird of many moods. Silent and inert for months together,
during the nesting season he is noisy and alert, not only the first to
give warning of the presence of a falcon, but the boldest in chiveying
from tree to tree this universal enemy.

He is then particularly partial to an aerial acrobatic performance,
unsurpassed for gracefulness and skill, and significant of the joy of
life and liberty and the delirious passion of the moment. With a mighty
effort, a chattering scream and a preliminary downward cast, he impels
himself with the ardour of flight--almost vertically--up above the level
of the tree-tops. Then, after a momentary, thrilling pause, with a gush of
twittering commotion and stiffened wings preternaturally extended over
the back and flattened together into a single rigid fin, drops--a
feathered black bolt from the blue--almost to the ground, swoops up to a
resting-place, and with bowing head and jerking tail gloats over his
splendid feat.

Though denied fluency of utterance, the spangled drongo has no rival in
the peculiar character of the notes and calls over which he has secure
copyright. The shrill stuttering shriek which accompanies his aerial
acrobatic performances, the subdued tinkling tones of pleasure, the
jangle as of cracked china, the high-pitched tirade of jarring abuse and
scolding at the presence of an enemy, the meek cheeps, the tremulous,
coaxing whistles when the young first venture from the nest--each and
every sound, unique and totally unlike that of any other bird, indicates
the oddity of this sportful member of the crow family.

EYES AFLAME

Perhaps the most interesting and entertaining of all the birds of the
island is that commonly known as the weaver or friendly bird, otherwise
the metallic starling, the shining calornis of the ornithologist, the
"Tee-algon" of the blacks. Throughout the coastal tract of North
Queensland this bird is fairly familiar. In these days it could not
escape notice and comment, for it is an avowed socialist establishing
colonies every few miles. There are four on Dunk Island, and though not
permanent residents, spending but little more than half the year with us,
they are among the few birds who have permanent homes. In some lofty tree
they build perhaps two hundred nests in groups of from two to six. With
all these nests weighting its thinner branches the tree may look wearied
and afflicted, but it obtains direct benefit from the presence of the
birds. The nests, deftly built of tendrils and slender creepers and grass
are domed, the entrance being at the side, and so hidden and overhung as
almost to escape notice. Each August the birds appear, coming from the
north. and until the middle of March, when they take their departure,
they do not indulge in many leisure moments. There are the old nests to
renovate and new ones to build in accordance with the demand of the
increasing population, and loads of fruits and seeds and berries to be
conveyed from the jungle to the colony. The shining calornis is a
handsome fellow, gleaming black, with purple and green sheen. The live
bird differs so greatly from the dull, stuffed specimen of the museum
that one is tempted to endeavour to convey by similitude its wonderful
radiance. A soap bubble, black yet retaining all its changing lights and
flashing reflections, is the nearest approach to a just description, and
then there are to specify the rich, red eyes, eyes gleaming like polished
gems. Until after the first year of their existence the young are
brown-backed, and mottled white and bluish-grey of breast, and would
hardly be recognised as members of the colony, but for the shrill notes
and restless activity and those flaming eyes--living gems of wondrous
radiance, and the eyes epitomise the life of the bird which is all flame
and fever.

Twenty or thirty may be peering about in a bloodwood, and with a
unanimous impulse and a call in unison they slip through the forest, and
shoot into the jungle, flashing sun-glints. Eager, alert, always under
high pressure, the business of the moment brooks of no delay. The flocks
come and go between the home and the feeding-ground with noisy
exclamations and impetuous haste. With whirr of wings and jeering notes
they swoop close overhead, wheeling into the wilderness of leaves with
the rapidity of thought, and with such graceful precision that the
sunlight flashes from their shoulders as an arc of light. Work, hasty
work, is a necessity, for their wastefulness is extreme, or, rather, do
they not unconsciously perform a double duty, being chief among the
distributing agents--industrious and trustworthy though unchartered
carders for many helpless trees. When the company darts again out of the
jungle, each with a berry in its bill and each shrilly exulting, many a
load is dropped by the way, and many another falls to mother earth in the
act of feeding the clamorous young. Berries and seeds having no means of
self-transportation are thus borne far from parent trees to vegetate in
sweet unencumbered soil. Other birds take part in this generous
dispersal, but none engage in it so systematically or so openly.

Beneath the tree which is the head centre of the colony is a carpet of
debris several inches thick. Old and discarded nests, fragments of unused
building materials, the nutmeg with its lacing of coral-red mace, the
blue quandong, the remains of various species of figs, hard berries,
chillies, degenerated tomatoes, the harsh seed-vessels of the
umbrella-tree, samples of every fruit and berry of attractive appearance,
however hot and acrid, all go to form a mulching of vegetable matter such
as no other tree of forest or jungle gets. Prodigal and profuse as she
may be, Nature is the rarest of economists. Out here in the forest is
springing up an oasis of jungle, every plant of which owes its origin to
the shining calornis.

It must not be thought that all the notes of these most engaging birds,
symbolic of light in plumage and in flight, are shrill and strident. When
they feed--and they seem always to be feeding or carrying food--their
chatter is perpetual and varied in tone. Occasionally a male bird sets
himself to beguile the time with song. Then his flame-red eyes flash with
ardour, his head is thrown back, a sparkling ruffle appears on his
otherwise satiny smooth neck, and the tune resembles that of a well-taught
canary--more fluty but briefer. But the song is only for the ears of those
who know how to overcome timidity and shyness. Birds naturally so
impetuous are restless and uneasy under observation. One must pose in
silence until his presence is forgotten or ignored. Then the delicious
melody, the approving comments of the songster's companions, and the
efforts of ambitious youngsters to imitate and excel, are all part of a
quaint entertainment.

THE NESTFUL TREE

All the forest brood do not plot mutual slaughter. Some live in strict
amity. Here in the Moreton Bay ash, taken advantage of by the shining
calornis, a white-headed, rufous-backed sea-eagle nests, and the
graceful, fierce-looking pair come and go among the glittering noisy
throng without exciting any special comment. Of course it would be
impossible to detect any certain note of remonstrance, for the smaller
birds are generally commenting on something or other in acidulous tones.

Another occupant of this nestful tree is the sulphur-crested cockatoo,
whose eggs are laid deep down in a hollow. Two or three hundred of the
shining colonists, a brood of sea-eagles, white-headed, snowy-breasted and
red-backed, and a couple, perhaps, three, screeching white cockatoos,
represent the annual output of this single tree, in addition, of course,
to its own crop of sweet savoured flowers (on which birds, bees, beetles
and butterflies, and flying-foxes feast) and seeds in thousands in
cunning cups.

"STATELY FACE AND MAGNANIMOUS MINDE"

How feeble and ludicrous are the voices of the fierce hawks and eagles.
The white-headed sea-eagle's puking discordant twang, the feeble cheep of
the grey falcon--the cry of a sick and scared chicken--the harsh protest
of the osprey, are sounds distinctive but frail, conveying no notion
whatever of the demeanour and characteristics of the birds.

Now the white-headed sea-eagle, with its sharp incurved beak, terrible
talons, and armour-plated legs, is a friend to all the little birds. He
has the "stately face and magnanimous minde" that old writers were wont to
ascribe to the Basilisk, the King of Serpents. They know and respect,
almost venerate him. A horde of them never seeks to scare him away with
angry scolding and feeble assaults, as it does the cruel falcon and the
daring goshawk. Domestic fowls learn of his ways, and are wise in their
fearlessness of him. But I was not well assured of the reasons for the
trustfulness and admiration of the smaller birds for the fierce-looking
fellow who spends most of his time fishing, until direct and conclusive
evidence was forthcoming. Two days of rough weather, and the blue bay had
become discoloured with mud churned up by the sea, and the eagle found
fishing poor and unremunerative sport. Even his keen eyesight could not
distinguish in the murky water the coming and going of the fish. just
below the house is a small area of partly cleared flat, and there we saw
the brave fellow roaming and scooping about with more than usual interest
in the affairs of dry land. At this time of year green snakes are fairly
plentiful. Harmless and handsome, they prey upon small birds and frogs,
and the eagle had abandoned his patrol of the sad-hued water to take toll
of the snakes. After a graceful swoop down to the tips of a low-growing
bush, he alighted on the dead branch of a bloodwood 150 yards or so away,
and, with the help of a telescope, his occupation was revealed--he was
greedily tearing to pieces a wriggling snake, gulping it in
three-quarter-yard lengths. Here was the reason for the trustfulness and
respect of the little birds. The eagle was destroying the chief bugbear
of their existence--the sneaking greeny-yellowy murderer of their kind and
eater of their eggs, whose colour and form so harmonises with leaves and
thin branches that he constantly evades the sharpest-eyed of them all,
and squeezes out their lives and swallows them whole. But the big red
detective could see the vile thing 50 and even 100 yards away, and once
seen--well, one enemy the less. Briskly stropping his beak on the branch
of the tree on which he rested, and setting his breast plumage in order,
much as one might shake a crumb from his waistcoat, the eagle adjusted
his searchlights and sat motionless. In five minutes a slight jerk of the
neck indicated a successful observation, and he soared out, wheeled like
a flash, and half turning on his side, hustled down in the foliage of a
tall wattle and back again to his perch. Another snake was crumpled up in
his talons, and he devoured it in writhing, twirling pieces. The
telescope gave unique advantage during this entertainment, one of the
tragedies of Nature, or rather the lawful execution of a designing and
crafty criminal. Within ten minutes the performance was repeated for the
third time, and then either the supply of snakes ran out or the bird was
satisfied. He shrewdly glanced this way and that, craning and twisting
his neck, and seeming to adjust the lenses of his eyes for near and
distant observation. No movement among the leaves seemed to escape him.
Two yards and a half or perhaps three yards of live snakes constituted a
repast. At any rate, after twenty minutes' passive watchfulness, he
sailed up over the trees and away in the direction of his home in the
socialistic community of the shining calornis.

The white-headed sea-eagle is a deadly foe to the pugnacious sea-serpent
also. On the beach just above high water-mark was the headless carcase of
one that must have been fully 5 feet long, and while it was under
inspection an eagle circled about anxiously. Soon after the intruders
disappeared the bird swooped down and resumed his feast, and presently
his mate came sailing along to join him. The snake must have weighed
several pounds, and apparently was not as dainty to the taste as the
green arboreal variety, for after two days' occasional feasting there was
still some of the flesh left.

Shrewd as is the observation of the white-headed sea-eagle he is not
exempt from blunders. Though he pounces with authoritative certainty and
precision, he does not discriminate until the capture is complete,
between the acceptable and the unacceptable. Generally whatsoever is
seized is carried off, apparently without inspection. Perhaps the balloon
fish is the only one that is promptly discarded. The sea porcupine
(DIODON), which shares with that repugnant creature the habit of
exemplifying the extent to which the skin of a fish is capable of
distention without bursting, is frequently picked up from the shallow
water it favours. Short sharp needles stand out rigidly from its skin,
forming a complete armament against most foes. The sea-eagle does not
always devour the sea porcupine, which at the very best is nothing more
than a picking. Amongst such a complex labyrinth of keen bones a hasty
meal is not to be found, and the sea-eagle is not a leisurely eater. He
likes to gulp; and so when he has indiscreetly blundered on a porcupine
he frequently unlocks his talons and shakes himself free, while the fish,
inflated to the last gulp, floats away high and light, bearing on its
tense silvery-white side the crimson stigmata of the sea-eagle.

When misguided fish have blundered into the trap in the corner of the
bay, the sea-eagle demands a share of the easily-gotten spoil. Perched on
the tallest stake, he faithfully indicates the presence of food that he
cannot obtain unless by goodwill; yet who would deny the bird of his
right? Having fulfilled his duty as sentinel, he soars to an adjacent
tree, uttering that sneering twang which is his one paltry attribute, and
when a fish is thrown into the shallow water he swoops down and is away
with it to his eyrie. If the sand is bare, however, he cannot, owing to
his length of wing, pick up the fish in his flight. Unbecoming as it may
be to tantalise by trickery so regal a bird, a series of trials was
undertaken to ascertain the height from the surface whence a fish could
be gripped. Twelve successive swoops for a mullet flopping on the sand
failed, though it was touched at least six times with the tips of the
eagle's outstretched talons. Consenting to failure, the bird was
compelled to alight undignifiedly a few yards away, to awkwardly jump to
the fish and to eat it on the spot, for however imperious the sea-eagle
is in the air, and dexterous in the seizure of a fish from the water, he
cannot rise from an unimpressionable plane with his talons full. On
another occasion a fish was raised 4 inches on a slender stake. The
sea-eagle dislodged it several times, but could not grasp it. Raised a
further 4 inches the fish was seized without fumbling. Eight inches or
so, therefore, seems to be about the minimum height from which a bird
with 6 feet of red wing and a nice determination not to bruise or soil the
tips, may grip with certainty.

WHITE NUTMEG PIGEON

No birds of the air which frequent these parts attract more attention
than the white nutmeg or Torres Straits pigeons (MYRISTICIVORA
SPILORRHOA), which resort to the islands during the incubating season.
White with part of each flight feather black, and with down of pale buff,
it is a handsome bird, strong and firm of flesh, and possesses remarkable
powers on the wing. Half of the year is spent with us. They come from the
north in their thousands during the first week of September, and depart
during March. While in this quarter they seek rest and recreation, and
increase and multiply on the islands, resorting to the mainland during
the day for food. Their flights to and from are made in companies varying
from four to five to as many as a hundred--but the average is between
thirty and forty. Purpose and instinct guide them to certain islands, and
to these the companies set flight. Towards the end of the breeding
season, when the multitude has almost doubled its strength by lusty young
recruits, for an hour and more before sunset until a few minutes after,
there is a never-ending procession from the mainland to the favoured
islands--a great, almost uncountable host. Soon some of the tree-tops are
swaying under the weight of the masses of white birds, the whirr and rush
of flight, the clacking and slapping of wings, the domineering
"coo-hoo-oo" of the male birds and the responsive notes of the hens; the
tumult when in alarm all take wing simultaneously and wheel and circle
and settle again with rustling and creaking branches, the sudden swoop
with whistling wings of single birds close overhead, create a perpetual
din. Then as darkness follows hard upon the down-sinking of the sun, the
birds hustle among the thick foliage of the jungle, with querulous,
inquiring notes and much ado. Gradually the sounds subside, and the
subdued monotonous rhythm of the sea alone is heard.

An endeavour, from the outset destined to be futile, has been made each
season in succession, to estimate the number of nutmeg pigeons passing a
given point per minute on their evening flight. With so methodical a
bird, it was to be expected that the companies would have favoured points
of departure from the mainland, and would fly along precise routes to a
common destination. There are thousands of stragglers all along the
coast, but the main bodies keep to particular routes. Most of those which
rest on the islands in this neighbourhood quit the mainland between Clump
Point and Tam o' Shanter, the trend of numbers being toward the latter
point. Six miles separate these headlands, but the channel between Tam o'
Shanter and Dunk Island is little more than 2 1/2 miles, so that the
pigeons here become concentrated to a certain extent. Early in the season
they pass Dunk Island at the rate of about 300 per minute, during the hour
and a half preceding sunset. To speak more definitely, but well within the
mark, those flying south, easily within range of sight from the sand spit
here, may be calculated at something like 27,000. But in reality the
procession of birds may cover a breadth of 2 miles, while only those
flocks nearest to the observer are included in the estimate. No doubt,
fully 100,000 come and go evening and morning. When the incubating season
is at its height the number lessens; when all the young are hatched the
unmarshalled procession trails along with but brief intervals between the
companies--some flying low over the water, others high and wide.

Great as the company of birds seems, it is small compared with the
myriads that favoured the islands in years gone by. Pioneers tell of the
days when blacks were wont to make regular expeditions, returning to the
mainland with canoes ladened with fledglings and eggs, which in
accordance with tradition were devoured by the older men and women. The
youngsters of the tribes were nurtured in the belief that if they partook
of such luxuries all the pigeons would fly away never to re-visit their
haunts. Strange as it may seem, the vast quantities eaten by the blacks
did not seem to decrease the numbers. But since the advent of the white
man, with his nerve-shattering gun, a remarkable diminution has been
observed in some localities. No doubt it could be successfully maintained
that the gun is responsible for an insignificant toll compared with that
taken by the blacks of the past. But the birds were then deprived of
their nestlings and eggs quietly, if remorselessly, while the noise of
the gun is more demoralising to the species as a whole than the numbers
actually killed.

Nutmeg pigeons are frequently shot by the hundred as they reach their
nesting-place and mass themselves on the trees. Some of their nurseries
lie far away from the usual tracks of the sportsman. Yet a single
expedition during the breeding season to one of the islands may cause
immense destruction and unprofitable loss of life. Though in lessening
numbers they venture much further along the coast to the south, they keep
well within the tropical zone. The most favoured resorts within many
miles are the Barnard Islands, 14 miles to the north of Dunk Island. The
whole of the tribes, therefore, though scattered for feeding over an
immense area of the coast congregate on four or five islands--miles
apart--to rest and breed. The assemblages are indeed prodigious; but they
represent the gathering together of clans which have a very wide
dispersal. Crowded together the host appears innumerable, but on the
mainland during the day (when only the hen birds stay at home) the
pigeons seem scarce. An occasional group may be met with, and they may be
heard fluttering and flapping on the tree-tops (they are generally silent
when feeding), but they are too thinly distributed to afford sport. Any
other species of native bird which took to gregarious habits might seem
as numerous as this. If all the sulphur-crested cockatoos, scrub turkeys,
and scrub fowls scattered over an area of the mainland corresponding in
extent with the feeding-ground of the nutmeg pigeons were massed each
night in four or five communities, the numbers would seem startling; but
because the poor pigeon, conspicuous and heedless, has the instinct or
habit of association, it is argued that they outnumber all the other
birds, that their legions are infinite, and that that fact is sufficient
licence for the destruction of thousands during the breeding season.
Compared with some species, nutmeg pigeons may be considered scarce,
although their breeding establishments extend over hundreds of miles of
the eastern coast of North Queensland. But it must be remembered that the
birds breed only on the islands. To preserve them effectually certain
islands should be proclaimed sanctuaries, and genuine sportsmen will
never indulge their propensities when haunted by the thoughts of the
consequent cruelty.

There are many contradictory statements in popular natural history works
with reference to the habits of this bird, and it may not be out of place
to quote what one authority says:--

"This singularly shy bird has acquired its popular name from the
well-remarked habit it has of exclusively frequenting the wild nutmeg tree
(MYRISTICA), in the tops of which it may be said to pass its life, except
during the brief pairing season. Then it commonly selects the denser
scrub or the mangroves, most probably guided by their contiguity to fresh
water. Here it makes its nest, a more than ordinarily careless structure,
the few crossed sticks barely sufficing to prevent the single egg it is
destined to receive, from falling through to the ground. The fruit of the
nutmeg is undoubtedly swallowed whole by the bird, and to the powers of
deglutition is left the separation of the nutritive portion which we
know as mace, from the hard and indigestible nut which is voided in
flight. Thus this elegant little creature becomes the useful means of
disseminating the remarkable nutmeg-tree, and it is found that some
chemical treatment corresponding to that which it undergoes during
sojourn within the body of the bird, is actually necessary before the nut
can be fertilised and induced to take root. So strictly arboreal is this
pigeon in its habits that it is questionable if it ever alights upon the
ground, and so timid that it is impossible to procure specimens unless
stratagem is resorted to."

Some years of repeated observation enable me to offer certain amendments
to this narrative, evidently written by one who has been impressed by
half the life-history of the bird--the half spent on the mainland. The
food of the nutmeg pigeon is multifarious. All sorts of nuts and seeds,
and even fruits are consumed--quandongs, various palm seeds (including
those of the creeping palm or lawyer vine, CALAMUS), nutmeg (MYRISTICA
INSIPIDA, not the nutmeg of commerce, though resembling it), the white
hard seeds of the native cabbage (SCOEVOLA KOENIGII), the Burdekin plum
(PLEIOGYNIUM SOLANDRI), and all sorts of unpromisingly tough and
apparently indigestible, innutritious woodeny nuts and drupes. Moreover,
it fattens on such diet, but still the wonder grows at the happy
provision which enables nuts proportionately of such enormous size to be
swallowed by the bird, and ejected with ease after the pulp or flesh has
been assimilated. As the birds alight on the island after their flight
from the mainland, a portion of the contents of the crop seems to be
expelled. A shower of nuts and seeds comes pattering down through the
leaves to the ground as each company finds resting-place. Perhaps those
only who are suffering from uncomfortable distention so relieve
themselves. The balance of the contents of the crops seem to go through
the ordinary process of digestion. Thus, by the medium of the pigeons,
there is a systematic traffic in and interchange of seeds between the
mainland and the islands. The nutmeg pigeon resorts to islands where
there is no fresh water, and builds a rude platform of twigs, and
occasionally of leaves, on all sorts of trees, in all sorts of
localities. Palms and mangroves, low bushes, rocky ledges, saplings, are
all favoured, no particular preference being shown. It rears generally
two, but sometimes three young, one at a time, during the long breeding
season, which continues from the end of September until the end of
January, and for each successive egg a fresh carpet of twig or leaves is
spread. A rare nest was composed of fresh leaves of the Moreton Bay ash,
with the petioles towards the centre, forming a complex green star. No
doubt the arrangement of the leaves was accidental, but the white dumpy
egg as a pearl-like focus completed a quaint device. Another egg reposed
carelessly at the base of a vigorous plant of DENDOBRIUM UNDULATUM, the
old-gold plumes of the orchid fantastically shading it.

Those pigeons who elect to incubate on the ground discard even the rude
platform of twigs, which generally represents the nest of those who
prefer bushes and trees, but gradually encircle themselves with tiny
mounds of ejected seeds, until the appearance of a nest is presented. At
the termination of the breeding season these birthplaces of the young are
indicated by circular ramparts, in the composition of which the aromatic
nutmeg predominates. Personal experiments on the spot prove that these
nutmegs germinate less readily than those taken direct from the tree.
Planted with the red mace still adherent the nuts are quite reliable;
others which have been swallowed by the pigeon and ejected, though
submitted to like conditions, fail in considerable proportion. So that
the oft-repeated theory that the Queensland nutmeg requires primarily to
undergo some chemical process similar to that which takes place in the
crop of the pigeon to ensure germination, has no foundation whatever in
fact. The part the pigeon performs is to transport the nut to free,
unstifled soil.

No bird is more precise and punctual in its visits. It comes to its
nesting-places and departs with almost almanac-like regularity. It is a
large bird as pigeons go, and becomes wonderfully tame and trustful when
undisturbed. Specimens may be procured in thousands. Blacks,
understanding their habits, climb particular trees known to be well
patronised, and as the birds swoop down to rest, kill them easily with a
swoop of a long slender stick, or hurl nulla-nullas into the home-coming
flocks, just as they alight. It is not a good table bird, the flesh being
dark, tough, and of an earthy flavour--far inferior to the generality of
pigeons, and not to be compared with ground or aquatic game.

FRUIT-EATERS

The tyrannical fig-tree of the species referred to elsewhere, in full
fruit--pink in colouring until it attains purple ripeness--attracts birds
from all parts, and for nearly a quarter of the year is as gay as a
theatre. From sunset to sunrise birds feast and flirt with but brief
interludes. A general dispersal of the assemblage occurs only in the
tragic presence of a falcon, whose murderous deeds are transiently
recorded by stray painted feathers. But the fright soon passes, and the
magnificent fruit pigeon--green, golden-yellow, purplish-maroon, rich
orange, bluish-grey, and greenish-yellow, are his predominant
colours--resumes his love-plaint in bubbling bass. "Bub-loo, bub-loo
maroo," he says over and over again in unbirdlike tone, without emphasis
or lilt. "Bub-loo, bub-loo maroo," a grievance, a remonstrance and a
threat in one doleful phrase; but to the flattered female it is all
compliment and gallantry. That other, known as the allied--so like his
cousin that his dissonant accents, "quok--quok--quoo," are more to be
relied upon as ready means of identification than any striking difference
in plumage; the white-headed, the pheasant-tail, the gorgeous "superb,"
the tranquil dove, Ewing's fruit pigeon--most timorous of the order--are
regular patrons, and each of the family has the distinctive demeanour and
note. All save the allied--which is too full of assurance and fruit to be
disconcerted by the presence of man--may flutter into the jungle, and
then, as the momentary disturbance subsides, a study, whimsical and rich,
begins.

With one exception the fruit pigeons, however gay the colouring of the
throat and breast and under parts generally, are green of back, that
passing falcons may be deceived by resemblance to leafy environment. Yet
the "superb" and Ewing's and Swainson's have the richest of crowns--crowns
pink, or shimmering rosy purple. Why this fanciful decoration if not to
carry the delusion further by resemblance to a flower?

These glorious pigeons are but a few of the many birds that come to the
tree with its millions of pink figs, and enliven the scene with soft
notes and eager whistles. Varied and fasciated honey-eaters, black and
white, and Jardine's caterpillar-eaters, the tiny swallow dicaeum, in a
tight-fitting costume of blue-black and red (who must bruise and batter
the fruit to reduce it to gobbling dimensions), the yellow white-eye (who
pecks it to pieces), the white-bellied and the varied graucalus, the
drongo, the shining calornis--these and others have been included time
after time in the one enumeration.

Cockatoos do not visit the fig-trees as systematically as might be
expected. When they come they waste almost as lavishly as the flying
foxes at night, nipping off branchlets and dropping them after eating but
two or three of the figs.

When the grey falcon soars overhead the birds display varied forms of
strategy. The inconspicuous pigeons crouch motionless but alert, their
eyes fixedly following the circles of the enemy; the readily detected
graucalus fly straight to a forest tree, whence there is a clear
get-away; the companies of yellow white-eyes, with a unanimous note of
alarm, dart into the jungle; the caterpillar-eaters and the honey-eaters,
peering about, drop discreetly down among the lower branches, and silence
prevails.

No serious heed is taken of the white-headed sea-eagle. Though the
fruit-eaters do not recognise the lordly fellow on the instant of his
appearance, he may perch on the topmost branches of the tree to
scrutinise the shallows, and they will resume their feasting and noise.
But a falcon is as a death's-head, and alas! too often a sanguinary
disturber of the peace, as the tufts of painted feathers tell.

AUSTRALIA'S HUMMING-BIRD

One of the most self-assertive of birds of the island is also one of the
least--the sun-bird (CINNYRIS FRENATA). Garbed in rich olive green, royal
blue, and bright yellow, and of a quick and lively disposition, small as
he is, he is always before his public, never forgetful of his appearance,
or regardless of his rights. Feeding on honey and on insects which
frequent honey-supplying flowers, the sun-bird is generally seen amid
surroundings quite in keeping with the splendour of his plumage. The best
part of his life is passed among blossoms, and he seems to partake of
their beauty and frailness. The gold of the gin-gee, the reds of the
flame-tree, the umbrella-tree, and of the single and double hibiscus are
reflected from his shining feathers, as he flutters and darts among the
blooms, often sipping on the wing after the habit of the
humming-bird--which he resembles even to the characteristic expansion of
the tail feathers. When in September the flame-tree is a dome of red,
sun-birds gather by the score--the gayest of all the revellers. Uncommon
length of bill enables them to probe recesses of flowers forbidden
others, and they seem proud of the superiority. The varied-honey-eater
visits flower after flower with something of method. The sun-bird flashes
from raceme to raceme, sampling a dozen blooms, while his noisy rival
sips with the air of a connoisseur at one. There is a spell in the nectar
of the flame-tree as irresistibly attractive to taste of birds as the
colour is to the sight of man. Although the tree bursts into bloom with
truly tropical ardour, they await the coming banquet with unaffected
impatience. Then one of the prettiest frolics of the sun-bird is
revealed. Time cannot lag with such gay, saucy creatures, so while they
wait half a dozen or more congregate in a circle and with uplifted heads
directed towards a common centre sing their song in unison. Whether the
theme of the song is of protest against the tardiness of the tree, or of
thanks in anticipation, or of exultation in race, or of rivalry, matters
not; but one is inclined to the last theory, for none but males take part
in it. The sun glints on their burnished breasts, their throats throb,
their long bills quaver with enthusiastic effort, and the song still
matters not, for it is but a thin twittering, so feeble and faint as to
be inaudible a few yards off. Patience and stillness are the price of it.
And with a squeak in chorus the choir disperses, to meet and sing again
in a few minutes in another part of the reddening tree.

"MOOR-GOODY"

Aptly imitating its most frequent note, blacks have given the name of
"Moor-goody," to a sedate little bird rarely seen away from the jungle,
and then only in the shadiest of bushes. Many of the birds are
distinguished and named in accordance with their notes. "Wung-go-bah"
describes the noisy pitta; "Wee-loo" the stone plover; "Coo-roo" the
tranquil dove; "Piln-piln" the large-billed shore plover; "Kim-bum-broo"
the fasciated honey-eater; "Calloo-calloo" the manucode; "Go-bidger-roo"
the varied honey-eater, and so on.

"Moor-goody" (shrike thrush) has the most tuneful and mellow call of all,
and in obedience to the general law which forbids beauty to sweet-voiced
birds, is soberly clad in two shades of brown, cinnamon the breast, dust
the back. But it is of graceful form, and soft of flight as a falling
leaf; the eyes are large and singularly tender and expressive. Often
terminating in a silvery chirrup, the note, varied with melodious
chuckles and gurgles of lulling softness, is exceedingly pleasing, the
expression of a bird of refinement, content and sweet temper. Coming at
frequent intervals from the jungle or the heart of the mango trees or
acalypha bushes, and wheresoever foliage is thickest, the sound is always
welcome, as it tells of some of the most desirable features of the
tropics--quiet, coolness, and the sweet security of shade. It tells, too,
of the simple life spent in seclusion in contradistinction to the
"envious court" of the roysterers in the glare of the leafless
flame-tree.

THE FLAME-TREE'S VISITORS

A final note in reference to the flame-tree may be permitted. As it is
the popular rendezvous during September, pleasure was taken in
cataloguing the greatest variety and number of birds congregated there at
one and the same time. Several lists were compiled, the most
comprehensive being:--

Sulphur-crested Cockatoo,
Honey-eaters (varied, fasciated and obscure),
Friar Bird (two species),
Shining Calornis,
Drongo Shrike,
White-rumped Wood Swallow,
Australian Bee-eater,
Black-headed Diamond Bird,
Sun-bird,
Pied Caterpillar-eater.

Honey-eaters were represented by a dozen or more; but were not so
numerous as the sun-birds, which were difficult to accurately enumerate,
owing to their sprightly behaviour. Next came the shining calornis (about
ten), friar birds (about eight), wood swallows (six, all in a row--a band
of white among the red flowers); bee-eaters (about the same number), and
so on down the list in ever-shifting places and varying numbers.

The birds were more numerous about eight a.m. This hour may seem late,
in consideration of familiar habits, but the flame-tree is in the shadow
of the highest peak of the island, and consequently does not receive the
earliest of the benedictions of the sun. Birds come and go to it in
irregular pulsations. Their presence is constant, but their number
variable. Comparative silence may exist for an hour or so after the first
joyful feast of the day, to be broken by quite a gush of the sounds of
revelry, and then the tree becomes again for a space as noisy as a
merry-go-round.

RED-LETTER BIRDS

To the manucode is ascribed practical interference with the laws of
Nature. This handsome bird, of jet black glossy plumage, comes hither in
September, adding to the pleasant sounds of the jungle a loud rich note,
which closely resembles the frequent repetition of the name bestowed upon
it by the blacks, "Calloo-calloo." As are its visits so are its
notes--casual, coming in erratic bursts and sudden sallies of whirling
spiral sound. Its advent is hailed with satisfaction, for the belief
exists that it causes the bean-tree--the source of a much-esteemed
food--togrow more quickly. This faith has a substantial origin, for
shortly after the bird's first fluty notes are heard the bean tree
blossoms, renewing the promise of plenty. While here, the "Calloo-calloo,"
is remarkably shy, very rarely venturing out of the seclusion of the
thickest jungle, and warning off intruders with a curious note of alarm,
half purr, half hiss.

When the clattering corcorax puts in an appearance the blacks lift up
their eyes unto the hills, firm in the faith that the birds cause in them
an increase in height, or to put it in the vernacular--"Look out.
Mountain jump up little bit!" When the flame-tree flowers, it is to tell
of the coming of the nutmeg pigeon, when eggs and dainty young are to be
obtained with little trouble.

Yet another red-letter time on the calendar is the laying season of the
terns. Then the fancies of the blacks lightly turn to thoughts of
"Tan-goorah" (bonito) and other strong-flavoured fish. So that the young
shall not lack, nor suffer hunger, the hatching is coincident with the
appearance of immense shoals of young fish which the bonito perpetually
harass, driving them to the surface for the terns, with sharp screams of
satisfaction, to dart upon. What with the strong, far-leaping fish, and
the agile, acrobatic birds, the existence of the small fry is one of
perplexity and terror.

Six species of tern take part in these gyrating, foraging campaigns.
Three show almost purely white as they fly; the others, less numerous, as
dark flakes in the living whirlwind. Ever changing in position and in
poise--some on the swift seaward cast, some balancing for it with every
fraction of brake power exerted in beating wings and expanded tail, some
recovering equilibrium lost through a fluky start, some dashing deep,
some hurrying away (after a spasmodic flutter of dripping feathers) with
quivering slips of silver--the perpetual whirl keeps pace with the
splashes of the bonito and the ripples of the worried small fry.

Could they enjoy the satisfaction of the fact the little fish might
snigger when the terns are called upon to exert all their agility and
tricks, vainly endeavouring to elude the long slim-winged frigate bird.
This tyrant of the upper air observes, as it glides in steady, stately
circles, the noisy unreflecting terns, and with arrow-like swiftness
pursues those which have been successful. Dodge and twist and double as
it may--and no hare upon land is half so quick or resourceful as the wily
tern in the air--the frigate bird follows with the audacity and certainty
of fate, until flustered and frightened the little fish is abandoned, to
be snapped up by the air-ranger before it reaches the sea. As an
exhibition of fierce and relentless purpose, combined with sprightliness
and activity, the pursuit of a tern by the fearless frigate bird, and the
impetuous swoop after and seizure of the falling fish, cannot be matched
in Nature.

As the cries of the circling tern mark the movements of the distracted
shoals, the blacks in canoes fit in to the scheme of destruction, taking
a general toll. So preoccupied are the bonito, that they fall a
comparatively easy prey to the skilled user of the harpoon. Sharks
continue the chain of destruction by dashing forays on the bonito, and
occasionally man harpoons a shark. With his frail bark canoe tugged
hither and thither by the frightened but still vicious fish, the black,
endowed with nerve, then enjoys real sport. Not the least in dread of the
shark, his only fear being for the safety of his harpoon and line as the
lithe fish leaps and snaps, the black plays with it until it submits to
be towed ashore.

The birds' eggs on the coral banks also make an item in the blacks' bill
of fare; while the frantic little fish hustled towards the shore are
captured by the million in coffer-dams made of loosely twisted grass and
beach trailers.

CASUAL AND UNPRECISE

These observations of mine are admittedly casual and unprecise. Not the
life of a single bird or insect has been sacrificed to prove "facts" for
personal edification or entertainment. Cases in which points were
inconclusive have been allowed to remain undecided. The face of the
administrator of the law here is rigidly set against the enforcement of
the death penalty, simply because the subject is beautiful, or rare, or
"not understood." With the aid of a good telescope and a compact pair of
field-glasses, birds may be studied and known far more pleasurably than
as stark cabinet specimens, and, perhaps, with all the certainty that the
ordinary observer needs. Patience and a magnifying glass put less
constraint on insects than lethal bottles and pins.

An observer who was prepared to satisfy doubts with the gun might,
possibly with ease, bring up the Bird Census of the island to one hundred
and fifty. Such a one may find pleasure in the future in demonstrating
how much more than a seventh of the birds of Australia dwell upon or
visit the spot. The present era of strict non-interference has resulted
in an increase, however small, in the species represented. Whereas in
years gone by but two species of sea-birds nested on Purtaboi, now at
least six avail themselves of that refuge.

Birds that were driven to remote reefs and banks of the Barrier now make
themselves at home for three months of the year within hailing distance.
Tidings of goodwill towards the race generally are beginning to spread.
Gladness compels me to record a recent development of the protective
laws. Space for the rearing of families at the headquarters of the
terns--Purtaboi--having been gradually absorbed during recent years, the
overflow--comprising perhaps a thousand amorous birds--has taken
possession of the sand spit of Dunk Island. So calm are they in the
presence of man, so sure of goodwill, that when temporarily disturbed,
they merely wheel about close overhead, remonstrating against intrusion in
thin tinny screams, and settle again on their eggs before the friendly
visit is well over. Not for ten years at the least have sea-birds utilised
this spot. Realising their privileges elsewhere in the immediate
neighbourhood, they have thrust themselves under official protection.
They crowd me off a favourite promenade, mine by right of ten years'
usage. They scold every boat, affront passing steamers, and comport
themselves generally as if on the assurance of counsel's opinion on the
legality of their trespass.


And so it has come to pass, that the example of the uninfluential
Beachcomber, in the establishment of an informal and unofficial refuge
for birds, has been warranted and confirmed by the laws of the country. A
proclamation in those terms, those good set terms, which time and custom
approve, forbids shooting on this and two neighbouring groups of islands.
Is there not excuse in this flattery for just a little vainglory?



CHAPTER IV



GARDEN OF  CORAL

Brammo Bay has its garden of coral--a border of pretty, quaint and varied
growth springing up along the verge of deep water. It is not as it used
to be--no less lovely than a flower-garden of the land. Terrestrial storms
work as much if not greater havoc in the shallow places of the sea as on
the land. Pearl-shell divers assert that ordinary "rough weather" is
imperceptible at a depth of two fathoms; while ten fathoms are generally
accepted as the extreme limit of wave action, however violent the surface
commotion. Yet in the shallow sea, within the Barrier Reef in times of
storm and stress, not only are groves of marine plants torn and wrenched
up, but huge lumps of coral rock are shattered or thrown bodily out of
place and piled up on "uproarious beaches."

A storm in March, 1903, which did scarcely any damage to vegetation
ashore, destroyed most of the fantastic forms which made the coral garden
enchanting. In its commotion, too, the sea lost its purity. The sediment
and ooze of decades were churned up, and, as the agitation ceased, were
precipitated--a brown furry, slimy mud, all over the garden--smothering
the industrious polyps to whom all its prettiness was due. Order is being
restored, fresh and vigorous shoots sprouting up from the fulvid basis;
but it may be many years before the damage is wholly repaired and the
original beauty of the garden restored, for the "growth" of coral--the
skeletons of the polyps--is methodical and very slow. We speak of coral as
if it were a plant, yet the reproduction is by means of eggs, and the
polyp is as much an animal as a horse or an elephant.

In times past the marine garden comprised several acres in which were
plants of almost every conceivable shape and form, and more or less
bright and delicate in colour. Fancy may feign shrubs, standard and
clipped; elaborate bouquets, bunches of grapes, compact cauliflowers,
frail red fans. Rounded, skull-like protuberances with the convolutions
of the brain exposed, stag-horns, whip-thongs yards long, masses of pink
and white resembling fanciful confectionery, intricate lace-work in the
deepest indigo blue, have their appointed places. Some of the spreading
plant-like growths are snow-white, tipped with mauve, lemon-coloured
tipped with white, white tipped with lemon and pale blue.

On the rocks rest stalkless mushrooms, gills uppermost, which blossom as
pom-pom chrysanthemums; rough nodules, boat- and canoe-shaped dishes of
coral. Adhering to the rocks are thin, flaky, brittle growths resembling
vine-leaves, brown and golden-yellow; goblets and cups, tiered epergnes,
distorted saucers, eccentric vases, crazily-shaped dishes. Clams and
cowries and other molluscs people the cracks and crevices of coral
blocks, and congregate beneath detached masses and loose stones. In these
fervid and fecund waters life is real, life is earnest. Here, are
elaborately armoured crayfish (PALINURUS ORNATUS), upon which the most
gaudy colours are lavished; grotesque crabs, fish brilliant in hue as
humming-birds. Life, darting and dashing, active and alert, crawling and
slithering, slow and stationary, swarms in these marine groves.

A coral reef is gorged with a population of varied elements viciously
disposed towards each other. It is one of Nature's most cruel
battlefields, for it is the brood of the sea that "plots mutual
slaughter, hungering to live." Molluscs are murderers and the most
shameless of cannibals. No creature at all conspicuous is safe, unless it
is agile and alert, or of horrific aspect, or endowed with giant's
strength, or is encased in armour. A perfectly inoffensive crab,
incapable of inflicting injury to anything save creatures of almost
microscopic dimensions, assumes the style and demeanour of a ferocious
monster, ready at a moment's notice to cry havoc, and let loose the dogs
of war. Another hides itself as a rugged nodule of moss-covered stone;
its limbs so artfully stowed away that detection would be impossible did
it not occasionally betray itself by a stealthy movement. The pretty
cowrie, lemon-coloured and grey and brown, throws over its shining
shoulders a shawl of the hue of the rock on which it crawls about, grey
or brown or tawny, with white specks and dots which make for
invisibility--a thin filmy shawl of exquisite sensitiveness. Touch it
ever so lightly, and the helpless creature, discerning that its disguise
has been penetrated, withdraws it, folding it into its shell, and closes
its door against expected attack. It may feebly fall off the rock, and
simulating a dead and empty shell, lie motionless until danger is past.
Then again it will drape itself in its garment of invisibility and slide
cautiously along in search of its prey. Under the loose rocks and
detached lumps of coral for one live there will be scores of dead shells.
The whole field is strewn with the relics of perpetual conflict,
resolving and being resolved into original elements. We talk of the
strenuous life of men in cities. Go to a coral reef and see what the
struggle for existence really means. The very bulwarks of limestone are
honeycombed by tunnelling shells. A glossy black, torpedo-shaped creature
cuts a tomb for itself in the hard lime. Though it may burrow inches deep
with no readily visible inlet, cutting and grinding its cavity as it
develops in size and strength, yet it is not safe. Fate follows in
insignificant guise, drills a tiny hole through its shell, and the
toilsomely excavated refuge becomes a sepulchre. Even in the fastness of
the coral "that grim sergeant death is strict in his arrest." All is
strife--war to the death. If eternal vigilance is the price of liberty
among men, what quality shall avert destruction where insatiable
cannibalism is the rule. There is but one creature that seems to make use
of the debris of the battlefield--the hermit crab (CAENOBITA), which but
half armoured must to avert extermination fit itself into an empty shell,
discarding as it grows each narrow habitation for a size larger.
Disconsolate is the condition of the hermit crab who has outgrown his
quarters, or has been enticed from them or "drawn" by a cousin stronger
than he, or who has had the fortune to be ejected without dismemberment.
The full face of the red blue-spotted variety (PAGURUS PUNCTULATUS) is an
effective menace to any ordinary foe, and that honourable part is
presented at the front door when the tenant is at home. For safety's sake
the flabby gelatinous, inert rear end must be tucked and hooked into the
convolutions of the shell, deprived of which he is at the mercy of foes
very much his inferior in fighting weight and truculent appearance. The
disinterested spectator may smile at the vain, yet frantically serious
efforts of the hermit to coax his flabby rear into a shell obviously a
flattering misfit. But it is not a smiling matter to him. Not until he
has exhausted a programme of ingenious attitudes and comic contortions is
the attempt to stow away a No. 8 tail into a No. 5 shell abandoned. When
a shell of respectable dimensions is presented, and the grateful hermit
backs in, settles comfortably, arrays all his weapons against intruders,
and peers out with an expression of ferocious content, smiles may come,
and will be out of place only when the aches of still increasing bulk
force him to hustle again for still more commodious lodgings.

A frilled clam (TRIDACNA COMPRESSA) in its infancy seals or anchors
itself in a tiny crack or crevice, and apparently by a continuous but
imperceptible movement analogous to elbow-rooming, deepens and enlarges
its cavity as it develops. Should it survive in defiance of all its foes,
just taking from the sea the sustenance for which it craves with gaping
valves, it may increase in bulk, but its apartment in the limestone never
seems too large--just a neat fit In its abiding-place it presents an
irregular strip of silk, green as polished malachite, or dark green and
grey, or blue and slaty green, mottled and marbled, with crimped edges
and graceful folds--an attractive ornament in the drab rock. Touch any
part--there is a slow suspensory withdrawal, and then a snap and spurt of
water as the last remnant of the living mantle disappears between the
interlocking valves of porcelain white.

Apart from the bulk and the fantastic shapes of coral structures, there
is the beauty of the living polyps. That which when dry may have the
superficial appearance of stone plentifully pitted--a heavy dull
mass--blossoms with wondrous gaiety as the revivifying water covers it.
The time to admire these frail marine flowers is on an absolutely calm
day. All the sediment of the sea has been precipitated. The water is as
transparent as rock crystal, but like that mineral slightly distorts the
object unless the view is absolutely vertical. It is a lens perfect in
its limpidity. Here is a buff-coloured block roughly in the shape of a
mushroom with a flat top, irregular edges, and a bulbous stalk. Rich
brown alga hangs from its edges in frills and flounces. Little cones stud
its surface, each of which is the home of a living, star-like flower, a
flower which has the power of displaying and withdrawing itself, and of
waving its fringed rays. Each flower is self-coloured, and may represent
a group of animals. There are blues of various depths and shades from
cobalt to lavender, reds, orange and pinks, greens, browns and greys,
each springing from a separate receptacle. All are alike in shape--viewed
vertically, many-rayed stars; horizontally, fir-trees faultlessly
symmetrical in form and proportion. These flowers all blossom, or trees,
or stars, are shy and timorous. A splash and they shrink away. The hope
of such wilderness--as barren-looking as desert sandstone--ever
blossoming again seems forbidden. Quietude for a few moments, and one
after another the flowers emerge, at first furtively but gathering
courage in full vanity, until the buff rock becomes as radiant as a
garden bed.

Upon coral blocks, which represent the skeletons of polyps in orderly and
systematic profusion, other creatures more highly organised appear,
having in one feature a family likeness to the polyps, upon whose
hospitality they impose, that is, if the setting up of an establishment
on the remains of innumerable ancestors of its host may be said to be
merely an imposition. One is a species of mollusc which resembles, in
some respects, that to which has been given the name of SURPULA. In its
babyhood it attaches itself to the coral, and forthwith begins to build a
home, which is nothing more than a calcareous tube, superficially
resembling a corpulent worm, instantaneously petrified while in the act
of a more or less elaborate wriggle or fantastic contortion. In this
complicated tunnel the creature resides, presenting a lovely circular
disc of glowing pink as its front door. A few inches beneath the water
this operculum or lid is not unlike a pearl, but as you gaze upon it, it
slips on one side, and five animated red rays appear, waving like
automatic flag signals. Though well housed, it is almost as timorous as
the coral polyps. Upon the least alarm the rays disappear in a twinkle,
and the pink pearl trap-door glows again. Break off the end of the shelly
tunnel in an attempt to secure the pearl, and it is as elusive as a
sunbeam. It recedes as piece by piece is broken away, until the edge of
the cylinder is flush with the surface of the coral in which the shell is
embedded. There the pearly operculum glows in safety.

The living rays or flower-like face are the features in which this
encased worm resembles the coral polyps on the one hand and the houseless
beche-de-mer on the other. Some of the numerous inhabitants of the reef,
struggling to keep in the fashion, make the very best of five simple
points. Others flaunt with no apparent vanity or pride quite a plume, of
complex rays more or less beautifully coloured. A worm which occasionally
swims like a water snake, and again reposes inertly on the sand, as does
the beche-de-mer, sets off its brown naked body with a red nimbus--a
flexible living nimbus, ruby red.

The visible part of the organism of the coral polyps is composed of
rays, from the sides of which spring secondary rays, the combination
producing complex stars of great beauty and which call to mind the frost
flowers, and the flowers into which some inorganic substances bloom as
they crystallise.

The congested state of a coral reef, and the inevitable result
thereof--perpetual war of species and shocking cannibalism--have been
referred to. Another result of the overcrowding has yet to be mentioned.
Possibly there may be those who are disinclined to credit the statement
that some of the denizens take in lodgers. But the fact remains. Having
ample room and to spare within their own walls, they offer hospitality to
homeless and unprotected strangers, whom graceless Nature has not
equipped to take part in the rough-and-tumble struggle for existence
outside. A tender-hearted mollusc (PINNA) accepts the company of a
beautiful form of mantis-shrimp--tender, delicate and affectionate--which
dies quickly when removed from its asylum, as well as a singular creature
which has no charm of character, and must be the dullest sort of lodger
possible to imagine. It is a miniature eel, which looks as if it had been
drawn out of rock crystal or perfectly clear glass. There is no apparent
difference between the head and the tail, save that one end tapers more
gradually than the other. Very limited power of motion has been bestowed
upon it. It cannot wriggle. It merely squirms in the extremity of
laziness or lassitude. These two keep the PINNA company--the lively
shrimp, pinkish brown and green with pin-point black eyes, and the little
eel as bright and as transparent yet as dull and insipid as glass. One of
the oysters attracts the patronage of a rotund crab, which in some
respects resembles a tick, and a great anemone a brilliant fish--scarlet
and silver defined with purple hair lines--which on alarm retires within
the ample folds of its host.

The flowers of a coral reef live. A bouquet of lavender-coloured, tender,
orderly spikes has a gentle rhythmical, swaying movement. A touch, and by
magic the colour is gone--naught remains but a dingy brown lump on the
rock, whence water oozes. Another form of plant-like life takes the colour
of rich green--the green of parsley, and faints at the touch, as does the
sensitive plant of the land. Another strange creature, roughly
saucer-shaped, but deep grey mottled with white and brown, continuously
waves its serrated edges and pulsates at the centre. It starts and stops,
contracts and withdraws steadily into the sand upon interference.

One of the shrimps (GONODACTYLUS CHIRAGRA) in my experience found only
far out on the reef at dead low-water winter spring-tides, might be
taken as a display collection in miniature of those gems of purest ray
serene which the dark unfathomed caves of ocean bear. The emerald-green
tail is fringed with transparent golden lace; the malachite body has the
sheen of gold; the chief legs are of emerald with ruby joints, and
silvery claws; the minor as of amber, while over all is a general sheen
of ornamentation of points and blotches of sapphire blue. Long white
antennae, delicate and opaque, spring from the head. The decorative hues
are not laid on flat, but are coarsely powdered and sprinkled as in the
case of one of the rarest of Brazilian butterflies, and they live.
Picture a moss-rose with the "moss" all the colours of the rainbow, on
which the light plays and sparkles, and you have an idea of the effect
of the jewellery of this lustrous crustacean. Yet it is not for human
admiration. Its glints speedily dim in the air. To be gobbled up by some
hungry fish is the ordinary fate of the species. Possibly splendour is
bestowed upon the shrimp as a means by which certain fish distinguish a
particularly choice dainty, and the fish show the very acme of
admiration by "wolfing" it. Thus are the examples of high art in
Nature remorselessly lavished.

Quite distinct is the unconscious genius which now demands brief
reference to its perfections. Though a brilliant example of the
employment of unattractive deceptive features, it has no individual
comeliness--not an atom of grace, no style of its own. Every feature,
attitude and movement is subordinate to the part it plays. Death being
the penalty, it may not blunder. Behold, among acres of similar growth,
a trivial collection of rough, short weeds of the sea--grey, green and
mud-coloured. This microcosm glides and stops. The movement is barely
perceptible; the intervals of rest long and frequent. An untimely slide
as the chance gaze of the observer is directed to the spot, betrays
that here is the centre of independent life and motive. The dwarf,
unkempt weeds cloak a meek, weak, shrinking crab, whose frail claws
and tufted legs are breeched with muddy moss, and whose oddly-shaped
body is obscured by parasitic vegetation and realistic counterfeits
thereof. Inspection, however critical, makes no satisfactory definition
between the real and the artificial algae, so perfectly do the
details of the moving marine garden blend with the fringes and
fur of the animal's rugged and misshapen figure and deformed limbs.
As an artistic finish to a marvellous piece of mummery, in one of
the crude green claws is carried a fragment of coral, green with the
mould of the sea. It and the claw are indistinguishable until, in the
faintest spasm of fright, the crab abandons the coral, and shrinking
within itself becomes inanimate--as steadfast a patch of weeds as any
other of the reef. Recovering slowly from its fright, and conscious of
the necessity for each detail of its equipment and insignia, the lowly
crustacean timidly re-grips the coral, and holding it aloft, glides
discreetly on its way, invisible when stationary, most difficult to
detect when it moves.

To see the coral garden to advantage you must pass over it--not through
it. Drifting idly in a boat in a calm clear day, when the tips of the
tallest shrubs are submerged but a foot or so, and all the delicate
filaments, which are invisible or lie flat and flaccid when the tide is
out, are waving, twisting and twining, then the spectacle is at its
best. Tiny fish, glowing like jewels, flash and dart among the
intricate, interlacing branches, or quiveringly poise about some slender
point--humming-birds of the sea, sipping their nectar. A pink
translucent fish no greater than a lead-pencil wriggles in and out of the
lemon-coloured coral. Another of the John Dory shape, but scarcely an
inch long, blue as a sapphire with gold fins and gold-tipped tail,
hovers over a miniature blue-black cave. A shoal darts out, some all
old-gold, some green with yellow damascene tracery and long yellow
filaments floating from the lower lip. A slender form, half coral pink,
half grey, that might swim in a walnut shell, displays its transparent
charms. Conspicuous, daring colours here are as common as on the lawn of a
race course. Occasionally on the edge of a reef there comes the fish of
frosted silver, with hair like purple streamers floating from the dorsal
fin a foot and more behind. Some call it the "lady" fish, because of its
beauty and grace, and others the diamond trevally (ALECTIS CILIARIS).
More frequently is seen "the sleepy fish," salmon-shaped, of resplendent
copper, with bright blue blotches and markings, which remains motionless
in the water, and so often awakens not until the spear of the hungry
black is fast in its shoulders.

Another handsome creature of olive green with blue wavy stripes and
spots (FISTULARIS SERRATUS) has the shape of a gar-fish, and to
counterbalance a long tubular snout, a slender filament resembling the
bare feather shaft of some bird of paradise extending from the tail.

With all its fantastic beauty a coral reef is cruel. Nearer the shore
the stony blocks are overspread by masses of that singular skeleton-less
coral, known as alcyonaria--partaking of the nature of rubber and of
leather--an ugly, repulsive, tyrannous growth, over-running and killing
other and more delicate corals, as undesirable pests crowd out useful
and becoming vegetation. It occurs in varying colours and forms--sickly
green and grey, bronze and yellow, brown and pink. Loathsome, resembling
offal in some aspects as the receding tide lays it bare, it becomes
pretty and interesting when covered with calm, limpid water, and its
dull life flourishes with star-like, living flowers.

Before our coral garden was as familiar as it is, it was said that on
one of the reefs of Dunk Island there reposed a colossal clam--one of
the giants of the variety known to science as TRIDACNA GIGAS. So
prodigious was the alleged specimen, that no one had been able to remove
it, and it was dimly suggested that the occupant of the island would
easily become possessed of a very marvel among molluscs. So far, its
resting-place has not been discovered, though all the reefs have been
explored many times, nor do any of the natives know of its existence.
Very few reefs, if all reports are to be credited, are without
monstrous clams, but they seem to acquire the habit of suddenly
disappearing--quite foreign to their bulk and stay-at-home character--when
the time of anticipated capture approaches. One up a little north was
stated to be over 10 feet long, and to weigh at least a ton, and 14 feet
was alleged to be the size of another. But all disappear like
will-o'-the-wisps when the search-party arrives on the scene, and none
but ordinary specimens, that have no reputation to maintain, are there
to flout the ardour of the collector.

Circumscribed as it is, the garden of coral in Brammo Bay, now slowly
recovering its lost loveliness, supplies an excellent field for the
observation of some of the most wonderful of the processes of Nature. In
many respects it is a miniature, as most fringing reefs seem to be, of
the Great Barrier.

It would be an exhibition of hopeless vanity to attempt to describe the
many varieties of coral and fish and crabs and strange grotesque
creatures low in the scale of life which are unceasingly at work within
"coo-ee." The complexity of the subject from a scientific aspect is
sufficient justification for reluctance to set down anything beyond
casual experiences and personal observation, and the record of
ever-recurring pleasure obtained from the delights of the marine garden.
Special attainments and varied lore must be at the command of the
student who would attempt to classify the marvels of a coral reef of
even limited scope. When it is remembered that the Great Barrier Reef of
Queensland--"one of the most valuable possessions of the state"--has a
length of 1,250 miles; that some of its outlying reefs extend as far
from the coast as 150 miles; that some approach as close as 10 or 12
miles; that the average distance of the outer edge from the coast-line
is 30 miles; that it embraces an area of 80,000 geographical square
miles, and that its corals, continuous and detached and isolated, teem
with life, it is impossible to repress feelings of astonishment, wonder,
and admiration.

Subdued before such a vast phenomenon, the commonplace man calms his
aspirations for knowledge by the reflection that industrious and skilled
observers have years of study before them ere they come to know all the
secrets of the Great Barrier.

QUEER FISH

"A strange fish! Were I in England now (as once I was), and had but this
fish painted, not a holiday fool but would give a piece of silver."


Of curious and pretty shells there are so many varieties in these warm
waters, that one must be well versed in conchology before daring to
attempt an enumeration even of the commonest. I frankly admit "a little
learning is a dangerous thing" in this interesting branch of natural
science, and therefore cannot pledge myself to give details, while eager
to set forth a few of the objects of interest, which present themselves
to the open-minded though uninformed observer of sea-beaten rocks, mud
flats, coral reefs, and the open sea.

Well may the dabbler despair when nine titles are necessary to catalogue
the oysters alone--oysters which vary from the size and
independence--and the toughness (be it said) of the clam, to delicate
morsels, so crowded and cemented in communities together, that they form
bridges between severed rocks and shelves and cornices broad and
massive; oysters flatter than plates, oysters tubular as service
gas-pipes; the gold-lipped mother of pearl, the black-lipped mother of
pearl, the cockscomb, the coral rock oyster, the small but sweet rock
oyster, two varieties of the common rock oyster, besides the trap-door,
the hammer, and another of somewhat similar shape whose official and
courtesy title are both alike unknown, but which furnished knives and
sharp-edged tools of various shapes to the original inhabitants of the
island. The gold-lipped mother of pearl is rarely found, favourable
conditions for it--deep water and strong currents--not being general. An
occasional stray shell is picked up, and so far none has betrayed the
presence of a valuable pearl. The black-lip occurs on the reefs, but not
in any great quantity, and the most plentiful variety of the edible oyster
is bulky in size and somewhat coarse in flavour.

Apart from the rarity and beauty of some of the denizens of the reefs,
there are others that are singular and interesting, and some whose
intimate acquaintance is quite undesirable, save from a scientific and
safe standpoint. A miniature marine porcupine decorates its slender
spines of white with lilac tips, sharp as needles, brittle as spun
glass, and charged with an irritant which sets all the nerves tingling.
On the reefs uncouth fish pass solitary, isolated lives, in hollows and
crevices of the coral, sealed up as are the malodorous hermits in rocky
cells at Lhassa, and dependent for doles upon the profuse and kindly
sea. Their bodies seem to mould themselves roughly to the shape of the
hollows to which each has grown accustomed as crude but almost inanimate
castings. To obtain perfect specimens the mould must be shattered. If
the body does not yet fill the hollow, the inhabitant clings desperately
to it, wedging itself with wonderful plasticity into odd corners and
against niches, resisting to the last efforts at eviction. Torn from its
home the fish is a feeble, helpless creature, incapable of taking care
of itself, quite unfit to be at large, though apparently belonging to
the self-reliant shark family.

More than one species of fish, it is said, inhabit these coral grottoes.
A compact creature with prominent rodent teeth ejects a spurt of water
when its retreat is approached at low tide, while about its front and
only door are strewn (after the manner of the "bones, blood and ashes"
of the two giants in the valley through which Christian of THE PILGRIM'S
PROGRESS passed) the shells of the crustaceans and molluscs it has
devoured.

Stones hide creatures of forbidding but varying shape and
colour--diminutive bodies ovate and round--brown, grey, glossy black with
brown edgings, pink with grey quarterings and grey fringe, whence
radiate five sprawling slender "legs," a foot or so long. Though doubtful
in appearance, more in consonance with the creepy imagery of a nightmare
than a reality of the better day, these are merely the shy and innocent
brittle stars. They are endowed with such exquisitive sensitiveness that
to evade capture they sacrifice, apparently without a pang, their
wriggling legs piece by piece, and each piece, large or small, squirms and
wriggles. The poet says that when the legs of one of the heroes of
"The Chevy Chase" were smitten off, "he fought upon their stumps!"
The voluntary dismemberment of the brittle star may be even more
pitiful--in fact almost complete, yet it still strives to pack away
its forlorn body in some crevice or hollow of the coral rock. It has
been asserted that no one has ever captured by hand a brittle star
perfect in all its members. "One baffled collector," said a highly
entertaining London journal recently, "who thought that he had
succeeded in coaxing a specimen into a pail, had the mortification of
seeing it dismember itself at the last moment, and asserts that the eye
which is placed at the end of a limb gave a perceptible wink as he
picked up the fragment!"

Here too, most of the "brittle stars" are self-conscious to the point
of self-obliteration. But some, though still quite worthy the specific
title FRAGILISSMA, which science has bestowed upon the tribe, may, if
taken up tenderly, be handled without the loss of a single limb, and a
limb more or less can hardly be of consequence to a creature which, no
greater than half a walnut shell, possesses five, each 12 or 14 inches
long, and supplied with innumerable feet. Further, so far, none of the
vestiges of those that have committed the form of hari-kari, fashionable
among the species, has been observed to behave in any way unbecoming the
shyest, most retiring and most sensitive of creatures. The brittle star
discards its limbs, or the best part of them, in the meekest manner
possible.

To enumerate the smaller and lowlier of the many creatures that live on
the coral reef would be a task utterly beyond ordinary capability. The
reader must be content with reference to a few of the more conspicuous
of the denizens.

THE WARTY GHOUL

Beware of the stone fish (SYNANCEIA HORRIDA), the death adder of the
sea, called also the sea-devil, because of its malice; the warty ghoul
because, perhaps, of its repulsiveness; the lion fish, because of its
habit of lurking in secret places; the sea scorpion for its venom; and
by the blacks "Mee-hee." Loathsome, secretive, inert, rough and jagged
in outline, wearing tufts and sprays of seaweed on its back, scarcely to
be distinguished from the rocks among which it lurks, it is armed with
spines steeped in the cruelest venom. Many fish are capable of
inflicting painful and even dangerous wounds, but none is to be more
dreaded than the ugly and repulsive "stone fish." Haply, it is
comparatively rare. Conceal itself as it may among the swaying seaweed
as it lies in ambush ready to seize its prey, or partially bury itself
in the mud, it seldom eludes the shrewd observation of the blacks. With
a grunt of satisfaction it is impaled with a fish-spear and placed
squirming on a rock to be battered to pulp with its prototype--a stone.
Utter destruction is the invariable fate of any stone fish detected in
these waters, the belief of the blacks being that in default fatal
effects follow a wound. But a black who suffers the rare chance of
contact fortifies his theoretical cure of pulverising the offending fish
by immersing the injured foot or hand in running water for a whole day,
the popular treatment for all venomous wounds. As to the effect of the
wound they say, "Suppose that fella nail go along your foot, you sing
out all a same bullocky all night. Leg belonga you swell up and jump
about? Bingie (belly) belonga you, sore fella. Might you die." One boy
described the detested creature--"That fella like stone. Head belonga
him no good--all hole." A graphic way of detailing a rugged depression in
the head, which conveys the idea that the bones have been staved in by a
blow with a hammer.

The stone fish resembles in character and habits the death adder. Its
disposition is pacific, it has no forwardness of temper; is never
willing to obtrude itself on notice, trusting to immobility and to its
similitude to the grey rocks and mud and brown alga to escape detection.
Unless it is actually handled or inadvertently trodden upon, it is as
innocent and as harmless as a canary. Why then should it be furnished
with such dreadful weapons of offence? A full dozen of the keenest of
spines, all in a row, extend from the depression at the back of the head
towards the tail, each spine hidden in a jagged and uneven fringe,
which, when the fish is in its natural element, can scarcely be
distinguished from seaweed. Not until the warty ghoul acquires the
sagacity which accompanies ripe age and experience, does it encourage
deceptive plumes of innocent algae to anchor themselves to its back.
Then it is that detection is beyond ordinary skill, and its presence
fraught with danger. In a specimen 8 inches long, the first spine,
counting from the head, can be exposed half an inch, the second and
chief fully three-quarters, and the remainder graduate from half to a
quarter of an inch. Each spine--clear opal blue--is surrounded by a sac of
colourless liquid (presumed to contain the poisonous element), which
squirts out as the spine is unsheathed. On the sides, and in lesser
numbers on the belly, are irregular rows of miniature craters which on
being depressed eject, to a distance of a foot or more, a liquid
resembling in colour milk with a tinge of lavender. Fast on the points
of a spear the fish gives an occasional and violent spasmodic jerk, when
the prettily tinted liquid is ejected from all the little cones. After a
pause, during which it seems to concentrate its energies, there is
another and another twitch, each the means of sprinkling broadcast what
is said to be a corrosive liquid, almost as virulent as vitriol. From
almost any part of the body this liquid exudes or can be expelled.

With its upturned cavernous mouth (interiorly a forbidding sickly
green), its spines, its cones, its eruptions, its ejecta, its great
fan-shaped pectoral fins, and its deformities generally, the stone
fish well deserves the specific title of HORRIDA. Moreover, has it
not a gift which would have brought it to the stake a few score
years ago, as a sinful, presumptuous and sacrilegious witch--that
of living for an hour or two out of its natural element. It deserves
the bad eminence to which it has been raised by the blacks on accounts
of looks alone, and if the poisonous qualities are in line with its
hideousness, one can but pause and ponder why and wherefore such a
creature has existence in "this best of all possible worlds." But it is
known that to the Chinese it is dainty. They pay for it with good grace
as much as 2s. 6d. per lb., and the flavour is said to resemble crab.

BURRA-REE

Another inhabitant of the coral garden to be avoided is the balloon fish
(TETRAODON OCELLATUS), which distends itself to the utmost capacity of
its oval body when lifted from the water. The flesh is generally
believed to be poisonous, though of tempting appearance. Authorities
assert that the pernicious principle is confined to the liver and
ovaries, and that if these are removed as soon as the fish is captured
the flesh may be eaten with impunity. Let others careless of pain and
tired of life, experiment. Middle-aged blacks tell that when a monstrous
"Burra-ree" was speared here, notwithstanding its evil repute, some of
the hungry ones cooked and ate of it. All who did so died or were sick
unto death. Some years ago two Malays in the vicinity of Cairns partook
of the flesh and died in consequence. No black will handle the fish, and
a dog which may hunt one in shallow water and mouth it, partakes of a
prompt and violent emetic. Blacks are very careful to avoid touching it
with anything shorter than a fish-spear, being of opinion that the
poison resides in or on the skin, and that the flesh becomes impregnated
when the skin is broken.

The balloon fish is toothless, the jaws resembling the beak of a turtle,
and in some species both the upper and the lower jaws have medial
sutures like those of a snake. Was there not a Roman statesman or
warrior whose jaws were fitted with a consolidated and continuous
structure of ivory instead of the ordinary separate teeth?

The balloon fish depends upon its inconspicuousness and harmony with its
environment in the struggle for existence, for, no doubt, there are in
the sea fish so strong of stomach as to accept it without a spasm. It
will allow a boat to be paddled over it as it floats--a brown
balloon--almost motionless in the water without evincing alarm, but it
makes a commotion enough for a dozen when a spear is fast in its back.

FOUR THOUSAND LIKE ONE

Among the more remarkable fish that people these waters is a species
that does not come within the limits of my limited reading on the
curious things of Nature. No doubt, it is well known to the initiated,
but I take the opportunity of saying that these notes are not penned
with the presumptuous notion of enlightening the learned and the wise,
but for the edification, mayhap, of those who do not know, who have no
means of acquiring information first hand, to whom text-books are
unavailable, and who are not above sharing the pleasures of one whose
observations are superficial, and to whom hosts of common things in
Nature are rare and entertaining.

In the clear water of Brammo Bay, a greenish black object, a yard across
by about a yard and a half long, moved slowly along, swaying this way
and that, but maintaining a fairly accurate course consistent with the
shore. As the boat drifted, it seemed as if an unsophisticated sting-ray
had lapsed into the blissfulness of ease, careless alike of mankind and of
its enemies in the water. When within reach the boat-hook was used as a
spear more to startle the indolent fish than in the vain hope of
effecting its capture. The boat-hook passed through what appeared to be
the middle of the creature with a splash, and four or five fish, about 8
inches long, and of narrow girth, floated away, stunned, killed by the
shock. Then it was realised that the apparently solid fish was really a
compact mass of little fish, moving along with common impulse and
volition, each fish having a sinuous, wriggling motion. So closely were
they packed that it was impossible without careful scrutiny to discern
individual members of the group, and so intimate their association and
so remarkable their mutual sympathy, that they seemed to possess minds
with but a single thought, hearts that beat as one. Here were not forty,
not four hundred, but more likely four thousand living, moving, and
having their being as a single individual. Dispersed for an instant as
the boat-hook or paddle was driven through it, the mass coalesced
automatically and instantly as if controlled by mechanical force, or
composed of some resilient substance, and swayed again on its course,
while the dead and stunned drifted away.

Examining the specimens procured, it was found that they resembled
lampreys in shape, olive green in colour, with pale lemon-coloured
streaks and marks. Each of the gill cases terminated in a two-edged spur,
transparent as glass, and keen as only Nature knows how to make her
weapons of defence.

Presently in obedience to some instinct the shoal left the shallow water
inshore, and we watched it glide among the brown waving seaweed to the
line of dull red, which indicated the outer edge of the coral reef and
saw it no more. This, my piscatorial pastor and master says, was no
doubt a community of striped cat-fish, (PLOTOSUS ANGUILLARIS).

THE BAILER SHELL

Adhering to a rock by a short stumpy stalk, sometimes sealed firmly to a
loose stone, you may find an object in form and structure resembling an
elongated, coreless pineapple, composed of a leathery semi-gelatinous,
semi-transparent substance, dirty yellow in colour. It is the spawn case
or the receptacle of the ova (if that term be allowable), and the cradle
of what is commonly known as the bailer shell (CYMBIUM AETHIOPICUM) the
"Ping-ah" of the blacks, one of the most singular and interesting
features that these reefs have for the sight-seer. In its composition
there may be fifty, more or less cohering, conic sections, each
containing an unborn shell in a distinct and separate stage of
development. At the base, the shells are, perhaps, just emerging each
from its special compartment, as a young bee emerges from its cell--each
a thin frail shell, about half an inch long, white with pale yellow and
light brown markings. In time, should it survive all the accidents and
assaults to which on entering the world it is beset, the tiny shell will
develop into an expansively-mouthed vessel. The next succeeding row will
be in a less matured state, and so the development diminishes towards
the apex. Some of the compartments are occupied by shells transparent,
colourless and fragile in the extreme, some by shells having merely the
rudiment of form, until at the apex the cells contain but a drop or so
of sparkling, quivering jelly.

The bailer shell alive is like an egg, in the fact that it is full of
meat. Many marine shells have surprisingly diminutive fleshy occupants,
however great their tenacity and strength. The animal inhabiting a
large-sized bailer weighs several pounds, the flesh being tough,
leathery and of unwholesome appearance. When it has decayed, the shell
being thin, the cavity is phenomenally capacious. Large specimens
contain a couple of gallons of water, and as the shape is most
convenient, and there is neither rust nor moth to corrupt, their
aptitude as effective and durable bailers for boats is apparent. Some
name them the boxer shell, tracing resemblance to a boxing-glove,
others the "boat," and again the melon shell. Blacks use them for a variety
of purposes--bailers, buckets, saucepans, drinking vessels, baskets, and
even  wardrobes. They represent, perhaps, the only utensil in which a
black can boil food, and it is an astonishing though not edifying
spectacle when the fat-layered intestine of a turtle, sodden in salt water
just brought to a boil in a bailer shell, is eagerly devoured by hungry
blacks.

A RIVAL TO THE OYSTER

Down the caverns of the submerged rocks and blocks of coral are two or
three species of ECHINUS (sea-urchins), with long and slender spines
radiating from their spheroid bodies. One (DIADERNA SETOSA) is
distinguished by what appears to be precious jewels of sparkling
blue--believed to be visual organs--which lose their brilliancy
immediately on removal from the water. Another has a centre of coral
pink. The black spines, 10 inches or so long, are exquisitely sharp, and
brittle in the extreme. Some believe that the animals are endowed with
the power of thrusting these weapons forward to meet the intrusive hand,
for unless approached with caution they prick the fingers while yet
seemingly out of reach. Admitting that I have never yet attempted rudely
to grasp this creature (which certainly is capable of presenting its
array of spines whither it wills) while submerged, for the mere purpose
of testing its ability to defend itself--my enthusiasm being tempered by
the caution of the mere amateur--it may be said that some of the spines
appear to be blunt. All could hardly be "sharper than needles," for
being used as a means of locomotion among and over and in the crevices
of the coral and rocks, some are necessarily worn at the points. With
care they may be handled without injury, though at first glance it
would seem impossible to avoid the numerous weapons. Imagine a brittle
tennis ball stuck full of long slender needles, many tapering to
microscopic keenness at the points, climbing stiffly along the
edges of rocks by a few of the stilt-like needles, and a very fair
figure of the ECHINUS is presented. As a curious and beautiful creature
he is full of interest, and as an adjunct to one's diet he is, in due
season, full of excellent meat. We take the ugly and forbidding oyster
with words of gratitude and flattery on our lips, and why pass with
disrespect the creature that is beautiful and wonderful as well as
savoury? To enjoy it to perfection, extricate the creature from his
lurking place far down in the blue crevice of the coral, with a
fish-spear. Don't experiment with your fingers. On the gunwale of your
boat divest it of its slender black spines, and with a knife fairly
divide the spheroid body, and a somewhat nauseous-looking meat is
disclosed; but no more objectionable in appearance than the substance of
a fully ripe passion fruit. The flavour! Ah, the flavour! It surpasseth
the delectable oyster. It hath more of the savour and piquancy of the
ocean. It clingeth to the palate and purgeth it of grosser tastes. It
recalleth the clean and marvellous creature, whose life has been spent
in cool coral grottoes, among limestone and the salty essences of the
pure and sparkling sea, and if you be wise and devout and grateful, you
forthwith give praise for the enjoyment of a new and rare sensation.

The ECHINUS is said to be essentially herbivorous, but my cursory
observation leads me to the opinion (very humbly proffered) that it
fulfils a definite purpose in the order of Nature, too, and depends for
sustenance, or for the building up of its structure, upon certain
constituents of the coral. Does it not break and grind down to powder
the ramparts of coral? Clumsy and ill-shaped as it appears to be in
other respects, it has jaws of wonderful design, and known to the
ancients as "Aristotle's lantern." They are composed of five strips of
bony substance, with enamel-like tips overlying each other in the centre
of the disc-shaped mouth. With this splendid instrument the creature grips
and breaks off or gnaws off, or bores out crumbs of coral which you find,
apparently in process of digestion, as you render him an acceptable
morsel. Scientific observers affirm that by means of an acid which the
ECHINUS secretes, it disintegrates the rock, and that the jaws are used
merely to clear away the softened rubbish. How is it then that the
globular cavity is often well-ballasted with tiny crisp chunks of coral
rock? Possibly to the assimilation of the lime is due, in some
measure, the singularly sweet and expressive savour. So we see the
coral-reef-building polyps toiling with but little rest, almost
incessantly labouring to raise architectural devices of infinite design,
and other creatures as industriously tearing them down to form the solid
foundation of continents.

Another species of ECHINUS eludes its enemies by the adoption of a
cumbersome and forbidding mask. Ineffectively armed, the spines though
numerous being short and frail, it holds empty bivalve shells on its
uppermost part, The unstudied accumulation of debris--a fair sample of
the surrounding ocean floor--would fail to fix notice, but that it moves
bodily and without apparent cause. Inspection penetrates the disguise.
Wheresoever the ECHINUS goes--its progress is infinitely slow--it
carries a self-imposed burden--the refuse of dead and inanimate
things--that it may, by imposition upon its foes, continue in the
way of life.

SHARKS AND SKIPPERS

Local blacks have no fear of sharks. They take every care to avoid
crocodiles, exercising great caution and circumspection when crossing
inlets and tidal creeks. So shrewd are their observations that they will
describe distinctive marks of particular crocodiles and indicate their
favourite resorts. Their indifference to sharks is founded on the belief
that those which inhabit shallow water among the islands never attack a
living man. Blacks remain for hours together in the water on the reefs
when beche-de-mer fishing, and the record of an attack is rare indeed.
They are far more fearful of the monstrous groper (PROMICROPS ITAIARA),
which lying inert among the coral blocks and boulders of the Barrier Reef,
bolts anything and everything which comes its way, and which will follow
a man in the water with dogged determination, foreign to the nervous,
suspicious shark. Recently a vigorous young black boy was attacked by a
groper while diving for beche-de-mer. The fish took the boy's head into
its capacious mouth, mauling him severely about the head and shoulders,
and but for his valiant and determined struggles would doubtless have
succeeded in killing him.

Such an incident as the following does not convince blacks that the
sharks of the Barrier Reef are dangerous. The captain of a beche-de-mer
cutter was paddling in a dinghy along the edge of a detached reef not
many miles from Dunk Island, while several of his boys were swimming and
diving. Suddenly one of them was seized and so terribly mutilated that
he died in a few minutes. Although the captain was within 8 or 10 feet
of the boy, and three of his mates not more than a few yards off, though
all were wearing swimming goggles which enable them when diving to
distinguish objects at a considerable range, though the sea was calm and
clear and the water barely 10 feet deep, no one saw a shark or any other
fish capable of inflicting such injuries as had caused the death of
"Jimmy," nor was there any disturbance of the surface of the water. Years
before a countryman of the unfortunate "Jimmy" was mauled by a small
shark, but got away, though crippled for life. By some quaint process of
reasoning the companions of the boy who was killed connected his death
with the attack upon the other, the scene of which was 200 miles
distant, and became convinced that he had been the victim of another kind
altogether "--a sort of mysterious marine debil-debil," not known to
entire satisfaction by the best-informed black boy, and quite beyond the
comprehension of the dull-witted white man. Having thus conclusively to
their minds set at naught the theory that a shark was responsible, it was
absolutely unreasonable to fear sharks generally. Why should they blame
a shark when it was established beyond doubt that nothing but a
"debil-debil" could have killed "Jimmy"? Their opinion was founded on this
invincible array of logic: If a shark had killed "Jimmy," it must have
been seen. Nothing was seen, therefore it must have been a "debil-debil."
And the incident was accepted as a further and most emphatic proof of the
contention that sharks do not "fight" live black boys. The single instance
at Princess Charlotte Bay was an exception.

Our tame sharks seem to have no fear of animals larger even than man. A
shallow stretch of water half a mile broad separates the islets of
Mung-un-gnackum and Kumboola from Dunk Island. At low-water spring-tides
two connecting bands are exposed--a sand-bank and a broad, flat coral
reef, between which is a lagoon, in which the water may be 6 or 7 feet
deep. The horses of the estate are in the habit of making excursions to
Kumboola, the desire for change being manifested so strongly that
occasionally they will swim across when the tide is full. One of the
horses was returning from an outing when there was a depth of about 3
feet on the sand-bank. As it approached the beach a shark, apparently
making out from the lagoon, was seen suddenly to change its course, and
follow the horse at a discreet distance. When only 50 yards from the
beach the shark made an impetuous rush, and snapped at one of the
horse's forefeet. The horse swerved, plunged and lashed out vigorously
and with such excellent precision that the shark was kicked like a
football out of the water. It appeared to be 5 or 6 feet long, and to be
quite satisfied that the horse, like a black, was not to be molested
until it was past resistance. The horse bore the marks of the affray on
the pastern for weeks.

Again when a favourite dog jumped overboard from the boat in an eager
but ridiculous venture after a "skipper," a shark detected the dog and
shadowed it. As we went about to pick up the dog the dorsal fin of the
shark indicated the wily, leisurely way in which it was keeping pace,
reconnoitring and waiting until its prey was exhausted, while the dog did
not appear to realise that a "frightful fiend" did close behind him swim.
As the boat approached, the shark swerved off flippantly, but hovered in
the vicinity, unsatisfied as to the identity of the new and strange animal
that had so unaccountably appeared in its natural element and as
suddenly disappeared. A rifle bullet, a little to the rear of the base
of the dorsal fin, however, made it wobble and bustle away on a most
eccentric route.

The term "skipper," purely local, is intended to distinguish that
singular fish, of the "long tom" (ZYLOSURUS, sp.) or alligator-pike,
which shoots from the water and skips along by striking and flipping the
surface with its tail, while keeping the rest of its pike-like body
rigid and almost perpendicular. Each stroke is accomplished by a
ludicrous wriggling movement. It would seem that by the impact of the
tail upon the water the fish maintains its abnormal position and also
sustains for a time its initial velocity. For a hundred yards or so its
speed is considerable, equal to the flight of a bird, but the length of
each successive skip rapidly diminishes, as the original impulse is
exhausted, and then the fish disappears as suddenly as it shot into
view. The "skipper" is an exceptionally supple fish. It is excellent
eating, probably the sweetest fish of these waters, and it is much
appreciated by blacks, who call it by the pretty name of "Curram-ill,"
and spear it whensoever chance affords.

GORGEOUS AND CURIOUS

The most gorgeous denizen of these waters is likewise one of the most
curious--a fish resembling the surf parrot fish (PSEUDOSCARUS
RIVULATUS), but seeming to surpass even that brilliant creature in
colouring. It subsists on limpets and may be seen, a lustrous blue,
at half tide feeding in favourite localities. The shape of the head
and shoulders reveals something of the character of the fish, though
the purpose of its resplendent appearance may not be obvious. Both
head and jaws typify strength and leverage power. The mouth resembles
the beak of a turtle or rather that of a balloon fish (TETRAODON).
The under jaw protrudes slightly, and is fitted (in the case of the
male) with two prominent canine teeth; the upper jaw has also a pair
of projecting teeth of similar character. Each of the jaws consists
of two loosely sutured segments, the articulation of the lower being
much the freer. The gullet is horny and rasp-like, and in its exterior
opening is an auxiliary set of teeth of most remarkable formation.
The upper part of this interior set in some respect resembles the
under jaws of a land animal, but there are marked distinctions.
It consists of two bony structures, slightly curved outwards,
lying parallel to each other and bound together by tough ligaments
which not only permit a certain amount of independent lateral
movement, but also independent action forwards and backwards. Each of
the structures is fitted with a dozen to sixteen closely packed teeth,
and at the rear of each is a magazine charged with five or six more,
ready to move up and forward into position for active service as those
ahead are worn away. The principle of modern magazine rifles is
surprisingly exemplified by these reserve teeth. The lower jaw or rather
dental plate resembles a flattened palate; the whole surface being
studded with teeth, the edges of which overlap. It may be described as a
piece of mosaic work in white and ivory. There are between sixty and
seventy teeth resembling incisors on the dental plate. The whole seem to
be in a state of perennial renewal to compensate for wear and tear. As
those of the front row are broken or worn down, the next succeeding row
occupies the frontal position. The teeth are deeply set in the bony base
of the inverted palate, or rather obtrude but slightly above the
surface, their office being to break down and grind to powder flinty
food.

The outward and visible teeth of the male are apparently given as
weapons of defence, since they do not occur in the female, which has
four back teeth. From their prominent position the teeth of the male
must also be used for grasping and levering or pulling steadfast
limpets from rocks. They needs must be hard and have strength as well
as science at the back of them, for a limpet can resist a pulling
force of nearly 2000 times its own weight. The sutures of the jaws
of the fish enable it to accommodate its grip to the various sizes
of limpets, and to take a fair and square hold, while the lower jaw
seems to act as a fulcrum when the leverage is applied. But the
exterior jaws and teeth are devoid of interest, compared with the
interior set, which form an ideal pulverising apparatus. To those
who are versed in ichthyology, these are known as pharyngeal teeth,
because they are connected with the pharynx. Such teeth are present
in some form or other in all true fish, but usually in a degraded
form. In the rainbow and parrot fish they are highly specialised,
otherwise the pulverisation of the hard shell of molluscs would be
impossible. The interior of the mouth of certain species of the shark
family, given specially to a diet of oysters, is thickly set with
a series of uniformly diffused minute teeth, and another fish of
these seas has a gizzard composed of an intensely tough material,
lined with membrane resembling shark's skin. This fish swallows
cockles and such like molluscs whole, and grinds them in its gizzard.

And the colouring of this wonderful creature! The semi-transparent
dorsal fin, which extends without a break from the back of the head
to the tail, is broad and slightly scalloped. It displays an upper
edging of radiant blue, a broad band of iridescent pink with greenish
opal-like lights, and a narrow streak of the richest emerald green,
close along the back. The body is covered with large scales, the
colouring of which conveys a general appearance of an elaborate
system of slightly elongated hexagons, generally blue outlined with
pink, sometimes golden-yellow combined with green; and the colours flash
and change with indescribable radiance. The head is decorated with bands
of pink, orange and green; the pectoral fins are pale green with a bold
medial stripe of puce, and the tail is a study of blue-green and puce.
When the fish is drawn from the water the colours live, the play of
lights being marvellously lovely. The colours differ, and they also vary
in intensity in individuals. Though the prevailing tint may be radiant
blue, it will be shot with gold in one and with pink in another.

The flesh is edible, though (as is common with parrot fish) not
particularly admirable with regard to flavour. It is wonderful and
beautiful. Are not these qualities all-sufficient? Must everything be
good to eat? To the natives of the island this jewel of the sea is
known as "Oo-ril-ee," and to scientists as belonging to the scaroid
family.

TURTLE GENERALLY

Three species of turtle frequent these waters--the loggerhead
(THALASSOCHELYS CARETTA), the hawksbill (CHELONE IMBRICATA), and the
green (CHELONE MYDAS). Both of the latter are herbivorous and edible;
but the flesh of the first-named, a fish and mollusc eater, is rank and
strong, and it is therefore not hunted, the shell being of little if any
value. Loggerhead, however, is not disregarded by the blacks, though to
the unaccustomed nose the flesh has a most repulsive smell. It is
powerful and fierce when molested. One which was harpooned, on being
hauled up to the boat seized the gunwale and left the marks of its beak
deep in the wood. The creature seems also to be endowed with greater
vitality than the other species, and this fact may excite the wonder of
those who have seen the heart of a green turtle pulsate long after
removal from the body, and the limbs an hour after separation shrink
from the knife and quiver.

The hawks-bill furnishes the tortoiseshell of commerce, and is much
sought after. The flesh is highly tainted with the specific flavour
of turtle, and therefore objectionable, though blacks relish it.
Further north, in some localities, it is generally believed that the
flesh of the hawks-bill may be imbued with a deadly poison. Great care is
exercised in the killing and butchering, lest a certain gland, said to
be located in the neck or shoulder, be opened, as flesh cut with a knife
which has touched the critical part becomes impregnated. Here, though
the blacks take precautions in the butchering a hawks-bill (being aware
of its bad repute elsewhere), they have had no actual experience of the
unwholesomeness of the flesh. One old seafarer acknowledges that he
nearly "pegged out" as the result of a hearty meal of the liver of a
hawks-bill. As is well known, fish edible in one region may be poisonous
in another (Saville-Kent); the same principle may apply to the turtle.

The flesh of the luth or leathery turtle (DERMOCHELYS CORIACEA) which
diets on fish, crustacea, molluscs, radiates, and other animals, causes
symptoms of poisoning; but the luth does not appear to be common in this
part of the Pacific, though it occurs in Torres Straits.

In a standard work on natural history it is asserted that the natives
remove the overlapping plates of tortoiseshell from the hawks-bill by
lighting a fire on the back of the creature, causing them to peel off
easily. "After the plates have been removed, the turtle is permitted to
go free, and after a time it is furnished with a second set of plates."
Surely this might be classed among the fabulous stories of Munchausen.
As the lungs of the turtle lie close to the anterior surface of the
carapace, the degree of heat sufficient to cause the plates to come off
would assuredly be fatal. Possibly there is explanation at hand. The
turtle being killed, the carapace is removed and placed over a gentle
fire, and then the plates are eased off with a knife. But that method is
not generally approved. Professional tortoiseshell-getters either trust
to the heat of the sun or bury the shell in clean sand, and when
decomposition sets in, the valuable plates are detached freely. Exposure
to fire deteriorates the quality of the product unless great care is
exercised.

The green turtle, with thin dovetailing plates, is the most plentiful
and valued principally for food. But all green turtle are not acceptable.
An old bull is so rank, that "there is no living near it--it would infect
the North Star!" There are many Europeans who cannot relish even good
green turtle, however tender, delicate, and sweet it may be. The worthy
chaplain of Anson's fleet who "wrote up" the famous voyages, has some
shrewd observations on the subject of green turtle, which he refers to
as the most delicious of all flesh, "so very palatable and salubrious,"
though proscribed by the Spaniards as unwholesome and little less than
poisonous. He suggests that the strange appearance of the animal may
have been the foundation of "this ridiculous and superstitious aversion."
Perhaps the poor Spaniards of those days happened in the first instance
upon an ancient bull, or a hawks-bill, and tapped the poison gland, or a
loggerhead or a luth, and came ever after to entertain, with right good
cause, a holy terror of turtle, irrespective of species.

An interesting phase in the life-history of the green turtle is the
deception the female employs when about to lay eggs. Her "nests" are
shallow pits in the sand. She may make several during a hasty visit to a
favourite beach, while postponing the laying until the following day.
Whether this is a conscious stratagem by which the turtle hopes to
mislead and bewilder other animals partial to the eggs, or merely a
caprice--one of those idle fancies which the feminine part of animated
Nature frequently indulge in at a time when their faculties are at
unusual tension--does not appear to be quite understood. When serious
business is intended, the turtle scoops new pits, leaving some of them
partially and others quite unfilled. These also appear to be intended to
delude. That in which the eggs are deposited is filled in and the
surface smoothed and flattened, and in cases where the nest is any
distance beyond the limits of high-water, it is frequently carelessly
covered with grass and dead leaves. The heat of the sun hatches the
eggs. But the guile of the turtle is limited. However artfully the real
nest may be concealed, the tracks to and fro as well as the tracks to
and from the many counterfeits are as unmistakable, until the wind
obliterates them, as the tracks of a treble-furrow plough. The chances
against an unintellectual lover of turtle eggs discovering a fresh nest
off-hand are in exact ratio to the number of deceptive appearances. In a
few days all the tracks are blotted out, and then none but those skilled
or possessed of keen perception may detect the nest. Blacks probe all
the likely spots with spears, and soon fix on the right one.

In a certain locality where the hawks-bill turtle congregate in untold
numbers, a remarkable deviation from the general habit has been
observed. Several of the islands are composed of a kind of conglomerate
of coral debris, shells and sand. With strange perversity some turtle
excavate in the rock cylindrical shafts about 18 inches deep by 6 inches
diameter with smooth perpendicular sides. There is no adjunct to the
flippers which appears to be of service in the digging, yet the holes
are such that a man would find it impossible to make without the use of
a chisel. Whether they are dug with the flippers, or bored, or bitten
out with the bill, does not appear to be known. Eggs varying in numbers
from 120 to 150 are deposited in each shaft, and covered loosely with
the spoil from the excavation.

When the young are hatched only those on top are able to clamber out.
They represent but a very small percentage of the family. The majority
die miserably, being unable to get out of what is their tomb as well as
their birthplace. In the vicinity are sandy beaches on which other
hawks-bill turtle deposit their eggs in accordance with time-honoured
plans, and successfully rear large families. Why some individuals should
be at such pains to defeat the universal instinct for the propagation
and preservation of their species, is a puzzle. Moreover, hundreds of
these anomalous nests are excavated some distance beyond high-water,
in country where the growth of grass is so strong and dense as to
form an almost impenetrable barrier to those infantile turtle which
have the fortune to get out of the death-traps, and in obedience
to instinct, endeavour to reach the sea. Is it that Nature, "so careful
of the type" imposes Malthusian practices to avoid the danger of
overcrowding the "never-surfeited sea?" Notwithstanding the positive
check upon increase, the young are produced in myriads.

"Sambo," a black boy, who had visited this isle, on his return to
shores where turtle are less numerous, sought to impress his master with
the substantial charms of the faraway North. "When," he said, "you come
close up, you look out. Hello! You think about stone. No stone;
altogether turtle!"

There, to within a recent date, might be seen the bones of fourteen
great green turtle side by side in a row. At first glance the scene
seems a sanctified death-place for the species, until you are informed
that a visitor to the isle, astonished at the number of turtle on the
beach, and eager to secure an abundance of fresh meat, turned over
fourteen, intending to call again for them. Circumstances prevented him
from re-visiting the place, and the turtle, being unable to right
themselves, perished.

Personal observation and inquiries from many men whose lives may be said
to be spent among turtle on the Barrier Reef convince me that blacks
never venture to get astride a turtle in the water. One more daring and
agile may seize a turtle, and by throwing his weight aft cause the head
to tilt out of the water. The turtle then strikes out frantically with
its flippers, but the boy so counterbalances it that the head is kept
above the surface continuously, until the turtle becoming exhausted is
guided into shallow water or alongside a boat, where it is secured with
the help of others. Boys who accomplish this feat are few and far
between, though it is by no means uncommon for a turtle to be seized
while in the water and overturned, in which position it is helpless. A
turtle detected in shallow water falls a comparatively easy prey,
for on being hustled it soon loses heart and endeavours to hide its
head, ostrich-like, when it is easily captured. None unacquainted with
the skill with which the creature can spar with its flippers, and the
effectiveness of these flippers, when used as weapons of defence,
should venture to grip a turtle in its natural element.

Another species, stated to have a circumscribed habitat, has a steep
dome-shaped back, resembling at a casual glance a seamless metal
casting, with the edges abruptly turned up. The head is large, the eyes
deeply embedded in their sockets, and the animal has the power of
protruding and withdrawing the head much more extensively developed than
usual. The "death's head" staring from beneath the dome-shaped back
gives to the animal a most gruesome aspect. These details are supplied
by the master of a beche-de-mer schooner, to whom all the nooks and
corners of the Great Barrier Reef and of the other Coral Sea beyond,
from New Guinea to New Caledonia, are familiar. He says that the
species, as far as his observation goes, is confined to the
neighbourhood of one group of islands. To others this is known as the
"bastard tortoiseshell." The back is not actually seamless, but age
causes the plates to cohere so closely as to present that appearance.

THE MERMAID OF TO-DAY

Dugong (HALICORE AUSTRALIS) still frequent these waters. The rapacity of
the blacks is a rapidly diminishing factor in their extermination, and
the rushing to and fro of steamers, which it was thought would scare
away those which remain, is becoming too familiar to be fearsome. Even
in the narrow limits of Hinchinbrook Channel, through which the passing
of steamers is of everyday occurrence, they still exist, though not in
such numbers as in the early days. It would seem that the waters within
the Great Barrier Reef may long continue one of the last resorts of this
strange, uncouth, paradoxical mammal.

Half hippopotamus, half seal, yet in no way related to either, something
between a pachyderm and cetacean, the dugong is a herbivorous marine
mammal, commonly known as "the sea cow," because of its resemblance in
some particulars to that useful domesticated animal. It grazes on marine
grass (POSIDONIA AUSTRALIS), parts of the flesh very closely resemble
beef, and post-mortem examination reveals internal structure similar in
most details to those of its namesake. But, unlike the cow, the dugong
has two pectoral mammae instead of an abdominal udder, and like the
whale is unable to turn its head, the vertebrae of the neck being, if
not fused into one mass, at least compressed into a small space.

In form it resembles a seal, the body tapering from the middle to the
fish-like, bi-lobed tail. As with the whale, the flippers or arms do not
contribute any considerable means of locomotion, but are used, in the
case of the female at least, for grasping the young. When the mother is
nursing her child, holding it to her breasts, she is careful as she
rises to breathe, that it, too, may obtain a gulp of fresh air, and the
two heads emerging together present a strangely human aspect. Traces of
elementary hind legs are to be found in some small bones lying loosely
in the flesh. The skull is singularly formed, the upper jaw being bent
over the lower. The huge pendulous, rubber-like under lip, so studded
with coarse, sharp bristles as to be known as the brush, seems a
development of the under lip of the horse, and is a perfect implement
for the gathering of slimy grass.

To further detail the paradoxes of the dugong, it may be said that some
of the teeth resemble those of an elephant; that the males have ivory
tusks and of ivory their bones are made; that parts of the flesh may
hardly be distinguished from veal and other parts from fine young pork.
The freshly flayed hide is fully half an inch thick, and when cured and
dried resembles horn in consistency.

Reddish grey, sometimes almost olive green in colour, with white
blotches and sparse, coarse bristles, the animal has no comeliness,
and yet when a herd frolics in the water, rising in unison with
graceful undulatory movements for air, and the sunlight flashes in
helioscopic rays from wet backs, the spectacle is rare and fine. Rolling
and lurching along, gambolling like good-humoured, contented children,
the herd moves leisurely to and from favourite feeding-grounds,
occasionally splashing mightily with powerful tails to make fountains of
illuminated spray--great, unreflecting, sportful water-babes. Admiration
is enhanced as one learns of the affection of the dugong for its young
and its love for the companionship of its fellows. When one of a pair is
killed, the other haunts the locality for days. Its suspirations seem
sighs, and its presence melancholy proof of the reality of its
bereavement.

For some time after birth the young is carried under one or other of the
flippers, the dam hugging it affectionately to her side.

As the calf grows, it leaves its mother's embrace, but swims close
beside, following with automatic precision every twist and lurch of her
body, its own helplessness and its implicit faith in the wisdom and
protective influence of its parent being exemplified in every movement.

Blacks harpoon dugong as they do turtle, but the sport demands greater
patience and dexterity, for the dugong is a wary animal and shy, to be
approached only with the exercise of artful caution. An inadvertent
splash of the paddle or a miss with the harpoon, and the game is away
with a torpedo-like swirl. To be successful in the sport the black must
be familiar with the life-history of the creature to a certain
extent--understanding its peregrinations and the reason for them--the
strength and trend of currents and the locality of favourite
feeding-grounds. Fragments of floating grass sometimes tell where the
animal is feeding. An oily appearance on the surface of the sea shows
its course, and if the wind sits in the right quarter the keen-scented
black detects its presence when the animal has risen to breathe at a
point invisible to him. He must know also of the affection of the female
for her calf, and be prepared to play upon it implacably. In some
localities the blacks were wont to manufacture nets for the capture
of dugong, and nets are still employed by them under the direction
of white men; for the flesh of the dugong is worthily esteemed,
and oil from the blubber--sweet, and limpid as distilled water--is
said to possess qualities far superior to that obtained from the
decaying livers of cod fish in the restoration of health and vigour
to constitutions enfeebled and wasted by disease,

Using a barbless point attached to a long and strong line, and fitted
into a socket in the heavy end of the harpoon shaft, the black waits and
watches. With the utmost caution and in absolute silence he follows in
his canoe the dugong as it feeds, and strikes as it rises to breathe. A
mad splash, a wild rush! The canoe bounces over the water as the line
tightens. Its occupant sits back and steers with flippers of bark, until
as the game weakens he is able to approach and plunge another harpoon
into it. Sometimes the end of the line is made fast to a buoy of light
wood which the creature tows until exhausted.

So contractible and tough is the skin, that once the point of the
harpoon is embedded in it, nothing but a strong and direct tug will
release it. Some blacks substitute for the barbless point four pieces of
thin fencing wire--each about 4 inches long, bound tightly together at
one end, the loose ends being sharpened and slightly diverged. This is
fastened to the line and inserted in the socket of the haft, and when it
hits it holds to the death, though the animal may weigh three-quarters
of a ton.

It is stated that the blacks towards Cape York having secured the animal
with a line attached to a dart insufficient in length to penetrate the
hide and the true skin, seize it by the nose, and plug the nostrils with
their fingers until it drowns. Here, too, the natives have discovered
that the nose is the vulnerable part of the dugong, and having first
harpooned it in any part of the body, await an opportunity of spearing
it there, with almost invariably speedy fatal effects.

The flesh of a young dugong is sweet and tender, and the blubber,
dry-cured after the manner of bacon with equal quantities of salt and
sugar and finally smoked, quite a delicacy.

Not long since an opportunity was given of examining the effects of a
bullet on a dugong. We had harpooned a calf perhaps a year and a half
old, and as it rose to the surface in the first struggle for freedom, I
shot it, using a Winchester repeating carbine, 25-35, carrying a metal
patched bullet. There was no apparent wound, and on the second time of
rising another bullet was lodged in the head, causing instantaneous
death. When the animal came to be skinned, it was found that the first
bullet had completely penetrated the body, the tough, rubber-like hide
so contracting over the wounds of entry and exit as to entirely prevent
external bleeding. The fatal bullet had almost completely pulverised the
skull, the bones of which were ivory-like in texture. The appearance of
the skull might have led to the conclusion that an explosive instead of
a nickel-plated bullet had been used, while if the first bullet had not
penetrated several folds of the intestines, no doubt it would have
caused the animal very little inconvenience.

The dugong rises to the surface at frequent intervals for air, and the
ancients in the rounded heads of the mother and her offspring fancied a
resemblance to human beings, who sought to lure the unwary to their
mansions beneath the waves. Hence the scientific title "Sirenia" for
the family to which the dugong belongs. Unpoetical people as the coastal
blacks of Queensland are, yet they were among the few who had for
neighbours the shy creatures upon whose existence was founded the quaint
and engaging legends of the mermaid.

But now we make prosaic bacon from the mermaid's blubbery sides. And
those long tresses which she was wont to comb as she gloated over her
comeliness in her oval mirror and sang those alluring strains, so
soothing, so sweet, yet so deceiving--those wet and tangled locks, where
are they? Is the whole realm of Nature becoming bald? The hair
of the mermaid of to-day is coarse, short and spiky, with inches
between each sprout. For a comb she uses a jagged rock, or cruel coral;
for her vanity there is no semblance of pardon; and for her seductive
plaint, has it not degenerated into a gulping unmelodious sigh, as she
fills her capacious lungs with atmospheric air?

BECHE-DE-MERE

Anticipating the possibility of readers away from the Coral Sea, and to
whom no reference to the subject is available, wondering as to the form
and character of beche-de-mer, let it be said that the commonest kind in
these waters is an enormous slug, varying from 6 inches long by an inch
and a half in diameter, to 3 feet 6 inches by 4 inches. Rough and
repulsive in appearance, and sluggish in habit, it has great power of
contractibility. It may assume a dumpy oval shape, and again drag out
its slow length until it resembles an attenuated German sausage, black
in colour. Its "face" may be obtruded and withdrawn at pleasure, or
rather will, for what creature could have pleasure in a face like a
ravelled mop.

Termed also trepang, sea cucumber, sea slug, cotton spinner, and known
scientifically as Holothuridae, no less than twenty varieties have been
described and are identified by popular and technical titles.

The "fish" are collected by black boys on the coral reefs--dived for,
picked up with spears from punts, or by hand in shallow water. Some
prefer to fish at high-water, for then the beche-de-mere are less shy,
and emerge from nooks in the rocks and coral, and in the limpid water on
the Barrier are readily seen at considerable depths. Then the boys dive
or dexterously secure the fish with their slender but tough spears, 4
fathoms long.

At the curing station (frequently on board the owner's schooner or
lugger) they are boiled, the fish supplying nearly all the water for
their own cooking. Then each is cut open lengthwise, with a sharp knife,
and by a thin skewer of wood its interior surface is exposed. Placed
on wire-netting trays in series the fish are smoked or desiccated
in a furnace heated, preferably, with black or red mangrove wood,
and finally exposed to the sun to eliminate dampness which may have
been absorbed on removal from the smoke-house. When the fish leave
the smoke-house they have shrunk to small dimensions, and resemble
pieces of smoked buffalo hide, more or less curled and crumpled.
In this condition they are sent away to China and elsewhere to be
used in soup. Australian gourmands are beginning to appreciate this
delicacy, which is said to be marvellously strengthening, though
without elaborate cooking it is almost tasteless, and therefore
unlike dugong soup, which surpasses turtle in flavour and delicacy,
and would fatten up a skeleton. Beche-de-mer is merely a substantial
foundation or stock for a more or less artistic culinary effort.

Beche-de-mer realises as much as 160 pounds per ton. In former days
"red prickly fish," was the most highly-prized on the Chinese markets,
but several years ago a fisherman in the neighbourhood of Cooktown used
a copper boiler. Several Chinese epicures died after partaking of soup
made from a particular parcel, and "red prickly" was forthwith
credited with poisonous qualities. The consignment was traced to its
origin, and popular opinion at the time was that the boiler had, unknown
to the proprietor of the station, induced verdigris. Investigation,
however, gave ground for the belief that the fish in the boiling exuded
juices of such corrosive qualities that the copper was chemically acted
upon. Beche-de-mer, is now invariably cooked in iron vessels, the bottom
half of a malt tank being a common boiler, and the "red prickly," after
being absolutely worthless for many years--so quaint are Oriental
prejudices--is now regaining favour in that market.

Beche-de-mer, though called fish by tradesmen, neither swims nor floats;
neither does it crawl, nor wriggle, nor hop, skip nor jump. It simply
"moves" on the ocean floor, when not reposing in apparently absolute
and unconscious idleness like its distant relative, the star-fish. Nor
does the creature possess any means of self-protection. Some species are
rough and prickly, and are said to irritate the hand that grasps them.
Others either in nervousness, or a result of shock to the system, or to
amaze and affright the beholder, shoot out interminable lengths of
filmy, cottony threads, white and glutinous, until one is astonished
that a small body should contain such a quantity of yarn ready spun, to
eject at a moment's notice like the mazes of ribbon drawn from a
conjurer's hat.

While it would be idle to particularise the different varieties of
beche-de-mer, that lead such lowly lives in the coral reef here, there
is one more conspicuous than the others, which may be referred to
without presuming to trespass on the preserves of scientific inquirers.
Indeed, it is entitled to notice, for it seems to be most prominent
among the few which afford examples of unconscious mimicry and
sympathetic coloration to insure themselves from molestation.
Beche-de-mer does not generally give the idea of capability of even the
simplest form of deception. True, the "black fish," shrinking from
observation, puts on a cloak of sand, and a cousin assumes a resemblance
to an irregular piece of coral--rugged, sea-stained and rotten. But the
variety under notice takes a higher place in the deceptive art, for it
seems to pose as an understudy to one of the most nimble and vicious
habitants of the sea--the banded snake. It lies coiled and folded among
the stones and coral of the reef, or partially hidden by brown seaweed,
which heightens its momentary effect upon the nerves of the barefooted
Beachcomber. Its length is from 4 to 5 feet, girth about 3 inches,
colour reddish brown, with darker bands and blotches. The deception is
in appearance only. A touch reveals an innocent but shocking fraud--a
poor despicable dummy, lacking the meanest characteristic of its alert
original.

Limp and impotent, it is little more than a skin full of water, a yard
and a half of intestine with no superficial indication of difference
between head and tail. Watch closely, and the "face,"--a much frayed
mop--is shyly obtruded from one end, and there is justification for the
opinion that the other end is the tail. Possibly, after all, this may
not be a true variety of beche-de-mer. In that case an apology to the
rest of the tribe is necessary; though the mop-like face betrays a
strong family likeness.

If this dolefully helpless creature be lifted by the middle on a stick,
its liquid contents are instantly separated, forming distended,
high-pressure blobs at each end of the empty, flabby shrunken skin.
Though it suffers this experiment placidly, being incapable of the
feeblest resistance, it has the primordial gift of care of itself. Twists
purposely made to test its degree of intelligence are artfullystraightened
out, and the eagerness and hurry with which water is forced throughout
empty parts show that life is both sweet and precious. And what is the
value of life to an animal of such homely organism and so few wants?
And under what charter of rights does it slink among the coral and weed
affrighting God-fearing man under the cloak of his first subtle enemy?



CHAPTER V



THE TYRANNY OF CLOTHES


"Give the tinkers and cobblers their presents again and learn
to live of yourself."


Few enjoy a less sensational and more tranquil life than ours. Weeks
pass, and but for the visits of the kindly steamer, and the passing
of others at intervals, there is naught of the great world seen or
experienced. A strange sail brings out the whole population, staring
and curious. Rare is the luxury of living when life is unconstrained,
unfettered by conventionalities and the comic parade of the fashions.
The real significance of freedom here is realised. What matters it
that London decrees a crease down the trouser legs if those garments
are but of well-bleached blue dungaree? The spotless shirt, how paltry
a detail when a light singlet is the only wear? Of what trifling
worth dapper boots to feet made leathery by contact with the clean,
crisp, oatmeal-coloured sand. Here is no fetish about clothes; little
concern for what we shall eat or what we shall drink. The man who has
to observe the least of the ordinances of style knows not liberty.
He is a slave; his dress betrayeth him and proclaims him base. There
may be degrees of baseness. I am abject myself; but whensoever I
revisit the haunts of men clad in the few light incommoding clothes
that rationalism ordains, I rejoice and gloat over the slavery of
those who have failed to catch even glimpses of the loveliness of
liberty, who are yet afeared of opinion--"that sour-breathed hag."
How can a man with hoop-like collar, starched to board-like texture,
cutting his jowl and sawing each side of his neck, be free? He may
rejoice because he is a very lord among creation, and has trousers
shortened by turning up the ninth part of a hair after London vogue,
and may be proud of his laws and legislature, and even of his
legislators, but to the tyrannous edge of his collar he is a slave.
He can neither look this way nor that, nor up nor down, without being
reminded that he has imposed upon himself an extra to the universal
penalties of Adam. One who lives in London tells me of the load of
clothes he is compelled to wear in winter to preserve animal heat. He
fights for life thus arrayed--thick woollens next the skin, the decent
shirt (badge of respectability), the waistcoat of heavy cloth, the
cardigan jacket (which hides the respectable shirt), the coat of cloth,
strong and heavy; the overcoat long and incommoding, the woollen
comforter, the wool-lined gloves, the double-woollen socks, the
half-inch soled boots, the leggings, the hat. To carry this burden of
clothes all day, pursuing ordinary vocations, were surely the grossest
of bondage. While my three-garment costume--is it not convenient and
fashionable enough?

A smart cutter appeared in Brammo Bay. A man, apparently in a pale red
shirt, let down the sails and anchor, and by-and-by one in a black coat
buttoned to the throat paddled himself ashore in a dinghy. Like a great
many worn on state occasions in country parts here, the coat had seen
better days. It was black with greenish lights; the stitches round the
button-holes and along the seams brown and grey; it smelt fusty; the
buttons were--well, various and assorted. An inch or two of tarry spun
yarn, clove-hitched to a miniature toggel, neatly carved, was the hopeful
beginning, a hasty splinter inserted pin-wise, the heedless ending of
the row. Between these ranged a bleached cowrie shell, loosely looped
with string; a fantastic ornament (green with verdigris) from some
bygone millinery, and a cherished relic of a pair of trousers of the
past in all the boldness of polished brass. But it was easy to detect
that there was no shirt beneath the dingy coat; and that the coat itself
was merely a concession to the evidence of civilisation which had been
apparent from the boat. On board the man wore neither coat nor shirt.
The cheerful note of colour, so conspicuous as he sailed to the
anchorage, was his sunburnt skin. Some men burn brown, some red. He was
of the red variety, and his bare skin looked a deal more respectable
than his cockroach-nibbled coat. To him. clothing save for decency's sake
had become superfluous. He felt that "to be naked is to be so much
nearer the being man than to go in livery." He wore no hat, no boots.
Pyjama trousers of cotton composed his entire workaday costume;
dungaree trousers and a musty coat his Court dress. Yet he was clean and
glowing with health and cheerfulness; self-reliant, splendidly
independent. Had he allowed his mind to dwell on clothing his
independence would have been less. He might have required the aid of a
black boy to navigate his boat, and the continual presence of a black
boy in a small boat does not make for sweetness and light.

SINGLE-HANDEDNESS

Another grandly free man sailed his cutter into the bay one fine
morning. He knew the water and ran her on the sand, brought his anchor
ashore and shoved her off, to swing lazily the while. When I paid him a
ceremonious visit, I found that he had but one arm. The empty right
sleeve was the more pathetic when I saw him mixing his flour for a
damper, and in the cunning twists and wriggling by which the fingers
freed each other of the sticky dough and other dextrous manipulations,
I soon came to recognise that with his left hand he was as deft as many
men with their right and left. He had sailed the boat ladened with wire
netting and heavy goods from Bowen, 200 miles south, and was on his way
to his selection, 100 miles further north. A wiry, slight man though a
real "shellback," one who had been steeped in and saturated with every
sea, was "giving the sea best," nerve-shaken, so he said--and yet
sailing a cutter with but 3 or 4 inches of free board "single-handed."
And he told the why and wherefore of his fear of the sea.

With a mate he had been for many months, beche-de-mer fishing, their
station or headquarters a lonely islet in Whitsunday Passage, which
winds about that picturesque group of islands through which Captain Cook
passed in the year 1770. The twain had been out on one of the spurs of the
Great Barrier Reef, and had been caught in the toils of adverse weather.
After beating about for days they managed to make their station--hungry,
thirsty, their souls fainting within them. Shelter and comfort were
theirs, and it was no surprise to my visitor when his mate slept the
next morning beyond the accustomed time. "Let him rest," he said. "He
is dog-tired;" and went about the work of the day. He had himself known
what it was to sleep eighteen and twenty hours at a stretch, for he had
many times been worn by toil and watching and nerve-tension to the limit
of endurance. And so the day passed, and the man in the bunk slept on.
Peace and rest were his, and the busy man envied the calm indifference
to the day's doings that he could not find in his heart to disturb.

"Won't he feel fresh when he does wake," he reflected. "He'll be a bit
narked at having wasted a whole bloomin' day. I shouldn't be surprised
if he was savage, because I didn't call him."

When the evening meal was prepared and everything in the tiny hut made
orderly, it would be a pleasure for him to wake up and discover that he
had been allowed to have his sleep out.

Ah! but his sleep was very sound and very silent--almost too stillful
to be natural.

A touch on his shoulders, saying--"Andrew. Wake up, old fellow!"

No movement, or response. His feet--cold! cold! and his chest, too, cold!

The mate had found his port after stormy seas. His heart--worn out with
stress and strain--had failed within him, and all day long his companion
thought tenderly of him, making but little noise, thinking that his
sleep was the sleep of a day, not the sleep of eternity that no earthly
din may disturb.

The weather was still boisterous, but it was essential to take the body
to Bowen, to render unto the authorities there conclusive evidence that
death had been the result of natural causes. My visitor's nerves were
then virile. But the time of stress and strain was at hand. He found
himself alone on a remote Island. A grim responsibility forced upon him.
Awful as the duty was, it had to be courageously faced, and performed as
tenderly as might be. Instead of the enjoyment of comfort and rest, and
days of busy companionship and revivifying hopes, there was the shock
that sudden death inflicts, dramatic loneliness, dry-eyed grief, forced
exertion, and the abandonment of brightening prospects.

With pain and infinite labour he succeeded in dragging and rolling the
corpse to the beach. Thence he pushed it up a plank on to the deck of
the cutter, and leaving his possessions to chance and fate, he, the
wearied and bereaved one-armed man, set sail in violent weather across
the open sea to the nearest port. At midnight the "great cry" of a
hurricane arose. Lightning flashed over the stricken yeasty sea. A
lonesome and grim quest this--full of peril. Did not Nature in the
trumpet tones of a furious and vengeful spirit decree the destruction of
the little boat as she bounced and floundered among the crests of those
awful waves? Here was booty belonging to the ocean--prey escaping from
the talons of the fiercest and most remorseless of harpies. So they
shrieked and swarmed about the boat, howling for what was theirs. The
strife was great, but not too great for the lonely man's seamanship. All
the fiends of the sea might do their worst, but until the actual finale
came, he would sail the boat--lifting her on the swell, eluding the white
hissing bulk of the following sea.

When at last the boat ran into port, the sea had gained a moral victory,
but the man gave to the authorities the mortal remains of his mate to be
buried decently on land.

He told me that he felt cowed--he could never face the sea again. Once
before he had given up "sailorising," not then on account of his
nerves, but because ambition to possess a sweet-potato patch, pumpkins
and a few bananas, melons, mangoes, had got hold of him. He had taken up
a piece of land, but having no money his flimsy fencing was no barrier
to the wallabies, and he abandoned the enterprise to them. Now he had
abandoned his beche-de-mer project, had bought wire netting to keep out
the wallabies, and would make a second effort to settle down. A little
net fishing would help to keep him going. "As for the sea," said he,
"I have had enough--too much. It is all right while your pluck lasts, but
once get a shake, and you had better give it up. And the little boat!--I
broke that rail as I was getting poor Andrew's body on board. She is all
right, but for that--and she's for sale!"

In an hour, having concocted some stew and baked his damper, the
single-handed nerve-shaken, old sailor set sail, and I knew him no more.

Another of poor old "Yorky's" adventures is worth telling. While out on
the Barrier Reef, the black crew of his beche-de-mer boat mutinied, and
knocking him and his mate on the head, threw them overboard. The sudden
souse into the water restored "Yorky" to consciousness, and he swam
back to the cutter whence the blacks had hastily fled in the dingy. It
was a desperate struggle for a one-armed man to cling to and clamber up
the side of the boat, but "Yorky" has never yet failed when his life
was at stake. He won the deck at last, but at the expense of a broken
rib and the flesh on the best part of his side tom bare to the bones.
Still dazed, he chanced to look over the side, where he saw his mate's
head bobbing up and down in the water. Hard as it had been for him to
save himself, it was more difficult still to rescue the body from the
sharks. Frantically using rough-and-ready methods, he hauled it on
board, and disposed it as decently as circumstances permitted.
"Yorky," great of heart, is quite unused to the melting mood. He admits
that he felt pretty bad mentally. But whatever his feelings towards his
sodden mate lying there with watery blood oozing from wounds on his
head, exhibiting the marks of the necessarily rough-and-ready means
that had been taken for his rescue, they had to be suppressed. Wet,
dizzy, and sadly battered, with little more apparent reason for the
possession of the breath of life than his companion, he set sail,
slipped the anchor, and steered for the nearest port. Some distance
on the way, to use "Yorky's" own and sufficient words--"The dead
man came to life!" Both had to submit to the restraint of hospital
treatment for many weeks ere physical repairs were complete.

How is it that a one-armed man, slight in physique, whose brains have
been addled by blows with billets of firewood, whose side is raw and
bleeding, and who has a broken rib hampering his movements, is able to
achieve feats that would be surprising if performed by a whole and
stalwart individual? "Yorky" has always been a wonder, and his life a
series of adventures and arduous tasks, which seem to prove that the
loss of a limb has been compensated for by hardihood and resourcefulness
worth a great deal more.

A BUTTERFLY REVERIE

"And laugh
At gilded butterflies, and bear poor rogues
Talk of Court news."


There were but three men and a dog in the boat, but the boat was
overburdened. Not that the dog was big, or the men either. It was all on
account of the day.

It was a day in which you wanted the whole realm of Nature for
yourself--so full of sunshine and flitting butterflies was it--so beaming
with the advent of summer, and her fervent greetings, so wondrously calm
and clear. You felt selfish at the pleasure of it all. It filled you
well-nigh to surfeit, yet you would have more of it. It was too
delicious to squander upon others, yet how could one mind comprehend the
grandeur of it all?

The white boat drifted on a blue and lustrous sea. The reef points
tapped a monotonous scale as the white sails swang to the swaying of the
gaff. Listlessly the boat drifted to the barely perceptible swell,
regular as the breathings of a sleeping child. Sound and motion invited
to slumber. The shining sea, the islands, green and purple, the soft
sweet atmosphere, the full glory of a rare day, kept all the senses in
tune.

There, 4 miles away, lay the island, and close at hand the turtle were
ever and anon rising, balloon-like, from coral gardens to gulp greedy
draughts of air, which not even the salty essences of the ocean could
rob of its perfume.

Sometimes the boat did seem conscious of inconstancy, and anon with
feminine frivolity she would coyly swing round to flirt with the islets
close at hand. She would have her own way until the free breezes came,
and somehow the wind still blows whereso'er it listeth, and will not be
untimely wooed, though the sailor whistles with all the "lascivious
pleasing of the lute."

Some atmospheric phenomenon, altogether beyond idle concern, lifted the
islands afar off out of the water, suspending them in the sky. The
languorous breadths of the sea gradually changed to silver, and under
the purple islands the silver band extended, bright and gleaming, until
it seemed to merge again into the blue of the sky. That was so, for was
it not all visible--the purple islands, with the silver bands separating
them from the sea. Yet under ordinary conditions those very islands are
blue studs set in the rim of the ocean. What magic is it that uplifts
them to-day between the ocean and the sky?

This was a day of gushing sunshine and myriads of butterflies. They flew
from the mainland, not as spies but in battalions--a never-ending
procession miles broad. You could fancy you heard in the throbbing
stillness the movement of the fairy-like wings--a faint, unending hum.
From the odorous jungle they came, flitting in gay inconsequence,
steering a course of "slanting indeterminates," yet full of the power
and the passion of the moment. They flitted between the idle boom and
the deck, and up the gleaming sky in all the sizes that distance grades
between nearness and infinity.

There were Islands near at hand and some afar off. What instinct guided
them--for butterflies are short-sighted creatures--I know not. If wind
had come, as we who lolled lazily in the boat longed, the myriad host of
resplendent creatures would have been scattered and millions beaten down
into the sea, above which they flew with such airy levity.

What instinct guided the frail, unreflective creatures across miles of
ocean to the Islands of the Blest among butterflies.

In their variety, too, they were entertaining. In great number was the
pretty frailty, whose wings are compact of transparencies and purple
blotches. In this full, fierce light the purple is black and the
transparencies all steel-like glitter. They came across in shoals. There
was neither beginning nor end. All the sky glittered with winged
mosaics. Then came the great green and gold and black creature,
accompanied sometimes by his less gaily decorated mate, ponderous of
flight; and, anon, that insect of regal blue, that can flit as idly as
any of the order, and yet dart in and out of the jungle and over the
tree-tops, with swallow-like swiftness. Rarely in the throng came that
scarlet and black, which makes the gaudy, flaunting hibiscus envious of
its colour; but the little yellow "wanderers," ever busy and active,
came low over the water, weary with the long journey, and sometimes
ready to rest--shifty flecks of gold--on the white sail.

There was no end to the flight. The air was too full. One wearied of the
ceaseless panorama of the gay bejewelled insects. They were the
possessors of the prime of that glorious morning. Beautiful and frail,
and inconsequent as they were, you envied them. They flitted on without
guide or leader, venturing the dangers of water and air, flying up in
the full blaze of the sun--eager, joyous, unconcerned. In the boat we
were compelled to loll about between heaven and the cool coral groves,
and compare enforced inactivity with the blithesome freedom of the
weakest butterfly.

Occasionally a turtle would bob up from its pastures below, and catching
sight of the sail, with a bubbling gulp, disappear, the white splash
creating concentric rings of ripples. But the breeze came not, and the
disorderly procession of butterflies, miles broad, passed on.


"Some flew light as a laugh of glee;
Some flew soft as a low, long sigh,
All to the haven where each would be."


I listened to the wooings of the black boys to the breeze. They liked
not the prospect of sweeping the boat home. They implored for wind with
cooings, with petulant whistlings, and with gentle but novel
objurgations. But it came not, and so the afternoon passed and evening
fell, and the butterflies, a faint, thin stratum, drifted on.

Then as a final challenge to the breeze that we longed for, and which
had resisted all appeals, "Come on big wind and kill little boat!"
exclaimed an irresponsible boy, whose ears had long ached with the days
dull silence, and who saw no prospect of hot turtle steak for supper.

As if to take up the gauntlet, a faint zephyr flicked the listless cheek
of the ocean, and slapped the sails. The boom swayed and swung over, the
boat, without guidance, idly headed off, and we flopped home to the
placid bay before the unenergetic breeze, which was all that Nature in
her idle hour could spare.

THE SERPENT BEGUILED

Eve Avenged

"You do yet taste
Some subtleties o' the isle that will let not you
Believe things certain."


Once upon a time--not so very long ago either--an unpretentious poultry
farm was started. The idea of making, if not a rapid and bulky fortune,
at least "a comfortable living" (and that phrase embodies much) out of
poultry farming has been conceived, possibly, many times and oft.
There was nothing novel, therefore, in the hatching out of this
particular scheme. But for a paltry detail it would never have
attained notoriety. We never blazon our failures--why should we?
The one spark of original thought that enlightened the prosaic
plans of the undertaking was this: The promoters wanted quality
in the eggs of their hens as well as quantity. Quantity rests with
the hen, but quality--like the "sluttishness" of Touchstone's
sweetheart--may come hereafter. In order that there might be no excuse
for and no degeneracy on the part of the hens, shops were ransacked
for nest eggs of proper proportions. These were placed in spots
conspicuous to the hens, who, of course, understood that they were
expected to lay up to them. In other words, these were patterns for the
hens to lay by. No self-respecting, conscientious fowl likes to be
beaten by a nest egg. She goes one, or, it may be, a dozen or two
better; but the stony-hearted egg is never to be bluffed. It is there as
a standard of size, and in accordance with its dimensions so will the
credit of the fowl yard be.

In this particular yard all went well for many months. Why, the hens
beat the nest eggs with scarcely an effort, and then started making
records. It was a fierce and clamorous competition, and the enterprise
flourished. A good beginning had been made, and the high-minded hens
chuckled with pride and satisfaction. In the course of two or three
months, however, a gradual deterioration in the size of the eggs took
place. There was just the same amount of fuss and feathers, showing the
artfulness of the hens, but the eggs soon dwindled down below plans and
specifications, and then an investigation took place. Not a single nest
egg was to be found. Vainly was search made. The hens sniggered. They
had fulfilled their duty, and finding it tiresome and wearing to produce
abnormal eggs, had secreted those set apart for them to measure by,
and had thereupon levelled their enterprise and skill down. Such
sinfulness and such burglarious conduct on the part of respectable
hens that had the most discreet upbringing, that had never been
allowed to play in anybody else's yard, and that had never been
permitted to wander from the paths of virtue, was a sore affliction.

But one day a nest egg was found far away in the bush, and then another
a quarter of mile from the yard in the creek. Again another was
discovered underneath a hollow log. Being restored to accustomed places
with due ceremony, and in sight of all the hens in convention assembled,
a gratifying change in the size of eggs produced resulted in a few days,
but again a slump set in. The nest eggs had disappeared, and the hens
were fulfilling their contract anyhow.

Other nest eggs of prescribed dimensions were taken out of stock; and a
yet more wonderful thing happened!

One morning about fowl-feeding time a great cry arose.

"Sen-ake!" "Sen-ake!"

Yes, there was a snake. About half--the latter half--its length was
visible outside the back of a nesting place (a box open at the front), and
a blow from a shovel disabled it. Further examination showed that the
snake had squeezed through a knot hole in the box. A lusty man hauled on
the snake violently. The box was heavy, and from the front the snake
could be seen. It looked troubled and uncomfortable, but not inclined to
back out, although the inducement in that direction was considerable.
Eventually the snake parted; and in the latter half there was a bulge.
Dissection revealed--What--marvellous! a nest egg. But why did the
snake show such reluctance to leave the box? The first or forward half
was hooked out from among the straw, and there was another oval
distention--another nest egg! The snake had discovered elsewhere a china
egg, had swallowed it, and then crawled in at the knot hole, and got
outside another. Escape was impossible. until the problem was solved by
halving.

There are no more accusations of dishonourable motives on the part of
the hens in doing away with the porcelain patterns to escape the arduous
duty of laying. It was all the fault of the serpent. Now the serpent is
not wise, for any nest egg beguiles him. It takes a long while to digest
such hardware. Traps are now laid for him. An egg of china is put in a
box, the open part of which is covered with small mesh-wire netting. The
snake submits to the temptation of the egg coyly resting on a bunch of
grass, and having made it its own, cannot let go. Then comes abhorred
fate in the shape of a gleeful man with a long-handled shovel, and the
end of the snake is piece--s.

ADVENTURE WITH A CROCODILE

"Cooling of the air with sighs,
In an odd angle of the Isle."


Now to proceed with the deliberate intention of dragging by the ears
into these pages a crocodile yarn. We have not a single "alligator" in
Australia, our crocodiles being wrongly so called, but this perversity
of nomenclature does not affect the anecdote.

To tell of the coast of Queensland, and to omit reference to an
adventure with one of those wary beasts would be to court criticism
likely to cast a shadow upon the veracity of more than one of the
incidents and occurrences herein to be chronicled.

I approach the duty to the readers as well as to myself with diffidence,
for has it not been stated that these pages were fated to be
unsensational and unromantic, and can any one imagine an unsensational
adventure with a crocodile? Therein lie the virtue of and the apology
for this story.

If the reader will take the trouble to scan the revised chart of the
Island, he will notice on the eastern coast an indentation entitled
"Panjoo," which, in the language of the blacks, seems to indicate "nice
place." A steep grassy slope comes down to the sea, separated therefrom
by a line of pandanus palms. To the north is a jungle-covered
spur, along the foot of which is a palm-tree gully; to the south a
ridge with low-growing, wind-bent acacias. The gully enters the
boulder-strewn inlet under the shade of much leafage. The great
Pacific gurgles at the base of giant rocks, among which a ragged
palm (CARYOTA) bears immense bunches of yellow insipid fruit, each
containing two coffee-like berries. Panjoo is a favourite objective,
for it may be approached from various directions, each pleasant,
but as a resort for a crocodile it is about as unpromising a locality
as could be imagined.

Thither one bright November morning we ("Paddy," the most silent and
alert of black boys, and myself) went. The tide was out, and we found a
comparatively easy track close to the margin of the sea, having
occasionally to wade through shallow pools and to clamber over rocks
thickly studded with limpets.

Years gone by a huge log of pencil cedar had been cast among the
boulders at Panjoo, and as I looked at the log "Paddy" with a start
indicated the presence of a novelty--a crocodile apparently in repose,
with its head in the shadow of a boulder. I was carrying a pea rifle
more for company than for anything else; for "Paddy," though of a most
cheerful disposition, never made remarks. His conversation for the most
part was compounded of eloquent looks and expressive gestures. A
monosyllable to him was a laborious sentence; four or five words a
speech. Once upon a time, it is said, a youthful German inadvertently
blundered into a railway carriage reserved for Moltke. The glare of the
great man brought three words of respectful apology for the intrusion.
The great man exclaimed with an air of exasperated boredom--"Insufferable
talker!"--of course, all in German. "Paddy," like Moltke, was,
averse from speech, unless when speech was absolutely vital. The
presence of a 10-foot crocodile of unknowledgeable ferocity was a vital
occasion. We hastily discussed in staccato whispers our plan of
campaign. It was arranged that we should assail the enemy at close
quarters. The calibre of the rifle was 22; its velocity most humble,
the bullet of soft lead. Unless it entered the eye of the crocodile,
and thence by luck its small brain, there was no hope of fatal effects.
Yet to take home such a rare trophy as a crocodile's skull, never
before known or heard of on the island, was a hope sufficient to evoke
and steady the instincts to be called upon as a necessary preliminary.

"Paddy" armed himself with weighty stones, and so manoeuvring to cut
off the creature's retreat to the sea, we silently and with the utmost
caution advanced.

Here let me advise readers to call to memory Nathaniel Parker Willis's
poem, "The Declaration" beginning--


'Twas late, and the gay company was gone,
And light lay soft on the deserted room,


and ending:


She had been asleep.


The crocodile moved not as we, thirsting for its blood, stealthily
approached. Then as I raised the rifle "Paddy" tilted up his
much-flattened nose, sniffed, and in tragic whisper said--"Dead!"

At all times a crocodile has a characteristic odour, a combination of
fish and very sour and stale musk, but Paddy smelt more than the
familiar scent--the scent of carrion.

Most unworthy of mortals, we had found the rarest of unprecious
things--a crocodile that had died a natural death. Apparently a day, or
at the most a day and a half, had elapsed since the creature had laid
its head under the shadow of the boulder and died, far from accustomed
haunts and kin. There was no sign of wound, bruise or putrefying sore.
All the teeth were perfect. It seemed like a crocodile taking its rest,
with its awful stench around it.

With poles we levered the body out of the way of the tide. Months after,
when Nature had done her part in the removal of all fleshy taint, we
returned for the bones. The teeth are now scattered far and wide as
trophies of the one and only crocodile ever acknowledged to have been
discovered dead.

To account for such a phenomenal occurrence a theory should be
forthcoming. This ill-fated crocodile is assumed to have wandered from
its proper quarters--the Tully or the Hull River, or one of the unnamed
mangrove creeks of the mainland. Having lost its way, it emerged from
the sea at pretty Panjoo. So different was the locality from that to
which the poor forlorn creature had been accustomed, it was at once
seized with a fatal attack of home-sickness. Shedding a few tears
natural--to it ("'Tis so, and the tears of it are wet"), it died ("and
the elements once out of it, it transmigrates"). Such is the theory,
annotated by Mark Antony's immortal after-dinner gossip, on the emotions
and natural history of the species.

THE ARABS PRECEPT

"A Pearl of Great Price"


"Mister, I tell you, neber say anything. I hab bin reech once. I lorse
my reechness for that I talk a little bit; but I talk too much. I poor
man now. I lorse my chants. Suppose I no lorse my chants I am reech man
of my country."

So said Hassan, the Arab with the pearly teeth, as he sat on the edge of
the verandah one steaming January evening.

"Yes, Hassan. How did you lose your money?"

"I hab no money, Mister. But I hab a pearl. My word, Mister, I tell you
my yarn about that pearl. My beauty beeg pearl. White pearl--more white
than snow-white! my pearl!"

The thin-framed swarthy Arab, with the flashing eyes and glistening
teeth, quivered with the intensity of his recollection.

"My beauty pearl. My beeg white pearl. My pearl of snow-white,"
he murmured as in a dreamy reverie he subdued the light of his great
black eyes.

"But you never saw snow. How can you talk about a snow-white pearl?"

"Mister, I bin steward boy on beeg steamer. I been eberywhere. I bin
in London, I bin in Antwerp. I bin see snow all over. That how I talk
about my snow pearl. I tell you my yarn."

Hassan smoothed down his white jacket, lit a lean cigarette, rolled
the incense--thrifty smoker that he was--as a sweet morsel under the
tongue, permitted it to drift lazily from his lips, and gave his story.

"I bin deck hand on pearling lugger. To be spell about with wind pump.
Sometimes I work on dinghy. Two or three times I dibe--not much dibe.
I carn stand that work. Not strong for that so heavy work. One morning
Boss he set me on to clean out dinghy. Too much rotten fish. You see, when
diber bring shell up, Boss he open ebery one--chuck meat along dinghy.
That dinghy, I tell you my yarn proper--close up half full stinking
meat. I chuck that stinking meat ober-board along my hand. Close up
I bin finish I catchem stinking meat like this. Hello! I feel 'em
something! My heart he stand--he carn go. He stop altogether. I carn look!
feel 'em beeg. I look! Ha! Beeg, beeg pearl! Round like anything.
White like snow. Pretty--lobley. My heart inside go ponch, quick like
that, I hear 'em jump along my shirt. No one look out. My pearl!
I whistle for nothing; put my pearl easy like I find nothing in my
pucket. Go on my work, steady. Heart jump about all the time. Chuck
em out those stinking meat. Ha! First time I feel something--one pearl!
Beeg, but no all the same like nother one. One more time chuck stinking
meat. Ha! one more pearl! White, long like small finger here. My heart
easy now. I think my good luck come. I say my prayer to Allah! I work
hard. I finish that boat. Chuck gem out stinking meat, wash her down.
My three pearls inside my pucket.

"For one week I neber say nothing. My good friend, my countryman from
Aden, Ali. I tell 'em I find one pearl. Now, Mister, I tell you
straight--neber tell nothing. You hab one good friend, one countryman.
You lobe that man, your good friend. But you no tell 'em nothing. I
made fool myself when I tell 'em. I big hoombug of myself. Two days, I am
pulling dinghy up to lugger. Big Boss he on board schooner. I see him
look me. Quick I think, 'Hassan, you make of yourself a fool. You lorse
you white pearl!' He sing out 'Hassan!' I gammon I neber hear 'em. Sing
out loud 'Hassan! You, boy! Come here!' I pull up to lugger. He sing
out. 'Come here quick! I want talk you!' 'All right, Boss, I come, I
go longa lugger first time!' He savage. Call out smart--'Come here, I
tell you! Come quick!'

"I am little fright he might shoot with revolver. I pull up to
schooner; make fast line. Go on board. Boss he say quiet, nice, like
gentlemen, 'Hello, Hassan! Good-day. Why you no come when I sing out
first time.' I say 'I hab that water for lugger.' He say, 'Well, my boy,
you come quick when I call out. No good hang back. How you getting on?
You come down my cabin. I no see you long time. Come down below.' 'All
up,' I say myself. Hello! Nother man. Bottle rum on table. Plenty
biskeet on plate, glasses--eberything. Boss he say, 'Come, my boy; come,
Hassan, make yourself happy. Gib yourself glass rum. Take good nip.'
That very good rum, strong too. I gib myself one good rum. I eat
biskeet. Boss he say, 'Come, my boy, gib yourself nother rum.' I gib
myself nother good rum; eat plenty of that sweet biskeet. We three
fellow very good friend. I feel happy. Boss shake hand, he say--'Hassan,
very good boy.' I gib myself nother good rum. We talk. Just now Boss he
look straight. He say quiet--'Hassan, my boy, you hab something belonga
me.' He look sharp like a knife. 'No, Boss, I hab nothing of you.' He
talk loud--'Hassan, you hab something belonga me. Gib it up quick!'
That other white man he stand longside gangway. I look straight.
I feel cold. I say, 'No, Boss, I hab nothing.' He talk more loud--GIB
UP THAT PEARL!' I fright. I put my hand to my pucket. I pull out
pearl. I am all fire now. I shove 'em longa table. I shout--'There
you blurry pearl!' Boss catch 'em quick. He say 'Get out my cabin, you
dirty Arab! You dam thief. Subpose you gib my pearl first time I gib you
something. Now I gib you kick!' I go.

"You see, Mister my good friend, my countryman, he tell Boss about my
white pearl. I lorse him now."

"But you got two more in your pocket"

"Yes, very good pearl; but not good like my snow pearl. I am sick now.
Boss he sack me. I land Thursday Island. I gamble fantan. I no care.
Soon I hab no pearl at all. I hab no work. I am hard up.

"Now, Mister, subpose I no say nothing to my good friend I am reech man
of my country. I drink Mocha coffee. I am too poor. Suppose I go to my
country, back from Aden, I carn drink coffee I am too poor, I drink
coffee from outside. Inside coffee, we sell for reech people--you
Inglesh, and Frinch, and Turkey men."

"What do you mean by outside coffee?"

"When you pick coffee, you Inglesh chuck away outside. We poor Arab dry
that outside, smash 'em up like flour, boil 'em for coffee. All inside
coffee we hab to sell, so poor that country. Mister, I bin tell true my
yarn--neber tell you good friend nothing."



CHAPTER VI



IN PRAISE OF THE PAPAW


Properties varied and approaching the magical have been ascribed to one
of the commonest plants of North Queensland; and yet how trivial and
prosaic are the honours bestowed upon it. That which makes women
beautiful for ever; which renews the strength of man; which is a sweet
and excellent food, and which provides medicine for various ills, cannot
be said to lack many of the attributes of the elixir of life, and is
surely entitled to a special paean in a land languishing for population.

Distinctive and significant as the virtues possessed by the papaw are,
yet because of its universality and because it yields its fruits with
little labour, it gets but scant courtesy. It is tolerated merely; but
if we had it not, if it were as far as that vast shore washed by the
farthest sea, men would adventure for such merchandise--and adventure at
the bidding of women. How few there are who recognise in the everyday
papaw one of the most estimable gifts of kindly Nature?

Some who dwell in temperate climes claim for the apple and the onion
superlative qualities. In the papaw the excellences of both are blended
and combined. The onion may induce to slumber, but the sleep it produces
is it not a trifle too balmy? The moral life and high standard of
statesmanship of an American Senator are cited as examples of the
refining influences of apples. For every day for thirty years he has, to
the exclusion of all other food, lunched on that fruit. Possibly the
papaw may be decadent in respect to morals and politics. The grape,
lemon, orange, pomelo, and the strawberry, each in the estimation of
special enthusiasts, is proclaimed the panacea for many of the ills of
life. One writer cites cases in which maniacs have been restored to
reason by the exclusive use of cherries. The apple, they say, too,
gives to the face of the fair ruddiness, but the tint is it not
too bold, compared with maiden blush which bepaints the cheek of
the beauty who rightly understands the use of the vital principle
of the papaw? Those who have complexions to retain or restore let
them understand and be fair.

In North Queensland the plant grows everywhere. In the dry, buoyant
climate west of the coast range, and in the steamy coastal tract, on
cliff-like hill-sides, on sandy beaches a few feet above high-water
mark, among rocks with but a few inches of soil, and where the decayed
vegetation of generations has made fat mould many feet deep, the papaw
flourishes. It asks foothold, heat, light and moisture, and given these
conditions a plant within a few months of its first start in life will
begin to provide food--entertaining, refreshing, salubrious--and will
continue so to do for years. Its precociousness is so great and its
productiveness so lavish, that by the time other trees flaunt their
first blossoms, the papaw has worn itself out, and is dying of senile
decay, leaving, however, numerous posterity. The fruit is delicate, too,
and soon resolves itself into its original elements. Pears and peaches
are said by the artistic to enjoy but a brief half hour of absolute
perfection. The artist alone knows the interval between immaturity and
deterioration. The refined and delicate perception of the exquisite and
transient aroma and flavour of fruits deserves to be classed among the
fine arts. Some people are endowed with nice discrimination. They are of
the order of the genius. The higher the poetic instinct, generally the
better qualified the individual to detect and enjoy the fugitive
excellences which fruits possess. Can a gourmand ever properly
appreciate rare and fragile flavours? Though he may be a great artist in
edible discords--things rank and gross and startling--can he in the
quantity of inconvenient food he consumes, be expected to pose as a
critic of the most etherealised branch of epicureanism? The true eater
of fruit is of a school apart, not to be classed with the individual
who, because of the rites and observances of the table, accepts,
in no exalted spirit, a portion of fruit at the nether end of a
feast. He is one who has attained, or to whom has been vouchsafed,
a poignant sense of all that does the least violence to the sense
of taste and smell; but, moreover, who is capable of discovering
edification in things as diverse as the loud jack fruit and the subtle
mangosteen--who can appreciate each according to its special
characteristics, just as a lover of music finds gratification of a
varied nature in the grand harmonies of a Gregorian Chant and in the
tender cadences of a song of Sullivan's. Are those who have sensitive
and correct palates for fruit not to be credited with art and
exactitude, as well as critics of music and painting and statuary, and
connoisseurs of wine?

As with many other fruits, so with the papaw. Only those who grow it
themselves, who learn of the relative merits of the produce of different
trees, and who can time their acceptance of it from the tree, so that it
shall possess all its fleeting elements in the happy blending of full
maturity, can know how good and great papaw really is. The fruit of
some particular tree is of course not to be tolerated save as a
vegetable, and then what a desirable vegetable it is? It has a precise
and particular flavour, and texture most agreeable. And as a mere fruit
there are many more rich and luscious, and highly-flavoured; many that
provoke louder and more sincere acclamations of approval. But the papaw,
delicate and grateful, is more than a mere fruit. If we give credence to
all that scientific research has made known of it, we shall have to
concede that the papaw possesses social influences more potent than many
of the political devices of this socialistic age.

But there may be some who do not know that the humble papaw (CARICA
PAPYA) belongs to the passion-fruit family (PASSIFLORA) a technical title
bestowed on account of a fancied resemblance in the parts of the flower
to the instruments of Christ's sufferings and death. And it is said to
have received its generic name on account of its foliage somewhat
resembling that of the common fig. A great authority on the botany of
India suggested that it was originally introduced from the district of
Papaya, in Peru, and that "papaw" is merely a corruption of that name. The
tree is, as a rule, unbranched, and somewhat palm-like in form. Its great
leaves, often a foot and a half long, borne on smooth, cylindrical
stalks, are curiously cut into seven lobes, and the stem is hollow and
transversely partitioned with thin membranes.

One of the most remarkable characteristics of the papaw is that it is
polygamous--that is to say, there may be male and female and even
hermaphrodite flowers on the same plant. Commonly the plants are classed
as male and female. The males largely predominate. Many horticulturists
have sought by the selection of seeds and by artificial fertilisation to
control the sex of the plant so that the fruit-bearing females shall be
the more numerous, but in vain. Some, on the theory that the female
generally obtains a more vigorous initial start in life, and in very
infancy presents a more robust appearance, heroically weed out weak and
spindly seedlings with occasionally happy results. The mild Hindoo,
however, who has cultivated the papaw (or papai to adopt the Anglo-Indian
title) for centuries, and likewise wishes to avoid the cultivation of
unprofitable male plants, seeks by ceremonies to counteract the bias of
the plant in favour of masculine attributes. Without the instigation or
knowledge of man or boy, a maiden, pure and undefiled, takes a ripe
fruit from a tree at a certain phase of the moon, and plants the seed in
accordance with more or less elaborate ritual. The belief prevails that
these observances procure an overwhelming majority of the female
element. The problem of sex, which bewilders the faithless European, is
solved satisfactorily to the Hindoo by a virgin prayerful and pure.

On plants which have hitherto displayed only masculine characteristics,
small, pale yellow, sweetly-scented flowers on long, loosely-branched
axillary panicles, may appear partially or fully developed female organs
which result in fructification, and such fruit is ostentatiously
displayed. The male produces its fruit not as does the female, clinging
closely and compact to the stem, but dangling dangerously from the end
of the panicles--an example of witless paternal pride. This fruit of
monstrous birth does not as a rule develop to average dimensions, and it
is generally woodeny of texture and bitter as to flavour, but fully
developed as to seeds.

The true fruit is round, or oval, or elongated, sometimes pear-shaped,
and with flattened sides, due to mutual lateral pressure. As many as 250
individual fruits have been counted on a single tree at one and the same
time. The heaviest fruit within the ken of the writer weighed 8 lb. 11
oz. They hug the stem closely in compact single rows in progressive
stages, the lower tier ripe, the next uppermost nearly so, the
development decreasing consistently to the rudiments of flower-buds in
the crown of the tree. The leaves fall as the fruit grows, but there is
always a crown or umbrella to ward off the rays of the sun. When ripe,
the most approved variety is yellow. In the case of the female plant
growing out of the way of a male, the fruit is smaller in size, and
seedless or nearly so.

Another curious, if not unique point about this estimable plant is that
sometimes within the cavity of a perfect specimen will be found one or
two infant naked fruits, likewise apparently perfect. Occasionally these
abnormal productions are crude, unfashioned and deformed.

Ripened in ample light, with abundance of water, and in high
temperature, the fruit must not be torn from the tree "with forced
fingers rude," lest the abbreviated stalk pulls out a jagged plug,
leaving a hole for the untimely air to enter. The stalk must be
carefully cut, and the spice-exhaling fruit borne reverently and
immediately to the table. The rite is to be performed in the cool of the
morning, for the papaw is essentially a breakfast fruit, and then when
the knife slides into the buff-coloured flesh of a cheesy consistency,
minute colourless globules exude from the facets of the slices. These
glistening beads are emblems of perfection. Plentiful dark seeds adhere
to the anterior surface. Some take their papaw with the merest sensation
of salt, some with sugar and a drop or two of lime or lemon juice; some
with a few of the seeds, which have the flavour of nasturtium. The wise
eat it with silent praise. In certain obvious respects it has no equal.
It is so clean; it conveys a delicate perception of musk--sweet, not
florid; soft, soothing and singularly persuasive. It does not cloy the
palate, but rather seductively stimulates the appetite. Its effect is
immediately comforting, for to the stomach it is pleasant, wholesome,
and helpful. When you have eaten of a papaw in its prime, one that has
grown without check or hindrance, and has been removed from the tree
without bruise or blemish, you have within you pure, good and chaste
food, and you should be thankful and of a gladsome mind. Moreover, no
untoward effects arise from excess of appetite. If you be of the fair
sex your eyes may brighten on such diet, and your complexion become more
radiant. If a mere man you will be the manlier.

So much on account of the fruit. Sometimes the seeds are eaten as a
relish, or macerated in vinegar as a condiment, when they resemble
capers. The pale yellow male flowers, immersed in a solution of common
salt, are also used to give zest to the soiled appetite, the
combination of flavour being olive-like, piquant and grateful. The seeds
used as a thirst-quencher form component parts of a drink welcome to
fever patients. The papaw and the banana in conjunction form an
absolutely perfect diet. What the one lacks in nutritive or assimilative
qualities the other supplies. No other food, it is asserted is essential
to maintain a man in perfect health and vigour. Our fictitious appetites
may pine for wheaten bread, oatmeal, flesh, fish, eggs, and all manner
of vegetables but given the papaw and the banana, the rest are
superfluous. Where the banana grows the papaw flourishes. Each is
singular from the fact that it represents wholesome food long before
arrival at maturity.

Then as a medicine plant the papaw is of great renown. The peculiar
properties of the milky juice which exudes from every part of the plant
were noticed two hundred years ago. The active principle of the juice
known as papain, said to be capable of digesting two hundred times its
weight of fibrine, is used for many disorders and ailments, from
dyspepsia to ringworm and ichthyosis or fish-skin disease.

By common repute the papaw tree has the power of rendering tough meat
tender. Some say that it is but necessary to hang an old hen among the
broad leaves to restore to it the youth and freshness of a chicken. In
some parts of South America papaw juice is rubbed over meat, and is
said to change "apparent leather to tender and juicy steak." Other folks
envelop the meat in the leaves and obtain a similar effect. Science, to
ascertain the verity or otherwise of the popular belief applied certain
tests, the results of which demonstrated that all the favourable
allegations were founded on truth and fact. A commonplace experiment
was tried. A small piece of beef wrapped up in a papaw leaf during
twenty-four hours, after a short boiling became perfectly tender; a
similar piece wrapped in paper submitted to exactly similar conditions
and processes remained hard. Few facts are more firmly established than
that the milky juice softens--in other words hastens the decomposition
of--flesh. Further, the fruit in some countries is cooked as a vegetable
with meat, and in soups; it forms an ingredient in a popular sauce, and
is preserved in a variety of ways as a sweetmeat. Syrups and wines and
cordials made from the ripe fruit are expectorant, sedative and tonic.
Ropes are made from the bark of the tree. By its power of dissolving
stains the papaw has acquired the name of the melon bleach; the leaves,
and a portion of the fruit are steeped in water, and the treated water
is used in washing coloured clothing, especially black, the colours
being cleaned and held fast.

In the country in which it is supposed to be endemic it is believed that
if male animals graze under the papaw tree they become BLASE; but
science alleges that the roots and extracted juice possess aphrodisiac
properties, and who among us would not rather place credence upon this
particular fairy tale of science than the fairy tales of swarthy and
illiterate and possibly biassed gentlemen.

And as to its beauty-bestowing attributes, an admirer's word might be
quoted as a final note of praise--

"The strange and beautiful races of the Antilles astonish the eyes of
the traveller who sees them for the first time. It has been said that
they have taken their black, brown, and olive and yellow skin tints from
the satiny and bright-hued rinds of the fruit which surround them. If
they are to be believed, the mystery of their clean, clear complexion
and exquisite pulp-like flesh arises from the use of the papaw fruit as
a cosmetic. A slice of ripe fruit is rubbed over the skin, and is said
to dissolve spare flesh and remove every blemish. It is a toilet
requisite in use by the young and old, producing the most beautiful
specimens of the human race."

THE CONQUERING TREE

Inconsequent as Nature appears to be at times and given to whims,
fancies and contradictions, only those who study with attention her
moods may estimate how truthful and how sober she really is. She is
honest in all her purposes, and though changeful and gay in apparel
never cheap nor meretricious. A slim-shafted palm shooting through the
leafy mantle, and swaying airily a profuse mass of fiery red seeds,
distinctive in shape, may be the prototype of a flirt, but the
flirtation which arrests attention and bewitches the beholder is also
innoxious. There is nothing of the artificial about the display. The
colours flaunted are true, perfect and pure, however cunningly, however
boldly by their means admiration is challenged. The true lover knows too
that in her least conspicuous moods, Nature is as consistent and as
wonderful as when in her exuberance she carpets a continent with
flowers, and when all the forests of a country, at her bidding, don a
mantle of yellow.

To exaggerate any of her methods were needless. She is never ugly, for
in her seemingly forbidding moods she wears a smiling face. The smiles
may not be apparent to all, but they are there for those who expect and
look for them.

Let a mangrove swamp be taken as an illustration of an untoward aspect
of Nature, and see whether among the apparent confusion, and the mud and
slime and the unpleasant odours, there are not many proofs of
good humour, kindly disposition, real prettiness, and orderly and
systematic purpose.

On the deltas and banks of all the rivers and creeks of North Queensland
and on many of the more sheltered beaches, the mangrove flourishes, that
ambitious tree which performs an important function in the scheme of
Nature. Its botanical title reveals its special character--Rhizaphora.
Very diverse indeed are the means by which plants are distributed. While
some are borne, some fly and others float. The mangrove is maritime.
While still pendant from the pear-shaped fruit of the parent tree, the
seed, a spindle-shaped radicle, varying in length from a foot to 4 feet,
germinates--ready to form a plant immediately upon arrival at a suitable
locality. A sharp spike at the apex represents the embryo leaves ready
to unfold, while the roots spring from the opposite and slightly heavier
end. The weight is so nicely adjusted that the spindle floats
perpendicularly or nearly so, when owning a separate existence from the
parent tree, it drops into the water, and begins its remarkable career.

It has been suggested that the viviparity of the mangrove is a survival
of a very remote period in the development of the earth--that a mangrove
swamp represents an age when the earth was enveloped in clouds and mist;
and that with the gradual decrease in tepid aqueous vapour the
viviparous habit, then almost universal, was lost, except in the case of
this plant. Other plants, however, exhibit the characteristic. Notably
one of the handsomest of the local ferns (ASPLENIUM BULBIFERUM) which,
with motherly solicitude, detains its offspring until they are not only
fully developed but are strong and lusty. As the fronds die they incline
earthwards, each weary with the burden of a new and virile
generation--some of which float down stream to foreign parts, some create
a colony round the parent. This fern demands conditions similar to the
mangrove--water, heat and humidity--and might be quoted in support of
the theory which gives unique interest to a mangrove swamp.

Whole battalions of living mangrove radicles fall into the rivers during
February and March. Out at sea miles from the land you may cross the
sinuous ranks of the marine invaders--a disorderly, planless venture at
the mercy of the wind and waves. Myriads perish, hopeless, waterlogged
derelicts, never finding foothold nor resting-place. But thousands of
these scouts of vegetation live to fulfil the glorious purpose of
winning new lands, of increasing the area of continents. This arrogant
plant not only says to the ocean, "Hitherto shalt thou come, but no
further; and here shall thy proud waves be stayed" but unostentatiously
wrests from it unwilling territory.

Plants like animals require "food convenient for them," certain
constituents of the soil, certain characteristics of environment, that
they may flourish and fulfil their purpose. This delights in conditions
that few tolerate--saline mud, ooze and frequent flooding by the salt
sea. Drifting into shallow water the sharp end of the spindly radicle
bores into the mud. At once slender but tough roots emerge in radiating
grapples, leaves unfold at the other extremity, and the plan of conquest
has begun. During the early period of its life there is nothing singular
in the growth of the plant In a few months, however, it sends out
arching adventitious roots, which on reaching the mud grasp it with
strong finger-like rootlets. These arching roots, too, send out from
their arches other roots that arch, and the arches of these similarly
repeat themselves, and so on, until the tree is underpinned and
supported and stayed by an elaborate and complicated system, which while
offering no resistance to the sweep of the seas, upholds the tree as no
solid trunk or stem could. Then from the plan of arches spring
offshoots, in time to become trees as great as the parent. Aerial roots
start a downward career from the overhanging branches, anchoring
themselves in the mud. Some young seedling drops and the pointed end
sticks deep in the mud, and grows forthwith, to possess arching and
aerial roots of its own, and to make confusion worse confounded. The
identity of the original founder of the grove is lost in the bewildering
labyrinth of its own arches, offshoots, and aerial roots, and of
independent trees to which it has given the mystery of life. One
floating radicle with its pent-up energy, having after weeks of drifting
and swaying this way and that to the slightest current and ripple,
grapples Mother Earth and makes a law to the ocean. Among the
interlacing roots seaweed, sodden driftwood and leaves lodge, sand
collects, and as the level of the floor of the ocean is raised the sea
retires, contributing by the flotsam and jetsam of each spring-tide to
its own inevitable conquest.

Not to one plant alone is the victory to be ascribed. As in the army
there are various and distinct branches of service, so in this ancient
and incessant strife between land and water, the vegetable invaders are
classified and have their appointed place and duties. Neither are all
the constituents of a mangrove swamp mangroves. In the first rank will
be found the hardiest and most highly specialised--RHIZOPHORA
MURCRONATA, next, BRUGUIERA GYMNORRHIZA (a plant of slightly more lowly
growth but prolific of arching and aerial roots); BRUGUIERA RHEEDI (red
or orange mangrove.) Some of the roots of the latter spread over the
surface and have vertical kinks. The roots and the accessories act as
natural groynes, causing the waves to swirl and to precipitate mud and
sand. BRUGUIERA PARVIFLORA and CERIOPS CANDOLLEANA assist in the general
scheme, the former depending upon abutments for security instead of
adventitious roots. Its radicles resemble pipe-stems, or as they lie
stranded on the beach, slightly curved and with the brown tapering calyx
tube attached, green snakes with pointed beads.

Surprising features are possessed by the tree known as SONNERATIA ALBA.
The roots send up a multitude of offshoots, resembling woodeny radishes,
some being forked, growing wrong end up. All the base of each tree is
set about with a confusion of points--a wonderful and perfect design for
the arrest and retention of debris and mud. Some of these obtrusive
roots are much developed, measuring 6 feet in height and about 4
in. diameter.

No less remarkable is the help that the white mangrove (AVICENNA
OFFICINALIS) affords in the conquest with its system of strainers.
Though different in many respects from the SONNERATIA, it too has erect,
obtrusive, respiratory shoots from the roots, slender in comparison,
resembling asparagus shoots or rake tines (called by some cobbler's
pegs) and which strain the sea, retaining light rubbish and assisting to
hold and consolidate it all. Each of the plants mentioned is equipped in
a more or less efficient manner for the special purpose of taking part
in the reclamation of land. In some the roots descend from the branches
to the mud where roots ought to grow; in others, roots ascend from the
mud to the upper air, where, ordinarily, roots have no sort of business.
Each possesses varying and distinct features well designed to aid and
abet the general purpose.

Other species of marine plants have their duty too. That which is known
as the river mangrove (AEGICERAS MAJUS)--which does not confine itself to
rivers--comes to sweeten the noisome exhalation of the mud, and with
its profuse white, orange-scented flowers, to invite the cheerful
presence of bees and butterflies. The looking-glass tree (HERITIERA
LITTORALIS), with its large, oval, glossy, silver-backed leaves and
boat-shaped fruit, stands with the river mangrove along the margin
farthest from the sea, not as a rearguard, but to perform the function
of making the locality the more acceptable to the presence of plants
which luxuriate in sweetness and solid earth. Another denizen of the
partially reclaimed area of the mangrove swamp is the "milky
mangrove," or river poison tree, alias "blind-your-eyes" (EXCAECARIA
AGALLOCHA). In India the sap of this tree is called tiger's milk. It
issues from the slightest incision of the bark, and is so volatile that
no one, however careful, can obtain even a small quantity without being
affected by it. There is an acrid, burning sensation in the throat,
inflamed eyes and headache, while a single drop falling into the eyes
will, it is believed, cause loss of sight. Yet a good caoutchouc may be
prepared from it, and it is applied with good effect to ulcerate sores,
and by the blacks of Queensland and New South Wales for the relief of
certain ulcerous and chronic diseases; while in Fiji the patient is
fumigated with the smoke of the burning wood. Several of the plants
produce more or less valuable woods. BRUGUIERA RHEEDI frequently grows
slender shafts, favoured by blacks for harpoon handles on account of
their weight and toughness. White mangrove provides a light, white tough
wood eminently adapted for the knees of boats. The seeds resemble broad
beans, and after long immersion in the sea will germinate lying naked
and uncovered on the scorching sand, stretching out rootlets in every
direction in search of suitable food, and expanding their leathery
primary leaves--even growing to the extent of several inches--while yet
owing no attachment to the soil. If it were not capable of surviving and
flourishing under conditions fatal to most plants it could not
contribute its quota to the formation of humus favourable to the
progress of the advancing hosts of tropical vegetation.

A weird and stealthy process is this invasion of the ocean, which leads
to the alteration and amendment of the surface of the globe. Here, may
be watched the very growth of land--land creeping silently, irresistibly
upon the sea, yet with a movement which may be calculated and registered
with exactitude. Having fulfilled its purpose, the mangrove suffers the
fate of the primitive and aboriginal. Tyrannous trees of over-topping
growth, which at first hesitatingly accepted its hospitality, crowd and
shove, compelling the hardy and courageous plant to further efforts to
win dominion from the ocean. So the pioneer advances, ever reclaiming
extended areas as the usurping jungle presses on its rear.

Nor must it be imagined that mangrove swamps are unproductive. Fish
traverse the intricacies of the arching roots, edible crabs burrow holes
in the mud, and in them await your coming, and more often than not
baffle your ingenuity to extricate them. Among other stalked-eyed
crustaceans is that with one red, shielding claw, absurdly large, and
which scuttles among the roots, making a defiant clicking noise--the
fiddle or soldier crab (GELASIMUS VOCANS). Oysters seal themselves to
the roots, and various sorts of shell-fish gather together--two or
three varieties appear to browse upon the leaves and bark of the
mangroves; some excavate galleries in the living trunks. The insidious
cobra does not wear any calcareous covering beyond the frail tiny
bivalves which guard the head--a scandalously small proportion of its
naked length--but lines its tunnels with the materials whence shell is
made, smooth and white as porcelain. How this delicate creature with
less of substance than an oyster--a mere worm of semi-transparent, stiff
slime--bores in hard wood along and across the grain, housing itself as
it proceeds, and never by any chance breaking in upon its neighbours,
though the whole of the trunk of the tree be honeycombed, savours of
another wonder. Authorities consider the bivalve shell too delicate and
frail to be employed in the capacity of a drill, and one investigator
has come to the conclusion that the rough fleshy parts of the animal,
probably the foot or mantle, acting as a rasp, forms the true boring
instrument. Thus, the skill of a worm in excavating tunnels in wood
puzzles scientists; and the cobra is certainly among the least
conspicuous of the denizens of a mangrove swamp, and perhaps far from
the most wonderful.

The most remarkable if not the strangest denizens of the spot are two
species of the big-eyed walking and climbing fish (PERIOPHTHALMUS
KOELREUTERI and P. AUSTRALIS) which ascend the roots of the mangrove by
the use of ventral and pectoral fins, jump and skip on the mud and over
the surface of the water and into their burrows with rabbit-like
alertness. They delight, too, in watery recesses under stones and
hollows in sodden wood. Inquisitive and most observant they might be
likened to Lilliputian seals, as they cling, a row of them, to a
partially submerged root, and peer at you, ready to whisk away at the
least sign of interference. They climb along the arching roots, the
better to reconnoitre your movements and to outwit attempts at capture.
Their eyes--in life, reflecting gems--are so placed that they command a
complete radius, and if you think to sneak upon them they dive from
their vantage points and skip with hasty flips and flops to another
arching root, which they ascend, and resume their observation. It must
not be assumed that the climbing fish--which seems to be more at home on
the surface of the water than below--climbs up among the branches. A foot
or so is about the limit of its upper wanderings.

Then, too, in what is generally regarded as a noisome, dismal, mangrove
swamp, birds of cheerful and pleasing character congregate. Several
honey-eaters, the little blue turtle dove, the barred-shouldered dove,
the tranquil dove, the nutmeg pigeon, the little bittern, the grey
sandpiper, the sordid kingfisher, the spotless egret, the blue heron,
the ibis--all and others frequent such places, and in their season,
butterflies come and go. In most of its aspects a mangrove swamp is not
only the scene of one of Natures most vigorous and determined processes,
but to those who look aright, a theatre of many wonders, a museum
teeming with objects of interest, a natural aviary of gladsome birds.

THE UMBRELLA-TREE

Having paid, in passing, respects to the most gorgeous tree of the
island, it would be sheer gracelessness to withhold a tribute to one of
the commonest, though ever novel and remarkable--the umbrella-tree. Less
conspicuous in its blooming than the flame-tree, it flourishes
everywhere--on the beaches with its roots awash at high tide; on the
rearguard of the mangroves, leaning on the white-flowered CALOPHYLLUMS;
on the steep hill-sides; on the borders of the jungle, and gripping
scorched rocks with naked roots.

While the flame-tree--few and confined to the beaches--flashes into
bloom--an improvident blaze of colour, without a single atoning green
leaf--the umbrella-tree charms for several months with a combination of
graceful foliage and a unique corollary of singular flowers.

From the centre of whorls of shapely glossy leaves radiate simple
racemes, 2 feet long, as thickly set with studs of dense heads of red
flowers as Aaron's rod with its magical buds. Crowned with several
crowns of varying numbers of rays, rarely as few as four, frequently
seven and nine and occasionally as many as twelve, each tree is a
distillery of nectar of crystal purity and inviting flavour. On every
ray there may be eighty red studs, each composed of twelve compact
flowers, and every flower drips limpid sweetness. For months this
unexcised distillation never ceases. For all the birds and dainty
butterflies and sober bees there is free abundance, and every puff of
wind scatters the surplusage with spendthrift profusion. Sparkling in
the sunbeams, dazzling white, red, orange, green, violet, the swelling
drops tremble from the red studs and fall in fragrant splashes as the
wanton wind brushes past or eager birds hastily alight on the swaying
rays. A rare baptism to stand beneath the tree for the cool sweet spray
to fall upon the upturned face, a baptism as pure as it is
unceremonious.

Red-collared lorikeets revel in the nectar, hustling the noisy
honey-eaters and the querulous sun-birds. The radiant blue butterfly sips
and is gone, or if it be his intent to pause, tightly folds his wings on
the instant of settling, and is transformed from a piece of living
jewellery to a brown mottled leaf caught edgeways among the red flowers.
The green and gold butterflies are for ever fluttering and quivering.
The complaining lorikeets peevishly nudge them off with red,
nectar-dripping bills, the honey-eaters disperse them with inconsiderate
wing sweeps; but the butterflies are not to be denied their share.
After a moment's airy flight they return to the feast, quivering with
eagerness. And so the weeks pass, the patient tree generating food far
beyond the daily needs of all who choose to take.

By a very moderate computation--such an orderly plan of bloom lends
itself to simple statistics--the average production of a fairly crowned
tree is over a gallon of nectar per day. Hundreds of trees so crowned
brighten all parts of the island with their red rays. And where the
nectar is, there will the sun-birds be gathered together--a sweeter
notion, truly, than carcases and eagles.

And this nectar, clear as dew-drops, sweet with an aftertaste of some
scented spice--a fragile pungency--was ever liqueur so purely compounded?
Drawn from untainted soil; filtered and purified; passed from one
delicate process to another, warmed during the day, cooled by night
airs, chastened by breezes which have all the virtue of whole Pacific
breadths; sublimated by the sun--all to what end, to be proffered to
birds and butterflies in ruddy goblets full to the brim.

THE GENUINE UPAS-TREE

Powerful as nutmeg pigeons are on the wing, some suffer lingering deaths
in consequence of a singular characteristic of one of the trees of the
jungle. Tall and graceful, with luxuriant glossy leaves, there is
nothing uncanny about the tree. In style and appearance it is the very
antithesis of "the upas-tree," upon which legendary lore cast unmerited
responsibility. Yet in certain respects it would be vain to enter upon
its defence. It is no myth. There is no exaggeration in the statement
that the character of the Queensland tree is actually murderous, and
that it counts its victims by the thousand every season. Of the great
host it destroys, all save a few may be very small and very feeble, and
from the human standpoint some of its death-dealing is perfectly
justifiable if not laudable. Not often, locally, is a bird destroyed,
but the fact that occasionally one has the ill-luck to fall foul of it
and to perish miserably in consequence, places the tree in the catalogue
of the remarkable. Neither spike nor poison is used nor any sensational
means of destruction but nevertheless the tree is sure and implacable in
its methods.

The seed-vessels of the Queensland Upas-tree, "Ahm-moo" of the blacks
(PISONIA BRUNONIANA), which are produced on spreading leafless panicles,
exude a remarkably viscid substance, approaching bird-lime in
consistency and evil effect. Sad is the fate of any bird which,
blundering in its flight, happens to strike against any of the many
traps which the tree in unconscious malignity hangs out on every side.
In such event the seed clings to the feathers, the wings become fixed to
the sides, the hapless bird falls to the ground, and as it struggles
heedlessly gathers more of the seeds, to which leaves and twigs adhere,
until by aggregation it is enclosed in a mass of vegetable debris as
firmly as a mummy in its cloths. Small birds as well as lusty pigeons,
spiders and all manner of insects; flies, bees, beetles, moths and
mosquitoes, as well as the seeds of other trees are ensnared. Spiders
are frequently seen sharing the fate of the flies, fast to seeds in the
humiliating posture in which Br'er Fox found Br'er Rabbit on the occasion
of the interview with the Tar Baby.

Insectivorous plants am common enough in Australia; but the "Ahm-moo,"
tree does not appear to make use of the carcases of its victims, though
it kills on an exceptionally extensive scale.

On some of the islands where the tree is plentiful numbers of pigeons
meet a dreary fate every season. The maturity of the seeds coincides
with the hatching out of the young, and inexperienced birds pay dearly
for their inexperience. The natural glutin is produced while the slim,
fluted, inch-long seeds are green, but its virtue remains even after the
whole panicle has withered and has fallen. So tenacious is it and
prompt, that should a panicle as it whirls downward touch the leaves of
lower branches of the parent, or of any neighbouring tree, it sticks and
becomes a pendant swaying trap in a new position. At first glance it is
not easy to identify the tree to which the obnoxious feature belongs.

The seeds occasion even dogs considerable distress, and might easily be
the cause of death to them. As the dog endeavours to remove them from
his feet and sides with his teeth, his muzzle is fouled, and he very
soon exhibits confusion and alarm, and rolling about in frenzied
attempts to free himself, gathers more and more of the seeds and
accumulated rubbish.

One is led to ponder upon the purpose of this provision--to endeavour,
if possible, to find its justification. Insects lured by the sweetness
of the exudation are callously entrapped, and why so? Do the seeds
require the presence of animal matter to ensure germination? In that
case the tree is indirectly carnivorous, and therefore decidedly
entitled to recognition among the curiosities of the island. Is the
glutin secreted to secure the wide dispersal of the seeds? If so, the
object is largely self-defeated, for seeds by the hundred cling as they
fall to the branches of the parent tree, and to those of its lowly
neighbours. Certainly some proportion of the seeds which reach the
ground must be borne hither and thither by the agency of that eternal
scratcher, the scrub fowl. But even a bird of such immensely
proportionate strength may be seriously troubled by them. A case in
point may be cited. A dog retrieving a scrub fowl, which had fallen in
the vicinity of an "Ahm-moo" tree, emerged with it entirely enveloped
with the seeds and adhering rubbish, and itself almost helpless from a
similar cause. In this happy chance the seeds were eventually widely
distributed. If the glutin is provided to prevent birds consuming the
kernels, then the object is perfectly served; otherwise no very
satisfactory reason is apparent why the tree should be invested with the
means of destroying even humble forms of life. Is this one of the "lost
chords" in the harmony of nature?

THE CREEPING PALM

Perhaps the most impressive feature of the jungle--that which takes fast
hold, clings most tenaciously, and leaves the most irritating
remembrances--is what is known as the lawyer cane or vine (CALAMUS). It
is a vegetable of tortuous ambitions, that defies you, that embarrasses
with attention, arrests your progress, occasionally envelops you in a
net work of bewildering, slender, and cruelly-armed tentacles, that
everywhere bristles with points, that curves back on itself, and makes
loops and wriggles; that springs from a thin, sprawling and helpless
beginning, and develops into almost miraculous lengths, and ramifies and
twists and turns in "verdurous glooms," ascends and descends, grovels
in the moist earth and among mouldy leaves, clasps with aerial rootlets
every possible support, and eventually clambers and climbs above the
tallest tree, twirling its armed tentacles round airy nothings. It
blossoms inconspicuously, and its fruit is as hard, tough and dry as an
argument on torts. Ordinary mortals call it a vine. Botanists describe
it as a prickly climbing palm, and no jungle is complete without it.
There are several varieties of this interesting plant, all more or less
of a grasping, clinging character, and each of vital importance in the
republic of vegetation.

Sometimes when it is severed with a sharp knife there flows from the
cane a fluid bright and limpid as a judge's summing up; occasionally it
is all as dry as dust and as sneezy, and its prickly leaf sheathes the
abode of that vexing insect which causes the scrub itch.

This plant produces lengths of cane similar in every respect to the
schoolmaster's weapon--familiar but immortal--varying in diameter from a
quarter of an inch to an inch and a half, and in length, as some assert,
to no less than 500 and 600 feet. Certainly 300 feet is not uncommon,
and one can readily concede an additional 100 feet, knowing the
extravagance of the remarkable palm under ordinary circumstances. And
the cane weaves and entangles the jungle, binds and links mighty trees
together, and with the co-operation of other clinging, and creeping, and
trailing plants--some massive as ship's cables, and some thin and fine as
fishing-lines--forms compact masses of vegetation to penetrate which
tracks must be cut yard by yard. When this disorderly conglomeration of
trees and saplings, vines, creepers, trailers and crawlers, complicated
and confused, has to be cleared, as civilisation demands the use of the
soil, sometimes a considerable area will remain upright, although every
connection with Mother Earth is severed, so interlaced and interwoven
and anchored are the vines with those clinging to trees yet uncut. Then,
in a moment, as some leading strand gives way, the whole mass
falls--smothered, bruised, and crushed--to be left for a month and more
before the fires destroy the faded relics of the erstwhile gloriously
rampant jungle. In all this the lawyer cane is the most aggressive and
hostile. Not only are there prickles on the 10-feet thongs, but the
leaves and leaf-sheaths are thickly beset. In one species the 6-feet-long
leaves bear upon the margins and upper surface long, thin, needle-like
points, black and glossy, and attaining a length Of 3 inches; the main
rib bears stout re-curved prickles, while the sheaths which envelop the
cane are densely covered with dark brown or black points 1 inch and more
long.

One cannot cut jungle and escape bloodshed, for the long tentacles of
the lawyer catch you unawares sooner or later, and then, for all are set
with double rows of re-curved points, do not endeavour to escape by
strife and resistance--it is no use pulling against those pricks--but by
subtlety and diplomacy. The more you pull, the worse for your skin and
clothes; but with tact you may become free, with naught but neat
scratches and regular rows of splinters. The points of the hooks to
which you have been attached anchor themselves deep in the skin, and
tear their way out and rip and rend your clothes, and your condition of
mind, body and estate, is all for the worse.

But the uses of the lawyer cane are many and various. Blacks employ it
as ropes, as stays for canoes, and, split into narrow threads and woven,
for baskets and fish-traps; and white men find it handy for all sorts of
purposes, from boat-painters and fenders to stock-whip and maul-handles.
Suppose a tree that a black wishes to climb presents difficulties low
down, he will procure a length of lawyer cane, partly biting and partly
breaking it off, if he lacks a cutting implement. Then he will make a
loop, so bruising and chewing the end that it becomes flexible and ties
almost as readily and quite as securely as rope. Ascending a
neighbouring tree, he will manoeuvre one end over a limb of that which
he wishes to climb, and slip it through the loop, and run it up until it
is fast. A cane 50 feet long, no thicker than one's little finger,
fastened to the upper branch of a tree, has on trial borne the weight of
three fairly-sized men. Thus tested, the black has no hesitation or
difficulty in rapidly ascending, and in lowering down young birds, or
eggs (wrapped in leaves), or whatsoever his quest.

Another cane-producing plant (FLAGELLARIA), though innocent of the means
of grappling, succeeds in overtopping tall trees and smothering them
with a mass of interwoven leafage. Each of its narrow leaves ends in a
spiral tendril, sensitive but tough, which entwines itself about other
leaves and twigs. Feeling their respective ways, the tender tips of
leaves of the one family touch and twist, and the grasp is for life.
Though not of such extravagant character as the lawyer vine, the
FLAGELLARIA seems to be endowed with perceptive faculty almost amounting
to instinct in selecting the shortest way toward the support necessary
for its plan of existence, which is to climb not to grovel. It spurns
the ground. New shoots spring from old rhizomes in the clearings, and
turn towards the nearest tree as though aware of its presence, as the
tendrils of a grape vine instinctively grope for the artificial support
provided for it. Progress along the ground is slow, but once within
reach, the shoot rears its head, stretches out a delicate finger-tip,
and clings with the grasp of desperation. A vigorous impulse thrills the
whole plant. It has found its purpose in life. With the concentration of
its energies, its development is rapid and merciless. Its host is
rapidly enveloped in entangling embraces, smothered with innumerable
clinging kisses.

MAUVE, GREEN AND GREY

An attempt to do justice by description to the rich and varied
vegetation of Dunk Island in these unlearned pages would bespeak an
idle, almost profane vanity. Yet the pleasure of revealing one or two of
the more conspicuous features cannot be forgone. In the term conspicuous
is included plants that attract general attention. Possibly the skilled
botanist might disregard obvious and pleasing effects, and find classic
joy in species and varieties unobtrusive if not obscure.

About 600 feet above sea-level, looking across the Family Group to the
great bulk of Hinchinbrook, there is an irregular precipice, half
concealed by the trees and plants that decorate its seams and crevices
and spring up about its cool and ever gloomy base.

During the greater part of the year water trickles down the grey face of
the rock in narrow gleaming bands, and wheresoever are the faintest
footholds there is a flower--mauve in its modesty. It is not common
enough to possess a familiar name, but botanists have called it BAEA
HYGROSCOPICA, for it is always found near water, invariably pure, cool,
fern-filtered mountain water. From the damp rock the roots of the plant,
matted and interwoven, may be peeled off in a thin layer, for the plant
is epiphytical, depending as much upon heat, moisture and light as on
any constituents of the soil for sustenance. When the season is
exceptionally dry, the thick, soft wrinkled leaves become parched and
shrivelled; but a shower restores their vigour and lovely, tender green,
and fresh flowers slightly resembling the violet, but borne on scapes 6
or 8 inches long, bloom within a few hours of the revivification of the
plant. In moist seasons the plant, true to its hygrometic character,
continuously blooms, and while it braves the hottest sun on the bare
places of the burning rock as long as its roots find moist spots, it
will also be found in the shade below, where the flowers are richer in
colour, more of purple than mauve, and, rarely, pure white. Generally
the plant depends upon others or cracks or crevices in rock for
foothold. It shares the grasp the spongy moss may take on the slippery
surface, or when the root, thin as whipcord, of a certain fig-tree has
crept across the face of the grey rock forming a ridge or barricade
against which decayed vegetation accumulates, there the BAEA flourishes,
displaying an indeterminate line of mauve flowers above oval, crimpled
leaves. Mauve, green and grey--the mauve of the Victorian age, the green
of the cowslip, the grey of glistering, weathering granite.

The whole of the rock face is a study. Grasping with greedy white talons
a piece of decaying wood is one of the prettiest of the more common
orchids, DENDROBIUM SMILIAE which produces short spikes of waxy flowers,
pink tipped with green; the creeping, sweet-scented, BULBOPHYLLUM
BAILEYI, with greenish-yellow flowers spotted with purple, and the
commonest of the dendrobiums (UNDULATUM) revel here.

The edge of the precipice looks over a tangle of jungle down upon the
top of a giant milkwood tree (ALSTONIA SCHOLARIS), taken possession of
by a colony of metallic starlings, whose hundreds of brown nests hang in
clusters from the topmost branches. By the perpetual shrieks and calls
of these most lively of birds a straight course may be steered through
the gloomy jungle to the tree, and thence to the beach, as a ship gains
her haven through a fog by the sound of unseen warning horns and
bell-surmounted rocks. On the trunk of this great tree may still be seen
the marks of stone tomahawks of the primitive inhabitants of the island.
There is none now to disturb and plunder the hasty birds.

STEALTHY MURDERERS

The fig-tree which aids the BAEA in its object of beautifying the
precipice is one of a very numerously represented species, which assumes
great variety of form, and produces fruit of varying quality. This
particular variety (FICUS CUNNINGHAMII) begins life as a parasite. A
thin slender shoot, tremulously weak, leans lightly on the base of some
tall tree, and finding agreeable conditions, clings and grows. A
harmless, tender, thong-like shoot it is--a helpless plant, that could
not stand alone or exist but for the hospitality of another of strength
and substance. Soon a second shoot, slight and frail, emerges near the
root, but at a different angle from its aspiring brother, and others as
delicate as the first follow, until the trunk of the host is sprawled
over by naked running shoots, grey-green in colour, crafty and
insidious. As they increase in age the shoots flatten on the under
surface and cross and recross. Wheresoever they touch they coalesce. The
trunk becomes enveloped in living lace--in a network, rather, living,
ever growing and irregular--the meshes of which gradually decrease in
dimension. All the while squeezing and causing decay, the meshes close
up. The trunk of the host is completely enclosed; it is the dying core
of a living cylinder, for the first shoots have long since crept up
among the branches, have expanded their leaves, and are busy sapping the
life-blood of the tree at all points. A greedy intractable, implacable
foe, it gives no quarter, but flourishes upon its dead or dying friend,
upon which in its youth it leaned delicately for support. Finally it
weaves its slender shoots among the topmost leaves of its victim, and
having outgrown its growth, flourishes on its decay.

This vegetable usurper produces immense crops of small purple figs, the
favourite food of many birds. So bountiful are its crops, and so much
are they appreciated, that one perceives, almost without reflection, its
due and proper place in the harmony of nature. To complete the cycle,
birds frequently, after eating the fruit, "strop" their beaks on the
bark of a neighbouring tree. Now and again a seed thus finds favourable
conditions for its germination, and then the parasite sends exploring
roots to the ground, forming as they descend intricate lace-work, while
shoots repeat a similar process as they climb further up the trunk and
among the branches. Then the fate of the host seems less cruel, for the
end is speedier.

Delicious fruit is produced by a somewhat similar fig (VALIDINERVIS)
growing in the locality and displaying, though not in such a cruel
manner, parasitical tendencies. Passing from green to orange with deep
red spots to rich purple, the fruit--about the size of an average
grape--indicates arrival at maturity by the exudation of a drop of nectar.
Clear as crystal, the nectar partially solidifies. Fragrant and
luscious, pendant from the polished fruit, this exuberant insignia of
perfection, this glittering drop of vital essence, attracts birds of all
degree. It is a liqueur that none can resist, and which seems, so noisy
and demonstrative do they all become, to have a highly exhilarating
effect on their nerves. Birds ordinarily mute are vociferous, and the
rowdy ones--the varied honey-eater as an example--losing all control of
their tongues, call and whistle in ecstasy. The best of the fig-tree's
life is given for the intoxication of unreflecting birds.

TREE GROG

Few of the forest trees are more picturesque than the paper-bark or
tea-tree (MELALEUCA LEUCADENDRON), the "Tee-doo" of the blacks. It is
of free and stately growth, the bark white, compacted of numerous sheets
as thin as tissue paper. When a great wind stripped the superficial
layers, exposing the reddish-brown epidermis, the whole foreground was
transfigured. All during the night alone in the house, I heard the great
trees complaining against the molestation of the wind, groaning in
strife and fright; but little had I thought that the violation they had
endured had been so coarse and lawless. The chaste trees had been
incontinently stripped of their decent white vestiture, leaving their
limbs naked and bare. In the daylight they still moaned, throwing their
almost leafless branches about despairingly, their flesh-tints--dingy
red--giving to the scene a strangely unfamiliar glow. This outrage was
one of the most uncivil of the wrong-doings of the storm wind "Leonta."
But within a week or so the trees assumed whiter than ever robes; pure
and stainless, the breeze had merely removed soiled linen. The picture
had been restored by the most ideal of all artists.

The blossoms of the melaleuca come in superabundance, pale yellow
spikes, odorous to excess. When the trees thus adorn themselves--and they
do so twice in the year in changeless fashion, in the fulness of the wet
season--the air is saturated with the odour as of treacle slightly
burnt. The island reeks of a vast sugar factory or distillery. Sips of
the balsamic syrup are free to all, and birds and insects rejoice and
are glad. A perpetual murmur and hum of satisfaction and industry haunt
the neighbourhood of the trees as accompaniment to the varied notes of
excitable birds. Chemists say that insects imprisoned in an atmosphere
of melaleuca oil become intoxicated. Insects and birds certainly are
boldly familiar and hilarious during the time that the trees offer their
feast of spiced honey.

Every tree is a fair, and all behave accordingly, chirping and
whistling, humming and buzzing, flitting and fluttering, in the
unrestrained gaiety of holiday and feast-day humour. Always an
impertinent, interfering rascal, the spangled drongo, under the
exhilarating influence of melaleuca nectar, degenerates into a
blusterer. He could not under any circumstances be a larrikin; but the
grateful stimulant affects his naturally high spirits, and he is more
frolicsome and boisterous than ever. The path between the coco-nuts to
the beach passes close to two of the biggest trees, and from each as I
strolled along, one sublime morning when the whole world was drenched
with whiffs, strong, sweet and spirity, a drongo, flushed with
excitement, flew down, bidding me begone in language that I am fully
persuaded was meant to provoke a breach of the peace. The saucy bullies,
the half-tipsy roysterers, tired of domineering over every participator
of the feast, dared to publicly flout me, defiantly sweeping with their
tails the air, as an Irishman, "blue mouldy for want of a bateing,"
sweeps the floor with his coat, and chattered and scolded in every tone
of elated bravado. The bibacious drongo can be as demure as any. When he
comes to dart among the eddying insects, glorying in the first cool
gleams of the sunshine, he will take his ease on a mango branch, make
jerky bows and flick the fine feathers of his tail, and "cheep" in
timorous accents. He is sober then, quite parsonified in demeanour; his
speech "all in the set phrase of peace," and would be scandalised by the
mere mention of melaleuca nectar.

A professor of physiology asserts that rabbits are very curious when
under the influence of liquor, and that a drunken kangaroo is brutally
aggressive. The drongo is merely pugnacious and noisy. Having heard of
the melancholy effects of over-indulgence in melaleuca nectar, I was not
at all disposed to judge of the misbehaviour harshly or to take personal
offence; for the drongo is a respectable bird, and the opportunities for
excess come but twice a year. Are not the tenses of intoxication
infinite?

This is not a prohibition district, and if the happy, unreflective bird
chooses to partake even to excess of the free offering of Nature, the
quintessence of the flowers of the tree distilled by sunshine, why
should not he? Am I the only one to be "recompensed by the sweetness
and satisfaction of this retreat"?

When the melaleuca blossoms, bees seem to work with quite feverish
haste; but the honey gained is dark in colour and has a certain pungent,
almost acid, flavour. Holding a frame of comb to the light, you see the
clear gold of the bloodwood and the tawny tints of the melaleuca as
erratically defined as geographical distinctions in a tinted map. Bees
keep it apart to indulge in it, peradventure, at revolutionary epochs.
Italian bees are docile, at least less pugnacious than other species.
Does not the dark spirituous honey inspire them with that degree of
courage which we English call Dutch?



CHAPTER VII



"THE LORD AND MASTER OF FLIES"


Among the curious creatures native to the island is a fierce
cannibalistic fly. Fully an inch in length and bulky in proportion, it
somewhat resembles a house-fly on a gigantic scale, but is lustrous grey
in colour, with blond eyes, fawn legs, and transparent, iridescent
wings, with a brassy glint in them. The broad, comparatively short wings
carry a body possessing a muscular system of the highest development,
for the note flight produces indicates the extraordinary rapidity of the
wing vibrations. Some swift-flying insects are said to make about eight
hundred down strokes of the wing per second. This big fair fellow's
machinery may not be equipped for such marvellous momentum, but the
high key that he sounds under certain circumstances indicates rare force
and speed. No library of reference is available. The specific scientific
title of the insect cannot therefore be supplied. Possibly it does not
yet possess one, but it is a true fly of the family ASILIDAE, and being
a veritable monster to merely sportful and persistent if annoying flies
of lesser growth, no doubt it will continue to perform its part even
though without a formal distinction. Its presence is announced by an
ominous, booming hum. It passes on one side with a flight so rapid as to
render it almost invisible. You hear a boom which has something of a
whistle, and see a yellowish glint; the rest is space and silence. In
half a minute the creature returns; and thus he scoops about, booming
and making innocent lightnings in the clear air. The tone is
demonstrative, aggressive, triumphant; but the monster is only
reconnoitring--seeing whether you have any flies about you. You may
have boasted to yourself--there being no friends about to tolerate your
egotistical confidences that there are no flies about you; but the big,
booming creature has his suspicions. Apparently in his opinion you
are just the sort of country to attract and encourage flies, and
he does not immediately satisfy himself to the contrary. But should
you witlessly happen to have attracted the companionship of ever
so innocent a fly, the awful presence seizes it on the wing and is
away with the twang of a bullet. It will pick a fly from your
sunburnt arm--no occasion for coats here--with neatness and despatch
and leave wondering comprehension far behind. And having seized its
prey, it may, haply, seek as it booms along the nearest support on which
to enjoy its meal. Then you see what a terrific creature it is. One
favoured me with a minute's close observation. By a hook on one of the
anterior legs (it possesses the regulation half-dozen) it had attached
itself to a tiny splinter on the under-side of the verandah rail, and so
hung, the body being at right angles to its support. Thus stretched, the
leg appeared fully two inches long, and with the rest of its legs it
clasped to its bosom the unfortunate little fly, shrunken with distress,
the very embodiment of hopeless dismay. No sight which comes to memory's
call equals for utter despair that of the little insect, which no doubt
in its day had provoked a big lump of irritation and strong but
ineffective language. Hugged by its great enemy, it seemed aware of its
fate, yet unreconciled to it. Pendant by the one long, slender leg, as
if hung by a thread, the blond monster seemed quite at ease over its
repast. That was its customary pose and attitude at meal-times. As far
as observation permitted, it was pumping out the blood of its prey, but
before the operation was finished it forbade closer scrutiny by humming
away with a note of savage resentment--a rumble, a grumble and a growl,
ending in a swelling shriek.

It would be interesting to know how many flies of the common vexing kind
such a ferocious creature disposes of during the day. He preys upon the
lustrous bluish-green fly, which draws blood almost on the moment of
alighting, and also on the sluggish "march" fly, which goes about the
business of blood-sucking in a lazy, dreamy, lackadaisical style; and I
am inclined to acknowledge him as a friend and as a blessing to humanity
generally.

A TRAGEDY IN YELLOW

Quite a distinct tragedy occurred the other day. The little yellow
diurnal moth commonly known as "the wanderer" has a partiality for the
nectar of the "bachelor's button," as yellow as itself. The morning was
gay with butterflies. A "wanderer" poised over a yellow cushion
fluttered spasmodically, and remained fixed and steadfast with
tightly-closed wings. It allowed itself to be touched without showing
uneasiness, and when a brisk movement was made to frighten it to flight
it was still steady as a statue. Closer inspection revealed the cause.
The body was tightly-gripped in the mandibles of a spider, a yellow
rotund spider with long, slender, greeny-yellowy legs. Under cover of
the yellow flower the yellow spider had seized the yellow moth. A
general inspection showed that the tragedy was almost as universal as
the flowers. There were few flowers which did not conceal a spider, and
few spiders which had not murdered a moth. The conspiracy between the
flower and the spider for the undoing of the moth (a conspiracy from
which both profited) was repeated thousands of times this bright
morning, and it illustrated the profundity of Nature's lesser tragedies,
the sternness with which she adjusts her equilibriums.

COLOUR EFFECTS

A favourite food of the great green, gold and black butterfly
(ORNITHOPTERA CASSANDRA) is the nectar of the hard, dull-red flowers of
the umbrella-tree, and this fact assisted in an observation which seems
to prove that plants play tricks on insects. Among the introduced plants
of the island is one of the acalyphas. Butterflies which have feasted
among the umbrella-trees on the beach and on the edge of the jungle flit
about the garden and almost invariably visit the red but nectarless
acalypha. One began at the end of the row, examined the topmost leaves,
flitted to the next, and so on, lured by the colour and disappointed by
the absence of nectar, twenty-five times, in succession, until it
blundered on the red hibiscus bushes and began to feed.

The gorgeous blue swallow-tail (PAPILIO ULYSSES) seems to have a fancy
for yellow, for it pays frequent visits to the golden trumpets of the
tecoma and the alamanda. The living gold of the flowers and the imperial
blue of the insect form a sumptuous if everyday scene.

MUSICAL FROGS

A marked feature of the wet season is the varied chant of happy frogs.
During the day silence is the rule. A low gurgle of content at the
sounding rain is occasionally heard on the part of a flabby, moist
creature unable to restrain its sentiments until the approach of
evening. But as the sun sets, each of the countless host utters a song
of thankfulness and pleasure. To the unappreciative it may appear merely
an inharmonious vocal go-as-you-please, in which each frog is the
embodiment of the idea that upon its jubilant efforts the honour and
reputation of the race as vocalists depend. But to one class of listener
the opera is decently if not scientifically constituted. There is the
loud and cheerful, if not shrill, bleating of the soprano, the strenuous
booming of the bass, the velvety softness and depth of the contralto
and the thin high tenor. Hordes of the alert, sharp-featured, far-leaping
grass frog represent the chorus, and they have a perfectly rehearsed
theme. Down on the flat along the edge of the pandanus grove the
preliminary chords are uttered--a merry, unreflective, chirrupy strain,
gay as "the Fishermen's Chorus." The motive is taken up nearer among the
coco-nuts, and is in full swing in the pools below the terrace. Thence
the sound passes on through the wattles and bloodwoods to the narrow
tea-tree swamp lined with dwarf bamboos and dies in echoes in the
distance. A brief interlude, and the pandanus choir gives voice again,
stronger and resonant; the companions of the coco-nuts join lustily, the
strain reverberates from the wet lands below, resounds through the
forest, and is lost in the mellow distance of the tea-trees. And so the
sound rises and falls, swells and dwindles away in chords and harmonies,
until presently every amphibian is alert and tremulous with emotion and
emulation. If an attempt is made to analyse the music, you may discover
sounds sharp as those of the fife, deep and hollow as drum-beats,
sonorous and acrid, tinny and mellow.

I have heard that those who are not disciples of Wagner find it
necessary to undergo a process of education ere they acquire an
unaffected taste for the composer's masterpieces. Possibly those who
have not listened, wet season after wet season, to the light-hearted
chant, may be inclined to suggest that there can be no such thing as
music in the panting bellows of a North Queensland frog. But music "is
of a relative nature, and what is harmony to one ear may be dissonance
to another." The Chinese opera proves that "nations do not always
express the same passions by the same sounds." If one obtains music from
the clang and clamour of full-throated frogs, may it not be because his
ears are more attuned to natural than to artificial harmonies, not
because, of any defect in, or aberration of, hearing, or any lack of
melody on the part of the frogs?

ACTS WELL ITS PART

"A living drollery! Now I will believe
That there are unicorns; that in Arabia
There is one tree, the phoenix throne; one phoenix
At this hour reigning."


Few insects repay observation better than the mantis and the stick
insect, which generally, of most voracious habits themselves, resort to
all manner of disguises and devices to elude their enemies and lure
their prey. Nearly all furnish striking examples of colour protection.
One variety of the mantis here is black and rugged, and is to be found
only on charred wood. The wing-cases present the characteristic grain
and glint of fresh charcoal, distinctly showing the influence of the
condition of its environment. Another is grey, to match its groundwork
of dead wood; another brown and slightly hairy, to coincide with the
bark of the particular eucalyptus upon which it lurks. Another, and the
most graceful, resembles two bright green leaves, the midrib and the
nerve system being imitated perfectly.

Among the most singular is one of the stick insects (PHASMA). A fair
specimen may be a foot and more long. The body presents the general
appearance of a dry stick; the posterior legs, held at different and
erratic angles to the grey and brown body, are as sunburnt twigs; the
intermediary pair seem to be used primarily as supports. The anterior
are stretched out to their fullest extent parallel to each other, and so
close together as to resemble one tapering termination, with the head
closely packed between the thighs, in each of which is a complementary
depression for its accommodation. When the insect is motionless it is
difficult to detect. By its long posterior legs, stiffly held aloft, it
proclaims to every bird--"Do not be so absurd as to imagine these dry
twigs to be legs, belonging to a body good to eat." And if the bird does
not take the resemblance for granted and is inquisitive and approaches
too familiarly, it finds that instead of a dinner it has discovered a
snake. The insect seems to say--"I am a stick! Look at the twigs. No, I
am a snake! Long live the serpent!"

The long, slender anterior legs--used more frequently as arms than as
legs--form the tapering tail; the other end is the head with mouth open,
ready for action--eyes and jaws and protruding tongue complete. This
end sways as does the head of an excited snake, and curves round as if
to strike, and the boldest of little birds fly off with a note of
apprehension and alarm. I have had these strange creatures under
observation many weeks, and invariably found that when one was
interfered with in any way it used its snake-like aft end as a bogey,
curving it round towards the molesting hand. A fowl that will attack an
8-inch centipede without hesitation, makes a sensational fuss and
clatter when it detects a stick insect, especially when the stick insect
feints, however ineffectually, with its perfectly harmless tail. If it
is capable of imposing upon a sagacious fowl, the effect of its
terrifying aspect upon an unsophisticated little bird can well be
understood.

Richard Kerr, the author of NATURE: CURIOUS AND BEAUTIFUL, describes a
specimen of the stick insect from a cabinet specimen and a pen-and-ink
drawing in the museum of the Hon. W. Rothschild, at Tring. This
particular insect originally came from Malacca, and is jointed somewhat
after the style of a Malacca cane, and of it the author says--"It is
said that when the insect is attacked by its foe, or is in danger of
attack, it has the power to protrude telescopically the tenth (terminal)
segment, which has a mouth-like opening and a tongue-like organ which at
once gives the creature the appearance of a snake. There is also a spot
that answers to the appearance of an eye on the ninth segment."

The Dunk Island representative of the family does not possess the power
of protruding and withdrawing its terminal segment, but it certainly
assumes a resemblance to a snake, and a pugnacious snake too. Further,
the Tring insect does not appear to possess wings. My friend does--though
she flies as the Scotchman admitted he joked--"wi' deefeeculty." She
spreads her light, gauzy, grey, and shockingly inadequate, skirts, and
romps and rollicks away, giving one a fleeting impression of a bold and
most disorderly ballet girl. "She" is quite the proper mode of
address, for there can be no mistake as to the sex.

The male is a slim individual, not half the length, and about one-fourth
of the circumference of the female. Though (unlike his consort) he is in
his general demeanour sprightly and alert, taking to the wing at the
slightest impulse, in his love-making he is most deliberate, courtly and
formal, the consummation of it all continuing for several days. So we
see that the character of the snake which the female plays with so much
art is not disturbed during the most emotional period of her existence.
Nature holds the mirror to herself with inimitable skill. While the male
takes long flights, those of the female are short and uncertain and
seldom voluntary. Immediately she alights the anterior legs are
extended, the head is depressed between the thighs, and the legs which
are at liberty become as rigid as twigs. Among the branches of a shrub
her action is cautious and stealthy; but the stick insect is seldom to
be caught napping. It is very wide awake when it plays the dual part of
a sleepy snake and four crooked twigs. In youth, the colouring of the
female is ashy green, almost exactly the tint of the most common of
arboreal snakes, and at the time of life when it is less able to defend
itself it seems to spend all its days in the snake-like posture.

In some respects this insect resembles the MANTIS RELIGIOSA; but it does
not seem to possess the voracious appetite of that insect, which assumes
the supplicatory attitude that it may the more readily seize its prey.
Indeed, although two specimens were under observation for three months,
at morning, noon and eve, I only once saw one eating, and then it was
partaking sparingly of orange leaves. The insect is well-known as a
vegetarian, but the manner of its feeding is singular. The part that it
takes of a motionless snake would be ineffective if the head moved while
eating, and Nature provides against any blundering of that sort. The
edge of a leaf is guided to the mouth, which appears to open
vertically--not horizontally as mouths usually do--by a set of palpi or
feelers, three on each side. The palpi move the leaf along, the while a
crescent-shaped strip is rapidly nibbled away. Then they move the leaf
back again to the original starting point, and another crescent is
devoured, and so on, while the extended anterior legs, hooked on to a
twig, pull the body forward with a gliding, almost imperceptible motion
as the leaf is gradually consumed. Between meals, the palpi are folded
flat close to the mouth, like the blades of a pocket-knife.

Blacks classify most of the works of Nature under two headings--"Good to
eat," "Not good to eat," and nearly everything is included under the
former. The "Taloo" or "Yam-boo" is included in the larger class.
Ruthlessly deprived of its limbs, the insect is placed squirming on hot
embers until it becomes crisp, when it is eaten with great relish.

GREEN-ANT CORDIAL

White ants, black ants, red ants, brown ants, grey ants, green ants;
ants large, ants small; ants slothful, ants brisk; meat-eating ants,
grain-eating ants, fruit-eating ants, nectar-imbibing ants; ants that
fight, ants that run away; ants that live under coldest stone, ants that
dwell among the treetops; silent ants, ants that literally "kick up"
a row; good ants, bad ants, ants that are merely so so--we have them
all and would not part with any--not even the stinging green ants, which
are among the most singular of the tribe, nor even the "white ant"
(which is not an ant), that would literally eat us out of house and home
if not rigorously excluded and warred against with poison, for they are
the great scavengers of woodeny debris.

Green ants do disfigure orange and mango trees with their "nests," and
they have the temper of furies; but they wage war on many of the insects
which bother plants, and clear away insect carrion, and carrion, in
fact, of all sorts. This ant, to which has been given the official title
of "emerald-coloured leaf dweller," constructs a pocket with leaves of
living trees (and, very rarely, of the blades of living grass), and
dwelling therein establishes populous colonies. The queen or mother ant
sets up her separate establishment by curling a small leaf or the corner
of a large one, joining the edges with a white cottony fabric, and
forthwith begins to raise a family. She is a portly creature--unlike her
slim, semi-transparent workers and warriors--and most prolific, and her
family increases marvellously. As it multiplies, ingenious additions of
living leaves are made to the pocket or purse, until it may assume the
size of a football and be the home of millions of alert, pugnacious,
inquisitive, foraging insects, whose bites are dreaded by individuals
whose skin is extra sensitive.

Is it not astonishing that insects, possessing even in combination such
trivial muscular power as the green tree-ant, should be able to cause
leaves 12 inches long by 8 inches wide to curl up so that the apex shall
almost touch the base, or that the parallel borders shall be brought
together with the nicest apposition? The astonishment increases when it
is recognised that at the founding of a colony there are but few workers
to co-operate in the undertaking.

The minute caterpillar of a certain species of moth mines leaves, and
eating away the cellular structures, causes them to twist irregularly,
and eventually spins on the spot a cocoon of green silk in which it
undergoes metamorphosis. A local caterpillar, too, converts the tough
harsh leaves of a fig-tree (FICUS FASCICULATA) into a close and perfect
scroll by an elaborate system of haulage, spinning silken strands as
required, having primarily rendered the leaf the more easy to manipulate
by nibbling away a portion of the midrib. In this scroll the insect
dozes until in process of time it is transformed, and emerges a bright
but short-lived butterfly.

But, as far as my personal observation goes, the green tree-ants do not
effect any alteration in the superficial appearance nor destroy the
structure of leaves, nor employ any physical power at the first stages
of the construction of a habitation. The process by which a leaf is
curled extends over several days, and but few take part in it. Half a
dozen ants may be seen perpetually engaged in, apparently, an
unmethodical but extremely minute and critical inspection of the rhachis
and the nerves or ribs of the leaf. Days pass. The ants are there all
the time, examining the leaf and communicating with each other
whensoever they meet. Imperceptibly the leaf begins to curl. The ants
continue to make mesmeric passes over the nerves with ever-waving
antennae.

In accordance with the will and the design of the architects, who merely
stand by and gesticulate, the opposite margins approach, or the apex
curls towards the base, or towards one of the sides to form a miniature
funnel. When the extremities are so close that the intervening space may
be spanned, threads of white gossamer are laced across, and the slack
being taken up by degrees, in a few days a cosy pocket with
closely-fitting seams is completed.

How is this folding of the leaf accomplished? A theory which presents
itself is that the ants eject some active chemical principle into
certain of the cells of the leaf tissue, and that the stimulus is
transmitted by excitation from cell to cell, bringing about a general
and uniform contraction without destroying the vitality of the leaf.
Further, by the application of the injection to specific cells the ants
convey impulses to specific nerves, causing the leaf to curl
longitudinally or laterally, or at any angle they design. The poison
that a single ant injects into the neck of a brawny man so affects his
nervous system that he twists and writhes and stamps his feet with
energy sufficient to destroy millions of the species. Maybe a slightly
different compound is reserved for vegetable substances, which can offer
only a flabby sort of remonstrance. If this theory be supported on
investigation, surely the green tree-ant will deserve to be catalogued
among creatures who have solved labour-saving problems--who employ
consciousness, if not rational thought, to compensate for physical
frailty. This theory is applicable to the manipulation of a single leaf
only, and of a leaf of considerable size. Yet these feeble folk more
frequently take up their quarters in trees bearing small leaves, of
which scores are embodied in a mansion. Immense and concentrated
exertion is necessary to draw far-flung branchlets and leaves together,
and the feverish host accomplishes a seemingly impossible feat by an
organised combination of engineering with co-operative labour. Spaces
between leaves and twigs four and five inches wide are bridged by chains
of ants--each individual clasping with its mandibles above the abdominal
segment its immediate companion; occasionally the ant grips its fellow
by the posterior legs, and is so held by the next in order. In the
construction of these chains ants hastily mass at each side of the gulf
to be spanned, and crawling, or rather running over each other, form
pendant strands, each ant a living link. The chains sway until the
terminal links engage, when they are immediately shortened up. Several
of these chains are swung across parallel to each other with astonishing
rapidity; and in addition to the constant strain of the hauling workers
at each end they are used as bridges by innumerable other workers and
fussy superintendents, the traffic on them being almost as voluminous
and bustling as that of a Thames thoroughfare. Gradually the most
obstinate branchlet with its spray of leaves is drawn into juxtaposition
with the main part of the mansion. Then the living spans become more
numerous, presenting the appearance of great stitches. As the edges of
the leaves are brought together they are fastened with white gossamer
while the tireless workers strain themselves, heroically holding the
edges in apposition. The gossamer seems to be obtained in part from the
pupuae, which, borne in the mandibles of workers, are passed to and fro
as weavers' shuttles. As a rule, insects which house themselves in
leaves are vegetarian, but the green ant is demonstratively carnivorous,
using leaves solely for shelter.

An aboriginal--to repeat perhaps a needless observation--regards the
most of things of this earth from a dietetic standpoint. He does not so
regard the green tree-ant in vain. He knows when the pocket is packed
with white larvae and white helpless infant ants, or with helpless green
ones big of abdomen, and consenting to the assaults of the adults, cuts
away the supporting branch and shakes off the furious citizens, or
expels them with the smoke and fire of paper-bark torches, or, maybe,
casts the pocket into water so that the adult ants may swim ashore,
abandoning those that cannot, on account of immaturity or incompetence,
to their fate.

Eaten raw, the larvae are pungent morsels, or macerated in water in
company with relatives distended to the degree of helplessness, form a
cordial that is sharp to the palate, scarifying to the throat, and
consoling to the stomach replete with the cold and sodden foods with
which blacks often have to be content.

Tetchy and quarrelsome, staccato in action, the warriors of a colony
bury their forceps in the skin and stand upon their heads to give all
their weight to the attack; but each individual retains its grip until
squashed and crumpled up, and the human being who has suffered the
assault comments on it in language corresponding with the sensitiveness
or otherwise of his skin. Consequently the green tree-ant is not as a
rule regarded with any tenderness or consideration, and there never
existed a green ant which hesitated to attack the greatest man. He is
quite as heroic as a bee--though armed much less efficiently--and far more
resentful.

A brilliant black ant imitates its green cousin in the construction of a
leafy dwelling somewhat similar in design but on a smaller scale, and
having no apparent weapon of defence, save odour--and not very much of
that--adopts a novel plan of protecting its refuge against assaults.
However gently the leafy house is touched the denizens set up a violent
agitation, the simultaneous efforts of hundreds making a sound quite
loud enough to scare away intruders whose senses are attuned to the
silence and rustlings of the jungle. The noise, which resembles that
which results from the easy agitation of coarse sand in a crisp paper
envelope, seems to be caused by the ants kicking or drumming on the
sides and partitions of the house, the partitions being composed of a
light brown fabric, tense, tough and resonant.

WOOING WITH WINGS

Among the many engaging scenes and frolics that are ever taking place
along the flounces of the jungle, where the serrated leaves of the fern
of God make living lacework up and among the tangle of foliage, none is
prettier than the love flight of the green and gold butterfly
(ORNITHOPTERA CASSANDRA). Human beings, who in their marriage ceremonies
array themselves to the best advantage and assume their most charming
traits, can hardly withhold attention from other and more ethereal
creatures when they become subject to the divine passion. All have their
moments of bliss, and the butterfly--"the embodiment of pure felicity
--happy in what it has and happier still in searching for something
else"--reveals its "love-sickness and pain" as the bloom of its gay and
sportful existence.

In the courtship of this particular species the male exercises a
singular fascination, while the female gracefully and without hesitation
submits to the spell. He has flitted airily in the sunshine, glorying in
a livery of green and gold and black, has daintily sipped nectar from
the scarlet hibiscus flowers, has soared over the highest bloodwood in
wild but idle impulse, and in a flash, is fervently in love. Judged by
appearance alone he has chosen quite an unworthy bride. She is much the
larger, darker and heavier, and has little of the colouring of her
passionate wooer on her wings, though her body is decorated with
unexpected red. Her flight, ordinarily, is cumbersome and slow, and her
demeanour pensive--almost prim. She seems to be of a steady, matronly
disposition, whereas the shape of the wings of her mate alone denotes
quite a different ideal of life. He is all alert, charged to the full
with nervous energy--free, careless, inconsequent, but absolutely
irresistible.

When the pair meet, what time the fancies of butterflies lightly turn to
thoughts of love, he swoops impetuously towards her and rises in a
graceful curve, seeming to enchant her with the display of his colours.
She forthwith amends her staid behaviour, and begins a quivering,
fluttering flight, rising and falling with gentle, rhythmical grace. He,
hovering about with rapid wing movements, harmoniously responds to her
undulations. Still maintaining her coy contours she floats over the
tree-tops, or descends among the ferns or bushes, past the blue berries
of the native ginger, while with quaint courtliness he pays his
compliments and bewilders by his audacity. As the amorous dalliance
proceeds, he flits in brilliant spirals round and before her, and
again resumes his tremulous flight, consonant with her emotional
flutterings. However intricate, however long the dance she leads,
he follows, blithesomeness and confidence in all his poses. Exhausting
work this aerial flirtation. The bride alights among the red knobs
of the umbrella-tree for refreshment. Her wings quiver as she sips,
while her admirer poises a yard in the air above her, flashes hither
and thither, briefly steadying his flight in positions whence all
his loveliness may be advantageously revealed; poises again a yard
above her; gyrates with the air of a dandy of over-weening assurance,
vanity, and pride; swoops until his wings in their down-strokes salute
her; and then the dainty pair dance into the sunless mazes of the
jungle.

It is all a vivid but soundless symphony--a concord of tender harmonies
and sprightly trills and passionate phrases.

THE GREED OF THE SNAKE

In another place in these artless chronicles proof has been given of the
fact that though serpents were long enough ago declared to be the most
subtle of the beasts of the field, they may be imposed upon. I would
like now to cite an instance of their greed and their grasping nature.
Our chicken coops were made snake-proof, but a more than ordinarily,
crafty individual burglariously broke into one, and the hen and chickens
sounded the alarm. It was night, and the lantern revealed the snake. The
affrighted chickens with their anxious parent issued forth as soon as
the door was opened, all save two, one at each end of the snake. A
gunshot through the open door divided the snake. When the coop was
lifted away, each end retained tightly a dead chicken, one partially
swallowed, the other throttled and held by three encircling coils of the
tail. Apart from the gunshot there was a tragic element in this case.
When once it has firmly seized with its teeth its prey, a snake must
swallow it whole or burst in the attempt. Nature has denied some species
the privilege of rejection. Now the chicks were several sizes too large
for the snake, and consequently the sides of its mouth, its neck and
body, for a length of about 4 inches, had been ripped in the vain
endeavour to perform an impossibility.

A SWALLOWING FEAT

Everyone knows that small snakes are capable of swallowing comparatively
large eggs. But is the way in which the feat is accomplished generally
understood? That is the question. No doubt a big snake glides jauntily
to a moderately-sized egg, grips it with its in-curved teeth, the jaws
loosen and begin their alternating movement, and unhook themselves at
the bases to permit of the eggs passing down the throat. That is easy.
But how does a small snake, the neck of which is an inch and a half in
circumference, swallow whole an egg 5 inches and more in circumference?
Actual observation enables me to explain. If the snake were to begin the
act straightforwardly, the egg, presenting but little resistance, would
be continuously pushed away. The snake slides its head and neck over the
egg, and pressing downward upon it with that part of its body which for
the present purpose may be termed the bosom, prevents it moving. The
head turns over as if the snake was preparing for a somersault; the jaws
fit over the end of the egg, the upper below and the lower above, and
begin to work. Presently the upper and lower jaws become entirely
disassociated, the egg is encompassed and forced down into the throat.
The process seems a most distressing one to the snake, for so great is
the distension of the flesh tissues and the skin that they become
semitransparent, revealing the colour of the egg. When the egg is safe
in the stomach, the shell submits to the action of the gastric juices,
and the meal is digested. That is if it is a hen's egg. A porcelain
counterfeit, which the most subtle snake cannot distinguish from a
natural egg, passes on its way unblemished,



PART II



STONE AGE FOLKS



CHAPTER I



PASSING AWAY


Some investigators tell us that the aborigines of Australia came out of
Egypt carrying with them their ancient signs and totemic ceremonies;
others, that they are representatives of the Neolithic Age; others
assert that Australia is the cradle of the human race, the primitive
inhabitants the stock whence all sprung.

Without pausing to hazard an opinion upon any of these theories, it may
be said that stone axes, shell knives, and fish-hooks of pearl and
tortoiseshell now in use are among the credentials of a people whose
attributes and conditions are in line with those who, in other parts of
the world, had their day and fulfilled their destiny ages upon ages ago,
leaving as history etchings on ivory of the mammoth and the bone of the
reindeer. Implements similar to those which are relics of a remote past
elsewhere are here of everyday use and application. The Stone Age still
exists.

To speculate upon those phases of aboriginal life and character which go
to establish the antiquity of the race and its profound
unprogressiveness, is no part of the present purpose, which is merely to
relate commonplace incidents and the humours of to-day. Much of that
which follows is necessarily matter of common knowledge among those who
have studied the blacks of the coast.

There is nothing obscure, and but little that concerns even the
immediate past, in the philosophy of those natives of North Queensland
with whom I am in touch. With the black, to-day is--"to be, contents
his natural desire!" The past is not worth thinking about, if not
entirely forgotten; the future unembarrassed by problems. Crafts and
artifices, common enough a few years ago, are fast passing away. New
acquirements are generally saddening proofs of the unfitness of the
aboriginal for the battle of life when once his primitive condition is
disturbed by the wonder-working whites. Bent wire represents a cheap and
effective substitute for fish-hooks of pearl-shell, which cost so much
in skill and time, and ever so shabby and worn a blanket more
comfortable and to the purpose than the finest beaten out of the bark of
a fig-tree.

Many of the wants of the race are supplied through the agency of the
whites, and there are so many new tasks and occupations and novelties
generally to occupy attention, that the decent and often ingenious
handicrafts lapse and are lost. Our blacks still decorate rocks and the
bark of trees with rude charcoal drawings; but the art of making stone
axes is lost, though trees yet exhibit marks of those handled by the
fathers of the present generation.

In passing, an example of the difficulties that must inevitably be faced
by inquirers a few years hence who may seek information first hand may
be cited. The grandfathers of the blacks of Hinchinbrook Island and the
islands of Rockingham Bay have been popularly credited with the art of
making out-rigger canoes, such as were common a few miles to the north.
One living representative of the race gave me a detailed description of
this style of canoe, and pointed out with pride the particular tree
whence it was invariably fashioned, by hollowing out a section of the
trunk, leaving the ends solid and shaping them. A different and very
buoyant timber, according to him, was used for the out-rigger. This boy
had travelled. He had seen the canoes further north as well as those of
New Guinea, and it was found on investigation that his description of
the local craft was quite imaginary. Captain Philip P. King, who came
hither from Sydney in 1818, anchoring at Goold Island, thus describes
the canoe of the period--"Their canoes were not more than five feet
long, and generally too small for two people; two small strips of bark
five or six inches square serves the darkie's purpose of paddling and
for baling the water out, which they are constantly obliged to do to
prevent their canoes from sinking." These details are applicable to the
canoes of the present day.

As a matter of fact, out-rigger canoes were not known in this locality,
though but 20 miles to the north hollowed logs with out-riggers of the
stems of banana plants were common. This fact definitely fixes the
point--geographical and also historical--at which the advanced ideas of
the Papuan in the science of boat-building ceased to influence the tardy
Australian. Ere knowledge of the counterbalance crept further south, the
advent of the arbitrary white man brought its progress to a full and
final stop. Fragile single canoes of bark were the only means of
navigation here, and not many men in these degenerate days can
successfully imitate the work of their fathers. Owing to disuse, the
talent in that direction has almost been lost. Lost, too, are many of
the legends which were wont to be handed down from one generation to
another, and forgotten the very names of common objects. But these
investigations do not pretend to depth, nor are they presented in any
authoritative manner. No attempt is made to discuss the Australian
aboriginal in general nor from any particular standpoint. A few
side-shows and character sketches, are offered in the attempt to
interest and entertain.

In some respects our blacks, said to be among the finest physically in
Queensland, and desperately deceitful, are cute and as independent of
artificial aids as ever.

TURTLE AND SUCKERS

Generally unprogressive and uninventive, the aboriginals of the coast of
North Queensland apply practically the result of the observation of a
certain fact in the life-history of a fish in obtaining food. By them
the sucker (REMORA) is not regarded as an interesting example of a fish
which depends largely upon turtle, dugong, sharks and porpoises for
locomotion, but as a ready means of effecting the capture of the two
first-mentioned animals, always eagerly hunted for their flesh.

In the days of hoary antiquity it was believed that this strange fish
was wont to affix itself to the bottom of a ship, and was able of its
malice to hold it stationary in a stiff breeze though all sails were
set. According to the legend (a popular method by means of which the
descendants of great men explained away their faults and blunders), at
the famous sea-fight at Actium, Mark Antony's ship was held back by a
remora in spite of the efforts of hundreds of willing galley-slaves.
Shakespeare may say that Cleopatra's "fearful sails" were the cause of
Antony's fatal indecision and flight, and a lesser poet may cast the
blame upon her "timid tear"; but the tribute to the remora's
interference with the fate of nations was accepted in good faith at the
time, and was, moreover, supported and confirmed by the inglorious
experience of other great men who hung back when they should have sailed
boldly on to victory or noble disaster.

Vulgarly known nowadays as "the sucker," and to science as the "ECHENEIS
REMORA" and "ECHENEIS NAUCRATES," and to the blacks as "Cum-mai," the
fish upon which such grave responsibility was thrown by the ancients
monopolises the sub-order of ACANTHOPTAYGII (DISCOCEPHALI). Its
distinguishing feature is a shield or disc extending from the tip of the
upper jaw to a point behind the shoulders, and said to be a modification
of the spurious dorsal fin. This structure consists of a midrib and a
number of transverse flat ridges capable of being raised or depressed.
The disc has a membranous continuous edge or margin. When the fish
presses the soft edge of the disc against any smooth surface and
depresses the ridges and the intervening spaces, a vacuum is formed,
giving it enormous holding power. Other countries have sucker fish of
different form; but it remained for the benighted Australian blacks,
among a few other savage races, to make practical use of the creature,
which, as a means of locomotion, forms strong attachments to the dugong,
turtle, shark and porpoise. It can hardly be called domesticated, yet it
is employed after the manner of the falcon in hawking, save that the
sucker is fastened to a light line when the game is revealed.

Some assert that the sucker swims on its back when not adhering to its
host, but my observation denounces that theory. Becalmed among the
islands, where the water is transparently clear, I have seen the sucker
swim cautiously to the boat, apparently reconnoitring. Shy and easily
startled, a wave of the hand over the gunwale is sufficient to scare it
away; but it comes again, keeping pace as the boat drifts, and liking to
remain in its shadow. Then it is easily seen that it swims with the
sucker uppermost.

Occasionally when the blacks harpoon a turtle or a dugong a sucker is
secured. They declare that it stays in one locality until a suitable
host happens along, and then forms a life-long attachment.

If one is seen among the rocks the blacks are at pains to catch it, and
as it is shark-like in its nervousness, the sport demands considerable
skill and patience. "Feed 'em plenty" is the ruling principle.
Delectable morsels of fresh fish are tendered abundantly until the
sucker abandons his usual caution, and then when he is feeding freely a
hook temptingly baited is let down casually among the other dainties,
and if the fish has been liberally and yet not over fed, it will
probably accept the line, and after protesting and holding back to the
best of its ability, find itself flapping in the bark canoe. Should it
get away--"Well! Plenty more alonga salt water. Catch 'em to-morrow."
When determined to secure a sucker whose haunt they have discovered, the
blacks will feed it at intervals for a day or two to overcome its
nervous apprehension. In other localities along the coast the fish is
plentiful and by no means shy, taking bait ravenously.

Having secured the sucker, the blacks farm it in their haphazard
fashion. They fasten a line above the forked tall so securely that it
cannot slip, nor be likely to readily cut through the skin, and tether
it in shallow water, when it usually attaches itself to the bottom of
the canoe. When, as the result of frequent use and heavy strain, the
tail of the sucker is so deeply cut by the line that it is in danger
of being completely severed, a hole is callously bored right through
the body beside the backbone, and the line passed through it for
additional security.

Turtle being wanted, the blacks voyage out each in a bark canoe, which
weighs about 40 lbs., is 8 feet long, 2 feet beam and 1 foot deep
midships, where the sides are much depressed, leaving little more than
an inch of freeboard. There is a good sheer forward and a slight tilt at
the stern, while the bottom is level. Occasionally two men fit
themselves into a canoe of the dimensions given. The canoe is
constructed of a single sheet of bark, preferably of "Gulgong"
(EUCALYPTUS ROBUSTA) or "Carr-lee" (ACACIA AULACOCARPA), or "Wee-ree"
(CALOPHYLLUM INOPHYLLUM) brought neatly together at the ends, which are
sewn with strips of lawyer cane. Pieces of lawyer cane are sometimes
also stitched in to represent stem and stern posts, and the chaffing
pieces also are of cane, though occasionally thin pliant saplings are
strapped and sewn on. Across the bow and the stern are stays of cane,
with generally a stronger thwart midships. When new, and the stitches of
yellow cane regular and bright, the canoe represents about the neatest
and nattiest of the few constructive efforts of the blacks, and is as
buoyant as a duck. The seams are caulked with a resinous gum,
"Tambarang," of the jungle tree known as "Arral" (EVODIA ACCEDENS), and
is prepared by being powdered on a flat stone previously moistened with
water. The powdered resin is melted by heat, allowed to solidify, and
pounded and melted again, and after being rolled and kneaded into a
lump, is wrapped in a leaf until wanted. The finished article, which is
also used as a cement, is known as "Toon-coo."

Motor power for the canoe is a shovel-shaped piece of bark 5 inches by 3
1/2 inches, each man having a pair. Ever and anon the aft man ejects
leakage by a rapid succession of dexterous back strokes of his paddle.

Naked and unashamed, the blacks are well equipped for sport. They may
have three or four harpoons of their own manufacture, besides a live
fire-stick lying on a piece of bark sprinkled with sand, or they may
carry a couple of dry sticks for raising a fire by friction. The haft of
the harpoon is probably red or orange mangrove (BRUGUIERA RHEEDI), heavy
and tough. It has been duly seasoned and straightened by immersion in
running water and exposure to fire. At the heavy end it is hollowed out
to a depth Of 4 inches. The point is preferably of one of the black
palms (ARCHONTOPHOENIX JARDINEI), and a barb is strapped to it with the
fibre of the "Man-djar" (HIBISCUS TILIACEOUS) and cemented with
"Toon-coo."

I have never known one of these barbs to break or come loose, so adept
are the blacks in securing them. The point is about 6 inches long, and
on the barbless end is tightly wound successive layers of fibrous bark,
until its size is adjusted to the socket in the haft. Above the swathing
of bark a strong line is made fast; the padded end is fitted into the
socket, the line is made taut along the whole length of the haft, and
secured by three or four half hitches about a foot from the thin end. A
neat coil of perhaps 50 yards of line lies in the bottom of the canoe.
Probably each of the blacks will have his fishing-line, for sometimes
the turtle do not rise according to expectations. At high tide these
feed among the rocks close to the shore, at low water out among the
coral on the reef, and the hunters wait and watch and fish silently and
with all passivity. Then, when maybe they have caught schnapper, red
bream and parrot-fish, they drift among the turtle, and the sport
begins.

In sight of the game the sucker which has been adhering to the bottom of
the canoe is tugged off and thrown in its direction. As a preliminary
the disc and shoulders of the sucker are vigorously scrubbed with dry
sand or the palm of the hand, to remove the slime and to excite the
ruling passion of the fish. It makes a dash for a more congenial
companionship than an insipid canoe. The line by which it is secured is
made from the bark of the "Boo-bah" (FICUS FASCICULATA) and is of two
strands, so light as not to seriously encumber the sucker, and yet
strong enough to withstand a considerable strain. Two small loops are
made in the line about an interval Of 2 fathoms from the sucker, to act
as indicators.

As soon as the sucker has attached itself to the turtle, a slight pull
is given and the startled turtle makes a rush, the line being eased out
smartly. Then sport of the kind that a salmon-fisher enjoys when he has
hooked a 40-pounder begins. The turtle goes as he pleases; but when he
begins to tire, he finds that there is a certain check upon him--slow,
steady, never-ceasing. After ten minutes or so a critical phase of the
sport occurs. The turtle bobs up to the surface for a gulp of air, and
should he catch sight of the occupants of the canoe, his start and
sudden descent may result in such a severe tug that the sucker is
divorced. But the blacks watch, and in their experience judge to a
nicety when and where the turtle may rise; telegrams along the line from
the sucker give precise information. They crouch low on their knees in
the canoe, as the game emerges, with half-shut eyes and dives again
without having ascertained the cause of the trifling annoyance to which
he is being subjected. The line is shortened up. Perhaps the turtle
sulks among the rocks and coral, and endeavours to free himself from the
sucker by rubbing against the boulders. Knowing all the wiles and
manoeuvres, the blacks play the game accordingly, and hour after hour
may pass, they giving and taking line with fine skill and the utmost
patience. The turtle has become accustomed to the encumbrance, and
visits the surface oftener for air. One of the harpoons is raised, and
as the turtle gleams grey, a couple of fathoms or so under the water,
the canoe is smartly paddled towards the spot whence it will emerge, and
before it can get a mouthful of air the barbed point, with a strong line
attached, is sticking a couple of inches deep in its shoulder.

There is a mad splash--a little maelstrom of foam and ripples, the line
runs out to its full length, and the canoe careers about, accurately
steered by the aft man, in the erratic course of the wounded creature.
As it tires, the heavy haft of the harpoon secured by the half hitches
round the thin end being a considerable drag, the line is shortened up,
but too much trust is not placed on a single line; some time may pass
before the canoe is brought within striking distance again. When that
moment arrives, a second harpoon is sent into the flesh below the edge
of the carapace at the rear. Unable to break away, the turtle is hauled
close alongside the canoe, secured by the flippers and towed ashore. I
have known blacks, after harpooning a turtle, to be towed 6 miles out to
sea before it came their turn to do the towing.

How they accomplish the feat of securing a turtle that may weigh a
couple of hundredweight from a frail bark canoe, in which a white man
can scarcely sit and preserve his balance, is astonishing. In a lively
sea the blacks sit back, tilting up the stem to meet the coming wave,
and then put their weight forward to ease it down, paddling, manoeuvring
with the line and baling all the time. The mere paddling about in the
canoe is a feat beyond the dexterity of an ordinary man.

It must not be concluded that these blacks invariably have the
co-operation of a sucker in securing turtle. Its use is comparatively
rare. Generally both turtle and dugong are harpooned as they rise to the
surface to breathe, the sportsmen being very cunning and skilful. They
descry the turtle on the bottom, and softly follow its movements as it
feeds on the marine vegetation, and then as it rises harpoon it; or
they follow one that has betrayed itself by rising, observation and
experience enabling them to judge fairly accurately when and where it is
likely to rise again. But patience, solemn silence, and the avoidance of
anything like sudden movements, are among the principal rules to be
observed.

In passing, on the point of the turtle endeavouring to rid itself of the
sucker, a European pearl-sheller told me of a unique experience that
befell him in Torres Straits. Groping along the bottom, pushing his way
against an impetuous current, he was almost knocked down by a move-on
sort of shove. Instinctively his hand clutched the life-line, when he
was again pushed disrespectfully, and in the greenish light saw that a
monstrous turtle was using him as the afflicted Scotch were said to use
the stones set up by the humane and sympathetic Duke of Argyle, and
without so much as invoking a blessing.

A "KUMMAORIE"

Having caught their turtle and brought it ashore, and having seen the
extent to which the tail of the sucker (which has been faithful to its
host to the death) has been cut by the line, and having decided that it
will do one time more and put it back in the water tethered, or "that
fella no good now," and cast it callously on the sand, to writhe about
until dead, the blacks proceed to the cooking. Possibly the camp decides
upon a "Kummaorie."

A big fire is made and a dozen or so smooth stones about the size of
saucers put on the embers to get red hot. In the meantime the turtle is
killed, the head, neck, and sometimes the two fore flippers, removed.
The entrails and stomach are taken out, and after being roughly cleansed
are put back into the cavity. A hole is scraped in the sand, and the
turtle stuck tail-first into it, the sand being banked up so that it
remains upright. Then the red-hot stones are lifted with sticks and
dropped into the turtle, hissing and spluttering, and stirred about with
a stout stick. Another hole has been scooped in the sand and paved with
stones, upon which a roaring fire is made, When the stones are hot
through, the fire is scraped away, and the steaming turtle eased down
from its upright position, care being taken not to allow any of the
gravy to waste, and carefully deposited on the hot stones--carapace
down. Quickly, so that none of the "smell" escapes, the whole is covered
with leaves--native banana, native ginger, palms, etc., and over all is
raised a mound of sand. In the morning the flesh is thoroughly cooked.
The plastron (lower shell) is lifted off, and in the carapace is a rich,
thick soup. No blood or any of the juices of the meat have gone to
waste--the finest of meat extracts, the very quintessence of turtle,
remains. What would your gourmands give for a plate of this genuine
article? Who may say he has tasted turtle soup--pure and unadulterated--
unless he has "Kummaoried" his turtle to obtain it? With balls of grass
the blacks sop up the brown oily soup, loudly smacking and sucking
their lips to emphasise appreciation. Then there are the white flesh
and the glutin, the best of all fattening foods; and having eaten to
repletion for a couple of days, the diet palls, and they begin to speak
in shockingly disrespectful terms of turtle.

WEATHER DISTURBERS

In the arid parts of Australia, where rain rarely occurs, the blacks
have acquired much out-of-the-way knowledge on the means of obtaining
water. White men, unable to read the secret signs of its existence, have
perished in all the agonies of thirst in country in which water, from a
black fellow's point of view, was plentiful and comparatively easy to
reach. Here there is never any anxiety on the subject. The minds of the
blacks turn rather upon attempts to account for the rain, at times
excessive and discomforting. Bad weather, in common with other untoward
circumstances, is frequently ascribed to the machinations of evilly
disposed boys. A boy may accept the credit or have the greatness thrust
upon him of the manufacture of a gale which has brought about general
discomfort, and to spite him, regardless of consequence to others,
another boy will promise a still more destructive breeze next year. And
so the game of wanton interference with the meteorological conditions of
the continent proceeds, each successive infliction being arranged to
serve out the author of the one preceding. It may be that the instigator
of a gale lives far away, at the Palm Islands, or on Hinchinbrook, or
at Mourilyan. Those who are terrified or inconvenienced agree to ascribe
it to him, and having done so there is nothing of the mysterious to
explain away. Usually the boy upon whom the responsibility is fixed is
not available for cross-examination; but that renders the fact all the
more conclusive. Here is the storm. Peter of the Palms must have made it.

An old gin known as Kitty, and who lived on Hinchinbrook Island, was
famed on account of her successful manipulation of the weather. She was
a grim personage--held in respect, if not awe, because of the peculiar
distinctions ascribed to her. She could command not only the wind and
the rain, but the thunder and lightning also, and to offend her was to
run the risk of bringing about a terrifying storm. Years after her death
blacks had faith in her potency for ill. One of the few white men who
have attempted to climb the highest peaks of the island mountain,
informed me that when he reached a certain elevation, the boys who
accompanied him never spoke above an awe-struck whisper, and solemnly
reproved him whensoever he uttered an unguarded exclamation. They were
afraid that the debil-debil might be aroused; that Kitty would resent
the intrusion of her haunt. At last they refused to go higher, and the
ascent up in the dreaded regions was continued alone, while they
abandoned themselves to sinister prognostics. One lonely night was spent
high up on the mountain, and when the adventurer came back on his tracks
in the morning, the boys were surprised to find that no harm had
befallen him. To go into the very stronghold of mischievous and
vindictive spirits, and to come away again, was to them almost beyond
comprehension, and because no hurricane swooped down upon them, as they
hurried to the lower and safer levels, nothing short of the marvellous.

However fantastic this supposition of human influence on the weather,
there is an inclination to treat it with a semblance of respect when it
is borne in mind that up to a comparatively recent date a similar belief
prevailed even in enlightened England. Addison has a sarcastic reference
to the superstition in one of his delightful essays. Detailing the news
brought from his country seat by Sir Roger de Coverley, he says that the
good knight informed him that Moll White was dead, and that about a
month after her death, the wind was so very high that it blew down the
end of one of his barns. "But for my own part," says Sir Roger, "I do
not think that the old woman had any hand in it." In this particular,
blacks are not so very far in the wake of races quite respectable in
other points of civilisation.

Among other causes to which bad weather is ascribed is the eating by the
young men of the porcupine (ECHIDNA), a dainty reserved for the wise,
conservative old men. If young men should eat of the forbidden flesh, a
terrible calamity will befall--the clouds will "come down altogether!"
One day Tom picked up a young porcupine before it had time to dig a
refuge in the soil, and took it to his camp alive. That afternoon a
south-east gale sprang up, masses of rain-clouds driving tumultuously to
the mountains of the mainland, but Tom was still youthful, and we felt
fairly safe in respect of the stability of the dull and heavy, and
wind-swept firmament. As we watched, a cloud settled on the summit of
Clump Point mountain, assuming shape as fancy pictures the
Banshee--drooping head and shoulders, and arms with pendant drapery
uplifted as in imprecation. The boys, in awe-struck attitude, pointed
to the vapoury spectre, and prognosticated fearsome rain and wind. It
all came during the night. Next morning one of the boys was eager to
declare that the nocturnal tempest was due to Tom, who had eaten the
porcupine. We had seen his weird mother-in-law, aged and decrepid,
preparing it for supper. When Tom appeared, he was duly denounced, and
challenged with the responsibility of the storm. "No!" he cried with
scorn. "Me no eat 'em that fella porcupine; chuck 'em away!" He had
intended to, but the thought of the apparition on Clump Point mountain,
and of the awful responsibility of causing the collapse of the clouds
had taken away his inclination.

But the other boy was not to have his theories as to the weather brushed
aside lightly. It was "that fella along a mountain," who caused the
trouble, or else "another boy alonga Hinchinbrook!" Having thus
completely and satisfactorily settled the point, his face assumed a
slow, wise smile, and his agitated mind rested. Was it not all another
palpable proof, a precedent to be cited, of the manner in which a
no-good-boy wantonly brought about a big wind?

Most of the dainties are forbidden the young members of the camp. Bony
bream and bony herring will be passed on to the boys and girls, and, so
too, the rough parts of turtle; but the sweet fish and flesh are
retained by the old and lusty men, who proclaim that they alone may eat
of such things with impunity. No youngster will dare to partake of
ECHIDNA ("coom-be-yan") at the risk of the prescribed consequences; and
to the old men the fiction stands in the place (as was recently pointed
out) of an annuity or old age pension.

A DINNER-PARTY

To fare sumptuously every day was not the lot of the natives of Dunk
Island. In excessively rainy weather they were often glad of the
coarsest and hardest of foods. Certain sharks are eaten with avidity
whenever they are secured; but some species are too rank and tough to be
endurable under any but extraordinary circumstances. Oysters were always
plentiful, but a diet restricted to the most delicate of molluscs palls
on the palate even of a black fellow. Ordinarily, food was abundant. For
the most part it had only to be picked up and cooked. Frequently it was
eaten on the spot, fresh from bountiful Nature's hands; but blacks
appreciate changes of diet--even when the change is retrogressive--from
the well-cooked, clean food of a white household to that of the sodden
and strong stuffs common to the camp. When, as sometimes happened, the
desire for novelty came, the whole population would paddle away to the
mainland or to one or other of the adjacent islands, voyages being
undertaken as far away as distant Hinchinbrook. Turtle do not favour
the beaches and sandbanks of Dunk Island generally as safe depositories
for their innumerable eggs, and when the longing came for these
delicacies the inhabitants would with one accord travel to those islands
in the security of which turtle still exhibit faith. The drift of the
population hither and thither was not due to the scarcity of food but to
a wayward impulse. As a rule there was little for the population to do
save to eat, drink, laze away the hotter hours of the day, and
"corrobboree" at night.

Astonishment can scarcely be withheld when an attempt is made to
catalogue the available foods of the island, the variety and quantity.
No effort was made at cultivation. Blacks took no heed of the morrow,
but accepted the fruits of the earth without thought of inciting Nature
to produce better or more abundantly, and yet how plenteous were her
gifts!

Permitting imagination to soar away into regions of romance, one might
picture a dinner-party of the bygone days, the lap of Mother Earth
furnished with edibles and dainties, and the hungry and expectant
members of the camp squatted round in anticipation of the various
courses. Such a scene would be worthy of being classed among the most
improbable; but as it would not be absolutely impossible, may not an
attempt be made to treat it as a reality?

The repast might be initiated with a few oysters on the shells (with a
choice of three or four varieties); a selection of many fish would be
succeeded by real turtle ("padg-e-gal") soup (in the original shell),
and made as before described; the joint, a huge piece of dugong
("pal-an-gul") kummaoried, rich and excellent, with ENTREES of turtle
cutlets and baked grubs ("tam-boon"), ivory white with yellow heads, as
neat and pretty a dish as could be seen, and rather rare and novel too.
When the beetles (APPECTROGASTRA FLAVIPILIS) into which these stolid
grubs and fidgetty nymphs develop, are chopped out of decayed wood, they
have the odour of truffles, and emit two distinct squeaky notes from the
throat and the abdominal segments respectively. Each maintains a duet
with itself until the hot embers impose silence and convert them into
dainty nutty morsels. Roast scrub fowl eggs would be no novelty, and
baked crayfish ("too-lac"), bluey-white and leathery--"such stuff as
dreams are made on"--might lend a decorative effect. Raw echinus
("kier-bang"), saline and tonic, would clear the palate for succeeding
delicacies.

The tough sweet yam ("pun-dinoo"), the heart of the Alexandra palm
("koobin-karra"), the hard rhizome of BOWENIA SPECTABILIS ("moo-nah")
after being allowed weeks to decompose, the core of the tree fern
("kalo-joo"), the long root-stock of CURCULIGO ENSIFOLIA ("harpee")
crisp and slightly bitter, the broad beans of the white mangrove
("kum-moo-roo"), would stand as vegetables.

Sweets would be the weakest part of the menu. One pudding might
certainly be included, VERMICELLI (shredded bean-tree
nuts--"tinda-burra") with honey and orange-coloured balsamic custard,
scraped from the outside of the drupes of the PANDANUS ODORATISSIMUS
("pim-nar").

Dessert, on the other hand, might be plentiful and varied. "Bed-yew-rie"
(XIMENIA AMERICANA), thirst-allaying and palate-sharpening; "Top-kie"
(Herbert River cherry, ANTEDISMA DALLACHYANUM), resembling red currants
in flavour; "Pool-boo-nong" (finger cherry, RHODOMYRTUS MACROCARPA),
sweet, soft and appeasing; "Panga-panga," raspberry (RUBUS ROSAEFOLIUS);
"Koo-badg-aroo" (Leichhardt-tree, SARCOCEPHALUS CORDATUS), resembling a
strawberry in shape, but brown, spicy and hot; "Murl-kue-kee"
(snow-white berries of EUGENIA SUBORBICULARIS), vapid, and as insipid as
an immature medlar; "Raroo" (CAREYA AUSTRALIS), mealy and biting.
Various figs, ranging in size from a large red currant to a tennis-ball,
and in colour from white through all the tints from pale yellow and green
to red, purple and black, sweet and generally mawkish. The banana would
be there in the MUSA BANKSIA ("boo-gar-oo"), although "close up all bone";
but the Davidsonian plum, plentiful on the mainland, would be absent.
The scape of the ELETTARIA SCOTTIANA, oozing viscid nectar, might stand
as a sweetmeat.

Then, dallying with tomahawks and flat stones with the tough nuts of the
"Moo-jee" (TERMINALIA MELANOCARPA), and the drupes of the "Can-kee"
(PANDANUS AQUATICUS) to extract the narrow sweet kernels, and sipping the
while cordial compounded of the larvae of green tree-ants ("book-gruin"),
acidulous and nippy, the men might indulge in after-dinner stories
and reminiscences, as the gins and piccaninnies drink heartily of water
sweetened with sugar-bag (honey-comb), and chew the seeds contained in
the china-blue pericarp of the native ginger--"Ool-pun" (ALPINIA CAERULA).

Many vegetable foods would still be unenumerated, and there would be
numerous shell-fish--periwinkles, cockles, mussels, scallops, dolphins,
besides crabs. On rare occasions a scrub fowl (the blacks had no
reliable means of capturing that wary bird, and when fortune favoured,
it was an instance of bad luck on its part), with pigeons, carpet
snakes, and sea-birds' eggs might make high tea.

BLACK ART

Time, and diligent search revealed the location on the island of two art
galleries, or rather independent studios, where there are exhibited
works of distinct character. Tradition points to the existence of a
third, the discovery of which gives zest to each exploratory expedition.
Possibly it may also display original exploits in the realms of fancy,
and so confirm the opinion that the black artists were not mere copyists
of each other, but belonged to different schools, each having his own
method and allowing his talent free and untrammelled development.

What may be designated the Lower Studio is on the eastern slope, and is
only to be approached from the sea in calm weather, the alternative
route being a tiresome climb, a long and tormenting struggle through
the jungle, and a descent among a confusion of rocks and boulders. It is
situated about a couple of hundred feet above sea-level, quite hidden in
the leafy wilderness which covers that aspect of the island from
high-water mark to the summit of the ridge. Unless the spot was
indicated, one might search for it for years in vain, and though I had
made frequent inquiries, its existence was made known only by chance,
its importance being considered insignificant compared with the other
studio, the glories of which had frequently been descanted upon. Taking
the sea-route, there is a natural harbour available, just capacious
enough for a small dingy, and up above the rocks, swept bare by the
surges, a dense and tangled scrub "whereto the climber upwards turns
his face," and taking advantage of such aids as aerial roots, slim
saplings, and the reed-like growths of the so called native ginger,
begins the steep ascent. Where the rock does not emerge from the
surface, the black soil is loose and kept in perpetual cultivation by
scrub fowl, the wonder being that earth reposes at such an angle. But
for interlacing and matted roots all must slide down to the sea.

A few minutes' exertion lands one at the portal of the studio, which is
of the lean-to order of architecture, a granite boulder having one
fairly vertical face being overshadowed by a much higher rock having a
dip of about 60 degrees.

Here originally there were five exhibits. Two have weathered away almost
to nothingness, some faint streaks and blotches of red earth, in which
medium all the pictures have been executed, alone remaining. Those
subjects that are readily decipherable are mutilated after the style of
certain much-prized antiques.

Of those which have successfully withstood the ravages of time, two
apparently represent lizards, and the third seems to portray a
monstrosity--a human being with a rudimentary tail. A German philosopher
might possibly build upon this embryonic tail a theory to prove that the
Australian aboriginal is indeed and in fact the missing link, and
thereby excel in ethnological venture those who merely recognise in him
the relic from a prehistoric age of man. Could it not be argued that the
picture reveals an act of unconscious cerebration--an instinctive
knowledge of ancestors with tails?

However that may be, the unconscious artist took further artless
liberties with the human form divine. He had been at pains, too, to
smooth down the face of the rock for the reception of the unshaded daubs
of terra-cotta, using peradventure the flat stone upon which he was wont
to bruise the hot and biting roots of the aroid (COLOCASIA MACRORRHIZA)
which formed part of his diet. The utensil lies there at the entrance
where he left it; the plants grow in profusion close by among the rocks;
but of the artist there is no record, save the crude and grotesque
figures in fading red on the grey granite.

Most of the central figure is clearly discernible; but parts of the
outline have become blurred and irregular. Tradition says that all the
figures once had black heads--the only attempts at the introduction of a
second colour--but no traces of the black heads are now visible. They must
have succumbed to the tender but irresistible assaults of Time long ago.
In one case, fact seems to belie tradition, for there exist faint
suggestions of a red head--and a red-headed black is as rare as a black
with a tail; but the traces are so extremely vague and indeterminate as
to render any attempt at restoration hopeless. But does not this
obscurity and partial dismemberment lend an air of antiquity, much
prized elsewhere, to these savage frescoes?

Of quite a different order are the works in the Upper Studio at the sign
of the White Stripe. This lies close to the backbone of the island, in
the heart of a bewildering jumble of immense rocks overgrown with
jungle. Circumstantial accounts of the treasures there to be seen had
determined me to persevere in attempts to discover it; but though the
traditions of the blacks were strengthened by a mild sort of enthusiasm,
and the exhibition of no little pride, they did but slight service
towards revealing the precise locality. None of the living remnants of
the race had seen the paintings. All trusted to the saying of "old men"
and had faith. Experience had taught me to accept with caution and
reserve legends founded on the unverified testimony of "old men" which
had passed down to the present generation; but being much interested,
and having become elated with the hope of discovering that which had not
been seen by white folks, nor, indeed, by any living person, I also
trusted and persevered.

From ships that pass to the East may be seen a bold white streak on the
face of a huge rock, so sharply defined and accurate in alignment that
it might be mistaken for a guide to mariners, or rather a warning, for
the floor of the ocean is strewn with patches of coral, and the rocks
are singularly forbidding, save on calm days. Opinion current among the
blacks asserted that the paintings were on a rock below the disjointed
precipice on the top of the ridge made conspicuous by the broad white
band. The sign was found to be due to the bleaching of the rock face by
the drainage from a mass of stag's horn fern. Possessed of this
information, which proved in the long run to be trustworthy, several
exploratory trips were undertaken. To reach the locality from Brammo
Bay, one must cross the middle of the backbone of the island, and
descend some little distance on the Pacific slope.

I scaled and scrambled over and crawled upon huge rocks, peered into
gloomy crevices with daylight edges fringed with ferns and orchids,
squeezed through narrow tunnels, and groped in dark recesses without
finding any evidence of prehistoric art. Blacks do not care to venture
into places where twilight always reigns, though they are curious to
learn the experiences and sensations of other explorers of the gloom. At
last, however, patience was rewarded, and beneath a great granite rock,
which on three previous excursions had been overlooked, the paintings
were discovered. In their execution the artist must have lain on his
back, for the "cave" does not permit one to sit upright in it, except
towards the wide and expansive front, and the subjects are on the
ceiling, which is fairly flat. The floor, thick with a fine brown dust
mingled with shining specks of decomposed granite, and dimpled with
hundreds of pitfalls of the ant-lion, slopes upward. It is cool, and a
dry, secure spot. Not even the torrential rains of many decades of wet
seasons have damped the floor. One feels as though he were disturbing
the dust of ages; when sitting back to admire the decorated ceiling, he
necessarily imprints patterns which are the replicas of those made by
flesh and bone long since numbered among the anonymous dead.

The sea laves the hot rocks 600 feet below, and booms and gobbles in the
cool crevices; but up here the outlook is obscured by rocks and giant
trees, and an artistic soul, longing for some method of expression,
might serenely gratify itself in accordance with its lights--crude though
they were. Here, at the entrance, lie a couple of charred sticks,
significant of the last fire of the artist, which smouldered out perhaps
half a century ago. On the very doorstep is a disc of pearl-shell, the
discarded beginning of a fish-hook. These relics give to the scene a
pathetic interest. As I looked at them ponderingly, a frog far in the
back of the cave gave a discordant, echoing croak, which started the
sulky and suspicious black boy who attended me into an abrupt
exclamation of semi-fright; while a scrub fowl, scratching for its living
overhead, dislodged a chip of granite which went clicking down the
rocks. "Tom," at the instant, felt that the spirit of the departed was
manifesting, in the hollow tones of a frog and the activity of a bird,
resentment at the intrusion of his haunts, and was warning us to begone.
But we had come far on a toilsome errand, and were not to be scared away
by trifles, though a transient feeling of reluctance to disturb the
solemnity of the studio could not be withheld.

Remembering the fervid praises of the treasures by those who had not
seen them, a sense of disappointment when they came to be examined was
inevitable. They are not to be classed in any standard beyond that
displayed on early school-slates; but imperfect as they are, they
possess a certain symmetry and proportion, and the facts that they are
where they are, and that the artist--dead and forgotten--had no light or
leading, and was in other respects probably one of the most rude, most
uncouth of human beings, are sufficient to lend to the drawings an
interest as absorbing (though of a nature quite apart) as that with
which the average individual contemplates the stiff works of masters of
Continental fame.

One able critic of aboriginal art refers to similar rock paintings as
frescoes, for lack of a significant title. Apparently the rock surface
was slightly smoothed where inequalities existed--in one case the design
follows the ridges and hollows--the subjects being worked in, in dry
earth of a chalky nature, dull red in colour. Animated nature and still
life have been studied and reproduced. The turtle is true, and the most
conspicuous and sharply-defined study the least convincing. It resembles
those fantastic interwoven shapes that some men in fits of abstraction
or idleness sketch on their own blotting-pads, and which signify
nothing.

Comparing the works of the two studios, there is little doubt that there
were at least two artists native of Dunk Island in times past, and in
that respect the island was infinitely superior to its present state.
Each appears to have effected a different kind of work--one devoting
himself to realistic reptiles and the human form debased, and the other
almost solely to the creation of conventional designs, and the
representation of the animals and of weapons of his age. One illustrated
man, and even gave to one of his reptiles a semi-human shape; the other
exercised an exuberant fancy for ornamentation. Each bequeathed to the
present day and generation works that are at least free from the
subtleties of art.

Most of us have had moments of rapture before the glowing embodiment of
the inspiration of some great artist, whose gifts have been developed to
maturity by enthusiastic and patient striving for perfection. Do not
these clumsy drawings, too, reveal that which, considering their
environment, is talent--original and unacademic. Here is the sheer
beginning, the spontaneous germ of art, the labouring of a savage soul
controlled by wilful aesthetic emotions. For these pictures are not
figurative, not mere signs and symbols capable of elucidation, but the
earliest and only efforts of an illiterate race, a race in intellectual
infancy, towards the ideal--a forlorn but none the less sincere attempt
to reach the "light that quickens dreams to deeds!"

The last of the series of "Black Art" pictures is not local. It occurs
on the reverse of a shield, the spear-punctured lower edge of which
verifies its eventful history. The warrior-artist silhouetted a
sweetheart's figure, where, at supreme moments, it came before his fancy
and gave the battle to his hands.

A POISONOUS FOOD

One of the chief vegetable foods of the blacks is the fruit of
"tinda-burra" (Moreton Bay chestnut--CASTANOSPERMUM AUSTRALE). The
plentiful pea-shaped flowers range in colour from apple-green, pale
yellow, orange to scarlet, and contain large quantities of nectar, which
attracts multitudes of  birds and insects. Blacks regard this tree with
special favour and consideration. A casual remark, as I observed the
industry of insects about the flowers, that the bean-tree was good for
bees, elicited the scornful response, "Good for man!" The tree is of
graceful shape, the bole often pillar-like in its symmetry, and the wood
hard and durable and of pleasing colour, and so beautifully grained that
it is fast becoming popular for furniture and cabinet-making. It bears a
prolific crop of large beans, from two to five in each of its squat
pods, but they are, as Mr Standfast found the waters of Jordan, "to the
palate bitter, and to the stomach cold," and require special treatment
in order to eliminate a poisonous principle. Many chemists analysed the
beans (one finding that they may be converted into excellent starch)
without discovering any noxious element; but as horses, cattle, and pigs
die if they eat the raw bean, and a mere fragment is sufficient to give
human beings great pain, followed by most unpleasant consequences, the
research was continued, until within quite a recent date the presence of
saponin was detected. Before science made its discovery, the blacks were
very positive on the point of the poisonous qualities of the bean, and
took measures to eliminate it. In some parts of the State the beans,
after being steeped in water for several days, are dried in the sun,
roasted in hot ashes, and pounded between stones into a coarse kind of
meal, which may be kept for an indefinite period. When required for use
the meal is mixed with water, made into a thin cake or damper, and baked
in the ashes. Prepared in this way the cake resembles a coarse ship's
biscuit. In other parts, the beans are scraped by means of mussel-shells
into a vermicelli-like substance, prior to soaking in water. Our blacks
have a more ingenious method of preparation, and employ a specially
formed culinary implement, which is used for no other purpose. They take
the commonest of the land shells--"kurra-dju" (XANTHOMELON
PACHYSTYLA)--and breaking away the apex grind down the back on a stone
until but little more than half its bulk remains. The upper edges being
carefully worked to a fine edge, the only housewifery implement that the
blacks possess is perfect. With the implement in the right hand, between
the thumb and the second finger--the sharp edge resting on the
thumb-nail--the beans are planed, the operator being able to regulate
the thickness of the shaving to a nicety.

It is women's work to collect the beans, make the shell-planes, and do
the shredding. In the first place the beans are cooked, the oven
consisting of hot stones covered with leaves. In three or four hours
they are taken out and planed, a dilly-bag (basket made of narrow
strips of lawyer cane or grass) full of the shavings is immersed in
running water for two or three days, the food being then ready for
consumption without further preparation. In appearance it resembles
coarse tapioca, and it has no particular flavour. To give it zest,
some have a shell containing sea-water beside them when they dine,
into which each portion of the mess is dipped. As saponin is very
soluble in water, by soaking the shredded beans for a few days the
blacks resort to an absolutely perfect method of converting a
poisonous substance into a valuable and sustaining, if tasteless,
food. No doubt, made up into a pudding with eggs, milk, sugar and
flavouring, shredded beans would pass without comment as a substitute
for tapioca.

MESSAGE-STICKS

There came to our beach one afternoon some poor exiles from Princess
Charlotte Bay--300 miles to the north. Exiled they felt themselves to
be, and were longing to return to their own country although their
engagement for a six months' cruise in quest of the passive beche-de-mer
had but just begun. One boy stepped along with an air of pride and
importance. His companions were deferential to a certain extent, but
they, too, exhibited an unusual demeanour. Some of the glory and honour
that shone in Mattie's face was reflected in theirs. With the assurance
of an ambassador bearing high credentials he saluted me--

"Hello, Mister! Good day."

"Good day," I responded. "You come from that cutter?"

Mattie--"Yes, mister. Mickie sit down here, now? Me got 'em letter.
Brother belonga gin, belonga Mickie; him gib it!"

"No; Mickie sit down alonga Palm Islands. Come back, bi'mby."

Mattie (with a downcast air)--"My word! Bo'sun (the brother-in-law) gib
it letter belonga Mickie."

"Where letter?" I asked.

Mattie--"Me got 'em," and drawing out a very soiled little parcel, he
proudly exposed a piece of greyish wood, about the size and shape of a
lead pencil, on which had been cut two continuous intersecting grooves.
"Me giv' 'em Mickie; Bo'sun alonga Cooktown. He want to come up this
way now."

The letter was a mere token of material expression of the fact that the
sender was in the land of the living, and of his faith in the bearer,
who was charged with all the personal messages and news. It was a sad
rebuff to Mattie, elated with responsibility and eager to unburden
himself of the latest domestic intelligence, to find that Mickie was not
on the spot to receive it all. And, after fondling the wooden document
for a while, he wrapped it up and carefully bestowed it within the bosom
of his shirt. The disappointment was general. The gleam faded from the
faces of the boys. For several days, first one and then another was
entrusted with the honourable custody of the missive. Whoever possessed
it for the time being was the most favoured individual. His worthiness
for the office he acknowledged with an amusing air of self-consciousness
and pride. The transmission of a letter is not an ordinary occurrence,
and though there is an entire absence of form and ceremony in its
delivery, the rarity of the event lends to it novelty and importance.

Aboriginal letters are of great variety, and some there are who profess
to interpret them. The despatches are, however, invariably, in my
experience, transmitted from hand to hand, the news of the day being
recapitulated at the same time. It is not essential that the unstudied
cuts and scratches on wood should have any significance or be capable of
intelligible rendering. Though blacks profess to be able to send
messages by means of sticks alone, the pretension is not recognised by
those who have crucially investigated it

On a certain station a youthful son of the proprietor was accidentally
drowned in a creek not far from the homestead. The grief of the parents
was participated in by all engaged on the station, for the boy, full of
promise, had been a general favourite. None seemed more sorrowful and
gloomy than the blacks camped in the neighbourhood, and when the first
shock of sorrow was of the past, they were eager to send the news to
distant friends. A letter was laboriously composed. It was a short piece
of wood, narrow and flat; an undulating groove ran from end to end on
one side, midway was an intersecting notch. These were the principal
characteristics, but there were other small marks and scratches. Bearing
this as his credentials, a messenger departed, and in a week or so
members of camps hundreds of miles away had seen the letter and were in
possession of all the details of the sad event, the messenger in the
meantime having returned. The letter was duly credited with having
conveyed the particulars. Is it not obvious, however, that the news had
been transmitted orally, and that the crude carvings on the stick merely
indicated an attempt to give verisimilitude to the intelligence--the
wavy line indicating the creek, and the notch the fatal waterhole. If
not, then a black's message-stick is a model of literary condensation,
their characters marvels of comprehensiveness and exactitude.

Another letter is before me--one of the best specimens with regard to
workmanship I have ever seen. Upon one edge of a piece of brown wood 6
inches long, 1 inch broad, flat and rounded off at the edges and ends,
there are five notches, and on the opposite edge a single notch. Close
to the end is a faint, crude representation of a broad arrow, below
which is a confusion of small cuts, in a variety of angles, none quite
vertical, some quite horizontal. On the reverse is a single--almost
perpendicular--cut, and a bold X, and near the point, two shallow,
indistinct diverging cuts. So far no one to whom the letter has been
submitted has given a satisfactory reading. Blacks frankly admit that
they do not understand it. They examine it curiously, and almost
invariably remark--"Some fella mak' em." No attempt to decipher it is
undertaken, because no doubt it was never intended to be read. Yet a
plausible elucidation is at hand. The single notch, let it be said,
represents a black who wishes to let five white fellows (who have made
inquiries in that direction) know that a corrobboree is to begin before
sundown, the setting sun being represented by the broad arrow, which
seems to dip over the end of the stick. The guests are expected to bring
rum to produce a bewildering, unsteady effect upon the whole camp--none,
big or little, but will stagger about in all directions and finally lie
down. On the other hand the guests are not to bring "one fella"
policeman with handcuffs (the cross), otherwise all will decamp--the two
last are seen vanishing into space. By a rare coincidence this very free
interpretation could be made to apply to an actuality at the time
the "letter" was received, but as a matter of fact it came from quite a
different source to the black fellow who had engaged to let some
students of the aboriginal character know when the next corrobboree
would take place. It still remains undecipherable. My investigations do
not support the theory that the blacks are capable of recording the
simplest event by means of a system of so-called picture-writing, but
rather that message-sticks have no meaning apart from verbal
explanations. Blacks profess to be able to send messages which another
may understand, but the tests applied locally invariably break down.

Another message-stick was made on the premises by George, but not to
order. A genuine, unprompted natural effort, it is merely a slip of
pine, 4 inches long, a quarter of an inch broad and flat, upon which
are cut spiral intersecting grooves. George's birthplace is Cooktown,
and his message-stick resembles in design that brought by Mattie from
Bo'sun of Cooktown for Mickie of the Palms. Now George professes to be
able to write English, but he is so shy and diffident over the
accomplishment that neither persuasion nor offer of reward induces him
to practise it. When he produced the "letter," more than usual
interest was taken in it, for it seemed to offer an exceptional
opportunity for ascertaining the extent of his literary pretensions. I
asked him--"Who this for, George?" George looked at the stick long
and curiously with a puzzled, concentrated expression, as one might
assume when examining a novel and interesting problem demanding prompt
solution. With an enlightening smile he in time replied--"This for
Charlie."

"Charlie" is the name of a boy who recently visited the island, but who
hitherto had not been known by George.

"Well, what this letter talk about?" A very long pause ensued during
which George appeared to be putting his imaginative powers to frightful
over-exertion. His forehead wrinkled, his lips twitched, his head moved
this way and that, once or twice a gleam of inspiration passed over his
face, and then the expression of the deep and puzzled thinker came on
again. Finally he said--"Y-e-e-s. Me tell 'em, sometimes me see Toby."

Toby is the tallest of the survivors of Dunk Island, another
acquaintance of George's, who refers to him as a hard case, for it is
said Toby's affections are very fitful and uncertain.

"Then that letter tell 'em something more?" The strenuous pause, the
desperate plunge into thought again, and George continued--"This for
Johnny Tritton, before alonga Cooktown; now walk about somewhere down
here. Might be catch 'em alonga mainland!"

This message-stick was freshly made, and its meaning, had it possessed
any, might have been repeated pat. But it was evident that the boy was
putting a devastating strain upon an unexuberant and tardy wit when he
endeavoured to ascribe to it a literary rendering. His hesitancy and
contradictions were at least amusingly ingenuous.

Exceptional opportunities were available in this neighbourhood recently
for the formation of an opinion upon the value of message-sticks for the
transmission of intelligence. The bushman who on horseback carried His
Majesty's mails inland among the settlers and to distant stations, was
frequently also entrusted with the delivery of message-sticks by blacks
along the route. Invariably the stick was accompanied by a verbal
communication--a request for some article (a pipe, a knife,
looking-glass, handkerchief) or an inquiry as to the whereabouts or
welfare of some relative or friend. The mailman quickly found that the
often elaborately graven stick was to no purpose whatever without the
verbal message. Frequently the sticks would become far more hopelessly
mixed up than the babes in PINAFORE; but as long as he recollected the
message aright, not the slightest concern or dissatisfaction was
manifested.

HOOKS OF PEARL

In this neighbourhood the making of pearl-shell fishhooks is one of the
lost arts. The old men may tell how they used to be made, but are not
able to afford any satisfactory practical demonstration. Therefore, to
obtain absolutely authentic examples, it was necessary to indulge in the
unwonted pastime of antiquarian research. During an unsystematic,
unmethodical overhauling of the shell heap of an extensive kitchen
midden--to apply a very dignified title to a long deserted camp--
interesting testimony to the diligence and patience of the deceased
occupants was obtained. It was evident that the sea had been largely
drawn upon for supplies, if only on account of the many abortive and
abandoned attempts at fishhooks in more or less advanced stages of
completion. The brittleness of the fabric and the crudeness of the tools
employed had evidently put the patience of the makers to severe task,
who for one satisfactory hook must have contemplated many disappointments.
The art must be judged as critically by the exhibition of its failures
as by its perfections, as Beau Nash did the tying of his cravats.
"Those are our failures," the spirits of the departed, brooding
over the site of the camp, might have sighed, as we sorted out crude and
unfashioned fragments. Presently the discovery of a small specimen
established the standard of perfection--a crescent of pearl, which alone
was ample recompense for the afternoon's research. Smaller than the
average hook, it represented an excellent object-lesson in patience and
skill. Many other examples, some complete, have since been found, and
have been arranged for illustration to exhibit the process of
construction in several stages. Do they not confirm the opinion that the
maker of shell fish-hooks suffered many mishaps and disappointments, and
that he had high courage in discarding any that evidenced a fault?

The method of manufacture was to reduce by chipping with a sharp-edged
piece of quartz a portion of a black-lip mother-of-pearl shell to a disc.
A central hole was then chipped--not bored or drilled--with another tool
of quartz. The hole was gradually enlarged by the use of a terminal of
one of the staghorn corals (MADEPORA LAXA) until a ring had been formed.
Then a segment was cut away, leaving a rough crescent, which was ground
down with coral files, and the ends sharpened by rubbing on smooth
slate.

Discs were also cut out of gold-lip mother-of-pearl shell, but by what
means there is no evidence to tell. When such a prize as a gold-lip
shell was found, it was used to the last possible fragment. Most
frequently the black-lip mother-of-pearl was the material whence the
hooks were fashioned, and, when none other was available, the hammer
oyster. In one case an unsuccessful endeavour had been made to fashion a
hook from a piece of plate-glass, obtained, no doubt, from the wreck of
some long-forgotten ship. The fractured disc lying among other relics of
the handicraft spoke for itself.

Not only have many samples of partially-made hooks been found, but also
the tools employed in the process. The sharp-edged fragment of quartz used
to chip away the shell, the anvil of soft slate upon which the shell
rested during the operation, the quartz chisel for chipping the central
hole, the coral terminals, resembling rat-tail files, and the smooth stone
upon which the rough edges of the hook were ground down and finished.

Hooks without barbs and manufactured of such materials as pearl-shell and
tortoiseshell may throw light upon the Homeric quotation "caught fish
with the horn of the ox." In those far-off days, bronze wire rope,
similar in design to the steel rope which is of common use in the
present time, was employed. Ancient Greeks, though they anticipated one
of the necessities of trade nowadays, depended upon fish-hooks
resembling those just being abandoned by the Australian blacks. Fish are
guileless creatures. They are captured today with hooks of the style
upon which fishermen of the Homeric age depended.

From the appearance of the camps, and the age of the islander who took
part in the various searches, and who was ready to admit that though
pearl-shell hooks were used when he was a piccaninny he had never seen
one made, I judge the age of these relics of a prehistoric art to be
between thirty and forty years.

This boy has supplied samples of hooks made by himself with the aid of
files, etc., in imitation of the old style, being careful to explain
that the old men made them much better than any one could in these
degenerate days of steel. Two of these modern hooks bound to bark lines
are illustrated. What was the origin of the peculiar pattern of the
pearl-shell fish-hooks? To this question, those who maintain that no
handiwork of man exists which does not borrow from nature, or from
something precedent to itself, may find a satisfactory answer offhand.
As it weathers on the beach, the basal valve of the commonest of the
oysters, of these waters occasionally assumes a crude crescent. Indeed,
several of these fragments have at odd times attracted attention, for
they have so closely resembled pearl-shell hooks in the rough that
second glances have been necessary to dispose of the illusion that they
were actually rejects from some old-time camp. Is it not reasonable to
suppose that the original design was copied from this elemental model,
as, in like manner the boomerang is traceable to a leaf? The pattern is
so profoundly persistent in the minds of the blacks of to-day, that in
fashioning a hook from a piece of straight wire they invariably form a
crescent, though the superiority of the shape approved by civilisation
must have been exemplified to them times out of number. In this
particular the blacks seem unconsciously to follow the idea of their
ancestors as birds obey instinct in the building of nests and in
migratory flights.

Piccaninnies at this date remind us of the genesis of the boomerang as
they sport with the sickle-shaped leaves (or rather PHYLLODIA) of the
ACACIA HOLOCARPA as with miniature boomerangs. The piccaninny of the
remote past chuckled gleefully as the jerked leaf returned to it. As a
boy he fashioned a larger and permanent toy, surreptitiously using his
father's stone tomahawk and shell knife, while the old man was after
wallaby with a waddy. As a young man, hunting or fighting, he found his
boyish toy a very effective missile. Even for a straight shot it had a
longer range and far higher velocity, with less strength expenditure,
than the waddy or nulla-nulla; and its homing flight had practical if
not frequent uses. In his childhood, adolescence and maturity the black
of to-day so graphically summarises a chapter in the history of his race
that he who runs may read.

In the origin of the boomerang and the shell fish-hook we have
instances, hardly to be doubted, of direct inspirations from Nature,
proofs of the art and the infinite patience with which she sets her
copies and expounds her texts.

WILD DYNAMITE

All the blacks of my acquaintance have had the rough edges of savagedom
worn down. Consequently I lay no claim to original research or to the
possession of any but common knowledge of the race at large. Learned
societies and learned men have done and are doing all that is possible
to acquire and accumulate information of the fast vanishing race. I
merely record odd incidents, which may or may not prove useful and of
interest, or which may bear repetition. An occasional gleam of
satisfaction is vouchsafed even to casual and superficial students of
human nature.

The supply of bait run out one day when we were fishing off the rocks
with throw-lines. Mickie said--"We catch 'em plenty little fella fish
with wild dynamite!" I asked him what he knew about dynamite. "Not
white fella's dynamite. Wild dynamite--I show you."

Growing on the blistering rocks, with roots, down in the crevices, was a
lowly vine, or rather a diffuse, creeping shrub with myrtle-like leaves
and racemes of white flowers. "That fella wild dynamite," said Mickie,
as he tore up several strands of the plant and bunched them, leaves and
all, in his hand. He made a small bundle, and going to an isolated pool
in the rocks in which were small fish he beat the leaves with a
nulla-nulla, dipping the bruised mass frequently in the water. In a few
minutes the fish were darting about erratically, apparently making
frantic efforts to get out of the water. One by one they became
stupefied and helpless, floating belly up. Mickie filled his hat with
them, and as the soporific effects of the juice of the leaves passed
off, the remaining fish recovered and were soon swimming about again as
if nothing had happened. Mickie had seen dynamite used to kill fish
wholesale, hence his adaptation of the name of the plant known to him as
"Paggarra," and to botanists as DERRIS SCANDENS.

Another method by which the blacks secure fish in pools left by the
receding tide is to scrape off the inner bark of the "Koie-yan"
(FARADAYA SPLENDIDA) with a shell and spread it evenly on the bottom of
a shallow pit in the sand, and place thereon stones made hot in the
fire, or they may rub the powdered bark on hot stones. While still warm
the stones are thrown into the water, when the fish become helpless.
They die if left in water so impregnated; while the effects of the
DERRIS SCANDENS is merely temporarily soporific. How blacks became
acquainted with this process of speedily extracting the toxic principle
of the FARADAYA, and as speedily dissipating it, is unknown. One
generation passes on the knowledge to the other without explanation,
and it is accepted as a matter of course, without comment or inquiry.

A CAVERN AND ITS LEGEND

Caves and caverns in the rocks and the tops of the mountains are not
favourite resorts of blacks. According to them nearly every mountain has
its mysterious lagoon, which none but old men have visited, but which
teems with fish and waterfowl. When direct inquiries are made as to the
precise locality of any particular lagoon, invariably inconclusive
evidence is tendered. "Old man, he bin see 'em;" and, the old man is
never forthcoming for cross-examination. The origin of the romance, no
doubt, is to be attributed to the desire of the blacks to account to
themselves for the water which glitters on the face of the rocks far up
the mountains. One boy gave an exceptionally graphic description of a
lagoon on the top of one of the highest peaks of Hinchinbrook Island, in
which all manner of sea fish revelled. When doubt was expressed as to
the possibility of sea-water and sea-fish getting up so far "on top" and
it was suggested--"What you think, that old man humbug you?" "Yes,"
was the ready response; "me think that old fella no tell true. Him
humbug." Some blacks possess something wiser than knowledge.

On the northern aspect of Dunk Island, where the sea swirls about the
buttresses of the hills, there is a cavern only approachable by boat. The
mouth is overhung by vines and ferns, and through the moss which covers
the lintel water trickles and splashes with pleasant sound. When the
bronze orchid lavishly decorates the rocks with its crinkled flowers of
dull gold, the entrance has a specific character; and quite another when
the glossy leaves of the umbrella-tree form the relief and its long
radiating spikes of dull red, bead-like flowers attract the brilliant
sun-bird, and big blue and green and red butterflies. Even when the sea
is lustrous the cavern, with all the artfulness and grace of the
decorations of its portals, is a black blotch--the entrance to something
unknowable and unknown--at least to the blacks. None had ever ventured
near it and they never will. They tell you how it came to be made. How a
long, long time ago, a big man, "all a same debil-debil," took out with
his mighty fingers a plug of rock and put it "on top alonga
Hinchinbrook." Now the particular decapitated pinnacle of Hinchinbrook
is 20 miles away, and out of all proportion. But these facts do not
affect the legitimacy of the legend. There is the hole, and there on the
top of the far-away mountain the prodigious plug demonstrative evidence
too obvious to be set aside on any such plea as the eternal fitness of
things. Is not the blue point of the mountain a defiantly triumphant
fact? Is not the legend authenticated by tradition and confirmed by
topography?

Why, therefore, doubt it for a moment?

And the hole--it goes a long, long way under the mountain. It is a bad
place, a very bad place. No one has ever been there. Suppose any fella
go inside, bi'mby that fella sick, bi'mby that fella die.

Braving all the honest traditions, one fine day I took a lantern in the
boat and induced the boys to row to the entrance of the cave. Neither
would venture in; indeed, they did all they could to dissuade me,
protesting that evil was sure to befall. A minute's exploration showed
that the cave did not extend 30 feet, and that it was dry, and resonant
with "the whispering sound of the cool colonnade," with no suggestion
of unwholesomeness or weirdness. But the blacks still pass it by. The
legend is as indestructible as the odour of attar of roses. Although the
boys persist in their account of the origin of the cave, it is known to
them as "Coo-bee co-tan-you," which signifies "that hole made by the
meteor," or, literally, "falling-star hole."

Romance, too, follows the Hinchinbrook pinnacle. Some local blacks
regard it with awe, believing that it covers a deep hole in the mountain
in which the winds and rain are pent up. When a malignant "debil-debil"
lifts the peak away the elements escape, roaring and hissing with
anger and mischief. When tired, they retire sulkily to the hole, which
the "debil-debil" blocks with the monstrous rock. Fine weather then
prevails, and the rock, which has been hidden away among the mists by
the fiend, becomes visible once more.

A SOULFUL DANCE

Of the many corrobborees that I have witnessed, the most novel in
conception was performed on Dunk Island by blacks who came from the
neighbourhood of Princess Charlotte Bay, some 200 miles to the north.

The imitation of the frolicsome skip and wing movements of the native
companion is one of the typical dances of the aboriginals frequenting
open plains where the great birds assemble. In its performance the
men--decorated with streaks and daubs of white and pink clay, and
wearing in their hair down and feathers--form a circle, and bowing their
bodies towards the centre, chuckle in undertones to the pianissimo
tapping of boomerangs and the beating of resonant logs. In strict time,
to a crescendo accompaniment, the performers throw out their arms,
extend their necks downward and upward, simultaneously utter squawks in
imitation of the bird, and finally whirl about, flapping their arms,
ceasing instantly by a common impulse. The ballet is modelled in
accordance with a study of Nature.

The corrobboree of the Princess Charlotte Bay boys also owes its origin
to Nature, but Nature in one of her most unpoetical moods--a mood as
typical of Constantinople as of their native shores, for its motive is
nothing more than an everyday dogfight.

Shall the uncultured blacks not have their own way when they seek
entertainment, holding "as it were the mirror up to Nature," and finding
that it reflects the commonest of all themes? They among all the nations
of the world alone have discovered what to them is music and the poetry
of motion in an occurrence that has no geographical limitations, is not
restricted by language, nor to be withered by age.

While the orchestra taps its boomerangs and claps its hands and grunts,
two boys in mere nature progress towards the fire in a series of stiff,
stilty jumps, the legs from the hips to the ankles being rigid; then the
knees shake in a rapid succession of spasmodic jerks; the actors emit
sounds resembling the preliminary growling and snarling of a couple of
angry dogs. Action and utterance develop in speed and time as the fight
begins in earnest, and the art of the performance consists in its
duration--the powers of sustained effort, the accuracy of time maintained
between the orchestra and the actors, and the fidelity to nature of the
vocal effects. A singularly uncouth subject for an opera or even a
ballet--the snarling, scuffling and snapping of quarrelsome dogs whose
fury is working up to a climax, and it soon becomes as monotonous to
unaccustomed ears as the masterpieces of some German composers to those
whose musical education is below the required standard; but the boys
will spend the best part of the long night in its unvarying repetition.

Once a variation did take place. "Yellowbelly" (pronounced decently
"Yellowby") danced first in the company of giggling "Peter;" and then
fat "Charley" and big "Johnny," shy "Mammeroo" and little deaf
"Antony," in turns, his body glistened with perspiration, and his eyes
sparkled with the joy of a phenomenal accomplishment. All beholders were
filled with wonder and gratification. It was Yellowby's night out. The
spirit of Terpsichore was upon him. His enthusiasm amounted to
exultation. He was astonishing not only the silent and subdued natives
of Dunk Island, but even his own familiar friends. Never had any seen
such a classic interpretation of the theme, such brilliant leg movement,
nor heard such realistic growling and snapping and intermittent yelps,
such muffled, sob-like inspirations. Yellowby danced as dances the
artist, so graphically interpreting the subject that the bewildered
orchestra forgot itself. All were borne away in spirit to the scene of
some far-off, familiar camp, where the scents of decayed fish and
turtle-bones, and of a multitude of uncleanly dogs commingled with the
bitter smoke of mangrove wood fires, where amid the yells of gins and
the screeches of piccaninnies and the walloping of men, two mangy curs
noisily wrestled. It brought home sweet home to each of the exiles, so
vividly that all sat still and transfixed, and as the last chord of the
orchestra "I trembled away into silence," Yellowby, panting and
sweating, gasped as he fell flat on the sand--"No good you fella
corrobboree like that fella, belonga me fella." But for the collapse of
the orchestra, due to his own inimitable art, he would have danced till
dawn.

A SONG WITHOUT WORDS

Mickie is a famous vocalist, although his repertoire is limited. He
sings lustily and with no little art, putting considerable expression
into his phrases, and ever and anon taking a sharp but studied rest to
increase his emphasis, when he will burst forth again with full-throated
ease. His masterpiece is not original. Indeed he claims no title to the
gifts of a composer. "Jacky," a Mackay boy, taught Mickie his
favourite romance, and it came to Jacky in a dream. Mickie explains--
"Cousin alonga that fella die. Jacky go to sleep. That fella dead man all
a same like debil-debil--come close up and tell 'em corrobboree close up
ear belonga Jacky."

"What that debil-debil say?"

Mickie--"No talk--that fella. Just tell 'em corrobboree. No talk."

It was just a song without words--the final phrases being three guttural
gasps, diluendo, which Mickie says represent the wail of the "debil-debil"
as he retires into the obscurity of spirit-land.

Mickie sings this song of inspiration most vigorously, when Jinny, his
portly spouse, comes to "wash 'em plate" in the evening, and she
explains with a fat chuckle--"Mickie corrobboree loud fella. He fright.
He think subpose he corrobboree blenty debil-debil no come up."

ORIGIN OF THE SOUTHERN CROSS

Blacks are students of natural events. The winds have their specific
titles, and they catalogue all the brighter and more conspicuous stars
and planets, while their astronomical legends are quaint and
entertaining.

According to Mickie, the Southern Cross is of earthly origin. He thus
"repeats the story of its birth."

"You see that fella. That one me call 'em dooey-dooey--all a same
shubel-nose shark, like that fella you bin shoot longa lagoon. Two
fella, more big, come close up behind dooey-dooey, two fella black boy.
Black boys bin fishing alonga reef close up alonga where red mark,
alonga Cape Marlow--you know. They bin sit down alonga canoe. Bi'mby
spear 'em that dooey-dooey--beeg fella, my word! That dooey-dooey when
catch 'em spear he go down quick, come up under canoe capsize 'em. Two
fella boy swim about long time by that reef; no catch 'em that canoe.
Swim; swim l-o-n-g way; no catch 'em beach; go outside; follow canoe all
time. One fella say--'Brother, where we now?' 'Long way yet. Swim more
far, brother.' Bi'mby two fella talk--'Where now, brother?' 'Long way
outside. Magnetic close up now. We two fella swim more long way. Bi'mby
catch 'em Barrier.' One fella catch 'em hand--'Come along, brother,
youn-me go outside.'

"Two fella boy swim-swim-swim. Go outside altogether; leave 'em Barrier
behind. Swim; finish; good bye; no come back! Swim where cloud catch
'em sea. Swim up-up-long way up! You see now. Sit down up there
altogether. Dooey-dooey first time; two fella boy come behind!"

Does not this stand comparison with that referred to by the SCIENTIFIC
AMERICAN in answering the question, "Why do you refer to the Great Bear
as feminine?" We must go back into the age of classical mythology for
the reason. It was known to the Egyptians, who called it hippopotamus.
The people of southern Europe saw in the same stars the more familiar
figure of a bear, and the legends which grew up around it were finally
given permanent shape by Ovid in his METAMORPHOSES. As he tells the
story, Callisto, an Arcadian nymph, was beloved by Jupiter. Juno, in
fierce anger, turned her into a bear, depriving her of speech that she
might not appeal to Jupiter. Her son, Arcas, while hunting, came upon
her, and failing to recognise her in her metamorphosed form, raised his
bow to shoot. Jupiter, moved by pity, prevented the matricide by
transforming the son into a bear, and took them both up to the heavens,
where they were placed among the constellations.

CROCODILE CATCHING

Though they have a wholesome dread of crocodiles generally, the blacks
of the Lower Tully River (some 5 miles down the coast) have, in a
limited circle, the reputation of indulging in the sport of catching
them for food. Natives of the locality tell me that the last occasion of
the death of a crocodile in the manner to be described was very many
years ago. Some would have you believe the practice is of common
occurrence. The story goes (though for its truth I do not vouch), that
having located a crocodile in a reach of the river when the tide has run
out, the blacks form a cordon across, and harry it by splashing the
water and maintaining a continuous commotion. The crocodile is poked out
of secluded nooks beside the bank and from under submerged logs, never
being allowed a moment's peace. When it is thoroughly cowed (and it is
an undoubted fact that crocodiles may be frightened into passiveness), a
rope of lawyer vine is passed round a convenient tree and held by half a
dozen boys, while a running noose is made on the other end. A daring
black dives into the water, and cautiously approaching the bewildered
creature, slips the noose over its head and backs away. Should he turn
his face, the blacks say the crocodile would immediately seize him. The
party on the bank hauls on the line, and in spite of protests and
struggling the game is landed, to be chopped and beaten to death with
tomahawks and nulla-nullas. Then follows a feast, the inevitable
surfeit, and the dire conclusion that crocodile as "tucker" is no good.
The flesh is said to be "All a same turtle. Little more hard fella!"
My investigations lead to the opinion that a crocodile was once caught
in the manner described, and that upon a single instance the proud feat
has been multiplied by the score.

SUICIDE BY CROCODILE

It has been said that Australian blacks never commit suicide. An
instance which goes in proof of the contrary occurred not many months
ago. All the creeks and rivers flowing from the coastal range to the sea
are more or less infested with crocodiles. In crossing creeks, blacks
take every precaution against surprise, rafts of buoyant logs strapped
together with lawyer vine being used. These rafts are continually
drifting across to the island, proving how general is their use. Maria
Creek (about a dozen miles or so up the coast) is well known to be a
popular resort of the crocodile, and at the mouth, where the blacks wade
at low-water, an unusually big fellow had his headquarters. A member of
the Clump Point tribe, painfully afflicted with a vexatious skin
disease, was fishing at the mouth of the creek when his hook fouled. To
a companion he said he would dive to get it clear. His friend
endeavoured to dissuade him, reminding him of the crocodile which they
had, seen but a short time before. But the boy, worn with pain and weary
with never-ending irritation, said if he was taken--"No matter. Good
job. Me finished then." He dived, and there was a commotion in the
water. The boy appeared on the surface, making frantic appeals for help,
while the crocodile worried him. He escaped for a moment, and his friend
clutched his hand and drew him to the bank, only to have him torn from
his grasp. The blacks believe the crocodile took the fish bait in the
first instance and lured the boy to dive. The boy certainly knew the
risk he ran when he did so.

A new, if not altogether agreeable, sensation is added to the gentle art
if it is realised that a cruel and stealthy beast is engaged in a
similar pastime, with the fisherman as the object of its sport.

DISAPPEARANCE OF BLACKS

The rapid disappearance of blacks from localities which held a
considerable population causes wonder. In the early days--less than a
couple of decades past--they swarmed on the mainland opposite Dunk
Island. Now the numbers are few. Within sight of Brammo Bay is the scene
of an official "dispersal" of those alleged to have been responsible
for the murder of some of the crew of a wrecked vessel, who had drifted
ashore on a raft. One boy bears to this day the mark of a bullet on his
cheek, received when his mother fled for her life, and vainly, with him
an infant perched on her shoulders.

In those days "troublesome" blacks were disposed of with scant ceremony.
An incident has been repeated to me several times. A mob of "myalls"
(wild blacks)--they were all myalls then--was employed by a selector to
clear the jungle from his land. They worked, but did not get the
anticipated recompense, and thereupon helped themselves, spearing and
eating a bullock, and disappeared. After a time the selector professed
forgiveness, and, the fears of the blacks of punishment having been
allayed, set them to work again. One day a bucket of milk was brought to
the camp at dinner-time and served out with pannikins. The milk had been
poisoned. "One fella feel 'em here," said my informant, clasping his
stomach. "Run away; tumbledown; finish. 'Nother boy runaway; finish.
just now plenty dead everywhere. Some fella sing out all a same
bullocky." Possibly this may be greeted as another version of the
familiar story of poisoned flour or damper. It is mentioned here as an
instance from the bad old days when both blacks and whites were offhand
in their relations with each other. Such episodes are of the past. The
present is the age of official protection, and perhaps just a trifle too
much interference and meddlesomeness.

Two blacks of the district confessed upon their trial that they had
killed their master for so slight an offence as refusal to give them
part of his own dinner of meat. On the other hand, an instance of the
callousness of the white man may be cited. In a fit of the sulks one of
the boys of the camp threw down some blankets he was carrying, and made
off into the scrub. It was considered necessary to impress the others,
and unhappy chance gave the opportunity. A strange and perfectly
innocent boy appeared on the opposite bank of the creek. The "boss"
was a  noted shot, and as the boy sauntered along he deliberately fired
at him. The body fell into the water and drifted down stream. One of the
boys for whose discipline the wanton murder was committed related the
incident to me.



CHAPTER II



GEORGE: A MIXED CHARACTER


George, who considered himself as accomplished and as cultivated as a
white man, was assisting his master in the building of a dinghy.
Contemplating the work of his unaccustomed hands in a rueful frame of
mind, the boss recited, "Thou fatal and perfidious barque, built in
eclipse and rigged with curses dark!" "Ah," said he, "you bin hear that
before, George?" "No," replied the boy; "I no bin hear 'em. What
that? Irish talk?"

A few days after, George peered into one of the rooms of the house, the
walls of which were decorated with prints, among them some studies of
the nude. He sniggered. "What you laugh at, George?" "Me laugh along
that picture--naked. That French woman, I think, Boss!" He was
evidently of opinion that all true and patriotic Irishmen talk in verse,
and in throaty tones, and that the customary habit of French ladies is
"the altogether."

Proud of his personal appearance, George shaved regularly once a week,
borrowing a mirror to assist in the operation. He was wont to apply the
lather from pungent kerosene soap with a discarded tooth-brush which he
had picked up. Long use had thinned the bristles woefully, but the brush
was used faithfully and with grave deliberation. One morning he came and
said--"Boss, you got any more brush belonga shaving? This fella close
up lose 'em whisker altogether."


The sensational episodes of his trooper days provided George with
unending themes. He gave an account to a friend of the suppression of a
black rogue, a faithful report of which is presented as an example of
unbowdlerised pidgin English.

George--"You bin hear about Mr Limsee have fight? My word, he fight
proper; close up killed. We three fella ride about. Cap'n--big strong
boy that--me and Mr Limsee. Wild boy--boy from outside; Myall--beggar that
fella--longa gully. Hit Mr Limsee. He bin have long fella stick, like
that one Tom take a longa fight--short handle. Heavy fella that--carn
lif 'em easy, one hand. Mr Limsee tumbledown. Get up. That boy kill 'em
one time more hard. My word, strong fella boy that. Catch 'em Mr Limsee--
tchuk longa ground, hard fella--like that. Me and Cap'n come. Mr Limsee
alonga ground yet--'Hello! Mr Limsee, you bin hurt?' 'Yes, my boy
I hurt plenty. Not much; only little bit. That fella boy hit me alonga
sword. You catch that fella. Hold 'em.' Me and Cap'n say--'You no run
away, you boy.' 'Me no fright.' He have 'em spear. Me tell 'em--'You
no runaway. Me catch you.' He say--'Me no fright, you fella.' Me say
--'You no runaway. I shoot you.' He say all a time--'Me no fright. Me
fight you.' Me say--'You fool, you carn fight alonga this fella bullet.
He catch you blurry quick.' That fella stop one place. We two fella go
up alongside. Cap'n he say--'Hold up your hand. Le' me look your hand?'
He hold up hand. Quick we put 'em han'cup. That fella no savee han'cup
before. He bin sing out loud--loud like anything. We two fella laugh
plenty. Mr Limsee tie 'em up hand longa tree, and belt him proper. Belt
him plenty longa whip. My word, that fella sing out--sing out--sing out.
Mr Limsee belt him more. All time he sing out. Bi'mby let 'em go. He bad
fella boy that altogether. We fella--go home along camp. Mr Limsee feel
'em sore tchoulder. Nex' day that boy--very tchausey fella--come up along
camp. He say--'Me want fight that fella Cap'n.' Cap'n come up. That
fella catch 'em, Cap'n tchuk him hard alonga ground. Get up; tchuk him
two time. Head go close up alonga stone. Two fella wrastle all about
long time. Cap'n strong fella. That boy more strong. Knock 'em about
like anything. Bi'mby come back he have spear--three wire spear--long
handle. Tchuk 'em spear. Catch 'em Cap'n longa side--here. Wire come out
nother side--here. He carn stay--tumble down. Good boy that; my mate long
time. Some fella go alonga house tell 'em Mr Limsee--'That boy bin kill
you, fight long a camp. Cap'n catch 'em spear longa inside.' Mr Limsee
come down. He say--'Cap'n, my boy, I think you finish now; me very sorry
for you.' Bad place for spear longa side. Hollow inside. Suppose spear
go along a leg and arm, no matter. Suppose go inside, hollow place
inside, you finish quick. Plenty times me bin see 'em man finish that
way. Mr Limsee he very sorry. We catch that boy. Put han'cup behind,
lika that way. My word he carn run away now. Chain alonga leg. Mr Limsee
bi'mby send 'em down Cooktown. That fella no more come back. He go along
Sen'eleena (St Helena penal establishment). Me bin think he bin get two
years. Cap'n he carn stay. Two days that fella dead. He bin good mate,
me sorry. Mr Limsee he very sorry. Good fella longa boy."


Once George illuminated his conversation with an aphorism. Describing a
battle between the Tully River blacks and those of Clump Point, in which
his mate, Tom of Dunk Island (leader of the Clump Point party), had been
severely wounded, he said--"'Nother fella boy from outside, come up
behind Tom. He no look out that way. That boy tchuk 'em boomerang.
Boomerang stick in leg belonga Tom. Tom no feel 'em first time. He stan'
up yet. Bi'mby when want walk about, tumble down. Look out. Hello! see
'em boomerang alonga leg. He no more can walk about."

The boss remarked--"Might be long time, Tom feel 'em leg sore."

George--"Ah! me like see 'em kill alonga head. Finish 'em one time.
Danger nebber dead." Whether George wished to enforce the opinion that
in battle nothing short of death was glorious, or that Tom though
wounded was still valorous and would live to fight again, was not clear,
but "Danger nebber dead," probably represents the only aboriginal
aphorism extant.


George is not the least superstitious. He takes everything for granted.
Rain, in his opinion, comes from a big tank up above somewhere. Asked as
to his belief in the personal "debil-debil," of whom the mainland boys
have such dread that few will stir out after dark, he said with a
guffaw--"Me nebber bin see one yet. Suppose me see 'em, me run 'em!"
George is, therefore, as yet unable to give a description of the fiend;
but from hearsay authority declares that it possesses three eyes, two in
the ordinary position, and one at the back of the head. It is believed
that the third eye insures the "debil-debil" against all possible
surprises, thus preserving the mystery of identity.

Though he has not a shadow of respect for the "debil-debil," George
has a firm faith in the existence in the neighbourhood of Cooktown of a
camp of what he calls "groun' gins." His experience with these
mysterious subterranean sirens he thus describes--

"Little bit outside Cooktown camp belonga groun' gins. Me and Sargen' go
look big corrobboree; my word. Some gins come out alonga groun' from
hole. When go down, groun' close up himself, like winda. My word, me
fright. Me shake. One good fella nice gin come up. Sargen' say--'You go
corrobboree dance along that fella.' Me say--'We go home now, me fright.
We want go alonga town. This no good place.' Sargen' laugh little bit.
He say--'No, my boy, you no fright. All right here. You dance alonga
that fella gin--good nice gin.' Me go up. Me feel 'em fright. Feel 'em
cold inside. Too much fright. My word; han' belonga that fella gin--cold
like anything. That gin say--'Where you from?' Me say--'Me come from
alonga town.' That gin say--'What you look out?' Me say--'Me look out
bullocky, musser 'em cattle. Tail 'em up. Look out weaner alonga
paddick. Plenty hard work.' Me dance little bit alonga that gin. Not
much. Too fright. Bi'mby that gin go down below. Groun' shut 'em up. All
day down below. Come up night time. Carn come up alonga sun. Soft fella
that. Suppose come up alonga sun, sun kill 'em. Too sof' altogether."

Cooktown blacks, according to George, use a much lighter sporting spear
than that in vogue in these parts. Instead of a slender sapling
(preferably of red mangrove), straightened and toughened patiently over
the fire, he would provide himself with the scape of a grass tree
(XANTHORRHEA ARBOREA), true and straight as a billiard cue, light, and 8
or 10 feet long. Into a socket in the thicker end he would insert a
single 1/4-inch steel point, 18 inches long, or three pieces of No. 8
wire, with the sharpened points slightly spread.

The merit of his weapon was the subject of frequent debate, the Dunk
Island natives arguing in favour of a heavier spear, but George showed
that his was effective as well as economic. During a discussion, George
told the following story, which, it will be noticed, has in some
details, its parallel in a tragic incident in the history of England. No
attempt is made to refine George's language:--

"This fella spear kill plenty. Kangaroo, wallaby, fish--kill 'em all
asame. He go ri' through longa kangaroo. One time me see 'em catch one
fella boy. Brother belonga me--Billy--strong fella that. One time we go
after kangaroo. Billy walk about close up, me sit down alonga rock; me
plant me'self. 'Nother boy close up. He plant. We no see that fella.
Bi'mby me see little fella wallaby feed about. Me bin whistle alonga my
brother. 'Here wallaby. Come this way; quiet!' my brother come up.
'Tchuk spear, miss wallaby, catch 'em that other fella boy, here. He bin
sing out--cry like anything. My brother fright. That boy sing out--'Billy,
you; what for you spear me.' Billy run away, that boy sing
out--'Billy. No, you run away. Come up; pull out spear, quick fella!'
Billy run away. Me sit down quiet. No make noise. Me hear that fella cry,
cry, sing out like anything. He carn walk about. Me go quiet along a
grass long way. Come round 'nother side. That boy no bin see me. Bi'mby
me see gins--big mob. Sing out--'One fella boy bin catch 'em spear. He very
bad. Close up dead now.' Billy plant himself long way. Boys and gins
come up, where boy sing out. 'Carry 'em alonga camp.' Me go long way,
where auntie belonga me sit down. That spear cartn pull 'em out. He got
hook. All a time that boy sing out, 'Pull out spear.' Bi'mby Billy come
back. He very sorry. He say--'Me no wan' spear you. Me no look out you.
Me wan' catch 'em wallaby.' That boy say, 'All ri, Billy. You good mate
belonga me.' Three days that spear inside yet. Me come alonga camp. That
boy look 'em all ri'. Me say--'Me very sorry. Me think you dead now.' He
say--'Me no dead. Me feel all ri'. Me want pull out spear.' Old men
pull out hard. Carn shift 'em. Old men say--'We cut 'em now.' Get knife,
sharpen 'em, cut 'em, cut 'em, cut 'em. Three strong boys pull 'em
spear. Pull 'em hard altogether. Pull out plenty beef longa that hook.
That boy no sing out. My word. He carn stop. Two weeks dead. Gins no bin
bury 'em. What you think? Cut 'em up beef from bone; put beef in bark,
put white paint alonga bark, tie 'em up and hung up 'em a longa
dilly-bag. My word, puff! Bi'mby you se-mell 'em stink."


George was not pressed to display his accomplishments. He chose during
many months to hold himself in reserve, and to live up to the reputation
of being quite a scholar, as far as scholarship goes among blacks. But
in accordance with expectations, his pride and enthusiasm got the better
of him. He produced two scraps of paper, on each of which were a number
of sinuous lines and scrawls, saying

"You write all asame this kind?"

"No," I said, "I no write like that."

"This easy fella? All the time me write this kind."

"Well, what you write?" George's attention at once became concentrated,
and gazing steadfastly on the paper for a minute or so for the
marshalling of his wits, said--"This fella say Coleman Riber, Coen Riber?
Horse Dead Creek, Massac (Massacre) Riber, Big Morehead, Kennedy Riber,
Laura Riber." These are the names of some of the streams north from
Cooktown, George's country. On the other scrap of paper, according to
him, the names of some of the islands in this neighbourhood were
written. Though the papers were transposed and turned upside down,
George could read them with equal facility. The list of rivers would be
read for the islands, and the islands for the rivers, quite
indifferently, and with entertaining naivete. But he treasured the
papers, and continued to delude his fellows with the display of what
they considered to be wonderful cleverness.

YAB-OO-RAGOO, OTHERWISE "MICKIE"

"Mislike me not for my complexion."


He said that his name was Mickie, and that he was an Irishman, and a
native of the great Palm Island--40 miles south. He hath no personal
comeliness--his face is his great misfortune. Though he asserts with
pride his nationality, he admits that his mother, now among the stars,
"sat down alonga 'nother side," and his complexion, or rather what is
seen of it through an artless layer of charcoal and grease, applied out
of respect to the memory of his deceased brother-in-law, shows no Celtic
trace. Yet he has a keen appreciation of fun, has ready wit, and,
according to his own showing, is not averse to a shindy, so that,
perhaps his given name is at least characteristic of his assumed race. A
flat overhanging forehead, keen black eyes, a broad-rooted, unobtrusive
nose, a most capacious mouth, beard and whiskers thin and unkempt, and a
fierce-looking moustache, a head of hair which in boyhood days had
probably been a mass of crisp curls, but now shaggy tufts, matted and
uneven, altogether a shockingly repulsive physiognomy, and yet an
"honest Injin" in every respect and one who would always look on the
happy side of life, but for twinges of neuralgia--"monda" he calls
it--which rack his head and face with pain. I saw only the peaceful side
of Mickie's nature, and therefore this chronicle will be unsensational
as well as imperfect. There is a tradition that the Palm Island blacks
are of a milder, less bellicose disposition, than those of the mainland
opposite. Many years ago when a party of bushmen, fresh from the
excitement and weariness of the Gilbert rush, reposed for a few days on
the soft grey sand of Challenger Bay, the spot was invaded by a band of
mainland natives. In the early dawn the peace-loving Palm Islanders
awoke the friendly whites with the news that a "big fella mob" was
coming across in canoes. Under ordinary circumstances they would have
fled to the jungle-covered hills until the invaders had retired, but the
knowledge that the whites had a couple of guns, and a good supply of
shot, inspired a high degree of temporary courage. Possibly the
extraordinary courage of the islanders in thus awaiting the attack put
the invaders on their guard, for they would not approach nearer than 50
yards. A closer range was desired, for there was a special barrel loaded
with coarse salt, and the invaders were innocent of clothing. However, a
round of duck-shot had some effect, though the blacks who escaped the
pickling slapped themselves in a defiant and grossly-contemptuous
manner. Each who did so, however, grieved, for another round was fired,
and each hero must have depended upon the good offices of his brother in
distress in picking out the pellets. This is said to be the last
occasion on which the placid Palm Islanders saw an enemy land upon their
shores. Mickie did not remember the invasion, or if he did so, he was
not anxious to demonstrate that his ancestors were not cast in the
heroic mould. Probably all recollection of the escapade is lost to the
natives of the Palms, and I am driven to accept the white man's
uncorroborated version of it.

Mickie is very proud of his well-conditioned spouse, "Jinny"--"Missus
Michael," as Mickie calls her when in the sportive vein--and Jinny, or
"Penti-byer," her maiden name, reciprocates the regard, and sees that the
dilly-bag, which does duty for the larder, is supplied with yams, nuts,
roots and shell-fish, Mickie being responsible for the fish--speared in
the lagoon at low tide--and the scrub-fowl eggs, and the ivory white
grubs, etc., upon which they live when there is no "white fella" sitting
down. When Providence sends a "white fella," they appreciate flour, tea,
sugar, potatoes, meat, and all sorts of game, from cockatoos to
flying-foxes. Once Mickie was asked how he managed to win the favour of
such a fine gin. "Unkl belonga her giv'em me," he replied. There was no
marriage ceremony. There was no knocking out of a tooth, or the
administration of a stunning blow on the head with a nulla-nulla, no
eating of maize-pudding from the same plate, no drinking brandy
together, no "hand fasting," nor boring of the bride's ears by the
bridegroom, no tying of hands, nor smearing with each other's blood, nor
binding together with ropes of grass; simply, "Unkl belonga her giv
'em me!" Once in his possession, however, and Mickie proceeded to set
his mark on his bride, so that should any dispute arise as to identity,
he at least would have authentic brands. With an apparently studied
array of cicatrices, each 3 inches long and half an inch wide, on her
arms and shoulders, Mickie marked Jinny for his own. The couple have one
girl--Mickie prefers to use the word "daw-tah"--and his child had been
but lately received into the bosom of the family, after several years'
exile among the whites. It is somewhat of a trouble that "Minnie" had
almost forgotten her native tongue, and that her parents have to yabber
to her in English. According to them it will be a year before Minnie
regains lingual facility. In the meantime great pains are being taken
with her education, and her accomplishments promise to be varied,
though entirely unornamental. She will in time be able to recognise at
a glance the particular kind of decayed timber in which the delicious
white grub resides, will know that the nut of the cycad has to be
immersed in a running stream before it is "good fella," and how to grind
the kernel into flour, and how to mould the dough into a German
sausage-shaped damper; she will be able to walk about the reef, picking
up blacklip oysters and clams, without lacerating the soles of her feet,
and to make a dilly-bag, and, finally, to enjoy a smoke.

Mickie appreciates a joke. When Jinny complained that the scrub caught
her brand new pipe and had broken it short off, Mickie with an
extravagant grimace softly urged her to go along Townsville and buy
another.

He is also superstitious. After dark he will not move a yard from his
camp without a flaring torch of paper bark, a fiery aspersorium for the
scaring of the "debil-debil." His opinions on the supernatural are
unsatisfactory. He does not know what the "debil-debil" is like, or
what form the ill-will of that mystic being would take--nothing but "that
fella sit down alonga scrub," and that he has "long fella needle alonga
hand"; and so he carries and waves about his paper bark torch to scare
this viewless and dreaded enemy.

Mickie's views as to the future are not quite explicit. "Suppose me go
bung, me go alonga sky. Bi'mby jump up 'nother fella." He is not at all
certain whether the transformation would be into a white man or not; in
fact he appears absolutely indifferent. Another time he will say--"Suppose
me go bung. Good-bye, finish; no come back. Plenty fella alonga
Palm Island go bung. He no come back." Daylight disperses all his fears.
In point of fact he has nothing to fear. His foes are dead, and there is
no poisonous snake or offensive animal on the Palms. Once he sprang
suddenly and excitedly into the air as we tramped through the long grass
on the edge of the sweetly-smelling jungle, with the exclamation,
"Little fella snake!" Being reminded that he had boldly asserted that
there was no bad snakes on the island, Mickie replied--"That fella no
bad. Only make foot big." He never missed a chance of securing a
hatful of grubs, which, together with the chrysalides and the full-grown
beetle (brown and glossy) were devoured after being warmed through on
the ashes. When the tomahawk in the process of cutting out damaged a
grub, Mickie with a leer of satisfaction would eat the wriggling insect
with a feigned apology--"Me bin cut that fella." Baked in the ashes the
chrysalids have a wholesome, clean appearance, with a flavour of
coco-nut, and the "white fella" always came in for his share.

Mickie's bush craft, his knowledge of the habits of birds and insects
and the ways of fish, is enviable. Signs and sounds quite indeterminate
to "white fellas" are full of meaning to him. Of course, by failure to
comprehend such things, no doubt he has many a time gone hungry, and the
keenness of his appetite has so sharpened his perceptions that he is
seldom at fault now. The scratching of a scrub fowl among decayed leaves
is heard in the jungle at an extraordinary distance, and a splash or
ripple far out on the edge of the reef tells him that a shark or
kingfish is driving the mullet into the lagoon, where he may easily
spear them. He can tell to a quarter of an hour when the fish will leave
off biting; he hears the scamper of the iguana in the grass when the
"white fella" fails to catch a sound, and knows when the giant crabs
will be "walking about" in the mangroves. He is trustworthy and
obliging, and ready to impart all the lore he possesses, an expert
boomerang thrower, a dead shot with a nulla-nulla, and an eater of
everything that comes in his way except "pigee-pigee." Having long had
the pleasure of his acquaintance, I can cordially wish him a
never-failing supply of "patter" and tobacco, and surcease of "monda";
and what more can the heart of a blackfellow desire--save rum?

TOM: HIS WIVES--HIS BATTLES

Tom has been thrice married--at least he has possessed three wives. For
a few months he had two at a time, and placidly endured the
consequences.

Of the bride of his youth history has no word--for Tom is the only
historian of that period, and he ever bears sorrows in silence.

Nelly, whose country borders the beach of the mainland opposite, could
not speak his language when he fought for her fairly and honourably, and
won her from her first man. Though reared but a little over 2 miles
apart, these twain have totally different words for the same objects.
During married life each has added to the vocabulary of the other.

When we took possession of the island, Nelly would glide into the jungle
like a frightened snake and hide for days. She was wild, suspicious,
uncleanly, uncouth--a combination of all the shortcomings of the savage.
Now she lights the fire every morning, kneads the bread, makes the
porridge and the coffee, feeds the fowls, washes plates and clothes,
scrubs floors, and generally does the work of a domestic. She is
cheerfully industrious, emphatic in her admiration of pictures, and
smokes continuously, preferring a pipe ornamented with "lead," for she
has all the woman's love of show. From the most quarrelsome and vixenish
gin of the camp she has been transformed into a decent-minded
peacemaker--always ready to atone for the misbehaviour of others, and to
display without a trace of self-glorification the virtue of
self-sacrifice. Nelly is never happier than when working about the
house, except when she saunters off on a Sunday morning, in the glare of
a new dress, and with the smoke curling from her ornamented pipe,
beneath a hat which, in variety of tints, shames the sunset sky.

Students of ethnology who may scan these lines may find food for
reflection in the fact that Tom and Nelly offer exceptions to the rules
that the totems of Australian blacks generally refer to food, and that
those whose totems are alike do not marry. Tom's totemic title,
"Kitalbarra," is derived from a splinter of a rock off an islet to the
southeast of Dunk Island. "Oongle-bi," Nelly's affinity, is a rock on
the summit of a hill on the mainland, not far from her birthplace. The
plea of the rocks was not raised as any just cause or impediment to the
match when Tom by force of arms espoused Nelly. "Jimmy," Tom and Nelly's
son, born in civilisation, bears a second name, that of a deceased
uncle, "Toola-un-guy," the totemic rendering of which is now unknown.
Another "Jimmy," a native of Hinchinbrook, is differentiated by
"Yaeki-muggie," the title of the sandspit of one of the Brook Islands.

The confusion of tongues between Tom and Nelly may be briefly
illustrated--

           TOM ("Kitalbarra").  NELLY ("Oongle-bi").

Sun.        Wee-yee.               Car-rie.
Moon.       Yil-can.               Car-cal-oon.
Sky.        Aln-pun.               Moogah-car-boon.
Mainland.   Yungl-man.             Mung-un.
Island.     Cul-qua-yah.           Moan-mitte.
Sea.        Mutta.                 Yoo-moo.
Fire.       Wam-pui.               Poon-nee.
Water.      Cam-moo.               Pan-nahr.
Rain.       Yukan.                 Yukan.
Man.        Mah-al.                Yer-rah.
Woman.      Rit-tee.               Ee-bee.
Baby.       Eee-bee.               Koo-jal.
Head.       Poo-you.               Oom-poo.
Foot.       Pin-kin.               Chin-nah.
Leg.        Waka.                  Too-joo.
Hand.       Man-dee.               Mul-lah.
Fish.       Tar-boo.               Kooyah.
Bird.       Poong-an.              Toon-doo.

The big-eyed walking fish of the mangroves, which the learned have named
PERIOPHTHALMUS KOELREUTERI, Tom knows as "manning-tsang," and Nelly as
"mourn!"

During one of his bachelordom interludes a smart young gin known as
"Dolly" attracted Tom's fancy. He had just "signed on" for a six
months' cruise with the master of a beche-de-mer schooner. Dolly smiled
so sweetly upon Tom that Charley, her boy, raged furiously. Tom--never
demonstrative, always cool and deep--obtaining an advance from his
captain, bought, among a few other attractive trifles, an extremely
gaudy dress, and having artlessly displayed the finery, took it all on
board the schooner, which was to sail the following morning at daylight.

During the evening Dolly strolled casually from the camp and the society
of the fuming Charley, and disappeared. Tom had quite a trousseau, new
and bright, for his sweetheart, when she clambered on board, naked, wet,
and with shining eyes. Next morning Charley tracked her along the beach.
An old and soiled dress--his gift--on a little promontory of rocks about a
mile from the anchorage of the schooner completed the love-story.

This intrigue took place many years ago, but Charley was so deeply
mortified that he hates Tom to this day, and Tom is an uncomfortable
fellow for anyone disposed to resentfulness.

We know, because he says so, that Tom fought for her, and that Nelly
gladly accepted the protection of the staunchest man of the district.
Tom, in his surly moments, is exquisitely cruel; but Nelly's devotion is
unaffected. Her vanity led her to flaunt her gaudy hat in the hut. Tom
reproved such flashness--he invariably selects the gayest shirts
himself--by burning the hat and all the newly-acquired finery. Nelly
struck back, and Tom, as her eyes were big and ablaze with fury, threw--at
the cost of burnt fingers--a handful of hot sand and ashes into her
face. From Tom's point of view it was a splendid feat--one of those bold
and effective master-strokes that only a ready and determined sportsman
could conceive and on the instant carry into effect. Nelly's eyes were
closed for weeks--well-nigh for ever--and the skin peeled off her face;
but she consented to the cruel punishment without a murmur after the
first shriek of agony, and won Tom to good temper and tolerance of her
vanity by all sorts of happy concessions.

How many such tiffs--tough and smart--has poor Nelly borne? Her grief has
been so sore that she has torn her hair out by the roots in frenzy and
stamped upon it; but Tom, surly and impassive Tom, is her lord as well
as her most exacting master, and in their own way they are devoted to
one another.

The roughest cross Nelly was called upon to bear was the presence of
Tom's third wife--"Little Jinny"--the manner of whose wooing and
home-coming is to be told.

News came from Lucinda Point to Clump Point--passed from one to
another--that Tom's half-brother (a purely fictional relationship) had
died, leaving a young widow. According to Tom's rendering of the
matrimonial laws, he was the rightful heir. The widow was all that his
half-brother had left that was of the slightest consequence.

Tom, telling the circumstances, asked for a holiday that he might
personally lay claim to his inheritance. Reminded that he had one wife,
he frankly declared in Nelly's presence, and she seemed to acquiesce,
that she was no good; but that the other one was a "good fella" in every
respect, even to washing plates and scrubbing floors.

His holiday was granted. He went away with money in his pockets,
blankets, several changes of raiment--among them Nelly's best dress and
hat, dilly-bags brightly coloured, and weapons--boomerang, two black palm
spears, a great wooden sword, a shield decorated with a complicated
pattern in red and white earth, and a flashing new tomahawk.

So he departed, with Nelly's best wishes, and full of hope and
expectation, promising to return in two weeks.

Two months slipped past, and one evening a forlorn, ragged, lean
scarecrow of a black boy--without a hat, unshaven, without a blanket, and
even destitute of a pipe, clambered over the side of the steamer, and
dropped into the boat without a word. It was Tom!

In shreds and patches the history of his experience was related. He had
arrived at Lucinda, had charmed "Little Jinny" with his manly presence
and spruceness and the amount of his personal property, supplemented by
the display and free bestowal of Nelly's choicest finery, and had, as a
matter of course, been compelled to fight for her. He had been beaten,
terribly beaten. One ear had been viciously "marked," a triangular
slice being missing (a subsequent combat removed all trace of this
mark), and he showed the meritorious scar of a spear-wound on the arm.

Having failed in the stand-up fight, he had resorted to stratagem, had
been foiled, and forced to flee, abandoning everything, even to that
last vestige of independence--his pipe.

We knew that he had been hard pressed, for on going gaily away he had
volunteered to bring a fat young pig from one of the wild herds of
Hinchinbrook, and he came back empty-handed. He talks of the pig--how fat
and very young it was--even to this day. He came with his life--that was
all, and a threadbare sort of life it was at that.

Several months went by--a black boy recovers condition in a day or two
as does a starved dog--and Tom had saved money. He never forgets, never
swerves from a purpose. He is as determined as a dung-beetle.

Another leave of absence was granted. A second raid was made upon
Nelly's wardrobe--two big bailer shells. Elated, freshly shaved and
smiling, he was a different sort from the individual who had
shamefacedly slipped over the side of the steamer, bereft of everything
but life.

He said he would be back in two weeks, and to the day he appeared. His
youthful third wife he handed down into the boat, and the boat was full
of their luggage. Ah, that desolated camp at Lucinda! The young lady's
trousseau was complete even to lingerie. He had won the fight, and the
bride and the spoils were his.

Poor Nelly! She welcomed "Little Jinny" effusively, and "Little
Jinny" gave her a dress and a second-best hat. Life for a couple of
days at the camp was idyllic. Then they took back the gifts of clothing,
and turned Nelly out of the hut. She built a separate establishment--a
dome of dried grass on bent sticks, and in it she wept and upbraided,
and fired up frequently under the torments of jealousy.

Shrill squabbles were of daily occurrence, until the great Peacemaker
removed Tom's favourite wife. And who more sorely grieved than Nelly!


Will the title bear a few words as to Tom the hunter? Was ever a keener,
a more patient, a more self-possessed, and consequently a more
successful, sportsman? He it was who, from a cranky punt (no white man
would venture out to sea in such a craft,) at three o'clock one windy
afternoon, harpooned an immense bull-turtle, which towed him towards the
Barrier Reef, into the track of the big steamers 4 miles to the east. He
battled with the game all the afternoon and evening, overcame it at "the
dead waste and middle of the night," and towed it back to the beach,
landing after thirteen hours' continuous work. Tom accomplished the feat
in a strong breeze and with a turtle diving and tugging, when he might
have cut the line at any moment and paddled home comfortably.

He is as much at home on the top of a bloodwood tree, hanging round a
swaying limb while cutting out a "bee nest," as in a frail bark canoe
among the sharks on the skirts of a shoal of bonito.

As we neared the beach one day a big sea-mullet came into view. Without
a moment's hesitation, and as it flashed past the boat, Tom, using
the oar as a spear, hit the slippery fish with such precision and force
as to impale it. He will harpoon a turtle as it rushes away from the
boat, 5 feet beneath the surface, with the coolness of a
billiard-player, and with unerring accuracy "taking off" for the speed
of the boat and the refraction of the water. All the ways and habits of
fish, and their favourite feeding-grounds, are to him as pages of an open
book.

A groper, more voracious and bolder than usual, followed a safely-hooked
perch from the dim coral garden, worrying it like a bull-dog. As the
struggling fish splashed on the surface the groper, abandoning its
illegitimate prey, swerved swiftly downwards. The retreat was a second
too late, for Tom had seized the, harpoon lying athwart the boat, and
though the fish appeared through a fathom and a half of water, a vague,
fleeting, contorted shadow, he reached it. The barbed point passed
through it, carrying a foot or two of the line, and a 30-pounder was
added to our catch at one stroke and without a tremor of excitement on
Tom's part.

He sailed his punt--12 feet long and 4 feet wide--6 miles, loaded with
eight adults, eight piccaninnies, five dogs, a cat, blankets for the
crowd, and all the frowsy miscellanea of a black's camp. It was not a
boatload that landed on the beach: it was a procession. But Tom would go
to sea on a chip. His skill as a sailor of small boats is largely a
manifestation of characteristic caution, his precept being--"Subpose big
seas come one, one--all right. Subpose come two, two--look out!"



"LITTLE JINNY"

In Life and In Death


She was called "Little Jinny" to distinguish her from another of the
blacks about the place--a great, good-natured, giggling creature who
laughs perpetually and grows ever fatter. There was nothing in common
between the two. Indeed they frequently had differences, for "Jinny"
proper is industrious, obliging, cheerful, and full of fun, while she,
"Little Jinny," was silent, sulky, and ever averse from toil.

Tom, her man, alternately petted and beat her. She, no doubt, deserved
both, for she was proud and haughty for a black gin, and as venomous at
times as a scorpion. His hand is heavy, and when he lifted it in anger
poor "Little Jinny" suffered--but suffered in silence. Her chastisements
were not frequent, but they seemed to increase her loyalty towards her
lord and master.

From a European standpoint, "Little Jinny" had little of which to be
vain. She had a fuzzy head of hair. Some, like fur, crept down across
her brows, giving her face a singularly unbecoming cast. I did not
notice this peculiar uncomeliness until she was dying, and I felt then
more than ever that she was not to be judged in accordance with our
standard of beauty--though she had many of our little weaknesses. Her
ignorance of civilised ways was pathetic, yet she was vain and
coquettish as the fairest of her sex. And her besetting vanity was
endeavouring to be a "lady." Work was sordid, for she wore garments
which made her the leader of fashion. She possessed a pair of--well, a
bifurcated garment--and her whole life was spent in trying to live up to
it--or them. She succeeded to a certain extent. Her ways were mincing and
precise, and she lazed away her days quite artistically. A can of water
was too heavy for her to carry, less than two hours "spell" at a time
quite an offence to her ideal of the amount of repose that a lady
wearing the bifurcated garment should permit herself. She was wont to
sit in the shade of the mango-tree and pretend to do a little gardening.
It was all pretence. What she really loved to do was to wander among the
bloodwoods--with Tom, of course--with next to nothing on, the next to
nothing being the drawers. There, you have them. Then you saw her at her
best--or rather worst, for she was a thin sapling of a girl, of a dull
coppery colour, and the garment was not always snowy-white.

Hers, after all, was an ideal existence. She had plenty to eat, as much
tobacco as was good for her, and outer raiment that in gaudiness
outrivalled the flame-tree and the yellow hibiscus. She was the
favourite of two consorts, and only when her pride and scorpion-like
attributes got the better of her was she corrected.

Now, just the other morning, Tom announced that "Little Jinny" was sick
"along a bingey" (stomach), and suggested that salt medicine might do
her good. It was quite a common occurrence for her to be sick. It was
such an easy and excellent excuse for a day's holiday, when she would
bask on the soft grey sand and smoke, gazing across the placid bay and
waiting for meal-times. So no one took her sickness seriously.
Subsequent inquiries, however, elicited the fact that "Little Jinny"
had eaten little or no tucker the day prior to Tom's application for
medicine on her behalf, and that she was really entitled to sympathy of
the most practical kind. But no one had the least suspicion of the fact.
Dinner-time came and she did not appear, though she was strolling about
the flat below the house, apparently only a "little bit sick," as Tom
reported when he came up to his work.

"That one all right to-morrow," was the reply to an inquiry.

But at five o'clock Tom visited his hut, and hurried back for medicine.
"Little Jinny" was very bad. We went down with remedies that seemed
fit from his diagnosis of the case and description of the symptoms, and
there lay "Little Jinny," obviously dying. She had never complained nor
whimpered when Tom's heavy hand had corrected her, though the dried
trickle of blood had been seen on her forehead, and now that she lay
a-dying, with her figure strangely swollen, she moaned only when Torn,
with his heavy hand, sought to squeeze out the dead man, "all the same
like debil-debil," who was, according to him, the cause of the trouble.

But it was all too implacable and crafty a "debil-debil" for Tom to cast
out. We did our best with brandy and steaming flannels; but it was all
so useless, for none understood the sickness, or how to prescribe a
remedy that might be effective. Our helplessness was grievous. We could
only repeat the sips of brandy and water, and endeavour to warm the
chilly little body with steamy flannels.

All did something. Even Nelly, the second best wife, who had had to play
a very subordinate part in the camp, and whom "Little Jinny" had
slapped and had abused with all the volubility of spite and temper,
crouched beside her dying rival, chafing her cold hands and warming her
cheeks.

And here was the most touching incident of the pathetic scene. We had
brandy and blankets and flannels wherewith to endeavour to afford
relief. Poor Nelly had nothing. Her poverty was grim, but she had some
resource. She had no means of alleviating the suffering save those which
spendthrift Nature provided--the smooth oily leaf of the "Raroo." She
used these aromatic leaves, all that she had, with no little art and
tenderness. Warming them over the fire until the oil exuded, she would
apply them to the hairy jowl of the girl, and anon to her furry forehead
and cheeks.

While there is life there is hope is evidently Nelly's creed, and so she
crunched and warmed the pungently odorous leaves, and rubbed the hands
that had often smitten her in anger. Poor Nelly sighed piteously as she
continued her work, while Tom massaged the body of the girl, hoping to
expel the "debil-debil!" His theory was, and is, that some man whom
"Little Jinny" had known down about Hinchinbrook had died, and his
"debil-debil all the same like dead man," had "sat down" in "Little
Jinny's bingey,"--hence her distended condition.

His efforts to cast out this personal "debil" were futile, and as the
poor creature lapsed into unconsciousness he would blow gusty breaths
upon her big black eyes. It was his method of revivification. In my
ignorance I knew none more to the purpose. But it was all in vain. The
great eyes of this specimen of uncivilised humanity clouded over, and
then brightened. She moaned in response to Tom's well-intended but too
forcible massaging. Nelly applied without ceasing the one means of
relief that she possessed, the heated "Raroo" leaf, to cheek and
forehead, while we exhausted our woefully meagre stock of knowledge in
endeavouring to ease the last moments of the dying.

But poor "Little Jinny's" creditor was not to be denied. He was
exacting, cruelly exacting, imperious, implacable. He would have the
uttermost farthing's worth of her poor, crude life.

Nelly might sigh and use the whole armful of "Raroo" leaves; Tom might
massage, and the others do their best, which was pitiably poor, and
their uttermost, which was ever so mean and little, the Conquering Worm
would have its victim. And so with a few long-drawn, gulping sighs, each
at a longer interval than the last, until the final one, "Little Jinny"
passed away as the sun touched the dark blue barrier of mountains
across the channel to the west.

Then Nelly's sighs changed into a wail, in which the other members of
the camp joined, a penetrating falsetto cry which continued for two
days, mingled with the strong man's expression of woe, a low, weird yet
not inharmonious hum. For two days they chanted the virtues of the dead,
told of her likes and dislikes, and of their grief, crouching beside the
blanket-covered form. Then they buried her in the smoky hut in which she
lived, digging a shallow grave in the black sand, and there she rests
with them.

Tom has put on the mourning of his tribe, and will not for several years
eat of a certain fish associated with "Little Jinny's" original name.
Nor can he bear to be reminded of her. The day after she was buried he
spent the hours between daylight and sunset wandering about wherever
"Little Jinny" had been wont, obliterating the tracks made by her feet.
With the keenest of sight, which is one of the superior qualifications
of the race, he discerned the tracks on the sandy, forest-clad flat, and
rubbed them out with his foot.

Just as love-lorn Orlando ran about the forest of Arden carving on

"Every tree
The fair, the chaste, the unexpressive she,"

so this tough, rude savage, spent the, whole day smothering the marks
that would "sad remembrance bring" of the poor creature for whom he had
that kind of feeling that in the savage stands for love. Nature would
have performed the office as effectually, and perhaps more tenderly, but
Tom's hasty grief drove him remorselessly, until no outward and visible
sign of the dead girl remained to challenge it.

When I ponder upon Nelly's "Raroo" leaves and Tom's terrible and
precise earnestness in blotting out the memory of the past, I am
convinced that this race, despised and neglected of men, can be as
devoted to one another as truly as we who are so superior to them in
many attributes.

THE LANGUAGE TEST

Casual investigations confirm the opinion that the language of the
natives of Dunk, Hinchinbrook and the intervening isles was mutually
understood. Certainly there are more terms in common with Dunk Island
and the southern end of Hinchinbrook--40 miles away--than with Dunk Island
and the adjacent mainland. In pre-white folks days amicable intercourse
between the natives of the islands and of the mainland was unknown
though the islanders frequently visited one another. Hence no doubt
their dominant character and higher order of intelligence generally.
Literally the insular was a floating population, and derived the
advantage of intercommunication. That of the mainland was stationary. It
groped dimly in the jungle, each sept, isolated by bewildering
differences in language, cramped, narrow, suspicious. Tribes whose
country came within 2 or 3 miles of the sea never intruded on the beach,
and the Beachcombers dared not venture beyond recognised limits. To this
day Tom will not "walk about" inland unless he is in possession of real
superiority in the matter of arms, or has a following in force. He
professes fear of the primordial savagery of the "man alonga bush."

LAST OF THE LINE

The last King of Dunk Island--known to the whites as "Jimmy"--was a
tall, lanky man, irreclaimably truculent, incapable of recognising the
dominance of those who bestowed his Christian name. Long after most of
his fellows had submitted in a more or less kindly spirit to the
o'ermastering-race, "Jimmy" held aloof, and in his savage, self-reliant
way, deemed himself a worthy foe of the best of them. Often he
endeavoured to persuade his companions to join him in a policy of active
resentment. Once, when remonstrated with on account of some offence
against the rights of property, he assumed a hostile disposition, and
calling upon others, took up a spear, determined if possible to rouse a
revolt. Few in number, the whites could not permit their authority to be
questioned, and a demonstration with a rifle silenced all show of
opposition. "Jimmy," disgusted with the docility of his fellows,
departed, uttering wrath and threatenings, and was no more seen in the
vicinity. This incident took place nearly twenty years ago on the
mainland. "King Jimmy, the Irreconcilable," died a natural death. He
does not sleep with his fathers on his native soil, but at Tam o' Shanter
Point, nor are any of his acts and deeds remembered, save that which
illustrates his hatred of the whites, and his bold and truculent spirit.

None of those who remain is equal to the last of the royal line in
stature. Toby stands 5 feet 7 1/2 inches. Tom, 5 feet 7 inches. Brow,
5 feet 2 3/4 inches, and Willie, 5 feet 2 inches. Tom's expanded chest
measures 36 1/2 inches, and Toby's, 36; Brow's, 34 1/2, Willie's,
34 inches.



CHAPTER III



ATTRIBUTES AND ANECDOTES


Blacks possess acquirements which white people cannot successfully
imitate, are industrious in fashioning weapons and in the invention and
practice of primitive forms of amusement, and are in many respects
entertaining subjects to those who apply themselves, though
superficially, to the study of their habits and customs. On the impulse
of the moment they are generous or cruel, erratic, purposeless, unstable
as water.

The cat's cradle of childhood's days, in the hands of a black who has
practised the pastime, becomes most elaborate. He makes complicated
designs never dreamt of by the whites--fish, palm-trees, turtles, snakes,
birds flying, men and women, etc. etc., the variety being endless. Toy
darts and toy boomerangs are common, and the system of signalling by
gesture comprehensive and excellent. The Queensland Government has taken
means for the preservation of knowledge of many of the sports and
pastimes, as well as the language and habits of the blacks, being
impressed with the urgency of so doing by the rapid decrease in their
numbers. Many have been hastened from the world by a new and seductive
vice. Chinese cultivators of bananas found the blacks useful, and
rewarded them with the ashes from their opium-pipes. Mixed with water the
dregs form a warm and comforting beverage, but its effects were
terrible. The fiery liquors of mean whites, and diseases contracted from
the depraved, killed off many of the original lords of the soil. Opium
was supplying the finishing touches when the Australian Federal
Government, by an act of conscious virtue, forbade its introduction to
the Commonwealth, save for use as a drug. Indirectly the blacks have
been saved from demoralisation which threatened to become
precipitate--that is to say, in those localities where the smuggling of
opium has been suppressed.

The dwindling away of the race is, however, inevitable. A few anecdotes
may perhaps throw unaccustomed light upon attributes not generally
understood, and show that the Australian aboriginal, uncouth savage as
he is, is not altogether devoid of smartness and good-humour.

COMMON AND INDIVIDUAL RIGHTS

Australian blacks have been referred to as socialists, and even
communists. Certainly they repudiate thrift, and may therefore be said
to side with some socialists, and their camp customs embody communistic
principles. The cunningness and zeal with which they enforce individual
rights in property may be cited in connection with a food tree. When a
neighbouring estate was first settled, in the jungle on the site
selected for the house were several magnificent bean-trees. One was
about to be felled, when an old man, chief of the camp close by, made it
known through an interpreter that food-bearing trees were not to be cut
down. Eventually a bargain was struck, the whole of the trees on the
spot being purchased from the old man, the pioneers being glad of the
opportunity of establishing goodwill by a friendly understanding. The
day following, another patriarch of the camp appeared and made it known
that he, too, had property rights in the trees, and demanded payment.
Without formally recognising his claim, but with the idea of
strengthening the bond of good-fellowship, his price was also paid.
Again a third old man made a similar demand, explaining that neither of
the others had the right of disposing of his individual interests. He,
too, was sent away content. In the course of a day or two a young man
presented his claim, expounding the law of the country and the camp,
which was to the purpose that no single person or any number of persons,
individually or collectively, was or were entitled to barter the rights
and property of another. The bean-trees especially were subject to the
law of entail. The old men, the young soothsayer explained, could not
legally deprive him of his rights to the fruit of the trees that had
been the property of his as well as their ancestors, though he,
disingenuously, was quite ready for a personal consideration to forego
his privileges. He, too, was for peace sake made happy; and it was
there and then explained by the settlers, definitely and determinedly,
that no more payment for the particular trees about to be sacrificed on
the altar of civilisation would be made. In future the laws of the camps
were to be restricted to the hundreds of other bean-trees in the jungle,
each of which, if wanted, would be the subject of special negotiation.

THE "DEBIL-DEBIL"

Blacks in their attempts to give verisimilitude to the "debil-debil"
generally describe that personage as having hands fitted with hooks or
sharp needles. An intelligent boy of the Cape York Peninsula added a few
thrilling details on an occasion, when, to allay his fears, his Boss had
promised to shoot the "debil-debil" should the boy be molested. "No
more carn shoot that fella, Boss. All asame sum-moke." The boy said that
the "debil-debil" had arms like the lawyer vine--long and set with
spurs--and dwelt in the heart of the mountains, in the thickest jungle.
"Subpose," said the terrified boy, "black fella might hear 'em, that
debil-debil tching out, altogether no more yabber little bit (keep
silence). Altogether tell 'um um-boi-ya (medicine man). That one
trow'um wookoo (message-stick) alonga scrub. He trow'um pire stick,
ung-kurra, eparra ung neera, arwonadeer (north, south, west, east). He
sit down little bit. Bi'mby that one ah-anaburra (scrub turkey) he plenty
'tching out. Altogether black fella make 'um big fella fire. He no more
sleep. He look out all time. Bi'mby, longa morning he altogether yan. He
looked out 'nother fella yamber (camp). Ole man plenty time bin yabba me
debil-debil before long time, bin catch 'em ole man ole woman. He no
more see 'em. He find 'em little bit yetin (skin) longa yil-gil-gil
(lawyer vine). Ole man bin yabba some time debil-debil 'tching out like
it big fella oor-bung-ah (big wind) first time; bi'mby tching out all
asame youn-me bin hear 'em. Black fella he no more see 'em nuthin. One
time altogether been see 'em like it sum-moke. Heyan. Debil-debil come
up. Me no bin see 'em. Me bin hear 'em one time. Me close up ar-tum-ena
(baby)."

Another boy gave quite a different personality to the "debil-debil!" "Big
fella. All asame dead man. All bone, no more meat." Eyes of fire were
added as finishing touches.

CLOTHING SUPERFLUOUS

The parents of our domesticated blacks not only never wore clothes, but
hardly knew what clothes were. They needed none for warmth. At anyrate,
blankets or cloaks beaten out of the inner bark of a particular fig-tree
(FICUS EHRETIOIDS) were the only covering they had. Not every one
possessed even a fig-tree blanket. During inclement weather they
squatted in their humpies, or braved the elements "with honour clad."
Thinking no evil, clothing for decency's sake was superfluous. Clothes
are worn at the present day, partly as a concession to the
fastidiousness of the whites, and largely from vanity. Our blacks are
exceedingly fond of dress; the more glaring and clashing the colours the
greater the joy of possession.

The party go off in the shimmer of Sunday's finery, and just out of
sight all will be discarded and "planted," for the favourite costume
for the walk-about is that of the previous generation. Having spent the
whole day in blissful innocence of clothes, they return in the evening
in their gaudy attire, fresh as from a comic garden-party.

BROTHER AND SISTER

As they grow up, brothers assume towards their sisters an attitude of
reserve almost amounting to repugnance. The boy will not eat anything
the sister has cooked, nor knowingly touch anything she has handled. The
more contemptuous and austere his bearing towards her the more proper it
is. Nelly's brother paid a visit to the island, and she cooked a huge
damper at the kitchen stove. When it was taken to the camp, hot and
fragrant, "Billy" at once inquired who had cooked it. Nelly, wishing
that her brother should not deprive himself of his share, told a white
lie in the one word, "Missis!" Billy ate heartily and was none the
worse, while Nelly, who is fond of Billy, notwithstanding his official
detestation of her, chuckled at the successful deception.

THE RAINBOW

One of childhood's most fascinating fables was, that at the places where
the rainbow touched the earth would be found a bag of gold and
glittering gems. Among some North Queensland blacks almost exactly the
same fairy tale is current. "Muhr-amalee," remarked a boy, pointing to
a rainbow which seemed to spring from the Island of Bedarra. "That fella
no good. Hot, burning. Alonga my country too many. Come out alonga
ground, bend over, go down. Subpose me go close up kill 'em along spear,
run away and plant. Bi'mby come back, find plenty red stone, yalla
stone. Fill 'em up dilly-bag. Old man bin tell 'em. Me no go close up
along Muhr-amalee. Too fright!"

SWIMMING FEATS

In their endurance as long-distance swimmers, and in the ease with which
they perform various incompatible operations in the water, there are few
to equal the coastal blacks of North Queensland. For a trifling
consideration they will successfully undertake feats which prove that
they are almost as much at home in deep water as upon land, and when put
to the test their strength and hardihood are extraordinary. Boys
employed on beche-de-mer boats become almost amphibious. Some, as they
swim and dive, collect the fish into a heap on the bottom of the sea
until they have a parcel worthy of being taken to the attendant dinghy,
alongside which they will come with arms so full as to restrict movement
to a singular wriggle of the shoulders. What would be an extremely
awkward burden for a white man on shore, the expert black boy carries as
he swims with case, in the course of his daily round and common task.

During the Princess Charlotte Bay cyclone one of the survivors, after an
absence of nearly twenty-four hours, came ashore. He explained that the
boat of which he had been one of the crew was "drowned finish," and that
the sea had taken him out towards the Barrier. He swam for a long time,
and at last got tired and went to sleep, and for the best part of that
frantic night he slept as he swam. Then the wind changed, and he came in
with it, landing very little the worse. Others, on the same occasion,
swam for fifteen and twenty hours; but "Dick" was the only one who
went far out to sea, had a night's rest, landed fairly fresh, and seemed
to accept the experience as a matter of course.

Again, three boys and a gin--Charley, Belle Vue, Tom and Mary--were
sailing out to a reef in a little dingy, when they sighted a turtle
basking on the surface. Charley and Belle Vue jumped overboard and seized
the turtle. It was a monster, and so strong that they called for help, and
Tom plunged in to their assistance. Mary, frightened of being alone in
the boat, also sprang overboard, taking her blanket with her, and the
boat speedily sailed and drifted beyond reach. Charley and Belle Vue at
once swam to a beacon marking a submerged reef about a mile away, but
Tom and Mary, being caught in the current, were swept past the only
available resting-place. They were 8 miles from shore. Tom soon began to
flounder, but Mary, keeping her heart and her precious blanket, cheered
him on, and, changing her course, took a "fair wind down," as she
afterwards said, towards a distant point of the mainland. Lifting the
giant despair from her boy's shoulders with encouraging words, holding
him up occasionally when he got tired, and clinging all the time to the
only piece of personal property she possessed, Mary eventually landed in
a quiet bay. Tom was so exhausted that she had to drag him up on the
sand, and having made him comfortable with her safe but sodden blanket,
she hurried into town to report the circumstances to the police. A boat
was sent to the rescue of Charley and Belle Vue, still clinging to the
beacon, and the derelict dinghy was picked up. Nothing was lost but the
turtle.

SMOKE SIGNALS

It is many years since a black boy at Port Darwin remarked casually to
his master, a Government official there, "Steamer him come on; him sit
down lame fella," and began to limp across the room. He said that the
steamer was a long way away; but "blackfella he make 'em smoke;
blackfella bin tell 'em."

Four days after the steamer GUTHRIE slowly entered the port with her
machinery badly disabled.

THUNDER FACTORY

A boy who had visited towns, listening intently to a reverberating peal
of thunder asked--"How make 'em that row, Boss? He got big wheel?"

Home keeping blacks have homely wits. Having no experience of the rumble
and rattle of traffic they ascribe to thunder a mysterious origin, and
indicate though with reserve, the very place where it is made. The swirl
of a creek in the mainland has excavated a circular water hole in a soft
rock, brick red in colour. This hole is the local thunder factory, and
the blacks were wont to hang fish hooks across it from pieces of lawyer
cane, with the idea of ensnaring the young thunder before it had the
chance of becoming big and formidable.

THE ORACLE

Divination by means of the intestines of animals is practised by the
blacks in some parts of North Queensland. A young gin died suddenly on
the lower Johnstone River. Immediately after, the young men of the camp
went out hunting, bringing back a wallaby. The entrails were removed,
and an old woman--the Atropos of the camp--stretched them between her
fingers in half-yard lengths, simultaneously pronouncing the title of a
tribe in the district. The tribe, the name of which was being uttered as
the gut parted, was denounced as the source of the witchcraft which had
occasioned the untimely death of the gin. Vengeance followed as a matter
of course.

A REAL LETTER

Sam, a boy living in the Russell River scrub, spoke thus to his
master:--

"One fella boy, Dick, he come up fight along me four days."

"How you know, Sam?" asked the boss.

"Dick, he bin make 'em this one letter," replied Sam, picking up a palm
leaf from which all the leaflets save seven, had been torn. Three of the
seven had been turned down at the terminal point, and Sam continued his
explanation. "He no come Monday, he no come Tuesday, he no come
Wednesday, he come Thursday," indicating the first upright leaflet.

Sam said that he had an outstanding quarrel with Dick and had expected
the challenge conveyed by the letter he had picked up on the track that
morning.

When Thursday came Dick appeared well armed, and the two had an earnest,
honourable and exhilarating combat and parted good friends.

A BLACK DEGENERATE

A remarkable case is in the early records of the Lower Murray (between
New South Wales and Victoria), and was quoted long since. A number of
blacks died in agonising convulsions. Some thirty had succumbed, before
a dear old German doctor, who wandered up and down the river, a loved
and welcome guest at every station, happened along when a gin was
stricken. He diagnosed strychnine poisoning. The greatest mystery
surrounded the affair, and some of the whites undertook to watch the
camp. A clue was furnished by the old doctor, who, when attending to the
dying gin, noticed that one of the men seemed to find her sufferings
most diverting. He laughed, wandered away, and returned time after time,
repeating to himself before each outburst--"My word, plenty kick it,
that fella!" Somebody remembered that this black, who rejoiced in the
name of Tommy Simpson, had been almost tickled to death when he saw a
dog dying at the station from strychnine. He was watched, and some of
the powder he had stolen from a bottle in the store discovered in a
piece of opossum skin inside a very dilapidated old hat. Taxed with the
crime, he made free admission of his guilt, but was apparently incapable
of realising that he had done any wrong. It seemed that his chief reason
for keeping his secret so long was that he wanted to have the fun all to
himself. The other blacks were very differently impressed; they
surrounded Tommy Simpson and speared him until he died. To the last,
Tommy's ruling frame of mind was surprise, and he went to his death
quite unable to understand why his fellows should have made such a fuss
about his little joke.

JUMPED AT A CONCLUSION

Occasionally black boys have the misfortune to do exactly the wrong
thing with the best intentions. A beche-de-mer schooner sadly in need of
a coat of paint, ran into a northern port and brought up alongside a
similar but tidy craft, which at the time was laid up. In obedience to
natural curiosity the captain went on board the idle vessel and had a
good look over her, paced off some of her dimensions and mentally
approved her lines. In the morning he brought out a quantity of black
paint with which a friend who had taken pity of the weather-beaten
condition of his vessel had presented him, and ordered his boys to begin
work. Then he went ashore, spending a most agreeable morning among his
friends. just before dinner a chum asked him what his boys were doing.
He replied, "Oh, before I left I set them to work to paint the ship."
"Do you know what ship they are painting?" asked the friend. "Yes! I am
jolly well sure it's mine." "Well, you had better go and see how they
are getting on." He went, and found all hands merrily at work painting
the strange vessel. They had in excess of industry covered one of her
neat white sides completely, having jumped at the conclusion that the
captain had bought her. It was an expensive blunder, and a practical
lesson in the chemistry of colours. A large quantity of white paint had
to be bought to smother the black coat, and another lot of black paint
for his own woe-begone craft.

PRIDE OF RACE

"Harry" was a splendid specimen of humanity. Tall, lithesome, handsome,
intelligent, proud of superior abilities, prouder of his style. In his
time he played many parts. A stockrider, when he would appear in a gay
shirt, tight white moleskins, cabbage-tree hat, flash riding-boots with
glittering spurs. A bullock driver, when his costume would be more
subdued, but when he would be fully equipped, even to the chirpy phrases
in which working bullocks are accustomed to be addressed. Then as a
vagrant black, when his attire would be nothing at all in camp, and
little more than a frowsy blanket when visiting the town. But in all of
his characters he had an unconstrained contempt for Chinese, and
delighted in ridiculing and frightening them. In the part of a
bullock-driver he drew up his team in front of a store. The manager
shouted--"Don't want that load here, Harry! You tak 'em to back store.
You savee?" The "savee" touched Harry's dignity. "What for you say
savee? You take me for a blurry Chinaman?"

Class distinction prevails even among the race. "Polly," in her own
estimation, was highly civilised, and posed haughtily before her
uncultured cousins. Looking across to the mainland beach one day, she
said--"Whiteman walk about over there, longa beach." Then, gazing more
fixedly, and with all possible disdain in her tones--"No; only nigger!"

Nearly all civilised blacks have exalted opinions of themselves. It is
told that Marsh, the aboriginal bowler, of Sydney, wanted to join the
Australian Natives' Association, and on being black-balled said--"Those
fellows, Australian natives! My people were leading people in
Australia when their people were supping porridge in Scotland or digging
potatoes in Ireland." When Marsh and Henry met as rival fast bowlers in
a match between Queensland and New South Wales, it was proposed to the
former that he should be introduced to the Queenslander. "What!" he
ejaculated--"that myall? No, thank you. It's quite bad enough to meet
him on the field. Why, the fellow would want to go in to tea with me.
Give him a 'possum." These yarns may be too good to be true, but they at
least illustrate a well-recognised phase of aboriginal character.

"YANKEE CHARLEY"

At rare intervals one finds a black who knows how to drive a bargain.
"Yankee Charley" came, badly wanting a shirt. The only one available
was valued at 2s. 6d., and Charley produced 2s., protesting that that
represented his total capital, the extreme limit of his financial
resources--his uttermost farthing, as it were. At that sum the Boss
disposed of the shirt, for the need of the stranger within his gates
threatened to become shocking, as "Yankee Charley" possessed few of
the "artificial contrivances that hold society together!" Retiring to
the scrub, Charley took off his ruined singlet, came back smiling in his
new shirt, and with delightful candour tendered 6d. for a flash
handkerchief. He got it for his smartness.

MYALL'S BAKING

When blacks are introduced to the ways of white men, singular, often
grotesque episodes occur. A big, shy, clumsy fellow endeavouring to put
on a shirt as a pair of "combinations" does cut an absurd figure, and
the first efforts of many meddling and unskilled cooks to make a
"damper" are often pathetic failures. Not long since a beche-de-mer
fisherman engaged a crew from the tablelands at the back of Princess
Charlotte Bay. Never having been on board a schooner before, and being
absolutely innocent of the ways of the whites, they found "damper"
unpalatable, and flour was given them that they might prepare it after
their own methods. Some nuts ("koie-ie," CRYPTOCARIA PALMERSTONI, for
example) blacks toast until the shell (impregnated with resin) starts
into a blaze and the kernel falls out. The kernels are then chewed and
ejected until sufficient dough is available for a cake, which is
flattened out between green leaves and toasted. The dough "rises" as
though leavened with yeast, but this lightness is considered a fault,
for the dough is taken out, squeezed between hands moistened with
spittle until it becomes sodden. Then it is bound again tightly in green
leaves in long rolls, and buried in the hot ashes till cooked. Such
cakes are said to be very nice. They must be nutritious for the blacks
among whom Koi-ie is one of the principal foods are fat and agile
fellows. These Princess Charlotte Bay boys cooked their flour in a
somewhat similar way. The result was a sodden, tough, dirty damper, the
sight of which roused the not usually tender susceptibilities of the
owner of the boat. Taking pity on the untutored boys, he had a proper
damper made with soda and acid and a due proportion of salt. It turned
out a beauty, so spongy and light that it almost lifted the lid off the
camp oven, in which it was baked. The boys accepted it, but not without
manifestations of doubt and suspicion. They presently returned in a
solid and unanimous deputation loudly proclaiming that the boss was a
humbug, and had cheated them, the bread being full of holes containing
no "ki-ki" whatever, while they made "ki-ki" as dense as the deck, which
they tapped with their feet significantly and about which there was no
palpably hollow fraud. At first the boss failed to understand, for the
blacks had little even of pidgin English. When he did realise the true
state of the case he wasted no breath in explanations. The blacks
catered for themselves in the future, and got fat and saucy on the diet
of plain flour and water, so cooked that sometimes it was like
half-burnt deal, and as often a sticky, ropy mess.

EVERYTHING FOR A NAME

To the blacks of North Queensland there is a great deal in a name. When
a piccaninny is born, the first request is--"You put 'em (or make 'em)
name belonga that fella!" When a strange boy, a myall, "comes in" he
wants a name, and until he gets it he is as forlorn as an ownerless dog.
Anything does, from "Adam" to "Yellow-belly" or "Belle Vue." He seems
as proud of the new possession as a white boy of his first pair of
trousers, and soon forgets his original name. "What name belonga you,
your country?" I asked an alert boy. "I bin lose 'em; I no find 'em.
Boss, he catch 'em alonga paper!"

THE KNIGHTLY GROWTH

Wallace, in his MALAY ARCHIPELAGO, gives an amusing account of a native
who was superbly vain of an isolated tuft of hair on the one side of his
chin, the only semblance of beard he possessed. A black boy on one of
the inland stations left with a mob of travelling cattle for the south.
When he returned after many days, two hairs had sprouted from a mole on
his cheek, and he was for ever fondling them with pride and pleasure.

"Hello! Jacky!" exclaimed the manager of the station, noticing him on
his return for the first time. "You catch gem plenty whisker now," and
feinted to pluck out the twin hairs.

Jacky started back in dismay. "You no broke 'em! You no broke 'em!"

Another boy showed that the cruel edge of vanity which prompts others to
dye their hair is felt by the race. White hairs began to mingle with the
black of his moustache, and one by one he plucked them out. The
moustache became thinner and thinner, until the lip was as bare as a
baby's cheek, while the fraudulently youthful appearance gave obvious
satisfaction.

HONOUR AND GLORY

As we sat enjoying the cool moonlight, Mickie announced that Jinny
desired an interview. "All right, Mickie, tell her come along." "No,
bi'mby. When finish wash 'em plate." That duty disposed of, Mickie--"Now
Boss." "Well, come along, Jinny. What you want?" "No, Boss; I no want
talk alonga you, Mickie humbug you. What for you humbug Boss, Mickie?"
Jinny was bashful, for the subject was momentous, touched her pride, and
had been depressing her gaiety for many weeks. Presently she came and
with emphatic deliberation said--"Boss--No--good--Missis--call--out--
Jinny! Jinny! When want wash 'em plate. More better you hammer 'em that
fella, all asame Essie!" Jinny did not wish that the missis should be
chastised, but that she should be summoned to the plate washing with the
pomp and ceremony of a dinner gong, as the maid used to do in a more
civilised home.

FIRE JUMP UP

Mickie and Jinny once paid a visit to town, and Jinny, making an
afternoon call, was invited to have a cup of tea. She said, "Never mind,
Missis. Fire, he no burn." A gas stove was available, and Jinny jumped
and exclaimed as the blue flame sprang from nowhere. Wherever the lady
of the house pleased to apply a match the fire came. Next morning Mickie
was brought round to witness the wonder, Jinny asking--"Missis. You
show 'em Mickie fire jump up all about!"

SLOP TEETH

A lady up North was asked by her black maid, whose face had been
terribly battered by her infuriated husband, to send to the shop for new
teeth, in payment of which she tendered half-a-crown, promising "two
bob more" as wages accumulated. This is a fact, and therefore
comparable with the anecdote which tells that a military bandmaster
demanded the return of a set of teeth supplied at the regiment's expense
to a cornet player who had been granted his discharge.

A FASCINATED BOY

Seas swamped a small cutter as she was beating across the bar of a
Northern river. Exerting themselves to the utmost, the owners, with two
black boys, managed to save the boat, but all the food on board was
ruined, and blankets and clothing saturated. Hungry and dejected the
party prepared to put away the time until the weather calmed. In the
afternoon, fortune smiled. Another cutter came in sight, and with the
assistance of those on shore, managed to get into safety and shelter.
All hands were liberally treated to needful refreshment. "Say when!"
said the cheery Boss, as he poured a revivifying dose of whisky into a
pannikin held by the expectant but shivering boy. The elixir gurgled and
glittered before his fascinated eyes until the pannikin held enough for
two stiff nobblers, without evoking any polite verbal restraint. "My
word!" said the Boss, at last, "that boy can't say when."

AWKWARD CROSS-EXAMINATION

Mickie and Jinny being privileged became familiar, and spoke all sorts
of confidences in the ears of their mistress. Visitors came, an old
friend and her daughters, a blonde and a brunette. The contrast in the
types of the girls puzzled Mickie. He took an early opportunity to
cross-examine one from whom he thought he could obtain confidential
information. "What Gwen sister belonga Glad?" he asked. "Yes, Mickie"
"Same mother?" queried Mickie. "Yes, of course." Then came without
hesitation or reserve the dumbfounding question: "Same father?"

THE ONLY ROCK

Some may sneer when absolute originality is claimed for the following
little anecdote, for almost a facsimile of it happens to be among the
most time-honoured of jests. Rounding Clump Point in a light
centre-board cutter, the Boss, who was steering, asked Willie, whose
local knowledge was being relied on: "Any stone here, Willie?" "Yes,"
was the response, "one fella." The words were yet on the lips of the boy
when the centre-board jumped with a clang. "Why you no tell me before?"
angrily remonstrated the Boss. Willie--"No more. Only one fella. You
catch 'em!"

SAW THE JOKE

Our blacks saw "friends" on the mainland beach, and lit two signal
fires. Mickie said, "Me tell 'em that fella bring basket."
Cross-examined, he had to admit that the two fires merely signified a
general invitation to his mainland friends to come across. Then--"That
fella got 'em basket, me get 'em." A friend doubted the range of the
black's vision, which was truly telescopic, as we frequently verified
with a pair of powerful field glasses, but not to be thought inferior in
this respect, he solemnly declared that he saw Jinny's cousin on the
beach strike a light for his pipe. At first the irony of the remark was
not appreciated, then Jinny (after vainly peering across the sea), saw
the joke and gave a wild exhilarating exhibition of amusement. She sat
down and rolled about shouting and screeching, hardly able to tell
Mickie the fun, and when he was let into it the pantomime was the more
extravagant. The outburst continued throughout the day at intervals,
Jinny apologising for her boisterousness with reiterations--"Misser
Johnssing say he been see 'em cousin belonga me light 'em pipe!" Jinny
still rehearses the story at frequent intervals, and with hysterical
outbursts.

ZEBRA'S VANITY

To half civilised blacks a racecourse is an earthly paradise; a jockey,
a sort of demi-god. A lady shut up her house one race day, leaving
"Zebra" in charge. Returning, she was amazed to find one of the big
rooms open, and to hear the buzz of a sewing machine. Zebra,
trouserless, scarcely took the trouble to look round as he informed
her--"Me make 'em trouser all a same Yarraman (horse)." His desire for
tight riding breeches was not restrained, and the consequence was in the
nature of a disaster.

LAURA'S TRAITS

Laura was a bad girl. Like Topsy, she acknowledged her naughtiness, but
never attempted to reform. A considerable quantity of milk had
disappeared from a jug, and her mistress asked--"You been drink milk,
Laura?" "No, missis, me no drink 'em." But the tell-tale moustache of
cream still lingered on her lips. Laura lived in a quiet home, where
there were no children, and few dishes to wash. The State Orphanage was
not far away, and the children thereof paraded every day on their way to
the State school. Gazing at the long procession marching two by two
Laura, with a far away look in her eyes, said--"Missis. Me no like wash
'em plate belonga these fellas!" Laura was wont to be sent to Sunday
school, where her ways were precise and demure, and where her natural
smartness gained her credit, and many good conduct tickets. Once she was
overheard at her devotions--"Please, Mr God, make missis strong woman,
make missis good woman!" She was sick, and her mistress insisted upon
administering castor oil, but Laura made a fuss. At last her mistress
said--"All right, Laura, suppose you no take 'em medicine, I go for
doctor." "No, no, missis. Me die meself!"

A variety troupe visited the town, and Laura was taken to a performance.
Among the "freaks" were General Mite and his consort. Laura came back
with this proud boast--"I bin shake hands alonga piccaniny!"

ROYAL BLANKETS

Nelly was extravagantly fond of pictures; anything, from an illustrated
advertisement up, pleased her, and when the subject was not very obvious
to her she would indifferently gaze lovingly upon it upside down. A pair
of fine photographs of King Edward and Queen Alexandra in all the
sumptuousness of their coronation robes was shown her, and she was told
that "fella King belonga whiteman. That fella Queen wife, you know."
Putting her democratic forefinger on each alternately, Nelly said--"That
fella man; that fella Missis! My word! Got 'nother kind blanket!"

HIS DAILY BREAD

The Government of Queensland is conscientiously performing the duty of
smoothing the pillows of the dying race. On the coast several mission
stations have been established where the blacks of the neighbourhood are
gathered together and, under discipline tempered with a strong religious
element, taught to take care of themselves. The system is under the
supervision of an experienced official, entitled the "Chief Protector
of Aboriginals," and he tells a story which throws rays of light in more
than one direction.

A plump boy, who several months before had been consigned to a mission
station quite out of the neighbourhood, presented himself at the head
office, and with a rather rueful countenance answered a few of the
preliminary inquiries of the Protector. Confidence having been gained,
particular questions were asked.

"Yis," said the boy, "me bin stockrider belonga Yenda. Come down alonga
town have spell."

"But you belong to Fraser Island mission station!"

"Yis, me bin alonga that place."

"Why you no stop? That very good place."

"Nahr! No blurry good."

"You get plenty tucker--plenty everything that place!"

This provoked a trailing exclamation of dissent and disgust. "N-a-hr!
Blenty ask it--no get 'em. Ebery morning tell that big fella Boss (with
an upward jerk of the head) gib it daily-bread. Dinner-time tell it gib
it daily-bread. One time more alonga tea tell it that big fella Boss gib
it daily-bread."

"Well, you get plenty."

"N-a-hr! No get 'em. Get 'em corn (with a spit) all asame horse."

Hominy, with prayer, is the standing dish at that station.

HUMAN NATURE

Among the most cunning of civilised blacks was a gentleman, well up in
years, known as Michael Edward. He had been everywhere and had seen
everything, and was full of what we call worldly wisdom. His conceit in
himself led him to eat abundantly, drink all he could and at anybody's
expense, smoke continuously, do as little work as possible, though
apparently with lavish expenditure of industry, dress flashily and talk
big. In pursuit of these things he behaved as should a cute student of
human nature. Sent by Mrs Jenkins, his then mistress, with a message, he
arrived as some tempting pastry was taken from the oven. He eyed it all
with such riotous admiration, that an invitation to taste a tart was
felt compulsory. Michael Edward assented with a "Yus, please, Missis."
The tart was but a trifle light as air in his capacious maw, and another
went the same way with loud smacking of huge lips. Then, with a lively
sense of the continuance of such favour, he said--"My word, Missis you
mo' better cook than Missis Jenkin!"

A police magistrate had a blackfellow in his employ very much addicted
to beer. The black was brought before His Worship charged as a "drunk
and disorderly." The magistrate lectured him severely, but paid his fine
on condition that he would never drink again. A month later the culprit
was again in the court, and the magistrate, who was rather in love with
his own eloquence, proceeded to read the offender a severe lecture and
to threaten him with awful punishment At the most impressive point the
black broke in with--"Go on, Croker! Shut up and pay 'em money. Me want
finish 'em fence!"

AN APT RETORT

A meeting between a steamer smartly captained and a sailing boat steered
by a smart black boy familiar with the rules of the road at sea was
taking place. The steamer having too much way on, the boat narrowly
escaped being run down. "Why didn't you keep out of the road," yelled
the captain, "Why do you let the nigger steer?" Tom in reply, "Why you
no luff up? You got blurry steamer, I no got 'em!"

MISSIS'S TROUSERS

Lady Constance Mackenzie is not the only bold female who rides astride
in befitting costume. On some North Queensland cattle stations,
squatters' wives and daughters have adopted divided skirts, and black
gins employed as stockriders wear shirts and trousers, which are
returned to the store when not in active service. One bleak evening--and
it can be bleak on the North-Western Downs--the tender heart of a new
jackeroo storekeeper was touched by the sight of two black boys quaking
with the cold, the attire of each being limited to a singlet tugged down
to its extreme limit.

"You no got trousers?" he asked.

"Baal got 'em!"

"All right. Me give you fella some," and the storeman produced two pairs
well worn, which were thankfully accepted.

Half an hour later one of the boys returned, bursting with indignant
language. "What for, you blurry fool. You bin gib it my missis's
trousers?"

DULL-WITTED

At a western station the manager, in order to save a fence newly
erected, thought to satisfy the blacks by leaving a loose coil of wire
here and there for spear heads. But instead of taking that generous
hint, the natives invariably cut out from the fence what they wanted. On
another station in the same district, when a fence was under
construction small coils of loose wire were left every few hundred yards
as a tribute or free will offering; but in this case they again
overlooked the loose stuff and cut what they wanted from the strained
wire.

STRATEGY

Incomprehensibly dull as blacks frequently are they occasionally exhibit
shrewdness which is all the more remarkable because of its
unexpectedness. As the station hands were busy erecting buildings in
newly opened up country, the blacks sent an envoy to engage their
attention while others of the tribe cut off the iron bracing from the
paddock gates wherewith to make tomahawks. They succeeded in completely
despoiling one gate before they were disturbed.

LITERAL TRUTH

A black boy of more than ordinary intelligence, who had been sent to
fill a couple of tubs with water, sauntered back with a self-satisfied
air and said--"Me finish 'em!"

The master found that the boy, as a preliminary, had fitted one tub into
the other.

MAGIC THAT DID NOT WORK

Under the spell of the first sensations of Christianity, Lucy found and
took unauthorised possession of a gold cross. Retiring to a secluded
spot on the bank of the river, she hung the cross to a string round her
neck, imagining it to be a charm, by the magic of which she would become
a white girl. Twenty-four hours of patient expectancy passed without any
change in Lucy's complexion, so she lost faith in the golden symbol, and
bartered it to a Malay pieman for cakes. Then good Christian folks
charged her with the theft of the cross, and the pieman with receiving
it, knowing it to have been stolen. Lucy was pardoned, but the pagan
went to prison.

ANTI-CLIMAX

A boy was asked if he thought Jimmy Governor (a notorious desperado who
had given the New South Wales police much trouble) ought to be hanged.
"Baal. No fear hang 'em; too good."

"What you do then?"

"Me! me punch 'em nose!"

LITTLE FELLA CREEK SAILOR

Ponto, a boy well known in North Queensland, and one of the few
aboriginals whose memory is honoured by tombstones, was once taken by
his master to Sydney. He saw many wonders, being particularly impressed
by the appearance of the men-of-war's-men.

A month or so after his return he was away among the mountains with his
master and a friend who was wearing a jersey.

"You sailor, Bob?" asked Ponto.

"Yes, Ponto. I'm sailor-man."

"No. You no sailor," responded Ponto decisively.

"Yes. I tell you true. I'm sailor."

Ponto: "Ah! me think you no big salt-water sailor. You only little fella
creek sailor. You no got jacket--flash collar, knife alonga string!"

A FATEFUL BARGAIN

A squatter, travelling on foot with his black boy, came to a river
almost a "banker," and there was no recourse but to swim. After
Charcoal had taken a couple of trips with the clothes, the Boss told the
boy to swim alongside him, in case of emergency. Halfway across, just as
the Boss was feeling that there was some risk in swimming a flooded
river in which were many snags, Charcoal cheerily observed--"Suppose you
drowned finish, Boss, you gib me you pipe?" Summing up all the
possibilities in a second, the Boss gasped out--"No; you bin get pipe
when I'm across!" The boy's aid was prompt and effective.

EXCUSABLE BIAS

Two of the beachcombing class resumed an oft-recurring discussion on the
seaworthiness of their respective dinghies. Tom, the silent black boy, a
more experienced boatman than either, listened as he watched his own
frail bark canoe dancing like a feather in response to every ripple.

"Tom!" shouted one of the disputants, "suppose you want to go out in
big wind and big sea, which boat you take? This one belonga me, or that
one belonga your Boss?"

Tom glanced at the boats with the eye of an expert, paused in the
exercise of his judgment, and said with emphasis--"Me take 'em my boat!"

THE TRIAL SCENE

"Boiling Down," a boy with a not very reputable past, had once stood his
trial for a serious offence. On returning to his free hills, he was wont
to describe with rare art the trial scene.

Clearing a patch of ground, he would place one chip to represent the
judge--"big fella master"; a small chip would be His Honour's associate;
twelve chips were the jurymen; three were the lawyers; a big chip
between two others was "Boiling Down" with attendant policemen, and
many scattered about stood for the audience.

Having arranged his properties, the boy would proceed.

"Big fella master, he bin say--'Boinin' Down, you hear me? You
guinty--you not guinty?' Me bin say 'Guinty!'"

At this point "Boiling Down" invariably broke into such paroxsyms of
laughter that further utterance was impossible. Often as he attempted
it, his narrative of the proceedings ended in such violent mirth that
his hearers could not restrain themselves from joining in. They were
obliged to acknowledge that he looked upon the affair as the funniest
incident of his life.

A REFLECTION ON THE HORSE

A boy accustomed to see his master--the owner of a station--jump his
horse over the gate instead of stopping to open it, tried to follow. The
horse cantered up grandly, seemed to gather himself for the jump, and
baulked. The boy shot out of the saddle and over the gate. As he picked
himself up and shook the dust from his clothes he glared back at the
horse, saying--"You blurry liar!"

TRIUMPH OF MATTER OVER MIND

Out on a station in the Burketown district an athletic black boy was
employed. Trained by some friends, Charley developed such fleetness of
foot that it was decided to enter him in sports which took place at
Normanton and Croydon. In order that the public might be properly
surprised, it was planned that Charley should run into second place at
Normanton, and that at Croydon all possible honours were to be his.

Immediately before starting at Normanton, Charley was told that he was
not to win, because his backers wanted to make big money at Croydon.

Charley ran a good second most of the way, made a spurt, and breasted
the tape yards to the good.

Taken aside, his friends angrily remonstrated with him. "Look here,
Charley, what's the matter? I bin tell you run second. You come
first--you spoil everything!"

"Carn help it, Dick. Carn help it. Me bin bolt."

THE RUSE THAT FAILED

Miners in isolated camps where writing paper is not always available,
scribble their orders for rations upon hastily tom margins of
newspapers. A cute old black fellow named Bill who had frequently been
entrusted with such notes and had borne away goods presented a scrap of
paper innocent of writing at the store.

"What? This from Tom?" asked the storekeeper naming one of his customers
while he ran his eye over the paper.

"Yowi! Tom bin make 'em."

"What this fella talk?"

"That fella talk plour; sugar, tea; two stick Derby," and, as a
brilliant after thought--"bottle rum!"

"All right, by and bye," remarked the storekeeper.

The old man waited, and when it at last dawned upon him that his dodge
for the pledging of Tom's credit had failed, stole away, convinced no
doubt that there was some magic in the making of letters that he did not
quite comprehend.

THE BIG WORD

A tracker, known as Billy Williams--who had passed out of the police
service after many years of duty during which he had added largely to
his burden of original sin and knowledge of English--stole a valuable
diamond ring from the landlord of an hotel. Detected, and promptly
brought before two justices of the peace, Billy pleaded guilty, and was
sentenced to three months' imprisonment.

While escorting him to the lockup, the officer in charge remarked--
"Well, Billy, you lucky fella. You only get three months. I been think
you in for a sixer."

Billy--"By golly, Jack, me bin think me be disqualified for life."

MICKIE'S VERSION

Mickie is apt at repeating the sayings of others. Often his rendering of
a commonplace becomes humorous by reason of a slight verbal twist. As
the boys toiled to supplant a glorious strip of primeval jungle by a few
formal rows of bananas, the boss, glancing over the ruined vegetation,
remarked in encouraging tones

"Well, we are getting on fine! Getting on like a house on fire!"

For half an hour or so the boys hacked and chopped away at the vines and
trees, and then Mickie swept the scene with a comprehensive glance,
saying--"We getting on good fella now. All a same burning down house."

HONOURABLE JOHNNY

Johnny was much averse from work. "Work, work, work, all asame
bullocky," as he put it, rasped on his feelings. At midday he was taking
his case, while others toiled packing stones on a breakwater. One of
them called out--"Why you no work, Johnny? You sit down all the time."
Johnny--"Me bin work close up daylight. You lazy black niggers only
work when Boss look out."

THE TRANSFORMATION

The wife of a squatter was about to leave the station for a few years,
that her daughters might have the opportunity of acquiring
accomplishments unobtainable in the Bush. When the hour of departure
arrived, the blacks about the place loudly expressed their sorrow. One
softhearted creature exclaimed amid the tears--"Good-bye, Miss
Madge--good-bye, Miss Yola; me no see little girls any more. Two fella
going away, try learn be lady!"

MONEY-MAKING TRICK

A boy who had visited a town and had been taken to a circus, gathered
the camp together on the night of his return, and having given an
account of the wonders he had seen, announced that he could make money.
Satisfaction at such gift being tempered by doubt, the boy took his
stand before the expectant semicircle, and having admirably mimicked a
conjuror's patter, shouted--"Money!" A half-crown flashed in the air-to
be deftly caught and exhibited on the boy's palm.

This trick was repeated nightly. Conscious of the independence that
money gives, the whole camp became demoralised, until investigation
showed that the boy had a trained confederate in the person of his gin,
who, standing apart, on the word, flicked the half-crown in the air. The
boy lost his reputation as a maker of money, and his sole coin that
self-same night.

HONOURABLE CHASTISEMENT

At a camp of the Native Mounted Police the sergeant reported a trooper
for beating his gin. "What you bin doing, Paddy?" asked the
sub-inspector. "You bin hammer 'em Topsy?" Paddy, at the salute--"Yes,
sir, please sir, me bin hammer 'em that fella. That fella too flash; me
no bin hammer 'em all asame black-fella. Hammer 'em all asame white
man, alonga strap." Considering the customary means a black adopts to
correct the indiscretions of his spouse, Paddy's offence was judged far
too trivial for punishment. Topsy, too, was quite vain that Paddy had
chastised her with all dignity and indulgence of a white man.

"AND YOU TOO"

Two ladies, who were wont to meet at infrequent intervals, spent the
delightful morning in the settlement of arrears of gossip, while two
black gins sat in the shade of a mango-tree, smoked incessantly and did
nothing placidly. At dinner-time the latter began to chatter volubly,
and the mistress of the house, in an outburst of vicarious energy,
called from the verandah--"Come, Topsy--come, Rosey. You do nothing all
day. You two fella talk all the time."

Rosey--"Yes; me fella yabber, yabber, plenty--all asame white woman."

PARADISE

The beliefs of blacks on the subject of "the otherwhere" seem to be
varied and adjustable to individual likes and predilections. Some indeed
have no faith whatever in statements as to existence following upon
death. Others assert that a delightful country is reached after a long
and pleasant journey, that there reunion with relatives and friends
takes place, and happiness is in store for all, good and bad alike.

An intelligent boy was asked if after death all went along the same road
to the aboriginal paradise. He was reminded that he was a good fellow,
and that one of the members of the camp was notoriously a rogue.

"Mootee go along a you, all asame place? That fella no good. You good
fella."

"Yes," he answered. "All one track me fella go. Good track--blenty
tchugar-bag, blenty hegg, blenty wallaby, close up. You no wan' run
about. Catch 'em blenty close up. Bi'mby me go long way. Me come more
better country--blenty everything. Father belonga me sit down. He got
two good young fella gins. My word, good one gins. He say--'Hello! you
come up? You sit down here altogether. Two fella good gins belonga
you!'"

This was paradise!



CHAPTER IV



AND THIS OUR LIFE


"I would admonish the world that all persons, indifferently, are
not fit for this sort of diversion."


Whereas the average town-dweller could not endure the commonplaces of
Nature which entertain me, rouse my wonder, enliven my imagination, and
gratify my inmost thoughts, so his pursuits are to me devoid of purpose,
insipid, dismally unsatisfactory. To one whose everyday admission
(apology if you like) is that he is not as other men are--fond of society
and of society's occupations, pastimes, refinements, and (pardon)
illusions--the unsoiled jungle is more desirable than all the prim parks
and clipped gardens; all this amplitude of time and space than the one
"crowded hour." Here I came to my birthright a heritage of nothing save
the most glorious of all possessions: freedom--freedom beyond the dreams
of most men in its comprehensiveness and exactitude. These few haphazard
notes refer to the exercise of rare independence. They cannot be otherwise
than trivial and dull, but they at least fulfil the purpose to which I was
pledged. They reveal my puny efforts to be none other than myself. So
tranquil, so uniform are our days, that but for the diary--the
civilised substitute for the notched stick--count of them might be lost.
And this extorts yet another confession. One year, Good Friday passed,
and Easter-time had progressed to the joyful Monday, ere cognisance of
the season came. Speedy is the descent to the automaton. A mechanical
mis-entry in the diary threw all the orderly days of the week into a
whirling jumble. We knew not Wednesday from Thursday, nor Thursday from
Friday, though we calculated and checked notes of the transactions and
traits of successive days. To what purpose was the effort to memorise
one day from another when all were precisely alike in colour and
uneventfulness? Each day had been blue--radiantly blue--nothing more. And
the entries in the diary set at naught dogmatic assertions of disproof.
But the steamer cuts a deep weekly notch. We jolted into it and became
harmonised once more with the rigid calendar of the workaday world.

Thus we keep the noiseless tenor of our way, finding in life if not
great and gaudy pleasures, at least content and relief from many of the
vexations that gnaw away the lives of the multitude. Though it was
acknowledged a long time ago to be--indecorous--an abominable thing for a
man to commend his ways; though his mode of living may not commend
itself to others; though it may seem blank and colourless, thin and
watery, devoid of expectation, and the hope of fame, name, and that kind
of success which comes of the acquirement of riches, yet--and in a spirit
of thankfulness be it said--the obscure and minor part the writer plays
in the tragic-comedy of life affords gratification. He does what he
likes to do. He frankly confesses that he sought isolation because of
the lack of those qualities which make for dutiful citizenship, because
of indifference to the ordinary enchantments of the kaleidoscopic world,
not because of any lack of appreciation of the wisdom of the majority.
He has dared to be what he is, rather than submit to be pulled this way
and that on the rack of fashion and custom.

Remember that "the measure of choosing well is whether a man likes what
he has chosen." Other men have other ranks to take, other fates to
command. Do not politicians and publicists; professional men and princes
of trade; those who toil for others, with brain or hands; the charitable
and the miserly; those who pine if removed from the noise and breath of
the crowd; those who spend their days in meditation and study; those who
live conscientiously every moment in "the gateway of the life eternal";
those who are at enmity to law and order; the honest toiler and the
impostor, the thief and the rogue, each and all respectively find
pleasure in the particular walk of life he elects to take? "Each to the
favourite happiness attends." When God gave manna to His people, every
Israelite found in it what best pleased him. "The young tasted bread,
the old honey, and the children oil." No doubt an expert burglar feels
as keen a sense of joy in the planning and execution of a deed of
darkness demanding originality, skill, daring and resourcefulness, as
does the humane surgeon in the performance of an operation for the
salvation of a valuable life, or as does his lordship the bishop in the
delivery of a homily overflowing with persuasive eloquence. The burglar
has his appreciation of pleasure, and the others theirs; and so long as
the pleasures of the individual are not immoral and dishonourable, do
not trespass upon the rights and liberties of others, let each pursue
that which allures.

In the long run he will find himself responsible to himself; and if his
days have been ill spent, and his opportunities slighted, his the
punishment and the remorse. But--

"If the day and the night are such that you greet them with joy, and
life emits a fragrance like flowers and sweet-scented herbs, is more
elastic, more starry, more immortal--that is your success."





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