Project Gutenberg Australia
a treasure-trove of literature
treasure found hidden with no evidence of ownership




Title:      Last Leaves from Dunk Island (1925)
Author:     E J Banfield
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
eBook No.:  0300451.txt
Language:   English
Date first posted:          March 2003
Date most recently updated: March 2003

This eBook was produced by: Col Choat

Production notes: Italics in the book are shown in upper case in this ebook
                  Illustrations in the book have not been included
                    in this ebook

Project Gutenberg of Australia eBooks are created from printed editions
which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice
is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular
paper edition.

Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the
copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this
file.

This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions
whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms
of the Project Gutenberg of Australia License which may be viewed online at
http://gutenberg.net.au/licence.html

To contact Project Gutenberg of Australia go to http://gutenberg.net.au

--------------------------------------------------------------------------

A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook

Title:      Last Leaves from Dunk Island (1925)
Author:     E J Banfield





CONTENTS


PART I

THE TEMPEST
SHORE-LINES
SOUNDS AND SWEET AIRS
THE WONDERFUL SEASON
THUNDER SEASON
A HOMELY GARDEN
IN RESERVE
THE SERENE SEA
TROPIC GLORY


PART II

THE PIGLING AND THE PICCANINNY
PETER: A FISHER OF MEN
BILLY TOO-GAL'S GHOST
THE PASSING OF SAM
SAMBO'S STRATEGY
A BUSH OCULIST
FRANK EDWARD'S FALL
BILLY, THE GUIDE
CAUSE AND EFFECT
RESOURCEFULNESS


PART III

A SPINNER OF SAND
METALLIC STARLINGS
THE SUNBIRD
THE SWAMP PHEASANT
SWIFTS AND SWIFTLETS
CHARACTER IN BIRDS
A SANCTUARY PROBLEM
A JUNGLE FLOWER
THE REEF MANTIS
REEF JEWELLERY
AN ISLE AND A REEF
DOGS THAT HAVE BEEN
FACTS AND MUSINGS


ILLUSTRATIONS
(Not included in this ebook)
THE BEACHCOMBER
"LEAFLESS WILDERNESS"
IN THE TRACK OF THE CYCLONE
"BEHOLD, HOW IT BLOSSOMS!"
THE VIGOROUS UMBRELLA-TREE
THE AISLE OF COCO-PALMS
BEACHCOMBERS AND BANANAS
THE FAMILY ISLANDS
A TROPIC VISTA
THE BANFIELD BUNGALOW
THE BEACHCOMBER'S WORKSHOP
E. J. BANFIELD, 1901
BERTHA BANFIELD, 1901
THE GATE OF HOSPITALITY
AN ISLAND CORNER
OLD NESTING-MOUND OF SCRUB FOWL
THE BEACH, BRAMMO BAY
METALLIC STARLING, ABOUT TO FEED ON CHILLIES
NEST AND YOUNG OF NUTMEG PIGEON, PURTABOI ISLET
SUNBIRD BROODING
SUNBIRD SILHOUETTE
SWAMP PHEASANT ON THE ALERT
SHINING
FLYCATCHER (MALE)
SHINING FLYCATCHER (FEMALE)
BLACK BUTCHER-BIRD BROODING
SPANGLED DRONGO AT HOME
NUTMEG PIGEON
BABY TERN CAMOUFLAGING
TERNS' EGGS AMONG CORAL
THE BEACH, BRAMMO BAY
MR. AND MRS. BANFIELD AND BARRY
"THE BEACHCOMBER'S" RESTING-PLACE
THE CAIRN


DUNK ISLAND-PLACE NAMES

Goor-tchur   Trumpet shell
Mood-goo-gar   Fish resembling trevalley
Tchu-goo-berri-me   Swarm of bees
Cum-mat-nubble-nubble   Creek in which a sucker fish was tethered
Barcoo   Blue pike
Evboola   The looking-glass tree (HERITIERA LITORALIS)
Tiering   Round, smooth, hard nut, spur on one end
Pallon    Name of a gin
Woor-amboo   Favourite camp of an old man so named
Toorgey-toorgey   Pinna shell
Oom-balla   Fish (yellow tall)
Bee-ran   Tree (Barringtonia speciosa)
Gin-gee   Sunflower tree (DIPLANTHERA TETRAPHYLTA)
Tak-al   Block of dead coral
Wallon-boo   Half-tide rocks
Kum-moo-arra   The Alexandrian laurel (COLOPHYLLUM INAPHYLLUM)
Tool-guy-ah   Eel
Moo-jee   Terminalia melanocarpa
Bul-loo-go   Stone fish
Kee-woo   Yellow plum (XIMENIA AMERICANA); also known as Bedyewrie
Karra-man   Red snapper
Tee-ree   White stone (quartz)
Ambah-ambah   Big wind
Coo-nana   A bulky rock, isolated
Boo-garoo   Native banana
Tapp-ana   Resort of turtle
Toora-coorang   Small fish frequenting rock crevices
Inno-noo-bah   Black palm
Koo-lal-bee   Black cockatoo
Wolngarin   Palm with coconut-like fronds
Poie-koo-kee   Booby (brown gannet)
Meera   Stone knife quarry
Karra-malla   Sea urchin
Panjoo   Nice place
Wambyan   Burial place of a boy so named
Tambal-tambal   Mainsail fish
Moor-in-jin   Spangled drongo
Pool-bee-ee   Thunderstone
Kit-ah  Fish spear tree
Tar-koo-kee   Name of a man who died on the spot a long time ago,
              and who is believed to haunt it
Bidgeroo   "Debil debil" who kills fish with a stone-pointed spear
Neyring   Native taro (COLOCASIA ANTIQUORUM)
Pall-koo-loo   Group of Isolated rocks perpetuating a legend of men
               who came across from the mainland to fight
Ika-ika    Round-headed, half-tide rock, supposed to have been rolled
           down the mountain by a "debil debil"
Pil-cal   Favourite camp of an old man so named
Mar-tel-kee   Fish like catfish seen in fine weather in clear water
Har-ran   Coral patch awash at low water
Murgon   Quandong (ELAEOCARPUS GRANDIS)
Toogan-toogan   Macaranga tanara. Shrub providing fish spears, twine
                for lines, and a cement
Coobin-ootan-you   Falling-star cave
Kar-tee   Coral rock
Muggy-muggy   Coral mushroom where crayfish lurk





PART I




THE TEMPEST


I

Early in the year 1918 two great storms visited the coast of North
Queensland. One centred off the port of Mackay, four hundred miles to the
south of Dunk Island, on 21st January, and the other about twenty-five
miles to the north, on 10th March.

Forty-eight hours prior to the Mackay storm premonitory effects were
observed here, succeeding a memorable tidal jumble. During a breathless
calm a mysterious northerly swell set in. To ears accustomed to the
silence and the musical whisperings of a sheltered bay, the roar and
burst of the breakers of a wind-forgotten sea suggested a confused mental
picture--a blending of black and grey without form.

Heaving, as with deep-drawn breaths, out from the beach the sea seemed to
be both restless and angry, as glistening rollers heaved themselves on to
the strand, to be shattered into spray. They rifled the Barrier Reef,
threw on the sand lumps of coral to which brown seaweed hung, like the
scalps of mermaids, and swept them to and fro with savage persistency.
They brought driftwood from afar, and claimed all sorts of sun-dried
relics from previous depositary moods.

After a time the sea became silent again, with a sparkling, wavering
ripple, while the noise of its assault on the mainland beach had the tone
of distant, unceasing thunder.

Ten days before the second storm, while the sky was cloudless and the air
serene, a change in the quality of the heat was felt. During the first
three months of the year--the period of heavy rainfall--the temperature is
generally humid., Suddenly it became dry and burning, with a tingling
intensity, as rare as uncomfortable. For the time the moist vapours of a
mild steam-bath were dispersed by scorching breath as from a furnace, to
the discomfort of animal life and the injury of vegetation.

Early on the morning of Sunday, 10th March, the sky became overcast. A
fresh southerly breeze had sprung up during the night. A short, confused
sea tumbled in the channel, and the usually placid bay mimicked its
sport. With fearsome steadiness of purpose, the wind developed as it
veered to the east. At 5 p.m. it was travelling at furious speed,
twisting branches from trees and thickening the now gloomy skies with
leaves. Consistently with the strength of the wind the barometer fell
until between 9 and 10 p.m., when, with a conglomeration of terrifying
sounds varying from falsetto shrieks to thunderous roars, the centre of
the cyclone seemed to bore down on the very vitals of the island.

The devastating assault lasted about half an hour; it was followed by a
lull, succeeded by another attack of violence from the north and
north-west; then, as orderly as the storm had developed so it subsided.

With the barometer at 29.90 at 9 a.m., who would have prognosticated a
dangerous cyclone within twelve hours? Mark the regularity of the
derisive finger that, having failed to herald the storm, acted as a
servile registrar of its various phases at the moment of occurrence:--

9 a.m. 29.90     5 p.m. 29.50
Noon   29.40     6 p.m. 29.60
3 p.m. 29.70     7 p.m. 29.30
4 p.m. 29.60     8 p.m. 29.18

As the 8 p.m. observation was taken, the unassisted finger dropped
2-100ths with a jerk, and within a few minutes the demons of the air were
crazy with fury. That was the final reading for the night, for the crisis
came with such ferocity that the wreckage of parts of the house made the
site of the instrument inaccessible; nor was it possible to consult it
again until shortly before nine o'clock the following morning, when it
stood exactly at the point from which it had begun to move twenty-four
hours before.

Only while the core of the storm was passing was lightning seen or
thunder heard. Then the whole mass of tumultuously-racing clouds and
vapour was luminous at frequent intervals, and the rumble of the thunder
almost continuous--but the glow was weak and tremulous, and the thunder
timorous, as if the electricity was a cowed captive at the chariot-wheels
of triumphing Wind.

Throughout the night rain was incessant; but its torrential tramplings on
the resonant, ceilingless roof were not to be detached from the
discordancies of wind and wave, save only while breath was held in
expectation of whatsoever might happen after the terrifying lull. The
gauge overflowed at 10.50 in., so that the exact quantity for the
twenty-four hours during which all ordinary concerns and interests were
wafted aside cannot be stated; but, by comparison with results of
previously recorded deluges, the fall must have exceeded 14 in., the
greater volume of which should be ascribed to about five hours.

Being in perfect sympathy with each other's fury, wind, rain and sea, in
a common tongue, spoke threats of ruin and devastation, and fulfilled
them all in more or less degree. And it has to be confessed that the
crash and confusion of the awe-inspiring night, after three years of
healing, still ring in the ears.

While the rage lasted, a slight degree of comfort was attained from
considering the suddenness of the storm and its very violence. At its
lowest the barometer indicated nothing out of the normal; but its
marvellous activity as the wind gathered in force, the sensational drop
immediately prior to the crisis, the recovery as the depression passed
over, and the subsequently revealed fact that the course of the storm
was brief--little over a hundred miles--show that it was home-brewed.
Subsequent information proved that the dangerous phase was not experienced
for more than twenty miles to the south and twenty-four miles to the
south-west.


II

Having thus disposed of the formalities of a great occasion, the pages to
follow will be devoted to a review of its consequences, not to human
beings--and they were sad and disastrous enough--but to the natural
features of the island, as they came to be revealed.

At sunrise on Sunday a leafy wilderness; at sunrise on Monday a leafless
wilderness, wanting only grey skies, snow on the hills, and ice on the
pools to suggest an English winter scene. Along the beach, on the flat,
on the spurs of the range, astonishing transfiguration. The
shrub-embroidered strand is now forlorn, its vegetation, uprooted and
down-beaten, naked roots exposed to critical view. Not a shrub has
escaped, and broken and shattered limbs of tough trees appeal for
sympathy. The country is foul with wreckage.

Rain ceased two days after the storm, giving way to dry air under a
cloudless sky, and the effects of the visitation were revealed in harsh
crudeness and nakedness. Not a single tree escaped more or less serious
injury. Those not uprooted or broken at the trunk, are almost limbless and
entirely leafless. Instead of a compact mantle in various shades of
green, hills and spurs--and even valleys and the rims of ravines--have
assumed a tattered and frayed raiment of brown, as if a mighty flame had
singed the verdure.

All the minor secrets of the land are bare; the "verdurous glooms" of
yesterday are open to the inquisitive sun; the streams, fair-running but
foul-tasting now, are blocked with decaying vegetation, and the flat
lands are strewn with fallen timber.

Ravished by the profligate wind, once tender and lovable scenes flaunt
their wretchedness and woe, and seem to appeal for consolation. The islet
in the bay-hitherto a garden to the water's edge, offering to the
admiration of the sun and sea masses of golden-brown orchids and red
clumps of umbrella-trees, of incomparable luxuriance and beauty--is but a
bare rock with a forlorn crest of seared shrubs.

Let the dreary picture be blotted for the time by recollection of the
endearing past.

Huge coco-nut palms, that a few hours ago might have vaunted their
stately straightness, lie uprooted or broken at the base, or lean at
pitiable angles. Some lie fifty yards from the spot where their fronds
saluted Sunday morning's sun, yet still carry fragments of their burden
of nuts. What significant illustration of the demonism of the wind does a
fallen palm present! During ordinary gales the fronds stream before the
wind like the loosened hair of a woman, offering to it coy resistance;
but, subject itself to the tormenting cyclone as the palm-tree may, lean
in obedience to its will, bow before its strength, sway to its caprices,
there comes a time when graceful acts are of no avail. The wind will have
its savage way. The wailing palm is prostrated, torn and dishevelled,
carried along as if it were a straw, and piled with other trophies of
victory and violation in calamitous heaps.

The veering of the wind to the north-west, since it took place about the
hour of high water, occasioned a tidal wave, evidences of which strew the
green places of yesterday a hundred yards beyond the strand. Shrubs four
feet high are buried in white coral sand. Here, amidst the desolation, an
artificial flower-garden, acres in extent, has been created by the
successive action of wave and rain. Thousands of small shells from the
bleached hordes of the reef are stranded with the concavity uppermost.
Then the nor'-wester swept the surface of the new sand, leaving each
shell resting on the summit of a sturdy little pinnacle. At first glance
the scene is that of a magically-planted field of strange, white flowers,
the single atonement for the ravages of the dark hours. Here, too, every
exposed rootlet, every twig and fragment of drift-wood, is the crest of
a sand-ridge in miniature, telling the direction whence came the wind's
final onrush.

Forlorn birds, made tamer by one irresistible touch of Nature, flit
mournfully among the battered branches. They are silent. None of the
cheerful jeers and chuckles of the scrub-fowl comes from the trampled
jungle; the great flight of terns, which settled on the sand-spit on
Sunday and sat in a dense crowd, head to sea, has been dispersed. A
solitary, wind-wearied gannet sleeps, head under wing, in the sun.

Thousands of maritime birds were killed, and those of the land suffered
in like degree. Here the only species which seems to be in pre-storm
numbers is the swiftlet, the home of which, in secret places among huge
granite rocks, was safe against the shake of anything less than an
earthquake.

Some shy birds have been made confiding by the stress of hunger. This is
specially noticeable among the fruit-eating pigeons, which frequent the
jungles. For several days these beautiful birds swarmed about the ruins
of the aboriginal settlement on the mainland opposite, perching in
protected spots at dark after a great deal of preliminary fluttering.
This voluntary faith in the goodwill of man on the part of a timorous
bird shows that the storm had destroyed its supplies and shelter.
Although many species have been seen since the perfidious date, they have
not made free with the dwelling, possibly because a few acres of jungle
still stand, fresh as ever, at the head of a deep ravine.

The roof being off the store at the settlement, bags of sugar were soon
converted into syrup, which soon attracted swarms of bees of Italian
descent, and for days overindulgence in heady nectar seemed to be borne
without disorderly effect. As time passed, however, many became bloated,
and, being tipsy, passed from the stage of excited good-humour to almost
helpless pugnacity. Unable to fly, they crawled and staggered and rolled
on the ground, and savagely attacked bare-footed trespassers,
illustrating the ease with which industrious and provident bees fall from
grace under the temptation of a superabundance of stimulating sustenance.

Conversely, there is a change of outlook, equally quaint, among certain
birds. Cockatoos had acquired a taste for the seeds of citrus fruits, to
the dismay of owners of groves, but in consequence of the loss of the
entire crop these birds have not been able to indulge the habit.
Moreover, the figs and the wattle-seeds generously supplied during normal
times being non-existent, the noisy birds have fared ill. For many weeks
after the disturbing event few cockatoos visited the island. In the past
many reared broods in the security of this sanctuary, making morning
trips to the mainland for food and recreation among the more numerous
communities there, and returning shortly before dusk. Recently fairly
large flocks have resumed their accustomed journeys to and fro,
proclaiming the hour of departure and arrival with discordant cries.

Many scrub-fowls on the Isle were killed by whirling missiles from the
groaning trees. In two or three instances incubating mounds of renown, in
which chicks had been hatched from periods traditional to the blacks,
were destroyed; and at least one of recent origin, and under frequent
observation, was swept away by the tidal wave. But after an interlude the
industrious birds began to chuckle and crow in the bedraggled jungle, and
to rake over the thick carpet of fallen leaves in the forest. Now
attempts are being made to gather the material, of which there are
superabundant supplies, for new mounds. All through the forest where the
soil is light and friable the indefatigable birds work with energy, and
with much noise during the evening; for the white ants, having come to
their kingdom, must be kept down, and the capacity of the scrub-fowl for
such food represents a prodigious natural check.

It will be seen, then, that what Shakespeare might have termed "this
great perturbation of nature" had its effects on things small as well as
great, some of which operate generally to man's disadvantage. It
destroyed thousands of molluscs, tore up acres of what we are satisfied
to call seaweed, displaced coral by the ton, and made in the shallow
waters a maze of snags. On land, in common with distressed birds,
millions of insects cast themselves on the hospitality of human brings,
to our dismay and discomfort. Among the many species came thousands of
fruit-moths from the desolated banana-grove, invading the house after
dark and settling on maturing bunches, until each fruit was covered with
living mosaic. Dusky, greedy, gross of habit, they feasted the whole
night, and with quivering wings deposited their ova, retiring to obscure
places for the day. Their enemies--bats and nightjars--having been
decimated, their numbers were almost overpowering, so that for decency's
sake the fruit that attracted them had to be destroyed. And yet the
pomelo and the lemon and lime trees, broken and crippled, are already
displaying flower-buds, and with the tender green of new leafage
emblematize the most alluring of the cardinal virtues--Hope.


III

The loveliness of the Isle is of the past; but do I love it the less
while it bears the stripes of its chastisement? Shall I not rather
attempt to comfort and soothe it and heal its scars? Behold, how it
blossoms in its distress!

Did I not, years ago, banish certain garden creepers to the jungle, in
the hope that sooner or later they might wrestle successfully with
coarser-fibred natives, that seldom displayed aught but foliage? Have
they not now come to their own, taking advantage of the downfall of the
crude and intolerant rioters which flourished rampantly when all was calm
and well? And are they not offering tribute of blooms in half-forgotten
and unexpected places? Even a great, bullying, maniacal wind has its
compensations. Here they are presented in masses and garlands of pale
lavender.

Much is to be learned from such phenomena. Certain features of the Isle,
often conned but never understood, are invested with fresh interest, and
have become amenable to inquiry. For instance, cannot it now be
anticipated that the effects of the storm, instead of being inimical to
plant-life on a large scale, may prove to be beneficial in the most
sumptuous style?

Many forest trees were uprooted, or broken down, or reduced to a
branchless, leafless, almost limbless state--forlorn relics, so that in
the despondent phase dismal pictures were evolved. Would it not take a
score of consolatory years to restore the beautiful foliage and hide the
disfigured trees? How soon did Nature begin her soothing duties!

In the shattered forest the sun searched out spots sheltered from its
rays for many a generation, and germinated seeds of jungle plants which
had been dropped by careless birds or carried by idle winds. A thick
undergrowth is springing up, which from present appearances may
permanently transform the country. Instead of forest, there will be
forest in the process of conversion into jungle, and in years to come
there will be specific jungle vegetation.

Instead of permanently destroying vegetation, the big wind will have to
its credit denser and more beautiful growths; instead of grassy glades,
an almost impenetrable entanglement; palms will sprawl over lofty trees;
huge vines, with stems as thick as a man's thigh and bearing pods a yard
long, will spread a network over all; and instead of the forest's
comparatively dry surface will be maintained a moist, sweet-smelling
soil, and steamy conditions and half-lights. In time, too, the gradual
accumulation of vegetable mould must tend inevitably to the enrichment of
the land. We mortals are apt to fly in the face of Providence, to rail
against decrees that cannot be resisted, and bemoan their effects;
whereas, if we were able to look a month or two ahead, and were wise
enough to interpret Nature's laws, we might conclude that the results
would be to our ultimate pleasure and profit.

Occasionally, a single victim presents in its fall a more striking
picture of disaster than a number of others piled up in hopeless
confusion. One such--a soft-wooded tree which some call the "sunflower,"
and the natives "gin-gee"--lies not far away. It stood in a hollow some
yards from a low gully, so protected that the insurance of holding-roots
seemed, perhaps, superfluous. Taken at a disadvantage, its collapse is
pathetically complete. Trunk, limbs and branches lie smashed and
shattered as if the tree had been broken on the wheel under the rigour of
the Inquisition, its seemly proportions, huge leaves, and crown of golden
flowers utterly and completely desolated. Yet in other localities other
specimens, tried and toughened by the experience of many a storm,
stand but slightly affected, to the wonder of those who know of the
tenderness of the white wood.

Even in so imperfect and slight a reference to the stability or otherwise
of the trees of the afflicted coast we cannot omit the hibiscus. In the
van of beach vegetation on such occasions, it must bear the brunt of the
attack of the surges. In very few instances was the tough and pliant wood
broken, although twisted into strange shapes; but the shrubs met the fate
of the frontal line, being uprooted and overturned so that hardly a
single specimen escaped. However, the fact that seeds are produced in
great quantity gives hope that the beach may soon be redecorated with the
familiar soft foliage and the great yellow bells.

After such a visitation, probably the most conspicuous trees of the coast
are the tea-trees, for the lustful wind tore off their weather-stained
layers of bark, revealing naked limbs and branches of a pale-red tint.
The tea-tree's bark is composed of an infinite number of layers, thin as
tissue paper; within a few weeks of its ravishment, the exterior became
white, and, contrasted with the seared and stricken forest, each looked
like an emblem of purity and an example of strength. How few of these
magnificent trees were overthrown whose roots had obtained secure hold!
Few were snapped below the spring of the branches, or otherwise mutilated.
Most were stripped of foliage, but slender branches and twigs stand out as
an elaborate fretwork against the sombre hue of the battered and slowly
recovering background. Over a fair extent of country not a single
instance of an uprooted tea-tree is to be seen, save where the tidal
surges had attacked its base; and hundreds exultingly display clean
trunks and limbs and all the elaborate and beautiful complexity of
branches and twigs, now glistening with silvery leaf-buds. Wrong as it
would be, on such evidence, to ascribe to this particular species
supremacy on the score of durability, yet as far as visible signs may
give assurance, it makes excellent claim thereto.

Different, but scarcely less sturdy, stand the bloodwoods. Few are
uprooted, fewer broken at the trunk; but how horribly are most maimed and
disfigured! Limbs lopped off, they stand gaunt and grotesque, with few
evidences of life save a profuse crop of leaf-buds, soon to develop into
what at first glance seem artificial rosettes of leaves along the stumps
of branches. But for these superabundant buds, the woeful and distorted
forest through which Dante passed in the infernal regions could scarce
have provoked more dismal reflections.

Less at ease under extraordinary conditions, the Moreton Bay ash-trees
suffered greatly. In the thick of the sheltered forest they lie, scores
uprooted, scores severed at the trunk, and most of them more or less
seriously mutilated by loss of limb. This tree is more susceptible to
decay than bloodwood, and offers more inviting food to white ants, though
when seasoned it becomes almost imperishable. In the general disaster
huge trees involve the ruin of lesser trees of other species; but when
the cleansing fire breaks out Moreton Bay ash will burn, root and branch,
to a white ash.

Forest mahogany, or mess-mate, another eucalypt plentifully represented,
shows contemptible subservience to the will of the wind in all phases of
disastrous ruin; and in its perversity it will not burn unless logged
into masses and heaps. Thousands of prone trunks will litter the forest
until the white ants complete their office.

Of the wattles, that which is known locally as the black--the toughest and
the densest--behaved with the greatest staunchness, though many were
destroyed by the uprooting and severing force of the wind. It would seem
that the weak spot of many a specimen was about ten or twelve feet from
the ground; at least, thereabouts the trunk was often broken. Another
species, lacking a familiar name, but often more conspicuous because of
its size and the richness and fragrance of its bloom, fell like
ninepins, few being broken. The favourite habitat of this species is
sandy flats, where the foothold is insecure. The storm there cried
"Havoc," and let slip all its dogs of war. The scrub wattle went
down placidly, for in its home the soil is soft of surface.

Figs, soft-wooded, but willing to bend before the wind, do not show very
serious effects, though many in exposed parts were cast down. Slim shrubs
of upright habit and pithy texture escaped almost scot-free, being
pliable and submissive, and pandanus palms stood the test bravely in
comparison with many trees which vaunt a tougher nature.

Most of the jungle being in sheltered aspects, it is difficult to apply
the gauge which might serve for forest country; but elsewhere it is said
that the tallest and hardiest trees succumbed. For the most part the fate
would be a common one, since few of the denizens of the jungle are
independent. An entanglement of serpent-like vines of gigantic strength
is over all, binding tree to tree, and when a single giant falls it may
bring ruin to an acre.

The records of experienced and competent observers preserve proof that
birds and other creatures are endowed with sensibilities so much more
acute than those of human beings as to seem by their actions to forecast
changes of the weather. Gilbert White, of Selborne, mentions that before
the end of an exceptionally severe frost roosters which had been silent
"began to sound their clarions, and the crows to clamour as prognostic of
milder weather." It may, therefore, be reasonable to attribute to snakes,
as well as to birds, the faculty of prevision of so great a storm before
indications of its approach were given by the barometer or were
perceptible to human beings. Such a theory, indeed, has the support of
facts. Lesser frigate-birds rarely visit this part of the coast save in
advance of foul weather. Ten days prior to the event a large flock
appeared, wheeling high up in the sky. These, or others of the species,
were seen each day until the morning of the outbreak, and reappeared in
diminished numbers the day after. It may be that, as the storm became
localized, the birds fled before it; they came back when the wind
changed to the north, so battered and dishevelled that the fresh breeze
thrummed on taut but ragged wings, and the confident flight of the past
was reduced to evident efforts to keep on the wing. Several worn-out
bodies were found on the beach.

Unaccustomed silence on the part of swamp pheasants for more than a week
following the black-letter day, led to the conclusion that many
representatives had been exterminated; but it was soon discovered that,
although quiet, the birds were with us, having been, apparently,
frightened and saddened by the storm. Even now (1918) they seldom tell of
their presence; but the time will come when forest and flat will resound
again to their mellow voices.

One, at least, of these birds affords proof of the dispersing effects of
the big wind. So far as years of patient observation are to be trusted,
no swamp pheasants existed on any of the isles of the Family Group other
than this, the largest and best watered. A few weeks ago, when passing
the isle of Timana, three miles to the south, the happy sound of a
contented bird came from it, leaving no doubt that the bird, slow, weak
and clumsy of wing, had been driven from Dunk Island when the change to
the north occurred.

Before the event which brought ruin and dismay to many, no bird was more
frequently seen, more admired, and more welcomed than the frail little
thing which takes its familiar name from the sun. For many weeks
afterwards no sign of it had been seen, nor had its thin, squeaky note
been heard; and it had been regretfully included in the list of permanent
and regretted losses. Then, in the quiet of a lustrous and lazy
afternoon, one of the living jewels came to feast among the red hibiscus
blossoms. It received a joyful though suppressed greeting. Without its
sunbirds the Isle would have lost no little of its glitter.

This imperfect review of the effects of the storm on bird-life ought to
include brief reference to an element which may have good results
indirectly. Immediately after the storm it was evident that many land
snakes had been killed, bodies being seen among the long ridges of
rubbish on the beaches. For two weeks prior to the event quite a number
of reptiles known to the blacks as "Wat-tam" congregated about the
poultry yard, and it is safe to say that few escaped the alarmed vigilance
of a black boy, who believes in the legend of the extraordinary
viciousness and the venomous qualities of a snake which men of science
hesitate to pronounce dangerous. About a dozen were shot. Subsequently,
reflection on the invasion provoked the theory that possibly the snakes
had an instinctive premonition of the disturbance. Lesser frigate-birds
did give warning. Is the most subtle of the beasts of the field to be
denied so beneficial a faculty? Not a single specimen has been seen since,
and it is likely that snakes of such habit would be serious sufferers
during a whirl of limbs and branches, and that birds generally would
ultimately benefit by the destruction of many enemies.




SHORE-LINES



If in these writings the subject of the March cyclone crops up with
irritating persistency; if, indeed, it becomes as intrusive as King
Charles the First did in the memorials of the famous Mr. Dick,
peradventure pardon may be granted; for, after all the event was real,
and has stamped itself so deeply on the face of the land that no glance
is free from impressive reminders of its hasty coming, brief term, and
boisterous disrespect towards the concerns and sentiments of human
beings.

Yet it may be quite possible to say certain pleasant things about the
event, and to speculate whether it may not have beneficial results as
time passes. Indeed, already incontrovertible evidence exists on the
latter point. Within a few weeks after the storm two strange grasses
appeared in three different localities--within a few feet of high-water
limit in two places, and about fifty yards therefrom in another area over
which the tidal wave had romped. Soon the cows showed that the grasses
were good, substantiating the welcome of man. It is safe to say that
these grasses had not previously been included in the island flora, nor
had any of those to whom they were pointed out ever seen them either.
One of the visitors who shrewdly examined both is a man of wide experience
as a grazier in North Queensland, a cattle-owner, and one who takes more
than ordinary interest in the dietary of his herd. He was unable to
identify either, and was astonished when proof of the cows avidity for
them was pointed out.

My well-informed friend is apt in the opinion of abnormal developments in
various directions traceable to that fateful whirl. Do they crop up not
only in connection with plant and bird life, but also with the actual
life of the island itself? Did not the storm cut deep furrows here, raise
ridges there, amend the shore-line beyond belief, and subject the mental
processes of its inhabitants to a vigorous but not to be despised
treatment which has brought about subtle changes of temperament--something
beyond "the immediate material compulsion of life?" Can it be
other than a pleasant and proper duty to register from time to time, as
they become obvious, some of the physical changes due to such an
exhibition of magnificent and supreme force?

Much might be written of the more simple problems which affect the
shore-line. Let it be said that the tidal wave swept over an isolated
rock mass known geographically as "the Forty-foot Rock" and locally by
the less significant but better-sounding title of "Wolngarin," and it
will be the more readily understood how the shore-line in more
impressionable material was cut up and transfigured. The work of
repair began almost with the next high tide, and has been slowly
maintained since; but between the ordinary tidal range and the limit of
the advance of the tidal wave over the flat shore, raw sand still lies,
with here and there shoots of buried shrubs peering through the repugnant
covering. In this inhospitable element, and just beyond high tide,
several species of plants have shown themselves, inclusive of
watermelons, tomatoes, (not of that degenerate variety which sometimes
crops up in unexpected places, but good, rotund, sweet-flavoured sorts),
the beach hibiscus, the native cabbage, that lovely silvery-leafed shrub
known as SOPHORA TOMENTOSA, the poona oil tree, with its coppery new
foliage, many small and vigorous plants of the umbrella-tree, and several
varieties of grass.

There is, therefore, actual promise, within seven months from its
desolation, of the restoration of the admirable and lovely features of
the strand-line; but on the weather aspect, where for the greater extent
compact vegetation overhung the sea, the band of bare, hot rock, forty
feet wide, will probably remain until many wet seasons have encouraged the
successive encroachment of adventurous vegetation.

The "vagrant wheat" which came wellnigh to maturity on the coarse sand
of the spit may be satisfactorily accounted for; but these plants
were not the only ones to sprout. Others sprang up in other situations,
mystifying the observer as to the origin of the seed, and seeming to
establish their right to occupy the barren margin of the Isle, and to
proffer, as did Herrick's, twice ten to one for each bushel sown.

The most prodigious, if not the most remarkable of the vagrant plants of
the beach was a single specimen of the castor-oil plant, which on being
transplanted into garden soil developed hugely. Whence did the single
seed come? True it is that some years ago seeds were sown half a mile
from the spot where the plant established itself; but since none came to
maturity it would be vain to look for a local origin for the wanderer.

So far only two of the plants that have undertaken the care of the
shore-line are to be credited with special qualities for the work, one
being the more wiry of the running grasses previously mentioned. This has
already highly commendable results to its credit; and it is to be noted
that, though the seeds must have been wave-borne, and that all the plants
are growing in sand, those which lie close to high-tide mark show
indifferent resistance to the scalding of sun and sea. What a recent
writer on the entertaining subject of tidal lands terms "vegetable
groynes" are necessary influences in the restoration and maintenance of
shore frontages. It will be interesting to note the part taken by the
self-sown plants in a great natural process, the beginning of which
occurred, as has been said, within a few days after the destruction of
the first and second lines of defence against such assaults of the sea.

Readers of Rudyard Kipling's SECOND JUNGLE BOOK will remember with joy
and thankfulness how with elephantine vigour the jungle was let in upon a
village, the inhabitants of which had earned the displeasure of the "man
cub." Let the great wind of half a year ago represent the wild creatures
that acted on the suggestion of Mowgli, and see how true to nature are
the writings of men of genius. Over a considerable extent of this Isle
the wind did uproot and trample down the great crop of trees, so that
the scene was distorted and rumpled; but what is the result? Vitalizing
sunlight was let into many a shadowy spot; seeds from the jungle which
had lain dormant for many a year germinated under its influence and that
of warm rain; and now, instead of a shady forest, there stands a
mutilated one, with an undergrowth of jungle vegetation which promises to
become dominant in the fight for supremacy. This thick undergrowth
excludes grasses and low shrubs, and is too succulent to burn, so that
the promise of the immediate future is a change from forest to damp
jungle with its cooling airs and earthy scents.

Truly, there are infinite problems to be watched and waited for.




SOUNDS AND SWEET AIRS



I


During the first month of the present year of grace (1922) rain occurred
on this Isle on seventeen days, mostly between sunset and sunrise, the
heaviest for twenty-four hours being 3.48 in., and the total 19 inches.
Compared with January last year there is an excess of 7.79 in.; and,
since the opening of the wet season, according to local records, is
significant of its character, it may be judicious to anticipate an
average amount of rain during the next three months.

A friend, whose observations of the weather of the coastal strip between
Hinchinbrook Island and the Johnstone River extend over the third of a
century, asserts that the rains have been unusually late. With a trifle
of mental exertion, a December that gave over 27 in. is recalled. In the
succeeding year (1907) the wet season lasted until the end of May, over
63 in. having been registered by that date.

My neighbour is of opinion that Providence is too profuse of watery
blessings during the cool season, such as has been our lot for a season
or two, and regards as ideal the good old thumping downpour, beginning
about seven in the evening and ending with a jerk about eight the next
morning, from December to April, and just occasional and genial showers
for the rest of the year. Yes; there is something to be said in favour of
such a season. With a sound roof over one's head, all neat and secure
outside., the boats housed, the lamp alight, an absorbing book, and what
matters the sound of the rain?

An inch of rain per hour for the best part of the night contrives changes
of the daylight scheme, and sets the miniature fall half a mile up the
ravine, among the palms and tree-ferns, roaring more truculently than
thousands of sucking doves. Having found its melodious voice, it will
continue its refrain for weeks--a musical competition with the fluent
tones of the sea. Then there will be shallow swamps on the flat, alive
and musical with frogs--gruff bass and shrieking treble, and all tones
between, and every frog panting to be heard. All the lagoons will be full
to the brim, and the brown crayfish, with dandy claws of blue tipped with
red, will become busy in a gliding, stealthy way among the submerged logs
where the eels grow fat.

During such a season, too, the rivers of the mainland send out to sea the
makings of many rafts. Unattached, independent, aloof, the logs lurch and
roll in the swell as the current takes them always, with rare exception,
north, and on them journey white, full-breasted terns, to which one is
inclined to say, "Whither goest? Your home is here."

Every beach of the Isle is transformed. The big rain makes short cuts to
the great sea, and the sea chokes the sluices with weeds and spoil, from
which the sun distils a scent compounded of flotsam and drift that seems
invigorating. At any rate, it may be enjoyed unrestrictedly, and, with a
trifle added by imagination, may inspire many a romantic theme. As a
tickler of the more subtle qualities of the mind, what is more effective
than a pungency--agreeable or disagreeable? And can there be anything to
excite unpleasant reminiscences in fresh incense from unpolluted
gatherings of sea and shore? On such grounds is the revel in a hearty wet
season founded.

Sodden to bedrock, the Isle flourishes. Every plant gushes with excess,
and consequently suffers. Long, soft, sapful shoots hang limp and faint,
and seemingly sorrowful, as tipplers from over-indulgence, when the sun
disperses the low-hanging clouds. Good to behold is the magic of growth.
It tells a heartening story. Untamed, unrestrained, untended--see what a
crop of crudeness and waste!

The cool breeze blows in through the window. Likely it will be a night of
reading to thunderous rhythm.


II

It came after unexampled drought. Far-off thunder had heralded it the day
before; but heavy clouds had so often gathered and had dispersed without
affording the parched soil any refreshment, that signs which under
ordinary conditions would have betokened the break of the season were
frankly discredited.

Filmy, heated vapour tinged the hills. The still, hot air, saturated with
the essence of smoke from many "burnings off" on the mainland, quivered
in response to the swiftly approaching disturbance. Clouds gathered
suddenly. A startling clap of thunder sounded near by, and big,
widely-dispersed drops began to splutter on the dust and to stutter on
the roof. Other sounds were deadened.

Rain was so eagerly desired that, merely to enhance the pleasure of
anticipation, we preferred to assert that it would not come. Most of the
tall, blady grass had become as yellow as hay, and there were actually
bare patches, revealing bluish-grey soil whereon the little blue doves
squatted and pecked, almost invisible until sheer nervousness made them
rise. Of other grasses and of herbs many had become crisp underfoot, and
brown; but with the first gentle sprinkling dry soil and faded leafage
sent up an incense as from flowers blossoming in the dust.

Another loud peal from a fast-gathering, ominous cloud--the base of
which rested on the nearest hill, and began to descend, fixed and
determined of purpose--and the welcome din began. All surroundings
were blotted out by a grey mantle of warm but invigorating rain,
while lightning played and thunder rattled and our spirits began
to jubilate. The time of doubt was over.

In half an hour the smaller watercourses, where they were not banked up
with leaves, ran headlong races to the flat, spread out into pools, and
gave the soil more than it could gulp. Like a man rescued at the last
moment in a dry and thirsty land, it could not absorb liberal helpings,
but had to be content with trivial doles until it became accustomed to
the effects of long-denied moisture. Soon the storm travelled across the
sea, vapour gathered on the hills against an inky background, and all the
birds began to call--the swamp pheasant the loudest and most mellow, the
scrub-fowl the merriest, with its coarse hilarity and contented chuckles.

To the south the blue-black bank of thunderous cloud rested on the sea,
with never so slight a blur where rain beat on the lustreless surface.
Most of the Isles were hidden; some were mere misty blots, while those
near at hand stood out preternaturally green and bold, with the slaty sea
enveloping their fringe of mangroves. All this dull shade and breathless
calm seemed to exist for a single purpose--to intensify the vividness of
the nutmeg pigeons, that trailed in irregular procession from the
mainland to the restful Isles. Snow-white and swift, they flew low over
the sea in companies of ever-changing formation, and the islet near at
hand suddenly seemed transformed--its almost leafless trees and shrubs
burst in white bloom, and the blending of wing-beats and coos came as one
of the pleasant sounds of early evening.

But sights and sounds do not sum up all the refreshing and invigorating
elements which visit a scene blessed with a soaking and noisy shower
after a period of silent, nerve-agitating drought. Walk along one of the
many cattle-tracks through the forest, where all the trees are respiring.

Flowers are few, but the freshly-fallen and decaying leaves underfoot
give forth an odour rich and varied; one must stop occasionally to fill
the lungs with so potent and pleasant a balsam, and to give thanks for
enjoying it on such a generous scale. All the air is saturated with its
invigorating principles. Gums and wattles, the huge-leaved "gin-gee,"
tea-trees, the ripe, orange-tinted fruit of the pandanus along the
gullies, the big spreading figs on the edge of the jungle, the pungent
native ginger, the full-fruited nutmeg, the few last flowers of the
milkwood, the resiniferous gum of the "tangebah," the patchouli-like
ixora, and the sodden grass--all contribute to the medley of perfumes,
and create a longing for some magic art by which the combination could be
fixed, materialized, and sent to those who may still believe that
Australia is a scentless land.

A mile away, the little pool of the jungle-entangled creek, which was
opened up for the sake of our dainty jerseys, is all thick and brown with
the scouring of many a loop and bend, and gives out a virile smell as of
brewery waste; for is it not a solution of fermenting leaves of scores of
different species of plants? Better so than to be tainted, as it was,
with the remains of an inconsiderate eel, which died therein just when
pure water was greatly to be desired.

But why think of the immediate past and its trivial anxieties and
discomforts and apprehensions? Are not the little creeks flushed by over
two inches of rain descending wilfully in one riotous half-hour? Is not
fresh and juicy herbage springing from the warm, moist soil? Are not aged
and sedate cows behaving like frisky calves, and calves, full to the lips
with mother's milk, gallivanting with that giddy irresponsibility which
nothing but a calf may assume, and maintain the least pretensions to
sanity? The air is cool and balmy; smoke-stains have been washed out of
it, and the yellow beaches of the mainland and distant hills are as a new
and glistening painting, with slaty clouds as a background.

Compare this mild evening, and all its pleasant pungencies and its vivid
revelations of scenes that were blurred for weeks with haziness and
smoke, with the past drought that is already almost incredible; and, if
you are not harmonic and cannot sing a gladsome note, leave such gloating
to the shrike-thrush, as he makes the gloomy dome of the mango resound
with fluty whistling.




THE WONDERFUL SEASON



If Gilbert White of Selborne were living to-day, and among us, he would
deem it a duty to record every characteristic and incident of this
wonderful season--its winds and calms, its rains and mists and drizzles,
its temperatures; the growth of its vegetation; the condition and conduct
of domestic animals; the moods of its birds, the activities of its
insects, baleful as well as beautiful--and draw just conclusions
therefrom for the edification of his day and for generations to come.
Possibly he would have referred to it as ANNUS MIRABILIS, not because of
bewildering disasters, such as plagues and fires and floods, and falling
stars, but because of its genialities, its uniform and, so far,
persistent beneficences, and its charms.

Bold in the assurance that no cruel comparisons can be made between the
records of a man of genius who delights hosts of readers all over the
world and the crude, thin observations of a loving disciple, an attempt
herein is made to register, as Gilbert White would have wished, some of
the everyday facts which have been noted since the beginning of the year.
It is understood, of course, that merely local conditions are to be
mentioned, though it is apparent that similar experiences have been the
fortunate lot of the North, whether along the coastal strip or in the
big, open spaces where conditions are generally quite dissimilar.

What could be more agreeable to the needs, or more in consonance with the
hopes, of those of us who live in direct touch with the goodwill of
Mother Earth than the lasting, artistically modulated wet season, with
naught of excess and but one attempt on the part of unruly winds to fly
in the face of a serene barometer? The sum of the first three months
being much below the average did, it has to be confessed, seem to signify
a shortage of rain throughout the year; but, just when one was inclined
to give way to doubt, came a series of genial showers, followed by nearly
two months of mist and drizzle, with warm, clear, radiantly blue days.
These restored confidence and that good-humour which is never far below
the surface in the mind of a man who loves land and expects it to respond
to his trivial ticklings. And so the season progresses, without a single
note of disapprobation, save on the part of the confirmed pessimist who
declares it to be too good to last, while the little creeks babble with
assurance, and most of the trees and plants revel and indicate well-being
by the exhibition of glossy leafage and abundant flower.

There are singular exceptions, however, to the general appearance of
vegetation impudent with fat living, and certain birds have been wholly
misled. The umbrella-trees quite forgot to flower, and the big tea-trees
made but a poor attempt. Both produce nectar in excess, and expectant
birds must have been driven to less prolific and less tasteful fountains.
Two species of birds seem to regulate their migratory flights in
accordance with food-supplies--nutmeg pigeons and metallic starlings,
and, as has been recorded, (CONFESSIONS OF A BEACHCOMBER") the blacks
were wont to foretell their coming by three trees in particular, one of
the palms, the coral-tree, and the nutmeg. The latter was always
specially associated with the pigeons, but since it and the coral-tree
manifest (the one with fruit, the other with flowers) the advance of the
season, the blacks accepted them as calendars. When the leaves fell, and
red flowers began to decorate the leafless branches of the coral-tree,
the blacks knew of the coming of the pigeons.

This year (1920) the coral-tree has been unusually dilatory, and it would
seem that the theory of the blacks in respect of its association with the
pigeons is established. Records of nigh upon a quarter of a century show
that the pigeons arrive about the 7th of August, the starlings having
preceded them by two or three days. This season the starlings arrived on
the 10th, announcing themselves, as they invariably do, with the whir of
rapid wings, and acidulous exclamations. Not until the 20th were the
first pigeons seen--a small flock that seemed to be weary and spent with
travel. When it is said that the local coral-trees have still to bloom,
and that the nutmegs are scarcely edible, from the pigeons point of
appreciation, it will be admitted that the season has its contradictions,
and the birds were in the right in delaying their arrival.

It has been noted, too, that some of the orchids are later than usual,
and that certain culinary vegetables have been exasperatingly slow in
development. Reports from the immediate neighbourhood tell of the
tardiness of the orange bloom, while the mango-trees have flowered off
and on during the last three months without establishing hope of fruit,
and without that excess of foliage which often registers a mild and
encouraging season. It is said that sugar-cane is making the heart of the
farmer rejoice over the next year's prospects, that new lands are being
cleared and planted, and that the cultivation of the banana in the North
is about to be revived on a scale worthy of the fruit and the clime.

See, therefore, the elasticity of the mind of man under the pull of the
weather. Not that in ordinary seasons there is much to complain about as
far as the coastal tract is concerned; but when all conditions are
favourable the stimulus becomes irresistible. Timely rains, naught of
excess in temperature, bright and cloudy days ideally alternated,
wholesome mists which have swathed mountains and hills in a dripping
blanket of grey--under such influences hope springs eternal in the breast
of that portion of humanity which gaily gambles with the weather for
livelihood.

And that brawny breast, does it not expand with this vitalizing, tepid
air that folk from the chill South hasten to share with the fortunate
North Queenslander? And is he not proud of his country? And does he not
chuckle over the juvenile inconsistencies of those who cry, tremulously,
for a White Australia, while declaring out of their ignorance or
prejudice that the most richly endowed part of it is fit only for blacks?

Ah! we know-do we not?--the riddling and the quibbling of theorists on
what they term "climatology," and how they apply their theories. We know.
too, that we have the only part of Australia in which certain articles of
food can be produced to the best advantage in quality, quantity, and in
the shortest space of time, and that we enjoy a monopoly--bestowed by
climate, and therefore permanent and superior to the manipulations of the
envious--over other products essential to the well-being of the
Commonwealth. When we do trouble ourselves to ponder affectionately over
the catalogue of our industries, present, prospective and possible, we
ought to be the most contented of Australians.




THUNDER SEASON



Thunder every other day and revivifying showers have characterized
November (1917). Plant-life becomes almost obnoxious under the stimulus
of the heat which precedes the thunder and the rains which maintain in
the soil the dampness of a forcing-house. Between successive flashes of
heat cool and calm days intervene, deluding the exasperated tiller of the
soil with promise of easier times--less rain, less heat, and,
consequently, less impertinence on the part of the vegetation he finds it
necessary to repress. When the cycle of change is completed in a single
day the changes are, of course, sudden, and mayhap sensational under
given circumstances.

If the morning promised fair--agreeable temperature, cloudless sky,
gentle easterly breeze and swell-less sea--was it not an invitation to
abandon ordinary occupations and start off to the mainland, with,
primarily, the benevolent purpose of visiting a neighbour six miles away,
in a remote nook on the slope of the blue range across the blue water,
and incidentally of absorbing some of the delicate sensations derivable
from perfect weather and changeful scenes?

Almost insensibly the breeze veered to the north, creating that gently
frolicsome sea in which a little boat seems to be sprightly with
eagerness and vanity and endearing swan-like buoyancy. With the wind from
that quarter there is a cosy cove for her, into which her betters in size
must not intrude; and there was she left, bowing to each admiring swell
that peered over the basaltic boulders, which form a rude sort of
protection even when the weather comes from open sea.

From the landing a track through jungle leads to a lonesome hut. No gleam
of sunshine penetrates to the red soil; the lofty, thickly-leaved trees
are for the most part the hosts of creepers, some parasitic, some with
huge, independent stems, strangely twisted and festooned, springing from
the ever-damp earth. Their own leaves, and those of the great burdens
imposed on the trees, create an agreeable shade; but to-day the soft
light has a singular quality, not worth emphasizing but yet perceptible,
and the cassowary after which the dog raced seems to be grumbling and
mumbling in the distance at strangely regular intervals, as if its hasty
flight had carried it a mile ahead.

Emerging from the jungle into the forest, we felt that the wind had
ceased. Few, indeed, of the everyday sort of breezes visit this sheltered
nook; the stillness, therefore, was more of a mental than a physical
sensation, and the mutterings of the nervous, long-winded cassowary
suddenly became transformed to distant thunder, grumbling behind
intervening hills.

Having chatted with the lonesome man, and having eaten abundantly of the
varied and kindly fruits of his well-kept clearings, it was time to
return to the beach through the leafy tunnel, now gloomy, but richer than
before with the scents of flowers and profuse leaves and wholesome earth.
Certain effects--an agreeable warmth, a delicate stillness, an echoless
silence--gave our voices unaccustomed tone; at least, the listener
fancied so. Perhaps the atmosphere was denser than during the morning,
and voices did not carry so far, and appeared to be abrupt, yet clear.
Though scores of nutmeg pigeons were feeding among the tree-tops, and an
occasional displaced fruit fell with a thud or pattered through the
foliage to the ground, no voice of bird sweetened the air. Nature seemed
to be holding herself in check for some authoritative effect in the way
of sound.

From the beach how changed the aspect! Blue-black clouds overhung distant
islands, and draped mainland hills in unbecoming sombreness. The storm
which the morning had heralded with cassowary-like plaints was gathering
fast. Its centre seemed to rest on the customary pivot--the always-dark
mountain north-westwards--and it was wheeling to impose itself between
the anchorage and home. The question of the moment was, Is it possible to
cross the leaden-hued water before thunder-charged clouds make mischief?
Let the risk be taken; at least we shall feel in half an hour the
influence of the Isles, breaking down the angry seas if the wind veers to
that quarter from which it makes the present spot uncomfortable if not
dangerous. So, up and away with all possible speed!

No sooner was the hurrying boat so far on the way that she would have
been caught as surely in retreat as in advance, than the thunder spoke in
menacing tones; skirmishing drifts flew down the ridges to the west, and
an enveloping movement on a grand scale began to operate with
irresistible vigour and haste. The glassy sea was ruffled here and there
with spear-heads of wind, which subsided almost as suddenly as they
appeared, but became broader every second; and the sounds of the eager
engine, coaxed to emit every atom of power, were heightened by the
quietude. With dramatic rapidity the black wall to the south changed to
grey, the mainland was smeared out with a similar hue; a vertical flash
of lightning descended, or seemed so to do, on the highest peak of our
homeland; a deafening roar shook the boat, and the wind and rain raced
towards her with a line of foam in straight and unbroken array, as if
both wind and rain stamped to the music of the thunder. In a few seconds
the boat was the centre of a grey blotch a few yards in diameter., in
which furious though not great seas seemed intent upon tearing her to
pieces, while the wind rushed past like a fiend, angry and searching.

In the brief opening phase of the fight both steersman and engineer were
soaked to the skin. As in a cyclone, the wind brushed off the crests of
the waves, so that the circle in which the boat was central was a blur of
most indefinite outline. For a time the steersman felt the way by the
sting of the mixture of rain and spray on his right cheek, but presently
these uncertain aids to direction became confusing; however he turned his
face, they smote him on both cheeks at once, and, though it might be safe
to assert from the location of the lightning and thunder-peals that for a
time at least the boat headed across the track of the storm, a very few
minutes elapsed before sense of the course was lost, and all that could
be done was to attempt to dodge the seas that flew at the bows, three at
a time, and sent jagged pieces from stem to stern, sharp as teeth and
cold yet savage.

Faced with an exciting problem which exacted immediate solution, we drew
the waterproof cover over the boat and up to the knees of the steersman,
who had to handle the tiller and keep the pump going. At all hazards the
engine must be kept dry, for who could guess at the duration of the
storm, and how far the boat might be carried out of her course before a
sight of land verified her whereabouts?

Now the tumult increased, after never so slight a rift directly overhead.
A flash of lightning seemed to hit the sea just ahead; with but the
briefest interval, the thunder crashed and the rain fell in torrents,
so benumbing the anxious crew that it was barely possible to attend to
urgent and essential duties.

An hour earlier the sultry jungle had teemed with pleasantness, and was
pervaded with silence!

In the midst of universal greyness, 'mid lightning and thunder, the rush
of rain and the snap of fierce little seas on bows that always mounted
them, the chill which made teeth chatter and benumbered fingers, there
was time to recollect the calmness, the stillness, and the warmth of the
leafy tunnel through which we had wandered with light-hearted,
time-ignoring carelessness. Not that the present moments were entirely
destitute of pleasure--for does it not brace the nerves to be in a sound
and worthy boat when she battles with forces that you are convinced she
may overcome, given some sort of co-operation and guidance? You have seen
her behaviour in all sorts of weathers, and have never known her cause
the slightest apprehension. She accepts the seas, and is still mistress
of her fate; but at the moment there are other circumstances to be
considered. Will the supply of petrol hold out? What freakish spirit in
the engine makes the mixture of petrol and kerosene, which usually gives
pure satisfaction, distasteful? Charge the repugnance to the
thunder-impregnated air, and yet no practical solution to the doubts of
the moment is forthcoming.

Is it not best to conserve the pure spirit and let the boat drift before
the storm? She will do so in safety, but when the storm ceases where
shall we be? Where is the despised compass now? With the stopping of the
engine, strife with the encircling waves ceases. The boat, an
irresponsible chip centralizing the blur, drives easily, with lightning
and thunder and torrents of rain as startling, loud, uncomfortable, but
harmless attendants. Vain are speculations as to the direction of the
drift and its speed. Will it take the boat on to the rocky point--or past
it--or to the neighbourhood of the anchorage left ever so long ago? There
is nothing to be done save to shiver with cold, find comfort in the heat
of the silencer, and watch the edges of the blur for hope-giving light.
The rift overhead was but momentary; but now along one edge appears a
straightened halo, dim at first but rapidly gleaming through the
crest-broken waves and the rain. In five minutes the sky is clear, with
the thunder retiring to the mountain, which seems its lair, the seas just
lively, and the deck already drying. The boat has drifted in the
direction of the cosy corner wherein she spent the day; but the engine
responds to the first impulse, and she runs home with, as the crew is
happy to reflect, a certain saucy jauntiness, a conscious exultation of
having fought a good fight without the least show of submission, and now
with real joy in the victory.

The sun shines brightly, the air is sprightly, the distances radiant. The
cycle from freshness to sultriness, storm, and obscurity, and again to
freshness and clear sky has been completed for the edification of two
holiday-makers in a single wayward day.




A HOMELY GARDEN



If one wanted proof of the significance of Kipling's saying that last
year's nuts are this year's black earth, it lies at hand. just before the
cyclone a diminutive garden, solely for utilitarian purposes, was made in
sand fronting the beach, and with a short, narrow, spongy depression,
tributary to a little creek, as a background. Tall tea-trees and many
pandanus palms flourished there in the peaty soil which was never dry,
and where the frontal ridge rose from swampy levels the sand was black
with the mouldering vegetation of centuries.

Adjacent to the crude fence once stood a huge coral-tree which had had
its day and ceased to be, and the soft wood as it decayed formed heaps of
tindery stuff that mingled with the sand, helped to this end by the
industry of scrub-fowls.

For generations before the coming of white men the great coral-tree, as
has been told elsewhere ("CONFESSIONS OF A BEACHCOMBER") was the centre
of activities of the aboriginal proprietors of the Isle. Some of their
dead were buried beneath its shade. The living feasted there, for have
not their stone ovens been unearthed? Birds lodged in the big tree. Being
deciduous and of succulent foliage, it contributed largely to the
enrichment of the absorbent sand which its roots explored far and near.

When it died it fell silently--so silently that the few resident blacks
were scared, and began to cast about for some unlucky chance that ought
to follow so unaccountable a fact. Other forms of vegetation sprang up
like magic, to the further sustenance of the sand, and the spot became a
circle of decayed vegetation with a scrub-fowl's mound about the base of
the rotting trunk.

Taking a hint from Nature, it was decided to form a vegetable garden
where water and sandy humus, enriched by the deposition of the refuse of
ages, were available. Tons of vegetable mould were transferred a few
yards; tons of decayed manure from the milking shed were added as a
special stimulant, and to give it body; and the work was wellnigh
completed when the storm and its attendant tidal wave desolated the
scene. The buoyant elements of the soil were carried off like froth, and
deposited in the peaty hollow where the pandanus palms stood, ever
refreshed; little but salt sand, raw from the beach, remained on the
scene which had absorbed so much enthusiastic labour. The fencing had to
be restored, the beds reformed, and some of the disarray of the spiteful
breeze smoothed with hasty hands, for the season was advancing. The cows
became curious, discovering fencing insecurities, and making havoc among
the irregular plots that were ready for seed.

How speedily, notwithstanding the ruffianly check, did the site justify
itself! It might have been thought that the very heart had been taken out
of the soil, but elements inappreciable to the eye remained in the
seemingly intractable sand, and soon gave positive evidence of their
existence. Seeds germinated with almost magical spontaneity, and plants
of varied character made extraordinary growth.

In one case another lesson direct from Nature was accepted in thankful
spirit and put into practice. It was seen that vagrant tomato plants grew
among the beach rubbish, until the cows developed a taste for foliage and
fruit alike. Several bags of decaying leaves, seaweed, sponges, the cases
of dead crustaceans and mummified little fish were dumped beside a huge
log, and in this light stuff young tomato plants were set. The results
have been excellent as to quantity and flavour, though in size the fruit
has much to its discredit. Cabbages, beans, green peas, carrots, parsnips
and radishes, with neglected sunflowers, are giving good returns, though
for several weeks the weather has been by no means propitious for
succulent greens, and oft-times serious affairs have interfered with
regularity in watering the beds.

Let it be remembered that most of the crops in the primitive garden
belong to cool, if not cold, climates, and that here--well within the
tropics--in almost pure sand, in some spots hot enough at noon to blister
the feet, no check has been sustained by plants usually associated with
cloudy skies and dripping mists. On the untended sand-ridge beyond the
highest limit of the tidal wave pumpkins and vegetable marrows have gone
on doing more than justice to themselves, some plants having lived
through two seasons productively. But the particular area occupied by the
rampageous vines was previously covered with wattles and a great variety
of more or less densely-foliaged shrubs, each of which would add its
quota to the accumulation of fallen leaves and discarded fruit or shelly
seed-husks, slow but certain of decay.

"Alas for human culture!" exclaims Thoreau. "Little is to be expected of
a nation when the vegetable mould is exhausted and it is compelled to
make manure of the bones of its fathers." Was this thought in the minds
of the authorities when the regulations against the careless use of fire
were issued subsequent to the cyclone? Was it recognized that in the
jungle country fire would destroy not so much fallen timber as the very
life of the soil, the result of ages of vegetable decay? Here in the
North lies the biggest deposit of "last year's nuts." No other area
within our borders possesses such an accumulation of the spoils of the
past; and it is the duty of the individual, if not of the State, to
safeguard the elements of the soil which are liable to destruction by
fire.

Of course, it is true that all jungle lands prior to cultivation have to
undergo the chastisement of fire; but it would be a calamity if during
the dry season now prevailing fires were started in jungle country which
had been subject to the will of the cyclone. We do not yet make use of
the bones of our own ancestors to enrich our garden plots, but in the
primitive spot referred to the bones of the forefathers of the vanished
blacks may have had their part in its fertilization.

What must not be permitted is the destruction of the soil; therein lies
life not only for the transient individual. but for the ever-improving
race of mankind. If the labour of trivial hands may produce results such
as this ribbon of sand displays, what might be the result of proper
cultivation of the soil in areas where Time and Nature have performed
their offices, unrestrained, time out of mind?




IN RESERVE



Though flocks of light-hearted tourists flee from. the searching cold of
the South to bask for a brief season in the genial warmth of the North,
there are scenes of fascination denied them. They may wander with unquiet
haste far and wide to accredited beauty-spots, but sequestered ones of
infinite charm are in reserve for the permanent dweller, who abhors the
misuse of God's good time, and disdains unholy zeal for quantity rather
than quality in his scenery.

It may be but a proof of conceited simplicity on the part of an
individual to proclaim such a spot or such another as the most
satisfying, since a bare half-dozen people may be capable of confirming
his opinions or confounding them. Yet, if these little-known charms were
to remain uncommended, mischief might be wrought. Chivalry, too, should
compel the fortunate individual who may have joy, special and peculiar,
in a particular scene to give others pleasure by telling of the
combination of blue sea and green islets and glowing sky which appeals
more strongly than other land and sea scapes.

Among the islets of the Family group, sprinkled between Hinchinbrook
and Dunk islands, not one is denied distinction. All are, for the
most part, rugged on the Pacific slope, though some decorate even
that exposed aspect with vegetation of a sumptuousness that conceals
the crude, confused masses of granite. Each has a truncated sand-spit
jutting out to the north-west, while two have masses of snow-white coral
spoil, which clinks and chinks underfoot, and upon which shrill-voiced
terns scatter, with careless profusion, daubed and spotted eggs. The
waves that break on it with measured stride, scarcely whiter than the
coral, wallow among its finger-shaped fragments, combing and rustling
them, until all point obediently to the reef whence old Ocean tore them.

But not always does the sea burst roughly on those banks to overhaul and
re-arrange its treasures in severe lines. More often it sleeps, and
smiles in its sleep; and then the lighter and unconsidered coinage
tinkles as it rolls under the impulse of playfully indifferent touches.
Then, too, the hot rocks glisten with micaceous spangles, and, where the
sand is, our toughened and unworthy feet are dusted with glittering
specks. It is all wealth of a kind--not material in the accepted sense,
but real enough if you are in the state of mind which is superior to the
"toil of fools."

When one wanders among such scenes, where there is no sign of traffic
save that of his own footprints, no sound save the confidential
whispering of the sea, the thin screams of terns and the whimsical
cackling of scrub-fowl in the jungle, he becomes a part of the realm
of Nature, a trivial and insignificant item soon to disappear, but
for a brief space supreme--the only part of teeming Nature capable of
disinterested joy in all the other parts. The sea will quickly smooth
away the last trace of his trespassing feet, and will moan and gurgle in
cool crevices whither bottle-green crabs scurry when the red-backed
sea-eagle soars vigilantly overhead. Yet for a time he has been absorbed
into the scene. He possesses it and is possessed by it, and will bring
away with him a loving remembrance of it which entices beyond power of
abstinence.

There is, of course, one scene which combines more of excellences than
the others, however admirable individually. A little bay lies open to the
turbulent south-easters, yet lacks not a sheltering cove wherein a small
boat may nestle. The cove is formed by a bold and rounded mass of
granite, on which pandanus palms and straggling shrubs find foothold. The
boat glides round the sturdy rock, revealing a white beach, the sand of
which has been ground to such singular fineness that it feels as silk
underfoot. Where the anchor rests, it is rippled in correspondence with
the gentle heaving of the sea, while patches of golden-brown weed sway to
the same poetic motion. Coarse grass marks time at high-water limit.

From a low pinnacle of rock, on which an osprey is fond of perching, the
virtues of the wider scene are best revealed. Five islets, wildernesses
of leafage, trip out to the east. A mass of fantastic rocks, round which
confusing currents swill, intercepts the fairway, and beyond the islets
are the Brooke group, with Goold Island and Hinchinbrook to the right to
complete the picture. The bay beneath is shallow close inshore, for coral
is industriously building substantial domes and fragile lacework in
limestone. The reef gleams dull-red through the blue water, and white and
pale green patches show where sand has occupation of the unallotted
places.

On a very still and clear day you may see turtles browsing on the weed
below, and at any time they may burst upwards through the surface with
splash and bubble for gulps of scented air.

On the rocks, piled high, is a long pencil-cedar log, weathered almost to
the tone of the granite. It has reposed there, with but slight changes of
position, for fifteen years and more, and the salt spray and the tepid
rains have done it but small harm; but the rocks have fretted its sides
as it has rolled uneasily when the seas have sought to claim it again.
The old log is the one relic of the coarse effects of the hands of man.
Few visit the spot. All its charms are held in reserve.




THE SERENE SEA



No sort of tedium dulled the too brief trip over the serene sea. No
device for killing time by eating inordinately, or quarrelling, or
flirting, was needed, though we had one custom in common with life on an
East Indiaman before the age of steam--ceremony was banished.

Porpoises, snow-white terns sitting on drifting wood, sea-eagles,
ospreys, sea-snakes, sails, the smudge of steamer-smoke and its ten-mile
plume, sunlit isles and speckless sky, with no sound save the purring of
the engine and the prattle of the water against the bows--a catalogue of
the commonplace, and yet stimulative of entertainment and content. Not
one of the three would have exchanged places with far more favoured
mortals. Here was, indeed, the freedom of the sea--the sea in its
happiest and most alluring and loveliest of moods. No restrictions
existed. The little boat sought out ways of her own, nosing shoal-showing
buoys and beacons, and hugging the land whensoever and wheresoever she
chose.

New aspects of familiar scenes thus become revealed. Seen from such a low
level, the heights of Hinchinbrook and all the shoulders and spurs and
ridges of the mountain demand uninterrupted attention, for are they not
transformed? Bold and clean-cut, the skyline with its abrupt declivities,
its peaks and contours--here the profile of a giant with beetling brows,
long, slim nose and babyish lips, there a succession of irregular notches
and knolls--are projected against a perfectly limpid atmosphere, while in
vale and gorge


   Just a faint cloud of rose shall appear,
   As if in pure water you dropped and let die
   A bruised, black-blooded mulberry.


And this tinted haze seems to magnify trees and obtruding rocks,
revealing hitherto well-guarded secrets. The sources of torrents which in
the wet season seam the brown rocks with silver, now cushioned with moss
and islanded with yellowing sedges, are shown by an occasional flash and
glitter as the sun plays upon them at a reflective angle.

Each time the channel is explored from the deck of a steamer some new
feature stands to the credit of the gaunt hills, and those who know them
best make free to assert that it is beyond the capabilities of man to
carry in mind all their individualities. A few miles back Leafe Peak was
a perfect cone of delicate blue. More than once it has seemed to change
its position, and now it might stand for a model of Castle Hill,
Townsville, as that was wont to be ere nakedness shamed its base. There
is legend extant that the name is derived from the ribbon of leaves which
almost invariably stretches from the mangroves and jungle at the foot to
the mangroves of the flats of the mainland; and it is further said that
hereabouts the northern and the southern current meet, creating the
watery ridge defined by leafy flotsam. But there exists a
counter-statement to the effect that the name commemorates that of one of
the surveyors of the channel. It is a good name, whatever its origin; and
perhaps the wavering line of yellow leaves, as permanent in its perpetual
renewal as the impassive rocks, will retain its hold on the imagination
as an emblem of unity between the mountain and the mangroves, when good
folks in holiday humour have ceased to concern themselves about the name
of a mere man.

In days that are gone an adventurous black "boy" told of a short cut from
Ramsay Bay, skirting the mangroves of Missionary Bay, to the channel. No
one credited him, though he gave dramatic evidence in support of his
account, describing the manner in which the spurs and slopes of certain
mountains interlocked. Viewing the landscape from the deck of the hasty
little boat, the route taken by the "boy" was easily discerned, and since
the chart shows that the distance from the mangroves in Missionary Bay to
those of the channel is not more than four miles, the pass ought to be
better known.

In popular imagination the mountains of Hinchinbrook, however picturesque
and grand, are too severe, rugged and precipitous to tempt any but the
boldest and toughest of athletes; but a resident of the Herbert district
undertook many years ago to demonstrate that from a mountaineering point
of view the difficulties of ascent were not so great as appearances
suggested. For the love of the thing he rowed across the channel from
Lucinda Point, fought his way through the jungle, scaled the shoulders of
Mount Diamantina, and signalled his presence at the great rock on the
summit by smoke in such a short space of time that the Mount might well
have felt humbled. A singular feature of the boulder surmounting the
rugged height is that it seems to be a pivot round which other elevations
swing--at least, such is the illusion as the boat runs down the channel
and out to sea to the south-east, and from whatsoever aspect the stern
boulders of the mount are viewed, they seem to express aloofness and
disdain. Not so the nooks and coves in the sheltered parts of the
channel, which coax little boats to spend quiet hours within rocky arms,
and promise gurgling lullabies the livelong night.

Within such a cove the boat lay in silence and serenity. In the deep
shadow of the morning a fast steamer, blurred with mist, came rushing
down the channel--a white blotch with a backward-curling smudge of smoke,
calling to mind one of Turner's masterpieces; but that famous picture
lacks the foreground of bold declivities and the distances of hills aglow
with the beams of the rising sun. Thence the course was to the northern
extremity of Pelorus Island, avoiding the shallow shoals opposite
Lucinda, and, when a clearance was made, direct to Pioneer Bay in Orpheus
Island.

Here is good shelter for small boats in all weathers, save the uncommon
and brief winds from the west which seldom raise a sea. The entrance
needs to be known, for it is interlocked by boulders and blocks of coral.
Thence the course lay almost due south, miles to the westward of the
steamer track, close past Dido Rock, with its outlying sandbank,
snow-white in the distance--not much larger than, and somewhat of the
shape of, an upturned boat. Most of these islands, rocks and shoals bear
the names of men-of-war, derived in the first instance from the classics.
Is it not possible, then, that the steep-faced, weather-scored rock which
bears the name of Dido caught the fancy of surveyors who had in mind the
citadel that valiant woman built on the African coast, when a storm drove
her fleet there, and she bought of the inhabitants as much land as could
be encompassed by a bull's hide cut into thongs?

Swarms of welcome swallows issued from the crevices of the red rock,
circled round the boat, twittering greetings, and flew back to their
nests when their invitations to stay were disregarded. At Herald Island,
where anchor was dropped at 4 o'clock in the afternoon close inshore,
flocks of swallows again paid the boat respect, perching on the rigging
and spars, and making themselves easy and familiar.

Two or three spent the night on board, and the rest of the colony seemed
to have homes among the low granite boulders and blocks that fringed the
shore just above high-water mark. Here, as elsewhere, the sea was
sparklingly clear, so that isolated rocks crowned with brown, wavy
seaweed, rounded masses of coral and dead shells, gleaming white, were
revealed, and the merging tints, pale-green to deep-blue as the water
deepened off-shore where the sand was soft and pure white, made the heart
glad. It was invigorating, too, to wallow in such stainless water before
sunrise, the air being crisp and the only sound that of the cheeping of
the welcome swallows.

Suddenly clouds gathered in the south-west, and before a moaning wind the
serenity of the sea fled, chased by white horses. The boat lay snug under
the spit until the early snack of coffee and biscuit was disposed
of--then, rejoicing as a strong man to run a race, she swept disdainfully
round its apex and with frolic and saucy capers flew homewards.




TROPIC GLORY



Last evening (March 6, 1921) we saw the very gates of heaven. Those who
live under sullen skies seldom have a chance of seeing the majestic
paintings of the sun; but here, where hills and sea and sky are the
mediums in which a tropical sun plays fantastic tricks of bewildering
variety, you become accustomed to, though never satiated by, the glories
of The Beyond.

All day it had been scorching hot--that kind of hotness that tingles the
small of the back and adds two shades of brown to the shoulders during
the sun-bath following the noontide wallow in the sea. I had spent an
unclad hour clearing away loose coral from one of the favourite runs of
the little fishing-net, and had cooled down in the sparkling, noisy
streamlet that the wet season stimulates and freshens. That loll in the
fragrant water--it comes down the palm- and fern-tree-embowered
ravine--created an appetite for lunch, and afterwards influenced a dreamy
while of reading.

When I really woke and began to stroll among the mango-trees, the western
half of the sky, or rather a big area of it, was sullen--thickly,
diabolically blue, as if reeking with fumes from hell. Beneath was a zone
of curry-coloured sky, outlining ranges almost black in the intensity of
blue.

Away aloft, so high that a backward tilt of the head was necessary, the
cloud-bank was edged with light as ineffably variable as the shadows over
a wheat-field on a breezy day. Soon rainbow tints, appearing, disappearing
and reappearing magically in detached flakes and patches, and severed by
purple rays, hovered and flitted over and along the cloud. Occasionally
lightning zig-zagged horizontally across the densest part, and you could
just catch the mutterings of thunder.

A great patch of yellow light sprang from the middle of the upper edge of
the dusky cloud, like the half of an enormous nimbus, glowing and
glittering. Then, with the gentlest of gradations, its yellow gave way to
other primary colours, delicately displayed and quivering with fairy-like
agitations. A huge ravine opened up, a valley through rainbow-land,
leading to a wall as ruddy as imagination may paint, and embossed with a
pearl as great as a house.

Twice appeared a strange shape. Picture a bird soaring in a huge,
circling flight from north to south, hidden by the cloud-screen save for
one fully-extended wing, and that wing displaying bands of blending tints
of gold and green and silvery rose, with feather-tips of sepia, fluffy
and breathlessly soft. Picture the wing wavering and slowly vanishing,
until the final feather seemed the shadow of a golden plume and as slowly
reappearing in all its magnificence--inspiring the hope that the glorious
bird of Paradise would emerge and be seen soaring in its proper sphere at
the gate of heaven.

All the ships, the ragged remnants, the fragments and frayings of all the
rainbows of the most decorative of wet seasons, skirted the cloud or were
tossed about in luminous heaps; and then the scene burnt itself out in
extravagant redness, leaving the Isle in a lurid gloom, and its
inhabitants stiff-necked, but with a rare joy at heart.





PART II




THE PIGLING AND THE PICCANINNY



Though the piccaninny's arrival had preceded it, the pigling vanished
first, and since this is a record of departures it deserves prominence in
the title.

Both were island bred.

George the Greek, who seldom leaves the vicinity nowadays, brought the
pigling from Goold Island, where there was wont to be such a superfluity
that parents abandoned them on the merest sniff of danger. Possibly
George had murdered one of its able-bodied relatives, for he had with him
a joint of something that bore a distant resemblance to pork and was so
tough and tasteless that Debil-debil (the authoritative dog now of "that
equal sky") and his consort got it, after apologies to George. Impossible
pork, it looked like a junk out of a newly-felled bloodwood log, but had
naught of the wholesome odour of the fresh red wood.

So much for the pigling's uncle.

George was upbraided because he had inflicted the Isle with a
rest-disturbing orphan, helpless and squeakful. Inspired by hope, and
permitting his imagination to dwell on the attractiveness of a six weeks'
suckling, fat and tender, with a crisp exterior, browned and glistening,
and an interior gushing with gravy and  fragrant with herbs, he proceeded
to pet the helpless, lean little creature. Imprisoned in an improvised
hutch, well padded and bedded with blady grass, the pigling forgot its
brief experience of freedom, finding consolation in a diet of coco-nut
milk.

Intent upon giving its flesh a nutty flavour, over which his eyes
twinkled, George, after three or four unsuccessful attempts, made a huge
grater out of a foot square of galvanized iron, and spent an hour or so
every day stuffing his pet with porridge of shredded coco-nut and milk.
As its fat increased the squeaks of the pigling mellowed into throaty
grunts. Was it not living an ideal life? A luxurious nest, a plethora of
squashy food, a foster-parent who watched over it with stern vigilance.
If it had been in the habit of reflecting, it might have thanked its
lucky stars that fate had brought it to a scene where there was no
vociferous competition for mother's milk, no trapesing through blady
grass as one of a hustling brood, no sort of care or anxiety regarding
the next meal.

About a month before the advent of the pigling, Lucy had made Ned gloomy
and thoughtful by becoming the mother of a piccaninny, about a
span-and-a-half long, the colour of a tan shoe, with whitish soles to its
feet, and hands and fingers so crumpled and soft, and of such tender hue,
that they might have been the unfolding frond of a tree-fern. About the
same age as the pigling that protested shrilly if George's other duties
belated meal-time, the piccaninny so seldom made a sound that its devoted
mother began to imagine that it never would. Within its tiny hutch it
kicked feebly, grasped at empty nothings with fern-like fingers, grimaced
and writhed in an agonized attempt to cry, and emitted a squeak so puny
and faint that it was hardly worth an effort so painful. But in its
mother's ears that beetle-power sound was as charming as the din of a
corroboree.

George ignored the piccaninny, but took the pigling to his heart, ever
and anon assuring the community that very soon it would be fat and
tender. He hung about its hutch, contemplating its proportions in the
exulting, gruesome mood of that midshipmite who seasoned the steamy
cauldron, and, no doubt, hummed to himself in Greek, "How very very nice
you'll be!"

Both youngsters prospered. The piccaninny began to make her voice heard.
Her fingers unfolded. Her complexion became that of a new penny and her
mother foresaw all sorts of charms in her face. The pigling squeaked when
hungry (which was seldom), grunted when satisfied, snored when asleep
(which was often) and spent all the time putting on fat; and its
foster-parent saw more of beauty in its rapidly rotunding figure than did
Lucy in her wrinkled and crumpled offspring.

As far as interested observers could judge, both parties were happy, each
tolerant of the other's pet, each anxious to demonstrate the peculiar
fascinations of pigling and piccaninny, respectively. Interested
observers, moreover, came to the inevitable conclusion that, at this
stage, for intelligence and appreciation of the appropriate benefits of
life the pigling had the advantage. George liked it and in a sense
bullied it. It knew George and liked him and bullied him, and, true to
his cast of mind, George liked the bullying, responding by scratching the
bully's pink-and-white back until it squirmed and wriggled in ecstasies
of delight.

The dogs watched the petting from a distance; for George scowled
fearsomely when they approached the hutch, and promised exquisite
tortures if they dared to sniff. They also pricked their ears when the
piccaninny began to wail above a whisper. It was a foreign sound to them,
impossible, for all their restraint, to ignore. The conduct of both,
however, was admirably discreet. They were interested. No affectation in
that respect could avail. They were curious, but their curiosity was
tempered by wisdom. They were obviously jealous, but suppressed that
emotion under a pose of austere superiority. How could high-spirited dogs
be sincere in their indifference to two strange animals, one vocal with
assertiveness, the other a mere whimperer? They glared out of the corner
of their eyes while their tails waggled the assurance that both were
quite safe so far as they were concerned. If Debil-debil's state of mind
was interpreted aright, all his sentiments were humanized by that great
gift of his--humour. He would direct sudden gleams of actual savagery
towards the grunter's hutch, and then, turning towards his master would,
like a popular actress grinning with her teeth, demonstrate love and
affection and universal peace and goodwill!

Brooking no contrary opinion on the point, George decided the date of the
execution of the pigling, foretelling a rare feast, and, of course, Ned
and Lucy did their share of anticipatory gloating.

Two days before the fatal date, while the sun was below the sheltering
hill, Ned discovered that during the night the half-expected had
happened. Unable longer to resist temptation, the dogs had overturned the
pigling's hutch, scratched and torn at the door until it flew open, and
the rest was--!

There sat the upturned hutch, minus its petted occupant, while the dogs
stood by, sniffing and tail-wagging with what appeared to be a blending
of self-accusation and plea for mercy in their faces. Who could blame
dogs for the inability to resist so pleasant a sin? When George came on
the scene, anger and grief made the hills vocal.

On the assumption that the dogs might have merely chased the pigling into
the jungle and that it might be tracked by them, they were encouraged to
sniff the hutch, which they did joyfully, and with Ned, experienced
tracker, in the lead, all the able-bodied of the Isle joined in the hunt.
The dogs, leading across the paddock to the ravine, ran, nose to ground,
down its steepness and up through the orange plantation, followed
enthusiastically by Ned and the others, just as the character of country
permitted. Early in the hunt the dogs put up a scrub-fowl, which noisily
fluttered and spluttered through the jungle, and, ending its flight on a
lofty branch, jeered and chuckled as it peered down at the intruders.

Then Debil-debil scented a big brown lizard, cosy in a hollow log and
loudly appealed for help, which Ned gave with a stick; but Cricket had
the best of the luck and made a good catch. Debil-debil scored with a fat
rat which, nosed out of its nest of leaves, had scampered up a slender
sapling. Leaping high, he jostled the rat to the ground and snapped it up
with the alertness of a conjurer.

Being now hot for the chase both dogs ran wild, quartering the shady
places industriously, and soon struck off up the steep slope on a good
scent. In a few minutes they gave tongue, yapping and yelping with
uncontrollable eagerness. Through the undergrowth, Ned in advance, we
struggled as fast as lawyer vines, the prickly raspberry (almost as
obstructive as barbed wire), saplings and shrubs interwoven with creepers
permitted; for did not humanity and love for delicately-fed pigling
demand that the fugitive should not be altogether wasted on the dogs?

Hot and puffing, with scratched and bleeding hands and arms, and George
anything but poetic in his terms of denunciation, we got up to the
dogs--to find them frantically trying to unearth a spiny ant-eater, which
was just as frantically but mutely digging itself in among a mat of
roots!

George poked up the animal with a stick as Debil-debil took a spell, his
bleeding muzzle showing that the "porc" had drawn first blood. Without a
pick and shovel, extrication was impossible; besides, we were after a
distressed and homeless pigling, not a porc disturbed while at home in
ease. George wanted to put in operation tactics he had once applied at
Hinchinbrook when his pup had scented out a porc and fought it for three
hours, with claws and teeth and voice. Night had come on and then George
took the part of the pup. A jamtinful of kerosene was poured on to the
creature's back and touched with a match.

"That pup he work for t'ree hour; he dig out t'ree barrow-load ground. In
t'ree seconds that porc he run feefty yard like star, that pup biting
fire all the time!"

Forbidden to experiment with fire on the pet porcs of this Isle, George
became sulky, and said awful things about Debil-debil, which the good dog
accepted as compliments, no doubt concluding that George's blistering
terms were meant for the porc.

Calling off the dogs, the hunt went farther afield, Ned exhorting both;
but naught was seen save ordinary vermin. In the afternoon we took a
different direction, under the leadership of Ned, whose theory it was
that the pigling was still alive, but too frightened to respond to
affectionate and soothing calls. The dogs enjoyed themselves, and so,
apparently, did the blacks and George. Alas, results were negative,
though Ned skilfully pointed out fresh tracks and once said that he heard
the lost pigling's squeal.

A season of regrets, tempered by philosophy, followed.

George's incessant proclamation of the richness of a roast sucking-pig
crammed with herbs had created imaginary bilious attacks. Besides, there
was far too much of garlic in his scheme of flavouring for the tastes of
those denied more than a strictly poetic sight of the Levant. He was
excitedly, deeply affected by the loss not only of a pet, but of a
prospective feast that would have smothered the subtle scents of the
Isle. Others beheld the silent hutch without the tribute of a sigh.

Lucy continued to smile as the piccaninny passed from the squealing to
the squalling phase. Even Ned's responsibilities seemed less tragic.

Just as George had become reconciled to the loss of the pigling the
piccaninny vanished--not alone either. Both father and mother accompanied
her. The hut on the beach was silent--and smellful. On a shelf was half a
loaf of bread and half a tin of jam. Sticking in the roof was an
unfinished boomerang. On the walls were pictures from illustrated papers,
and on the floor oddments of raiment and a mattress of bags. There had
also vanished from its anchorage a big flattie belonging to a fisherman,
a countryman of George's. Two days later the owner came to recover the
boat, and after a week's search found it on the mainland, high and dry.

Three months passed, then George, having occasion to visit the mainland,
discovered something for which he was not looking and has never been able
to see--a popular joke. It was rife and blithe in every blacks' camp
between the mouth of the Tully and the Tully Falls up among the ranges,
and from the Hull River to Wreck Creek down by Cardwell. And when the
blacks take hold of a joke the birds of the air hear of it. Cockatoos
scream it; scrub-fowls chuckle over it; honey-eaters make a song about it;
the listening lilies overhear the lotus-birds whispering it, and,
nodding, smile.

Every black grinned like "Debil-debil," for there was not one but knew
that the perfidious Ned, and Lucy and the giddy piccaninny had eaten the
pigling.




PETER: A FISHER OF MEN



Weakly, sedately, yet not lacking mincing precision, Peter slowly
followed the margin of the rippleless sea.

The boys, at the moment busy cleaning and painting the boat resting on
her cradle, knew him and smiled at his pensive progress. Further, they
made jerky remarks about him in their own tongue, one word of
which--"Ba-bah"--gave clue to his character.

Approaching the busy scene he slowed down, hesitated, and, glancing
ahead, saw that it was not possible to pass along to the corner of the
Bay, into which the babbling creek flows, without incurring the
derogatory asides of his contemptuous countrymen. His glance back towards
the sand-spit, where the water is deep, was momentary; with an assumption
of friskiness--too energetic a term for so mild and transient a mood--he
ventured nearer and politely greeted me, holding his battered hat abaft
his shoulder. There was such humiliation in his attitude and tones, such
obsequious deference, that a cheery response was necessary to set him at
ease.

Hunger and illness were plainly written in his face; but he smiled wanly
as I intercepted him and gave him the formal freedom of the Isle,

"Ba-bah" described him.

In his left hand he carried an aggressively sacerdotal book, and from
his arm, in the approved style, hung the crooked handle of an umbrella of
the past, its ferrule shining with the polish of the sand. His right
hand balanced with unstudied ease a long and slender fish-spear. In the
meekest of tones he said that he had fever--too many of his fellow exiles
were at the moment making like complaint, but in different terms. His was
the voice of the patient martyr intent upon the edification of the
unelect.

"I have had nothing to eat this morning, Mister. I was just going out to
spear some fish. Will you let me go round to the other little bay? I
won't do any harm. I am a very releegious boy, Mister. I like going by
meeself,  away from the other boys. I can read a little of this good
book; but not much, Mister. It is the Bible."

He spoke slowly and with novel inflection, as if understudying some
mouthing pulpiteer, and turning over the leaves of the book, glanced at
the print. It was the BOOK OF COMMON PRAYER--held upside down.

"I am very seeek this morning, Mister; but I must not grumble, for I am
a Christian. I am a very releegious boy, Mister. I am Church of England
boy, Mister. This book tells me true. I must be a good boy."

Tremulously weak and quite beyond the spearing of fish, he brisked up
when told to go to the house for physic and food, returning in about an
hour quite translated, to announce to the ribald boys that the mistress
of the house was also a Christian. Fish spearing no longer an urgency, he
sat in the sun, ignored the other boys and told of his conversion, of his
hatred of bad language, of playing cards, and prayerless companions. He
tried to do good.

Like others with a mission. he earned jeers. The boys said he was cranky.
Was a man cranky when he tried to stop boys from using bad language and
playing cards? The good book told him he ought to make Christians.

The paint-besmeared boys giggled.

Peter had his dinner apart at the house, and disappeared. Referring to
him afterwards, the boys said, "Ba-bah!"--and giggled.

The natives' camp was on the sand-spit under the shade of the
ever-sighing beach oaks. Most of its occupants were would-be escapees
from the settlement over the water. Some were not quite virtuous. Indeed,
they were rowdy as well, deceitful, and as lazy as overfed pups. The camp
boasted of cards--a grubby, frowsy, and incomplete pack; and the boys
spent most of the nights playing, or rather imitating the playing of,
euchre, with language of the strongest type as the chief part of the
game.

At daylight next morning one of the truly respectable members of the camp
was at the house, wild-eyed and fear-stricken. He told of certain
nocturnal happenings, and on the strength of his story I went to the
beach. The boat-shed was half full of scared gins and big-eyed
piccaninnies, and thence towards the sand-spit sleepers were distributed
at odd intervals, just above the limit of high tide. The only occupants of
the camp were Peter, his wife and little boy. They were peacefully asleep.

Dick--truthful, gentlemanly Dick--told of the happenings of the night.
The card-players had indulged in imaginary gambling and real language to
the tormenting of the soul of the righteous Peter, who had exhorted
them to give up their bad habits and become Christians, until, driven to
desperation by the jeers and the taunts of "Ba-bah!" he had let loose all
his zeal and endeavoured to convert the heathen with the fish-spear
unused yesterday, and with the might of a much-refreshed arm.

In the blackness of the night the camp had vanished. Better the whole
scene to his Christian self and family than the presence of gamblers
given to unwholesome phrases. In his exalted mood he had not
discriminated, for unoffending Dick and his family and all the other
quiet folks had been driven into darkness with the triple-pronged spear,
and not one of the crowd, orderly or disorderly, dared to whisper
"Ba-bah!" lest Peter., in his repose, might hearken and be saucy.

When the Christian family awoke, Peter, without the slightest taint of
exultation, corroborated all that Dick had told, merely adding that,
being a very "releegious" boy, he could not stand the bad language and
bad habits of the gamblers, and had taken the course of stopping both by
hostile demonstrations with his spear and the repetition of some texts
from the Bible.

As he glorified his actions, his wife, Maude, sauntered up and was
presented. She, too, was civil, not to say choice, of speech, and quickly
made proclamation of her Christianity and abhorrence of evil-speaking and
cards.

If there exist social and other grades of society among the descendants
of the original occupants of this favoured land, and if the hint of such
an idea may be carried to finality, then does Peter stand apart as the
representative and exponent of the Oxford style and air towards his
degenerate fellows. In his attitude to them the grace of humility is
abandoned. In demeanour and utterance he is a class by himself--superior,
convinced of his superiority, rather disdainful of those who are not such
as he.

The last of the family to crawl out of a scanty blue blanket was a
neatly-dressed boy of about eight, who came forward with assurance. Maude
indicated him as "My little boy." Peter referred to him not as Bill or
Billy, or even Will or Willy, but as "Will-yam," with lofty and dogmatic
stress on the "yam." Neither approved of the society at the settlement.
It was rude. Besides, there was no school, and it was the purpose of his
parents that Will-yam should have the advantages of a superior education.
Maude emphasized the point. Willyam must be sent to a good school. Peter
declared that Will-yam must learn to read the good book and be a
Christian like himself, a very "releegious" boy, and a Church of England
boy. He must never gamble or use bad language. To these terms Will-yam
meekly assented. And there stood on the beach an elated, happy,
self-satisfied family, though it possessed naught but two thin blankets, a
fish-spear, the handle of a discarded umbrella. and a prayer book, soiled
with grease and smoke!

Peter was no longer humble. He had been victorious; he was proud. Had he
not rebuked the scornful, piously burnt the broken pack, and with a frail
weapon scattered a hostile and hideous crowd?

Exhorted to refrain from violence, however earnest in the spread of
Christian knowledge, and in the suppression of gambling, in concern for
the purity of speech, Peter's eyes flashed with the inflammable fervour
of the fanatic. The coarse-tongued boys were right. He was in fact
"Ba-bah;" but until he was under proper supervision the derisive word
lapsed; the boys kept at a safe distance and there was not a giggle left
in them!




BILLY TOO-GAL'S GHOST



This story had the chance of being quite true. It would have been so, but
for the denial of certain surly facts. So much the worse for the story.

As half-forgotten incidents became fixed in mind and were associated with
happenings of the recent past, righteous endeavours were made to discover
corroborative evidence of doubtful points; but fact and fable had become
so blended that little could be done in the way of sorting out.

Would it not have been satisfactory to all concerned if it could have
been proved that the rusty rifle-barrel lying among odds and ends in the
barn was ever in the possession of Billy Too-gal (otherwise "Billy of the
Leg") and that it had been a serviceable weapon with carefully polished
stock and rather more of brave brass in its mountings than is the style
of the day? History is silent on this important point, while tradition
shouts confidently in the affirmative. Trust rather to the affirmative of
tradition than to the cheerless negative!

Tradition said that Billy Too-gal had been directly acquainted with the
rifle; that he had treasured it during his day, and that when he had
passed into the land of shades one of the mystery-men of the time had
flung it into the sea because he deemed it uncanny, dangerous, and
like to transcend in direct effect the magic in which he himself dealt.
Years afterwards, "Jack Walk About" found it--a shapeless mass of
rust--protruding from the sand at low water, and having chipped away
some of the corrosion, had taken it to a certain Isle, as evidence,
perhaps, of a forgotten tragedy!

There be some who declare that Billy Too-gal's affection for the weapon
was a grim sort of sentiment, which had germinated in the idea that he
had suffered strange martyrdom through it. They assert that the bullet
fired by the hasty and aggravated white man struck him on the left knee,
giving to his gait that singular lurch or strut--almost rollicking in
style--that his phantom perpetuated. Others, with equal force, and on,
perhaps, slightly sounder evidence, maintained that the bullet shattered
his lower jaw, so that the vestiges thereof hung loose; that he was
thereby deprived of the ability to masticate his food; that he presented
a repulsive, yet affecting, sight when he strove to appease his hunger;
for was he not driven to throw scraps and fragments into his cavernous
mouth and gulp them?

Poor Billy Too-gal may have been cheeky to the nervous and suspicious
white man who had invaded his country; but his punishment did not fit his
fault. It was excessive. It was cruel. Not only did it inflict lifelong
anguish, sentence him to insatiable hunger, but it also ruined his temper.
Behold him, thenceforward, a fierce-eyed man, tall and very lean, with a
strut that would have been ludicrous on the stage, a wide-open, slobbering
mouth, with portions of a frayed and dangling jaw.

His ghost retained, as ghosts should, the disfigurements of life--so the
wise old men proclaimed with voices of authority that brooked no
question. Those who were coeval with him had good cause to recollect his
singularities, his eccentricities, his passionate and explosive moments.
Not an infant in many a camp who did not recognize his phantom when the
sages gathered together to discuss affairs of moment, for prying
piccaninnies were kept in check by threats of the return to life of Billy
Too-gal, with his fearsome, mobile head and the strut that swung his body
to the right at every step. Billy was a "bidg-eroo" (malignant
"debil-debil"), that would still the squeakiest piccaninny, and make her
hide her eyes against her mother's side or on the mangy coat of the pup
she happened to be cuddling.

Boys might assume a tremulous air of bravado; but did ever one of them
venture out on to the beach after dark, where, their elders declared,
Billy of the Leg was wont to spend impatient nights spearing Too-gan? No;
the boys, defiant in a crowd in daylight, cowered in camp after dark, for
Billy's strut as he slid along the beach gave him the faculty of glaring
sideways with paralysing potency. They knew, too, that from the bark band
across his forehead was slung a dilly-bag big enough to hold a captured
piccaninny for breakfast, if the sleepy Too-gan failed to waver within
range of his spear. For these reasons, the bold-at-daylight boys kept in
the background after dark, glad of the muffling blankets teeming with
fleas.

Old, old men had often told of Billy's pitiful destiny. It was his to
strut tracklessly along the beach every dark night, from the lonesome
camp on the edge of the mangroves at Wongaling Creek to the intrusive
rocks, there to stand, in a furious temper, waiting the
never-to-be-granted chance of spearing a sleepy fish, his body the while
swinging to and fro, and the big dilly-bag swaying uneasily from shoulder
to shoulder.

If, said they, he was ever lucky enough to snap up a plump
piccaninny--girl preferred--he would cut her to pieces with a shell-knife
and use her for bait. Then he would be certain to catch a sleepy fish,
and when he had eaten it his hunger would be appeased, and he would walk
the beach no more.

Never was any piccaninny bold enough to think of Billy Too-gal as other
than a terrifying phantom with a yearning for bait of most distressing
kind, until You-an-linga--a dreamy little girl--dreamt a strange dream.

All the kiddies of all the camps knew that even the long-legged,
light-footed little birds that ran trippingly over the sand at the edge of
the blue sea made distinct tracks. You-an-linga dreamt that she saw Billy
Too-gal lurching along the beach, with swinging head and gaping mouth.
So vivid was the dream that she did not regard it as one. She firmly
believed that she had seen the piccaninny-scaring man in the very flesh,
and being, as some dreamers are, quite practical, she thought of following
his tracks under the assurance and protection of the morning's sun.

Being intuitive by nature, she concluded that Billy Too-gal would be
certain to make a distinctive track, though no one had ever seen the
records in the sand of his passing to and fro. She knew the track of
every one of the denizens of the camps, and read into each never-failing
characteristics. Though she might not have seen a group straggle off
aimlessly along the beach, she could tell by a glance at the tracks the
individuals of the party, where they had gone, why, and make good guess
at what they were doing at the fleeting moment.

You-an-linga was able so to do because she had a gift. All enjoyed it in
varying degrees; but in her case it was developed so remarkably and
applied so vividly--recollect that intuition was also hers--that some of
the crude folks believed her to be "ba-bah" (cranky). Could she not track
the big "Oo-boo-boo"--the long-legged wolf-spider--and tell where it would
be found next day hugging its dilly-bag?

Being thus quite out of the ordinary, You-an-linga was looked upon
despitefully by others of her age, so that she was often lonely and
occupied herself with affairs that had but slight interest to the swarms
of piccaninnies. She likened the dilly-bag (egg-capsule) of "Oo-boo-boo"
to a "chillen," and got one from an interested white man as a reward for
the aptness of the similitude. It was then that she told the visitor of
the passing the previous night along the beach of Billy Toogal, whose
head was loose "all asame Yam-boo" (praying mantis). She had not seen
Billy Too-gal after the sun came up, but last night she saw him, and he
was no good:

"Me no lik'm that fella. Might be that fella kill'm piccaninny. Me look
out proper. What for that fella no mak'm track?"

You-an-linga's father and mother stood by and smiled. Their smiles were
not quite honest. Did they not implicitly believe that Billy Too-gal was
a snapper-up of such trifles as piccaninnies at large on the beach after
dark? And since, in their way, they loved You-an-linga, they sought to
terrify her with stories of the nocturnal savage with huge mouth, and
were afraid when she did not betray the slightest apprehension, but
rather was eager for investigation.

The wise-heads in the camps looked upon Billy Too-gal's phantom as the
best item of an excellent stock-in-trade of mysteries, and would not,
without harsh forms of protest, submit to it being set at naught by a
piccaninny. You-an-linga was beginning to talk about their pet ghost in
a familiar strain, and they plotted to get rid of her, so that their
reputation as sorcerers and their rights as custodians of the mysteries
might be strengthened.

Secretly they debated a situation boding little good, and decided that
for three nights in succession Billy Too-gal's ghost should parade the
beach, and that all the camps should have the chance of witnessing the
coming and the passing of the apparition. On the third night You-an-linga
would be picked up and disappear from the camp forever. Then in a quiet
spot they would eat the piccaninny's vital parts and so assimilate some
of the rare qualities which she had displayed. They would thus confirm
their renown, rid the camp of a disturbing element, and secure for
themselves the singular powers which had been hers.

Too-bee (The Maggot), played the part of the restless phantom on the
first night. More than one quaking individual saw the lop-sided head, the
appalling mouth, the huge dilly-bag dancing from shoulder to shoulder.
You-an-linga heard early of the nerve-shocking apparition, and sat and
shivered, wrapped in her father's blanket. When the sun rose, she
scrambled out and raced with others to the beach. Never before had Billy
Toogal made tracks. His footprints were plain to be seen, and the
children huddled up and scampered back.

You-an-linga had seen enough. She knew Toobee's tracks as surely as she
knew her own father's. and her gift of intuition caused her to conclude
that he was making a fool. of them all; nor was she wise enough to keep
her own counsel.

Naturally, the old men were vexed, and Too-bee indulged in demonstrations
towards You-an-linga with a weighty waddy. Innocent enough of any thought
of defiance, she boldly said that Too-bee had been "Play about, all asame
gammon; me no 'frait."

Billy Too-gal was next represented by Oon-narra (The Cloud), and with such
realistic effects that the camp buzzed for the rest of the night. None
could now deny the existence of the ghost. Brave would be the man or
woman or piccaninny who would trust to the beach when it had been
announced by the mystery-men that it was reserved for the ghost. The
envious crowd flattered the old men., renewed their demonstrations of
deference, and contributed all sorts of fat things, from oysters to
scrub-turkey eggs, to their fires.

Again You-an-linga satisfied herself from the best of all evidence that,
light-footed as The Cloud might be, he had merely mimicked Billy Too-gal;
but she kept her opinion to herself until the evening when she took her
diffident father and mother into her confidence. She proposed that they
should wait on the beach for Billy Too-gal, and that when he appeared her
father should spear him, and then kill him alonga head with a
tomahawk--"dead finis"--and take his dilly-bag and long fishing-line for
his own. The proposal was decidedly obnoxious to Mur-juri (The Cicada),
You-an-linga's father, who being quite commonplace, had never questioned
the authenticity of any ghost; but having only the fag-end of a
fishing-line, and entirely lacking a dilly-bag, he was tempted. The
mother's repugnance was also overcome by the thought of the huge
dilly-bag her husband had actually seen and described.

* * * * *

The trio stole quietly out and snuggled into depressions in the still
warm sand.

Nor had they to wait long. The night was cloudy, with a fresh south-east
breeze bearing in from the sea a mist that seemed to be luminous. The
crests of the rustling breakers, blown ashore, mingled with the mist,
making a thin margin of vapour, which blurred, yet exaggerated, the form
of Kurran-doola (the Millepede), the wiliest and most resourceful of the
mystery-men who imitated Billy Too-gal's lurching gait on the third night.

You-an-linga's mother screeched when the substantial phantom came abreast
of the lair, but at the same moment Murjuri hurled his dugong spear.
The range was short; the aim true. Down went the phantom with a grunt,
and one blow of the tomahawk silenced him for ever.

Morning revealed naught. The undertow had taken charge of the bleeding
body and the current conducted it out to sea--a feast for sharks.

But what had become of Kurran-doola, the oldest of the old men. the most
mysterious of the mystics? No questions were asked. The other mystery-men
knew that they had been trapped by a piccaninny, and were sage enough to
keep silent.

Years afterwards, You-an-linga was wont to smile capaciously as she told
that she really had seen Billy Too-gal, and that he made tracks "all
asame" Too-bee, Oon-narra, and Kurran-doola!

In time the old men, taking up the cue, laid it down authoritatively that
You-an-linga was quite right; and that her discovery proved that Billy
Too-gal still walked the beach on cloudy nights. Mystery-men, of whatever
complexion, are ever artful in explaining awkward complications by added
mystification.

But what became of the hasty white man whose deed had provoked Billy
Too-gal's ghost hungrily to strut the wholesome beach? Billy Too-gal
never actually said; but the old men had so vividly interpreted his
gestures that the younger, in their love of movement and display, in time
embodied them as one of the most frequent themes of their corroborees.
What did this crudest of dramas, with its beggarly array of sticks and
slips of barks as stage properties, reveal?

A solitary tent. Billy Too-gal, his wound still raw, creeps from a
background of cycads, noiselessly as dew, tomahawk in hand. He enters. A
pause. A thud. A grunt. Several groans. Silence. Billy Too-gal gropes his
way out, carrying a rifle. He looks round. Putting down the rifle, he
picks up two thin sticks and squats, and holding one with his toes, twirls
the other between his palms. Presently a faint blue smoke arises. A glow
appears like a ruby in a black setting, and is gently flicked on to a
leaf. Tenderly he breathes on it, waves it to and fro, and it flames. With
a torch of grass he fires the tent and watches, and gathers dry cycad
fronds to ignite the smouldering blankets. He seizes the rifle nervously,
carries it to the brink of the lagoon, and, leaning over so that his
footsteps may not impair the muddy margin, drops it so gently that
neither lily leaf nor bud wavers, and--without once looking back--slowly
disappears. After an interval he reappears with wide-open, slobbering
mouth and a hooked stick, fishes for the rifle, and with it--exit!

Thus, though Billy Too-gal does not nightly walk the beach in
ungovernable, voiceless rage, the camp clatters and chuckles over the
mimicry of his revengeful deed.




THE PASSING OF SAM



Sam was ever a masterful man. Big and strong, hasty, passionate to a
direful degree when aroused; gentle to his chubby children; corrective to
those whom he deemed to be wrongdoers, he had some of the essential
qualities of the schoolmaster and no little of the persuasive eloquence
of the preacher. It boots not to dwell on his defects, for Nature has
claimed her final penalty; but it may not be possible to understand his
character aright if the popularly-believed reason for his banishment from
his native isle be not referred to.

He was born on one of the islands of Torres Straits which has benefited
by Papuan influence in many respects. There the type is far more
intelligent than that of the mainland of Australia. Men and women learn
some of the advantages of civilization more readily, and under judicious
training become in some cases quite worthy of exercising certain of the
privileges of self-government. The late Sir William MacGregor testified
to this, and has given instances of the wisdom and moderation with which
the "Councillors" of the Straits Islands exercise their administrative
and judicial functions.

Born of such a race, it was natural that a big, strong, lusty man should
have opinions of his own, and should be given to expressing them. Though
no positive statement has come to my ears, it is said that in a fit of
justifiable wrath he inflicted punishment so violent on his wife that she
died. He knew something of the scriptures, and perhaps interpreted all
too dreadfully that injunction to pluck out the offending right eye and
cast it away. Sam's punishment for so wicked an offence against the laws
of humanity was lifelong banishment from the island he called home.

He married again, and had a family of four round-eyed, happy children,
and at the Settlement his was the first hut to show regard for the
decencies, if not the niceties, of life. He began his garden with sweet
potatoes and taro. The flowers and shrubs that followed bloom for others.
Thanks to the good policy of the State in respect of the population of
the Straits Islands, Sam was early able to read and write. Several of his
pencilled notes prove that he spelled correctly and wrote neatly.

Being thus, generally, so much superior to the great majority at the
Settlement in type and attainments, Sam became an unofficial leader--a
tutor and a pastor. He established a night-school in which the children
were taught their alphabet and rudimentary spelling. He delivered
addresses, read the Bible, taught the singing of hymns, and in other
matters endeavoured to persuade young and old to live decently and in
order. His Sunday services became, for a time, an institution.

Under his directions, and with his thick-voiced., solemn words, the dead
were buried at that spot where, as one epigrammatic native of the
locality said, "Boy he sit down altogether!" They had been wont to strap
their dead, knees to chin, and so to place them in a shallow grave, until
Sam persuaded them to swathe the body in a blanket and to rest it in the
sleeping posture in the sand, with head to east.

What was in his mind when he forbade the mourners to kill a death-adder
which slowly twisted past an unfilled grave of one who had died suddenly?
Did he look upon the deadly little snake as one of the emblems of
immortality of which he had so often talked--living, yet the
personification of evil and of death?

Sam's intellectual qualities were in harmony with his physical capacity.
Like one of Shakespeare's characters, he was in the best sense "a good
man of his hands;" he used edged tools so neatly and effectively that a
professional carpenter regarded him as a useful and capable assistant.

Such a man among such a community of coloured folks as that of the Hull
River Settlement stood out as an individuality whose influence tended in
the right direction. With his death in his prime a good element was lost,
for he at least was unchartered. He performed the offices of schoolmaster
and of pastor--he was wont to call himself "a church worker"--unofficially
and without money and without price. The unction with which he gave out
a hymn and read the collects showed that in his own estimation he had
a call for the work in which he most delighted. He was no slovenly pastor,
vexing the dull ears of a sleepy and indifferent congregation; but full
of vigour and dramatic gesture, so that those who gathered on Sundays at
the accustomed spot were by his very earnestness compelled to harken.

It may be that among the more benighted of the community Sam's untimely
death may be attributed to the stings of bees. While taking honey from a
"wild" hive he was stung on arms and chest severely, suffering
considerable pain; while in retreat from such cause he caught cold, which
settled on his lungs, and in a few days pneumonia developed. The medical
officer who periodically visits the settlement happened to arrive while
he lay ill, and prescribed for him; but Sam's case became so serious
that he was taken to Innisfail in the motor-boat for expert treatment in
the hospital. Death claimed him before he could be landed, and four of
his countrymen, an authorized minister, and one of the officials of the
settlement followed him through the rain to his grave. He lies in alien
soil.

His children watched the boat that carried him away as it disappeared in
the North, and in that direction they look for his return. That "common
theme, the death of fathers," is to them, as it was to Hamlet, particular
and poignant. As she sits on the sand beside her mother, his pet and
fondling--the chubby, thumb-sucking "Elizabeth"--stretches fat and
clutching hands across the sea as she cries "Dada! Dada!" and the
disconsolate mother moans aloud and gives way to unavailing tears.




SAMBO'S STRATEGY



Not long since a black boy, for whom Sambo may pass as a name, found
himself stranded at Cooktown. He had finished a long engagement on board
a bêche-de-mer schooner, had been duly paid off, had spent his earnings
in the off-handed and open-handed fashion of his race, had loafed until
weary of the town camp, and then suddenly became sick--violently sick. It
was only an attack of home-sickness, but it took complete possession of
him.

His country was separated from the port by some sixty miles, and though
it was conterminous with the beach, to reach it Sambo would have to pass
through the territory of three or four tribes which, if not actually on
unfriendly terms with his own people, certainly offered no guarantee for
the safety of lone strangers within their gates. Strangers who came to
them were absorbed, and no subsequent questions revealed trace of them.
So Sambo did not care to face the perils of the journey by land, and of
course, no means of reaching home by sea were within his personal grasp.

To the police authorities he made moan, claiming the right, most
unjustifiably, of being transported thither at the country's expense.
Being scoffed at, he went away, sorrowful, and because of his sorrow and
sickness, his memory became bright.

The day following his unsuccessful appeal for a cheap passage to his
native shore, he mentioned casually to the chief of the police that
during his recent bêche-de-mer engagement a wreck had been discovered.
With due formality his statements were taken down in writing, and in
effect were:--While in the neighbourhood of No. 1 Howick Group a lugger
in distress had been seen; the weather was very stormy, and after vainly
endeavouring to battle through into shelter, the vessel fell over on one
side, and came up again and again and fell over on the other, and then
sank. At low water the top of the main mast was visible, but high tide
covered it up completely. None of the wreckage had been seen to float;
all hands had been drowned. The lugger was a stranger, white, painted
with a red mark, "very flash."

Sambo mentioned casually that anybody might go to the wreck, for the
top-mast at low water indicated it. An expert in the ways of the blacks
was called in to discuss the matter, which was causing a sensation in
police circles. Cross-examined by the expert, Sambo elaborated a still
more realistic description of the wreck, minutely locating it in relation
to landmarks familiar to the expert, and intimating his readiness to
pilot a boat to the very spot. In reply to further questioning, Sambo
frankly admitted that he was sick of the joys of town life, that he
longed for home, and that his country was at Red Point, off which was
No. 1 Howick Island. Thereupon the expert came to the conclusion that
Sambo had invented the "wreck" for a sufficiently obvious purpose.

But the statements to the police were so explicit and circumstantial, and
were so consistently supported by cross-examination, that the expert's
opinion was scouted. It was well known, remarked the chief of police,
that Sambo's country was opposite the scene of the "wreck," and it was
notorious that Sambo wanted to get home. Everybody knew that. The police
were not such simpletons as to be taken in by a black boy, and one,
moreover, who had nothing to gain by telling an ingenious and elaborate
lie. An appeal for instructions from headquarters resulted in an order
for the despatch of a vessel to search the scene of the wreck and the
neighbouring islands. An officer of the police and Sambo took passage,
the latter repeating his statements with a precision which convinced
everyone save the expert, who in fact, was captain of the vessel.

Arrived at No. 1 Howick, Sambo was asked, "Where wreck sit down?"

He replied, "'Nother side. Little bit outside, alonga point."

The little ship sailed jauntily past the point, Sambo being at the
captain's elbow.

"Little bit more keep away," said Sambo, and in a few minutes, looking
over the side, exclaimed, "Wreck he sit down here!"

At the spot the depth of water was 14 fathoms, and Sambo excused the
non-appearance of the top-mast by saying that it was then high water. The
captain, who happened to be a more trustworthy authority on the constancy
of the tides than Sambo, knew that the hour was that of low water, and
moreover, that a lugger which would show her top-mast from a depth of
eighty-four feet was quite out of place in Barrier Reef waters.

Sambo looked as wise as ever, extremely confident, and taking his bearing
from close-at-hand points, persisted that the wreck was down below. His
bargain thus having been fulfilled to the letter, he suggested that
further search was not needed.

In the presence of the police officer, the captain then took the boy in
hand.

"That your country, Sambo, over there, Red Point?"

"Yes," said Sambo.

"You want to go your own country?" asked the captain.

"Yes," replied Sambo. "more better you land me my country. You close up
now!"

"Now," said the captain. "Suppose you tell me true, I land you your own
country. Suppose you humbug me, I take you back alonga Cooktown."

"No," said Sambo, "I no humbug you. I wan' get alonga my country."

"Well, what about this yarn you bin tell Sergeant, and tell 'em all the
time?"

Sambo: "I bin humbug that fella proper!"

"What, you no bin see 'em wreck?"

"No, me no bin see 'em. All humbug. I wan' get back my own country. You
close up now. You put 'em boat alonga water, me go shore!"

"Yes," said the cheerful captain. "You deserve to get home."

And before dark Sambo, no doubt, chuckled over the success of his
strategy among his comrades and friends.




A BUSH OCULIST



Among those of the North Queensland blacks who, of self-choice, were
consigned to Providence's care on the transfer of the Aboriginal
Settlement from the Hull River to the Palm Islands, was a boy known as
"Jimmy." A useless, superfluous creature, needing special consideration
and care, from whom no sort of work might be exacted, who earned the
compassion of his fellows, and, for a season, that of the then
superintendent and his staff, Jimmy found his days dreary; for he was
afflicted with progressive failure of sight. Sent to a hospital for
treatment, he returned wearing tinted glasses, and that despairing mien
which lovers of the light assume upon realization of their denial "ere
half their days in this dark world and wide."

Before the break-up of the Settlement blindness had come upon him; but he
loved even clouded liberty too well to submit to the isolation of the
distant island, and with others of like sentiments but unimpaired
faculties, he took to the bush. For a time then, the bush kept them in
strict seclusion, providing food and shelter. Most of the little band
were old and feeble or maimed. They could profitably be disregarded and
forgotten. Safe from official interference, they wandered in the dense
jungle, timidly approaching the homes of white settlers under the
compulsion of acquired habits and tastes. According to nature they loved
freedom and their own land; but contact with whites had taught them to
long for such artificialities as tobacco, tea and sugar, as well as
better garments than rough cloaks of beaten bark, such as their ancestors
wore when the weather was cool.

To obtain such things they began to visit settlers from whom they had
been able to purchase them in former days at the cost of casual labour.
Then it was that "Blind Jimmy" came into view again. It is said that he
was the best conditioned of the camp, for, being unable to seek for food
himself, he was accepted as a charge upon the rest, and they saw that he
shared the common lot, with a trifle more out of sympathy. When camp was
shifted he was conducted along the narrow tracks by a companion who
indicated obstructions, roots and logs and hollows, and with that
wonderful gift of perception that the blind acquire, he began to get
about by himself in a trivial sort of way, tapping the track with a
staff, as is the fashion of the blind.

Thus, Blind Jimmy became one of the notable characters of the locality,
and whites as well as his own fellows expressed their commiseration with
him so heartily that he assumed the air of prosperity and almost a
cheerful cast of countenance. His tapping staff, the warnings of his
guide, and his ready thanks for gifts in kind, made him popular in a
certain sense, and, submissive to his fate, he found himself lacking
nothing in the way of compensation.

Drifting with his friends into a strange locality, Blind Jimmy was
brought under the notice of an aged black who had the reputation of being
wise in many things--in medicine and magic especially.

Rough, dirty, crude, the "Old Man"--such was his familiar title--peered
into Blind Jimmy's sightless eyes, and declared it possible to make him
"see good fellow," with or without his consent, and forthwith sought out
his operative accessories. He ground a rusty nail on a stone to a fairly
sharp point, and so shattered a sea-shell that he had at service a
scalpel, the edge of which was keener than a razor.

As far as information goes, for the story comes second-hand, Blind Jimmy
was a consenting party; but the Old Man knew enough of animal physiology
to realize that in the circumstances all strain on the patient's part
must be prevented. Blind Jimmy was spread-eagled on the bosom of Mother
Earth; a friend knelt on his forehead; others sat on his chest and on the
outlying parts of his body, as, with a sing-song, the Old Man began his
benign work. What he actually did may never be ascertained, unless the
Old Man's work is verified by some one "who knows a subtler magic than
his own."

The blacks say that the Old Man cut each eye open, the lids being held
apart by an assistant, scraped away some dirt, and poked out something
with the sharp-pointed nail. As it was operated upon, each eye was
blinked with dirty rag, and when all was over, both were quickly bandaged
to obscure the light. For two days the patient was kept on his back by
force, and when the bandages were removed he was Blind Jimmy no longer!

Many white folk are ready to affirm that before the operation the boy was
stone blind, and many are just as certain that he now sees well enough to
be able to dispense with his guide and to take part in the affairs of the
camp.

Without assuming overmuch, it may be safe to hazard the opinion that
Jimmy had been afflicted with cataract; but how many surgeons of the day
would have ventured to operate with such crude appliances, and in the
absence of all safeguards? The account of the feat thus related is
vouched for by two friends who know the boy, and had frequently
ministered to him during his sightless period, both of whom have since
seen him walking about independently of aid.

Incredible as it may seem, one is not justified in expressing disbelief
in the performance of the feat, in the execution of which the specialists
of the day are said to demand weeks if not months of preparation, a
germ-proof chamber, antiseptics and an anaesthetic, an assortment of
instruments, and a period of passive convalescence. Given that the lens
of each eye was removed, will it be credited that, in the absence of
rectifying glasses, the boy is able to take more than a blurred outlook
on life?

A report that might have been anticipated is current, to the effect that
Jimmy's blindness was due to a certain native fruit, to which whites as
well as blacks are partial, known by the former as "the finger cherry,"
or berry, and by the latter, locally, as "pool-boo-nong." It is produced
by a jungle scrub, one of the rose myrtles (RHODOMYRTUS MACROCARPA). In
the jungle it is spindly, but on the edges thereof may branch out into a
robust habit. When ripe the fruit is purple and of a pleasant, acidulous
flavour. In the late F. Manson Bailey's CATALOGUE OF QUEENSLAND PLANTS,
are two notes concerning the alleged evil properties of the mouldy fruit:
"The diseased fruit is supposed to cause blindness (myopia) and death."
"GLOEOSPORIUM PERICULOSUM" (scientific title of the fungus): "Very
poisonous; it is this fungus, probably, which causes blindness, and often
death, to persons eating fruit containing it in quantities."




FRANK EDWARD'S FALL



Among the pioneers of a North Queensland goldfield were three mates,
whose prospecting experiences had been varied; but they had not hitherto
touched anything like the present--the matted vegetation, the close
steamy heat, the rank smells of decaying vegetation, the breathless
humidity. Others had made some sort of a track to the foothills. Thence
upwards the adventurers sought out an acceptable level for a camp.

Rough, hard, incessant work on hastily-prepared food told on them. Each
knew and obeyed the lure which charms prospectors to the performance of
incredible feats, and said naught. It was all in the game. Time was far
too valuable to waste on domestic affairs, for the auriferous gravel was
patchy.

One morning a family of blacks appeared--an old man, his gin, two
piccaninnies, all shy and nervous, and a youth of sixteen, who, bubbling
with confidence and self-assurance, announced that he was "Frank Edward."
They had come to "sit down" with the white men and help them, and
incidentally to eat of their tucker. So said Frank Edward with a superior
smirk, as he began forthwith to make a heap of firewood on the ledge
close to the mildewed tent. The rest of the family huddled together,
daring not to look straight at the white men.

Frank Edward told his hosts that he had been at Jerildoun. His hat and
trousers, and his speech betrayed the frayed edges of civilization. Being
hungry, he demanded flour for a damper. He made one, not such as would
appeal even to a hungry prospector, but which to the father and the rest,
eaten with tea profusely sugared, made a banquet of ambrosia and nectar.
Was it not so written on their otherwise impassive faces? That family was
a fixture as long as such delicacies were current.

It was nerve-destroying work high up, as the camp was on a terrace that
looked over the broad ribbon of blue to the flounce of surf created by
the Great Barrier Reef. Stifling during the dry infrequent clear days;
vaporous, with the heat of a Turkish bath, when the mists settled on the
roof of leaves. Land leeches took blood tax, transforming themselves from
alert, waving threads to incapable blobs. The almost invisible mite that
burrowed into the skin made scratching one of the most gratifying
pleasures of existence. On the spot for a very definite purpose, the
mates did not spare themselves. They scratched the terrace all day, and
in retaliation Nature gave them the motive for indulgence in a similar,
but purely personal delight at night.

Alec declared that the game was hardly worth the candle. The gold was
good enough, but there was not quite enough of it. There was the chance
of dropping on something good that might spell fortune. They must not
expect a lottery ticket for nothing.

To Douglas's taste the country was decidedly too damp, but otherwise not
too bad. They were paying expenses. There was the chance of a big
dividend.

Rube, as hard-headed as he was fisted, was not going to give the show
away to the next comer. When the fluming across the big gully was
finished they could turn on the water and bring down the wash dirt in big
lumps.

Soon a steep face was cut into the slope of the terrace. Water gushed out
from the lips of the sluice. The soil melted away, while the gully below
ran red with extravagant but superficial wounds. Alec likened their
activities to the scrub itch on themselves. They pestered the terrace
until it bled and broke into sores which nature decently and promptly
swathed with green. Tolerating no unseemly sights, lank, limp, succulent
vegetation sprang up as if by magic on the mullock heaps, as did grey
fluffy fungus on damp boots and dripping tucker-bags.

The old man and even the gin and piccaninnies had made themselves useful,
Frank Edward bossing them, as a side-show, with consummate satisfaction
to himself and no little advantage to the mates. Domineering,
self-important, as unlike the typical black as a sunbird to a swamp
pheasant, he bullied his father, scoffed at his mother, and held the
piccaninnies in rigorous subjection.

The mates recognized that he was a personality, and were amused until he
began to patronize them. Then they took to watching each other's
demeanour towards him, confident of an outbreak sooner or later.

Within a month, Frank Edward, in his own estimation, was running the
camp. He had a say in everything, from the best way to stop a leak in the
fluming to the fixing of the day for the trip to the port for tucker. He
worked like a tiger himself, saw that the family did its full share, fed
it to repletion on damper, and smiled on the mates with the air of an
equal.

Splashed with red clay until he looked like a terra-cotta image restored
to light after concealment under rubbish, steaming with sweat,
fluttering with importance, Frank Edward stood still for a moment beside
Alec, shovelling away some mullock. His sharp eyes detected a slug.

"No good to me, ole man. You flurry fool, Alec! You chuck'm away slug."

Alec glared at the naked boy; few of his chums would have cared to
address him as this cheeky savage had. He smiled as the boy handed him a
half-ounce nugget; that smile was ominous, if the boy had but known. He
was so genuine in all he did and unconscious of offence that Alec smiled
another sort of smile.

A few muddy minutes passed, and again the boy found a spec in the mullock
heap, and, full of the white man's ways, shouted: "More better knock off,
Alec. Leav'm job to me. You flurry fool. Look!"

"Good boy, Frank Edward," soothed Alec. "You find plenty that fella
alonga mullock."

"Me fin'm. You lose'm first time. You flurry fool!"

The reiteration of the offensive phrase was almost insufferable. Still,
Alec held his peace, and the work went on during the pelting rain, Frank
Edward becoming streaky instead of patchy. Thanks in some measure to his
unwearying activity and sharpness, the results were satisfactory.

"That boy's got brain. He's clever enough for a judge. Never saw a black
that was half his match."

"Yes," said Douglas. "He's a wonder. The way he's got the old man by the
throat is a treat. No; he isn't the stuff for a judge. Let him loose in a
Parliament of blacks, and he'd be Premier, Secretary for Foreign Affairs,
Treasurer, and Chief Executioner in a fortnight, and until a
wooden-headed rival silenced him with a waddy."

Rube, being half asleep, did not say anything much to the point, and Alec
took up his parable--

"The fact is, Frank Edward's too big a name for the boy. It makes him
gusty. I'll have to take him down a peg or two."

"If you're going to be rough with him he'll scoot, and the others with
him. Leave him alone. He's a good hand, and costs next to nothing. Didn't
he pick up more than a couple of months' keep this morning, and a man
ought to stiffer being called a fool when he's entitled to it."

"I know all about that," snapped Alec, "but I can't stand being called
a----one by a flash black boy. I suppose it's a matter of complexion.
He'll have to take a hiding. I think I see how it's going to be done. I'm
not going to be what he calls me over it."

Alec was cook. Damper, salt beef, jam, tea--what more did prospectors who
carried all their provisions up from the port want? Cooking was not a
strenuous job.

He pannicanned the flour for the blacks on to the bark dish held by Frank
Edward, sprinkled in an extra allowance of salt, and made a show of
adding soda and acid.

While the damper cooked in its bed of ashes the expectant family sat
watching with avaricious eyes. Occasionally the old man flicked trifling
embers on to it, for he was understudying. Frank Edward flared and
frankly referred to his father as "a flurry ole fool," and the old man
fancied the term was not one of endearment. He sat back humiliated, but
as eager for the dainty as a half-starved calf for its mother's milk.

Hooked out from the fire, the acme of present hopes was as flat as a
board, sodden, sticky, blistered on the outside, and studded with half
buried cinders. Frank Edward gazed at it in dismay. Hitherto he had
achieved unvarying success.

Anticipatory and now ravenous, the old man tasted and spat. Salt does not
come to blacks naturally. The sharp foreign flavour excited suspicion of
poison. The longed-for food was less palatable than the leathery mess
made from the "koi-ie" nut. There it was, to be picked at and sampled at
all points, and to be proved fearsome throughout.

The mates listened to the rumbles of disappointment, and to the confident
explanations of Frank Edward, who bustled up to them.

"What for you mak'm flour belonga me no good. You flurry fool, Alec.
Damper him no good. Ole man he mak'm row alonga me."

"Clear out!" shouted Alec. "Suppose you spoil'm damper that way, me no
give flour."

"Me mak'm all asame. You bin mak'm flour no good. You flurry fool!"

Alec rose, gripping a pick handle.

Frank Edward side-stepped and retreated.

All day the family sat in camp, as sad and sodden as the damper, hungry
yet unwilling to turn out and forage. Frank Edward's zeal was tempered by
sulkiness. He had eaten but little. Detestable proof of failure in the
very highest art was torturing him, and the shrill scorn of his suffering
kin poured contempt on his pride and distracted him from thinking out a
solution of the humiliating mystery.

Next morning Alec dealt out the flour unsparingly, omitting none of the
prescribed ingredients. The damper rose as a damper of high principles
should, and being ceremoniously dusted by Frank Edward with his
fragmentary hat, was broken with boastful display.

Smiles lit up the gloomy scene. Was ever food sweeter and more
acceptable? Alec had been profuse. All were replete. The waistless
piccaninnies strutted and frolicked, and slept in token of content.

It was a merry camp up on the misty ridge, for diplomatic Alec played
upon Frank Edward's pride and conceit until the youth's fussiness and
insolencies became comical. His scheme was working faster than he had
anticipated.

He indulged in another of his curious smiles when Frank Edward presented
the bark dish for the customary flour, and ostentatiously appeared to add
the ingredients to complete the ration, which was borne off triumphantly.
The dutiful family watched the preparations, while the boy savagely
scolded whomsoever presented an interfering finger.

He patted the dough, dusted dry flour on it, slid it off his hands on to
the ashes, covered it and sat back bloated with vainglory. Under his
patronage the old man was permitted to poke cinders round it; but the old
woman and the piccaninnies, fascinated though they were, had been
schooled to look in another direction. It was big; it was going to be
great.

When it was proclaimed to be cooked Frank Edward buffeted the ashes, blew
upon it, and sat down.

Tough, leathery, sodden, and of alarming taste, the damper acted like
magic. The old man stood up. For once his slow mind was stimulated to
fury. Recalling the bullying of yesterday, he concluded that the
repulsive and probably poisonous thing was the deliberate and intentional
consolidation of the ridicule of his son.

Touched in his most susceptible quarter, he broke it over the boy's head.
The boy sat down, and before he could rise the old man was belabouring
him with the fire-hardened cane with which he had been permitted to
caress the ruined food.

Although officious, the boy was not a fighter. In his day the old man had
been, and two uneatable dampers and the continual jeers roused the spirit
of his prime. The piccaninnies took cover in the jungle. The gin
shrieked, and true to motherhood, sought to shield, with her lean body,
her offspring from the father's wrath. Hitting when and where he could,
the writhing, struggling forms, the old man's war-cry, "Damper!" might
have been mistaken for a curse--and peradventure Frank Edward would have
better enjoyed the language unaccompanied.

Not until the boy had been chastened in spirit, as well as in body, did
the mates intervene.

Subdued and stifled with mystery, he sat whimpering, while Alec, to
commemorate peace, presented the material for another damper, which
compounded and cooked under strict scrutiny of the old man, proved a
masterpiece.

Then it was the old man who swaggered. He sat back and surveyed the
scene. But that niggard Nature had scanted him in such respect he might
have tilted his chin. A dominant feature stood to him--not his nose, for
that, broadening and flattening, disappeared, leaving but dilated and
cavernous nostrils. His bloodshot eyes bulged and brightened, while his
snort, though like that of an apprehensive goat, proclaimed his
triumph--that he was a man in his own right, a master in his own domain,
a lord of creation. No more would he live under the domination of his
son. He had resumed filched rights, and his flashing eyes asserted
determination to maintain them.

The silence of the jungle bore witness that he alone was head of the
family.

Frank Edward quailed.

Alec remarked casually next morning, as the meek boy hopped about under
his father's orders:

"You fellows can't say that I put the acid on him, but it's there all
right."

"No; but he'll be off the first chance," asserted Rube.

"Not he. He'll not forsake damper, and he's too frightened of the old
man. He's the best of this crowd. I don't know," continued Alec,
musingly, "that I'd rather be called a 'flurry fool' by a boy of that
stamp than have him say, 'Beg, pardin, boss.' That's the beginning of
servility. It was low to pay him out for being smart. What do you say if
we send him to school? He's got the brains."

Douglas shouted dissent. "I'll be no party to that. He's a fine boy. Are
you for spoiling him?"

"Spoil him!" jeered Alec. "My mean dodgery and the old man's poker! Wait
till he sees through the trick. He'll spoil us!"




BILLY, THE GUIDE



An old, lanky blackfellow who, in his short face and habit of reticence,
tallied with Addison's unflattering description of himself, is old
Billy"--Lazy Billy," as the hustling white folks call him.

Billy and two gins, two unnamed piccaninnies, and an alien from the Malay
Peninsula occupied three modest dwellings formed of bushes and palm
fronds, on the verge of the sea. Many dogs were of the family, grotesque
caricatures of dogs, lean to emaciation, hairless, and sorrowful-eyed
with mange, and absorbed in the never-ending pasttime of scratching. They
had no more than just sufficient courage and concern for the sanctity of
the camp to make a whimpering bark at the sudden appearance of a
stranger, hours after dark; and the barking kept time to the scratching.
They scratched till they squealed, and then moaned and whimpered again.

It was getting late. The occasion was urgent, and the track through the
jungle, scarcely noticeable in broad daylight, was absolutely
undiscernible in the dark. As the dogs whimpered, and the
piccaninnies--wearing one hat between them, and nothing more--blinked at
my lantern, I made a bargain with Billy (a shilling and a stick of
tobacco) for his services as guide.

Dolly tells me the news of the camp. She proposes to name one of her
piccaninnies "Tapus" (Topsy), and while Billy dresses and equips himself,
suggests that I "put 'em name belonga little fella." Uncanonical though
the hour, the rite is performed, and the blinking, shrinking, naked
piccaninny will henceforth answer to Dolly's rendering of "Tawny."

"You no tchul-eep (sleep) first time?" Lazy Billy asks, with a yawn.
"More better first time tchul-eep."

"No, Billy. We go."

"All right. We go. Tchul-eep bime-by plenty."

For a quarter of a mile the track is as wide as the flat beach at low
water, and as compact and smooth and noiseless as only fine sand packed
by the thuds of the sea can be.

Billy indicates the turn-off with a flourish of his flashing tomahawk.
Many an old bushman refrains from taking precedence in a narrow track,
believing that a black boy is subject to an irresistible impulse for
slaughter when occasions so favour. Billy is docile, and while I am in
the lead he is far too seriously engrossed in keeping me in the right
direction to think of bloodshed. So we blunder along.

"Where track?"

"Hello! Where track sit down? He go 'nother way. He loss."

The lantern confuses Billy; but directly the light is obscured he calls
out, "Ooo! Track sit down. Me bin catch 'em." And off he goes in advance,
and at a pace that I find not easy to maintain.

As we enter the jungle, the moist air is heavy with the breathings of a
night-flowering plant, almost too sweet and rich to be pleasant. Outside,
the subdued roll of the sea fills the ears. Here the myriad leaves strain
and filter the sound of the sea to a mere sediment--a soft, indeterminate
minimum, with which the nocturnal voices of the jungle blend. A tree-frog
squeaks and grunts; some alert insect chirps, loud and clear; another
calls furtively, in a dismal tone, half whisper, half whistle; a wallaby
thuds ahead; a lizard makes a scatter among the leaves; a bird in fright
flutters, blundering, among the leaves high overhead; the flying-foxes
squeak and gibber among the fig-trees, as they say the ghosts did in the
streets of Rome when great Caesar died.

Billy, no longer bewildered by the light, is well in advance now. A sense
of locality and direction, more acute than is given to white folks,
enables him to walk quickly, even where the track is obscured with weeds
shoulder-high, and where scrub trees and shrubs mingle unceremoniously
with neglected mangoes and oranges. I keep pace, faithfully following
Billy's noiseless footsteps.

Suddenly he stops. "Ooo! Look out!" He cautiously turns up his frayed
trousers beyond his knees, "Look out! Se-n-ake sit down!"

"Se-n-ake, he sit down!" Billy points among an entanglement of fig-tree
roots, which the quivering flashes of the lantern convert into dozens of
writhing serpents.

"Se-n-ake! He bin sit down. Dolly bin kill 'em alonga waddy. Two fella
ki-ki that fella; no more!"

By the precautionary baring of his shrunk shanks, Billy had prepared for
the happy chance of any of the relatives of the particular "se-n-ake"
which Dolly and Rosy had eaten for supper, being about. He would have
attacked the beast to better advantage bare-legged; but there was nothing
worth eating among the roots as far as we could see, and Billy, grunting
with disappointment, strode on.

Though old and lean, Billy is a high-stepper and quick of foot; he never
trips nor stumbles. This is his country. He knows every fallen branch,
every root athwart the track, the sky-line of every tree in the open. His
small eyes, set in a short, screwed-up, wrinkled face, are telescopically
keen, and seem equally effective by day or night. Many coastal blacks
refuse to wander about after sundown. Darkness and light are both alike
to Billy. There is nothing to terrify him in the jungle; he sneers at the
hint of a "debil-debil." His ears catch the faintest sound. On the edge
of the mangroves a big water-rat, dazzled by the lantern, skips a few
yards, and halts, dismayed. Billy had heard its first faint footfalls,
and points where it crouches, paralysed momentarily by fear.

All these acres of garden through which we have passed, once flourishing
and fruitful, are fast relapsing into primitive jungle. SIDA RETUSA,
Bathurst burr, cobbler's peg, and the infamous "billy-goat" plant, have
their unmolested stronghold whence to invade the whole district. A
bamboo--a dwarf, ornamental plant in its distant native land--runs wild
in this congenial region, forming an almost impenetrable brake, a solid
base whence it is striding over the land.

Billy never pauses.

The narrow track runs up among the rocks, fifty feet above the sea. Only
once is there a spasm of excitement during the long, silent walk. Billy
jumps upon a rock, yelling:

"Look out! Look out! Poi-jon! Poi-jon belonga dingo--belonga Jack!"

Right in the cleft of the rocks, roughly widened to form a footway, lies
a poison bait. "Jack," who lives in the little house that he built on the
terrace by the sea, paid tribute in the shape of sixty fowls this season
to the cunning of the yellow dingo whose remains soil the sand below. The
brute would not take bait, and after long waiting Jack shot him. Billy is
terrified of the little piece of meat spiced with strychnine; but a
venomous and alert snake he gladly encounters, for snake is good to eat!
Billy is ever hungry.

A faint movement in the tree-tops, a fainter sensation of coolness
indicate the rising of the land breeze. The tepid silence of the night is
past, though at the bases of these steep spurs jutting out into the sea
little of the refreshment of the night air is perceptible. The salty
odour of the ocean is supreme.

A quarter of an hour more, and the house on the red cliff is reached. Do
you pampered denizens of the town, with such resources of civilization as
medical men, ambulances, telegraphs, telephones and cabs at command,
realize the stress involved in the conveyance of a few hapless words of
urgent news across five miles of sea and through three miles of lonely
bush? My experience, in itself, was at least instructive, for all went
well, the sea, the night, fate and some benignant star all favouring.
Under other conditions and without Billy, the duty might have been
difficult and dangerous, if not impossible.

Billy thought only of his "schillin'," and having fulfilled his contract,
demanded summary payment. A new set of wrinkles score his face at the
sight of the shilling and tobacco, and, to my astonishment--for the night
is far spent--he elects to get back to his camp. To the suggestion that
he should sleep till the morning, where he sits, he dissents
emphatically.

"Too tired! Me go alonga camp tchul-eep plenty;" and off he starts in the
dark on the three-mile return journey.




CAUSE AND EFFECT



All that matters has not yet been said about the recent cyclone which
thrilled the people of this coast, threatened more than it fulfilled,
caused much discomfort, did a good deal of unrecorded mischief, and
inflicted real loss and hardship.

Some of the oldest inhabitants of a certain district are well assured
that the big wind and flood were brought about by human agency for what
the majority of us conceive to be a very paltry purpose. However
deplorable some of the results of the disturbance, students of
meteorology are bound to take into consideration every incidental
circumstance, even though it tends in the direction of what in drama is
known as "comic relief." In the spirit, then, of offering some
out-of-the-way information illustrative of the subject from a standpoint
different from that of the ordinary "weather-prophet" is this story
penned.

Those who read newspapers, and who consult and have greater or less faith
in forecasts, official and others, and who find themselves elated or
otherwise in accordance with the slow-moving finger of the barometer,
generally confirm or deny one another's sage observations after the
event. We are all grateful for the "special warnings," which in some
cases (where telegraphic communication does not exist) seem to embody the
spice of irony, coming as they do in cheerless print a week too late to
be sensational.

Thackeray tells us that yesterday's unfinished champagne is but a feeble
representation of the staleness of written records of transient hilarity.
How "weary, stale, flat and unprofitable" the "special warnings" which
arrive at remote localities many days after the cyclone has done its
worst; and how greatly are those inhabiting such spots beholden to the
individual who not only boldly foretells such visitations, but sees that
they are not only in accordance with his passing whims, but up to time!

It happens that in this district there is more than one such important
person. They are natives of the soil, whose accumulated knowledge, handed
down from self-confident father to undoubting son, is certainly (as far
as "the long results of time" may avouch) in advance of such upstarts as
the Commonwealth prophet, who relies upon day to day information. They
who will give, on occasion, practical proof of capability to push back
overshadowing clouds, laugh indecorously at the pretensions of a "doctor"
who acknowledged inability to make commonplace rain during a
superabundant wet season.

Of such class is "Old Billy," who believes in the existence of a very
singular species of debil-debil known as "Bidgeroo," and many other weird
things utterly beyond the comprehension of unromantic white men. Old
Billy's connections with the recent meteorological disturbance is summed
up in a very few words:

"Old Billy, he bin make 'em milgar."

In our arrogant assumption, we may have thought that it was due to a
monsoonal depression. If we had all known that a week beforehand, Old
Billy had performed the rite in which the "milgar" is the most potent
paraphernalia, we might have saved ourselves the trouble of watching the
barometer, and just have sat back and calmly waited the inevitable.

Old Billy's warning anticipated the cyclone by a week, and as there are
scores of men along this part of the coast still able to trace
connections between cause and effect, Old Billy's reputation has been
triumphantly applauded.

The milgar is simply a spoon-shaped piece of bark which is put in a
waterhole, and generally attached to a convenient root by a yard or two
of twine, made from the bark of a particular species of fig-tree. A week
after Old Billy's deliberate act, the cyclone swooped down, accompanied
by rains which made Old Billy and others very uncomfortable.

Now, a "doctor" of Old Billy's renown does not resort to such extremes
unless to work off spite or vexation, and as he is a silent man given to
mumbling, it is not always easy to understand his meaning, though at
times his gestures are wonderfully eloquent. On this occasion, however,
there is traceable a reason for the exercise of his vicarious anger, if
not vengeance.

He has a son, Charley, who took as a child-wife a poor slip of a girl
named Mungallo, with whom he lived for some time. Then his still-wavering
fancy was captivated by a young woman, slightly more mature, known as
Nelly, who lived some miles away, being employed as a domestic servant.
These twain practically eloped; but, after the topsy-turvy fashion of
their kind, took up their quarters at an old-time spot and induced the
juvenile Mungallo to live with them.

Soon Charley wearied of Nelly, and again smiled on his child-wife.
Unhappily, the smiles were reciprocated, and soon the uproar in Charley's
humpy almost crowded him out. He found that if marriage is on the path to
bliss, with just an occasional swerve in the direction of purgatory,
polygamy is right on the track to the place where the company, if not the
climate, must be very objectionable.

In due time his marital distresses came to the ears of his sympathetic
father, and Old Billy--never on the side of the angels, for has he not
had three wives?--forthwith made a milgar and put it into a very deep
hole in the creek, so that the wilful females who were "too flash belonga
Charley" might have something else to think about for a few days. That
the wind and the tempestuous rain likewise interfered with his own
happiness, was of little concern to Old Billy, who is a philosopher who
can bear more than the toothache philosophically. But he was guilty of
thoughtlessness. He forgot that about the time when the potency of the
milgar would be working up to a climax, the tides would attain the
highest level of the year. The bumptious surges threatened destruction to
his own home and estate; smashed several boats, destroyed the best part
of a laboriously-built jetty; flooded houses and lands; performed riotous
deeds of beachcombing; and everybody talked weather for a week.

If Nelly had not been quite so pleasing a jade, if Charley had been less
susceptible to feminine charms; if the injured Mungallo had bestowed her
face and fortune on some other boy; if Old Billy had chanced to remember
the incidence of February's spring tide (which he was not at all likely
to do, for he detests the sea almost as heartily as he does the Bidgeroo)
we had lacked all the recent excitement, and many would have been better
off than they find themselves to-day.

Old Billy, thinking only of Charley and the brawling females, worked up a
compensatory storm. At least, such is the steadfast belief of scores of
serious-minded men who have had yet another demonstration of Old Billy's
success as a rainmaker, who are consequently assured of the wisdom of
refraining from acts likely to make him peevish, and in whose eyes he is
"a prophet and much more than a prophet."




RESOURCEFULNESS



As a rule, the Australian aborigines do not get credit for exhibiting
ingenuity, though they have shown by their weapons, their fire-sticks,
nets and other contrivances that they are not destitute of ideas. Until
within recent times the race had to depend for its existence on its
capacity to adapt material fresh from the hands of Nature to the
supplying of its wants; but there does not seem to have been any marked
progress in regard to the development of its weapons and domestic
appliances, the style of which varies in localities while preserving
general characteristics.

One of the examples about to be described shows very decidedly the
influence of white folks; indeed, it is merely an imitation, and is
mainly worthy of note because of the skilful adaptation of a gift of
nature to a strictly utilitarian purpose.

Being somewhat envious of a stock-whip in the possession of the "boss," a
boy, who had been accustomed to work among cattle and liked to be duly
equipped, appeared with a substitute, which he cracked with evident pride
and to the speeding-up of the home-returning cows. As the boy is rather
shy, and, avoided inquiry, no particular notice was taken of the whip
until it proved in his hands its practicability. On casual examination,
it was found to be neatly plaited, well-balanced, though light, and
finished quite in accordance with the recognized art of such things. The
wonder was how it could have been made in the entire lack of prescribed
material. The handle and lash were of one piece. The boy had taken a
straight branch of the beach hibiscus, known in these parts as "manjar,"
stripped the bark off nine feet of its length, and cut out the wood,
retaining a f oot with bark attached. He had then split the bark into
four sections, scraped away the outer and inner layers, graduated the
width of each strand, and made a neat plait.

The whip does, for the time being, due service; but the maker thinks it a
bit light, and fears it may not last long. It is a local product from the
butt of the handle to the cracker, and the latter, under the boy's expert
use, makes a sound like a pistol shot. Effective, neat, cheap and the
work of an idle hour, what more is wanted among tenderly brought up cows?
The chief point about the whip is not, however, its practicability, but
the evidence it affords of the plastic mind of its maker. From childhood,
no doubt, he would be familiar with the use of hibiscus bark for all
sorts of purposes in which white folks would use tough string. The
necessity for a whip arising, good material for its making was ready at
hand, and the imitation of the manufactured article must be pronounced to
be first-class.

The boy owes much, it is certain, to those who brought him up, and it is
further noticeable that the voice of his young wife--they do not talk
"pidgin" English--in quality and intonation is that of a white girl. In
each case association with white people of practical and cultured ways
has directly told.

Another proof of the readiness to improvise effective devices off-hand
was directly due to the presence of a bigger school of mullet than is
commonly seen close inshore. No spears were available, but one of the
boys who became excited by the almost insolent daring of the fish, had a
rusty tomahawk. He raced along the beach until he found a dry branch of
the beach oak, about an inch and a half in diameter. With all possible
haste, he cut off six feet, split one end crosswise, tapered each of the
four parts, roughly pointed them, spread them by the insertion of two
chips, rushed back to the water-line, and secured a couple of the mullet
before the school were flurried into deep water. The fashion of the crude
spear was true to that in general use, but its weight was much greater,
and in the hands of any but a skilful man would have been quite
impracticable. As usual in such circumstances, the boy took no credit to
himself for having obtained at such slight cost a supplementary meal for
three companions and himself. With a couple of pieces of driftwood one of
them made a fire-stick, and within a few minutes the unlucky fish were
broiling.

It had been intended to secure the primitive fish-spear, as a specimen to
illustrate the skill with which blacks are in the habit of seizing
ready-to-hand material to meet the urgency of the occasion, but it was
found that it had been used as part of the fuel to cook the fish. The
fire-stick, which had been carelessly tossed aside, was found days after
and is still preserved--a finer example of the appliance than is usually
sent, bedaubed with ochres, to museums.

While on the subject of the ways and means of the original owners of the
land, it is worth while to recollect that there is reason to believe they
were subject to restraints which prevented any advancement towards
civilization. According to one authority, the country of each clan, or
tribe, was subdivided into areas restricted to families, and weak
families were literally eaten out by the stronger. There was no
interchange of ideas, not the slightest attempt at the cultivation of the
soil, and therefore no possibility of social progress. In one locality in
North Queensland the most admirable and eagerly sought-after food was
human flesh, and perhaps the next best dainty was a python, or the egg of
a scrub-fowl containing a forward chick. It is suggested that even in
districts where food was comparatively plentiful the race, before the
advent of the white usurpers, was gradually dying out, and that epidemics
raged through the continent occasionally, with direful results.

There are grounds for the belief that the blacks even suffered from an
infectious disease similar to influenza, which they described as sickness
of the mouth and nose. It caused the death of a great number.





PART III




A SPINNER OF SAND



Human knowledge will be struck off the world's records before we know
all that is to be said about a gnat.--FABRE.

When the smoke of the belated steamer was a mere smudge in still air far
to the south-west, and there was naught to do but to wait for tidings,
good or bad, from the sick and discomforted world--the din of which
actually reaches these placid scenes--was it not meet to study the sand, a
field of intense though noiseless industry, of edifying determination, of
competitive forces working undesignedly to a common purpose, of
exemplary utility?

In treacherous dimples the ferocious ant-lion, with mandibles one-third
the length of its body, lies in wait for its prey--no king of the beasts
more alert or more sudden or sure. Let a wandering ant venture beyond the
verge of the trap, and the loose, fine sand slips under its tread; it
slides to the bottom of the pit; there is a heave of the sand, and the
ant disappears. But ants and their enemies are not the only intelligences
in the raw sand. If that plume of smoke the steamer wears but keeps its
distance, another and more primitive creature may make itself known.

If you believe that Nature's restorative operations are performed
unceasingly, with never-failing design and often with the exhibition of
wonderful power, you may not be altogether astounded at the antics of
seemingly inanimate things. On this flat a year ago was a thick sward of
grass, perpetually mulched by millions of needles from the beach oaks.
The cyclone buried both the grass and the mulching, so that the new
surface was unprotected from shifting winds. To encourage the growth of
plant-life retentive of sand, Nature employs certain advance agents, the
successive office of each of which is to create ever so meagre an
amelioration of the harsh conditions. Behold how one of these agents
works.

Ordinarily the fallen needle--or branchlet--of a beach oak (CASUARINA
EQUISETIFOLIA) is absolutely passive. Like the tree of the Bible, "In the
place that it falleth there shall it be." But here is one with its
terminal spike of withered flowers that moves, though lacking apparent
impulse, with a succession of jerks. It may be ten inches long, light of
course, yet unaccountably mysterious in its actions. The terminal plume
lifts and sways, as if some unfortunate creature were semaphoring signals
of distress. May these dry things live and brave the light of day with
frolicsome waverings?

Look at the other end, and for a moment the mystery deepens. It is slowly
settling upright in the sand. Was ever conjurer's trick more entertaining!
Take hold of the plume; you will find a weak resistance to the strain
you exert, and then the needle may be withdrawn. Let it lie for a
moment, and again it apparently becomes invested with life. The plume
lifts from the sand, wavers, and begins to heave itself upright, the
frequent pauses in the operation proving that the task is a mighty one,
demanding rests. Carry investigations a trifle further, and you will
discover a sand-coloured grub, a trifle more robust of figure than the
needle, holding the end with mandibles backed by definite purpose. Not
one-tenth the length of the needle, the insect exerts almost magical
strength, and is, moreover, endowed with determination to obey the
dictates of Nature. Though apparently disliking exposure to the sunlight,
yet, should the needle be withdrawn from its grip, the insect after an
interval slowly and cautiously emerges, hastens to it, drags it once more
to the entrance of its shaft, and withdraws, the waving plume
registering each tug.

It is as if a six-foot man were to take hold of a flagstaff about a
third the circumference of his own body and ten times his length, and
retreat into the sand, dragging the staff with him. There is a
circumstance, however, in favour of the herculean grub. Its shaft has
been dug beforehand, though the entrance closes automatically and is not
discoverable on the surface; further, it has a casing of web, reinforced
with minute grains of sand. The shaft may be traced down six and eight
inches. When you look about, you will find similar operations in progress
by the dozen over every square yard of the sandy area. Indeed, in some
places the casings of the shafts are so close together that there may be
three or four in the space of a square inch. Some occupants are working
on needles, or portions thereof, three and four inches long. The
higher-minded grubs, those that tend to improve the conditions of the
multitude, try to get ten-inch needles down eight-inch shafts, and not
only try but succeed; for do they not nibble away the superfluous
length, and as they nibble does not the plume tell of gigantic
concentration of effort, crowned with the flourish of success? Thus do
these sober-tinted, scarcely discernible grubs check the mobility of sand
and make loam upon which plants may feed and be vigorous!

On the brief and hasty excursions of the insect above ground in search of
food in the bulk, the mouth of the shaft closes automatically, as if
controlled by a sphincter muscle. It seems quite safe to conjecture that
it lays an invisible thread of gossamer thence as far as its quest lies,
and that it is provided with terminal appendages for the opening of the
entrance; for, on seizing the end of a needle, it retreats, with never a
glance behind, as briskly as it advanced and with unhesitating precision
to the spot whence it emerged. Tail first it descends; the mouth of the
shaft closes round the needle, which gradually disappears, leaving not a
trace.

By carefully clawing the sand a section of a shaft may be exposed, the
casing being so frail that it falls away on the vertical face. The
thrifty creature may have stored as many as twelve pieces of its food,
varying in length from a quarter of an inch to an inch and a half. Here
it is revealed, bolt upright, and so preoccupied with its nibbling that
it does not on the instant seem to be aware of the disturbance of its
quarters. When it does, it slightly curves itself and becomes passive.
The bottom of the shaft is distended into a pocket by the weight of
accumulated pellets of excrement. In some cases the quantity is about
half a thimbleful. However alluring it may be to elaborate this point,
with Darwin's classic chronicles of the operations of earth-worms in
mind, any such attempt would savour of parody. It would appear that the
office of the tender caterpillar is that of a maker of manure; and it may
have to be more highly organized than an earth-worm so as to perform its
special duties in unpromising circumstances. The loose, recently-driven
sand, from which all salinity can scarcely yet be leached, the dry, harsh
needles, the enormous appetite of the insect--such are the materials and
such the impulse with which Nature fulfils a magnificent purpose.

Swift declared that whoever makes two ears of corn, or two blades of
grass, grow upon a spot of ground where only one grew before does
essential service to his country. The sand-caterpillar and other living
instruments of Nature that prepare hostile soil for the first single
blade of grass, are they not entitled, also, to some sort of recognition?

To deal particularly with the spinner of sand, let it be said that the
few caterpillars sent in spirits to a Museum did not reveal anything upon
which to establish the identity of the perfect insect. It therefore
became necessary to study the history of the insect throughout its
transformations. First attempts to domesticate the caterpillars were
successful beyond expectations. They were found to be tractable, or
indifferent, under restraint, content and healthful under novel
conditions, and submissive to frequent disturbances.

Disappointment having attended many attempts to discover the sand-spinner
in the pupal state, it was necessary to confine the larvae and await
developments. To this end a dozen were housed in a capacious tin half
filled with damp sand, well supplied with casuarina needles strewn on the
surface, and enclosed with wire gauze.

The period of the larval stage was not definitely ascertained; but it is
safe to assume that it is limited to a month. In the course of a fortnight
four had passed into pupae, having converted sections of their
silk-lined shafts into cocoons. These were transferred to a glass jar
containing damp sand, over the mouth of which linen was stretched and
secured.

In its early stages the pupa fidgets on the slightest disturbance; but
presently becomes insensible to the lightest touch. The chrysalis is
three-eighths of an inch long and dark brown in colour.

On the fourteenth day the perfect insect emerged--a plump moth, silvery
grey with pale brown smears, and apparently more comfortable in the dark
than in daylight. With nothing to commend it in appearance, the moth is
far less engaging than the active, eager, ever-hungry caterpillar; but it
displays one quality that excites pity--almost furious resentment of the
restraint upon its liberty. With one exception, the moths emerged from
the cocoon during hours of darkness.

These specimens and observations were duly communicated to Dr. A.
Jefferis Turner, of Brisbane, and from him came an assurance of new
knowledge having been added to entomology.

Since it seemed possible to obtain more intimate knowledge of the
life-story of the humble little stranger which conceals its doings in the
sand, and under the veil of night, further efforts were made. Two
full-grown caterpillars being confined in a glass jar half filled with
sand and rationed with casuarina needles, both, as fortune would have it,
afforded opportunities for the observation of their secretive ways. For
two days each seemed to be content to lie passive, just covered with
sand. Then both excavated shafts from the surface to the bottom of the
jar, one following the inner surface, and thereby exposing the full depth
of the shaft. In the making of the shaft the sand was displaced, not
removed. the side being compacted until it was firm and smooth.

Food was drawn to the bottom in about half inch lengths. The insect
emerged from the shaft, seized the end of a needle, backed to the
trap-door mouth, descended tail first, bit off a convenient portion and
drew it to the bottom; reascended, drew down a further length, retired
with another convenient piece, and so on, to eat and repose.

Four days elapsed before the next process towards security and comfort
was undertaken--the silken lining of the shaft, a slow work, apparently
pursued with that economy of material in which Nature often rejoices. On
the sand-face the shaft in section was delicately cased, but the glass
side was not blurred with a single thread.

In his first letter on the subject, after receiving specimens of the
moths, Dr. Jefferis Turner remarks that they represent a very interesting
discovery. "Not only is this a new observation, but the moth is unknown
to science, and its larval habits are most unexpected in the group to
which it belongs." He adds that it belongs to a very large and
cosmopolitan family and to the sub-family of CRAMBIDAE, and that he
thinks "it is one of the large genus CRAMBUS, though I will not commit
myself to this absolutely until I have made more detailed examination.
The species of CRAMBUS are mostly grass-feeders, and I believe none of
them has habits anything like those you have discovered. Perhaps we may
name the species CRAMBUS AMMONTHES--that is to say, 'A Spinner of Sand.'"

Though the sand-spit is riddled with silk-lined shafts, each caterpillar
lives a solitary, independent existence. The whole scheme may be said to
represent an organized plan for the conversion of a waste material into a
fertilizer, with but little loss, as it would seem, either in bulk or
weight. So evident is its singleness of purpose that each humble insect
might be deemed to be capable of realizing that its period of activity is
far too brief for slackness--that waste of time and opportunities is not
to be tolerated.

It is a beneficial work silently performed, and unostentatiously, too,
save for the flickering here and there of the disappearing standards;
performed, too, without fumbling or blundering by creatures that most of
us regard as composed of little else than disagreeable "squash."

Under natural conditions, a blank exists in the life-story of the insect.
Though it is quite easy to obtain specimens of the larvae during a period
of six months of the year, and to get them to pupate in confinement, so
far not a single specimen of the pupae has been found in the sand or
elsewhere. Larvae are to be found in all conditions of size and age, even
to the state when they appear to be on the verge of transformation, the
grey tint of the body changing to ivory yellow; but, though the pupae of
other insects are frequently noticed, this stage is at present a problem
except under artificial conditions.




METALLIC STARLINGS



Judging from the alacrity with which metallic starlings begin building
their nests on their advent in August of each year, and the earnestness
of family duties during their sojourn of seven months, it is conceivable
that but for the positive check of the wet season they might maintain the
vigorous fulfilment of these duties the year round. Early and persistent
rain sends them off with evident reluctance. When a preliminary downpour
has rendered the nests uninhabitable, a fine interval has so far deluded
them that they have started to demolish and rebuild, only to be driven
away by the recurrence of inclement weather. Governed by its incidence,
they seem to detest the rain.

With rare exceptions, the starlings come to this island during the first
ten days of August. Seldom do they shriek and glitter in forest and
jungle after 20th March. In a typical year they appeared on 5th August,
whereas at a locality on the mainland, only seven miles away, they were
noticed a fortnight earlier. A colony which had established itself, time
out of mind, on a slim Moreton Bay ash-tree (EUCALYPTUS TESSELLARIS) in
the heart of the forest, hatched out three, if not four, distinct broods
during the season, which lasted until 30th March following. Originally
the colony was sixty nests strong, and the first brood was hatched out
within twenty-six days, evidence of the fact being given by portions of
stained egg-shells on the ground beneath. In six weeks the number had
been increased by thirty. The second hatching took place early in
December; the third about the middle of January; and there are
indications of a fourth late in February. Rain during January and
February was not sufficient to annoy or embarrass the birds.

On 30th December three nests were found beneath the overladen tree. In
each were three slightly incubated eggs. Each nest was carpeted with
fragments of fresh green leaves of Moreton Bay ash, torn and nibbled at
the edges. What office do the green leaves perform? Possibly the
pungency, agreeable to the human sense of smell, may be obnoxious to the
insects which fidget adults and chicks--in which case the adults may
wittingly provide, and, in a degree, macerate, the leaves for the
annoyance of the lice.

On 4th February the colony numbered 125 nests, and on that date two more
overweighted branches came down. In several of the nests were
fledgelings, all save two of which were killed by the fall or were
worried to death by green ants. One of the survivors died shortly after
discovery of the disaster. The other--an independent, self-assertive,
ill-mannered imp--lived in and about the house for a couple of months.

The adult metallic starling is remarkable for the colour and lustre of
its eyes, which are ruby-red and glitter gem-like. The eyes of the
castaway were deep brown in infancy. Not until a month after it had
become the most noisy, impatient, and impertinent member of the household
did the eyes begin to change; nor was the reddish tint primarily
permanent. In quiet moods the eyes were washy-red. Excitement and anger
deeply tinged them. In fact, the tints of the iris varied with almost
every pulsation, the emotions of the excitable sprite being expressed in
more or less richness of red.

At the age of six weeks it was estimated that this small orphan bird, in
the care of interested mortals, consumed daily food sufficient for a
human infant. Its menu included oatmeal porridge and milk, rice, mango,
papaw, bread, cake, large white grubs, caterpillars, mosquitoes bloated
with human blood, March and other flies, grasshoppers and samples of
every other edible unprotected from its raids. It would feast on the
scrag end of a neck of a decapitated fowl with as much apparent relish
as on the skin of a mango!

Having early in life acquired a taste for milk, it declined to spoil its
thirst with water; since, moreover, it was free and was alert, quick and
questioning, it made itself understood, and generally got that which it
wanted at the moment, if not with goodwill then by force, persistency, or
fraud. It took baths regularly, being especially fond of the "blue" tub
of the laundry, on the edge of which it would perch, to duck and sprawl
therein; and there it would stand to be well soused, screaming with glee.

Young birds from the same colony were wont to visit chilli bushes in the
garden, but with them the pet did not, for several weeks, make friends.
It soon learned to take chillies, though the first knowledge of that
diverting fruit was disastrous. Instead of being swallowed whole, it was
broken up and deliberately tasted, and with a shriek of dismay and
flooded eyes, sparkling like embers, it flew to the kitchen, imploring
the consolation of milk. Ever after, chillies were bolted.

Occasionally the orphan would camp on a mango-tree; but its accustomed
bed was in a small basket under cover, the lid of which was kept open to
the extent of half an inch by a chip of wood at one corner. At dusk the
bird would dash across the kitchen, to disappear beneath the lid like a
jack-in-the-box, and if, an instant later, the lid was lifted, the
intruder would be warned off with an admonitory hiss.

In no sense affectionate or lovable, its departure was at least
consistent with its character. From a convenient mango-tree it darted on
to the edge of a dish being borne to the fowl-yard, tasted of its
quality, and danced on to the shoulder of its mistress, just as a flock
of its own race dashed past. With a shriek it followed--never to return.

The history of the little bird was instructive, affording information as
to the variety and quantity of food it consumed. Perpetual hunger was a
marked condition, and the digestive processes, being very imperfect,
demonstrated the value of such an agent in the distribution of seeds.
Millions of seeds with unaffected germination must be transported hither
and thither by various colonies of starlings every season, to the
advantage of the vegetable kingdom.

A contributor to an English review is inclined to wonder whether the
starlings of the Old Country "do not possess some strange occult sense of
organization which in the long process of evolution may carry them higher
and higher in the scale of creation." That Australia's native starlings
do benefit by the laws of community there can be little doubt; but their
socialistic habits appear to invite the raids of snakes and hawks. It is
not uncommon to find a grey goshawk in possession of the tree in which a
colony is established, and all the adult birds crowded on another close
by, whence they timidly watch the enemy. The hawk does not appear to have
wit enough to raid the domed nests; but it awaits a chance of dashing
among the alert birds that have exercised themselves in manoeuvres of
evasion.

Late each season the flocks assemble for the performance of these
tactics, in which they act as though the separate entities had but a
single brain. Not only in times of peace, but in the presence of a
baffled and exasperated enemy, they cleave the air in acute angles with
almost instantaneous changes of direction, shrieking in unison.

The assurance with which snakes raid the nests was illustrated a few
years ago, when notes were being taken of the habits of the birds.
Goshawks had harried the colony so frequently that visits were made at
intervals with the gun, and on one occasion, while I was waiting for a
shot, a big black snake shuffled slowly towards the trunk of the tree. By
its demeanour its very thoughts might have been read. Cruel, crafty,
arrogant, it seemed to assert its dominion over other beasts of the field
and the fowl of the air; nor did it turn aside though passing within a
foot of the watcher. It wriggled its own length up the smooth trunk--and
fell back headless on the report of the gun.




THE SUNBIRD



Sired by a sunbeam, born of a flower, gaiety its badge, might be said in
fable of the sunbird, as in temperament and tint it parades its right to
such parentage. Sprightly, sudden in many shifts, not disposed to be
over-trustful--yet for its diminutiveness, gay colours, habits and
inconsequence it is likeable if not lovable, a gem to be thankful for and
to admire. An ornament in the garden, a shy, fragile habitant of the
bush, artificial rather than a work of unassisted nature, it seems to
understand its frailty and to take, perhaps, unnecessary precautions
against the assaults of enemies, especially during the nesting-season.

Occasionally the nest is built under the verandah. A pair, bolder than
the others, selected the boatshed, where both building and incubation
were subject to many interruptions and yet successfully concluded.
Generally independence is preferred, and in forest or on the  fringe of
the jungle or on a branch overhanging the beach the nest will be found;
and always it is so artfully draped as rarely to be detected, apart from
the presence of the builders. An example may be described.

As it passes from maturity to decay the spathe of the commonest of the
pandanus palms becomes brown and mildewed, and, caught by the
prickle-edged leaves in tufts and shreds, the flowers may hang loosely in
the air. One such dangling plume became a source of trivial annoyance,
for it was suspended over a frequently traversed path just high enough to
flap the face of the heedless passerby. Other leaves of the palm were
similarly decorated all showing the processes of change and decay more or
less conspicuously. In course of time that which had occasioned many an
unconscious swerve littered the path, still clinging to the sword-shaped
leaf, and in the midst was an unsuspected nest in which a brood had been
reared.

Different in its concealment was a nest woven on the frayed end of a
strip of bark still attached to the trunk of a massive tea-tree. Threads
of the bark were interwoven with the body of the nest, and a graduated
strand was the customary pendant. But for a chance visit from the male
bird, with his yellow chest and blue bib, the gently swaying nest would
never have been noticed.

Do such birds consciously conceal their nests? Are not their only enemies
snakes, which depend on the sense of smell, not of sight, and are
accordingly not subject to illusions which the elaborate deceptions seem
designed to create? As far as outside show goes, the completed nest is a
tattered, tapering remnant of inanimate nature, with an entrance so
secret and downcast that the parent bird seems to enter from below, while
within it is cosy and softly lined, befitting the occupation of chicks
with an inborn leaning towards comfort and safety.

Though the nest may have no delusive effect on a marauding snake, its
lightness, insecure situation, and the obscurity of the entrance may in
combination afford a fair measure of protection. So, with or without
design, the frivolous sunbird outwits the reptile which was wont to be
emblematic of subtlety and craft.

Nests under the surveillance of human beings are simpler exteriorly than
those of the bush, no trouble being taken to adjust them in appearance to
their surroundings; and not a single local instance can be cited of an
attempt to blur such nests other than by a trivial tail-piece. Those who
scoff at the suggestion that birds are capable of apprehending the object
to be accomplished may be able to explain why the sunbirds do not blindly
obey the laws of instinct and efface nests under artificial cover with
oddments, making them as usual, things of shreds and patches. Whether
they were aware of the needlessness of concealment, or whether in the
lack of suitable material they abandoned the habit, are questions for
others to discuss. Here is one who, like Rosa Dartle, "wants to be put
right, if wrong" in believing that birds and other creatures of less
mental equipment than ourselves have, at least, the faculty of varying
the habitual performance of an intelligent action in accordance with
necessities and circumstances.

The shrill, small voice of the sunbird is almost indistinguishable from
the stridulation of one of the leaf insects, which makes its amorous
noises in the evening as well as during the sunny hours. Frequently both
sounds are heard in confusing blend. Many times have the red hibiscus
bushes been searched for the fitful, flittering sunbird in vain, while
the red-eyed insect which hides under the mimicry of a pair of green
leaves has proclaimed its passion with impatient fervour.

The insects were plentiful, but the birds had been rare during a
considerable interval, the cyclone of March, 1918, having destroyed so
many that for a time it was feared they must be counted among the losses
due to one devastating night. During this year (1921) the
birds have shown signs of recovering the lost ground, so far as numbers
are concerned. A family of six on the crown of an umbrella-tree gave
welcome proof of increase; and, though without appeal to the sensual ear,
were not the hasty twitters of the sprites sounds of triumph over the
storm which, having ravaged beaches, scarred hills, maimed every
food-providing plant and driven strong-winged birds across the sea, had
merely checked for a season the well-being of the weak?

Science does not recognize distinct association between the sunbird and
the humming-bird of America, yet in habits and in certain poses
resemblance may be traced. Both live on minute flower-frequenting
insects, and refresh themselves with nectar. Both poise over the flowers
they visit, though the accomplishments of the sunbird in the feat are
less assured, less frequently displayed, and of less duration than those
of the "miniature miracle of nature which delights to revel among the
honeysuckle bowers." The ancient Mexicans believed that the humming-bird
suspended its animation and its body during the cold season of the year;
that it drove its long bill into the bark of a tree and thus spent the
rigorous winter, waking at the coming of spring, to feast on spiders and
quaff honey. True to their familiar name, our sunbirds are silent during
the rains of the wet season; but on the first gleam of sunshine they
bustle among the flowers, performing pretty feats of agility and joining
in a musical competition with their neighbours of the leaf.

Boldly located, but so shaded that it blends with the scene, the nest of
the North Queensland sunbird is artless compared with those of two
relatives native to North Borneo, in which concealment is exemplified on
altogether different principles. Three singular nests are referred to in
A NATURALIST IN BORNEO, by the late Robert W. C. Shelford. A brief
quotation may be pardoned on the plea of the value of comparisions. One
is described as a hemispherical cup of interwoven fibres covered with
skeleton leaves, slung by silken threads to the under surface of a large
leaf. The suspensory threads (obtained from spiders' webs) "are passed
through holes made in the leaf by the bird's bill, and the ends are
twisted up into knots to prevent slipping." This one is said to be not
only fairly secure from observation but well protected from snakes.
Another, composed of skeleton leaves and fibres and bast, is placed
between two growing leaves pegged together with bits of stick. A third
bears some resemblance of that of the North Queensland species, being a
pear-shaped structure of bark fibres and cocoons of silk-weaving
caterpillars, with entrance at the side under an overhanging eave. It
dangles from the end of a bough.

In the selection of sites for nests, in style, material and
manipulation, sunbirds must be credited with exceptional skill. These are
external matters from which each species benefits in accordance with its
lights. In proof of regard for general welfare--for the preservation of
the type--it may be pointed out that they adhere to one principle. Though
the breasts of males are vivid, the backs of all conform to the tints of
vegetation, so that during moments of stillness the gift of invisibility
is theirs. They do homage to the sun, glory in its patronage, mimic its
rays as they gleam and flicker among reflecting leaves, and while at rest
simulate shadowed ones.

But what is this? One of the sweet creatures, discovering a tiny spider
lurking in a corner of the window, flutters against the incomprehensible
glass, taps it with pointed bill, and, baffled, flits off, tittering with
vexation. Better its company in the sunshine than these shady studies of
its architectural skill.




THE SWAMP PHEASANT



Strange ministrant of undescribed sounds.--KEATS.


Australian, truly; but, unlike the emu, the black swan, the lyre-bird,
the kookaburra, and others, the swamp pheasant is not exclusively so.
Familiarly known as a pheasant, and having one feature at least in common
with the family, it makes no claim to direct relationship. Science seems
somewhat bewildered by its contrarieties; it is placed among the cuckoos,
its formal title being CENTROPUS PHASIANINUS--pheasant-like
spur-foot--while the approved vernacular name is a combination,
pheasant-coucal.

In common with most birds, the swamp pheasant has its exclamatory season.
During the cool months it seldom breaks the silence; when the leaves of
the purple-fruited terminalias begin to redden and fall, when the native
nutmegs are soft, furry and brown, and before the calophyllums blossom,
the pheasants, responding to the universal thrill, assume their status as
the loudest (save the harsh-voiced channel-billed cuckoos) and most
persistent singers of the forest Perhaps the term "singer," applied to
sweet-voiced birds generally, should not be associated with one of such
original and powerful style. Mellow and fluent though they be, the
utterances are not indicative of gladsomeness nor of a sprightly
disposition; nor are they songs.

Melodious recitatives rather than harmonic themes, such as are sung by
some honey-eaters or by metallic starlings in their rare intervals of
restfulness and communication, the fluencies of this lover of the moist
earth seem to typify favourite resorts--to be earthly, not aerial;
assertions of the joys of this world rather than compliments to the
skies. And when bird follows bird in varying keys in the transmission of
its sentiments, until the voice in the distance sounds like a far-away
bell, the listener will, if in harmony, give thanks for a psalm that
proclaims happiness, peace and lively hope.

Has any poet attempted to rhyme its moods and music, any artist shown it
save as a staid creature incapable of frolic and destitute of fun?
Ideally at home on the peaty margins of pandanus swamps, revelling in
seclusion, rejoicing triumphantly in otherwise silent places, a lover of
sunshine as well as of cool shades, the long, dusky bird, when accustomed
to the presence and the ways of man, surely reveals its gift of humour;
else why those pranks, swinging its tail, ducking its head, ruffling
itself to twice its natural bulk while chortling impertinences? Why,
otherwise, does it squat on the frond of a coco-nut palm, spread out
like a remnant of frayed bark, and, peering down, parody the terrier
below?

The mimicry of the lyre-bird, the tinkle of the bell-bird, the songs of
the lark, the warblings of the magpies, the strangulated paean of the
butcher-bird, the melodies of the thrush, the hearty glee of some
honey-eaters, the call of the whip-bird--all these find rendering in
verse; but the swamp pheasant's melodies, the richest, the purest, the
loudest of all, have they been immortalized? The bird's most prosperous
sphere, the warm, moist coast, has yet to produce its poet, and southern
versifiers may have ignored it for the reason that few have had the
privilege of listening to it--also, perhaps, because it is not quite at
home anywhere save in the tropics, and does not give of its best where
least at ease.

This earthly psalmist of rare felicity in the expression of its emotions
seems proud of its gifts and fond of exercising them. Harken now to the
succession of full-sounding, slow, booming notes, accentuated by balanced
rests, as if the vocalist were conscious of a flawless performance and
studied it with the air of a libant, pausing between sips of the
exquisite. Listen again to the quick, crisp, trippingly airy outbursts of
merriment. Are they improvisations of a thoughtless moment, tossed into
space? And how delicately do a pair in concord harmonize as, perched on a
dead limb, they make musical a square mile of attentive forest!

What is richer, more inspiring to serene and lofty thought, more
soothing, less worldly than the bubbling chant heard on a September
midnight, when the winds are still? Wakened from innocent and happy
dreams, the bird seems to assure its fellows that all is well--not
boisterously or in loud and authoritative terms, but in tones bespeaking
sympathy and love. It might be repeating that chiming phrase

    He, watching over Israel,
    Slumbers not nor sleeps.

A few seconds of thrilling silence, and another organ-voiced dreamer of
all that is consoling takes up the theme, in the same subdued, hushing,
almost apprehensive cadence. It is the warranty of mutual confidence and
hope, blended with supplication for preservation from the perils of the
night. A distant sleeper responds cautiously, each note distinct and
mellow; and so the sound is borne away until lost in musical throbs, and
the whole Isle has heard the pheasants reassuring each other against the
powers of darkness.

Grand in their solemnity and comfort, the night notes are in sharp
contrast with the varied exclamations and happy calls of the day. Surely
there are but few birds gifted with such a range of vocabulary. Its
undertones, its purlings of satisfaction, confidences to its mate, harsh
protests against the presence of an enemy, sneers at those of whom it has
no fear, joyful performance of its scales in unison with a lighter-voiced
companion, defiant hoots, each and all explicit and characteristic,
provide never-ceasing entertainment.

Among the many Australian songsters is there one more accomplished, one
that more eloquently extols the sweetness of freedom, that croons to
itself so like a flute in tone with a zephyr, that scolds a hawk in the
sky or a snake in the grass with such fervour and decision, or
unconsciously repeats the echoes from a belfry in elf-land?

Besides being a chanter of the pleasures of life in the fervent regions,
the good bird is a gallant defender of its home, an attentive spouse, an
industrious provider, a bully, a bombastic sort of knave, a fighter for
its rights; no tremulous socialist too weak to whisper, but a hearty
individualist making the best of opportunities, with a good and playful
word for everyone, no fear of anyone and some sort of greeting for all.

Careless, happy-go-lucky, unreflective as it may seem, surely in
obedience to the first law of Nature the swamp pheasant displays high
intelligence. Generally the rough, loosely-built nest is hidden in tall,
blady grass a foot or so above the ground, the grass stems being bent to
meet above it in the form of an arch. Occasionally the site is a low
bush, and the grass structure is then interwoven with twigs and faded
leaves. Wherever situated, it looks like a crude basket with a
disproportionate and impracticable handle; but its design does the
builder credit. While the arch covers the back, neck and head of the
brooding bird, the tail extends beyond, and the greys and browns of the
upper feathers blend with the neutral tints of the withered vegetation,
so that concealment is complete. When the bird is absent, the arch
screens the conspicuous white eggs, and, in due course hides ugly, black,
almost repulsive-looking chicks, each sparsely clad with long, white,
hairlike feathers.

The eggs of most ground birds are, of course, tinted in accordance with
the environment of the nest. White eggs demand protection, hence the
artfulness of the swamp pheasant. Can there be any doubt that the scheme
of disguise is the result of conscious purpose, and accordingly different
from the primal gift of green backs to gorgeous-breasted fruit-pigeons,
birds destitute of outstanding characteristics and pitifully crude in
nest-building?

An authority on protective coloration says that, in consequence of all
wild creatures being lighted from above, a gradation of shades from dark
on the upper side to light on the lower is the one great principle
running through organic life, and is "exactly what is needed to render
solid objects inconspicuous under descending light." Aberrant in other
respects, the swamp pheasant disobeys this law, and justifies its
disobedience by inconspicuousness. In a notable habit the bird does seem
conscious of the wisdom of nullifying its appearance. Settling in an
exposed position, such as the top of a stump, the tail is drooped and
slightly expanded, and the wings held loosely and languidly, the effect
being that the black underparts are more or less effectively screened by
brown and neutral tints, so that the bird becomes, though not invisible,
an unattractive item, a blank in the scene not at all likely to arrest
the eye. It is not to be assumed that the listless, helpless attitude is
designed to lure an intruder from the nest, for it is practised at all
seasons.

Except the universal foe--snakes--the swamp pheasant has few, if any
enemies. Why then the need of caution during sunlight, which snakes do
not court? There are grounds for the belief that the bird, confident of
general security, braves possible foes, for as often as not on becoming a
blur it repeats a singularly harsh cry, to the accompaniment of a trick
of the body that flouts the theory of self-protection. At each jeering
exclamation the tail, spread like an open fan, jerks over the back, and
the head ducks, note and action combining in bombastic self-advertisement.

However vain speculations on the reflective powers of birds in general
may be, the swamp pheasant, possessing original qualifications as well as
oddities, may be studied as a superior to "lesser breeds without the
law;" and if it has also the virtue of being able to enjoy its own
antics, then grant it all possible goodwill, and interpret its actions in
flattering terms.

Few wild birds are less skilled on the wing. Speed and grace in the air
were not considered when its form was in the making; since most of its
living is earned on or close to the ground, little more than the rudiments
of flight have been acquired. Although able to rise from the ground,
its angle of ascent is low, its speed slow and anxious, if the bird be
under the influence of excitement.

Alighting on the branch of a tree it generally loses balance, almost
toppling over; the long, loose-jointed tail then comes into action as a
counterpoise. Having secured foothold, it jumps and scrambles higher and
higher, more like a timid cat than a winged creature, and from due
elevation labours to another and loftier tree. Even the great gift of
effortless descent to Mother Earth is not exercised with boldness or
skill, being undertaken as a thrilling, adventuresome feat not wholly
free from risk; and the landing is often both awkward and ungraceful.

Neither truly of the ground nor of the trees, the realm of this
exceptional bird is among the shrubs and tall grass, where insects are
abundant and cover convenient. However entangled the undergrowth, it
moves with ease and considerable speed, with shuffling, almost reptilian
wriggle, secreting itself suddenly and cunningly, and bursting into
flustering flight to avert capture by hand.

On this Isle, where birds are on terms of equality and are encouraged to
exercise their rights, the swamp pheasant has become a familiar. Does it
realize that it may be impudent and scoffing without forfeiting goodwill?
With an air of defiance and bravado it may sweep along the path to
the beach, chuckling and sneering, head tucked between hunched
shoulders, or retreat into the maze of blady grass, side-glancing
invitations to a game of hide and seek in which it is bound to win.
And when, on occasion, one with more than common effrontery sits
on the gate-post as you pass through, is it not polite to make obeisance,
since it represents the community which had charter of the Isle ages
before the intruder made free of it?

To such a friend you may bow with genuine respect. It has flattered you
with trustfulness; has killed off innumerable plant-destroying insects;
has saluted your ears day and night for the best part of the year; has
exasperated you by the persistent din of a far-sounding plaint; has
taught you that a bird of clumsy and laggard flight may be the embodiment
of good-humour. With organ voice it has gloated over the joys of the
moment, and its intoned monody on passing woes

    Sounds ever as a sullen bell
    Remembered knolling a departing friend.

More than a mere bird, it has come to be loved as the good genius of the
Isle, for it typifies many of its features besides its liberties, humid
shades and babble of running water.




SWIFTS AND SWIFTLETS



Early on the morning of Sunday, 16th January 1921, for--as far as
observation goes--the second time during close on a quarter of a century,
a flock of swifts passed over Dunk Island.

The species was not definitely ascertained; but it may have been the
spine-tailed, the conspicuous feature of the "white-rumped" not
attracting notice. Some flew so high as scarcely to be visible, while
others hawked, close to the bosom of Mother Earth, in company with the
ever-present swiftlet, in pursuit of termites then issuing from their
dark, moist quarters with agitated haste. For over four hours the birds
partook of the hospitality of the Isle, but when a gentle north-east
breeze sprang up the call of the South became irresistible; still
wheeling lingeringly, they responded, the only motes in the transparent
blueness of the sky.

Whensoever during daylight flying termites emerge from the soil, they are
subject to many perils. Lizards and ants seize them at their very doors,
the former gobbling on the spot, the latter carrying them off. Among the
birds none seems to appreciate the trifles as keenly as the swiftlets,
which become, in so far as such mild and gentle creatures may, bold and
fierce in their raids. Though showing no fear of human beings, even when
the home cave is visited, swiftlets cannot be considered among the
familiars of man. A bird that rarely rests during daylight, except when
brooding, and is as free as the air, neither fears nor favours its
admirers; but when the wings of ants and termites glitter in the light of
the newly-risen sun they disdain the presence of onlookers.

Shall we stand for a while to watch the varied behaviour of banqueting
birds this steamy morning, when the passing of the wet season is denoted
by the mingling of the fragrance of the last blossoms of the tea-trees
with the sweetness of the first of the wattles?

Wood-swallows swoop down on the swarms, cut through them time and again
with quick alternations of soaring and fluttering, and resume their perch
on the maimed bloodwood tree, there to vaunt tense white vests. Always
prim and clean, always loving kinship, there they sit as close together
as peas in a pod, and when one darts out for another mouthful, its
relations, complacently twittering, shuffle away the empty space.

Confident in every movement, beautiful in every aspect, the rainbow-birds
(MEROPS) circle with sunlit wings among the small fry in the unruffled
style of the adept; but bees and other prey of like size must be borne to
a convenient roost, there to be battered and swallowed gluttonously, with
effort and exertion. Though the birds journey in companies in open order,
meals are taken independently, each selecting a convenient resting-place
and enjoying its pleasure somewhat sadly.

Clinking and clattering, the spangled drongo, solitary when family duties
are over, scuffles among the crowd in brief raids, fidgeting and fussing
meanwhile, an impatient spectator of more accomplished fliers, though an
alarmist, a scoffer and a bully if a hawk intrudes.

Meek of voice as well as of demeanour, the leaden fly-catcher takes toll
from the insects that drift nearest its lowly perch, where, apparently
far away in spirit from any sort of adventure, it twists and turns in
agitated expectation.

The rhythmic evolutions of the bolder of the feasters--a bewildering
succession of curves and undulations--might be an unstudied ballet; or
they might represent a throng of fairies weaving, with gossamer
imperceptible to mortals, a complicated design on the blueness of the sky
and the greenness of the foliage. For all the fervency and haste, no
jostlings or conflict of claims to the best share of a profuse gift
disturbs the harmony of the pattern.

On foot a hopeless cripple, on wing the picture of ease and grace, the
swiftlet wheels in circles of varying radii, interrupted by turns of
excelling certainty. Audaciously fearless, it often passes silently
within arm's reach; when on the instant it swerves within a few inches of
your head, then and only then a wisp of sound may be heard.

Splendid are the gifts bestowed upon the little bird in compensation for
degenerate legs, which, to vary Shakespeare's phrase, nothing can but
cling--eager, defiant, persistent flight, as swift almost as light, as
silent as dawn, and sight marvellous in acuteness and adaptability. At
one moment it flies as effortless as the drift of wind-blown thistledown,
the next as unwaveringly as an arrow. Does it not often race the
fast-fleeting light? In company with semi-blind bats it scours the dusk,
taking toll of insects that sport boldly in the dark, and in an instant
shoots over the hill and down through the gloomy jungle to its quarters,
there to thread its way along crevices a hand's breadth wide, and to
alight without hesitation at the edge of its nest among hundreds of
others on the roof of an obscure dormitory.

Swiftlets' nests are unique among those of Australian birds. Restricted
by reason of aerial life in the choice of material, the bird makes a
framework of vegetable substances consolidated with saliva. In one cave
all the birds had used as a base a grey-green moss, which hangs from
trees in specially damp situations and can be seized during flight.
Another and considerably larger colony favoured what appeared to be the
stems of a thin, wiry grass, and on the only occasion on which they were
caught in the act of nest-building all were filching dried "needles"
from beach oaks (CASUARINA EQUISETIFOLIA), picking and choosing without
slackening speed, each carrying off a single strand.

On a dull day the single white egg seems to glow as if it were slightly
phosphorescent; perhaps that effect is produced by a slight reflection
from the grey gelatine which forms a considerable part of the nest.

Delicately formed, sober in tint, with a fluff of grey at the base of the
tail, short of beak and woefully lacking in leg, the swiftlet is well
proportioned and planned for its part in the scheme of Nature; this is to
keep in check certain winged insects of destructive character, that
otherwise might make the life of man miserable and defeat his efforts to
become a habitant of lonely places. What quantity does a single colony
dispose of between dawn and dusk? When the local supply runs short, the
daily range for forage must be considerable; but what is distance to a
creature whose speed may be safely estimated at over a mile a minute?
The rivers of the mainland, the mangrove swamps, the lily lagoons are
pleasant and profitable resorts, and the open spaces miles further inland
are available at the cost of a trifle of time. It is safe to assume, too,
that a bird of such high power must exhaust its vital force rapidly, and
that there must be constant renewal. Two or three colonies represent,
therefore, free agencies operating for the benefit of man to an extent
and worth beyond estimation.

When the homing birds appear at dusk there is no slackening of wing. They
have flown and feasted, probably without cessation, all the hours of
light, and now for rest. Daylight abroad is not for chatter either; but
do they ever shuffle each into a tiny nest or cling beside a brooding
mate, without greeting associates with a gritty sort of twitter?--just
the sort of sound appropriate to a home in the hollow heart of a granite
boulder, bewilderingly dim on the brightest noon.

Deprived as it is of the impulse of legs, how does a frail, light bird,
submissive to all the functions of life on the wing, rest and incubation
excepted, rise from a flat surface on the rare occasions when it
alights? Fly-like, it clings to the slanting roof of its home, thence
drops, and is away. That is easy enough. But it has been seen to rise
from unlittered, level sand, and the feat is performed so quickly that
the effect is as if it were tossed upward by a force foreign to itself.
No doubt the instantaneous impact of both wings against the sand gives
the initial impetus. Scores brooding breast deep, and one after another
popping into the air, present a sight that few have had the privilege of
witnessing, and for that reason a recital of some of the features of the
scene in which the feat is performed may be acceptable.

A few miles from its mouth one of the rivers of the mainland is
constricted by an encroachment of sand which has edged its course against
the opposing side; there a high, muddy bank, reinforced by the matted
roots of water-loving plants and trees, resists erosion. The swirling
stream runs in a sharp curve round the tail of a bank whereon crocodiles
drowse in the sun. If they themselves do not happen to be apparent, the
furrows of hasty launchings are there as evidence of the presence of ill
things in these lovely waters. There, too, on the sand squat swiftlets,
easy of conscience and not to be flustered by a passing boat. With a
flicker, as each wills and wishes, it is on the wing, to gorge in the
teeming air. You listen for the sound which should accompany so
explosive a movement, and catch merely the melodious calls, the whimpers
and twittering of birds of but trumpery skill in flight; and you wonder
which gets the best out of life--the pampered dwellers in the paradise
of slim-shanked palms, where swamps and sludge belch clouds of delicious
insects, or the adventurous wanderers that set distance at naught, that
are silent, that share with crocodiles the comfort of warm sand and
rejoice in the liberties of the upper air with eagles!

Since the swiftlet is among those birds of Australia whose habits and
manners have not yet been studied closely, it is incumbent on the part of
an individual who has opportunities for observation denied to expert
ornithologists, to record trivial and homely facts illustrative of its
life-history, as well as its conspicuous qualities. In this consideration
a cloistered virtue ought not to be ignored.

From early infancy the chicks observe the most primitive of sanitary
laws, being at pains to avoid the fouling of their own nests. Though it
would, perhaps, be absurd to suggest that they may be endowed with a
special sense of delicacy because of the singular fabrication of the
nests, it may not be beyond reason to assume that the offspring of
creatures that delight in the cleanly air may manifest instinctive
dislike to dirt and discomfort.

Of what are known as "true swifts," four are attributed to Australia.
Two of them breed in Siberia and Japan, and travel as far south as
Tasmania; another, the builder of the edible nest, is said to be
an occasional visitor to the extreme North of our country. The
swiftlet, herein referred to, is the only one of the family known to breed
here; moreover, its breeding-places are confined to the coastal tracts of
the North. It is the duty, and should be the pleasure, of North
Queenslanders to see that so useful and distinct a bird for ever escapes
the penalties of rarity.





CHARACTER IN BIRDS



Wild birds play, and in their pastimes show all their beauty and
gracefulness to advantage; the airs often assumed in their ecstasy are
evidence almost of pride in the effect that their antics and feats
produce on the mind of the beholder. In many parts of the coastal tract
of North Queensland a singularly important little bird--a member of the
crow family--is fairly plentiful. To him I would appeal as witness in
support of the opinion that birds gloat over their superiority to man in
respect of flight.

The spangled drongo is black, but not so black that a shade of greenish
purple is absent from his shoulders. He has a decidedly crowish head and
bill, brownish-red eyes, and a long, fish-like, forked tail, which he
has the habit of twitching or flicking to emphasize the meek, clinking
tones of his staid and sober moments. Though a bird of the forest, the
drongo chooses resorts adjacent to the jungle, and, (in my experience)
invariably selects the Moreton Bay ash for nesting. Among the thin,
grey-green leaves, far towards the end of a branch, the nest is fairly
safe, though conspicuous. But if the nest were not easily seen, the
drongo is not of a disposition to allow anyone to pass without noticing
his demure spouse, whose long tail sticks out with matronly pride over
the edge of the nest of twigs in defiance of all conventions. He "cheeps"
and she answers, for she is just as fussy over the business as he is
vain. Most birds are secretive in respect of the serious occupation of
their lives. The drongo and his consort make as much of it as possible,
advertising it far and wide, and they follow and feed their young, making
much noise, long after the nest has been deserted.

In many ways and attributes the drongo is a character. Conspicuous,
noisy, self-assertive, fussy, and inconsequent, it might be thought that
his duties in the harmony of nature were of little concern to others.
But, as a fact, he is so useful and so brave that the lives of many
others would be attended with greater risks and be less comfortable and
happy if his species were exterminated. Many other birds he bullies most
impudently, for he has a voice "like Mars, to threaten and command;" but
his office is peaceful; for he is head of the detective department. He
owns no deputy. He glories in his work, which he performs with the utmost
vigilance. The chief enemy of other birds--domestic as well as wild--in
this locality is the grey falcon. Whensoever the falcon comes, the drongo
makes proclamation and follows him, using language calculated to provoke
a breach of the peace. Domestic fowls understand enough of the drongo's
dialect to take up the alarm when he sounds it, and my dogs, well
acquainted with the language of the fowls, fuss in response, so that I am
almost instantly informed of the presence of the falcon. Of the
ruddy-backed sea-eagle, and of the osprey, neither the drongo nor the
much-petted fowls take the slightest notice; but a falcon cannot escape
detection, and, when three or four drongos make common cause against him,
flies away with a sulky air, followed by volleys of such wrathful,
feather-ruffling language that two or three days may elapse ere the black
detective has another case on his hands.

Shrewd and observant as is the drongo, he does not devote all his leisure
moments to the office he so well fills. When he takes his pleasure, he
throws his whole soul into it. His delight is triumphant, his ecstasy
transcendent. Yet one is inclined to the belief that he "shows off,"
conscious of the admiration that is his due. Since few of the antics of
wild creatures so vividly express frenzied joy and gladness in life, such
utter abandonment to the blissful passion of the moment, an attempt to
describe an aerial feat performed almost daily for my special edification
cannot be foregone.

All birds save the bloodthirsty, sneaking falcon are privileged, but
none understands the rights he enjoys as acutely as the drongo, and none
takes such liberties. So when my ears are assailed by a hopelessly
discordant jangle, I know that my friend the drongo is ringing his bell
as a preliminary advertisement to his superb act. As he jangles, "out of
tune and harsh," he impels himself with all his might up into the air
almost perpendicularly. At the extreme limit of flight his utterances
change, and with stiffened wings, distended to the utmost vertically over
his back, he casts himself headlong towards the ground, to the
accompaniment of a torrent of twittering, too sharp and rapid and violent
for distinct enunciation.

Has the wilful bird gone mad that he should deliriously dash himself to
death?

Can he possibly check himself?

Just as one feels constrained to rouse him to a sense of the danger from
his giddy feat by a sharp exclamation, the drongo spreads his wings, and,
with an impudent whistle, flies off to a tree, to "chink" and "clink" as
he flirts his tail with self-satisfaction over the neat performance of an
exciting and incomparable trick.

In the evening, at this season, the drongo makes himself quite at home.
In the soil, in the cleared space about the house, are thousands of
ivory-white grubs which, when they develop into chubby brown beetles, are
regarded as dainties by birds. But the beetles, realizing in a dim,
earth-encumbered, lumbering style that it is fatal to emerge either in
broad daylight, when many enemies are about, or when night has fallen and
the wailing stone curlew and the sedate mopoke and the noisy "chop chop"
(nightjar) are prowling, choose the few minutes of dusk for their exit
from the moist soil. Then the drongo comes, and, apologizing for his
intrusion with a few meek "cheeps," makes the best use of his time. Sport
being exciting and the game delicious, he swoops and darts until he is
bewildered by the darkness. How intensely human is the drongo! In his
distress he sets up a loud and appealing "jangle;" this plaint is
immediately answered by his home-keeping consort; off he flutters, guided
by her continuous calls, and the upbraidings and the explanations and
consolations continue for fully five minutes.

A few cute old domestic hens, taught by the drongo, wait up after the
others have gone to roost and hunt the booming beetles in terrible
earnest--but they sneak off to their perches without exciting comment.
Note the unconcern of the polygamist!




A SANCTUARY PROBLEM



Lest in time to come statements of the past concerning the plenitude of
bird-life on this island should be discredited, and the author of them
declared to be untrustworthy, it is due that fairly recent observations,
the drift of which is anything but pleasing, should be placed on record.

When the sanctity of a scene unsoiled by the faintest smear of
civilization was violated by the establishment of a human's home, the
number and variety of its birds formed one of several most attractive
features; and it was resolved to protect them in so far as the power of a
single admirer might be effective. This ordinance was followed by a
suggestion to the Government of the State that the whole of the group of
which Dunk Island is the largest should be created a sanctuary. The
proposal was confirmed forthwith, and for more than two decades all
birds, save two predatory species, have been unmolested.

It was natural to expect that the result of the policy indicated would be
a progressive increase in species and individuals, until these islands
became the resort of an innumerable concord of happy birds--indeed, that
as the years passed there would be few native to North Queensland
unrepresented in an undisturbed community. These anticipations have not
only been unrealized, but hard facts show that, instead of increase,
there have been, with few exceptions, serious decreases in species, and
in some instances absolute loss.

Students of bird-life, while sympathizing with the failure of an
experiment in which Nature was to work her own will in her own way, may
be interested in a brief review of the circumstances. They are sure to be
concerned over the results, for do they not indicate general as well as
local conditions from which it is not possible to draw consoling
conclusions?

Early in the occupation of the island an attempt was made to compile a
list of its birds; and eventually, with the co-operation of friends
possessing exact knowledge, a census was made without the sacrifice of
a single life. It was never expected that a list so arranged would have
the least scientific value. Such a result was not contemplated, the
only objects in view being the welfare of the birds, a tribute to
them, and the presentation of a plea for those of Australia generally.

To one who disclaims expert knowledge, who regards birds from the
standpoint of aestheticism and sentiment blended with utility, who fears
that Australia as a whole has not yet learned the worth of many species
peculiar to the land, and who cons the steadily-growing "extinct list"
with dismay, local experience might seem to prove the futility of
preservative plans. Though countenanced officially, the moral influence
of individuals is sure to fail. Moreover in some instances even the
authority of the State is powerless to arrest conditions destructive to
birds of restricted range and secluded habits. Material progress is not
to be checked by a shy bird fluttering across the path; but the stern
reproof, "Too late," may yet be averted in respect of many species if the
community as a whole makes demand.

These reflections, however, stand apart from the present purpose, which
designs to tell in what manner and why a project that promised much
personal satisfaction failed in so many details.

The bird census of the island comprised every species observed, even
casual and rare visitors, and mere wanderers resting, perhaps for an hour
or so, during continental flights. In one instance a bird never known to
alight was included--the spine-tailed swift, which occasionally tarries
for a meal in the air. In the list of disappearances those that came shyly
and departed with haste will find no place; but it will include those
whose sojourn was wont to last for a few days and to be deemed recurrent.

Comparison between the census and the depreciated numbers of recent years
show that from the birds of prey the sparrow-hawk, kestrel,
black-shouldered kite and black-checked falcon have disappeared.

Out of forty perchers eleven are missing--yellow oriole, yellow fig-bird
(SPHECOTHERES), black-backed magpie, black-headed diamond-bird, helmeted
friar-bird, silver-eye, and the blue, pied, shining, white-eared and
spectacled flycatchers.

The purple-breasted and white-headed fruit-pigeons, pied oyster-catcher,
masked and golden plover and the plumed egret have not been seen for
years, and among the sea-birds the lesser crested, sooty and bridled
terns find no place at date. (1921)

With the exception of swiftlets, scrub-fowls, swamp pheasants,
brown-winged terns and pied cormorants, an all-round decrease in numbers
has to be recorded, and no species save the brown-winged tern has the
credit of increase.

Among the more notable species showing decrease are:--Nutmeg, red-crowned
and little green pigeons, metallic starlings, rainbow-birds, rainbow
lorikeets, white cockatoos and mistletoe-birds.

Inquiry into the causes for the disappearance of birds from this
sanctuary discloses several interesting facts. Easy as it will be to
demonstrate that destructive agencies range from cyclones directly to
orange-pips indirectly, to specify all will be impossible; but an
undoubted truth emerges upon even a superficial glance at the
subject--that birds of gregarious habits which happen to be endowed with
the gift of beauty, or are in any way associated with what is known as
sport, are the first to be doomed.

In the latter category is the nutmeg pigeon, than which no bird on the
coast of North Queensland is better known, more talked about, or more
conspicuous. Because these pigeons congregate in communities on the
smaller islands for breeding purposes, the casual observer is apt to
over-estimate their numbers and imagine that it would be impossible to
exterminate what seems to be one of the superfluities of nature. The big
white birds, hanging in clusters on low trees bowed and bent by their
weight, offer seductive targets, and on the morning after a raid the sand
may be white with rejected dead, while chicks mumble in hundreds of nests
and the white eggs (one in each nest) begin to decay. Unless patiently
cooked, the birds have no attractive qualities on the table. Those who
shoot them, therefore, cannot reflect with an easy conscience on their
achievement. Neither the "sport" nor the table has afforded gratification,
and the deserted nests and the fate of the orphan chicks stand to the
"sportsmen's" discredit if not disgrace.

The absolute disappearance of nutmeg pigeons from the more accessible
islands seems as inevitable as the passing of the blacks, and it may be
stupidly sentimental to make lament; but the process brings into light an
unworthy national trait against which no opportunity of railing should be
lost. If it were realized that it is not only unsportsmanlike to kill
nesting birds, but stupid also and inhumane, clean-minded men would scorn
the deed. There are others who scoff at any appeal to manliness and
sense, since they possess neither, and cannot appreciate those qualities
in others, and that class, mischievous and beyond the reproach of words,
ought to be dealt with roughly.

Pretty to look at, right glorious in the enjoyment of freedom, harmless
in every sense, and without doubt useful and necessary in the scheme of
Nature, cannot such birds, even if otherwise undesirable, be preserved
for all time? Or are we to assent to the charge of being uncouthly
selfish, viciously cruel?

Positive as the causes for the decimation of nutmeg pigeons may be, it is
difficult to account for the like disaster to another gregarious,
migratory bird. Metallic starlings come every season from regions nearer
the equator, arriving with the pigeons. They are more plentiful on the
mainland than on the islands, and generation after generation nests in
the same tree, hatching out three or four broods between August and
March. It is well to confine consideration of the evil times that have
befallen these handsome and useful birds to circumstances and conditions
on this island.

Twenty years ago there were four populous colonies here, and in time two
others were established. One had existed from time whereof the memory of
man went not to the contrary. It lasted until overthrown by the cyclone
of March, 1918. Another colony, in a gigantic milk-wood tree, must have
had an annual output of over a thousand birds each season. A summary
decrease in population was noticed, and in two seasons the tree was
deserted. Similar conditions apply to two other colonies in milk-wood
trees, and at date of writing not a single colony exists here, though a
small one is established on an islet a mile away. During the period
mentioned the birds were free from interference. Why the loss?

Birds living in crowded communities may be more susceptible to epidemics
than those that favour isolation; but no sign or evidence of disease has
been noticed. Each succeeding year representatives of the several
colonies returned in fewer numbers until occupation lapsed, and this fact
indicates that the loss is not due to local causes. Is the ubiquitous
collector of bird skins responsible?

White cockatoos, strictly protected here, pay penalty for having
acquired a taste for citrus fruits, especially oranges and mandarins;
they are shot by fruit-growers of the mainland, exasperated by the
slovenly ravages of flying foxes and the indecencies of fruit-flies.
The Dunk Island contingent, which was wont to fly to and fro daily,
suffers with degenerate mates. Since the temptation is of recent date,
the liking of the birds for the forbidden fruit could not have been in
obedience to original sin. It can be traced to the corruption of good
manners by evil communications. In a district about fifty miles to the
south, where natural food is less abundant, cockatoos began to eat the
seeds of the commonest of the guavas (an introduced shrubby tree which,
having overrun considerable tracts, is now treated as a pest), and thence
to orange-pips was an easy step in wickedness. Gradually the habit spread
north, but it was twelve years ere the innocent birds of this
neighbourhood fell from grace and came under the ban of outlawry. Now
they have passed to another stage of sin. Surfeited with the
superabundance of the orange groves, they nip off the ripe fruit,
apparently for the pleasure of watching it fall, and thus waste more than
they destroy in satisfaction of hunger. Punishment is off-hand and
severe; but the cockatoo is a sly bird, and often the fury of the
fruit-grower expends itself in merely verbal explosions.

The deplorable scarcity of other species, such as the noisy pitta, the
sunbird and the flycatchers (with one exception to be referred to), is to
be debited to the great cyclone. No sunbird, one of the daintiest,
liveliest and prettiest of the residents, was seen for about a year after
the disaster. White-eared flycatchers disappeared mysteriously, although
they had been strong in numbers, and had been regarded as one of the
permanencies. They ranged from the tops of the highest trees to the
lowest bushes, and during the flowering season of the tea-trees were
particularly conspicuous and active. Then they could be seen at any hour
of the day enjoying themselves among the bottlebrush flowers, where the
buzz of insects never ceases from dawn to dark. This bird had been first
seen by MacGillivray on this island in the year 1848, being
described by its discoverer as "a new and handsome flycatcher." Neither
nest nor eggs have been found, but no attempt at systematic search
therefor was made here, because our interest in bird-life does not lie in
that direction. If the secret had been casually revealed, well and good. If
not, it was enough that the bluish-grey-and-white bird, which was wont to
choose the topmost twig of a garden shrub whence to announce its friendly
calls and, with fluffy ruffle extended, to tell of its gladness in fluty
chuckles, was one of the special features of this domain. The chief
regret is not that it failed to give a clue to the solution of an
ornithological secret, but that it departed from the Isle without any
apparent cause. Hope of its return, however, has not been abandoned.

Another and very different class, the terns or sea-swallows, owes its
serious losses to conditions as bold and as inexorable as fate, and it
would be unwise to conclude that the present scarcity is anything but
temporary, while accepting the facts as illustrative of events that may
happen elsewhere. The terns did not assemble in great numbers until
several years after the establishment of the sanctuary, their coming
being attributed to its existence. Disturbed elsewhere, they had found
security within its borders--such was the flattering conclusion derived
from the ever-increasing population of Purtaboi, the islet in the bay.
For many seasons it teemed with busy and sportful birds, living and
breeding in such conglomeration of species that, were it not for
extraordinary cuteness, blunders of parentage must have occasioned riots.
The noisy, fussy, smelly community was accepted as a happy augury of a
future when other birds would come to place themselves under protection.

Then a series of absolute checks was imposed, the final disaster
occurring on 3rd February, 1920. Has it not been common knowledge from
the days of the earliest observers of weather that "the sea without winde
swelleth of himself sometime before the coming of the tempest," and that,
though presaging birds often give to human beings timely warning of a
coming storm in advance of men of science, they on occasion fail to save
themselves from the effects of an impressive combination of natural
phenomena, however frequently repeated?

It may be presumptuous to assume that birds familiar with all the moods
of the ocean might have anticipated the results of a heavy swell
coincident with high-water spring tides--full moon occurred on the
4th--especially when generation after generation had suffered under like
conditions. Be that as it may, four species of terns, absorbed in the
rearing of the third brood of the tides, were overwhelmed and practically
exterminated.

Above the limit of ordinary high tide half an acre of coral strand had
been strewn with eggs in such profusion as to create the impression of
lavishness and waste. The fledgelings, on the slightest disturbance,
would crowd together like frightened lambs--they were, too, lamb-like in
colour, in muteness and obedience to the herd instinct--while anxious
parents directed them from above with continual cries. Then, in darkness,
the surges swept the strand which had been the birthplace, the feeding
and playground of successive broods, young and old being destroyed by
thousands.

Next morning the beach of this island was strewn with the dead bodies of
chicks. Some few had battled successfully against the waves, and now,
disturbed by a sympathetic observer, waddled to the "still vex'd"
water's edge and, gazing in the direction of their native islet, made
unceasing lamentation. In the mass the tones of terns are thin and
shrill, but the individual voices of the derelicts--plaintive, pure and
vibrant--sounded sweet and touched a tender spot. Not one whimpered,
though many staggered with weakness. Each uttered its grievance against
fate vigorously and with a thrill of passion, as if protesting that it
had been treated callously and against the ethics of Nature. The strong,
insistent, expressive plaints of the birds in their distress and
weakness, and the individuality thereby betokened, contrasted strongly
with common impulses of the crowd in the enjoyment of comfort at home and
its silence.

Now for the effect of this harshest of lessons on the part of Nature.
This year but three species of terns visited the islet. A few black-naped
terns, and fewer ternlets, laid eggs on the strand, and the
brown-winged--which incubates in miniature caves and grottoes and under
shelving rocks, and is therefore unaffected by tidal inconstancies--had a
most prosperous season, the colony dispersing stronger in numbers than
ever.




A JUNGLE FLOWER



During September, the flowery month, and the early part of October many
parts of the coast of North Queensland are decorated with a plant of
remarkable beauty, which seems to have escaped general notice, though
well deserving the admiration of all who take pleasure in purity, in
simplicity of form, and in rich perfume.

It is the fate of most flowers that grow in deserts, where no man
abides, to die uncommended; but this delightful shrub, sometimes
developing into a small tree, is a denizen of country which is desert
only in the poetic sense, for the soil is fertile, the rains frequent
and abundant, and (as a consequence of stimulating natural conditions)
given over to glorious vegetation, varied in character, refreshing to
behold in the mass, and teeming with novelties which make appeal to all
lovers of plants; and not without rarities to those who make even casual
study of the science of botany. Though conspicuous by reason both of
flowers and fruit, this desirable plant has no common or pet name.
Botanists have termed it RANDIA FITZALANA. It belongs to the same family
as the gardenias, and in common with several of its relatives is endowed
with strong and pleasant perfume.

F. M. Bailey describes eight species of RANDIA native to Queensland, five
of which are confined to the tropical North, ranging from Cape Upstart to
the Gulf of Carpentaria, three being especially heavily scented. One of
these three seems to prefer dry and barren hills. The word "seems" is
used deliberately, for the stunted tree with its scant, creamy-white
flowers has not the habit of a plant with a real love for soil and sun,
though it bestows a blessing on its surroundings when refreshed with dew.
Except in a botanical sense, there are no features of resemblance between
this hairy-leaved endurer of the drought and the habitant of the jungle
under notice, other than in its perfume.

Just now on this Isle are scores of specimens of the glossy-foliaged
shrub on the very margin of the sea, flowering profusely. Many of the
leaves are about six inches long, smooth and shining, the flowers of the
purest white, and the scent that of the family in its quality of
pervasiveness.

RANDIA FITZALANA seldom flourishes when fully exposed to the sun. Its
place is rather under the shade of taller and sturdier vegetation, and it
finds ideal conditions alike at the mouths of shrub-obstructed creeks and
among boulders overhung with trees and screening vines, where the
struggle for existence always seems tense and unnecessary. Is it a sort
of conscious vanity which impels the graceful plant to occupy
deeply-shadowed, if not gloomy, spots? There, at least, are its
intensely-white starry flowers set off to the best advantage, and
there they last longer and breathe out becoming odours which for
the time being monopolize the attention of the passerby. Simple in
form, the flowers are produced in loose, irregular groups, and
are proportionately thick and leathery, with less tendency than
others of the family to become brown when fading. Posies of the
white flowers appear scattered among the glossy leaves, looking like
patches of enamel, precisely cut; since there are few winds to disturb
such sheltered, well-embowered scenes, the effect is that of formality
and primness contrasted with the unkempt, disorderly luxuriance of the
jungle.

Large, rotund fruit follows the flowers as a rule, but this season has
been so gracious that some plants are displaying flowers and fruit
simultaneously. The latter, however, may not ripen for months, and when
it does so, though attractive by reason of its size--that of an average
orange--and yellowish colour, it is inedible, being hot, insipid and
astringent. Blacks confess that at times hunger has driven them to it,
but many other vegetable products of repugnant appearance are preferred
to this seductive-looking fruit. One cannot with easy mind complain
against the laws of nature when a plant which gives pleasure to the eye
with its big leaves and white flowers, and ravishes the sense of smell,
yet fails in respect of edible fruit; but it may be quite within reason,
and in no spirit of fault-finding, easy to imagine that in time to come
some ingenious and patient horticulturist will set to work to improve the
fruit--and so, peradventure, bestow on the world a novelty which, like the
orange, will produce fine foliage, deliciously perfumed flowers and a
something excellent to eat. When the crude forerunner of the orange is
compared with one or other of the fine species of the day, evolved by
restrictions upon natural laws, it does not seem to be impossible so to
develop the fruit of RANDIA FITZALANA that the edible qualities not now
easily recognized may become dominant.

The plant produces seeds abundantly, so that experiments might at least
be made on an extensive scale. It belongs to the same family as the
mangosteen, and that relationship is at least in its favour, though
indefinite enough, when its possibilities are pondered. In the meantime,
its fascinating qualities are conspicuous, and naught but gratitude is
herein expressed for its presence under delightful conditions and under
no restraint from the hand of man.

Though the plant affords abundant evidence of its preference for shade
and comparative coolness, occasionally it is found among huge granite
boulders scorching to the touch on blazing days, and within reach of
sea-spray; but in such situations--with roots matted in the coarse
crevices--it may be hardly recognizable. The leaves are small, scattered
and dull, and the solitary flowers make appeal not for admiration but for
pity. Stunted, burnt and scalded, the plant strives to fulfil the
exacting laws of Nature, and in its extremity solicits sympathy and
proffers a mere whiff of attenuated perfume.

It is a gracious plant, under all conditions and circumstances

    . . . . nor loved the less
    For flowering in the wilderness.




THE REEF MANTIS



Low tides occur during July, August and September, and lay bare to the
sun considerable areas of the reefs within the Barrier, which at the
opposing period are revealed only to the gleams of the moon. Then is it
wise to make opportunity and, equipped with a fish-spear and a canister
to contain delicate specimens of marine fauna, use the two hours of the
afternoon in pursuit of novelties. In the degenerate condition of the
corals of the shallows in the vicinity of this island it is also wise to
restrain expectations, for the marvels of fertile reefs, though
represented, are not common. In the flurry of the receding tide, however,
all sorts of strange creatures are heaped, and, taking refuge under
blocks of dead coral and in isolated pools, may be accepted as typical of
the fauna secure from scrutiny on the deep-water reefs.

Lately three or four species of what are known as mantis-shrimps have
been found and sent to one or other of the museums. These crustaceans
have a range extending throughout the warm waters of the Pacific, but
being of necessity shy and secretive--for they have many enemies--are not
often seen, at least in these parts, where time for investigation is
limited. It is found on inquiry that others who have a much wider range
know little or nothing of a most interesting animal. As the familiar name
implies, the mantis-shrimp has a feature in common with a popular
insect--the praying mantis, flycatcher and voracious feeder, which has
been known to seize and eat a small frog.

One of the specimens submitted to the Australian Museum at Sydney is thus
described by an expert on the staff:

"The specimen presented is most acceptable, since it is new to the museum
collection. It is a representative of a group of mantis-shrimps, the
members of which possess peculiar claw appendages in which the last
segment shuts down like the blade of a pocket-knife. These claws form
very efficient weapons, and it is because of their position that the
resemblance to the common praying mantis gives them the popular name
applied to the insect. Mantis-shrimps are generally found in shallow
water, burrowing in the sand or hiding in the crevices in rocks and
corals. They are described as lying in wait at the mouths of their
burrows, darting out on fish and other animals, which are seized with
their great claws, and retreating with great rapidity to the bottom of
the burrow with their prey. They have a long series of larval stages, and
the larvae are all distinguished by the large size of the carapace (the
shield covering the back) which in some cases envelops the greater
portion of the body. In the warm seas some larvae attain a relatively
large size, sometimes exceeding two inches in length, and the glass-like,
transparency gives them a striking appearance. During the larval stages
they swim at the surface, and the influences of the ocean currents
account for their wide distribution."

Differences in size, appearance and colouring are noticeable among the
representatives of the family, even in a limited area. One, the most
formidable, attains a length of ten inches. It is a weak, almost
broken-backed creature, with a most resentful and sudden temper. Although
its wonderful weapon has been frequently found on the beach, only one
living specimen has been secured, for its habits appear to be nocturnal.
The burrow is in the centre of a low, flat-topped mound in unctuous mud
fortified with sand, and generally its inhabitant is not at home. One
came up on the bait of a fishing-line at night, and presented such a
dazzling effect, as it was lifted into the boat, absorbed with its prey,
that it was handled rashly. With lightning-like rapidity it struck, and
the biggest and sharpest tooth of its scythe pierced the tip of my
finger. The deed was so sudden that, although the blow was felt, there
was no immediate pain, but blood flowed as from a far bigger wound.

The weapon resembles a scythe in shape, but is unlike that implement in
that it is fitted with a series of comb-like teeth, exceedingly sharp and
graduated in length. At first glance the limb supporting it appears to be
malformed, for it bulges at the elbow joint into a "dumb-bell," weighty
compared with the size of the animal. The purpose of this development is
obvious. Does it not correspond to the biceps of human beings, putting
wonderful force into the blow? The creature, trained by nature to defend
its life and secure its prey, uses its weapon with precision and skill.
It kills and at the same time clutches.

One of the family, developing along different lines, is even better of
its hands; remarkable to tell, it carries a cestus of hardened shell as a
means of protection and enforcing its rights. From the structure of the
limbs it is safe to assume that neither of the species delivers a
forward, but rather a descending, hammer-like blow, and the mimic
pugilist's design is, no doubt, exactly the same as that of the
prize-fighter. The twinkling blow stuns the victim, which probably never
has time to come to. As far as local knowledge goes at present, the boxer
is found in these waters only in a small form, which can deliver but a
feeble, almost affectionate tap; but it seems that its "dumb-bell" elbow
joint is bigger relatively than that of its cousin with the
slender-toothed scythe. Some one has said that nature seems everywhere in
advance of those inventions of which we, as men, are so proud. The
mantis-shrimps, afford two examples of the truth of the saying.

In that fine book, A NATURALIST IN BORNEO, the late Robert W. C. Shelford
describes a giant of the boxer kind, which when dropped into a glass
tube full of spirit shattered it with a blow. He concludes a detailed
description of the animal thus:--"The action is as rapid as that of a
strong spring, and the force of the blow has to be felt to be appreciated;
I am quite certain that it is sufficient to stun any small fish or
crustacean. It is conceivable that a stunned animal could be held
and quietly devoured."

No available reference to the mantis-shrimps mentions a most attractive
feature, the lovely and fanciful colouring. Some are honey-yellow, some
moss-green, some drab, some decked out with all sorts of fringes and
finery in delicate and living tints. In the sunlight the hues change and
sparkle with intensity. No jewel polished by the skill of man flashes
forth more vivid and more varied splendour. Nor is any human acrobat more
supple or more agile, as an incident connected with the preservation of a
specimen for expert examination demonstrated.

Dropped into limpid fluid in a tube so narrow that reversal seemed
impossible, one of the lovely creatures performed a series of somersaults
with rapidity bewildering to sight. For a few seconds the tube seemed to
contain an agitated tumbling mosaic, compact of all the gems of the
world. Was ever a fight for life so fierce and so futile? Was ever a
death scene so gorgeous? It was glorious. It was shocking. From such
another spectacle of death-agony and brilliancy may the fates protect us!
Unlike the powerful representative of the family in Borneo, it was unable
to shatter its prison walls. There was no possible escape in the
circumstances, and deliverance would have been but added cruelty. When,
at last, it was still, upright in the transparent cell, its fore-limbs in
the posture of supplication, it was not a museum specimen, but an
unspeakably pathetic object appealing for a vow of abstinence from all
investigations involving the sacrifice of life. Worth such a gallant
struggle, its little life seemed too precious to waste deliberately, even
in the cause of science--and be sure, had not the experience been
exceptional, some drowsy drug would have eased its pangs. The lesson of
that scene, illuminated in tints unstainable, unfading, will live as long
as memory.

In some countries blessed by the living waters of the Pacific certain
species of mantis-shrimps are eaten by the natives, six making a good
meal. Here they do not appear to be plentiful enough to afford a change
of diet. Besides, whose is the haughty stomach that demands a meal of
delicate jewellery? Better perhaps to souse them in formalin, after a
preparatory whiff of chloroform, for the edification of the learned folks
of the museum.




REEF JEWELLERY



Among the many living things that contribute to the never-ceasing
attractions of a coral-reef are those which depend for their existence on
association with others remarkably different in appearance, character and
habit. Observers of skill and experience have proved that the association
is for mutual benefit; but in some cases, and those of the more obvious
nature, the advantages may appear one-sided.

What gain is it to certain species of fish to have a rotund crab in a
cell in close proximity to the eyes--a phenomenon, it should be said, by
no means confined to the warm waters of the tropics? And what advantage
is it to the shark and turtle and dugong to have the company of
sucker-fish? The latter, of course, is spared the exertion of
self-propulsion through the water, and the host may not be seriously
inconvenienced by the slight additional tax on its energy; but when, as
sometimes, the blacks use the sucker-fish as a means for the capture of
its erstwhile host, the end is tragedy.

It is easy to appreciate the reasons for association between  the huge,
bright-blue anemone, common in tropical waters, and a tiny fish of
wonderfully brilliant tints. The latter hides from its enemies in the
folds of its host, and seems distraught with anxiety if, as it flits
above and around, it is by a sudden manoeuvre driven a few inches
therefrom, to be easily captured. In addition to a tenant which is
believed to be welcome, the blue anemone has been shown to be troubled
by multitudes of small crustaceans, the colour of which exactly matches
that of their host. Authorities assert that some such crustaceans form
the food of the herring, which is popularly believed to live on water.

Just as terrestrial animals have their parasites and hyperparasites, so
the denizens of the reef may support other creatures of diverse habits
and mode of living. The fleas of the seas have lesser fleas; but such
insignificances are beyond the notice of the individual who is looking
for living jewellery in the warm waters. Here is something more
attractive. Upon a dead bailer shell stands an anemone about four inches
high--a neutral-coloured stem surmounted by a head of pink and purple
waving filaments. From the shell is obtruded the head and legs of a
hermit crab, deep red in colour and bristling with repellant points. The
anemone--delicate feeder--thrives on the scraps and shreds scattered by
the clumsy and greedy crab. The body of the crab is soft, and no doubt
appetizing to fish that could draw it from its refuge; but the anemone is
armed with irritating weapons which fish dread. Independently, neither
crab nor anemone would lead a contented life. Together they are fairly
safe, and the picture they present is particularly rich in tint.

In other species the anemone is attached to the back of the crab, and in
the case of a nervous, soft-bodied crab lodging with a living sponge a
third associate is invariably present--a worm which acts as scavenger and
keeps the hermit's quarters clean. The reason for the presence of the
third and most humble partner is obvious. Ordinarily, the hermit crab
moves to a larger refuge in accordance with its growth. The elasticity of
the sponge renders the change unnecessary, and the sanitary worker
becomes essential. The provider, the protector and the domestic thus
establish an ordered if unenterprising community, each contributing to
the maintenance according to its aptitudes, each obtaining the
gratification of its needs.

If the brighter and prettier examples of associated lives among marine
creatures are to be contemplated, one must visit the coral-reefs; even
then, if he be untrained and inexpert, he will see only the more public
exponents of a phase of existence of most varied nature, in some
instances edifying, in others bewildering. There is a slim mollusc never
found except in association with a particular species of sponge. The
shells are of social habit, dozens living in a community, each buried to
the extremity of its valves in the compact mass of the sponge. Some of
the living sponges have the gift of being able to warn off enemies by,
it would seem, the discharge of an irritating fluid. The host of the
present example has no weapon of offence appreciable in its effects by
human beings, whilst the shells are not nearly as frail as others that
lead independent lives.

One of the marvels connected with the jewellike prawns associated with
sea anemones is the power they possess of controlling their colours to
match those of their hosts. Indeed, it is possible to watch certain
degrees of the changes. The phenomena has been thus described by an
expert, Mr. R A. Potts, who studied the life of the reefs in Torres
Straits:--

"The prawn has the power of forming red, yellow and blue pigments, and by
altering their relative proportions in the chromatophores it can acquire
a green, brown, blue or red ground-colour, and is thus able to adapt
itself to the varied colours of seaweeds and hydroids. The pigment may be
laid down in longitudinal strips or horizontal bars, and in this way a
colour-scheme can be formed matching whatever seaweed the prawn shelters
in."

Proof of the accuracy of this observation was given when the tides
favoured an investigation of a portion of the reef. As the tide rose a
small anemone emerged from the sand and began to wave its singular
filaments--dull-yellow in tint and in form not unlike a cauliflower run
to seed. There was nothing out of the common about the animal; but, the
habit of watching such things having been established, its ordinary
movements served for entertainment. Presently a shadowy form passed
slowly over a portion of the moving filaments, and on close inspection a
slender, almost transparent, prawn was seen. It glided hither and thither
with almost imperceptible motion, now and again being, as it were,
absorbed by its host. Alert, almost, as a sunbeam when aroused, the
little creature would have been safe from capture but for its
attachment to its home.

The general tint was that of the host--yellowish-green with white
blotches, the main part of the body transparent, the pattern of the host
being duplicated in miniature. The opaque white spots on each side were
not of uniform size nor were they arranged according to uniform design.
Each of the scales at the end of the tail was ornamented with a circular
purple spot, and these spots not only varied in intensity of tint, but in
size and position, showing that they were under the control of the
animal.

Some species sting with more than the intensity of the nettle. This host
did not in any way molest an interfering finger, and its tender associate
seemed to depend for its safety on the fact of close resemblance. On
restoring the prawn, it was noticed that it had become darker in
colour, the transparent parts being slightly clouded and the purple
spots of the tail almost black. In a few minutes the ordinary tints were
resumed and the little creature moved, spectre-like, over the filaments of
its host--a living jewel.




AN ISLE AND A REEF



About fourteen miles north from Dunk Island, and three miles off the
coast of North Queensland, lie the Barnard Islands, so named in 1819 by
Captain (afterwards Admiral) Phillip P. King, in honour of his friend
Edward Barnard.

Though condemned to spend most of the time as two isolated,
jungle-covered knolls, the southernmost portion of the group (generally
known as the South Barnards), is a single formation. A shallow sea
separates the detached parts, but low-water spring tides expose a broad
bond of union, an irrefragable proof of their oneness and
indivisibility. The alliance may be secret, but is very secure. It frets
the intemperate sea, and makes it froth and roar with rage. Outlasting
all the blustering fury, it is stolidly irresponsive, too, when the
coiling coquette gently slaps its face with the softest of white
flounces. This rustic bond, defiant to all the moods of the unstable sea,
confirms the legitimacy of the union of the Isle, and forms an
interesting feature in a pretty scene.

Another reef, or ridge, or causeway, true as a surveyor's line, juts out
from the western point, almost parallel with the main and complete
connecting-link. This smaller spur acts as a break-water, and the terminus
is furnished with a rough T, which, though rather jumbled and broken
seems to indicate that Nature designed, in her off-hand way, a plan
worthy the imitation of man.

The smaller of the ridges is basaltic, and in its ruggedness resembles
the jaw of "some pre-Adamite beast setting its teeth against the sky;"
yet the larger portion of the Isle is coarse sandstone, or rather
conglomerate, with basaltic blocks and boulders. A miniature bluff, sixty
or eighty feet high, accentuates the south-western aspect, and at the
base of it are strewn huge blocks which the vortices of the sea have torn
down. Rather a rich brown in general tone, the exposed surfaces of the
bluff display an attractive collection of geological fragments, rough and
angular pebbles and sharp chips of speckled granite quartz of the purity
of alabaster, reddish-grey porphyry, with occasional pieces of brick-red
sandstone, nodules of greenish-black basalt, etc.

Under the attacks of the sea, the bluff is being rapidly broken down.
Ledges, niches and hollows have been worn on the precipitous face. Just
out of the reach of the salt surges, the rock is fretted with the
fibrous roots of fig and umbrella-trees, pandanus palm and hibiscus
bushes. The better half of the Isle may be best described as a mass of
conglomerate and basalt resting upon a platform of basalt of extreme
density. At a rough estimate it is less than twenty acres in area.

Originally, save for two or three of the steeper individual slopes, the
whole surface was covered with jungle. A great part still remains, the
luxuriousness of which seems extraordinary when one regards the
thinness of the soil and apparent sterility of the rough conglomerate.
The vegetation is there, glorious in its profuseness and healthiness.
Very many years ago the islet was the headquarters of a béche-de-mer
fisherman. He began the clearing of the western aspect, where the soil is
red and very fertile. Then another took up his abode, extended the
clearing, planted coco-nut palms, several kinds of fruit trees,
sugar-cane, sweet potatoes, taro, etc., etc., and went his way. The
last-comer revels in the fruits of former industry, for the man who
demonstrated the resources of the soil now resides at Murdering Point,
three miles to the west, and the islet smiles complacently to itself,
except when sportsmen come to do violence to its birds.

The chief vegetable feature of the islet nowadays is the marvellous
robustness of its papaws. Upon this ideal spot the plant has set its
foot, and is at home. No one who admires the papaw could, without breach
of courtesy, attribute to it the vulgar habit of crowding upon and
elbowing away other vegetation possessing equal rights to a common plot.
But if the papaw is not in this particular republic of vegetation
becoming tyranically rude, it is at least very boldly asserting its
rights. On the slopes, on the edges of the jungle, among basalt boulders,
on the highest elevation, on rocky terraces, where there is no soil save
in cracks and crevices, deep in the heart of the jungle are self-centred
groves of papaws. At the base of a romantic cliff of basalt reposes
a forest of papaws--not spindly weaklings, but sturdy plants, thirty feet
high, fruitful and odorous. Up and over the verge of this little basaltic
precipice the facile wind blows from a befittingly narrow ravine,
heavily freighted with perfume of a whole grove, down upon the lusty
heads of which we admiringly gaze.

It is the very paradise of papaws. They flourish in places, and
situations, and under conditions hitherto considered impossible or
unseemly in such a discreet and orderly plant. They have abandoned all
reserve, submitting to the touch and strong embraces of the aboriginal
plants of the isle, and even stamping them underfoot or shoving them away
from accustomed places.

In genial air, and soil to its liking, the natural habit of the papaw
finds true expression. With its tap-root squeezed and flattened in the
crevice of a rock, it sends its feeders over the surface, gripping like a
parasite, and gathering sustenance from uncompromising conglomerate. The
gale may uproot a seemingly ambitious plant, but it will not die. It
grows as it lies recumbent, with a kink in its neck, gamely contending
for its share of sunlight, and offering abundant and easily gathered
tribute--fruit large and without spot or blemish. Tons of papaws might be
gathered where, according to accepted tradition, the plant could hardly
be expected to grow. Is there a satisfactory reason for the wonderful
vigour of the desirable plant among basalt and conglomerate?

Yes, plainly so.

Possibly for thousands of years this islet has been one of the
"rookeries" of the white nutmeg pigeon. Millions have mated and reared
families here, and thousands do so to this day. On the 11th August we saw
the first flight of the season of nesting birds. So vast are the flocks
that the very rocks must have become saturated with manure; for the
birds breed during the first part of the wet season, and the average
annual rainfall is about 140 inches.

A gardener will tell you that, if you place a quarry at his disposal and
provide him with manure and water, he will convert it into a garden.
Nature on this spot provides an apt illustration, and this sumptuous
display of fruitfulness reacts on the birds. In spite of the raids of
sportsmen, nutmeg pigeons come in thousands, and are not without company.
During a morning's all-too-hasty exploration I noted also the tranquil
dove, rose-crowned fruit-pigeon, scrub-fowl, brown quail, leaden
flycatcher, black-and-white flycatcher; varied honey-eater, eastern
swallow, white-rumped wood-swallow, silver-eye, black-and-white
caterpillar-eater, nightjar, sacred kingfisher, sordid kingfisher,
black-cheeked falcon, osprey, brown kite, and the shrill tern whose call
has been described as a blending of a cat's mieow with the squeak of a
rusty key.

The bird season is yet at its beginning. No doubt this informal census
might be triplicated if the observation extended over a week. Of course,
it is inevitable that I should urge upon those who are in closer
association with the Isle than myself to strive to have it proclaimed a
sanctuary for birds. Shooting in such a spot is not sport, and might be
described as sacrilege.

Between the South Barnards and the mainland extend King's Reefs, miles of
coral-rock and sandy shallows. There is a passage through the reefs; but
it is so intricate that in default of exact local knowledge its
navigation is dangerous, though at high tides the smaller coastal
steamers may pass in almost any direction without concern. Though not as
fruitful as many a similar area adjacent to the coast, King's Reefs are
decidedly interesting to the observer of marine fauna. Varied and
fantastic forms of coral are not plentiful, but huge blocks standing on
sturdy pedestals, tipsy toadstools, and irregular mushrooms are common
enough. Narrow fjords, sparkling clear, wind through and intersect the
masses of coral, and fish, bright as butterflies and far more alert,
flash in and out of mazes more bewildering than that in which Rosamund's
bower was secluded.

On the sandy flats, and among corals of less robust habit, starfish are
plentiful, the commonest variety being about a foot in width, red, with
black bosses. Though bright red seemed to be most fashionable, the colour
occurred in all shades, the lowest tone being a creamy pink. One fish
obtained on the main reef was about eight inches long and, though
belonging to the gaily decorated parrot species, struck quite a superior
note, its colours being alternate bands of vivid vermillion and the
boldest blue, the eyes flame-hued with sapphire-blue pupils, and the
prominent teeth like flawless turquoise.

Two days were spent in exploring the islet and its surroundings, the last
being devoted to the outlying detached portion of the reef lying to the
south about a mile and a half distant from it. This was found to
consist of basalt boulders, of no great size, and coral, the patch being
narrow and about a mile long. Deep water "docks" occur, and at low
tide--the very lowest of the year had been availed of--there are several
lagoons more or less partaking of the nature of coral gardens. Here and
there, in the confusion of oyster-covered basalt, are slight depressions,
in several of which were accumulations of basalt pebbles, oval or
rounded, and about the size of a hen's egg. Many were covered with a thin
scale of lime, and the regularity in size and shape--due to attrition, no
doubt--attracted attention. Strips of muntz metal, three pieces of round
iron encrusted with oysters, and several pieces of thick plate-glass
jammed together between two boulders, provided evidence of the portions
of some forgotten wreck.

From one mass of coral seven varieties of fish were poked, and the whole
lagoon teemed with small and alert creatures with rare ability for
concealing themselves in coral puzzles. Shells--clams, cones and
cowries--were plentiful, many being handsome, if not uncommon. Time did
not permit a careful examination of all parts of the reef, but sufficient
was seen to cause continual pleasure and to excite the wish that just for
once the tide would cease to flow, so that all the hours of daylight
might be spent in observation. Not that the reef is over-rich in novel
forms of life, but the circumstances were exceptionally favourable for
minute investigation. While one admires without constraint the lustre of
living shells, and the remarkable garments of invisibility which certain
species throw over their shoulders, for richness of colour and diversity
of design some of the lowly corals and sponges, and those inanimate
"growths" which fixedly adhere to the under-surface of stones and blocks
of coral, are not to be surpassed.

These dull stones, partially buried in sand, reveal in blotches, in daubs
and in patches all the extravagancies of a painter's palate. Are such
brilliant colours and tints--unimaginably profuse and delicate--necessary
features for animals of such crude organism, when they appear to be mere
disembodied splashes and drips from the brush of the Great Artist?

Look at this fantastic patchwork brightening the obscurity of an
up-turned stone with glowing orange! In perfectly regular, minute dots a
pattern of squares cut into right-angles by intersecting lines, and
slightly raised in the centre, is being worked out; but the fabric is
ragged on the edges. With miraculous precision the design is being
followed, each stitch the counterpart of the other. Unless this other
formless blotch of sage-green interferes, and by more robust habit crowds
it out, the whole under-surface of the stone may be covered with a quilt
of orange. Why is this particular miniature dome of coral of so rich a
mauve? Why is it bespangled with millions of snow-white crystals? And
why--where no appreciative eye sees them--should parti-coloured algae
flaunt such graceful plumes?

What marvellous fertility of imagination in form and hue is exhibited in
every quiet pool! For the greater part of the year all this reef is
under water, inaccessible to man--and man alone, probably, is the one
product of Nature gifted with qualities which enable him to find
disinterested pleasure in the parade of colour.

Until the flowing tide bade us begone we lingered, and as the lagoons
gurglingly filled, we saw ripples from shoals of fish scurrying back to
accustomed haunts as sheep along familiar tracks to their folds.

And so, up with the little lug-sail. Vagabonds that we were, we knew not
(and the day was far spent) where we should rest that night. We had slept
on a dissolute isle--the empty bottles and defilement of battered
meat-tins told the tale--and whither, on this superb evening, would the
breeze condescend to waft us? Back to the dissolute isle or over the
empurpled sea, on to some clean Australian beach? It mattered not. Ours
was a state of absolute indifference, and as for the zephyrs, they were
sweet with indecision for many minutes.

Then, under indolent easterly airs, across to Nee Morna, and beneath
shady calophyllums, with the harvest moon illuminating the gloomy
headland, to spread our rugs. It would not be seemly to record how many
fish, sniggled from coral recesses and baked on the embers, were eaten.
This, with apologies for its lack of romance, is not a fish story.




DOGS THAT HAVE BEEN



It seems to me that the man who walks through the wilderness of this
world unaccompanied by dogs, who has not understood the mind of the dog,
and who has not been the object of the self-denying devotion of a dog,
misses a good deal of the art of living.

Does that "equal sky" exist wherein we shall have the company of all our
dogs? It will be a great pleasure and also a great embarrassment. With
what a composite pack shall I be surrounded! Indeed, it will be a pack,
not a procession, for who would decree and insist upon any order of
precedence among such a multitude of clamorous pets? Bull-terriers,
retrievers, nondescripts--the dog-lover abhors the term mongrel--sheep
dogs and cattle dogs, pointers, and, most beloved of all, Irish terriers.
The pack would include two or three rather uncommon and somewhat foreign
elements--a red chow from Canton and a dingo from the silent places of
the Star River. But Irish terriers would be the most conspicuous of the
pack.

Everyone knew "Paddy," who came from Melbourne, whose one lop ear and one
erect ear gave him such a leery, devil-may-care air, who died at an
honourable age with a sigh on the verandah here, and was buried on the
bank; and though the bush rats may scamper over his head "he lies fast
asleep."

There was one episode in Paddy's career which has never been told. His
comic aspect and "rakehelly" demeanour belied his lofty lineage,
bestowing the fictitious air of a vagabond and a swaggerer upon a dandy
and a gentleman. In his cunning, courage and perseverance he not only
out-matched rats, lizards and the echidna, but took his part when the
tide ebbed in turning out fish from coral recesses, or coursing them with
great success in the shallows, and was equally impetuous in the vain
attempt to retrieve a shark, or turtle, or stingray which showed on the
surface as we sailed.

In the days prior to the fall which my haughty spirit merited, I was vain
in the handling of a boat, and my little knowledge proved most dangersome
to Paddy and others. In holiday humour, with another and two black boys
(Willie and Charlie) we drifted out of Brammo Bay on the ebb with idle
sails, all serene and bright. Mischance surely was never further away as
we conferred, saying that the current and not the breeze was to be
depended on this preoccupied morning. Yet a vagrant and wanton puff
skipped on the hill-top, snoodled between two steep ridges, whisked coyly
out of a bottle-necked gorge, impudently slapped the big jib, and in a
trice the skimming dish-boat had made an unbecoming exhibition. Half a
mile from land--and not a soul within many miles to send us aid; clinging
to the up-turned boat while contemplating the fact that the intense calm
of the morning was giving way before a stiff north-easterly breeze--how
grim a transformation to the gay little scene of a few moments past! The
pursuit of pleasure had led us into dismaying difficulties.

Persuasions, backed by threats of personal violence--for in my hand was
the ornamental tiller, hard as iron, to which I had clung while I swam,
supporting the passenger who could not swim--started Willie for the shore;
and as he swam away there was leisure for a few moments, and we thought
of Paddy. Charlie had not seen him.

"That fella drown--finish! Him tie up alonga rigging. No come up one time.
My word, poor pfella Paddy; good-bye. Me plenty sorry."

I argued that the dog must have swam for the shore ahead of Willie, but
Charlie persisted in his theory.

I could not squat idly on the slippery bottom of the boat with the
knowledge that an old and faithful friend was dead as a result of my
vanity and carelessness. So I dived among the tangled cordage, but found
him not. Then Charlie, forcibly persuaded by the dog-headed tiller,
perfunctorily followed my example, also without result. Perhaps the poor
dog was floating in the forepart of the boat, where she was decked.

Grasping the chaffing-piece and allowing my body to float away under the
boat, I explored with my feet as far as my legs could stretch. By the
same plan other parts of the boat were investigated, until my toes
touched Paddy's feet, working as though a treadmill. With a shout of joy
I dived, seized the dog, drew him down and past the combing, and in a
moment had him safe in the free air.

Fully a quarter of an hour had elapsed since the mishap, and how had
Paddy escaped? The sudden and complete capsize had imprisoned a small
volume of air against the bottom of the boat. In his game struggles for
liberty Paddy had found the gracious bubble, and had kept his shrewd nose
in it in the dark all those long minutes.

In the meantime Willie had gained the shore, and in due course paddled
out to the scene of the wreck in a frail punt. And the nerves of one
individual of the party have thrilled at the thought of a sailing-boat
ever since!

When Paddy died lamented, there came others.

Among them was "Whirra," excitable, hysterical Whirra, whose hasty,
impetuous career had to be compassionately ended with a bullet, because
of the distressfulness of prolonged attacks of heat apoplexy. And to
Whirra, "Barry" succeeded--another of the little red devils of the famous
"Towers Lad" strain, and who in name and voice, a rich baritone, gave
perpetual refreshment to much-prized friendship. Barry, like the Turk,
could bear no brother near the throne of his affections, and yet bore
himself independently, and was for ever vigilant in the protection of his
rights and vociferous concerning them. When we went alongside the Lass
o' Gowrie, good Captain Kerr so often had a plateful of scraps for Barry
that the masterful little dog soon became convinced that the steamer
called in for the special purpose of giving him an extra meal of
tit-bits. One day brought disappointment, however, and Barry, no great
whimperer, proclaimed his wrong and demanded his right so undeniably that
the steamer service was for the moment thrown out of gear.

It was during the wet season, when the commingled floods from the Murray
and Tully Rivers race past the sand-spit at the rate of about four miles
an hour. Barry stood expectant in the bows of the boat without remark
until the line was cast loose, and the boat shot astern. Then, lifting
his voice in complaint and remonstrance, he reminded the captain of his
presence and rights. And the captain, shouting impossible instructions to
come back, manoeuvred the Gowrie until the drifting boat was alongside,
and the beseeched-for bones thrown down, and apologized thus: "I'm sorry I
forgot Barry's bones!" But, you see, Captain Kerr (who never forgot
afterwards, whatever hour of night or day the Gowrie came) is a dog-lover,
as well as a large-hearted, unselfish, fond-of-giving-pleasure-to-others
sort of man.

And after Barry came his son "Scoot," who died in his prime after a
week's illness, attributed rightly or wrongly to tick-fever. There never
was a more faithful companion; from his waddling days until the last he
never left me, and the tokens of his affections were superabundantly
manifested. He, too, was melodiously voiced, and never a steamer nor
sailing boat went by night or day that he did not see and salute
tunefully from uplifted muzzle. The last departed of one's pets is
naturally the more tenderly regarded; yet I am inclined to think that
none of my pack will be more glad to see me in that "equal sky" than
Scoot. Though he had a trace of melancholy in his disposition, on
occasion his joy was exuberant. He knew more of the geography of adjacent
coral reefs than I did, for he covered in his hunting more generous
spaces, and I would not like to confess how many species of fish he
turned out and killed. He has joined the expectant pack, and

I will not think those good brown eyes
Have spent their light of truth so soon,
But in some canine Paradise
Your wraith, I know, rebukes the moon,
And quarters every plain and hill
Seeking its master . . . As for me
This prayer at least the gods fulfil;
That when I pass the flood, and see
Old Charon of the Stigian coast
Take toll of all the shades who land.
Your little, faithful barking ghost
May leap to lick my phantom hand.




FACTS AND MUSINGS



[The accompanying article, written for the North Queensland Newspaper
Company by the late E. J. Banfield, was found on his office table at Dunk
Island, awaiting despatch. It is a characteristic sketch, embodying the
charm of style, the sweet charity, the playful humour, and the merriment
of the man, his innate diffidence and rare modesty. It is just one of the
Beachcomber's delightful "Homilies," the last from his clever pen, and in
all appreciation and sadness we, with his many readers, must accept it as
his valedictory.--Editor, Townsville DAILY BULLETIN, 25th June, 1923.]


Students of natural history will have read with varying sentiments two
contributions published in the NORTH QUEENSLAND REGISTER of 9th
April--"Marsupial Tiger" and "Nature Studies"--each of which contains
statements in need of explanation. The self-imposed duty of correcting
misconceptions therein is undertaken not in a carping or superior spirit,
nor with the idea of showing off a trifle of acquired knowledge; but in
order to put certain matters of general interest on a sound footing.

As preliminary, a recent incident illustrative of the desirableness of
exact knowledge on the part of those who describe the wonders of Nature
may be told. One of the writer's correspondents is an expert on the staff
of an Australian museum. A specimen was submitted to him with a somewhat
vaunting suggestion as to its due place in the list of beach curiosities,
and with an invitation to laugh at the pretensions of an amateur in thus
encroaching on the realms of the specialist. He put the lovely relic in
an order quite apart, saying:--"I don't dare to laugh at anybody's
misidentifications; I make so many myself."

There speaks the knowledgeable man--the one who knows so much that he
realizes how little he knows. It is not the part of a mere dabbler to
endeavour to take other observers to task; but it does seem a duty to
indicate good-naturedly, and as promptly as possible, obvious blunders.
One likes to repeat a dictum of one of Old England's greatest
statesmen:--"Don't be too damned surly about your facts." That may be
sound advice in the game of politics, and surely it is too often put into
practice; but natural history demands of its followers a higher standard,
for Mother Nature is inexorable in demonstrating her truths, to the
confusion of those who take half-views of her everyday mysteries.

About the "marsupial tiger,"--that blood-thirsty beast which is said to
patrol "the mysterious fastnesses of the Palmerville Ranges." In the face
of evidence of those who have declared its existence on the strength of
actual observation, it would be silly to assert dogmatically that there
is no such animal in any part of North Queensland. Many a time stories
have been told of the existence of a so-called tiger-cat in the wilds of
North Queensland. In this neighbourhood some "alarming incidents" have
occurred in the vicinity of fowl roosts; and invariably the blood-thirsty
animal has proved to be an overgrown native cat, which men of science
term the North Australian native cat. Not so very long ago the bones of a
cassowary were found on the slope of a range quite close to the sea,
which were declared by the blacks to be those of a victim of a cat which
was wont to pounce on the shoulders of the great bird as it passed
beneath the low-growing branches of a tree.

It is quite possible that a subtle beast like the native cat could master
a cassowary from such a point of vantage; but the blacks seem to have had
no knowledge of any carnivorous animal of larger size. They, however,
made pets of domesticated cats, the progeny of which occasionally ran
wild, and there are two incidents on record of the terrifying effects
that the animal "that walks by itself" may assume.

On one occasion a lonesome settler, in broad daylight, came across the
lair of one such "stray," and approaching in a friendly way, was greeted
with such hostility--blazing eyes, backward-laid ears and hissing--that he
retired, without risk of a scratch, feeling sure that, unarmed, he was no
match for a furious beast.

Again, an overgrown "Tom" strolled into a camp with such show of humility
and friendliness that it was welcomed as a possible pet for a little
girl. In a few days it attached itself to the child with every token of
affection, and soon became familiar with all the members of the temporary
home, and an overpowering bully to two or three masterful dogs. One
evening the father of the child saw her walking away from the cat, which
followed in her footsteps. Suddenly the cat crouched, and springing on to
the child's shoulders, dashed her to the ground, clawing and biting at
her throat. The man ran to the rescue, felled the cat as it fled, and
found the girl so badly mauled and bitten that he believes she would have
been killed but for his intervention. Possibly the "marsupial tiger" may
prove to be a tame cat, improved in ferocity and size by the climate and
fare of North Queensland.

The writer of "Nature Studies" goes slightly astray with reference to the
walking and jumping fish of the mangroves, which, of course, is quite
different from the Queensland lung-fish, termed by men of science,
NEOCERATODUS FORSTERI. The latter belongs to a singularly interesting
group, forming a connecting link between fishes and frogs, and has been
referred to as a living fossil. Two species of the walking fish are known
in Queensland waters, that which is referred to being, probably,
PERIOPTHALMUS KOLREUTERI. Experts tell us that it has gills at the base
of the tail as well as in the ordinary region, which enable it to breathe
moist air when the head is above water--a common attitude. Is it true that
these creatures feed on crustaceans, sea-slugs and the like? Perhaps so,
in the very early stages of development.

During recent years a newcomer in the way of ants has been observed on
this Isle, and according to rather indefinite observations, seems to
represent a radical cure for the so-called "white ants" The majority of
the "new" insect in each community are very small and frail, the colour
being a pale watery brown. When the foragers have found something good to
eat--flesh food preferred--within a few minutes a crowd gathers, and if
the object is bulky a few compatriots, more than double in size and
weight of the scouts, and fitted with massive head and jaws to match,
come to the help of the feeble folk.

Fruits, vegetables, nuts, and sweets of all kinds attract the busy
insects, whose sense of discrimination between animal and vegetable food
is so keen that there is reason to believe they are able to detect animal
matter in the smear of a not unclean finger. When other diets fail they
fall back on decayed wood, or rather, perhaps, the minute forms of life
therein, and it has been noticed that phenomenal activity is aroused when
the galleries of white ants are disturbed, raids of extermination taking
place. Several situations which white ants have been known to retain for
years, the raider now occupies; but it is not an unmixed blessing in a
house, for its bite is hot and continuous. It does not know when to let
go once the tiny mandibles have a good grip.

Bold beyond all reason, the tiny insect does not hesitate to join issue
with interfering man, and occasionally it is prudent for the flower of
creation to retreat.

The other day a bulky rhinoceros beetle, slightly injured by a bump
against a wall, fell on the verandah and lay stunned. The following
morning, near the spot where it lodged stood a mound of fluff and grains
of sand and rubbish, beneath which a horde of ants worked. In two days
all that remained was the shell of the beetle, which collapsed at the
touch! A disabled centipede has no chance against the hosts of the
rovers, and a dog-discarded bone is whitened in a very brief period.

Such an industrious and thorough scavenger is entitled to some
consideration, though it must be confessed that one would be better
pleased if the little allies in the defence of sweetness kept to the
defence of their wellnigh impregnable native quarters--the bush.

Is not life, however, a patchwork of compromises?

And is not the insect that is typical of organized industry entitled to
sufferance, even when it unconsciously mingles pain with its benefits?



THE END




This site is full of FREE ebooks - Project Gutenberg Australia