To Port Denison
Gaffing the cattle dealer
“Camping Out Song”
Having thus seen what we could of the new diggings, and not having the courage to invest in any of the reefs or claims, we dispersed. Acting on the advice of one of my companions, I determined to take passage in the first northern-bound steamer, and visit Port Denison and district. It was not long before one of these boast appeared at Maryborough, and going on board I met, amongst others, a cheery old squatter, Mr. R…, with whom I had travelled before.
After a chat and refresher he suddenly lowered his voice, and in a mysterious tone, informed me that there was a rowdy lot of men from Sydney on boar, and asked if I would take the upper berth in his cabin, as so far he had been able to keep the whole place to himself, but quite lately threats had been uttered by some of the Sydney men that they would clear him out the first fine night, and annex the whole cabin. I turned in pretty early to the top bunk, glad to get into comfortable quarters once more, left the feeble lamp burning, and presently heard R… climb into the lower bunk. After being asleep for a short time, I was roughly awakened by feeling all the blankets stripped off me, and a voice swearing “Out you come, young fellow, that’s my bunk.” I could see the indistinct forms of two men standing close alongside me.
Being sleepy, and savage too, I grabbed my blankets, swore back at the intruders, and called to R… to hold their legs, as by this time I was seized by the two ruffians.
“He isn’t here, young fool,” they cried, as they got me half over the side of my cot. But wasn’t he? All of a sudden I saw a bright and large steel hook shoot out and disappear into the clothing of the man who was trying to wrench my arms away. It was a beautiful sight, and one I shall never forget. R… had gaffed him in the stern! Then ensued the most terrific uproar. R… held his man firmly, whilst the victim blasphemed, swore, and roared like a bull. I was free, and jumped down on to the other man, who appeared paralysed, not knowing what had come to his mate. Meantime, R… was consigning the disturber of his rest to all sorts of awful places in language which I never thought could proceed from his lips, as he was what one calls a very “gentle spoken person” usually.
“Ha!” he thundered out with a final threat. “A one-armed man can’t fight much, but he can hook, eh? You beggars. Hold this one while I fix up the barbed steel and jag it into the other.”
This was to me, but the other had knocked out the lamp and crept away in the turmoil. I got the steward and a light, when a most ludicrous scene presented itself. The man was standing there, not daring to move, for R… had told him that if he tried to fight, the hook would tear itself out.
“Give me your name and that of the other blackguard, or I’ll hold you here till the captain’s roused up,” said R… quite gently, now that he had got his man and blown the steam off. Names were written down, hook taken out, blood wiped up, door barred, and after a little conversation we turned in again and were no more disturbed.
About four in the morning, R…, who was a facetious individual, called out, “It’s time to milk the cows,” and he left the cabin, presumably for a “doctor” and a pipe. I thought more would have come of this midnight adventure, but it appeared that my gaffer was a well-known man, and these rowdies, some of whom were cattle men, would never have really tackled him; but knowing him to be a late individual, and seeing his curtains drawn, they thought that I was the only occupant of the cabin. Before we arrived at port Denison, they begged R… not to report them, and he took no further notice of the matter, beyond remarking to me that one of them would find it rather irksome to ride for a week or two.
Having arrived at the port, and whilst casting about for something to do, I made my head-quarters for the time being at Bourner’s Hotel, where every comfort of those days was to be found, and where Jack West reigned supreme behind the bar- a useful man of many points, and the most gentlemanlike chucker-out imaginable. Bourner’s was the one resort for all the bright spirits from the bush, and the hotel was likewise frequented by travelling merchants from north and south, so that one had most of the news from both town and bush. After the somewhat rough experience connected with overlanding, it was pleasant to meet men of one’s own standing once more, who could useful tips to a new-comer. I can truly say that I date the pleasant years which I subsequently passed in Queensland from my associations with those I met at the bar of the Port Denison Hotel.
By the way, in the same connection, but in a milder form, if a man requires a country house in England let him not too much trouble the agents at first, but proceed with his “order to view” to the inn of any village which contains a house likely to suit his requirements, enter the bar, “shout” for any of the village patriarchs or others of the place, and then, by paying his footing and showing himself to be a white man and a brother, he will get more solid and true information of surroundings than by applying to outsiders; yet he need not necessarily give out that he is house hunting in that particular district, for obvious reasons. Many of my friends of those Port Denison days I remember – Willie St. George, Terry, Carew, Poingdestre, Sheaf, Bell, and many others whose names I cannot at the moment call to mind. Several excursions I made with one or other of such practised bushmen, outings which lasted for one day or for three or four, according to circumstances, taking with us rations, blankets and a spare horse or two, and always a gun and fishing tackle. What good company were these bush-mates socially, always cheerful and jolly, beguiling the camp fire period with songs, recitations, yarns of the bush, and stories of other lands. Then the bush game we shot, birds we collected for skinning purposes, and fish we caught in the lagoons and Don River.
It was whilst with St. George at St. Ann’s station, that I first saw an emu run down by a couple of kangaroo hounds. The bird had gone down to drink at a waterhole. St. George had his hounds with him, and when, like a new chum, I remarked “Now is the time to bail him up,” he said, “No, wait till he’s filled,” and we did; so that when the hounds were slipped the unfortunate bird, being full of water, made a very poor show of running and was soon pulled down. We took off his skin for a mat and apportion of breast for the pot, but I found the good salt beef of the station more to my taste. Regaining the Port, we joined a small party which was about starting in a south-westerly direction to prospect both soil and water, the chief object of this little expedition being to take up a bit of country, should circumstances prove favourable.
Knowing that the blacks were bad, we were well armed. Making a late start, we considered it advisable to camp upon the first creek we came across, for we did not know how far we might have to go to the next water; and night was quickly overtaking us. As we afterwards discovered, the bed of the creek was very scrubby and quite dry for miles up from where we camped. Immediately above our waterhole, there was a broad patch of sand and then came the scrub, shading the bed of the creek. Below, the channel disappeared in a gloomy ravine. We made our fire under a log close to the water and far from cover of any sort.
Having finished our supper of “Johnny cakes,” beef, and tea, one of our number struck up that song which I have always considered the best in the bush-“The Overlander.”
During the overlanding trip which I have mentioned, we had few opportunities of singing it; for though it belonged strictly to that phase of bush life and described the incidents connected with it pretty accurately, we had on that occasion too much trouble with the cattle to indulge in much sing-song. I may mention that I have never heard it at home, but have retained both words and air in my memory. I trust that the old ditty still holds its own at the camp fire in the solitudes of the Australian bush. The words are as follows:
There is a trade you all know well, ‘tis bringing cattle over,
So I’ll tell you all about the time when I became a drover,
I made up my mind to try a spec, so from Grafton I did wander,
And brought a mob of nuggets there to begin as an Overlander.
Then pass the wine cup round, my lads, don’t let the bottle stand there;
For tonight we’ll drink the health of every Overlander.
When our cattle we had counted, and had the outfit ready to start,
I saw the lads all mounted, and their swags put in the cart.
All sorts of men I had from France, Germany, and Flanders-
Doctors, lawyers, good and bad, in my mob of overlanders.
From the ground I then fed out where the grass was green and long,
But they swore they’d break my snout if I did not move along.
Says I, you are too hard; take care, don’t rouse my dander,
For I’m a regular knowing card, a Victorian Overlander.
The pretty girls at Yamba were hanging out their duds;
I longer to have a chaff with them, so steered straight for the tubs;
When some dirty children saw me, and soon they rose my dander,
Crying “Mummy, quick! Take in your clothes! Here comes an Overlander.”
Just then squatter rode up; says he, “You’re on my ground,
I’ve two black boys as witnesses, so consider your stock in pound.”
I tried to coax, then bounce him, but my tin I had to squander,
For the beggar put threepence a head on the mob of the Overlander.
Now you know we pay no licence, and our run is rather large,
‘Tisn’t often they can catch us, so, of course, can’t make a charge,
They think I live on store beef, but no! I’m not a gander,
For when a straggler joins the mob, “He’ll do,” says the Overlander.
In town we drain the wine cup, and go to see the play;
We ne’er think what ‘tis to be hard up, nor how to spend the day,
We court a girl that’s fresh and fair, and does not think of grandeur,
With eyes so bright and skin so white, “She’ll do,” says the Overlander.
At a later hour that night, we were talking in low tones over pipes, previous to rolling ourselves in our blankets, when we distinctly heard the cracking of sticks a long way up the creek, evidently of something approaching cautiously; so we seized our arms and hurried into the gloom, out of the lights of the fire. There we squatted, and by this time we could plainly hear steps approaching and even the rustling of small boughs. At length, the footsteps approached the very brink of the scrub and stopped. He is now reconnoitering, we calculated. It was a moment of intense excitement; we held our breaths and waited, with muzzles pointed for the black or blacks who, we were certain now, were within a few yards of us; when out from the black jungle issued a wild, shrill scream, followed by the huge carcass of a wild bull, which stopped immediately on gaining the open ground, evidently startled by the sudden appearance of our now small fire. We then fired at him, and with a yell almost equal to his own, rushed towards the beast, half crazed at being able to give vent to our long pent up feelings. He then went back through the scrub in a few bounds, more frightened than hurt. He had only meant to drink at our waterhole, but we did not care about being disturbed in this mysterious manner, so gave him a rough notice to quit.
The next day our course took us for two hours through that species of bush known as grass-tree country. This bull-rush topped plant grows on stony ridges where there is but little grass, the only sign of life being the monotonous chirruping of the tree crickets, whilst a few wallaby of a small species were hopping about here and there. It was a relief to come at length to a creek with a strong running stream in it, the bed composed of huge masses of basaltic rock; the vegetation was very rank and beautiful about this river, which was full of fish, and the contrast was so refreshing to the wretched grass-tree country that we camped there a whole day and caught many large black bream which fought fiercely in the boiling pools. The bait consisted of beef or wild ducks’ entrails.
After this we passed through Brigalow scrubs and over rich black soil plains till we made the Bowen. This river has an enormous bed, but excepting in times of flood consists of large waterholes or lagoons, joined by a tiny stream. Alternately riding, camping, and spelling, we came to the foot of the Leichhardt Range. The heat was intense, and we camped for an hour before crossing it. Next day we made Mount Wyatt and observed signs of copper, the ore lying on the surface of the ground, and some time afterwards we reached our point, the Suttor. This river has also a broad bed, with large trees in it, and at the time of our visit but little water.
We camped for a week on various parts of its bank, our time being much taken up in hunting for horses which had strayed. The heat was intense, waterholes drying fast and leaving quantities of fish, which were preyed upon by dingoes, goannas, also hawks, jabirus and other birds. One day the heat was so intense that some emus, under the shade of a scrub, only trotted gently away upon our riding at them, and let us approach to within about fifteen yards. A tree, marked L, was found in one part of this river, supposed to be a trace of the unfortunate Leichhardt.
During our exploration of this district, we came suddenly upon a mob of blacks, who were fishing in a small lagoon. On perceiving us, they dropped their little hand nets and ran off to some distance. We were particularly careful not to interfere with them in any way, though the black boy who accompanied us was most anxious to pursue them, and being denied that pleasure, requested leave to take some of their fish. This was also denied him, and we passed on thinking that they would resume their fishing and take no further notice of us. However, as it proved later, we were mistaken. We camped towards evening and were particular in selecting a very open camping ground, there being no cover within a quarter of a mile of us- in fact, we had to go some way to cut saplings for pitching our tent.
Dawn was just breaking, our black boy had got up for a drink of water, but immediately rushed back to the tent, seized a carbine, and in doing so woke us, when we grasped our fire-arms and rushed after him. The blacks had formed a ring around us, with the intention of closing in. They were painted, as is usual on these occasions, in an uncanny manner- white lines drawn down their thighs and shins and across their ribs, and patches of white daubed on their jaws and cheek bones, giving them the appearance of skeletons; there was just sufficient light to see this. Directly we fired they took flight, nor could we see a sign of them a minute afterwards, though we rushed in the direction in which they vanished. We found a spear driven through a corner of the tent as a reminiscence. Even in the excitement, it was noticed that one carbine made a report like a cannon, throwing the gunner backwards and belching forth a perfect volume of flame. We discovered that the owner had left the plug in the muzzle and fired it off in this state. He was spared any chaff, for we believed that it was owing to the deafening roar of his piece that the blacks decamped so quickly, and they certainly did not trouble us again.
There was a large bottle tree near this camp, and our black boy showed us how the wild blacks procure water from it in the following way. They cut holes in the soft trunk, where the water lodges, and rots the trees to the centre, forming so many artificial reservoirs. Afterwards, during the dry season, and when engaged on their hunting excursions and thirsty, they tap them one of two feet below the old cuts and procure an abundant supply.
Some of our party being apparently satisfied with the nature of the country we had passed through, as suitable for cattle, we returned home, first making a detour to visit a sugar plantation on the Don River.
The Great Cockle
A Little Fishing
Northern “River Mob”
I am cast into Prison
The Patter M.C. and Our Ball
Southern “River Mob”.
On our return to Port Denison we found that a curious incident had occurred. A black fellow had made his way in from far up the coast, with all the toes on one foot crushed. It appeared that he was known in the town, having been wood and water “Joey” at one of the stores some months previously. Then he had gone away on a fishing excursion.
Poking about with a hand-net amongst the weeds at low tide, his foot had been suddenly trapped by a giant cockle, “Tridacna Gigas,” into which he had stepped. Two of his companions were on the beach cooking fish, and in answer to his yells, rushed out with their stone tomahawks and a piece of iron from a wreck for they knew the sort of beast that had got him. By dint of much hammering and splintering with the iron rod, they succeeded in clipping off enough of the moth of the shell to set free the black’s foot; after this he had managed to drag himself into the town, where he had been kindly treated on his previous visit. Cases had occurred, and frequently, on this coast, where men engaged in collecting bêche de mer or hunting for other spoils of the sea at low tide had been held by the leg by this huge cockle till drowned by the incoming tide.
I mentioned this little fact in a novel, the scene of which was laid in North Queensland; a friendly critic, after perusing it, remarked, “You should have made Mr. Tridacna swallow the hero whole while you were about it.”
I took the unbeliever to the South Kensington Museum, to Dr. Günther, who had been kind enough to assist me with the scientific names of the different fishes referred to in the book above-mentioned; and my friend was convinced when the worthy Professor showed him cockles three feet in length along the corrugated lips, each shell being some inches in thickness. “A beast that could hold a bullock,” as my critic was fain to admit.
Having seen the blackfellow attended to and left under the care of the doctor, we organised a party to hunt for the cockle, as we thought we had placed the spot from the description given us by the black. We took a seine net with us, determined to bring something back. Many hours were spent rowing under a broiling sun, peering into the water and prodding with boat-hooks, but all to no purpose. We had a Malay fisherman amongst our crew, and owing to his experience we made some excellent hauls of many sorts of fish- mullet prepondering- and as he had rigged a fly net over the seine, very few of these escaped in their usual way.
This was the pleasantest occupation of the day, for we were up to our necks in water, on a sandy bottom, with no fear of cockles, as these must have rocks to attach themselves to. The Malay, with an eye to town business, kept us at this seining work till the tide stopped further proceedings, and then he calmly remarked that he knew of a big cockle in full view. This was great news, but our hopes were dashed when he explained that it was impossible to secure it, and so it proved. He piloted us far out to deep water, where a few small pinnacled rocks showed their heads, then quietly rowing up to one he bid us look down into the clear depths. It was not very easy to see the beast; only the shaded outline, until the man pushed a sort of sea telescope of his own construction into the water, and then we very clearly made out the big fish. All we could do was to rub the longest oar in the boat on its shell; this seemed to later its position. There he was, and there he will remain till a man clad in a diving dress and armed with a pickaxe shall dislodge him. However, we went home, so far satisfied that we had viewed T. Gigas at home. We put this one down at thirty inches in length, and twenty-four across the shell, but depth of water throws all measurements out, as is well known- in salmon fishing, to wit.
During my stay at Port Denison I met a young stockman, who asked me to give a hand at a cattle station a few miles out, named “Salisbury Plains,” and there I remained for some weeks, assisting as much as I could with the work and striving to follow the cutting-out tactics of the stockriders amongst the various mobs of horses and cattle; and here I witnessed such riding of buckjumpers as I had never seen before. It has frequently occurred to me since, that if a man could bring a really bad buckjumper home, and land him, with all his peculiar ways in him, that man would make a small fortune- for in England the worst specimens one sees are merely “pigjumpers,” with more play than vice.
The rough riders came to the “Plains” from another district, annually, for the purpose of bestriding some half dozen of the demons, which belonged to the run. The show went on all day and every day until the animals were supposed to be subdued, but my impression was that this system of training had only a temporary effect; and there was ample proof of this a few days afterwards.
I had seen horses buck before this, but never haf-a-dozen of the worst specimens run in and then yarded up and ridden one by one. The same thing happened every day. The riders stuck on magnificently, with never a fall, in spite of every diabolical trick of the horses to get rid of them, varied by ceaseless and stupendous bucks. These were in every variety of style; usually opening with head and tail nearly meeting under the belly; the legs as stiff as pokers lifting the arched carcass many feet from the ground, then bucks straight ahead, then on a pivot, then, worst of all, bucks to the right and left with such a twisting screw in them that one wondered whether the horse itself would not be thrown. Each horse, however, was ridden out.
Each man, as he vaulted off, one could see had been undergoing a tremendous strain, and more than one rider spat blood previous to lighting a pipe. I saw one who had had an unusual doing, but who had Saturday firm in spite of all, rip in the “hooks” to try and spur his steed to another effort. However, the horse was fairly played out and only responded with a savage bite, whereupon the rider slid off, picked up a stout pole, and belaboured his late mount all round the yard, when an onlooker quickly let down the rails, and the jaded beast walked out, saddle, bridle, and all.
I fancy that this system of breaking in, or rather rough riding, for a note or thirty shillings a head no longer prevails in Queensland. The horses are seldom, if ever, permanently cured, and the riders have to give up such shocking treatment of their own bodies at a comparatively early age.
Green hide enters largely into the manufacture of harness for such animals, owing to its non-breaking power. I had a very fair stock horse on this run, but he had one very nasty trick. Whenever, as was usually done with all horses, his bridle was put over a post or fence, he would wait till the coast was clear, break it with a jerk of the head, and then gallop away, a very unpleasant trick, entailing much walking and language of all sorts. Now my gee, unfortunately for himself, took the opportunity to show off before the rough riders, who immediately rounded him up and brought him back.
“We can soon cure that little game if you like,” they said, and I told them to proceed. Selecting a green-hide halter, they clapped it on and fastened it together with an ordinary bridle to a fence. Very soon, up went the horse’s head, broke, as was meant, the leather rein, and when he found that repeated jerks only tightened the green hide, he got into such a fury that he at length threw himself down, tugging and yelling whilst on the ground. One of the men then took a stock whip and thrashed him up again. Inside of an hour he was so completely cured that a bit of string would have held him for the rest of the time that he was in my possession, and from this fact alone he proved one of the most dependable horses in the patrol which I accompanied later on.
I got “bushed” during a fishing excursion near this station, and it doubtless did me a lot of good and made me take more notice of land tracks for the future.
Hearing that there was a waterhole full of fish, lying a good way off on the seaboard, I started with bait and tackle one fine morning, found the lagoon, after much search, late in the afternoon, caught a quantity of all sorts of fish, and was so engrossed with the sport that I failed to notice that night had suddenly closed down without any warning, as it does in the tropics of Queensland. Thereupon I lit afire, as the fish were still on the feed; but hardly had the flame shot up when several small fires seemed to respond on the great salt bush plain, apparently in the very direction of home, and yet not far from me, as I could judge.
Knowing that these belonged to blackfellows, I quickly gathered up my spoils and started for home by what proved to be a very round-about route. Of tracks there were none, as the cattle never came in the direction I was in. I fell into a gully at starting which luckily was full of sand, or the twelve-foot fall would have been bad. After wandering about all night I came to a dray track, as it proved to be upon my lighting matches to examine what I had put my foot into. Dawn soon after broke, and the tracks eventually took me to the station, where I got a big drink and a sleep. It is curious how thirst attacks one under these circumstances. I had drunk my fill at the waterhole and yet was parched with thirst half-an-hour afterwards. I heard upon my arrival that some of my mates were still out, having been riding about all night and cracking their stock whips in hopes that I should hear them.
I made a mental note- “Next time ride and take a compass.” My love of fishing made me careless on that occasion, as it did some weeks later in a more northern district, when I had a close shave as will be seen.”
Some the stations at this time “bust up,” being for the most part in the hands of the banks, and I returned to Port Denison, and there made the acquaintance of Jimmy Morrill, who, after living seventeen years with the blacks, had come into the town and was now looking after the church. It was curious to watch him as he sauntered along one of the grassy streets of the town; ever and anon would he cast his eyes aloft and scan the spouts of the gum trees within view looking for “sugar bag”- wild bees’ nests- never, in fact, did he lose this or other wild man’s habits, which he had learnt during long years as a captive. I went on several excursions with Morrill, and was put up to much bush lore and many wrinkles in his company, but he would not open his mouth much until he knew you a bit. In most of his ways he much resembled a black fellow and was pretty nearly as dark as they are.
I met a contingent of young squatters and bushmen about this time who had come into the Port upon business connected with their stations some of which were situated far up country; so, together with the old frequenters, the place was pretty well filled. The advent of those young bloods meant that the town would be pleasantly upset for a week at least. They came chiefly with the intention of enjoying a “flutter” as soon as their business was accomplished, and this gay intention was carried out with extreme elasticity. One could hear them approaching the town long before they came in sight and they had an inspiring way of making known their ultimate arrival.
On the first night each man would arm himself with an empty bottle and rattle it down the weather-boards of any house that was handy, in perfect time as the chorus of some popular bush ditty. This sounded like the rolling of many drums and was highly thought of- by the performers.
There was one song which it specially suited to, thus:
Hooray, the rolling river,
We love “Three Star” with a tot of water.
Ha, ha, I,’ bound away, across the Western ocean.
I was plying my bottle with good heart one night when a young and lately imported policeman came up, and tapped me on the shoulder, with “I must tak yer Hanar to the lock-up.”
“Yes, do,” chimed in all my comrades to the man of law, “We’ve heard you’ve built an iligant one, and we want to see it, only you mustn’t take that bottle away yet till he’s finished his part of the song with us. Don’t talk, but stop and mind your prisoner.”
And he did, and had to listen to a final crashing roll of the drums.
Then the “river mob,” for as such were they known, formed ranks and marched me along to songs of their own composing; to the tune “John Peel.” The words of one verse I remember:
D’y ken how sherry and gin agree,
With a dash of rum thirty-five O.P.,
D’y ken how it is when ye mix all three
That your eyes they are weak in the morning.
They had some fifteen verses of this song, and so we proceeded, headed by the majesty of the law. Presently the latter drew up with an important air at a ten by twelve foot building. This was entirely composed, walls and roof, of corrugated iron sheets. As soon as the door was opened, and before I knew where I was, I felt myself hurled into the darkness and my captor was sent sprawling on the top of me, then the door was locked.
I could hear the juvenile policeman gurgling out, “Saints in glary,” together with many Irish oaths, mingled with threats of what he would do when he got out and saw the inspector-I believe there were two members of the force, all told, in the town- but these groaning swear words- for the wind was knocked out of him by falling on me- were soon drowned in the most terrific uproar imaginable. The boys had brought their bottles with them, and policeman X-and I had to listen to the infernal din of a new song thundered into our very ears, the bottles this time being played on corrugated sheeting, and not on weather-boards, by many powerful arms.
At length there was silence, then a voice which I recognised roared out, “Up, boys, and at ‘em,” and with one crash, the prison came down like a pack of cards, and we crawled out, luckily unhurt, from underneath the ruins, only to be seized, bobby and all, hoisted onto the shoulders of my brother law-breakers and carried off to the hotel bar to the tune of “To the West, to the West, to old Jack and a spree,” where the policeman considerably brightened up on a glass of good liquor being offered him. He was made to sing a song before being allowed to go free, and he gave us something about “London’s burning,” the end of each chorus being “Let’s hope that we may never see a fire down below.”
A new store had just been completed in the town. This was seized by the river mob, terms were easily arranged with the owner, and preparations made to give a free ball. All hands worked hard, there was no committee, no question as to who was to be invited- all were welcome. Floor, supper, champagne, and music were the really important matters. We French-chalked the floor and slid on it for some hours, till it shone like an ice slide. Refreshments were provided by the hotel; fiddles, concertinas, and trumpets constituted the music. We had noticed an individual loafing about the town, dressed in seedy black clothes, and hearing that he was a musician, he was appealed to as to whether he would play the fiddle.
“I played first violin in the Opera at home, gentlemen,” was his reply, delivered in tones denoting a man of education, “but if you would allow me, I would prefer to act in the capacity of M.C. at your ball. I have been dancing master, and everything of the sort in the old country,” he concluded, with a sorrowful smile.
We jumped at him!! Here was a prize indeed. What tone this would give to the hop!
On the doors being opened on the evening in question, one of the first to walk into the ball-room was our lately captured M.C., dressed, to our astonishment, in faultless evening clothes and immaculate white tie. This gentlemanlike appearance so enraged a stockman, who had come in very much primed for the show, that he marched straight up to him, and, after critically examining his clothes, remarked in an aggressive tone:
“And what ship did you come out in, and who the devil are you?”
“I’m the M.C.,” loftily responded our ally, as he drew himself up.
“Well, it seems to me you’re an M.T.-headed Jackaroo a-goin’ in fer yer deboo.”
“So I am,” responded our swell, as he knocked the facetious one head over heels; and then turning to the assembled company:
“That was only the overture, ladies and gentlemen. Now take your places for the first set.”
Our man was a great success, for he kept every one in a good humour, introduced every man in the room-though introductions, by the way, were unnecessary –expostulated with infuriated masters and mistresses who came to the door at intervals in search of their helps, and prevailed upon most of them to come in and partake of champagne, of which there was no lack. The girls, who seldom got such a treat, danced without ceasing; no matter if some amongst them knew but little of their steps, they all enjoyed themselves. Only one young lady, who had lately landed, objected to our M.C.’s promiscuous system of introduction, for when he brought up one of the river mob, with “May I have the pleasure of introducing Mr. Smith to you,” the fair one replied, “But I have not the pleasure of knowing you, sir.” “Not the slightest reason why you should not know my friend Mr. Smith, “ he promptly replied, and the young lady was conquered by his logic.
The he taught us a new dance, the like of which I have never seen before nor since. “Manchester Gallop,” he called to the band. The music consisted of a concertina, two fiddles, and trumpets of sorts. He paid particular attention to the musicians during the whole night, which was another proof to us that he was a gentleman of discernment, and with a lordly bow to a damsel who as standing behind the bar, he led her forth to teach us his “latest composition<” so he expressed it in reverent tones.
We watched him-steps easy to imitate but difficult to describe- thus, four march steps forward, seven gallop quick steps back, four forward again, seven quick back again, then ordinary gallop round and round till the music enforced the more resting steps once more. Every one quickly learnt it, and as it at all events had the merit of plenty of go, it proved a favourite dance from that time onwards.
Our evening dress was completely put into the shade by that of our M.C. The fact was we had had a lot of shirts made up of stuff called French merino, a rotten material it proved too; these with moleskin breeches and thin knee boots constituted our full dress, a cool one at all events. After indulging in chorus songs and drinks all round, we brought the ball to an end about four in the morning, went straight down to the beach and disported ourselves in the sea.
I should fancy that these pleasurable amusements of the old days are no longer continued in Queensland ports. When I eventually came home to England, I asked a beefeater at the Alhambra if the bars were taken by storm periodically as they used to be both there and at Evans’s. “No,” was the answer of the corpulent official, “ you’ve got to be’ave yourself now.” And I expect that my bush friends have got to “be’ave” themselves in Queensland. If so, they will mourn the good old times.
I may mention here that my final years spent in the Colony, where I built a bungalow and made a house, were passed amongst another river mob in a beautiful district farther south than Port Denison. A river mob of good and true friends, who carried out the same programme as their more northern compatriots. On some occasions we rode to the Port mounted every man on a white horse, to inaugurate a ball or flutter of some description, not forgetting the bottle chorus. Some of these old friends and backers I have the happiness of meeting in the old country at the present time.
THREE BLACK FIENDS
A Senior N.M.P. Officer
Sailors in their struggle for life
Strolling one day into the hotel to hear the news, I made the acquaintance of a grey-haired, military-looking man, who proved to be an officer of the N.M.P. Introductions were not wanted in Queensland in those days; you simply gave your name.
Upon my telling him that I was looking for a job he informed me that he was on the point of starting into the new country with his “boys,” for the purpose of escorting a surveyor and his men, and that if I liked to come along and give a hand I could. The escort was to consist of some seven or eight single “boys.”
Following up on a few questions I put to him as to the simple outfit I should require, he went on to tell me that we should without doubt get amongst coast blacks, who constituted the finest race of the aborigines, partly owing to the profusion of fish which formed their chief diet, but that though they were fine-grown, upstanding men they were the same as those in other parts of the Colony-treacherous, jealous, and cunning.
“Here is a late proof of their diabolical ways,” he continued, as he drew a copy of the Brisbane Courier from his pocket. “Read that.”
I kept the paper and this is what I read.
“A Struggle for Life.
A schooner was about to proceed from Cardwell, on the mainland, to an island some 200 miles east to procure guano. Before she left, three blacks came off and pleaded that they might help the crew of ten white men. All went well for a time, and the vessel at length brought up at the island, when two white men, accompanied by two of the blacks, went ashore and camped- these two sailors were eventually found, the attitude of their bodies indicating that they had been murdered in their sleep.
No one on the schooner suspected anything, for the white men slept; probably the one black on board was waiting for his comrades. Softly they stole about their murderous work. Two white men were asleep on the deck, and both were struck so that they made no sound. One-Shaw-says that he knew nothing till he came to his senses two hours afterwards, waking in a sort of dream, finding himself in one mass of clotted blood, and chopped all over the head and arm. What saved him was that he had wrapped a rug and thick flour bag over his shoulders as he lay down., and the bag was dented with the blows of the blunt axes. Gradually the situation dawned upon him. Thanks to the darkness of the night, he managed to crawl into the forecastle, although a black, spying him just as he went, aimed a blow at him which missed. Thinking he was too far wounded to be worth troubling about, the murderers left him and he managed to crawl aft through the hold and get into the cabin. But I must go back.
After the blacks had left the two men, troy and Shaw, for dead on the deck, they went down into the hold, where another sailor was sleeping, and attacked him. He was fearfully chopped on the face, head and arm; one finger was cut off, and a huge gaping gash made in his back. Him they left for dead, but he subsequently crawled through the hold aft into the cabin. Meanwhile the acting second mate, who was asleep in the forecastle, heard him cry out, and rushed on deck. In a moment he saw a black fellow by his side with an uplifted axe over his head. He dodged the blow, and sang out ‘Captain, the blacks are murdering us.’ Then al three rushed on him. How he escaped is a miracle. He had numerous small flesh wounds and a severe chop on the arm; only the most wonderful agility and presence of mind saved him. Once the murderers had him down on his back on the deck, and two paused to let the third get a good chop at him. Even this he managed to dodge by shifting his leg, escaping with a flesh wound on the inside of the thigh.
While this was going on, the mate, awakened by the noise, rushed past and got into the fore rigging, where another man had escaped. Deasy struggled out of the grasp of the fiends and ran for the forecastle, one black following him. Getting out his knife, which up to that moment he had not been able to draw, he struck at his assailant, but missed the stroke, and, striking on the axe, lost his knife. The, picking up a small grindstone lying there, he struck the black and staggered him, thus managing to get into the forecastle. A hurried search showed him there was no weapon to be found, and he came out again to make a rush for the rigging.
In his haste and in the darkness he rushed for the port side, where one of the blacks was part of the way up and another on the bulwark, preparing to ascend, with the intention of attacking the mate and another man on the foreyard. Deasy sprang past the black on the bulwark and grappled the one on the rigging, but before he could wrest the axe out of his hand the second black wounded him in the heel. Finding that the next moment he would be killed, he scrambled up and reached the foreyard, where he cut blocks with the mate’s knife, and the men used them as weapons to keep back the blacks, who after a while made no attempt to ascend.
During this struggle, the captain, awakened by the noise, came up, and as he laid his hand on the top of the companion it was chopped by a blow from an axe. He retreated into the cabin, where he remained with his son, and was subsequently found by the two sorely wounded men. Shaw and Purcell. They vainly endeavoured to load a pistol, striking matches, but not daring to light a lamp. But the flowing blood clogged the pistol and damped the powder, and they could do nothing. The steward had shut himself up in the gallery; three men were on the foreyard- Deasy, almost fainting and lashed to prevent falling, and poor Troy lay on the deck near the galley. There was a sort of lull.
The men on the foreyard thought that all hands, except themselves, the Captain and his boy, were dead, and the blacks, compelled to pause in their active attack, began to look for the bodies of their victims. Shaw had by this time crawled away, and on searching the hold they found Purcell also gone; there remained only Troy lying motionless near the galley. How long he had recovered his senses no one could tell, but he was not dead. The murderers came to where he lay, and with one blow of an axe, chopped off his foot. The steward trembling in his galley, heard the poor fellow groan ‘O God, I’m finished now.’ They then chopped his body and clove his head till all life-all semblance even of humanity- was battered out of him.
At last day began to dawn, the three blood-stained demons holding the deck- the steward hidden in the galley-the three men on the yard-the captain and his boy in the cabin, with the two poor wounded men weltering in their blood beside him. The grey light of morning made objects visible, and the blacks thought to finish their work. Picking up stones and pieces of coal from the hold, they began to pelt the men on the yard, who dodged the missiles as best they could. Then two blacks ascended the rigging with their axes, while the third remained on deck pelting the whites.
These, compelled to disregard the stones, confined themselves to keeping the axes at bay with their sling blocks. Then the blacks found that the steward was in the galley.
One went to guard the companion, while the other burst open the galley door. The steward jumped through the other door, rushed at the companion, dodged the blow aimed at him by the guard, and tumbled below.
Now there was hope for the whites. Daylight was brightening and an unwounded man had reached the cabin, where there was a revolver and ammunition. But deliverance was not for some time. For nearly an hour the men on the foreyard had to keep at bay two of the blacks who were assailing them, while the third kept guard over the companion, cunningly shielding himself from the loaded revolver of the steward. At last an incautious movement of the guard exposed his head, and the next second a bullet crashed through his brain. The two blacks exchanged a hurried sentence in their own language and one went to pick up his fallen comrade. The sailors in the foreyard dropped down the rigging. The mate, first on deck, picked up a hand-spike and staggered the third man with a blow on the head, and the others closed round him. The one who had gone to the dead guard left him, saw that the game was up and jumped overboard. Two of the blacks were now dead and the steward emptied his revolver at the third while he swam, but did not succeed in hitting him. He was never seen again.
Then the survivors went to the island, found the bodies of their comrades in the hut, and made sail for cairns with the wounded. On arrival there an inquiry was held and the three worst were sent to the hospital.
I have only to add that the tribe to which the murderers belonged were of well-known ferocity, having murdered several white men before this. No doubt also the same ferocious savages had a share in the murder of Conn and his wife near Cardwell. But I think that such an onslaught by three blacks on ten whites, at a place divided by some hundreds of miles of sea from the country of their tribe, is quite unexampled in the history of Australia.
It came out upon inquiry that all the firearms, excepting the one revolver, had been handed over to a sister ship, and the blacks had witnessed this transfer before the schooner started on her ill-fated voyage. These three self-invited aborigines, it was also proved, had been most kindly treated from the beginning, and the brave-hearted sailors simply suspected nothing, as was proved by their carelessness in going to sleep without guard of any sort, and yet it will hardly be credited that there were certain individuals leading a snug life in some of the Queensland towns, who, before and after this most fiendish and diabolical onslaught, vowed they would endeavour to get any white man hanged who shot a black fellow, even in self defence, as I heard.
My first Patrol-The Burdekin River
Perching Ducks-Quickly made canoe
Wild Horse “Venison”-Arrive on Coast
Site of present Townsville-Short Rations
Shark Fishing-A Spin for Life
The Stalker stalked-The Leichhardt Tree
Lost Fishing tackle-Wild blacks Again
And now to return to the proposed patrol which was to be the first to open up that Port, long since known As Townsville.
Our surveyor, who wished to make his point at a special part of the Queensland coast lying a little to the north of Lat. 20S, determined our course with his sextant and also navigated us by the stars at night.
It proved slow travelling. We had one small dray to carry our rations, a tent, and odds and ends. These latter are described in the Colony by the one useful old naval word, “manavlins,” a term which embraces every small thing.
Our small cart had to be dragged by a horse through dense scrubs, a track having to be cut for it previously. This entailed great labour, for besides growing bush and fallen trees, the lawyer canes ran in and out of everything. Then would appear acres of bog, and blady grass running eight to ten feet high.
Carefully as we tried to steer our little craft, the tilt which covered it was soon reduced to shreds, and provisions torn right out and strewn upon the ground. Further trouble awaited us at the Burdekin River, for there the vehicle nearly foundered, so that on gaining the further bank, we were glad to camp and have a general drying up.
Here we reveled in wild fowl, many of which the “boys” shot in the trees, for Burdekin and whistling duck both perch. The “boys” were the mainstay of our party, of course. Before crossing the river they cut a large sheet of bark from a gum tree, left it exposed for a few hours to the sun, with a stick here and there to prop it into shape, and behold, a good canoe; then filling this with carbines and ammunition, they swam over with it to the camp.
Before sighting the Pacific, we secured fresh meat in a curious manner. One of the “boys” shot a young colt, as wild as a deer, to the astonishment of even the old pioneers of our party. At that time, the country we were in was entirely unexplored, and never white man had set foot there as far as we were aware, with, perhaps, the exception of Jimmy Morrill, who lived for seventeen years with the wild tribes in the neighbourhood of Mount Elliott.
Well, the “boy” came into camp and said he had killed a wild “Yarraman.” “Gammon,” we said. “Bel gammon,” he replied; and we went and examined the animal. A fat, unbranded, two-year-old colt, brown in colour, shot through both shoulders with the regular smooth bore Tower carbine, which we used in those days. The flesh, both fresh and dried, proved excellent eating, with a smack of venison about it.
At length, when all provisions were nearly ended, we approached the sea and formed our camp on the shore, close to a freshwater lagoon. Never, during all the years which have elapsed, have I forgotten the prophetic words spoken by our surveyor that evening, as we boiled the billy and “blew the cool tobacco cloud.” “Boys,” he said, “see that rocky range we have just come over? Someday it will be dotted with blooming villas. Bobby Towns chose a fine site for his township when he viewed it from the sea.”
And has not this prophecy been long since fulfilled? Let old Townsvillians answer.
Up to this we had seen no sign of blacks in our immediate neighbourhood, but now our “boys” pointed out the thin smoke of their tiny camp fires above the fringe of the mangroves, about a mile to the south of us and also on Magnetic Island.
Owing to the waer and tear of our gear, together with the heavy tropical showers which had drenched us on several occasions, we found on sampling our rations that they were more than three parts spoilt, and on the first appearance of the sun we emptied out the various rotten sacks and tried to dry their contents.
The commissariat very soon showing signs of giving out, members of our party dispersed in various directions to procure shell fish and wild fowl. I chose to visit a creek which debouched into the sea some three-quarters of a mile from camp, and taking hooks and lines and baiting with the entrails of a wild fowl, soon began to haul out bream and various other sorts of fish. Though much engrossed with this occupation, I kept an eye lifting to the dense scrub of the further shore of the creek. I had hooked and landed a fat baby shark, of about eight pounds weight, when I heard a low cooee higher up and across the stream. Glancing up whilst pretending to examine my fish, I saw some blacks sink into the water under the bank. Guessing their intentions, I drew the shark over a sandy ridge which intervened between me and my stalkers, caught it up under one arm, and then made record time for “home”; but I had not gone twenty yards when I heard the Myalls yelling and plunging through the water after me.
When half-way to the camp, as I glanced over my shoulder, I saw a leading black heave a spear, which came nowhere near me, but delayed him a few seconds. The wet sand was hard, I had nothing on but a shirt, and in those days could run a bit. Still, the situation was nasty, and the idea of being impaled from behind inspired me to drop the shark, wrench off my shirt and yell, as I knew someone was always left to guard the camp. I yelled first, and a couple of “boys” who were fishing and bathing in the lagoon saw me, rushed for their carbines, and sprinted, not so much towards me as towards my pursuers, who were evidently nonplussed at seeing two naked blacks apparently coming from another quarter to join in the fun; for the “boys” kept their carbines concealed as only these police can when stripped.
Presently a couple of shots rang out, which scattered the sand amongst the four or five wild blacks who had now come up. The reports were sufficient, and with one accord, finding themselves cut off, they plunged into the breakers. Soon I could see their heads bobbing about amongst the waves, and also perceived that as soon as it dawned upon them that smoke was followed by a bullet, they dived at the flash. I left the “boys” in the water, pumping lead and hurling derisive cries at them, neither of which seemed to reach their mark.
Now this escape proves luck and nothing else. If those “boys” had not been left at the camp, I must have been speared. Besides, I was foolishly without arms of any sort on that occasion. In an hour or two my rescuers brought in the fish I had left behind, together with sundry weapons of the blacks, and I went back with them to have a few matters explained. They showed me first where the leading black had stopped to hurl his spear, with which he had used a “woomera,” or throwing stick. It was sticking in the sand in a direct line with my tracks. They also explained that it was only owing to the fact that the middle of the creek was deep water that I had got any start at all.
I did not sleep much that night, for the sun had blistered my legs from the shirt tails downwards.
But the black fellows had not done with us yet. A youngster belonging to our party, shortly after this, went out with his fowling piece on to the plains a little way inland from the camp, when he descried a plain turkey and proceeded to stalk it. This young man came from southern towns and knew little of the bush lore. What happened he told us with breathless gasps as he came rushing into camp. From his horror-stricken face we saw that something unusual had occurred to him, which was confirmed when he blurted out, “I’ve killed a man!” “Black Fellow?” queried a trooper, starting to his feet. ‘Yes,” and the “boy” seemed satisfied, having evidently thought that by the expression “man” it was possible our young sportsman had accidentally shot one of his own party.
“Well, go on,” shouted our leader; and the youth, having taken a “nobbler” offered to him, and finding his nerves somewhat restored thereby, proceeded:
“I was stalking the bird I had spotted and creeping through the blady grass on all fours, thinking what a fine feed we’d have, when I heard a rustle behind me just as I stopped to have another peep at the game, and turning my heads quickly round, saw by the quivering of the herbage that some big bests-alligator I guessed- had also stopped; certainly something was stalking me. I was loaded with wire cartridge and fired at the spot. For a second all was still, and then, with wild yells, uprose I don’t know how many black fellows, from all around it seemed to me; however they disappeared in an instant, and having loaded up I approached the spot I had fired at, watching every step I took. There lay an old black fellow stone dead, with a spear and some clubs alongside him. The shot had taken him full in the head, and I believe the wire of the cartridge was still sticking there; however, I didn’t stay to look, but got back here as quickly as I could. My word! No more hunting for me!”
“H’m, pity you didn’t bag the turkey too,” remarked one of the audience.
On visiting the scene of this adventure, the “boys” reported that five black fellows had followed our mate and were just closing on him at the time he fired. After this we kept more together during our daily excursions.
A few miles from the coast we found the most magnificent specimen of a Leichhardt tree it has been my lot to come across, and an unexpected incident brought us to the foot of the monarch. It happened in this wise. A man had left some home-made tackle, which he specially prized, at a creek where he had been fishing. Thinking that the blacks had deserted the neighbourhood, he also placed the fish he had caught in a hole at the same spot, intending to resume his angling next day, and so bring in all together. Next day, however, they had gone, fish and all, and the “boys” laughed when he angrily recounted his loss, but said they would find them. Stripping themselves, two of the troopers silently stole away- seemed to disappear into the ground, so quickly were they out of sight. Many hours passed and they as suddenly and quietly stood by the camp fire once more. One of them carried a dilly bag, and out of this he not only produced our friend’s gear and spoils, but also other sorts of small white fish.
Their story was soon told. They had taken up the tracks of the Myalls from the creek right into their camp, which was formed by a small waterhole. In this pool were two or three natives using a scoop net. A dingo belonging to the tribe gave the first alarm by rushing into camp in a terrified state, thus causing bucks and gins to bolt in all directions, with such things as they could pick up. The three blacks ran to the big Leichhardt tree and were quickly out of sight amongst the topmost branches, the great leaves of which formed a dense cover.
But the “boys” were not to be denied, and after ordering them down “in the Queen’s name,” in various dialects and getting no response, fired a shot to prove that they were armed. Still all was quiet, but as one of them had been seen to carry a dilly bag up with him, it was determined to seize this; so armed with tomahawks only, the troopers were as quickly in the tree-tops as the first comers. But before they actually touched them, the native basket was seen hurtling through the air, disgorging its contents as it fell; the owners, meanwhile, making no other sign to show that they had been discovered, but lying flat along the limbs like so many goannas. It took many months for the wild native to discover that his half-civilised brother was his equal in bush lore and could climb trees as well as he by cutting notches in the stem with his tomahawk.
Besides our friend’s fishing-tackle, the bag contained a curious specimen of a native-made line and hook, which I have by me now. The cord was formed by one of the fibrous plants used for the purpose, and was as well laid as any sea line of home manufacture, whilst the hook was cut out of a tortoise shell, with a very fine line attached to the shank to tie the bait on. There was also a lump of gum on the main line to sink it with.
Ours was a grand wild life in that glorious climate, tempered as the heat was by the sea breeze. Not the least pleasant were the excursions we made to supply the commissariat, chiefly along the coast, collecting rock oysters, turtle eggs, or spearing hammer-head sharks and stingarees, until the survey was complete and we returned to head-quarters on the Don River, Port Denison. It gives rise to curious and interesting thoughts when I think of those days and try to conjecture what Townsville looks like now, wit its bishop and churches, plantations, villas, and railway, its wharves and steamer traffic.
Turn about for Port Denison-Murdered Shepherd
Burial in the Bush-The Pursuit-Bad Basaltic Range
View the Blacks’ Camp-Assaulted with boomerangs
Fight with the murderers-Sub-aquatic telegraphy
The Gins-Love Making and Matrimony
Notes concerning Black fellows Customs
We returned to Port Denison by a different way from that by which we had come, so as to avoid a certain rocky range, and by so doing came suddenly upon a new outside station, lying far to the west of our old track. It was situated on an ana-branch of the Burdekin.
Our first intimation of the vicinity of a white man was an exclamation from one of the “boys.” “White fellow sit down, marmy.” (“White men are there, master”). At the same time, he pointed to a small column of smoke. Doubtless he had noticed other signs; anyhow, the sequel proved he was right, for we soon rode up to a large, newly erected hut and found the inmates, consisting of two brothers, who owned the place, and their “generally useful” man, engaged in barricading doors and windows. They seemed intensely relieved to find that their visitors consisted of Native Police, and after the first congratulations were over, remarked that they had been expecting us, as they had sent some two days before this to head-quarters for assistance.
It was an old story- a repetition of many similar troubles before and since in the history of the Colonies. Shepherd speared, sheep clubbed. It appeared that they were running their sheep on the plains a short distance to the westward, and one evening, shortly before we arrived, their black boy, who had been helping with the flock, ran into the hut crying that the shepherd had been speared and many sheep killed, but that he had escaped owing to the Myalls being so taken up with their murderous work. The brothers had then gone out, but had failed to find the shepherd, having left the black boy behind to help guard the station. They had ample evidence, however, to prove that many sheep had been killed, whilst they picked up a few survivors, which they found in small lots huddled together. The main flock was not brought in till several days later. So here was the situation- no shepherd, no sheep to speak of, and every reason to suppose that the station would be attacked. It was a lucky chance that brought us to the aid of those young squatters, as they allowed, after hearing that we were on our way to the barracks.
After spelling the horses we saddled up and proceeded to the scene of the tragedy, guided by the black boy. The troopers soon took up the tracks of the white man and those of his pursuers. The trail led towards a ridge of rocks which bordered one side of the plain, and in these rocks we found the mutilated remains of the shepherd, who had been both speared and clubbed. Then his body had been cut open for the purpose of extracting the kidney fat; this is much prized by the natives for anointing their own bodies with.
Before finding the shepherd’s body we had come across the remains of his little bark shed, which had been fired by the blacks; his cooking gear and clothes had all been carried off. This was galling enough, but when we saw the body lying stark amongst the boulders the white men felt bad, whilst as for the “boys,” they said not a word, but their eyes flashed vengeance, and they were for going off at a gallop without looking at us, had not a word of command stopped them.
“Where are these devils, and how many?” was asked, in fierce and subdued voice.
And the “boys” replied “That fellow yan that fellow way,” pointing with their chins, as is their habit, to a distant range, and on their fingers they showed us that at least fifteen bucks were in the mob accompanied by many gins.
Very sulkily the troopers got off their horses when ordered to help bury the remains, and yet one could not bury, but could only hide, by means of heavy slabs of rock, which needed many hands to place them in position, and when at last our old chief placed one erect stone on the top of all, and pondered a minute, we wondered as to what would be the next order, but we were not kept long waiting.
“Boys,” he said, in a husky tone, “I don’t know any service, but let me speak you a verse from some grand words composed by a mate of mine on the death of Leichhardt.”
Whilst writing I vividly picture the scene once again, as the old man drew himself up into a stern military attitude, his grey hairs floating in the wind; the “boys” also standing at attention, wondering what it was all about. Then, with partly uplifted hand, he spoke:
What though no reverend man be near,
No solemn anthem with its breath,
No holy walls invest his bier,
With all the hallowed pomp of death;
Yet humble minds shall find the grace
Devoutly bowed upon the sod,
That calls a blessing round the place,
And consecrates the soil to god.
The simple ceremony concluded, we had to despatch a man back to the station for more rations, meanwhile we camped at a small waterhole in the vicinity. We were well aware, and the “boys” still more so, that we had practically got the murderers, for one might as well doubt a South American bloodhound after a runaway slave in the old days as these Native Police, when once on the rail; yet it was a relief to us all when the messenger returned with beef and flour, for the troopers were more than once on the point of breaking away, having held their horses in readiness for the time; for what care these “boys” for rations on such an occasion- turn them loose in the bush, and they will forage for themselves every whit as well as the wild man of the woods.
It took us many hours before we arrived at the foot of the range, and then we found that it was impracticable for horses, owing to rocks of every size and shape, piled in confusion one on top of the other; nor was there any sort of way for four-footed beats across this basaltic upheaval.
No matter’ we hobbled out the horses, and sent the “boys” to reconnoiter.
Presently a couple of them returned, stripped as usual, and told us that they had left the others to watch the blackfellow’s camp, which was on a lagoon and just over the range.
What a scramble that was! Yet the troopers, with their naked feet, glided about the rocks like lizards and whilst we were still following them they seemed to disappear. After three hours of this toil, we were suddenly assailed with a shower of boomerangs, but we had got into the timber now and no one was hit. I saw several of these weapons smashed into splinters on the rocks, whilst some passed on their course and fell harmlessly behind us, not returning to their owners, as I have heard it stated at home. In trick-throwing this feat is often accomplished, but not with a fighting boomerang. Presently three or four shots rang out from the blady grass at our feet, and our men, despising alike boomerangs and spears, rushed forward.
Amongst other incidents I saw a black hurl a nullah-nullah at a trooper named Brennan, at close quarters; the latter dodged it, picked it up, and knocked the black spinning. This black was clad in one of the shirts of the murdered shepherd; subsequently we found others wearing portions of his garments. Soon these latter were bolting in every direction and the “boys” after them. Some of them rushed into the lagoon and disappeared, only to come up with their nostrils under a water-lily. These I could not see at all, but the “boys” pointed them out. Meantime the gins were viewing the fray from a distance.
The orders in those days were to command blacks who had committed crime to “surrender in the Queen’s name!” One might as well ask them to shake hands. I once saw a very powerful white man attempt to secure an unarmed black fellow. He could not hold him, no matter where he gripped him; the black slipped out of his clutches like an eel, and very son cleared.
Just before the end of this fight-when, in fact, it seemed to be all over-I saw two blacks rushing back over the boulders; the foremost one sprang round and threw his shield in the face of the other, who closed with him, when, to my amazement. I recognised this latter as one of the troopers. Being stripped, they were as like as two peas. When we came right into camp we found that the “boys” had rounded up several gins, whom they were questioning concerning the late raid, but to no purpose, as never a dialect of any one of the “boys” would fit in with that of this tribe.
In most stories of the past and present, one looks for a hero and a heroine-a bit of love-making, in fact-but in this simple and perfectly true account of adventure I have nothing of the sort to chronicle, and yet can write of match-making and nuptials in connection with it.
The courting, it is true, was of the briefest, and heroic in its treatment. Not only were settlements, trousseaux, and other trifles dispensed with, but ceremonies were waived, or, rather, were of the most sketchy character. A nod took the place of “yes,” and yet the dusky couples lived happy ever after, as I had proof. But I must go back to explain what follows.
For this Townsville trip we had left married troopers at the head camp and taken mostly single men with us to keep them out of mischief, as they sometimes meddled in domestic matters, and this caused sever quarrels. It is far better, if one wants a peaceful camp, to have all “boys” married. Should the wives cause quarrels amongst themselves or husbands, a tap on the head from their lord and master’s waddy soon settles the dispute.
Now the blacks had dispersed; all had disappeared, excepting two or three who had dived into the lagoon. When I asked about these latter the “boys” said that they had not troubled about them, and that they were most likely holding a “yabber” together under water! This was too much, and evoked the word “gammon” from me. “Bel gammon,” meaning no gammon, was the universal reply; and they assured me that any two blacks could communicate whilst completely immersed in still water; each tapping two stones together, a sort of sub-aquatic morse code I understood them to mean, and that if I did not believe it, they would prove it to me, any day or night. It appeared that they could ask questions and receive answers whilst submerged, and at distances of thirty yards and more apart from each other. I never had an opportunity to prove this, but was subsequently assured of the fact by those who had tried it.
No sign being now left of the murderers of the poor shepherd, we turned to the group of gins, some twelve or fifteen, who had remained at the scene of combat, apparently indifferent as to the result, for we found them seated amongst the “boys” each party endeavouring to express his or her feelings by pantomime, for none of this tribe seemed to understand any one of the trooper’s dialects. The varied attempts at conversation caused some merriment, in which the women participated, and when one of the “boys” exactly imitated the lugubrious cawings of an old crow which was perched overhead, the whole party laughed outright, so wonderful are the aborigines of Australia in the art of mimicry.
Judging by this levity of conduct that the family ties existing between the wild gins and the departed blacks had been of the most transient nature, also that these women seemed to appreciate the good, solid food, consisting of beef and damper, offered them by the “boys,” it struck those in authority that an opportunity now presented itself, not to be lightly thrown away; and the delicate subject of matrimony was there and then submitted to the bachelor members of our force and very favourably received by them.
The gins also showed no fear when they guessed the situation, which they very soon did with a woman’s wit. They doubtless looked for a little courting, but a good meal and quantities of sugar and quantities of sugar in their tea put them in a good humour; the diet apparently pleasing them better than their usual fare of wild yams, snake, kangaroo rats, and such mean food which they had had to procure for their men at the certain risk of having their heads or ribs broken if they failed to bring in enough. And when, after their meal, they understood by pantomime that they were to come away with the “boys,” complete satisfaction was apparent in their faces, possibly also there was a sense of relief, for up to that period they might have thought that they were going to be killed and eaten. [I never heard of cannibalism amongst the tribes. The Queensland aborigines are not cannibals in the usual sense of the term. My authority was Morrill, who lived for seventeen years with the wild tribes. I quote him in Blacks and Bushrangers p 96, thus: “Sometimes they eat human flesh, but only a friend killed in battle or by accident; never their enemies.”]
So they were conducted to a log and made to sit down. Then each “groom” in rotation, according to his rank or merits, made his choice, nor were they long about it. The corporal first walked up to a gin, who was certainly one of the best-looking ones I had seen up to that period, with “Mine take it this curly hair fellow.”
In five minutes, each had chosen his spouse and the ceremony was complete.
There was no further delay, for the brides did not trouble about “going away dress”; we found them a shirt apiece instead. The only thing that staggered them was having to sit on horseback behind their respective husbands, but by clutching hold for better or for worse, they jogged along fairly well, only we had to remove the cruppers as they galled their legs. Before we left the spot, we picked up several boomerangs, some of which I have with me still.
We arrived at the barracks with our large wedding party without further adventure, and gave them a feast, which was wound up at night with a grand corroboree.
I saw them when I next visited the district. The girls had grown stouter, and were cheery and chatty, having learnt dialects, as well as “Pidgin English.” Upon putting the question to them, “Would you like to go back to your old life?” they answered with a series of groans-“Bel; here budgery; there cabon dig, cabon waddy,” which meant that here in barracks all was good, but there in the wild bush was hard work and many blows.
A fact strikes me which I may as well relate here.
It has been said by some that all human beings when at the last, in extremis, lift up their eyes to Heaven.
This may be true generally, but from my own observation I do not think that the rule applies to the Australian black.
To give one special and forcible instance. Near Rockhampton a black fellow had committed a diabolical outrage on a white woman, from the effects of which she died. The man was sentenced to be hanged, and I was present at the execution. I remember that all the jail birds were turned into the yard to witness the ceremony. Standing, as I was, immediately in front of the gallows, I had ample opportunity of judging in what manner the murderer comported himself.
Up to the very last moment that he had the use of his eyes, he scanned the forests, the valleys and the waters, but never for one instant turned his eyes Heavenwards. I subsequently refer again to this execution.
SPRING CREEK BARRACKS
On entering the Force-I join Head-Quarters
“Timeringle”-The Bush Shanty
Barcoo Rot-Spring Creek Barracks
Duties-My First Round
The Loaded Log-Supplying the Larder
Scenery of the Nogoa-Tracking Blacks
Stockman up a Tree-Loss of his Library
Delicacies-Fever and Ague
“Lucy”-A New Sensation
I am reminded when penning these lines that I have not stated anything with regard to examinations or preparatory training before applying for applying for a post in the Q. N. P. It certainly never entered my head to do so, because nothing of the sort, as far as examinations were concerned, was required, and as for training, as long as a man bore a good record, could ride and understand the use of firearms, he had as good a chance of entering the force as any one, and he would be a poor “new chum’ indeed who did not possess these qualifications.
As for drill, beyond a few simple forms, or any sort of red tape, I never saw it, though I stayed at various barracks for longer or shorter periods. It would have been of no use. The true drill belonged to the “boys,” and, in fact, to all blacks who from the time that they can walk are naturally drilled by members of their tribe to track, indulge in mimic warfare, and, above all, to scout so as to get in the first spear, waddy, or boomerang. Picaninnies swim as a puppy would-directly they can use their limbs.
A new hand is welcome to his senior officer in the police if he will confine his attentions at first to looking after camping arrangements and all the petty details which make for comfort.
Should the horses develop sore backs, a very common source of trouble, he can do something to ameliorate this, especially by learning how to channel out a saddle and so keep it off the wounded parts. He can go with one of the “boys” when a horse has strayed and thus learn something of tracking, and then as he gains knowledge of routine he will be found useful in the more important duties, and prove a welcome aid, even though he may not have actually joined officially.
As an amateur, I enjoyed patrolling both before and after I had enlisted. There was a freedom from restraint, go-as-you-please sort of feeling connected with the life which was specially fascinating. At the same time if you acted in any way contrary to the simple rules, your senior officer would doubtless dispense with your services.
I know that the officer whom I accompanied on this patrol to the site of Townsville was good enough to back my application to enter the force, for I was with him and his “boys” again in other districts long after I had officially quitted it.
As I before remarked, so fascinating did I find this free and independent life, seasoned as it was with a spice of danger, that shortly after the little trip to Townsville I applied for, and was appointed to the force, through the kind instrumentality of Sir Robert, then Mr. Herbert, as Acting Sub-Inspector, at £9 a month and rations. My orders were to proceed to headquarters at Rockhampton and report myself.
I was there given a horse named “Timeringle,” and told to proceed to Spring Creek Barracks, Comet and Nogoa district. There was no accommodation on the road then, and I did many foolish things-lost my way once and did not recover the badly blazed track for many hours.
One night my horse disappeared. I had so buried myself in the sandy bed of a creek to try and keep warm, for I did not care about lighting a fire at that spot, that I could not hear the jingle of the mare’s hobbles; however, I recovered her after a long search with one hobble missing, and had the luck at the same time to shoot a plain turkey with my revolver, stalking the bird under cover of Timeringle, whom I then hobbled more securely with a stirrup leather, and spent a happy time cooking, eating some of my game, and enjoying a long sleep. One shanty I passed on the road, from which the sounds of great revelry proceeded, and I thought to pass it by, but was soon perceived and rushed by a mob of shepherds, diggers, and other jovial spirits, who were “knocking down their cheques” at the probably unlicensed weather-board erection. One big, hairy individual seized my bridle, and with much adornment of language, asked me if “his Bloody cheque wasn’t as good as mine,” to which I responded that it would be accepted at the union bank long before my paper.
“Then I’m beggared if I don’t shout,” I signified I was not thirsty. Upon making this appalling statement, I was dragged off my mare, which was sent into the bush with a spank on her stern, and carried into the bar, I was going to say, yet every one was a barman. The liquor, consisting chiefly of champagne, besides three star brandy and gin, stood on old packing cases. I was introduced to various members in a very “politeful” manner after I had given my name.
“This,” said the man of cheques, as he dragged a cock-eyed paddy from under a bench, “is my pore bloody cousin; ‘es bin king of one of these ‘ere wool sheds, but, pre devil, ‘e’s got the ‘Barcoo rot.”
The “king” was in a state of tears as he supported himself in a fairly graceful attitude cocked up against the wall. “Young ‘un,” he hiccoughed, as he tried to bring his eyes to bear, “I’ll sit out this blank dance, but if anyone ‘ere says I can’t shear a sheep in …” At this point he collapsed.
The calculation was too much for him as to how soon he could deprive a sheep of its wool, and the “king” rolled back under his bench.
My difficulty was how to beat a graceful retreat, with so many huge fists holding bottles and glasses under my nose, and insisting with good-humoured threats that I should drink various toasts and “further cement those kindly feelings.” By a happy thought, I fought my way till I stood over the drunken “king,” and with glass in hand told them how grieved I was to see a noble shearer down with the “Barcoo Rot,” but that if they would bring up my horse, they would find in the swag a parcel of Holloway’s pills and ointment.
I may mention that “Barcoo Rot” is well known in many parts of Queensland- the blood is disorganized from want of vegetables and the result consists in sores breaking out on the hands; these refuse to heal, but Holloway’s ointment is most cleansing, and, properly used, together with other remedies, will usually cure them. I had hit the proper note. Timeringle, who was peacefully grazing, was brought up, and the packet handed to the “king’s” cousin. These two jovial spirits would not allow me to “shout”, on the other hand, they put a tin of beef and a bottle of their best in my swag. I put a note £1, amongst their bottles and bid them “so long.” As they helped me to mount, one of the cleared eyed ones read N.M.P. on the saddle cloth.
“Why, do you come from the blank police?” he said, in a changed tone.
“Yes! But you don’t think I’m going to let police or any one else know where or how I’ve been treated, do you?’ was my reply, at which they all waved bottles and glasses and cheered me on my journey.
I arrived in due course at the barracks, and found that my senior officer, the only one besides myself, was a pleasant Crimean veteran, under whom it was ever after a pleasure to serve. The “boys” consisted of sixteen or so in number; about half of these were married. We had twenty-five to thirty horses, which it was my duty to call over every morning, when they were driven into the paddock from the bush. We also possessed a few sheep and plenty of rations, whilst a creek near by provided us with a delicious eating fish, which I never came across in any other part of the country. It resembled a lamprey or ophidium. They did not seem to take any bait, but the “boys” caught them with hand nets. My orders were written by my senior on official paper and contained, amongst others, the following instructions:
“You will patrol the stations mentioned in the margin, rendering assistance to the squatters in the event of their calling on you for protection from the aborigines. Keep a full and daily journal of your doings etc.”
And how truly fascinating were these trips, extending as they sometimes did for six or eight weeks together, in their freedom from al restraint, in searchings often into new country, with a handful of trusty “boys.”
Some say that if you look back at pleasant times in the years long gone by, today, these incidents, these adventures, wear an even more rosy hue, because you forget or pass over all that was unpleasant. To the writer’s ideas such is not the case, but it would only be padding to tell of shortness of water, dismal nights of rain, bull-dog ants, and curses of insects generally, the lasting portion of tropical stinging trees, and the hundred and one ills that flesh is heir to in the Australian bush. The British Press are, I am told, getting tired of narratives of exploration. An acquaintance said to me lately: “Thank goodness, a book has appeared –The Last of the Explorers.” As I am not of his way of thinking, I read it at once and with the greatest interest. It is true that those grand old pioneers to whom we owe so much are not remembered, except by the few. Now I shall procure The Romance of Australian Explorers, by Scott, and look forward much to reading it. What thrilling and true accounts do we not find in the history detailing the gigantic efforts of those men who first opened up Australia. Take one alone out of many-to wit, Eyre’s frightful and lonely march along the great Australian Bight. But read his own account of it.
After this bit of moralizing, I return to the Comet and Nogoa, for it was upon these rivers and their watersheds that my work was chiefly cut out.
My first patrol consisted of five boys, myself, and eight or ten horses, the spare ones to carry a tent and rations. At one of the out-lying stations, before we entered into the unknown, a humorous incident of the bush took place. The rain-water tank outside one of the humpies had been filled with rum; many thirsty souls had partaken of this, when it occurred to a spirited minority to play a little practical joke. So a hollow log was filled with gunpowder, horses were brought up, and amidst farewells some half-dozen riders, fresh-very fresh- from the butt, prepared to mount. At a given moment the log was “touched off,” and, amidst a tempest of whirling arms and legs, horses were galloping for dear life into the bush. No real harm was done, as the charge was too weak to do more than split the heavy log, and the only blood that was spilt was in the subsequent fight which closed the proceedings.
To show how the troopers used to pride themselves on their amour proper and position under their officers, I was talking to a “boy” in a hut that evening, when a hand on the station put his head into the window with the remark:
“I thought I smelt a bloody black.”
Before I could realise what had happened, there was a rush, the trooper seemed to take a header through the open window and was pursuing the insulter of his skin, who only saved his own by gaining the door of the main building and bolting it behind him. I need hardly remark that all officers treated their “boys” with as much civility as if these latter had been the home-bred Tommy Atkins.
Though the country of the Nogoa lacked the more tropical beauty of the higher latitudes, with their wealth of palm trees, dense scrubs crowded with flame, or “umbrella” trees, or smothered with gigantic creepers bearing the huge but uneatable beans of which we made match-boxes, yet it had a beauty of its own. During the winter months, no roaring flood disturbed its river bed, but deep and silent pools here and there reflected the evergreen trees and shrubs which lined its banks, affording shelter to the scrub turkeys and mallee hens, whilst fish and wild fowl abounded in the quiet waterholes. At one of these pools we found a clearing far away from any cover and there we camped. My tent was erected, a fire made under an old log, and whilst the “billy” was boiling the boys dispersed for ducks and fish, which were soon brought in and dressed for the evening meal, as we wished to keep our salt beef as long as possible.
The day’s proceedings always commenced with saluting-that is to say, as soon as the officer crawled out of his tent to have a look around, preparatory to taking a “bogie,” ie. swim in the creek, or waterhole, every trooper, whether in his shirt or in nature’s attire only, sprang to his feet and saluted, then resumed his previous occupation of cooking his meal or cleaning his carbine. I may remark that these muzzle-loading smooth-bore weapons threw shot fairly well, and, used in this sense by the troopers, proved very effective against wild fowl and scrub game, the latter of which required much canny stalking.
On this particular morning a couple of “boys” had gone out to get in the horses when a black boy rode up to say that he had been sent from a station, which, by the way, was not down in our programme, to beg us to look for a missing man. Upon cross-examining this black boy, we found that he knew little about the matter, as he did not belong to the particular station in question, but the owner had told him to follow our tracks, find our camp, and then report that many bullocks had been speared, and one of his men, too, he thought, must have suffered the same fate. The boy’s narrative seemed loose and disjointed, but it is difficult to get accurate information from such as these. However, the “boys” were keen to go, and so I decided to learn the truth about the matter. Horses were at once mustered, and we mounted and followed our guide.
After proceeding for many hours through swamps and scrubs, over plains and rocky ground, we came to thickly timbered ridges, when the quick eye of Charlie caught the signs. “Plenty black fellow yan like it this,” he gruffly remarked, as he pointed to a neighbouring range of hills. The sight of these natives of Australia is something astonishing, and worthy of Cooper’s Indians at their best. It was hard, dry ground at the spot where he discovered the tracks; I got off my horse, and yet could see nothing, excepting perhaps where a little soil had been displaced, which to my eye might have been caused by a bird or a mouse, and yet the tracker read out that a mob of blacks had passed that way, and the whole troop followed these signs at a gallop. I made out from the black boy during our ride, that in their opinion the reason that the stockman was speared, was because he had not been in for some rations which he had intended to call for.
On reaching the man’s hut, we found everything in disorder, and, as it proved, the blacks had raided most of his things, but had done no further mischief, for we ran the man himself to ground, or rather up a tree, where we found him very thirsty and frightened, but with a whole skin. They evidently had no intention of hurting him, for they could have followed him up as we did if they had liked.
It appeared that he had seen them coming up quite boldly whilst he was engaged in cooking his dinner, so he put a piece of damper in his pocket and slipped away unperceived, as he said, but we knew he was in error when he made this latter statement. He specially bewailed the loss of his cooking utensils and the “billy” in which he boiled his tea; and then there were his prized yellow-backed novels! We told him to hold his tongue and thank his stars that he was alive; also that he might come along with us and claim his own if we found the camp that night, which we did.
There were only a few old gins in it, as the bucks had not returned from hunting. These women did not appear at all frightened, neither assisted nor disturbed us whilst we searched about for the man’s things. We found some of his cooking utensils; but, alas for the owner! The shilling shockers were rent in pieces; possibly because the Myalls did not appreciate such literature. No signs of any cattle having been speared, we left the stealers of literature in peace, merely taking away a few weapons which we found near the gunyahs, to show there was no ill-feeling. We camped that night about a mile from the natives, and next day assisted stockman and black boy to get in the cattle; three or four of them had strayed but we could not delay any longer, so we sent back a report at the owner’s station.
One night, before reaching barracks, the “boys” brought me a couple of delicacies, as doubtless they considered them. One was a carpet snake, the other a small porcupine. The snake had been roasted in its coils, looked like a gigantic eel, and smelt delicious; but it had no more flavour than so much blotting paper, and I had nothing like shrimp or Harvey sauce to season it with. The porcupine was a little better and had a suspicion of pig about it. It was the first and last I ever saw in the country-in fact, I never knew they were there. The only bush game, besides birds, that I cared about was bandicoot.
Ducks of many varieties, when away from civilisation, were perfectly tame; under these conditions there was but little sport in killing them, and we only knocked over a few now and then for the pot.
Finding the district pretty quiet during this patrol, we returned to barracks, where I was laid up with a sharp attack of fever and ague, but thanks to the attention of those troopers’ wives who waited upon us, my life during the days I was ill was not such a misery as it might otherwise have been.
Lucy in particular-how well a man remembers when he has been well nursed, especially as it so happened at this period, when he was the only white man about the place, and down with that horrible sickness-Lucy knew as well as I did that the shakes would come on at two o’clock every alternate day, and last till sundown. Now, without saying a word, she made up a roaring fire, covered me with blankets, skins, waterproofs, Saturday me up in front of the blaze, and, whilst my teeth were going like castanets, plied me with hot tea or cooling drinks-for which was correct I never knew. Them when the fever, accompanied by light-headedness, arrived up to time at night, she would sit by me till dawn and tend me like a black angel.
I found much kind feeling and even affection in the hearts of both troopers and their wives during my experience of them in the force, though I allow that these are not the prevailing qualities of the natives generally. Life in barracks was a bit monotonous. One of my few occupations consisted in collecting birds and animals, which I brought in, skinned, and preserved. In after years and in another part of the Colony I made a fair collection, especially of tropical birds.
There was one deep stream, within a few miles of the barracks, which was my favourite haunt. As far as I knew, this river never dried up; it was shut in by dense and almost impenetrable scrub which lined its banks. On a certain day I had ridden to the place with one of the “boys,” for I usually took a native with me owing to the extraordinary powers they possess in both seeing and hearing. On this occasion we had been cutting and fighting our way through the scrub till we emerged on the river bank, and then Saturday down to smoke and get cool.
This is one of the best ways of collecting objects of natural history in the bush; only sit perfectly quiet, and after a time birds and animals betray their presence by their movements and various notes. I secured some gaudy scrub doves at this spot, which were feeding on wild figs, also a dragoon bird, and then bethought me of a bathe. I only mention this fact because it discovered to me a new sensation in the water. In the following way:
The stream ran some four feet deep over a bed of shingle and small boulders. The water was as clear as crystal and warm as new milk. This depth continued for a hundred yards past the spot where we had camped for our smoke. I went in at the top of the ruin, and, sinking down in a sitting position to examine some bright looking pebbles, found myself gently and swiftly carried along the bed of the brook. It was grand- flying could not be more pleasant, moreover, that might require exertion, whereas in this smooth under-water excursion, it was not necessary to raise a finger, for the very slightest movement sufficed to fend one off any obstacle. The black bream, which we often used to catch with bait, scarcely disturbed themselves as I glided silently and smoothly by them, and let the stream take me whither it would. If it spun me round, I viewed fresh scenery, or if it carried me into a backwater, a slight push set me into the current again; another, and I was up to the surface once more to take in another stock of air fuel. The bather must all this time remain in a squatting position. This is really the most pleasurable sensation that I know of in connection with a water pastime, provided that the stream is a warm one.
A GREAT PIONEER
The Wills’s Massacre- Blake the Invincible
Westall’s Murder-Tracking the Fiends
Nemesis- The Missing Overseer and his Master
Following the Trail-“Nicky Nicky’s” Work
Basaltic Barrier – Note on Scouting
More than one murder of a terrible nature occurred during my stay in the district, but the scene of these outrages by the blacks was beyond the margin of the country which I had orders to patrol, and was dealt with by other detachments of the Native Police.
Cullinaringo, the scene of the famous and ghastly Wills’s massacre was a station I had more than once visited; this wholesale butchery had taken place before my time. Suffice it to say here that the good and kind-hearted old squatter had, on taking up the country, announced his intention of making friends with the blacks and allowing them into the station by the score. All went well for a time, but when these blacks had thoroughly learnt the ways and habits of the white man, at a given signal, they fell upon the whites in the day time during their hours of rest, and killed with nullah-nullahs and axes some nineteen out of twenty-four.
Now I will mention a couple of bad events which took place during my sojourn in the Nogoa district, related to me by the one who was chiefly concerned in seeking the bodies of the murdered whites and punishing those who had committed the atrocious deeds.
At a certain station named Salvia Downs, in the Boree country, lived a squatter named Blake, an individual of much “black-fellow” experience, kind-hearted, but withal possessing a most determined way in his dealings with roughs of any colour. He allowed a district tribe to camp near his station under certain conditions. His station hands comprised two white working men and three blacks; these latter, of course, being natives of another part of Queensland. One of these had, years previous to this, served as a trooper in the Native Police, his name was “Nicky Nicky.”
Some few miles from Salvia Downs a new arrival had taken up a bit of country; his name was Westall. He was by no means a new chum, having been squatting in more civilised districts previously. This man erected a log hut, together with the usual yards and buildings; from the first he had discarded Blake’s advice with regard to the management of the blacks, saying that he perfectly well understood the native character, and that if he treated them kindly, so would they look after his cattle and interests generally, and that he should always allow them in and about the station.
It appeared that Westall occasionally visited Salvia Downs, and that it was his habit to proceed there alone, and to camp half-way at a certain waterhole. One day Westall’s overseer rode up at a tearing gallop to Blake’s station, and informed him that Westall had been absent for three days, that the blacks had left the place, and that they had no one to put on the missing man’s tracks. Blake at once grasped the situation, called up two of his trackers, and all three made for the waterhole.
Arriving there, the first thing they found was a broken bridle lying on the ground, then a saddle. The signs around were read thus: something frightened the horse, who broke his bridle while Westall was trying to saddle him. Taking up the tracks of Westall and his horse, they found that these had been followed up by five black fellows. The horse had then bolted, when the blacks had closed on Westall, who had stood and offered them tobacco-this was proved by pieces of Barrett’s twist lying on the ground- which had been discarded, the blacks probably not knowing the use for it.
A few yards further on the naked body of Westall was found, horribly mutilated in an indescribable manner, and shockingly distorted by the action of the sun. He had been struck down from behind by a tomahawk. Blake was well provided with rations, his three horses were fresh, so, after covering up the body, he proceeded as quickly as possible on the tracks of the five murderers, who by this time had had many hours start. They had hurried off in a westerly direction, presumably to join their tribe. At first it was slow work, as the trail was faint.
After camping one night on the tracks, it was found next day that the spoor led over some low-lying flats, rendering it easier to read, and horses were put into a canter, a sharper look-out being kept, as tracks were fresher, and it was evident that the pursued were not travelling direct, but were delaying to procure food. This was proved some hours later, when a “boy” scouting ahead suddenly returned to say “that fellow look out sugar bag,” and listening, the faint tap, tap of a tomahawk could be heard, as it ate its way into the spout of a gum tree, which contained the wild bees’ nest.
Then, as they crawled forward, a scene presented itself to the pursuers which made their blood boil, for the buck who was cutting out the honey was arrayed in Westall’s shirt, which flapped out lazily in the light air as the wearer balanced himself on his big toe in the topmost nick he had cut in the tree, whilst his four fellow-murderers were each and all bedecked in some of their victim’s remaining garments during their work, being engaged in grubbing for yams and other roots on the plains nearby. Before nightfall, however, they had lost all further interest in the gentle art of sustaining life. Westall’s clothes were taken back and placed with his body, in as decent a grave as circumstances would permit.
Blake eventually returned to his own station, only to find that the day previous to his return a white man had come in to say that at a station forty miles off, in a totally different direction to Westall’s, the owner and his overseer had been murdered, the house looted and cattle driven off. This messenger had begged Blake’s overseer to lend him a tracker, which he did, sending “Nicky Nicky” off with him, much to Blake’s disgust, as the erstwhile police “boy” was one whom he had never trusted. Then Blake sent a message to the nearest police barracks, but as the distance forbade the troopers appearing for some time, he only rested for a few hours, and then started for the scene of this latest massacre with fresh horses and a tracker.
From what I heard from others, it was only the iron will and determination of the owner of Salvia Downs, and the fact of his making his presence felt directly a murder had been committed that saved this portion of the country to the white man.
Taking a bee line, and having negotiated the forty miles of rock and bog as only bushmen can, Blake and his black boy came within sight of the immense lagoon upon which the station was situated. The first thing they noticed was that sawyers had lately been at work felling timber along the edge of the water. Following the fallen timber up, they came at length to the last, a gum tree half cut through, yet still standing. Peering over the edge of the bank into the lagoon, the next object which presented itself to their eyes was the body of the unfortunate owner of the station sunk deep in the water.
Night was now coming on and nothing more could be done, so first having satisfied himself that the large mob of blacks who had hitherto made his station lake their head-quarters, had some time since departed in a southerly direction, Blake and his boy rode home. The police detachment arrived at Salvia Downs sooner than was expected, and shortly afterwards Blake and his contingent sallied forth, leaving a couple of hands in charge of the station.
Arriving at the partly sawn tree, their first object was to draw out the body of the murdered man from the water and bury it, an unpleasant task in more ways than one. Many sharp eyes had now more leisure to read the gruesome tale. The crosscut saw was found lying under the body, which had so far rendered it invisible. Two white men had been sawing. One had been brained from behind, his body and saw thrown into the water. The other man had then run away along the bank, been speared in the back after he had gone a hundred yards, the life knocked out of him by blows on the head, and his body likewise thrown into the lagoon. This was also recovered and buried. During Blake’s short absence at Salvia Downs a heavy tropical shower had fallen, washing out all tracks, but we have seen that he had taken the precaution to ascertain the direction which the murdering mob had taken, on his first visit to the spot, and as it afterwards proved this thunderstorm was purely local.
On visiting the station at the head of the lagoon, it was found in a state of dire confusion, the whole place turned upside down, fixtures smashed, and, curiously enough, all firearms had disappeared. Tracks clearly showed where cattle and horses had been driven off.
Knowing that the blacks would make for their fastnesses in a formidable rocky range out west, the pursuing party, without attempting to follow tracks, which were much obliterated, took a short cut through a dense mulga scrub. On emerging from this, after some hours’ hard work in the jungle, they found that they had not only cut into the tracks of the retreating blacks, but also found their first camp, where they had made bough yards for bullocks. Here much was explained which had hitherto been a mystery. Portions of rotting beef were hanging in the trees, having either been left by the blacks in their hurry, or possibly because they were so gorged that they cared not for them, whilst in one yard alone were three bullock’s heads, each beast having been shot through the forehead. This fact at once explained the theft of the firearms, and pointed to the one black who understood their use-“Nicky Nicky.” Portions of the lead lining of tea chests were lying about, proving that as he had not been able to find bullets, he had melted down this lead, and so formed them in a mould.
From what afterwards came to light, there was no doubt that this ex-policeman was the instigator of the massacre and robbery. The tracks of some fifty black fellows and a few bullocks, but no horses, were very visible from this camp, and now the capture was only a matter of time, but no one dreamt of the extraordinary nature of the country which horses and men would have to negotiate before coming up with the black mob. Through open forest, plains of blady grass, and dense scrub did the trail lie, thus for the first two days plain sailing, but then they came to a broken range, which at first sight seemed impossible for horses, whilst the tracks vanished altogether, excepting to the keenest eyed amongst the troopers.
Before attempting this rocky barrier, the horses were turned out to pick up what they could at the last bit of grass, for all vegetation ended at the foot of the rocks; some tiny pools of water were found here under an enormous boulder, so the billy was put on, and tea made. Blake was a very good tracker himself, but no tea for him till he had satisfied himself as to the direction which “Nicky Nicky” and his gang had taken, so he went ahead with some of the boys.
It is difficult to describe to those who have not experienced it the nature of these chaotic rocky barriers, which occur here and there in Queensland.
The only description of fancy which occurs to me is that in ages past a huge mountain of the main range had been cast upon the plain, and in falling had shattered itself into a million blocks, varying in size from an ordinary boulder to a large barn, a cottage size prevailing. It proved an arduous and a long task to pick out the tracks over these basaltic masses; the winds had swept away what little dust there was, and Blake informed me that he was many times nonplussed, yet one or two leading “boys” puzzled out the trail yard by yard. None but those who have served in the wild parts of Queensland know what real tracking is, through any and every description of country. Even the younger generation of Colonials from other Australian Colonies have had but little to exercise their powers of “smelling out,” unless it were for the purpose of following strayed stock, which leave a pretty good trail.
Whilst I am writing this, the war in South Africa is still going on, and I have lately had occasion to discuss the interesting topic of scouts and scouting with Australians who represented various colonies. Taking my cue from a case which occurred to me in the Native Police, I put the following problem with reference to scouting be means of water. A deep river flows between out troops and the most likely position of the enemy. Balloons are sent up-no Boers are located. Scouts, both mounted and on foot, examine the southern bank of the river, even get half way across, they are not fired at there, presumably there is no enemy on the northern side.
Now had a Queensland native trooper been ordered to “look out,” what would he have done? He would have stripped himself and gone very far up stream, and no white man would have seen the way he went; then, gliding like an eel into the water, he would have dived to the opposite bank and come right under it, at a place he had previously chosen, not so much to gaze, but merely to let his nostrils fill his lungs, then, having long before this taken in all points of both banks and allowed for force of current, he would drop gently down under the bank for the distance he had calculated on, making not so much movement in the water as would a rising fish. At length, having gained his point, he would quit the river inch by inch at some patch of rushy grass and cover, eyes and ears strung to highest pitch as he snaked his way, and from the moment of his having gained the bank, he would have ample evidence to prove whether the enemy was in close proximity, and as he proceeded farther he would ascertain whether they were in force or not, stalking as no white man ever stalked.
And supposing that by some extraordinary chance he were discovered, or that a dog gave warning, before a rifle could be raised, he would be out of sight, and the enemy gazing on the placid waters of the river. Nothing more would be seen till, about a mile down stream, under the friendly shore in a small backwater and under the bank, a dimple might be noticed on the surface of the river, a tiny movement such as would be caused by a platypus coming up to breathe.
Out of those assembled at this discussion only two agreed with me as to the almost certain success of the Queensland scout in gaining his object, and these two were old Queenslanders. The others-younger members representing more southern colonies of the great island continent-vowed that this form of scouting could not be carried out in Africa. One said that the water would be too cold for an Australian black. It is just possible that could we three have seen the river and country under discussion we might have changed our opinion, but I doubt it; anyhow we have proved this scouting at its best, with success, more than once in Queensland.
BLAKE THE INVINCIBLE
Negotiating the Rock Barrier-Smoke at Last
A Flank Movement-Cornered-Escape of “Nicky Nicky”
Murderers given up-Final Fate of “Nicky Nicky”
Return to salvia Downs-Blake’s Cattle Raided
Death of the Warrior “Wanny”-The Corrobboree
A Deed of “Derring-do”-Blake and the Bushranger
Pioneers of the Native Mounted Police
“Billy” the Scout in the Present War
We must now return to Blake and his dark skinned assistants, who meanwhile proceeded with their heavy task, the power of the sun pouring on and refracted from these rocks was terrible, luckily they had brought water with them. After some hours of this work one of the boys mounted a particularly high and perpendicular rock, and from there made signs that he could see the end of the block. On coming down, that by turning more to the north they would hit the level ground by a short cut and where the boulders ran out to the plain, and that in the distance he could see the great range for which the blacks were undoubtedly making. He further explained that the barrier ran much narrower to the north, but that he could not see the end of it.
The pursuers finally reached the open country, found in which direction the blacks had crossed it, and then returned by a slightly easier and shorter route to their camp.
It was evident that the blacks, who were well acquainted with the country, had taken the more arduous route, hoping thus to throw off any possible pursuit of mounted men, a trick that could be traced to the cunning of the ex-police villain. It had also been remarked that the few cattle which they had with them had been driven off at a tangent some miles back.
The horses were now led, driven, and tumbled over the narrower line of boulders discovered; many delays occurring, owing to the men having to extricate a fallen horse here, to readjust a burst-open pack there. Eventually they reached the solid ground and had to camp as night was coming on.
The following morning, leaving one or two hands to guard the camp, the rest of the party scouted ahead, and at last saw smoke issuing from a river bed which ran parallel to the range but at some distance from it. The troopers now made a long detour whereby they succeeded in getting between this range and the blacks’ camp; meanwhile, Blake and his “boys” moved up.
The blacks, on perceiving the troopers, bolted on to the plain, but on sighting Blake and finding that they were cut off on both sides made for the river bed, which was partly dry, and hid in the dense reeds.
The gins remained in the camp knowing that they would not be interfered with, and here as was expected, was found the spoil raided from the station; most important of all, the clothes and accoutrements of the two murdered white men. Dilly bags were found to contain tinned provisions, powder and shot flasks, and manavlins of sorts, whilst rifles and shot guns were lying about wrapped up for the most part in possum skins.
Now the blacks were trapped. The reeds, owing to the absence of wind, were so still that a rat might have been heard moving had one been there. No one but those conversant with the extraordinary power of concealment possessed by the aborigines would have dreamt that some fifty or more black fellows were lying in that small covert. Then one of Blake’s “boys” entered the reed bed and very soon lifted a bunch of grass with a spear taken from the camp pointed to an almost invisible black skin. This “boy” was acquainted with the language of the tribes and proceeded to put the black fellow through a string of questions.
“Where was ‘Nicky Nicky’?”
“Not here,” was the answer, “left us long ago at the rock barrier with one firearm.”
“Where are those who actually killed the two white men?”
Three names were mentioned in answer.
“Are they here in these reeds?”
“Yes, all three.”
Orders were now given in a loud voice to the rest of the hidden gang, and they were bidden to come forth unarmed.
Finding that they were surrounded and seeing that the game was up the rest of the mob dropped their weapons and were made to stand on the bank of the river bed. The three murderers were then given up with great zeal by their companions to the troopers to be dealt with according to their deserts, much to the satisfaction of the other miscreants, who stated that they thought they were all going to be shot. Before these were let free a reward of bullocks was offered for the apprehension of “Nicky Nicky.” It may be here stated that this proved of no avail, and it subsequently came to light that that villain-the organiser of the massacre-had taken refuge with another tribe, but proved such a curse to his companions, by insisting upon their living entirely in rocky ranges, and allowing no fires to be lit, that they knocked him on the head and brought his body in to the nearest station as a proof of their act.
When Blake and his “boys” once more reached Salvia Downs, they found that the white men left in charge, though fully provided with firearms, were in a state of terror, fancying that they were besieged from the fact that sundry cattle had been driven off by black fellows, whom they were convinced were coming back to murder them. Blake knew enough to tell them that this fright only emanated from their own cowardice, and sent them off to work.
A gin belonging to one of the “boys,” who had also been left at the station, stated that she had tracked the raiders to their camp, where she had seen signs of their being about to celebrate their theft of cattle by a corroboree.
Getting the direction from her, Blake soon after set off with one of his trackers. At length, seeing a tiny spiral column of smoke rising near the edge of a scrub, the horses were tied up, and the “boy” went forward to scout. Peering over the grass, he saw a big black fellow engaged in hanging up some joints of beef in a tree, ever and anon picking off and eating pieces of the fat, and so engaged in this entrancing occupation that he could look at nothing else. The tracker, grasping his carbine, strode boldly and quietly up, and recognizing the black, called out in his own language, “Where are the bullocks, Wanny.”
Now “Wanny” was the warrior of the tribe, a man standing over six feet in height and powerfully built, and for once he had been caught napping; but on hearing the challenge, he caught up a huge nullah nullah, turned as he did so, and rushing upon the “boy,” hurled the enormous club at him. Had this caught him, it would have then and there ended all conversation between them, but striking his carbine with tremendous force, it smashed the stock clear off; luckily, however, leaving lock and trigger intact. The “boy,” though spun half round, was quick enough to thrust the shattered weapon out like a pistol, and so shot his adversary full in the chest at close quarters. This considerably staggered Wanny, who, however, managed to hurl a piece of rock at him; this he dodged, and picking up the big nullah, drove in the skull of the big chief as the latter tried to close with him.
It may be noted that there was no intention of attacking the blacks on this occasion, and Wanny brought his own death upon himself.
The cattle had not been driven far, for the raiders were aware that Blake had absented himself from the station, and had not expected his return so early, so, leaving the beasts, which they viewed, to look after themselves, the pursuers followed the prints of many naked feet, and closing in upon them by nightfall, found certain signs that a corroboree was being prepared in a large scrub.
Creeping in through a dense mass of vegetation, they came within sight of a large clearing formed in the dense bush. This was occupied by some forty or fifty warriors in their war paint. Then the boss of Salvia Downs crept up, his “boy” keeping watch in the rear.
Blake next performed a deed of derring-do, such as few men have ever before attempted, in fact, I doubt whether in such circumstances, any white man had ever dared so much with Australian aborigines. Here was a large mob of blacks, working themselves up to a frenzy and fury equal to that of any dervishes, and far more warlike in appearance; stamping and whooping into the flames of their fires, rushing at each other with spear and club, fending off the blows in this mimic warfare with their yelamans or shields; their bodies painted so as to resemble skeletons, yelling and howling, with the gins seated around beating time to the weird songs with boomerangs and urging the warriors with shrill cries. Those who have witnessed a real corroboree at night, and not a got-up show, will allow that it is an uncanny and weird sight.
Leaving his “boy” behind, Blake stepped quietly into this throng of excited black men, armed only with an unseen revolver, and, holding up his hand, called in stentorian tones for one man, known to him as a leader in all devilry.
With the strongly marked superstition prevailing amongst the tribes, and more especially shown during the hours of darkness, it evidently seemed to the blacks as though a spectre had descended into their midst, for with one accord, a dead silence fell upon them-their figures, a moment before so full of active life, seemed turned to stone, nor looked they at one another, all eyes were directed at the white man. At length, recognizing the daring intruder and realizing that he was flesh and blood, the black who was called upon spoke in a low voice:
“What do you want?”
Blake, who knew the dialect, answered:
“I want all the cattle driven back to my station, and I will see what are missing-more, I want that none of you ever interfere with me or mine again. I shall not punish you for this, but if ever you trouble me again, I will hunt you all down as I have hunted down the tribes who have killed my neighbours. If I find you behave yourselves, I will allow you some day to camp near the station. If you do not-well-go tomorrow and bury your chief ‘Wanny,’ Promise.”
It did not take the blacks long to agree to the terms, confronted as they were by such a man, whose iron will they knew of old; and merely vouchsafing a very safe remark that “Wanny” had prevailed upon them to steal the cattle, they subsided into a sulky jabbering, leaving Blake and his “boy” to back out of the charmed circle.
This tribe, it may be added, were ever after on their best behaviour.
Another adventure I heard also from Blake’s own lips, in which no black man was concerned, was as follows:
An individual who combined the double occupation of bushranging and horse-stealing, had a “down” on Blake owing to the latter having once run him in, so he set out with the intention of taking his life. This fact coming to Blake’s ears afforded him some amusement, nevertheless, he took care to keep an extra sharp look-out for strangers.
One day, when riding through an unfrequented part of the run, he descried a mounted man in the distance, himself being hidden in the long grass. Pushing his horse along under a ridge, he was able to come unexpectedly on the stranger at close quarters; he was in the habit of carrying a fowling-piece loaded with slugs in one barrel and wire cartridge in the other, and a very useful load this always proved in the bush. He had noticed that the bushranger was armed with a repeating rifle. Blake rode straight up, watching the man’s eye-there is always a warning tell-tale in this, be the man white or black, if one can catch it in time-without any apparent movement he had covered him with his gun and straightaway asked him what he was doing there. “Looking for lost cattle,” was the answer of the somewhat disconcerted miscreant, who had not been so ready in getting his repeater into the desired position.
“That’s a lie,” said Blake, “and you’d better clear,” and he did, riding off and muttering deep oaths connected with “some other day,” whilst the squatter watched him out of sight. Here the matter ended for the time being, but some months afterwards, the two met again in a small township.
The bushranger, who doubtless had some of his pals about him, no sooner caught sight of Blake than he began to swear and “blow,” and make insulting remarks. The latter simply let him expand a bit, and then fixed him with the meaning remark:
“You never were more nearly shot in your life than when I caught you on the run.”
The man’s eye dropped, he seemed to lose all further interest in the conversation, and for a second time, slunk off. This Blake held his own against white and black men alike wherever they might be, and he has now for many years, been left in quiet enjoyment of his various stations, owing to the respect in which he is held by all alike-a typical squatter, and fortunately for Queensland, there are many more like him.
Besides men such as these, and the first discoverers of the country, how greatly has Queensland benefited by those whom one may designate as the pioneers of the Native Mounted Police. There were many who acted in a way to protect the settler in the development of the unsettled portions of this country, and who, by their knowledge of bush lore and black fellows, imbibed in some instances from their earliest childhood, rendered the various districts safe for all, and I may be allowed to take one grand example from that number- Mr. G. Murray, if I remember aright the head of the force in my time, amend at present occupying the high position of Chief Police Magistrate at the capital, Brisbane. As a mutual friend said to me lately, and I have the honour to agree with him, “One cannot say enough that is good of this grand veteran of the bush. The beau ideal of a Government servant, having served the Government faithfully and well in every position he has filled. As a bushman, he was not to be surpassed.”
During the Boer War in South Africa-which is not completed as I write-attached to one of our regiments was a native Australian tracker, “Billy.”
One day the conversation turned upon scouting, and a group of English officers present were unanimous in deriding the powers of Australian aborigines in this respect, saying:
“We have heard all these wonderful accounts of reading the ground, and though there may be some shadow of truth in the matter, yet we don’t believe more than half your fairy stories.”
“Perhaps you will believe when you have seen the black boy do all that is asked him,” responded an Australian officer present. “I’ll bet he will track any of you up wherever you go, and bring back a correct report.”
The bet was taken.
Early on the appointed day, five officers started at different hours and in various directions, two on foot, three on horseback; “Billy” being meantime locked up.
When at length he was let out, he took up each track in turn, following it to a given period to enable him to get back to camp the same day and report.
When he returned, notebooks were taken out and he was told to proceed.
The tracker, first stating that the men had chosen their various routes over all the hard and rocky ground of the neighbouring veldt, then proceeded to draw five lines in the sand, and descanted on each track; those of the mounted men he had followed at a run- described how one had got off his horse and had then proceeded to light his pipe, producing the half-burnt match to prove it. Another had been thrown by his mount putting its foot into a hole whilst going at a canter, the horse had then bolted, the rider had caught it within a mile; while a third had got off his horse and walked into the shade of some trees, and having tied up his charger, had climbed one of these, presumably to get a view, as there were neither possum nor “sugar bag” in it, said “Billy.”
The footmen had given a little more trouble, especially one man whom the boy described as “silly fellow<’ because he had gone in his socks, had cut his foot at one point, and gone lame for the rest of the journey; a piece of fluff from a sock was brought back as one proof, whilst the officer allowed the accident to his foot to be true; dark brown, light brown, and grey hairs, represented the three horses. In fact, “Billy” proved beyond doubt that he had run and read every track faithfully; and afforded other proofs, by recording many minute finds and incidents that he had done so.
The officers were thoroughly convinced, and willingly handed over their bets to the Australian.
AN IRISH LASSIE
Return to Spring Creek-Shift Quarters
Guyanda Creek-A Daughter of Erin
Shortly after I had recovered from the attack of ague, leave was given me to move to a district somewhat farther north, and glad was I to find that two of the old “boys” and the equally faithful mare “Timeringle” were to accompany me.
One reason for this change in my plans was that some months previous to this, I had bought a town allotment at one of the small ports, and had never been able to secure the title deeds, and in those days certain township property was increasing fast in value.
The result of this search for important parchments was connected with an amusing interview.
Having in due course taken up my new quarters, which consisted as heretofore of a comfortable bark-roofed hut situated as usual upon a creek, made the acquaintance of the three new boys, and learned the names of the small mob of horses, I despatched a message to the agent who had completed the sale of my bit of land. Weeks passed without my getting any answer to the enquiry, and I was thinking of applying for leave of absence to prosecute the search myself, when one day a “boy” came up and saluted with a diabolical grin upon his face.
Upon being asked somewhat sternly “What name?” meaning, “What do you want?” he said that a “white Mary,” i.e. white woman, was hunting the camp for me, that she appeared “cabon saucy,” and that she carried a “pretty feller piccaninny” in her arms.
To say the least, this statement sounded rather alarming, but in the circumstances, I judged it would be best to let all hands hear whatever story or complaint the woman had to make. So I walked up to the “boys’” quarters, took my seat on an upturned bucket, and sent for her, for I heard that she was resting in one of the gin’s gunyahs.
Presently a stout young Irish woman, travel-stained and of disheveled appearance, came prancing up, carrying a squalling brat in her arms. I am used to the verbosity of the kindly natured Irish folk, but the “maxim” volleys of both English and Irish poured into me on this occasion were enough to make a white man beat a retreat. As for the “boys,” they were in fits of laughter, understanding nothing, but tickled beyond measure at the girl’s antics and pantomime. She opened her battery with:
“Shure yer washup’s Irish by yer name.”
[In the book which this is copied from this woman or someone related to her has written in the margin “NO!” and in handwriting “Lies!”]
I was not given a second’s time to contradict her, so merely shook my head, upon which she raced on in the same breath that she would confine herself to English. I Saturday there for certainly half an hour, merely opening my lips to keep my pipe going. She spoke like a book with a copious index, never faltering for an instant.
Commencing at the very beginning of the history of her life, she fired the whole story into me. So having passed in review certain incidents of her babyhood, this is what I heard:
“Me home’s in Count Kildare just contagious to the big livil mountin an’ thin I married Mick an’ we jimmygrated over the say an’ the boat bad luck to it brought us acrass the Cape to this blessed country where people’s bad and baccy’s dear an’ Mick can’t smoke it where he is now an’ me family the Guinanes is some of the besht folk in Kildare and we’s gat plinty of bonifs an’ boneens”-which terms I found later represented sucking pigs at various stages- “an’ now me pore buy’s in jail clapped there by his inimies cos he put his name to anither buy’s bit o’ paper what is last an’ says he hurry up an’ see yer hannar an’ p’r’aps he’ll pull yer tooth out cos I must tell ye I’m nigh mad with the vinim in my teeth an’ says I-“
Here she opened a capacious mouth and took in enough air to fill a football, this act apparently presented a favourable opportunity for me to retreat, but hardly had I moved from my bucket when with a bound she was on me, and grasping my arm, almost shrieked in piteous tone:
“Shure yer hannar’s washup yer wodn’t lit Micky Quin shtarve in prisin an’ me wid a young shlip of a Mick at the brist an’ anither comin’ an’-“ but seeing we were going on to fresh domestic matters, I quenched her, yelling out:
“Quin! Why the devil didn’t you give me your name before? He’s the man-“ but it was no good; she had got her second wind, and put in a heavily charged right and left.
“An’ thin isn’t Quin as good a family as inny in this paltry country, why it’s meself can till yez-“
“He’s got my title deeds,” I roared in despair.
This statement put her out of action for the time, for she uttered in a solemn tone:
“An’ haven’t I got that same in me pockit, whin-“
But a further statement of her family connections, and her husband’s somewhat doubtful career proved of no further interest to me; seeing which she produced the deeds, which proved to be correctly drawn up.
The poor soul was well recompensed, for she had had a hard journey. It appeared that a hawker had given her a lift for many miles, and then she had walked thirty more to our camp. The gins took care of her that night, and next day escorted her to the nearest station on her homeward journey, carrying her baby and some rations.
But she was bound to have many last words, and before she quitted, I saw that I was in for another palaver.
This time I found it was to be a private one, for leading me round a corner of the barracks, and sinking her voice to a mysterious whisper-with little report this time:
Hark,” she said, “says Mick to me, says he, ‘whin yer give his washup the dades arst him if he can’t lit me out to beguile the time a bit as he’s a policeman.”
Upon telling her gently that the thing was utterly impossible, she pondered a bit, drew closer to me, looked carefully around, and, sinking her voice yet more, remarked in a confidential tone, which was emphasized with many winks and nods of the head:
“Whishper! D’y know how yer hannar’s besht knives are claned?”
I said “no.”
“Well thin I’ll till yer. One o’ they black things the weemen I mane. I was watchin’ thim an’ they takes yer besht knives an’ thin they shpits on ‘em an’ thin they rubs ‘em on their black thighs to give ‘em a polish like.’
And having delivered this final remark as a crushing blow on my bachelor system of housekeeping, Mrs. Quin waited for no more, but with a “God bless yer hannar,” went off in high glee, and with many more comprehensive nods and winks.
I am happy to add that friends gave her a helping hand when she got back to the port. Her Mick, however, had to “do his time.”
I attended a corroboree of the “boys” a few nights afterwards, and the late meeting with Mrs. Quin was enacted in such a realistic manner, every pantomime gesture, every touch of brogue was brought forward in such ludicrous light, and so truthfully represented, that it was simply the whole scene over again, acted in a manner that no white man could have attained to.
As I once before remarked, the aboriginals are perfect mimics.