an ebook published by Project Gutenberg Australia

Title: Collected Prose
Author: A. B. Paterson
eBook No.: 0607731h.html
Language: English
Date first posted: March 20006
Most recent update: March 2022

This eBook was produced by: Walter Moore

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Collected Prose

A. B. “Banjo” Paterson



Australia for the Australians
Hughey’s Dog
How I Shot The Policeman
How Wild Horses Are Yarded
My Various Schools
The Downfall of Mulligan’s
His Masterpiece
The History of a Jackaroo in Five Letters
Victor Second
The Cast-Iron Canvasser
The Tug-of-War
Our Ambassador or Sharp Practice on the Darling
Concerning a Dog Fight
The Merino Sheep
Concerning a Steeplechase Rider
Bill and Jim Nearly Get Taken Down
Preparing for Premiers
Review of Barcroft Boake’s Poems
The Cycloon, Paddy Cahill and the G. R.
Buffalo Shooting in Australia
Bush Justice
A War Office in Trouble
A Visit to Basutoland
French’s Cavalry and Their Work
Prince Alexander of Teck
Our Federal Army and Its Cost
The Bullock
An Informal Letter from London
A Fighting General—Lord Methuen
Thirsty Island
The Late Lieutenant Morant
Sitting in Judgment
Pearling Industry at Thursday Island
A Visit to Drought Land
In the Cattle Country
The Dog
Gleanings of a Globe Trotter: A Day’s Racing in France
Gleanings of a Globe Trotter: The Coloured Alien
The Cat
The Dog—As a Sportsman
Lord Milner
Dr Morrison: A Notable Australian
The Election Season
The Amateur Gardener
The Oracle at the Races
The Oracle in the Private Bar
The Oracle in the Sanctum
The Oracle in the Barber’s Shop
The Oracle at the Bowling Green
The Oracle on Music and Singing
The Oracle at the Theatre
The Oracle on Politics
The Oracle on War and Debt
The Oracle on the Capital Site
Humours of a Horse Bazaar
The Last of Sherlock Holmes
Motoring to Melbourne
Dan Fitzgerald Explains
Done for the Double
The Great War
The Cookhouse
A General Inspection
In a Hospital
J. F. Archibald: Great Australian Journalist
Shakespeare on the Turf
The Man Who Gave ’Em What They Wanted


Australia For The Australians

A political pamphlet, showing the necessity for land reform, combined with protection

Chapter 1
The Need Of Reform

It is of the greatest importance to every man amongst us that he should have some clear idea of what position he occupies in relation to other people, and that he should understand what it is that fixes his prospects, and circumstances in life. It is not too much to say that this is the most important question which any man can have to consider; but it is astonishing how few give any attention to such matters. On coming to years of discretion, each man adopts that trade, profession, or business to which circumstances seem to point: the clerk goes to his desk, the workman to his tools, the architect to his plans, the lawyer to his books — each plods along to the day of his death, obtaining as well as may be the market value for his work, but never enquiring how that market value is arrived at. The capitalist finds that interest on his money is obtainable at a certain rate, and he too grumbles that he cannot get larger interest on safe investments; but he never makes any investigation into the causes which determine the rate of interest, and its rise or fall. The young man beginning life finds that there is “no good opening,” but it never occurs to him to ask why there is “no good opening;” he creeps into the first vacancy he can see, and adapts himself to circumstances.

Every man is more or less a “politician,” and will spout by the hour about freetrade and protection, but men seem to treat political matters rather as abstract theories than as things of practical importance to themselves. The difference between freetrade and protection, etc., is not the difference between one set of politicians and another; it is a question of which is the best for us as a community, and as individuals.

It is the purpose of this pamphlet to present a brief summary of the principles which govern the prosperity of individuals and nations; and to show that there might be, amongst us Australians, much greater all round individual prosperity and wealth than there is: that we might all be much better off than we are: that it is possible for men with willing hands and brains to obtain the means to live in comfort and comparative affluence, much more easily and certainly than can be done now. Which desirable results can only be obtained by good laws.

It may appear at first sight that this is a personal and selfish rather than a national matter, and that the title of this book is hardly appropriate in such a connection; but the fact is that the only way to improve the welfare and prosperity of the country at large, is to improve the individual welfare and prosperity of the inhabitants. To advance Australia we must advance the Australians, and the question of individual advancement is really the question of the greatest national importance.

It may be said that we are already the most prosperous country in the world; that in no other place can a good living be got so easily and certainly as it can here. Even if we grant this, it does not prove that we are as prosperous as we might be, or as we have every right to expect to be. And when we come to look into the matter we find that we are a very long way from any such happy state. It ought to be possible in a new country like this for every man with a willing pair of hands to be always employed, and at good wages. There should be constant openings for our young men with brains and ability to make good incomes. Poverty and enforced idleness of willing men should be unknown. Yet we find the working men constantly seeking employment in vain. There seem to be less and less openings or chances for the young men who are coming forward. In all the colonies an absurd proportion of the population is crowding into the towns. The professions are overcrowded.

In the year 1888 New South Wales paid over one hundred thousand pounds for the support of men who could get nothing to do. The trouble is temporarily disposed of, but will certainly crop up again. It is a curious thing that in a partially settled country we find one colony paying over one hundred thousand pounds in a year towards charity works, for those who can find nothing to do. Why should there be any unemployed at all? Surely there is work enough to be done, land enough lying idle, desires enough to be satisfied.

It is often alleged by people, especially of the “upper” classes, that our labouring population are a great deal too well off. “They are getting too independent altogether, these fellows with their eight hours and their holidays; the colony will never go ahead until we get cheap reliable labor.” This idea is founded on a hideous ignorance of the most simple rules of political economy. Cheap labour means degradation of the community, and no country has ever been prosperous or happy by reason of labour being cheap; but the exact contrary has always been the case. High wages have everywhere and always meant prosperity, and low wages have always meant bad times.

Let those who do not see the necessity for any change or questioning of the present arrangement of affairs, take a night walk round the poorer quarters of any of our large colonial cities, and they will see such things as they will never forget. They will see vice and sin and misery in full development. They will see poor people herding in wretched little shanties, the tiny stuffy rooms fairly reeking like ovens with the heat of our tropical summer. I, the writer of this book, at one time proposed, in search of novelty, to go and live for a space in one of the lower class lodging-houses in Sydney, to see what life was like under that aspect. I had “roughed it” in the bush a good deal. I had camped out with very little shelter and very little food. I had lived with the stockmen in their huts, on their fare, so I was not likely to be dainty; but after one night’s experience of that lodging I dared not try a second. To the frightful discomfort was added the serious danger of disease from the filthy surroundings and the unhealthy atmosphere. I fled. And yet what I, a strong man, dared not undertake for a week, women and children have to go through from year’s end to year’s end. And there were places compared with which the one I tried was a paradise.

Some say of course that all this misery is the fault of the people themselves; in some cases it is. There are people who would be hard up, no matter what chances they got; but there are a great many who, try as they may, cannot make any comfortable kind of a living. Do you, reader, believe that it is an inevitable law that in a wealthy country like this we must have so much poverty? Do you not think there must be something wrong somewhere? Of course people are much worse off in the older countries. God grant that we never will reach the awful state in which the poorer classes of England and the Continent now are. Are we not going in the same direction? That is the question which we have to consider. The same trouble is showing itself here which has come up everywhere. Instead of the position of the working people improving at the same rate as the various appliances for getting a living are improved and perfected, we find a woeful deficiency. The improvement in productive power has been like the speed of a racehorse, while the improvement in the position of the people who ought to be benefited thereby has been like the speed of the mud turtle,—if indeed any progress has been made at all.

If it be a fact that there is no help for this, and that it is an absolute necessity that there should be unemployed and paupers, it is a serious matter for us all, because there is no hard and fast line dividing one class of workman from another. All who work, whether by hand or brain, are equally working for their living, and if that living is becoming harder to get it is no joke for us. We who have no pressing cares, look with indifference on the hardships of poverty-stricken people; but it may be our turn next. It is a matter we should look into. The accepted theory to explain all this is one which was started by a clergyman named Malthus. He said that people had to slave day and night, and women and little children had to suffer hunger and want, because the earth would not produce enough to support its population. He said that just in the same way if a man kept on breeding sheep he would in time overstock his run, so we human creatures tend to increase and multiply so rapidly that we would overstock the earth, were it not that our numbers are kept down by starvation, disease, dirt, misery, and all the evil consequences which follow on and spring from poverty. Nine men out of every ten you meet subscribe unthinkingly to this theory. They will say if asked—“There must always be poor people, because there isn’t enough to go round.”

It is hard to see how any one who believes in religion, who believes in a God of justice and mercy, can believe this theory — will for a moment believe that God puts people on the earth just to starve them off it again.

This over-population theory, curiously enough, is accepted by a people to whom it certainly does not apply, and who never learnt it from Malthus. The howling black savages of the interior of this continent are true Malthusians; they believe in applying a positive check to the increase of population, so they operate in a crude, but effective way, on the female infants, and render them incapable of ever bearing children. They do this to relieve the pressure of population on subsistence, in a wonderfully fertile country where the population is about one nigger to the square league. In their view, the carrying power of the earth is limited to the number of wild ducks, tree grubs, lizards, and snakes that it will furnish. Having arrived at this conclusion, they lie on their backs in the sun all day, and curse Creation for not having provided them with more food. They endorse fully the sentiment of John Stuart Mill, that it is not the laziness of man but the niggardliness of Nature which is to blame for the privations which they occasionally endure.

Whether this Malthusian theory be true or not is luckily not a matter which we need consider; there can be no question but that our country will support all the population it has now, or is likely to have for the next few centuries.

It is difficult to imagine a number of people so great that our country could not carry them. When we think of the great rolling fertile plains of this continent, the wonderfully rich river flats, and the miles and thousands of miles of agricultural land, spreading all over the country and hardly yet trodden by man, it is very evident that pressure of population on subsistence has nothing whatever to do with our difficulties.

It can, I believe, be shown that the supplies of heat in the sun will in time give out; that the earth will grow cold and lifeless, and will stop turning round and round, and I suppose it could be proved that the earth will some day be overstocked — but all these things are a long way off. Are we going to give ourselves up as lost, and to make no effort to put things straight, because at some very remote period there may not be enough subsistence to keep everybody alive? We would indeed be chicken-hearted to give way to such opinion.

It is generally alleged that these ideas of a better state of things are visionary and unrealisable. If it is the dream of a visionary, that in a new country like this, where we have the most fertile soil and the greatest natural resources of all kinds; where we can grow anything we want and make all things we need for ourselves, or get them by exchange from the older countries: if it is the dream of a visionary that in such a country every man might be comfortably off, and might get a living easily, certainly, and with a large amount of leisure, then God help the people of such a country. They deserve to have it taken from them and given back to the blacks.

Chapter 2
The System of Production

It must always be remembered that we are dealing here with the simple question whether we can, by any means, be enabled to make a better living. We are not concerning ourselves with the theoretical or imaginative part of life at all. We are simply investigating the supply and demand of bread and butter. We look upon the object of life as being to get the best possible living. We live and work that we may have good clothes to wear, good food to eat, may enjoy the luxuries of life, may go to the theatre on occasions, may take our leisure when we wish it, may help those in need, patronise our friends, and insult our enemies; and that when we die we may leave a good name and a fair amount of money to our posterity, and depart “over the border” with a decent share of good deeds to our credit in the great ledger.

As Bastiat puts it, the rule is that man shall eat bread in the sweat of his brow, and the object of us all is to get the greatest possible amount of bread for the least possible amount of sweat. We estimate our wealth in money, but money is only valuable for the things it will buy; it is a medium of exchange; paper makes just as good money as gold; a bank note for a pound will buy just as much in any Australian city as a sovereign. When we say, therefore, that we work for money, we mean that we work for the things which money will buy—for the desirable things of this life which we may lump under the name of “wealth,” meaning not money, but articles of value. Now we have to consider what are these desirable things, and how are they obtained?

Everything which we have, or desire to have, is produced by the earth in some crude form or other, and is worked up by human labour into the shape in which we use it. A carriage is simply a hickory tree, and other trees, cut into shape, and bound together with iron ore which has been smelted and refined. A suit of clothes is wool from the sheep twisted into shape by intricate machinery, which machinery is also iron and other ores refined and properly treated, and put in proper shape. Everything we have comes from the earth; there is no other wealth; there is no other source of supply. Manna does not drop from heaven in these days. The next thing is to try and find out the system, if any, on which we set to work to make these things. Once we can find the basis, the system of the thing, we will have made a good start.

The reader no doubt has been used to hear a good deal of talk about productive and unproductive labour; about producer and consumer; about supply and demand; about scarcity and over production; everything seems mixed up, and there appears to be no system whatever. One thing, however, is clear, namely, that no one gets a living for nothing. We hear about unproductive labourers, consumers, and so on. What is an unproductive consumer? A mere mouth and belly, apparently, which other men supply with food. There is no law whereby such people are maintained, and as a matter of fact every one except absolute paupers does something, or gives something for a living. No one is an unproductive consumer; everyone helps in some way in the production of wealth. The Governor of the colony draws a salary. Why? Because he does his share in the work of keeping order, protecting the people, and managing the affairs of the State. Such share, perhaps, as we might easily get done at less cost, but such as we have fixed at our own valuation. Your services, we say, are worth so many thousands a year—here are your wages. In the same way, through all classes of the people, all are doing their share in production of wealth.

There are men who do not actually make, out of the produce of the earth, by applying their labour, any tangible article of wealth; they do not themselves produce any wealth, but they assist those who do. If we were all like working bullocks, desiring grass and water, and grass and water only, then we might well look upon any one, who devoted his energies to any object other than the attainment of grass and water, as a supernumerary and an unproductive consumer. If we could do our work without amusement, without recreation, without pleasure to the eye and gratification of the senses, then might we dispense with all “unproductive” labourers. We might all dress in moleskins and flannel shirts, and if we did we might look upon people who wove silk fabrics as unproductive and wasters. But our natures are different from this; we need rest, recreation and amusement; we desire to have pretty things as well as merely useful ones, and we have higher needs than eating and drinking. For instance, actors and singers help us in our work by lightening our minds and stirring up our mirth, so that we go on our way more cheerful and contented. They themselves produce nothing, but they help us so that we produce the more. We pay them their “wages,” holding them to have given us an equivalent. Each does his share, and if we seek to weed out those whose labour might be dispensed with, where will we draw the line? Not until we have dispensed with everything except the plainest clothes, and the coarsest food, and the poorest shelter compatible with health.

A civilized man does not choose to live under these conditions, and the result is that many of us devote ourselves to labour that might be dispensed with, if we were all to become anchorites; the principle remains the same, namely, that we are all working for the desired wealth. We merely extend the meaning of wealth from necessary things to desirable things.

We can see, therefore, that all labour tends to the same end, and we should not allow the intricate subdivision of labour to blind our eyes to the great central fundamental fact, that we are all working for the best living we can get; that such living can only be got out of the earth and its products, and that we are all engaged, more or less directly, in obtaining and improving those products for our use.

This is the object of work; but besides the men who get their living by their work, there are some that don’t work, and still get a living: how do we classify these? We have said that there is no law whereby a man gets his living for nothing, and the reader will find it very easy to define the position of the non-workers. They either own land and live on the rent of it, or they own capital and live on the interest of it. The brainless English new chum who comes out here with £5,000 to invest, does his share in the aggregate production by lending his capital.

These are the three factors of production of wealth:— land, labour, and capital. Production is carried on by these three factors and by nothing outside of them. If a man gets a living at all, he gets it by working for it, or by using his own money, or letting other people use it; or by using his own land, or letting other people use it.

To hear the current speakers and read the current books on this subject, one would think that, as each man came of age, he was ear-marked and branded by Providence, one “capitalist,” another “landlord,” another “labourer,” and that they were then turned loose into the world to war on one another. This is not the right way to look at it. There is no hard and fast distinction between different classes of men, and the troubles that continually come up are due to mistakes, and ignorance of the great social principles which govern such things.

This, then, is the system of our social life: We have, the Australians, a nation possessing one of the finest countries in the world, amply supplied with capital, or stored up wealth, of their own and older countries. Their object being to get the best living they can out of their country, they divide themselves into an infinity of trades, professions, and businesses, ranging from those who directly till the soil and tend the herds, up to the most elevated officials of government. Capital is easily available for any productive enterprise. Land is plenty. There is (theoretically) no restriction whatever on the method in which they employ themselves. Every man can go to the thing which he thinks will pay him best. If this system were worked properly, it is the best possible system, being the simplest. Under such a system one should expect to get the best possible results.

We would expect that no one would be idle until every want was satisfied, and there was nothing left to be done. So long as there are bare backs to clothe in the old country, so long as they want leather, minerals, and all the raw products of our land, it surely must pay us to go on exchanging with them, sending them the raw material and getting back manufactured goods; so long as any other land wants our goods, and is willing and able to give us in exchange for them such things as we want, it surely should be possible for us all to get a good living by going to work and exchanging with them. We have so much land, and so few people. If they could not, or would not, exchange with us, we could isolate ourselves if we liked, and still make a splendid living by “manufacturing,” i.e., improving our own raw material for our own benefit. Either way, we ought to be able to get the best living that our capabilities will allow; whereas we are not using half our natural opportunities, and rich land is lying idle half a mile from towns where men are sitting idle, or only half occupied, at professions for which there is little demand, and trades in which employment is slack. To any one who understands the system of production, the way in which our inhabitants are crowding into the towns is something appalling. We would call a man a fool who ran a station with one-third of his hands at bookkeeping. We would think a mine pretty well doomed where the overseers and clerical hands numbered nearly as many as the working miners; and yet we have about one-third of our population in Sydney and suburbs alone! They are crowding into the townships, cutting one another’s throats to get employment, most of them half their time idle. Why is this? The towns can only live on the produce of the country. They don’t grow anything in the towns. If there is a bad season in the country, it means so much the less produce, so much, the less to export, so much the less to import and use up and enjoy, so much the less to employ town labor on. This wonderful preponderance of town labor is a thing which we may explain as we go on.

Chapter 3
The Mistake in our System

Our system clearly does not work as it ought. Where we have gone wrong was, firstly, in dealing with our land. When our forefathers arrived here there was any amount of land, and they started to grant it away wholesale to any one that liked to take it; and the way in which they granted it was on the English system of what is called “fee simple tenure;” that is to say, that the grantees took the land from the Crown, to hold it for ever and ever, for themselves, their heirs, and their assigns, free of any rent or payment to any one. No provision was made for the fact that, as population increased, these lands would become more and more valuable. They were parted with once and for all. It was, no doubt, necessary to grant some sort of secure tenure, because no man will produce anything by cultivating land, unless he knows that he will be secured in the enjoyment of what he produces. To this extent, therefore, they were bound to give security of tenure. But that is a very different thing from granting a man land in “fee simple.” I intend to show that when the land was granted away in fee simple, a cruel mistake was made, which has thus early shown its effects on us and our prosperity. The present system is absurd and unjust, in that it enables some people to get a lot of benefit from the community to which they have no right, and it discourages industry and prevents production. It encourages men to hold land idle, and its effects extend to us all, as we all live by what the country produces. “Oh,” says the reader, “this man is simply a Henry Georgeite.” I certainly agree with his arguments against fee simple tenures; but I do not agree in his remedy. It is a wonderful thing to me how so many people persist in looking upon Henry George as the discoverer of the evils of a system of fee simple tenure. After reading his books, I took up the older writers, Adam Smith and John Stuart Mill, thinking that it was always a good thing to hear both sides of a question, and to my astonishment I found that they agreed with George, or rather he with them, in every particular. There is no other side. What people call Henry Georgeism, i.e., objection to fee simple tenure in land, is no new doctrine. Every economist has supported it. It was old before George was born.

John Stuart Mill says: — “The plenty and cheapness of good land are the principle causes of the rapid prosperity of new colonies. The engrossing of land in effect destroys this plenty and cheapness. The engrossing of uncultivated land besides is the greatest obstruction to its improvement.”

Adam Smith says (page 392): — “I shall conclude this very long chapter with observing that every improvement in the circumstances of the society tends either directly or indirectly, to raise the real rent of land, to increase the real wealth of the landlord, his power of purchasing the labor, or the produce of the labor of other people.”

I will add here a cutting from a paper read by Mr. J. T. Walker, of Sydney, before the Economic Association. Mr. Walker’s opinion will carry weight with many men to whom the name of Adam Smith is as sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal. Mr. Walker says:— “I think that radical land reform, with due regard for vested interests, and co-operation, are the true solution of labor and capital difficulties."

If the opinion of such men as Adam Smith and John Stuart Mill goes for anything the mistake is here: but before going further into this question, I would like to mention one matter—more harm than good is done by the energetic writers who persist in denouncing all land-owners as “monopolists,” “oppressors,” and so on. Land-owners are not different from other people; we see them constantly and do not feel that they exhibit any desire to “oppress the down-trodden laborer.” This sort of claptrap is largely talked in debating societies, and by back-slum orators. It only keeps thinking people from going into the matter at all. The old saying, that he who has no case must abuse the other side, is largely believed in; and readers, who see that the land-reformers constantly denounce the land-owners as monopolists, grabbers, and extortioners, are very apt to believe that they do so because their own arguments are weak.

Landownership in fee simple is a state of things which we ourselves have created, and was not forced on us. If we can show that a grave mistake has been made in our dealings with land, let us try and suggest some reform; but let us not go into hysterical abuse of those who have profited by the mistake.

The first objection is that the men who buy land in the early days of a settlement, get a great deal of wealth to which they have no moral right. To illustrate what I mean, near Melbourne is a vast freehold estate owned by one family, and valued at a million of money. Almost all of this is in the same state as it was when Batman first settled on the place where Melbourne now is, as being a likely site for a village. It carries sheep and nothing else. From Williamstown right down nearly to Geelong, you travel through it. Near Sydney, on the North Shore, is a vast unimproved block of water-frontage property, which frowns on the harbor, bold and rugged, in just exactly the same state as it was when Captain Cook brought his ships round there. It is now worth hundreds of thousands of pounds. What has given these properties their value? Clearly not the labor and trouble of their owners, as they are unimproved. They have steadily increased in value ever since the settlements were founded, because as a country gets more and more settled, and population gets denser, the demand for such land near the capital cities becomes greater and greater. When the community parted with these lands they got a few pounds only, which was all they were worth. Then the people set to work to transform the howling hush into a wealthy city; they worked and worked, building houses, making railways and wharves, extending the suburbs; they added to the value of all lands about there. Meanwhile the owners of these lands stood by and looked on. “We can wait,” they said. They were paying no rent for the land, and they saw that it was gradually going up in value, and that they would in time make a handsome profit, not out of their own exertions, but those of the community. The reader must remember that, as Henry George says, “When a man makes a fortune out of a rise in land value, it means that he can have fine clothes, costly food, a house luxuriously furnished, etc. Now, these things are not the spontaneous fruits of the soil, neither do they fall from heaven, nor are they cast up by the sea. They are products of labor—can only be produced by labor; and hence if men who do not labor get them, it must be at the expense of those who do labor.” To whom does the finest house about Sydney belong? It belongs to a man who inherited a huge fortune, made solely out of the rise and rents of real estate near Sydney; a man who counts his fortune by hundreds of thousands, and spends most of his time in England. He never did a day’s work in his life, and yet can have every luxury, while thousands of his fellow countrymen have to toil and pinch and contrive to get a living. The more the country goes ahead the more he prospers, and the less he need do. It looks rather as if he “had the loan of us,” as the unrefined say. Yet it is not fair to blame the man. We should blame the rotten, absurd system which makes such a thing possible.

It may be said, “We have plenty of land; there is no need to make an outcry about it being granted away,—you can get acres and acres out back at the selection price.” “Out back” you can; but every day the words “out back” mean further and further out. At present the far back land has little value except what the owners add to it; but every day there is less and less available land worth taking up. It is all very well to point to dry waterless plains and say, “There is land—plenty of it—what are you complaining about the land system for? If you want land, go and take up some of this.” But there is an almighty difference between such land as this, and the rich lands on the coast rivers, down about Illawarra, and on the banks of the Hunter and Macleay. The injustice, the stupidity, of the arrangement, consists in the fact that our immediate predecessors granted away for ever and ever, in fee simple, free of rent, the best lands we had, and left the present generation the wilderness. They should never have allowed any absolute ownership free of rent to be acquired in land. As the land gets more and more scarce, those who enjoy the advantage of using the picked lands of the colony should also enjoy the privilege of paying something to the community for it.

It is evident that once all the available land gets into the hands of owners, they have the rest of us at their mercy. Writers who deal with the subject as it presents itself in older countries, are very fond of denouncing the tyranny of the landlord over the tenant. This phase of the matter has not yet forced itself upon our community to any extent. The country is too new for landlord and tenant disputes to have sprung up; but we will have them sure enough. We are creating the largest landed proprietors yet known—men who count their freehold acres by the hundred thousand. As soon as we leave our cities with their pitiful little subdivisions and crowded buildings, we can run in the train through miles and miles of freehold estates all belonging to individual owners. These will all be cut up into farms some day and leased out, and then the fun will begin. We will have all the things which make life in Ireland so enjoyable—plenty of good landlord shooting then. We all know the bitter hatred between the tenants and their landlords, not only in Ireland, but in Scotland, England and Wales. That sort of thing will come here some day— the poverty and all, unless we mend our system.

As to the question of discouraging improvements; many people are under the impression that our present system, of what is practically absolute ownership, is the only one that encourages improvements. “If you make the tenure of land subject to a rent,” say they, “or to any restrictions, there will be no money spent on the land, no improvements made, and great deterioration will set in. We will have wooden houses instead of stone, paling fences instead of walls.” But a very little thought will show them that this is erroneous. It is only when the owner realises that he can only add to the value of his land by making improvements, that improvements will be made in real earnest, under the present system it generally pays better not to improve; improvements cost money. Any man who has tried his hand at building and laying out a garden, knows that in nine cases out of ten it would have paid him better to let the land be idle, and wait for an increase in value. It is only when we get rid of this increase in value through no good deed of the owner, that we will get proper increase in value by way of improvements

As to the locking-up of land; it is astonishing how far this locking-up system prevails. Nearly every country town in New South Wales is cursed by the proximity of some large estate, which can neither be bought nor leased. Think of the loss to the community caused by this. Every day’s work done on bad land while better land is lying idle is done at so much loss. Every unfortunate selector who is driven out on to the Macquarie and the Bogan to take up the dry plain, while land is lying idle on the rich river flats all over the colony, is working at a dead loss to himself and the community. It is on the success of such men as these that city men live. Our present system is direct encouragement to the owners to hold land idle and wait for a rise. The thing has taken a great hold in this colony, and the cleverest man is not the man who can use a bit of land and make something out of it, but the man who can make a rise out of a railway being made to his property.

For city properties the evil is intensified. When we hear of George Street property fetching a thousand pounds per foot, we say—“How prosperous the country must be! What wonderful advances we are making! A few years ago it could have been bought for a hundred pounds an acre!” What we ought to say is— “What a dreadful handicap on the colony it is, that men should be able to get such a lot of the colony's products for land which was increased in value by the State. What fools we are to allow it to go on!” That is what we ought to say. To any one who understands the matter, it is a cruel thing to see the settlers in the interior of our colony, striving day after day on their little properties, with no comforts, no leisure, no hopes nor aspirations beyond making a decent living, and to think that it is owing to the labour of these men and such as these, that the owners of Sydney are living luxuriously, travelling between this colony and England, drawing large rentals, or spending the large values which they never did a hand’s turn to earn or deserve.

There is one stock argument which seems to go down with a lot of people. It is said that the people who buy land when it is worth little, and hold on to it till it rises in value, are risking their money, and that if the land falls in value they lose, so that they surely ought to be allowed to profit if it rises. The answer to this is that we should never have to go into the risk at all. It is too great a certainty that land will rise in any fertile unsettled country. The man who buys runs a very small risk, and has the chance of a huge profit. The community on the other hand make very small profit if the land falls in value after it is sold, and they make a huge loss if it rises.

Land which was bought for a pound an acre has often risen in value to £20,000 per acre by the exertions of the community, and the owner has reaped the benefit. Land buying in the early stage of a settlement is a kind of lottery, in which the investor is pretty certain to win; and where the fortunate men profit at the expense of their fellow men, not for once but for all time, and not merely for themselves but for their descendants. We have prohibited all other lotteries, and yet not one of them ever did one millionth part of the harm which this has done. There is no sense in abusing the men who have taken advantage of this state of affairs. The way was open to them, and they adopted it. I expect most of my readers only wish that their forefathers had secured a few acres about Sydney, at the time when they could be bought for a keg of rum. Their descendants need do very little work now; other people would have to work for them.

There is another argument sometimes advanced, which looks well on paper but carries little weight. It is argued that if a man pays money for land and lets the land lie idle, he is entitled to profit by any advance in its value, because he has lost interest on his money. This is a rotten argument. If a man likes to lockup his capital in unproductive, unused land, it is his own fault. The land is handed over to him to use, not to look at. If he uses the land he can get a return for it, which will pay his interest. If a man bought a mare for £100, and never rode her or bred from her, by the time she was twenty years of age he would, if he calculated up the interest on her price, expect to get for her several thousands of pounds, whereas he would really get nothing for so old an animal, nor would he expect it. He would ride her and breed from her, and so get a return for his money year by year. In the same way let the owners use the land if they want interest.

This is where we want to make a reform. Our land system is bad: it drives the men into the cities; it causes good land to be locked up; it enables some men to live at the expense of others; it enables a man to say by his will that for 21 years after his death no one shall use his land. Fancy that; a dead man’s will can override the needs of the living. We have created a land-grabbing mania — an earth hunger. 552 persons in a population of over a million own upwards of 17,000,000 acres of freehold; they possess in fee simple over one-half the alienated lands of New South Wales. Squatters have been forced to buy where they would rather have taken a good lease on secure tenure. To buy the land they have had to borrow largely from English capital, and our lands are mortgaged up to the hilt; the purchase money has been spent in wasteful extravagance in public buildings, in useless courthouses, etc., in one-horse country towns. Where we ought to have spent money in irrigation we have spent it in building tramways and bridges, and such like city works, which add nothing to the productive power of the country. This is the thing which cries aloud for a reform.

Chapter 4
The Remedy

What shape must our reform take? The followers of Henry George say, “Resume all the land again without paying compensation, except for improvements.” At least, they say, take all the annual value except enough to induce the land owners to collect it. They purpose not only to make land pay all taxes, but to go on to take all the annual value, whether needed for taxation or not. (Progress and Poverty, page 289.) This is too sudden a remedy altogether.

We cannot fairly resume the lands which we have sold, even though we got but small money for them; we cannot fairly take “all the annual return, except enough to induce the owner to collect it.” The men who own the land now are not, except in some few cases, the men to whom it was originally granted. The present holders have paid well for it in many cases; our whole credit system is founded on those fee simple tenures; the banks have accepted the money of the community, and have advanced it on security of these tenures. It would be too great a jar, a dislocation of industry and security to attempt any sudden method. Henry George wants to burst up the present system on which all our credit and business is founded, and leave us without anything in its place, His plan, if adopted, would make things very nice for our posterity, but would leave us in a bad way.

The great key-note of the reform must be to let men hold lands to use, and not to look at. We must try and devise some means whereby the productive lands of the country shall be available for use by individuals, under the most favourable circumstances for themselves and for the community; we must devise some means whereby no one can hold land idle and unproductive while others are anxious to use it, and whereby all value created by the State will go to the State. We must secure to every man the benefit of his labours, and so far as is needful for that purpose we must give the holders secure tenure, and enable them to mortgage their holdings to get an advance of money to aid in improvements, and to allow them to sell out to others should they desire it. We must conform to the tendency of the times to concentration, and allow good large areas to be occupied.

We cannot touch the values already accrued, but what we want to do is to find out the present unimproved values, and see that any rise in them is reaped by the State. If the owners like to let them lie idle they must pay for the privilege, and above all, and beyond all, we must stop, once and for ever, the trafficking in lands; if a man wants to make money out of land, let him do it by legitimate improvements, not by “holding for a rise.” If we have any sense we will see that the State gets the benefit of all rises.

How can we do all this? First of all as to country lands — these are the productive lands of the community, and if we take the matter in hand at once, there will be little difficulty in dealing with these.

The generality of country owners would lose nothing by any reform, because, whatever value their lands have, they have themselves created by improvements and labour. Almost any farmer in this Colony would cheerfully sell out if you would pay him in full for all his improvements, and the original purchase money of his land. They have got no “unearned increment” of value at the expense of the public. We don’t hear of a farmer making a hundred thousand pounds by the construction of a railway to his farm; but we hear of speculators and syndicates dealing in Sydney property doing it often enough. The farmers have been working at their farms to add value to city property, more than to their own property. Some farm land, of course, has a value over and above the improvements—such land as the Hunter River Valley, for instance. There is farm land on the Hunter worth, unimproved, £100 per acre; but all the community ever got for it was £1 or £2 per acre. The men who own this sort of land have got a large rise in values for which they never worked, and they are in the same position as owners of city property.

To put straight the tenure of country lands, I would make every land owner send in a valuation of his land without improvements. Let it be optional for the State to pay him or his mortgagees the unimproved value, and become his landlord at a rent to be assessed; his improvements to remain his own property; or else let the State put a tax on him calculated on the excess of his valuation over the original price which he gave. We would thus get a true valuation, because every owner would know that if he valued too high he would find himself taxed on that value.

We would thus resume control of the lands, and the existing credit system would not be disturbed. The owners could hold for ever and ever, or until they liked to sell out, but their lands should be revalued once in every five years and a fresh rent imposed. This plan works very well in Japan. The speculation in land would thus be done away with, because no man would be able to hold land as a speculation; the rent would make him use it, and he would not be able to get much more than the original unimproved valuation, because every five years such valuation would be overhauled and rectified. His improvements he could at any time get full value for, and he would thereby be encouraged to make improvements and discouraged from holding land idle, instead of being, as now, encouraged to hold it idle and discouraged from improving. Any bushman can tell hundreds of cases where rich land is locked up in the big freehold runs, carrying sheep, while miserable selectors are trying to get a living on stony ridges. This rich land would be made pay a proportionate taxation; its present value would be fixed so that the owner could never make anything by a rise in it. That would be reaped by the State. The owner would be driven to improve or to let others on to it who would improve it. This plan would greatly help all small farmers and settlers. Their holdings would pay no rent to speak of, having, without improvements, no value above the original purchase money. And the immense increase in aggregate production that would result, would give us all a fresh start. Owners of rich land would see that nothing would be gained by holding on to it idle, and they would put it in use. There would be a demand for labor of all sorts. The prosperity of the country would at once go ahead, and prosperity of the country would mean prosperity of the towns. People would be able to buy things, employ professional men, and meet their bills more regularly than they can now. The town values of lands I would deal with in much the same way. Fix the present value without improvements, by the owner’s own valuation, and let it be clearly understood that the owner would reap no benefit from any advance on that value. Such value as he liked to add by improvements he would be welcome to. Once the owners saw that they would make no profit by holding their land idle, a lot of it would be brought into the market, and prices all round would fall in consequence. The present absurdly high value of land must be brought down somehow. It is no use saying we can do it without any jar, because there must be some jar. The present owners of Sydney for instance (and there are not such a great many of them) could, if they liked to combine together, rob the colony of thousands and thousands of pounds by simply raising their rents. The business of the Colony must be carried on in Sydney, and under the present system we must pay the owners of Sydney what price they like for the use of their land. There is no second Sydney to go to. We have given them this vast power, and we cannot take it away by any means which will be unfelt. I think the fairest way is to do as I have suggested—don’t interfere with the present values, but look after any future value, and the result will be that prices for city land will reach their true level.

The tremendous lot of unimproved land about Sydney, which is patiently waiting for a rise is something wonderful. Go up into the Post Office tower and look round. You will see hundreds of acres of land, exactly in the state in which Captain Cook found it, but all of it worth according to present values from £1000 per foot down to £3 per foot. Once the owners get to know that no further advance is possible, they will begin to use this land, and when all this unimproved land comes into the market, the inhabitants of Sydney will not have to levy such a heavy tax on their country brethren as they have been doing, to pay the colossal rents of city properties.

This is the great reform which must come sooner or later. I am quite aware that it is little use arguing and pointing out a thing which is not severely felt—the average Englishman feels nothing unless it hits him with the force of a club. Well, this fee-simple ownership, if not mended, will hit us like a club, and that before very long. It has hit them that way in the old country. They are compelling landowners to hand over their land to tenants who wish to use it. I propose some day to go more fully into this land question, and to point out in detail its bearings on the different kinds of properties. For the present we are all agog over our fiscal policy. Any change in the fiscal policy will mean only a change in distribution; it will add but little to production of wealth. Nevertheless, as it is, at the time of writing, the burning question, we may as well try and get at the principles of it, and see how it affects us and our prosperity.

Chapter 5
Our Fiscal Policy

There has sprung up, for what reason I know not, an impression that Land Reform and Protection are diametrically opposed. The gentlemen who advocate the single tax theory, meet the gentlemen who advocate Protection in deadly combat on public platforms. There is no antagonism between true Land Reform and Protection, as I propose to show. They support each other and should go together. The single tax men forget that if they make their tax as heavy as George wishes, viz., a confiscation tax, it will upset all existing arrangements, and burst up the present system. If they only make it a light tax it will have no effect, but will simply be passed on by the landlords to the tenants. The last time a land tax was proposed this was provided for in all leases. The question between Freetrade and Protection, when you come to the bedrock of it, is simply whether it is better for a community such as ours to exchange its raw materials for the manufactures of other countries, or to tax its own people and so create manufactures.

It is quite clear that the stock protectionist arguments hardly put the matter properly. It is rather feeble to talk about being overwhelmed with foreign boots, and inundated with cotton material. These things are not curses but blessings. We wear boots and clothes; the question is whether it is better to make these things for ourselves, or to get them from other countries where they can be produced cheaper. The Freetrade theory is that so long as any foreign country will furnish us with manufactured goods cheaper than our own people will make them, it is advisable to let them come in free, because our own people can go to something else more profitable. Bastiat, the great Freetrade authority, says at page 210 of his “Economic! Sophisms,”— “Why are men attached to the system of Protection?”

“Because as liberty (of exchange) enables them to obtain the same result with less labor, this apparent diminution of employment frightens them.”

“Why do you say apparent?”

“Because all labor saved can be applied to something else.”

“To what?”

“That I cannot specify, nor is there any need to specify it.”


“Because if the sum of satisfactions which the country at present enjoys could be obtained at one-tenth less labor, no one could enumerate the new enjoyments which men would desire to obtain from the labor left disposable. One man would desire to be better clothed, another better fed, another better educated, another better amused.”

Again at page 212:—

“As long as a man has wants to satisfy and time at his disposal, there is always something to be done.”

That is the whole theory of Freetrade; and it is exactly on this point that in practice the Freetrade arguments break down. Something else! Our people ought to be able to go to something else, no doubt; they ought to be able to go out into the bush and grow wool and dig up the minerals. The market for these things is not yet over-supplied, and the land is not yet exhausted; but, owing to our land tenure system, their chances of going to something else are lessening every day. So long as there are unemployed or only partially employed men, crowding into our cities eager for a job of work, it is no use for the freetraders to say that there is no need to foster manufactures, because the people can go to something else. They can’t get anything else to go to. So long as they try to keep up their wages, i.e., to maintain a high standard of living, they cannot hope to compete with the underpaid laborers of the continent and England. Henry George, in his “Protection and Freetrade,” lays down a doctrine which amounts to this, that whereever wages are highest production is cheapest, and he quotes the Americans as a proof. The Americans have got a start of the world in machinery, and can turn out manufactured articles cheaper than lower wage countries. When those lower wage countries get the same machinery as the Americans (and this they are doing every day), they will soon disprove this fallacy that the more a man is paid for his work, the less expensive his work is. The true reason of the American success is simply that they have a huge local market secured to them by Protection, The bigger the market the cheaper can the articles be sold, If any coachbuilder here were to try and make buggies of the same quality as the Abbot or Fleming buggies, he would promptly go smash. They have a huge home market, and where he could sell one they could sell a hundred, so that they can gain all the advantages derived from doing things on a big scale. They can compete with foreign labor because of their huge home market, because of their immense start in machinery and scientific knowledge, and because they are protected heavily against foreign competition both of goods and labor—no unemployed foreigner can land in America without paying a tax, nor can his goods go in without paying a tax. It sounds rather well for them to talk about fair competition with the world! The fact is that where labor is high no manufactures can stand without protection. Adam Smith said that they would grow up naturally; as a nation grew out of the infancy stage its surplus capital would, he said, “naturally turn itself to the employment of artificers and manufacturers at home.” Both those artificers and manufacturers, finding at home the materials (in our case say wool and corn), and the subsistence (i.e., capital) necessary for their work, might immediately, even with less skill, be able to work as cheap as inhabitants of mercantile states at a distance (say England). They might not be able to compete at first, because they would not have such good machinery; but in time they would be able to compete, and be able to “jostle” the manufacturing country out of the local markets.”

Smith, in this paragraph, overlooks the fact that labor will not reduce its wages sufficiently to compete with “mercantile” states. They only hold their own by degrading their labor to the starvation point, and to “jostle” them out of our own, or any other market, we must reduce our laborers accordingly, a thing which we are loth to do. He says (page 17) that by this means any landed country will in time manufacture and carry too. But the great wages question he has overlooked. We cannot compete with German iron goods, for instance, even though we have the iron here, until our laborers like to come down to working 14 hours a day, with no holidays.

The English operatives can beat our local cloth factories in our own markets, although the wool has to be carried there and handled by hosts of people, and brought back here made up. If we could get men at English wages we would soon beat them; but the old, old question then comes up—are we going to pauperise our labor in the strife for the world’s markets? It must be remembered that our object is to put our working classes on a higher footing than they now stand; and if we do this, we can never expect them to manufacture things for us at the same rate of pay as the foreign makers get. The trusts and monopolies whereby laborers are robbed, and which grow up under protection, and which formed, so far as I can see, almost the sole basis for Henry George’s book, “Freetrade and Protection,” are not the fault of the system; but of the way it is administered.

This question of Freetrade and Protection is purely a wages question. While we have men unemployed, or half employed, it is idle to talk about the economic value of their labor, and to say that they need not manufacture, as they can go to something else. It is for the freetraders to say to what else they should go. Failing an answer to this question, the country will inevitably go for protection. We can see pretty clearly the reason why these men are unemployed: the bad land tenure system is the reason of it. But even when tenures are put right, I think protection is the correct policy. We can, of course, all devote our attention to wool-growing and farming, two things in which, by reason of our superior natural advantages, we are bound (for the present, at any rate) to find something to do. We can exchange our products for those of other countries. With all our best land available, we might command the markets of the world for raw material. But is it a fitting destiny for such a nation as ours, that we should have no higher objects than to grow wool and reap corn? Are we to have no arts nor manufactures? These things will only grow by protection. There is no question what protection is: it simply means taking out of the pockets of certain of the community a sum of money for the benefit of the others; and I say deliberately that such a proceeding is right. We have now the best of the wool trade; but the South American supplies are catching on us. We cannot export wheat to compete with America. It is better for us to make for ourselves a local market, even as the Americans have done. It is better to lay a tax on the exporting producers, and enable some of our people to start manufactures, so that as these latter grow up we can create a system of exchange over which we have control. Our own farmers and wool-growers will have a certain market with their own manufacturers; and the manufacturers will have a certain market with their country people, instead of having to compete with auction sold goods sent out here in huge batches, and made by starving wretches working 15 hours a day. There is no doubt that there are quite enough of us to get a good living, even when dividing our labor as I propose. Every other country almost has done the same thing. If all the world were one country, under one set of laws, it would be a different matter. But we cannot long devote ourselves entirely to wool-growing and farming, and as soon as we get any surplus labor we must give it a chance.

Here is the gist of the whole matter. Adam Smith says:— “It is the maxim of every prudent master of a family never to attempt to make at home what it will cost him more to make than to buy.” No, but if he has to keep some of his family doing nothing, it is better to make the article, even at a loss, than submit to the loss of keeping the family idle, and also buying the thing.

This, then, should be our policy: Reform our land tenure, so that we may get the best possible use out of our lands; and reform our tariff, so that we may give our industries a start on some other basis than that of cheap labor. We will, of course, amass a huge revenue of Government; but I have yet to learn that that is an evil. There are plenty of ways of spending Government money besides building the North Shore bridge. We can start irrigation works, and go in for artesian water. We can afford to amuse ourselves a little, and life need not be such a very “root-hog-or-die” proceeding as it now is.

One question is much debated—Should trade be free between the colonies? Certainly, once we get all the colonies under one Government, and get the land system in each on a proper basis. At present our farmers out in the back country, are clamouring for protection against Victorian products. They say that the cost of carriage prevents them having a chance. That is one of the beauties of our present land system, that men have to go three or four hundred miles inland to make a homestead, while better land is lying idle near the towns; also, they say that they cannot compete with the splendid land which the Victorian farmers enjoy. When we get a proper land system, all such land will pay an additional rent to the State, and the man that has the advantage of using it will have the privilege of paying for it. We must always keep in view that our object is the greatest good for the greatest number; and as soon as we get all the colonies under one government and under a proper land system, then we will know that everyone has a fair chance, and it will pay us better to put some of our people on to manufactures and art, rather than to go on being “a country where they grow wool.” This will be better than letting our manufactures grow up, by our population growing down in their standard of living.

Published by Gordon & Gotch, 1889


Hughey’s Dog

A Station Sketch

Hughey was butcher on the station, and his soul yearned for a dog. Dogs there were about in plenty, but he wanted something special, and as the super was going to Sydney, Hughey commissioned him to buy him a dog. “Buy a dog,” he said, “as can fight. I don’t put no value on pedigree—I don’t want no pedigree, I want a dog, get a dog as can fight, and he’ll fill the bill.” Wherefore there appeared shortly in a Sydney paper, in the somewhat inaccurate grammar of the super: “WANTED, at once, a dog as can fight. Apply Bushman’s Hotel.”

Next morning the men with dogs commenced to roll up. The dogs were of all sorts, sizes, and colours, having only one thing in common—they each and all looked as if they would tear a man’s leg off on the slightest pretext. When the super went down and admitted them into the bar parlour, he and the landlord had to get up on the table to obtain anything like an unprejudiced view of the competitors. They soon weeded them down to two, one a villainous-looking half-bred devil, and the other a pure-bred bulldog of undeniable quality, a truculent ruffian with milk-white skin and bloodshot eyes, by whose noble proportions the soul of the landlord was much gratified. The other dog, however, was evidently the better in a fight, because the gentleman in charge of him said he thought the best way to decide was “to let the two dawgs ’ave a go in, to see which is the best dawg”. The one-eyed nobleman who represented the bulldog saw that his dog would have no chance in a fight, but being himself of the pugilistic persuasion, he tied his dog to the leg of a table and advanced on the other man with his fists up. “Suppose me an’ you has a go in,” he said, “to see which is the best dawg?”

This proposal would have been promptly acceded to but for the arrival of another man with a dog—a big brown dog with a coarse, heavy-jawed head, big round the ribs, fairly long and light in the legs, evidently as active as a cat and hard as nails. But the previous dog owners knew him and apparently recognised that they and their canines were in the presence of a master. “’Ere’s ’Arrison’s dawg,” they said, “an’ in corse if you want a dawg to fight...” So the super explained that that was just what he did want, and he became the purchaser of the brown animal, which duly arrived among us and was installed as Hughey’s dog. As he had no tail Hughey, of course, christened him “Stumpy”.

And he could fight. He “counted out” every dog in the place the first two days he was there. His great activity, combined with his powerful jaws, made him a Czar among tykes. After the first two days not a dog dared heave in sight while Hughey’s dog was taking a walk. He chased the kangaroo dogs away up the paddock, he fought two rounds with the bullock driver’s dog, and would have killed him only for the arrival of the bullocky with the whip, and as he was intercepted in hot pursuit of the boss’s favourite collie, Hughey thought it was best to tie him up. This made him worse, and whenever he managed to slip his collar or break the chain there would be a procession of dogs making full speed for the river, with Stumpy after them kicking the dust up in hot pursuit. Once they got to the river they were safe, as he was an indifferent swimmer and would not take to the water. Whenever any traveller or teamster came along with a dog that he fancied could fight, Hughey’s dog was always trotted out to maintain the honour of the station, which he invariably did with a vengeance.

Soon his fame spread far and wide. Long, gawky, cornstalk youths used to ride miles to see him, and a kind of exhibition used to be given on a Sunday for the benefit of visitors. Stumpy was chained up by a fairly long chain, and the entertainment consisted of taking a dog, one that knew Stumpy’s prowess for choice, and then getting Stumpy out to the full length of his chain, and giving him a fair hold of the visiting dog’s tail. A most exciting struggle would ensue. The hospitable Stumpy would drag with might and main to get his guest within the reach of his chain, and the frenzied excitement in his face as he felt the other dog’s tail slipping out of his teeth was awful to witness. The other dog meanwhile industriously scratched gravel to get away. Sometimes he turned and confronted Stumpy, but no dog ever did that more than once; once was more than enough, and on any second appearance they would devote all their energies to pulling away, and praying that their tails would break. Sometimes the tail was bitten through by Stumpy, and on these occasions the dog was, if possible, recaptured and the affair was started fresh, fair, and square. If Stumpy pulled the dog into his reach he used to drag him back into the centre of the circle covered by his chain, shorten his hold on the tail in a workmanlike manner until he got him right up close to him, when he would suddenly release the tail and make a spring for the dog’s neck. This was a most exciting moment, because if Stumpy missed his spring the other dog would probably dash away out of reach, and it was with breathless interest the assembled crowd would watch Stumpy nerving himself for this critical rush. If Stumpy got a fair hold, the game was stopped and the dog released.

One night some dingoes came howling round the homestead, scaring the sheep in the yard, frightening the cows and calves and small dogs, making the fowls cackle and the cocks crow, and stirring up the deuce generally. It was bright moonlight, and the big, grey expanse of the plain lay open and clear almost as day when the men slipped down to the back to let Stumpy go. They reckoned this dingo business would be right into his hand, and when they got down there he was straining at the collar so hard that he nearly choked. They let him go, and he dashed madly off into the moonlight in the direction of the howling dingoes, breathing murder and dog’s meat, and the men followed at a run, one of them carrying an old carbine. “Lord help the dingo as Stumpy gets hold on!” gasped out Hughey as they ran along. They soon lost sight of Stumpy in the dim distance, and the howling had abruptly ceased. They ran on until out of breath, when they pulled up and listened: a dead silence reigned, there was no sound of dog or dingo, and nothing in sight on the plain but the clumps of saltbush. “I expect he’s follerin’ them away into the scrub,” said Hughey. “I reckon they’d better take to the river if they want to keep their hides outside their gizzards,” said another. They waited awhile and whistled and called, but nothing came, so they tramped off home. As they drew near the sheep yard it became evident something was wrong; the sheep were “ringing” wildly, rushing in all directions to escape some foe.

“By Jove, there’s a dingo in the yard,” said Hughey, and they rushed up at the double. The carbine was handed to one of the blackfellows, a noted shot, and as the party ran up he got a clear view of the marauder in the yard worrying a struggling ewe. The blackfellow put the carbine to his shoulder and was just going to let drive, when Hughey knocked up the muzzle of the weapon. “Don’t fire,” he said, “it’s Stumpy.”

And so it was. That amiable animal, finding that he could not catch the dingoes, had come back to give the sheep a turn. After this he was tied up at night and only occasionally let loose in the daytime, and on one of these excursions an event happened which sealed his fate.

Hughey used to kill the sheep for eating, and of course, Stumpy came in for the lion’s share of the waste meat. The men’s cook was a big Dutchman, a half-witted chap who occasionally went religion-mad, and between him and Stumpy there was a vendetta. Stumpy, you see, had killed his dog, and he had poured boiling water on Stumpy on the only occasion when the latter visited the kitchen: so it was not to be wondered at that when the cook walked rather carelessly, and perhaps swaggeringly, past Stumpy, who was devouring some sheep’s liver, Stumpy went after him and bit him severely. The cook went to Hughey, who was putting the ornamental touches on the ribs of the dead sheep by cutting patterns with his knife. “Hughey,” he said, “your tam tog vas pite me!”

“What do I care!” responded Hughey. “I suppose it won’t poison him—did he swaller the piece?”

The Dutch cook looked at Hughey in a curious way, and walked on. Late that night when the episode was forgotten, the cook announced his intention of going out to shoot some possums. “Don’t shoot yourself!” was the only advice he got, but again he smiled that curious smile as he replied, “I vill shoot a bossum—a big one.”

Then he set forth into the night with all the dogs in the place accompanying him. A couple of shots were heard down by the river, and soon the Dutchman came back and put the gun away, and went off to the house. He asked for the boss, and much to the boss’s astonishment said he meant to leave next morning. “You can’t leave,” said the boss. “You are under agreement to give a certain amount of notice—you can’t leave all at once.”

“Vell,” responded the Dutchman slowly, “it is all in de agreement, but I must go. De stars is gettin’ very close togedder and I haf a heap of preachin’ to do—as soon as dem stars gets togedder de vorld vill be purnt up and I must go and preach to the beeples.”

“Off his nanny again,” thought the boss, “the sooner he goes the better.” So the cook returned to the hut, and the men heard him packing and rolling things at all hours of the night, then he went out again and quiet reigned.

Next morning he was gone. The men had to cook their own breakfast, which annoyed them greatly, and then they went down to the house to see if the boss knew anything of the cook’s disappearance, and he learned that he had given notice.

“He seems to have taken my dog,” groaned Hughey. “I can’t see him anywhere.”

Then Hughey went off to the meat house to get the sheep he had killed on the previous day. There it hung, wrapped round by a white cover just as he had left it. As he took it down he noticed that it felt strangely light, but he carried it to the kitchen, laid it on the chopping block and took off the cover. Then he found out why it was so light. In the place of the sheep there lay, skinned, dressed, and ornamented in true butcher fashion, the corpse of Stumpy. The Dutchman had shot him and butchered him the previous night, and had gone forth to do his “preaching to the peoples” for fear of the consequences.

Hughey swore an oath of vengeance, but he never came across the cook again. The latter got into a lunatic asylum and spends his days in asserting that the Prince of Wales meanly cut him out of the affections of Alexandra, to whom he (the mad butcher) was engaged to be married, and in the contemplation of that romantic matter he has forgotten all about Hughey’s dog.

The Bulletin, 2 November 1889


How I Shot The Policeman

He was a short, fat, squat, bald-headed officer with a keen instinct for whisky, and an unlimited capacity for taking things “easy”; he would have been a tall man had Providence not turned round so much of his legs to make his feet. He used to “mooch” about the village at night, and if he saw any lights burning late in the houses, he would casually look in to see that nothing was amiss, and pretend to be very vigilant and on the alert, and he very often was rewarded with a stiff drink of whisky. If he had no excuse to go in, he used to rattle at the gates to see that the fastenings were all right, and when the proprietor came out he would say, “All right, sir! I was just seeing that the gate was fast! Very dry night, sir!” And this generally ended in a liquid and spirituous manner. But the system one night resulted in serious damage to the constable himself, as I shall proceed to explain.

I was reading for an examination and burning the midnight oil; in front of the house was a small garden, into which an old grey horse that belonged to an Irishman up the village was constantly straying down the road and making his way. He could lift the gate catch with his nose, and many a time in the stilly night I used to hear him rattling at it trying to get the gate open. Then I would leave my books, and sally out and drive him away with language and blue metal. Next time he happened to be loose he would play the same game. He became very crafty too, and would clear out like lightning the moment he heard anyone stirring in the house, so that it became a most difficult matter to land a rock on him at all. Tired of this kind of thing, I one night prepared a little surprise for him. I got a two-pound dumb-bell, laid it ready in the balcony overlooking the gate, so that I could rush out and get it the moment I heard him: and I calculated to give him the hardest knock he ever had. Then I went back to the books and read on.

The night wore on and midnight approached: it was dark as the inside of a cow, and a little wind was blowing. Suddenly I heard a faint “rattle, rattle” down at the gate. I drew a long breath, slipped noiselessly into the balcony, grasped the dumb-bell and let it go with terrific force right at a dim object just looming through the pitchy darkness. The astute reader will, of course, have divined that it was not the old grey horse this time. It was the policeman. The two-pound iron dumb-bell had struck him fair on the temple; if it had hit him anywhere else it would have killed him.

He threw up his hands and fell like a dead man. I rushed to his assistance. It is useless to try and set out half the things that flashed through my brain as I rushed downstairs. In my mind’s eye I saw myself before the coroner’s jury; I saw myself at the criminal court with Judge Windeyer trying me; I heard the jury bring in a verdict of guilty with a strong recommendation to mercy, and I knew that meant hanging for certain, as people recommended to mercy always perish on the scaffold in Australia. I saw a blotched diagram of the locality published in the daily papers with a cross to mark the spot where the policeman fell, and an asterisk to show the position of the murderer when he hurled the bloodthirsty dumb-bell. I saw my portrait—that of a dreadful-looking ruffian—in the Town and Country Journal—and then, having reached the prostrate form of the blue-bottle, I lifted him in my arms and ascertained that he still lived. With tender care I bathed his alabaster brow; I watched with eagerness as he slowly came round; as soon as he was conscious I began to apologise, to explain, to grovel. He listened for a while and then he said, “Oh, it’s all right, Banjo. It was an unfortnit haccident. Do you happen to have a little whisky in the house? My tongue is dry enough to strike matches on.”

I loaded him up with whisky, gave him a substantial Christmas box and sent him on his way as good as new. I believe you could shoot him with dumb-bells every night in the week on the same terms.

The Bulletin, 4 January 1890


How Wild Horses Are Yarded

In the latest volume of the Badminton Library of Sports there is a description of the way in which wild horses are yarded in Australia. According to this usually excellent authority on field sports, the stockmen simply take a promenade up the nearest big plain and “circle round” the various wild mobs, and gather them and drive them into the yard. Now, wild horse hunting, or, as it is called in the bush, “running bush horses”, is the grandest sport known in Australia; and to have it maligned in this way by the leading English authority is rather hard. But it must be remembered that very few Australians know how it is done, and a short account of it may be interesting.

The wild horses are not indigenous but are descendants of animals that escaped from the early settlers. They form into mobs, which always keep together, and each mob attaches itself to a special piece of country. When startled they race away to the fastnesses of some favourite range. If they fail to shake off their pursuers they carry on across country to some other haunt, always making instinctively for the rockiest and scrubbiest places. The stockmen try to cut them off from these refuges, and to wheel them into more open country, or else rush them into a trap yard. These are strongly built yards, with long V-shaped wings running out for a mile or more into the bush; but the horses soon get to know where they are, and steer clear of them. Sometimes a lot of quiet horses, called “tailers”, are left in a likely place, and the wild ones are driven into them. If the wild mob have had a severe gruelling they will stay with the quiet horses, and the whole lot can be yarded together; but generally they rush out as soon as they get their wind, and charge under the stockwhips and away to the mountains again.

The wild horses are a great nuisance to stock owners, because valuable animals constantly stray away and join them, and nothing but desperate riding and great good fortune will get them back. Very often the owner sells his right, title, and interest in an escaped animal for a few pounds, and the buyer will probably break down three or four good horses trying to yard his purchase. Sometimes a reward is offered, and then all the young colonials in the district will be after the mob, in season and out of season, riding their horses’ heads off, their only tactics being to “go at them from the jump”, and try and run them down. This is very good fun while it lasts; but the usual result is that, after a desperately run ten miles or so across rough country, the pursuer’s horse knocks up, and he has to walk home and carry his saddle. Sometimes, by a dashing bit of riding, he may “cut out” the horse he wants from the mob, or fate may kindly enable him to wheel the whole lot into the jaws of a trap yard, in which case he fills the whole district with his brag for months to come. But to “run horses” properly four or five splendidly mounted men are required; they must know the country well, and must know in what direction the mob will run, and when to let them go and when to wheel them. An outsider can see the sport to perfection if he is a good bush rider; but he must not flatter himself that he is any use unless he knows the country. It is the grandest sport one can imagine flying along through the open bush after a mob of wild horses. For the first twenty minutes or so the race is apt to be very merry, and the novice has to come along, because there is no chance of a check, and anyone losing sight of the mob is out of it for the day. After the first mad rush they drop to a steady swinging gallop. Soon one of the stockmen may be seen flitting through the trees, riding for dear life, and going parallel with the mob. He is the man who is deputed to take the first turn out of them. After a while his whip rings out sharply a few times, and the mob swerves a little from their course—not much, apparently, but it means that they have been headed off from one refuge and must now make for another. They settle down again and run in a straight line, perhaps for miles, over all sorts of country, the stockmen saving their horses as much as possible. Then it is time for the next wheel, and another man moves forward and sounds his whip. Sometimes the mob make a determined effort to race past him, and then there is a gallant set-to, the stockman driving his horse along with the spurs over the most awful places, for he must at all hazards keep pace with them, and has no time to choose his ground.

If he can hold his own, the mob wheel away reluctantly, and strike off again, very likely making back to their original point. After a few miles the weaker horses in the wild mob, the mares and foals, and so on, begin to drop out. These strike off by themselves, cantering or trotting slowly while the main body sweeps on. As the pace begins to tell, more and more drop out, some quite exhausted; these stand still and come in for a savage cut or two of the whip as the pursuers come by. The others keep going, the gallop at length dropping to a swaying canter and then to a trot. By this time the stock horses are in a pitiable condition, bloody with spurring, and hardly able to raise a canter; some will have been crippled by the rough country, and others will have knocked up altogether and dropped out of the running. Then comes the final charge of the mob, when they raise a staggering canter to make for some particular point, and the stockmen plying whip and spur manage to head them off, and the mob, beaten and downcast, jogs sullenly along, and is guided towards where the “tailers” have been placed. The man in charge of the “tailers”, hearing the whips in the distance, comes out and takes the mob in hand, and once among the quiet horses they are glad enough to stay there. A short respite is given, while the stockmen straggle up, some leading their horses, others carrying their saddles. The man who has got through the run from end to end is a hero, or rather his horse is. Then a start is made for home, and the mob are safely yarded and left for the night. The wild horses are never much use. They buck like demons, they are straight-shouldered and badly-ribbed up, and they never have any courage in captivity. Now and again a good one turns up, usually the descendant of some animal not long escaped. In the Yass district many years ago a gentleman had a stud of Timor ponies, beautiful little animals, and when the diggings broke out in Victoria he took the whole lot over and sold them to the diggers at big prices. The diggers used them for racing, but great numbers of them got away and made their way home again to their native district, where they ran wild. These ponies and their descendants were well worth yarding, but they had such speed and endurance that any man who could yard them thoroughly earned his reward. It will readily be understood that although stock owners are very glad to see the wild mobs yarded, still they have an intense dislike to risking their own valuable horses after them. The stock horses love the sport, and become absolutely frantic with excitement when they hear the rush and rattle of feet of a wild mob; but it is terribly severe work on them. The desperate pace, the rough country, and the severe gruellings they get soon tell on all but those of a cast-iron constitution. Some old warriors there are who have come safe and sound through numberless runs, and if a man can get one of these, a few good mates, and a flying mob to go after, he has all the ingredients of as fine a day’s sport as anyone could wish to take part in.

Written c. 1890


My Various Schools

In writing about schools which I have at different periods attended, I will pass over my infantile experience of an old dame’s school in a suburb of Sydney; also of a small public school to which I crept unwillingly, like a snail, for a few months. I pass these over because I don’t remember much about them, and what little I do remember is unpleasant.

The first school which I attended in the capacity of a reasoning human creature was a public school in a tired little township away out in the bush, at the back of the Never Never, if you know where that is. I lived on a station four miles from the school, and had to go up paddock every morning on foot, catch my pony, and ride him down to the house barebacked, get breakfast, ride the four miles, and be in school by half-past nine o’clock. Many a time in the warm summer mornings have I seen the wonderful glories of a bush sunrise, when comes

The still silent change,
When all fire-flushed the forest trees redden
On slopes of the range,
When the gnarl’d, knotted trunks Eucalyptian
Seem carved, like weird columns Egyptian,
With curious device, quaint inscription,
And hieroglyph strange.

I think Australian boys who have never been at school in the bush have lost something for which town life can never compensate. However, let me get on to the school, where I mingled with the bush youngsters who, from huts and selections and homesteads far and near, had gathered there. They were a curious lot. Perhaps their most striking characteristic was their absolute want of originality. They had one standard excuse whenever they were late: “Father sent me after ’orses”. They didn’t garnish it with a “Sir”, or anything of the sort, but day after day every boy that was late handed in the same unvarnished statement, and took his caning as a matter of course. As their parents were largely engaged in looking after horses, mostly other people’s, it had colour of probability at first, but after a time it wore out and they were too lazy or too stupid to invent anything to replace it. I thought I could mend this state of things, having a particularly vigorous and cultivated imagination, so one day, when a lot were late, I supplied each of them with a different excuse. One was to have forgotten his book and gone back for it, another was to have been misled as to the time by the sun getting up unusually late (not one in fifty had a clock in their house), another was to have been sent on an errand to the storekeeper’s and been delayed by the clerk, and so forth. I was privileged and licensed to be late myself, having so far to come, so I simply walked in hurriedly as though I had done my best to arrive early and went to my seat. Then came the first of my confederates. “What makes you late, Ryan?” Ryan gasped, his eyes rolled, his jaw dropped, and then out it came, the old familiar formula—“Father sent me after ’orses.” It was second nature to the boy. And all the others, one by one, as they faced the music, brought out the same old story, and took two cuts of the cane on each hand as per usual. I gave them up after that; my inventive talent was wasted upon such people.

The visit of the inspector used to be a great event in the school. Theoretically the inspector was supposed to come unheralded, and to drop on the master promiscuous-like, and so catch the school unprepared; but practically, when the inspector was in the town, the master always had a boy stationed on the fence to give warning of his approach, and by the time the inspector had toiled up the long hill to the school, that boy was back in his seat and every youngster was studying for dear life; and when the inspector asked us questions in arithmetic, the master used to walk absent-mindedly behind him and hold up his fingers to indicate the correct answer. Oh, he was a nice pedagogue!

In writing of a school, one ought to say something about the lessons, but I remember absolutely nothing of the curriculum, except the “handers” which formed, for the boys at any rate, the one absorbing interest of each day.

“Handers” were blows on the palm of the hand, administered with a stout cane. They were dealt out on a regular scale, according to the offence; not being able to answer a question, one on each hand; late at school, two on each hand; telling lies, three on each hand, etc., etc. The school was in a very cold climate, and perhaps the “handers” didn’t sting at all on a cold frosty morning! Oh no, not in the least. We used to have wild theories that if you put resin on the palm of your hand the cane would split into a thousand pieces and cut the master’s hand severely, but none of us had ever seen resin, so one’s dreams of revenge were never realised. Sometimes fierce, snorting old Irishwomen used to come to the school and give the master some first-class Billingsgate for having laid on the “handers” too forcibly or too frequently on the hardened palm of her particular Patsy or Denny. We used to sit with open mouths and bulging eyes, while the dreaded pedagogue cowered before the shrill and fluent abuse of these ladies. They always had the last word, in fact the last hundred or more words, as their threats and taunts used to be distinctly audible as they faded away down the dusty hill.

When the railway came to the town, the children of the navvies came to the school, and how they did wake it up! Sharp, cunning little imps, they had travelled and shifted about all over the colony, they had devices for getting out of “handers” such as we had never dreamt of, they had a fluency in excuse and a fertility in falsehood which we could admire but never emulate. Sometimes their parents the navvies used to go on prolonged drinking bouts, and contract a disease, known to science, I believe, as “delirium tremens”, but in our vocabulary as “the horrors” or “the jumps”. The townsfolk shortened up even this brief nomenclature —they used simply to say that so-and-so “had ’em” or “had got ’em”. Well do I remember the policeman, a little spitfire of a man about five feet nothing, coming to the school and stating that a huge navvy named Cornish Jack had “got ’em”, and was wandering about the town with them, and he called upon the schoolmaster in the Queen’s name to come and assist him to arrest “Cornish Jack”. The teacher did not like the job at all, and his wife abused the policeman heartily, but it ended in the whole school going, and we marched through the town till we discovered the quarry seated on a log, pawing the air with his hands. The sergeant and the teacher surrounded him, so to speak, but to our disgust he submitted very quietly and was bundled into a cart and driven off to the lock-up. Such incidents as these formed breaks in the monotony of school life and helped to enlarge our knowledge of human nature.

There was not wanting some occasional element of sadness too. I remember one day all the boys were playing at the foot of a long hill covered with fallen timber; it was after school hours and one of the boys was given a bridle by his father and told to catch a horse that was feeding in hobbles on the top of the hill and bring him down. The boy departed, nothing loath, and caught the animal, a young half-broken colt, and boy-like mounted him barebacked and started to ride him down. The colt ran away with him and came sweeping down the hill at a racing pace, jumping fallen logs and stones, and getting faster and faster every moment. The boy rode him well, but at length he raced straight at a huge log, and suddenly, instead of jumping it, swerved off, throwing the boy with terrific force among the big limbs. His head was crushed in and he was dead before we got up to him. His people were Irish folk and the intense, bitter sadness of their grief was something terrible.

I left the bush school soon after that, and went to a private school in the suburbs of Sydney: a nice quiet institution where we were all young gentlemen, and had to wear good clothes instead of hobnailed boots and moleskins in which my late schoolmates invariably appeared. Also we were ruled by moral suasion instead of “handers”; a thing that I appreciated highly.

Very little of interest occurred there; a sickening round of lessons and washing. Nobody ever “had ’em”, nobody was ever sent after horses; nobody wore spurs in school; most of the boys learnt dancing and some could play the piano. Let us draw a veil over it, and hurry on to the grammar school. But I think the Editor would have to get out an enlarged edltion of the Sydneian if I opened the floodgates of my memory about the grammar school, so for the present, farewell.

More Reminiscences

I am afraid that the numerous and intelligent readers of the Sydneian must be getting rather tired of reminiscences from my pen, but the fact is that the Editor stubbornly refuses to pay for contributions, so one has simply to write that which comes easiest, and let the Editor take it or not, as he chooses. For instance, I offered for a trifling consideration of ten guineas or so to write a Latin poem on the great boat race between Beach and Hanlan, or a Greek play on the tragic death of Maloney’s Fenian Cat, but he firmly declined to entertain either proposal; he said the word “Tomki” couldn’t possibly be worked into a Latin poem, and that the name Maloney, though having a distinctly Greek sound, was undeniably of modern origin; so I fall back once more on reminiscences.

Fights for instance: I remember one fight that lasted all one dinner hour; in those days we came out at half-past twelve and went in again at two. It was continued on from four o’clock till after five, and resumed next day at nine and finished at twenty minutes past. The boys were both doctors’ sons, very evenly matched, and both game to the backbone. The one that lost owed his defeat to his hands giving way, and even after he could not strike a blow without great pain to himself he went doggedly on. He got so exhausted that he kept falling down and thereby avoiding punishment, so I, and some other choice youths who were seconding the winner, advised our man to “hold him up and job him”, which he did and so won the fight. I don’t know where the moral comes in exactly, except it be that it is better to let boys have boxing gloves and encourage their use, as they are the surest thing to keep fights down, besides giving lessons in coolness, self-reliance and good temper. The sergeant mostly stopped all fights, and I don’t know how this one lasted so long. There were no prefects in those days. We used to get up bogus fights, and two boys would make believe to belt each other with great fury, and the sergeant would charge down to stop the bloody fray, only to be received with yells of derision. By this means we sometimes brought off a genuine fight under his very nose, as when he heard the whooping of the partisans and the cheering, he thought it was another fraud and stopped away.

One great pastime in the winter was “wallarooing”. A herd of boys (I suppose herd is the correct term to apply to a number of youths hailing from the lower forms of the school)—this herd, I say, would wander about the playground in a casual sort of way, and the ring-leaders would single out some boy, generally a quiet and inoffensive youth, and raise the cry, “Wallaroo him”. Then they ran the fugitive down, rolled him over, stuffed his mouth full of grass, blocked his hat as flat as a plate, took off his boots and hurled them to the four winds of heaven, and finally left him and went for a new victim. The way this pleasant game came to an end was as follows. One day a boy named Fyffe, good with his fists and fleet of foot, was selected as the victim; he ran, and the crowd after him; he kept going till they were straggled out behind him in a long panting string, and then he suddenly wheeled around and hit the leader such a beauty in the eye. The fickle crowd, being always eager to see a fight, at once stopped the chase, and stipulated that Fyffe should fight the boy he had struck. He was quite agreeable, nay, even eager; he was always ready to fight anybody, any size, weight, or colour. The boy who got hit, however, found his courage had oozed out of him somehow (a thorough good spank in the eye will generally pacify the most belligerent person), so he declined the combat, amid the jeers of his late associates, and wallarooing was abandoned as a degraded institution.

I remember, in form 3A, that two of us, who sat in the second row from the back, established a vendetta against two boys who sat in the second row from the front. We used to make single-handed excursions against them in the following manner. While the master was writing on the blackboard and had his back turned to the class, one of us would glide silently out of the seat, drop on all fours and crawl round the desks up behind the unsuspecting foe. Then for a brief and glorious instant he would rear himself up behind them, hit each of them an awful blow on the head with his open hand, of course making as little noise as possible, and then glide back as silently as he came. They used to do the same thing to us whenever they got the chance, but, sitting as they did in front of us, it was very rarely that either of them could manage to drop out of the seat without us noticing. Sometimes they managed it when we were talking, which was often enough, goodness knows, and then they stalked on us like red Indians are supposed to do, and the first we knew of it was an awful thud on the head, and a smothered chuckle from the enemy. Of course this was great for the rest of the class, and they used to watch the stalking with keen interest. I remember one fatal day that my comrade, having stalked his quarry in a masterly manner, hit them each such a spank that our form master heard the thud and looked around. He found all the boys on the broad grin; and all looking at one particular part of the room, where in fact my partner was crouched, hiding behind two other boys. The master sternly inquired what was going on, got no answer, hesitated a moment, and then came down. There on all fours under the desk was this boy. “What are you doing here?” “Nothing, sir.” “What is your object? What did you come for? Why are you grovelling about on the floor instead of being in your seat?” “I don’t know, sir.” “You must have had some reason for coming here?” “No, sir.” The master gave it up in despair. He didn’t even punish the boy. It was a dark and inexplicable mystery to him, and he left it alone. He thought it was some form of religious observance, perhaps. Anyhow I wouldn’t advise the present generation to try it on.

The Sydneian, May-August, 1890


The Downfall Of Mulligan’s

The sporting men of Mulligan’s were an exceedingly knowing lot: in fact, they had obtained the name amongst their neighbours of being a little bit too knowing. They had “taken down” the sporting men of the adjoining town in a variety of ways. They were always winning maiden plates with horses which were shrewdly suspected to be old and well-tried performers in disguise. When the sports of Paddy’s Flat unearthed a phenomenal runner in the shape of a blackfellow called Frying-Pan Joe, the Mulligan contingent immediately took the trouble to discover a blackfellow of their own, and they made a match and won all the Paddy’s Flat money with ridiculous ease; then their blackfellow turned out to be a well-known Sydney performer. They had a man who could fight, a man who could be backed to jump five feet ten, a man who could kill eight pigeons out of nine at thirty yards, a man who could make a break of fifty or so at billiards if he tried; they could all drink, and they all had that indefinite look of infinite wisdom and conscious superiority which belongs only to those who know something about horseflesh. They knew a great many things which they never learnt at a Sunday school; at cards and such things they were perfect adepts; they would go to immense trouble to work off a small swindle in a sporting line, and the general consensus of opinion was that they were a very “fly” crowd at Mulligan’s, and if you went there you wanted to “keep your eyes skinned” or they’d “have” you over a threepenny bit.

There were races at Sydney one Christmas, and a chosen and select band of the Mulligan sportsmen were going down to them. They were in high feather, having just won a lot of money from a young Englishman at pigeon shooting, by the simple yet ingenious method of slipping blank cartridges into his gun when he wasn’t looking, and then backing the bird; also they knew several dead certainties for the races. They intended to make a fortune out of the Sydney people before they came back, and their admirers who came to see them off only asked them as a favour to leave money enough among the Sydney crowd to make it worth while for another detachment to go down later on. Just as the train was departing a priest came running on to the platform, and was bundled by the porters into the carriage where our Mulligan friends were, the door was slammed to, and away they went. His Reverence was hot and perspiring, and for a few minutes he mopped himself with a handkerchief, while the silence was unbroken except by the rattle of the train.

After a while one of the Mulligan fraternity got out a pack of cards and proposed a game to while away the time. There was a young squatter in the carriage who looked as if he might be induced to lose a few pounds, and the sportsmen thought they would be neglecting their opportunities if they did not try and “get a bit to go on with” from him. He agreed to play, and just as a matter of courtesy, they asked the priest whether he would take a hand. “What game d’ye play?” he asked, in a melodious brogue. They explained that any game was equally acceptable to them, but they thought it right to add that they generally played for money. “Shure an’ it don’t matter for wanst in a way,” sez he—“Oi’ll take a hand bedad—I’m only going about fifty miles, so I can’t lose a fortune.” Then they lifted a light port-manteau onto their knees to make a table, and five of them—three of the Mulligan’s crowd and the two strangers—started to have a little game of poker. Things looked rosy for the Mulligan’s boys and they chuckled as they thought how soon they were making a beginning, and what a magnificent yarn they would have to tell about how they rooked the priest on the way down.

Nothing very sensational resulted from the first few deals, and the priest began to ask questions of the others. “Be ye going to the races?” he enquired. They said that they were. “Ah! and I suppose ye’ll be betting with these bookmakers—bettin’ on the horses, will yez! They do be terrible knowing men, these bookmakers, they tell me. I wouldn’t bet much if I was ye,” he said, with an affable smile. “If ye go bettin’ ye will be took in with these bookmakers.” The boys from Mulligan’s listened with a bored air and reckoned that by the time they parted the priest would have learnt that they were well able to look after themselves. They went steadily on with the game, and the priest and the young squatter won slightly; this was part of the plan to lead them on to the plunge. They neared the station where the priest was to get out. He had won something rather more than they liked, and the signal was passed round to “put the cross on”—i.e., to manipulate the hands so as to get back his winnings and let him go. Poker is a game at which a man need not risk much unless he feels inclined, and on this deal the priest chose not to risk anything and stood out; consequently when they drew up at the station he still had a few pounds of their money. He half rose and then he said: “Bedad, and I don’t like going away with yer money. Oi’ll go on to the next station so as ye can have revinge.” Then he sat down again, and the play went on in earnest.

The man of religion seemed to have the Devil’s own luck. When he was dealt a good hand he invariably backed it well, and if he had a bad one he would not risk anything. The sports grew painfully anxious as they saw him getting further and further ahead of them, prattling away and joking all the time like a big schoolboy. The squatter was the biggest loser so far as they had got, but the priest was the only winner. All the others were out of pocket. His Reverence played with great dash, and seemed to know a lot about the game; and when they arrived at the second station he was in pocket a good round sum. He rose to leave them, with many expressions of regret at having robbed them of their money, and laughingly promising full revenge next time. Just as he was opening the door of the carriage, one of the Mulligan’s fraternity said in a stage whisper, “I thought that was how it would be. He’s a sinkpocket, and won’t give us our revenge now. If he can come this far, let him come on to Sydney and play for double the stakes.” The priest heard the remark and turned quickly round. “Bedad, an’ if that’s yer talk, Oi’ll go on wid yez and play ye fer double stakes from here to the other side of glory. Play on, now! Do yez think men are mice because they eat cheese? It isn’t one of the Ryans would be fearing to give any man his revenge!” He snorted defiance at them, grabbed his cards and waded in. The others felt that a crisis was at hand and settled down to play in a dead silence. The priest kept on winning steadily. The gamblers saw that something decisive must be done, and the leader of the party, the “old man”—“The Daddy,” as they put it—decided to make a big plunge and get all the money back on one hand. By a dexterous manipulation of the cards, which luckily was undetected, he dealt himself four kings, almost the best hand at poker. Then he began with assumed hesitation to bet on his hand; he kept raising the stake little by little until the priest exclaimed, “Sure yez are trying to bluff, so ye are!” and immediately started raising it on his part. The others had dropped out of the game and watched with painful interest the stake grow and grow. The Mulligan fraternity felt a cheerful certainty that the “old man” had made everything secure, and they looked upon themselves as mercifully delivered from a very unpleasant situation. The priest went on doggedly raising the stake in response to his antagonist’s challenges until it had attained huge dimensions. Then he said, “Sure, that’s high enough,” and he put into the pool sufficient to entitle him to see his opponent’s hand. The “old man” with great gravity laid down his four kings; the Mulligan boys let a big sigh of relief escape them; they were saved—he surely couldn’t beat four kings. Then the priest laid down four aces and scooped the pool.

The sportsmen of Mulligan’s never quite knew how they got out to Randwick to the races. They borrowed a bit of money in Sydney and found themselves in the saddling paddock in a half-dazed condition trying to realise what had happened to them. During the afternoon they were up at the end of the lawn near the Leger stand, and from that enclosure they could hear the babel of tongues, the small bookmakers, pea-and-thimble men, confidence men, plying their trades. In the tumult of voices they heard one which seemed familiar. After a while suspicion became certainty, and they knew that it was the voice of Father Ryan, who had cleaned them out. They walked to the fence and looked over. They could hear his voice distinctly, and this is what he was saying, “Pop it down, gents! Pop it down! If you don’t put down a brick you can’t pick up a castle! I’ll bet no one here can find the knave of hearts out of these three cards. I’ll bet half-a-sovereign no one here can find the knave!” Then the crowd parted a little, and through the opening they could see him distinctly—a three-card man—doing a great business and showing wonderful dexterity with the pasteboard.

This was the downfall of Mulligan’s. There is still enough money in Sydney to make it worthwhile for another detachment of knowing sportsmen to come down from that city; but the next lot will hesitate about playing cards with strangers in the train.

The Bulletin, 28 February 1891


His Masterpiece

“Greenhide Billy” was a stockman on a Clarence River cattle station and admittedly the biggest liar in the district. He had been for many years pioneering in the Northern Territory, the other side of the sundown—a regular “furthest-out man”—and this assured his reputation among station hands who award rank according to amount of experience. Young men who have always hung around the home localities, doing a job of shearing here or a turn at horse breaking there, look with reverence on the Riverine or Macquarie River shearers who come in with tales of runs where they have 300,000 acres of freehold land and shear 250,000 sheep, and these again pale their ineffectual fires before the glory of the Northern Territory man who has all corners on toast, because no one can contradict him or check his figures, except someone from the same locality. When two such meet, however, they are not fools enough to cut down quotations and spoil the market; no, they mutually lie in support of each other, and make all other bushmen feel mean and pitiful and inexperienced.

Sometimes a youngster would timidly ask Greenhide Billy about the (to him) terra incognita: “What sort of a place is it, Billy—how big are the properties? How many acres had you in the place you were on?”

“Acres be d—d!” Billy would scornfully reply, “hear him talking about acres! D’ye think we were blanked cockatoo selectors? Out there we reckon country by the hundred miles. You orter say, ‘How many thousand miles of country?’ and then I’d understand you.” Furthermore, according to Billy, they reckoned the rainfall in the Territory by yards, not inches; he had seen blackfellows who could jump at least three inches higher than anyone else had ever seen a blackfellow jump, and every bushman has seen or personally known a blackfellow who could jump over six feet. Billy had seen bigger droughts, better country, fatter cattle, faster horses, and cleverer dogs than any other man on the Clarence River. But one night when the rain was on the roof, and the river was rising with a moaning sound, and the men were gathered round the fire in the hut smoking and staring at the coals, Billy turned himself loose and gave us his masterpiece.

“I was drovin’ with cattle from Mungrybanbone to old Corlett’s station on the Buckatowndown River.” (Billy always started his stories with some paralysing bush names.) “We had a thousand head of store cattle, wild mountain-bred wretches, they’d charge you on sight, and they were that handy with their horns they could skewer a mosquito. There was one or two one-eyed cattle among ’em, and you know how a one-eyed beast always keeps movin’ away from the mob, pokin’ away out to the edge of them so as they won’t git on his blind side; and then by stirrin’ about he keeps the others restless. They had been scared once or twice and stamped, and gave us all we could do to keep them together; and it was wet and dark and thundering, and it looked like a real bad night for us. It was my watch, and I was on one side of the cattle, like it might be here, with a small bit of a fire; and my mate, Barcoo Jim, he was right opposite on the other side of the cattle, and he had gone to sleep under a log. The rest of the men were in the camp fast asleep. Every now and again I’d get on my horse and prowl round the cattle quiet like, and they seemed to be settled down all right, and I was sitting by my fire holding my horse and drowsing, when all of a sudden a blessed possum ran out from some saplings and scratched up a little tree right alongside me. I was half asleep I suppose, and was startled; anyhow, never thinking what I was doing, I picked up a firestick out of the fire and flung it at the possum. Whoop! Before you could say ‘Jack Robertson’ that thousand head of cattle were on their feet, and they made one wild, headlong, mad rush right over the place where poor old Barcoo Jim was sleeping. There was no time to hunt up materials for the inquest; I had to keep those cattle together, so I sprang into the saddle, dashed the spurs into the old horse, dropped my head on his mane, and sent him as hard as he could leg it through the scrub to get the lead of the cattle and steady them. It was brigalow, and you know what that is. You know how the brigalow grows,” continued Bill, “saplings about as thick as a man’s arm, and that close together a dog can’t open his mouth to bark in ’em. Well, those cattle swept through that scrub levelling it like as if it had been cleared for a railway line. They cleared a track a quarter of a mile wide, and smashed every stick, stump, and sapling on it. You could hear them roaring and their hoofs thundering and the scrub smashing three or four miles off. And where was I? I was racing parallel with the cattle with my head down on the horse’s neck, letting him pick his way through the scrub in the pitchy darkness. This went on for about four miles, then the cattle began to get winded, and I dug into the old stock horse with the spurs, and got in front, and then began to crack the whip and sing out, so as to steady them a little; after a while they dropped slower and slower, and I kept the whip going. I got them all together in a patch of open country, and there I rode round and round ’em all night till daylight. And how I wasn’t killed in the scrub, goodness only knows; for a man couldn’t ride in the daylight where I did in the dark. The cattle were all knocked about—horns smashed, legs broken, ribs torn; but they were all there, every solitary head of ’em; and as soon as the daylight broke I took ’em back to the camp—that is, all that could travel, because a few broken-legged ones I had to leave.”

Billy paused in his narrative. He knew that some suggestions would be made, by way of compromise, to tone down the awful strength of the yarn, and he prepared himself accordingly. His motto was, “No surrender”; he never abated one jot of his statements, and if anyone chose to remark on them, he made them warmer and stronger, and absolutely flattened out the intruder.

“That was a wonderful bit of ridin’ you done, Billy,” said one of the men at last, admiringly. “It’s a wonder you wasn’t killed. I s’pose your clothes was pretty well tore off your back with the scrub?”

“Never touched a twig,” said Billy.

“Ah!” faltered the enquirer, “then no doubt you had a real ringin’ good stock horse that could take you through a scrub like that full split in the dark, and not hit you against anything.”

“No, he wasn’t a good ’un,” said Billy decisively, “he was the worst horse in the camp, and terrible awkward in the scrub he was, always fallin’ down on his knees; and his neck was so short you could sit far back on him and pull his ears.”

Here that interrogator retired hurt; he gave Billy best. Another took up the running after a pause.

“How did your mate get on, Billy? I s’pose he was trampled to a mummy!”

“No,” said Billy, “he wasn’t hurt a bit. I told you he was sleeping under the shelter of a little log. Well, when these cattle rushed they swept over that log a thousand strong; and every beast of that herd took the log in his stride and just missed landing on Barcoo Jimmy by about four inches. We saw the tracks where they had cleared him in the night—and fancy that, a thousand head of cattle to charge over a man in the dark and just miss him by a hair’s breadth, as you might say!”

The men waited a while and smoked, to let this statement soak well into their systems; at last one rallied and had a final try to get a suggestion in somewhere.

“It’s a wonder, then, Billy,” he said, “that your mate didn’t come after you and give you a hand to steady the cattle.”

“Well, perhaps it was,” said Billy, “only that there was a bigger wonder than that at the back of it.”

“What was that?”

“My mate never woke all through it.”

Then the men knocked the ashes out of their pipes and went to bed.

The Bulletin, 4 April 1891


The History Of A Jackaroo In Five Letters

No. 1 Letter from Joscelyn de Greene, of Wiltshire, England, to college friend

Dear Gus,

The Governor has fixed things up for me at last. I am not to go to India, but to Australia. It seems the Governor met some old Australian swell named Moneygrub at a dinner in the City. He has thousands of acres of land and herds of sheep, and I am to go out and learn the business of sheep raising. Of course it is not quite the same as going to India; but some really decent people do go out to Australia sometimes, I am told, and I expect it won’t be so bad. In India one generally goes into the Civil Service, nothing to do and lots of niggers to wait on you but the Australian Civil Service no fellow can well go into—it is awful low business, I hear. I have been going in for gun and revolver practice so as to be able to hold my own against the savages and the serpents in the woods of Australia. Mr Moneygrub says there isn’t much fighting with the savages nowadays; but, he says, the Union shearers will give me all the fight I want. What is a Union shearer, I wonder? My mother has ordered an extra large artist’s umbrella for me to take with me for fear of sunstroke, and I can hold it over me while watching the flocks. She didn’t half like my going until Mr Moneygrub said that they always dressed for dinner at the head station, and that a Church of England clergyman visits there twice a month. I am only to pay a premium of £500 for the experience, and Mr Moneygrub says I’ll be able to make that out of scalps in my spare time. He says there is a Government reward for scalps. I don’t mind a brush with the savages, but if he thinks I’m going to scalp my enemies he is mistaken. Anyhow, I sail next week, so no more from yours, outward bound,

Joscelyn de Greene.

No. 2 Letter from Moneygrub and Co., London, to the manager of the company’s

Drybone station, Paroo River, Australia

Dear Sir,

We beg to advise you of having made arrangements to take a young gentleman named Greene as colonial experiencer, and he will be consigned to you by the next boat. His pre-mium is £500, and you will please deal with him in the usual way. Let us know when you have vacancies for any more colonial experiencers, as several are now asking about it, and the premiums are forthcoming. You are on no account to employ Union shearers this year; and you must cut expenses as low as you can. Would it not be feasible to work the station with the colonial experience men and Chinese labour? &c., &c., &c.

No. 3 Letter from Mr Robert Saltbush, of Frying Pan station, to a friend

Dear Billy,

Those fellows over at Drybone station have been at it again. You know it joins us, and old Moneygrub, who lives in London, sends out an English bloke every now and again to be a jackaroo. He gets £500 premium for each one, and the manager puts the jackaroo to boundary ride a tremendous great paddock at the back of the run, and he gives him a week’s rations and tells him never to go through a gate, because so long as he only gets lost in the paddock he can always be found somehow, but if he gets out of the paddock, Lord knows whether he’d ever be seen again. And there these poor English devils are, riding round the fences and getting lost and not seeing a soul until they go near mad from loneliness; and then they run away at last, and old Macgregor, the manager, he makes a great fuss and goes after them with a whip, but he takes care to have a stockman pick their tracks up and take them to the nearest township, and then they go on the spree and never come back, and old Moneygrub collars the £500 and sends out another jackaroo. It’s a great game. The last one they had was a fellow called Greene. They had him at the head station for a while, letting him get pitched off the station horses. He said: “They’re awfully beastly horses in this country, by Jove; they’re not content with throwing you off, but they’d kick you afterwards if you don’t be careful.” When they got full up of him at the head station they sent him out to the big paddock to an old hut full of fleas, and left him there with his tucker and two old screws of horses. The horses, of course, gave him the slip, and he got lost for two days looking for them, and his meat was gone bad when he got home. He killed a sheep for tucker, and how do you think he killed it? He shot it! It was a ram, too, one of Moneygrub’s best rams, and there will be the deuce to pay when they find out. About the fourth day a swagman turned up, and he gave the swaggie a gold watch chain to show him the way to the nearest town, and he is there now—on the spree, I believe. He had a fine throat for whisky, anyhow, and the hot climate has started him in earnest. Before he left the hut and the fleas, he got a piece of raddle and wrote on the door: “Hell. S.R.O.”, whatever that means. I think it must be some sort of joke. The brown colt I got from Ginger is a clinker, a terror to kick, but real fast. He takes a lot of rubbing out for half a mile, &c., &c., &c.

No. 4 Letter from Sandy Macgregor, manager of Drybone station, to Messrs Moneygrub & Co., London

Dear Sirs,

I regret to have to inform you that the young gentleman, Mr Greene, whom you sent out, has seen fit to leave his employment and go away to the township. No doubt he found the work somewhat rougher than he had been used to, but if young gentlemen are sent out here to get experience they must expect to rough it like other bushmen. I hope you will notify his friends of the fact: and if you have applications for any more colonial experiencers we now have a vacancy for one. There is great trouble this year over the shearing, and a lot of grass will be burnt unless some settlement is arrived at. &c., &c., &c.

No. 5 Extract from evidence of Senior Constable Rafferty, taken at an inquest before Lushington, P.M. for the North-east by South Paroo district, and a jury

I am a senior constable, stationed at Walloopna beyant. On the 5th instant, I received information that a man was in the horrors at Flanagan’s hotel. I went down and saw the man, whom I recognise as the deceased. He was in the horrors: he was very bad. He had taken all his clothes off, and was hiding in a fowl house to get away from the devils which were after him. I went to arrest him, but he avoided me, and escaped over a paling fence on to the Queensland side of the border, where I had no power to arrest him. He was foaming at the mouth and acting like a madman. He had been on the spree for several days. From enquiries made, I believe his name to be Greene, and that he had lately left the employment of Mr Macgregor, at Drybone. He was found dead on the roadside by the carriers coming into Walloopna. He had evidently wandered away from the township, and died from the effects of the sun and the drink.

Verdict of jury: “That deceased came to his death by sunstroke and exposure during a fit of delirium tremens caused by excessive drinking. No blame attached to anybody.” Curator of intestate estates advertises for next of kin of J. Greene, and nobody comes forward. Curtain!

The Bulletin, 5 September 1891


Victor Second

We were training two horses for the Buckatowndown races. An old grey warrior called Tricolour, whom the station boys insisted on calling “The Trickier”, and a mare for the hack race. Station horses don’t get trained quite like Carbine: some days we had no time to give them their gallops at all, so they had to gallop twice as far the next day to make up. And one day the boy we had looking after The Trickier fell in with a mob of sharps who told him we didn’t know anything about training horses, and that what the horse really wanted was “a twicer”, that is to say, a gallop twice round the course. So the boy gave him “a twicer” on his own responsibility, and when we found out about it we gave the boy a twicer with the strap, and he left and took out a summons against us for assault. But somehow or another we managed to get the old horse pretty fit, and trying him against hacks of different descriptions we persuaded ourselves that we had the biggest certainty ever known on a racecourse. When the horses were galloping in the morning the kangaroo dog Victor used nearly always go down to the course and run round with them. It amused him apparently and didn’t hurt anyone, so we used to let him race; in fact, we rather encouraged him because it kept him in good trim to hunt kangaroos. When we were starting the horses away for the meeting, someone said we had better tie up the dog or he would be getting stolen at the races. We called and whistled but he had made himself scarce, and we started off and forgot all about him.

Buckatowndown Races. Red-hot day, everything dusty, everybody drunk and blasphemous. All the betting at Buckatowndown was double-event. You had to win the money first and fight the man for it afterwards. The start for our race, the Town Plate, was delayed for a quarter of an hour, because the starter flatly refused to leave a fight of which he was an interested spectator. Every horse, as he did his preliminary gallop, had a string of dogs after him, and the clerk of the course came full cry after the dogs with a whip. By and by the horses strung across to the start at the far side of the course. They fiddled about for a bit, and then down went the flag and they came sweeping along all bunched up together, one moke holding a nice position on the inside. All of a sudden we heard a wild chorus of imprecations—“Look at that dog!” Our dog had made his appearance and had chipped in with the racehorses and was running right in front of the field. It looked a guinea to a gooseberry that some of them would fall on him. The owners danced and swore in awful style. What did we mean by bringing a something mongrel there to trip up and kill horses that were worth a paddockful of all the horses we had ever owned, or ever would breed or own, even if we lived to be a thousand? We were fairly in it and no mistake. As the field came past the stand the first time we could hear the riders swearing at the dog, and a wild yell of execration arose from the public. He had got right among the ruck by this time, and was racing alongside his friend The Trickier, thoroughly enjoying himself. After passing the stand the pace became very merry, and the dog stretched out all he knew, and when they began to make it too hot for him he cut off corners, and joined at odd intervals, and every time he made a fresh appearance the people in the stand lifted up their voices and “swore cruel” as the boys phrased it. The horses were all at the whip as they turned into the straight, and then old Tricolour and the publican’s mare singled out. We could hear the “chop, chop!” of the whips as they came along together, but the mare could suffer it as long as the old fellow could, and she swerved off and he struggled home a winner by a length or so. Just as they settled down to finish the dog dashed up the inside, and passed the post at old Tricolour’s girths. The populace took to him with stones, bottles and other missiles, and he had to scratch gravel to save his life. What was the amazement then of the other owners to learn that the judge had placed Tricolour first, Victor second, and the publican’s mare third?

The publican tried to argue it out with him. He said you couldn’t place a kangaroo dog second in a horserace. The judge said that it was his (hiccough) business what he placed, and that those who (hiccough) interfered with him would be sorry for it. Also he expressed the opinion, garnished with a fusillade of curses and hiccoughs, that the publican’s mare was no rotten good, and that she was the right sort of mare for a poor man to own, because she would keep him poor. Then the publican called the judge a cow, and the judge being willing, a rip, tear and chew fight ensued, which lasted some time and the judge won. There were fifteen protests lodged against our win, but we didn’t have any fear of these going against us—we had laid the stewards a bit to nothing. We got away with our horses at once—didn’t wait for the hack race. Every second man we met wanted to run us a mile for £100 aside, and there was a drunken shearer who was spoiling for a fight, and he said he had heard we were “brimming over with science”, and he had ridden forty miles to find whether it was a fact or not. We folded our tents like the Arab and stole away and left the point unsettled. It remains on the annals of Buckatowndown how a kangaroo dog ran second for the Town Plate.

The Bulletin, 31 October 1891


The Cast-Iron Canvasser

The firm of Sloper and Dodge, book publishers and printers, was in great distress. These two enterprising individuals had worked up an enormous business in time payment books, which they sold all over Australia by means of canvassers. They had put a lot of money into the business—all they had, in fact. And now, just as everything was in thorough working order, the public had revolted against them. Their canvassers were ill-treated and molested by the country folk in all sorts of strange bush ways. One man was made drunk, and then a two-horse harrow was run over him; another was decoyed out into the desolate ranges on pretence of being shown a gold mine, and then his guide galloped away and left him to freeze all night in the bush. In mining localities, on the appearance of a canvasser, the inhabitants were called together by beating a camp oven lid with a pick, and the canvasser was given ten minutes to leave the town alive. If he disregarded the hint he would as likely as not fall accidentally down a disused shaft. The people of one district applied to their member of Parliament to have canvassers brought under the Noxious Animals Act and demanded that a reward should be offered for their scalps. Reports were constantly published in the country press about strange, gigantic birds that appeared at remote free selections, and frightened the inhabitants to death—these were Sloper and Dodge’s sober and reliable agents, wearing the neat, close-fitting suits of tar and feathers with which their enthusiastic yokel admirers had presented them. In fact, it was too hot altogether for the canvassers, and they came in from north and west and south, crippled and disheartened, and handed in their resignations. To make matters worse, Sloper and Dodge had just got out a map of Australasia on a great scale, and if they couldn’t sell it, ruin stared them in the face; and how could they sell it without canvassers!

The two members of the firm sat in their private office. Sloper was a long, sanctimonious individual, very religious and very bald—“beastly, awfully bald”. Dodge was a little, fat American, with bristly black hair and beard, and quick, beady eyes. He was eternally smoking a reeking black pipe, and swallowing the smoke, and then puffing it out through his nose in great whiffs, like a locomotive on a steep grade. Anybody walking into one of those whiffs incautiously was likely to get paralysed, the tobacco was so strong.

As the firm waited, Dodge puffed nervously at his pipe and filled the office with noxious fumes. The two partners were in a very anxious and expectant condition. Just as things were at their very blackest, an event had happened which promised to relieve all their difficulties. An inventor, a genius, had come forward, who offered to supply the firm with a patent cast-iron canvasser, a figure which he said when wound up would walk about, talk by means of a phonograph, collect orders, and stand any amount of ill usage and wear and tear. If this could indeed be done, then they were saved. They had made an appointment with the genius to inspect his figure, but he was half an hour late, and the partners were steeped in gloom.

Just as they despaired of his appearing at all, a cab rattled up to the door, and Sloper and Dodge rushed unanimously to the window. A young man, very badly dressed, stepped out of the cab, holding over his shoulder what looked like the upper half of a man’s body. In his disengaged hand he held a pair of human legs with boots and trousers on. Thus equipped he turned to the cabman to ask his fare, but the man with a yell of terror whipped up his horse, and disappeared at a hand gallop, and a woman who happened to be going by went howling down the street, saying that “Jack the Ripper” had come to town. The man bolted in at the door, and toiled up the dark stairs, tramping heavily under his hideous load, the legs and feet which he dragged after him making an unearthly clatter. He came in and put his burden down on the sofa.

“There you are, gents,” he said. “There’s your canvasser.”

Sloper and Dodge recoiled in horror. The upper part of the man had a waxy face, dull, fishy eyes, and dark hair; he lounged on the sofa like a corpse at ease, while his legs and feet stood by, leaning stiffly against the wall. The partners looked at him for a while in silence, and felt like two men haunted by a cast-iron ghost.

“Fix him together, for God’s sake,” said Dodge. “Don’t leave him like that—he looks awful.”

The genius grinned, and soon fixed the legs on.

“Now he looks better,” said Dodge, poking about the figure. “Looks as much like life as most—ah, would you, you brute!” he exclaimed, springing back in alarm, for the figure had made a violent La Blanche swing at him.

“That’s all right,” said the genius, “that’s a notion of my own. It’s no good having his face knocked about, you know—lot of trouble to make that face. His head and body are all full of concealed springs, and if anybody hits him in the countenance, or in the pit of the stomach —favourite place to hit canvassers, the pit of the stomach—it sets a strong spring in motion, and he fetches his right hand round with a swipe that’ll knock them into the middle of next week. It’s an awful hit. Griffo couldn’t dodge it, and Slavin couldn’t stand against it. No fear of any man hitting him twice. And he’s dog-proof too. His legs are padded with tar and oakum, and if a dog bites a bit out of him, it will take that dog the rest of his life to pick his teeth clean. Never bite anybody again, that dog won’t. And he’ll talk, talk, talk, like a pious conference gone mad; his phonograph can be charged for 100,000 times, and all you’ve got to do is to speak into it what you want him to say, and he’ll say it. He’ll go on saying it till he talks his man silly, or gets an order. He has an order form in his hand, and as soon as anyone signs it and gives it back to him, that sets another spring in motion, and he puts the order in his pocket, turns round, and walks away. Grand idea isn’t he? Lor’ bless you, I fairly love him.”

Evidently he did, for as he spoke the genius grinned affectionately at his monster.

“What about stairs?” said Dodge.

“No stairs in the bush,” said the inventor blowing a speck of dust off his apparition; “all ground floor houses. Anyhow, if there were stairs we could carry him up and let him fall down afterwards, or get flung down like any other canvasser.”

“Ha! Let’s see him walk,” said Dodge.

The figure walked all right, stiff and erect.

“Now let’s hear him yabber,” was the next order.

Immediately the genius touched a spring, and a queer, tin-whistly voice issued from the creature’s lips, and he began to sing, “Little Annie Rooney.”

“Good!” said Dodge, “he’ll do. We’ll give you your price. Leave him here tonight, and come in tomorrow, and we’ll start you off to some place in the back country with him. Have a cigar.”

And Mr Dodge, much elated, sucked at his pipe, and blew out through his nose a cloud of nearly solid smoke, which hung and floated about the door, and into which the genius walked as he sidled off. It fairly staggered him, and they could hear him sneezing and choking all the way downstairs. Then they locked up the office, and made for home, leaving the figure in readiness for his travels on the ensuing day.

Ninemile was a quiet little place, sleepy beyond description. When the mosquitoes in that town settled on anyone, they usually went to sleep, and forgot to bite him. The climate was so hot that the very grasshoppers used to crawl into the hotel parlours out of the sun. There they would climb up the window curtains and go to sleep, and if anybody disturbed them they would fly into his eye with a great whizz, and drive the eye clean out at the back of his head. There was no likelihood of a public riot at Ninemile. The only thing that could rouse the inhabitants out of their lethargy was the prospect of a drink at somebody else’s expense. And for those reasons it was decided to start the canvasser in this forgotten region; and then move him on to more populous and active localities if he proved a success. They sent up the genius, and a companion who knew the district well. The genius was to manage the automaton, and the other was to lay out the campaign, choose the victims, and collect the money, if they got any, geniuses being notoriously unreliable and loose in their cash. They got through a good deal of whisky on the way up, and when they arrived at Ninemile, they were in a cheerful mood, and disposed to take risks.

“Who’ll we begin on?” said the genius.

“Oh, d— it,” said the other, “let’s start on Macpherson.”

Macpherson was the big bug of the place. He was a gigantic Scotchman, six feet four in his socks, freckled all over with freckles as big as half-crowns. His eyebrows would have made decent-sized moustaches even for a cavalryman, and his moustaches looked like horns. He was a fighter, from the ground up, and, moreover, he had a desperate “down” on canvassers generally and on Sloper and Dodge’s canvassers in particular. This eminent firm had once published a book called Remarkable Colonials, and Macpherson had written out his own biography for it. He was intensely proud of his pedigree, and his grand relations, and in his narrative made out that he was descended from the original Pherson or Fhairshon who swam round Noah’s Ark with his title deeds in his teeth. He showed how his people had fought under Alexander the Great and Timour, and had come over to England some centuries before the Conqueror. He also proved that he was related in a general way to one emperor, fifteen kings, twenty-five dukes, and earls and lords and viscounts innumerable. He dilated on the splendour of the family estates in Scotland, and the vast wealth of his relatives and progenitors. And then, after all, Sloper and Dodge managed to mix him up with some other fellow, some low-bred Irish ruffian who drove a corporation cart! Macpherson’s biography gave it forth to the astonished town that he was born in Dublin of poor but honest parents, that his father when a youth had lived by selling matches, until one day he chanced to pick up a cigar end, and, emboldened by the possession of so much capital, had got married, and the product was Macpherson.

It was a terrible outrage. Macpherson at once became president for the whole of the western districts of the Remarkable Colonials Defence League, the same being a fierce and homicidal association got up to resist, legally and otherwise, paying for the books. Also, he has sworn by all he held sacred that every canvasser who came to harry him in future should die, and he had put up a notice on his office door, “Canvassers come in here at their own risk”. He had a dog which he called a dog of the “hold ’em” breed, and this dog could tell a canvasser by his walk, and would go for him on sight. The reader will understand, therefore, that when the genius and his mate proposed to start on Macpherson, they were laying out a capacious contract for the cast-iron canvasser, and were taking a step which could only have been inspired by a morbid craving for excitement, aided by the influence of backblock whisky.

The genius wound the figure up in the back parlour of the pub. There were a frightful lot of screws to tighten before the thing would work, but at last he said it was ready, and they shambled off down the street, the figure marching stiffly between them. It had a book stuck under its arm and an order form in its hand. When they arrived opposite Macpherson’s office (he was a land agent and had a ground-floor room) the genius started the phonograph working, pointed the figure straight at Macpherson’s door and set it going, and then the two conspirators waited like Guy Fawkes in his cellar.

The figure marched across the road and in at the open door, talking to itself loudly in a hoarse, unnatural voice.

Macpherson was writing at his table and looked up.

The figure walked bang through a small collection of flower-pots, sent a chair flying, tramped heavily in the spittoon, and then brought up against the table with a loud crash and stood still. It was talking all the time.

“I have here,” it said, “a most valuable work, a map and geography of Australia, which I desire to submit to your notice. The large and increasing demand of bush residents for time payment works has induced the publishers of this—”

“My God!” said Macpherson, “it’s a canvasser. Here, Tom Sayers, Tom Sayers!” and he whistled and called for the dog. “Now,” he said, “will you go out of this office quietly, or will you be thrown out? It’s for yourself to decide, but you’ve only got while a duck wags his tail to decide in. Which’ll it be?”

—“works of modern ages,” said the canvasser. “Every person subscribing to this invaluable work will receive, in addition, a flat-iron, a railway pass for a year, and a pocket compass. If you will please sign this order—”

Just here Tom Sayers, the bulldog, came tearing through the office, and, without waiting for orders, hitched straight onto the calf of the canvasser’s leg. To Macpherson’s intense amazement the piece came clear away, and Tom Sayers rolled about the floor with his mouth full of some sticky substance which seemed to surprise him badly.

The long Scotchman paused awhile before this mystery, but at last he fancied he had got the solution. “Got a cork leg, have you?” said he.—“Well, let’s see if your ribs are cork, too,” and he struck the canvasser a terrific blow on the fith button of the waistcoat.

Quicker than the lightning’s flash came that terrific right-handed cross-counter. It was so quick that Macpherson never even knew what happened to him. He remembered striking his blow, and afterwards all was a blank. As a matter of fact, the canvasser’s right hand, which had been adjusted by the genius for a high blow, landed just on the butt of Macpherson’s ear and dropped him like a fowl. The gasping and terrified bulldog fled from the scene, and the canvasser stood over his fallen foe and droned on about the virtues of his publication, stating that he had come there merely as a friend, and to give the inhabitants of Ninemile a chance to buy a book which had already earned the approval of Dan O’Connor and the Earl of Jersey.

The genius and his mate watched this extraordinary drama through the window. They had kept up their courage with whisky and other stimulants, and now looked upon the whole affair as a wildly hilarious joke.

“By Gad! he’s done him,” said the genius as Macpherson went down, “done him in one hit. If he don’t pay as a canvasser I’ll take him to town and back him to fight Joe Goddard. Look out for yourself; don’t you handle him!” he continued as the other approached the figure. “Leave him to me. As like as not, if you get fooling about him, he’ll give you a smack in the snout that’ll paralyse you.”

So saying, he guided the automaton out of the office and into the street, and walked straight into—a policeman.

By a common impulse the genius and his mate at once ran rapidly away in different directions, and left the figure alone with the officer.

He was a fully ordained sergeant, by name Aloysius O’Grady; a squat, rosy little Irishman. He hated violent arrests and all that sort of thing, and had a faculty of persuading drunks and disorderlies and other fractious persons to “go quietly along with him”, that was little short of marvellous. Excitable revellers, who were being carried along by their mates, struggling violently, would break away from their companions, and prance gaily along to the lock-up with the sergeant, whom, as likely as not, they would try to kiss on the way. Obstinate drunks who would do nothing but lie on the ground and kick their feet in the air, would get up like birds, serpent-charmed, and go with him to durance vile. As soon as he saw the canvasser, and noted his fixed, unearthly stare, and listened to his hoarse, unnatural voice, he knew what was the matter—it was a man in the horrors, a common enough spectacle at Ninemile. The sergeant resolved to decoy him into the lock-up, and accosted him in a friendly and free-and-easy way.

“Good day rye,” he said.

“—Most magnificent volume ever published, jewelled in fourteen holes, working on a ruby roller, and in a glass case,” said the book canvasser. “The likenesses of the historical personages are so natural that the book must not be left open on the table, or the mosquitoes will ruin it by stinging the faces of the portraits.”

It then dawned on the sergeant that he was dealing with a book canvasser.

“Ah, sure,” he said, “what’s the use of tryin’ to sell books at all, at all, folks does be peltin’ them out into the street, and the nanny-goats lives on them these times. I sent the childher out to pick ’em up, and we have ’em at my place now—barrowloads of ’em. Come along wid me now, and I’ll make you nice and comfortable for the night,” and he laid his hand on the outstretched palm of the figure.

It was a fatal mistake. By so doing he set in motion the machinery which operated the figure’s left arm, and it moved that limb in towards its body, and hugged the sergeant to its breast, with a vice-like grip. Then it started in a faltering, and uneven, but dogged way to walk towards the steep bank of the river, carrying the sergeant along with it.

“Immortal Saints!” gasped the sergeant, “he’s squazin’ the livin’ breath out of me. Lave go now loike a dacent sowl, lave go. And oh, for the love of God, don’t be shpakin’ into my ear that way”; for the figure’s mouth was pressed tight against the sergeant’s ear, and its awful voice went through and through the little man’s head, as it held forth about the volume. The sergeant struggled violently, and by so doing set some more springs in motion, and the figure’s right arm made terrific swipes in the air. A following of boys and loafers had collected by this time. “Bly me, how he does lash out!” was the admiring remark they made. But they didn’t altogether like interfering, notwithstanding the sergeant’s frantic appeals, and things would have gone hard with him had his subordinate Constable Dooley not appeared on the scene.

Dooley, better known to the town boys as the “Wombat”, from his sleepy disposition, was a man of great strength. He had originally been quartered at Redfern, Sydney, and had fought many bitter battles with the Bondi Push, the Black Red Push, and the Surry Hills Push. After this the duty at Ninemile was child’s play, and he never ran in less than two drunks at a time; it was beneath his dignity to be seen capturing a solitary inebriate. If they wouldn’t come any other way, he would take them by the ankles and drag them after him. The townsfolk would have cheerfully backed him to arrest John L. Sullivan if necessary; and when he saw the sergeant in the grasp of an inebriate he bore down on the fray full of fight.

“I’ll soon make him lave ye go, sergeant,” he said, and he tried to catch hold of the figure’s right arm, to put on the “police twist”. Unfortunately at that exact moment the sergeant’s struggles touched one of the springs in the creature’s breast with more than usual force. With the suddenness and severity of a horse kick, it lashed out with its right hand, catching the redoubtable Dooley a regular thud on the jaw, and sending him to grass, as if he had been shot. For a few minutes he “lay as only dead men lie”. Then he got up bit by bit, and wandered off home to the police barracks, and mentioned casually to his wife that John L. Sullivan had come to town, and had taken the sergeant away to drown him. After which, having given orders that if anybody called that visitor was to be told he had gone out of town fifteen miles to serve a summons on a man for not registering a dog, he locked himself into a cell for the rest of the day.

Meanwhile, the canvasser, still holding the sergeant tightly clutched to its breast, was marching straight towards the river. Something had disorganised the voice arrangements, and it was now positively shrieking at the sergeant’s ear, and, as it yelled, the little man yelled louder, “I don’t want yer accursed book. Lave go of me, I say!” He beat with his fists on its face, and kicked at its shins without the slightest avail. A short, staggering rush, a wild shriek from the officer, and the two of them toppled over the steep bank and went souse into the bottomless depths of the Ninemile Creek.

That was the end of the whole matter. The genius and his mate returned to town hurriedly, and lay low, expecting to be indicted for murder. Constable Dooley drew up a report for the Chief of Police, which contained so many strange and unlikely statements that the department concluded the sergeant must have got drunk and drowned himself, and that Dooley saw him do it, but was too drunk to pull him out. Anyone unacquainted with Ninemile would have expected that a report of the occurrence would have reached the Sydney papers. As a matter of fact the storekeeper did think about writing a report, but decided that it was too much trouble. There was some idea of asking the Government to fish the two bodies out of the river, but about that time an agitation was started in Ninemile to have the Federal capital located there, and the other thing was forgotten. The genius drank himself to death; the “Wombat” became Sub-Inspector of Police; and a vague tradition about “a bloke who came up here in the horrors, and drownded poor old O’Grady”, is the only memory that remains of that wonderful creation, the cast-iron canvasser.

As for the canvasser himself there is a rusted mass far down in the waters of the creek, and in its arms it holds a skeleton dressed in the rags of what was once a police uniform. And on calm nights the passers-by sometimes imagine they can hear, rising out of the green and solemn depths, a husky, slushy voice, like that of an iron man with mud and weeds and dishcloths in his throat, and that voice is still urging the skeleton to buy a book in monthly parts. But the canvasser’s utterance is becoming weak and used up in these days, and it is only when the waters are low and the air is profoundly still that he can be heard at all.

The Bulletin, 19 December 1891


The Tug-Of-War

The first night of the Tug-of-War at Darlinghurst Hall, Sydney, was a great affair. There was a big crowd, mostly Irishmen and what are called “foreigners”. The tugs took place on a long narrow platform, having stout battens nailed across it; the men laid their feet against these battens and lay right down to their pull. It was a straight-out test of strength and endurance; but it was whispered about the hall that the Irishmen and the West Indian darkies had not room for their feet between the battens. This should be seen to. There was a parading of teams for a start, and a very fine-looking lot of men they were. Then the Italians came out to pull the Norwegians. The Italian team were mostly fishermen; their rivals were sailors and wharf labourers. It looked any odds on the Norsemen, who were a long way the heavier team, and they won the pull. But the children of Garibaldi fought firmly for every inch, and stuck to it for half and hour. It was a desperate struggle. The crowd were very facetious, and yelled much good advice to the fair-haired men—“Now boys, don’t let the ice-cream push beat you,” “Pull the organ-grinders over,” “Go it, Macaroni,”—and so forth. An interval for drinks—here, the referee took a drink—and the Denmark team had a walk-over, the Welshmen having scratched. The Taffies had not time to get a team together. Then another walk-over, France failing to appear against Sweden. The frog-eaters rely mainly on style and deportment in everything they do, and there are no points given for style in tug-of-war!

Then came what was supposed to be the tug of the evening, Australia v Ireland. As the teams took their places, you could feel the electricity rising in the atmosphere. The Irish were a splendid team, a stone a man heavier than their opponents all round, but the latter looked, if anything, harder and closer-knit. As they took their places the warning bells rang out all over the building: “Now, boys, Sunny N.S.W., for it!” “Go it, Australia!” And from the Irish side came a babel of broad, soft, buttery brogue: “Git some chark on yer hands, Dinny,” “Mick, if yez don’t win, niver come back to the wharf no more,” “For the love o’ God and my fiver, bhoys, pull together!” It was a national Irish team right through—regular Donegal and Tipperary bhoys. The Swedes might have been Swedes from Surry Hills, the Russians might have first seen the light at Cockatoo Island, but there was no gammon about the Irish. They were genuine; every other man answered to the name of Mike. They wore orange and green colours, to give the Pope and the Protestants an equal show. Then they spat on their enormous hands, planted their brogues against the battens, and at the sound of the pistol, while every Australian’s heart beat high with hope, the Mickies simply gave one enormous dray horse drag and fetched our countrymen clean away hand over hand, pulling them about ten feet more than was necessary before they could be stopped. How did their supporters cheer! Ahoo! Ahoo! The building rang again with wild shouts of exultation. It was a great day for Donegal entirely, likewise for Cork and Killarney. The Australians present pulled their hats down over their eyes and looked at their toes. One man wanted to back a team of lightweight jockeys to pull anything anybody would fetch, but this pleasantry could not avert the sting of defeat. There was no disguising it—the Australians were “beat bad”, and the glory of Woolloomooloo had departed.

Next came the West Indies versus Maoriland, which was a very funny business. The Maorilanders were small and weedy compared to their sable opponents, but they hung on gamely. The coloured gentlemen, as seen from the M.L. end, presented a most remarkable sight. Firstly the eye caught the soles of their huge, flat feet, sticking up in the air like so many shovels; their feet hid their bodies altogether, and only allowed their heads to be seen. The heads were all as round as apples, black as ink, and each one had in it two white dots—the glaring eyeballs of the owner. As these remarkable people swayed in unison behind the ramparts of their feet, they looked like—well, it’s no good trying to say what they looked like. There is nothing in heaven above, or the earth beneath, or the water under the earth, that will furnish the feeblest comparison. They pulled like good ’uns, and amid loud yells of, “Go it, Snowball!” the Maorilanders were pulled over, fighting hard to the last.

Then “Rule Britannia” from the band, and the English team marched on to the platform—all very neatly dressed, neatly shaven, moving with great precision. “What are they at all?” “A team of marines from the men-of-war.” They looked fit to pull a house down. Then the squawk of the band changed to “The Watch on the Rhine”, and the sons of the Fatherland came up to do or die for the country of sauerkraut. It looked any odds on the English. But they were white-skinned and flaccid, while the deep, sunburnt hue of the other arms told of hard, toughening work. Bang went the pistol, and after a terrible tussle the Rhinelanders fairly wore out the Britishers and scored a gallant win. There was a strong British section present, and their disappointment was intense. A man-o’-war’s man was with difficulty stopped from climbing onto the platform and offering to pull the heads off the whole blanky Dutch team. This win was a surprise, but a bigger surprise was in store when the Russians met the Scotch. Where they found a team of ten Russians in Sydney goodness only knows, but they were gaunt, wiry, hard-featured men—some of them obviously Russian Finns, than whom the earth produces no stronger or more resolute race. Their opponents had a smug, comfortable look, and seemed a long way the stouter men. The Russians were all seamen and seafaring men of some sort. At the signal to go, the Russians gained a little, and then began a tremendous wavering pull, each side alternately gaining and losing. The Scotch supporters cheered their men on with wild cries. The Australians impartially barracked both sides. First they would give the Scotch a turn—“Go it, Donald!” “Haul away Sandy!” “Go it, Burgoo!” Then they would turn their attention to the Russians: “Go it, Siberia!” “We’ll have to get the knout to you fellows,” and so on. But all the foreign nations seemed to form a sort of Mafia to encourage the Russians against the Scotch. Norseman, Dane, and Dago joined in the wild chorus of encouragement. An old man, apparently the father of one of the Russian team, danced alongside the platform shrieking in every language under the sun. The man he was cheering was a great broad-chested giant who threw his mighty strength on to the rope in tremendous surges, and at every pull the old man would howl—“Go on, Manuel, you’re doing splendid.” Then he would sing out something like “Kyohjnoo,” and Manuel would give another heave that would fetch the Scotch team another two or three inches at least. He was a magnificent man, was Manuel. The great wiry muscles stood out on his arms like knotted ropes. And when at last it only wanted six inches more for a win, Manuel lifted his head and gave the old sailor-cry that the men of the sea know so well and respond to—“Yo, heave-ho-o-o-o-o,” and the subjects of the Great White Czar gave one mighty lift that fetched the Scotchmen away as if they had been children. It was a grand pull, and one’s sympathies went with the little band of Russians, because if they are really Russians (their faces seemed Slavonic) there must have been very few men to pick from, whereas here every third man is a Scotchman. It will be seen, therefore, that the Germans beat the English, the Russians beat the Scotch, and the West Indian blacks beat the Maorilanders. Perhaps (whisper it softly)—perhaps the British and the Australians are not the only strong and determined races on the face of the earth after all.

The Irish on the first night certainly looked like winning. It is said that the team has been carefully picked—that scores of men were tried and rejected before the team was formed. The Continental nations have very few men to choose from. The Australians ought to go and practise pulling the hair off a pound of butter before they compete. They may do better later on. We intend to be there again for a good long evening when the black men meet the Irish. And if you want to get your two eyes knocked straight into one, go and “barrack” against the land of Erin.

In Australia, however, nothing is complete without a strike, and on Monday the teams mostly struck. They wanted a total sum of £156 a night, and the management didn’t see it. Then the Italian gentlemen, full of a desire to recover their lost glory, offered to throw themselves into the gap, and were set down as “scabs”. By and by a compromise was arrived at, and the show began forty-five minutes late. Scotland and Norway took the rope and in six minutes the former went under amid the ruins of the thistle and the haggis, while a spectral voice in kilts groaned over their discomfiture. Russia, with the potent Manuel on deck, broke Germany up in about twelve minutes, and the signs, at time of writing, seem to be that the sons of the Great White Czar will come out on top. Manuel—we are not quite sure that his name is Manuel, but it doesn’t matter—is an awful snag to strike, especially when his aged father barracks for him and urges him on. The longest pull of the evening was between the Englishmen and the West Indies darkies, and here for the first time the Anglo-Saxon race got a show. It took them over an hour to do it, but at the end of that time Ham went under. He deserved better luck, did Ham, especially as he is the lightest team in the show. Australia again had the distinction of knocking under in shorter time than anybody else; he was a disgraced kangaroo in just thirty-three seconds, the Maorilanders bolting with him as if they intended to rush down to Circular Quay. Ireland also went under to Sweden, which was a painful surprise to many individuals named Mick, Terence, and Dinny. Last of all, Italy came on to give a mighty heave for the honour of the banana-vending industry. Denmark took the other end of the rope and held it for thirty-three minutes, and then the stupendous efforts of the fallen Romans carried the day. France and Wales both failed to turn up.

After Monday night’s proceedings, Norway, Sweden and Russia were ahead with two wins each, and Ireland, West Indies, Italy, England, Denmark, Germany and Maoriland had one apiece. France and Wales have been on strike since the start, and Scotland and Australia come in dejectedly at the tail with two blanks. If Manuel’s boiler doesn’t burst, or his father doesn’t break a blood vessel while howling for him, Russia should win the big prize; and Italy, if only on account of the demoniac energy of the hulking gentleman with the large feet who pulls at the extreme end of the rope, should be close up. The Bulletin suggests that that huge Roman and Manuel should pull each other single-handed at the close of the proceedings. It would be a gaudy spectacle. The Roman’s name, we believe, is Julius Caesar.

The Bulletin, 20 February 1892


Our Ambassador Or Sharp Practice On The Darling

There is an old, furthest-out bushman who comes to Sydney once every year and always calls upon certain members of the staff of this paper. He seems to regard himself as an ambassador from the backblocks, and he lays down the law on all bush subjects in great style. He is a bearded, freckled old pirate, with a bald head. His hands are scarred with “Barcoo rot”. There are not many parts of Australia that the ancient doesn’t know; and to hear him chin off the old bush names is a perfect treat. He has a slightly Scotch accent, and he was at first suspected of being “Scotty the Wrinkler” in disguise, come “to take a rise” out of us. He always has a backblock story or two which he thinks would be highly suitable for publication. They never are. They mostly consist of yarns about the things which some renowned bullock driver said to his bullocks when he was fast in a river with a flood coming down. Or else he tells how, out in the far back country, the supplies got low and the only flour available was full of weevils and other livestock, and the storekeeper used to classify the flour according to the condition of the creeping things which inhabited it. The fatter the crawlers were, the better quality the flour was held to be, so that “prime fat flour” sold at a considerable advance over that which was only in “store condition”. His great idea is to have these stories illustrated, a process to which they do not lend themselves readily. But when he came to town this last time he was so genuinely distressed at none of his previous yarns having appeared that he was promised faithfully that “Sharp Practice on the Darling” should be published, even if the editor had to be knocked on the head.

“I’ve just come in from the Paroo,” he said, “with cattle. And comin’ down in the camp, the fellers was sayin’ I ought to come and tell you some of the things as is happenin’ up our way now. There’s some tremenjus funny things in the bush, you know.”

“Yes,” we said. “What is the funniest thing that has happened lately?”

“‘Well,” he replied, “we reckoned this was the funniest. We talked over a crowd of things in the camp, but we reckoned this was the best. It would make good pictures, too,” he said, earnestly. “We call it sharp practice on the Darlin’ River just now, and if a man has a fi’ pun’-note he can’t get past a public house with his life, you know. They’ll get that fiver out of him, somehow. But there was a mate of mine that took ’em down all right”—and the old man chuckled at the remembrance.

“How did he take ’em down? Did he swallow the fiver and then cough it up after he got past the hotel?” we enquired.

“No,” he said. “When he went to the pub, he had three fivers, and he gave the landlord two of ’em, and started a spree. So I come along and was havin’ a drink with him, and he showed me the other fiver. ‘I’m goin’ to get away with this one,’ says he. ‘Does the publican know you’ve got it?’ says I. ‘Yes,’ says he. ‘Well, he’ll have it off you somehow,’ I says. ‘There’s no publican on the Darlin’ River has let a man with five pounds get past him this seven years,’ I says, ‘and you ain’t goin’ to be the fust man to do it.’ ‘Won’t I?’ says he. ‘You see, now, I’ll get away with it all right.’

“So, when he’d about cut out his ten pounds, he slips down to the river one day, and takes the canoe, and paddles across, and makes off down the river to strike the coach road. The publican come out and ‘Where’s Hazard gone?’ says he. Hazard was the name this mate of mine went by, and he was a tremenjus clever fellow—a real larrikin. ‘I don’t know,’ says I, ‘where he’s gone.’

“‘Well,’ says the publican, ‘he owes me some money and I must have him back.’ So he calls two chaps he had there, and he sends one to swim the river with a horse and go down the further side, and the other to go down the near side, and they was bound to have him that way. So Hazard, he was makin’ down the river and he saw this cove cross over after him, and just then there was a steamer coming up the river. And he didn’t want to go up the river, you know, but it was any port in a storm with him, so he runs to the bank and waves his swag, and the steamer sent a boat and took him off. And as he sent up past the public house he saw the landlord standing there, and he ran to the stern of the steamer and waves the fi-pun note at him. ‘Ha! ha! old man,’ he says, ‘this is sharp practice on the Darling!’“

We agreed that this story would appeal strongly to bush readers. We also took notes of another narrative about a publican and a boozer. In this case the boozer had some pound notes and he let them blow out of his hand in the yard on a windy day, and then he, and the publican, and a retriever pup, were down on all fours together in the dirt grabbing at the notes as they blew about. The puppy secured the bulk of the capital. The old man pointed out that this would make a spirited illustration, and we promised to have a full-page drawing made of it when the artists had time. He went on to chat about things in general.

“About this Argentina scheme, now,” he said, “you fellows in Sydney don’t think that the bushmen are in earnest over that.”

“Well, are they?” we enquired. “It doesn’t look a very good game to leave this country and go to a strange place where they’ll get potted like possums in the first revolution.”

“Ah, well, they’re in earnest about it,” he said. “I’m not going myself, but there was six men at the last shed I was at that are going, and they have put down their stuff, too. It seems a pity, don’t it, for them to go away. Fine strappin’ young fellows as the sun ever shone on! But it’s terrible hard to get a livin’ these times,” he said, “if you go shearing and get one shed it’s all you’ll do. And in the old times they was glad to get shearers. If it wasn’t for the rabbits there’d be no work at all on a lot of the runs.”

“Do the rabbits make much work?” we asked.

“Yes, they’re too clever for men to keep out,” he answered. “They burrows under the wire netting, and they can’t be suffocated in their burrows nohow, ’cos they camp out under the saltbush these times. And they crosses the Murray River where it’s a quarter of a mile wide.”

“Oh, come! that’s too stiff. You don’t tell us the rabbits can swim a quarter of a mile?”

“In corse they don’t,” he said. “They burrows underneath it!”

After that we took him out and stood him a drink, and sent him on his way rejoicing.

The Bulletin, 4 February 1893


Concerning A Dog Fight

Dog fighting as a sport is not much in vogue nowadays. To begin with, it is illegal. Not that that matters much, for Sunday drinking is also illegal, yet flourishes exceedingly. But dog fighting is one of the cruel sports which the united sense of the community has decided to put down with all the force of public opinion. Nevertheless, a certain amount of dog fighting is still carried on around Sydney, and very neatly and scientifically carried on, too—principally by gentlemen who follow the occupation of slaughterers, and who live out Botany way and do not care for public opinion.

The grey dawn was just breaking over Botany when we got to the meeting place. It was Sunday morning, and all the respectable, non-dog fighting population of that stinking suburb were sleeping the heavy, Sunday morning sleep. Away to the east the stars were paling at the first faint flush of the coming dawn and over the sandhills came the boom of the breakers. An intense stillness was over everything, and the white-walled cottages of Botany were shrouded in a faint mist. Some few people, however, were astir. In the dim light, hurried pedestrians might be seen plodding their way over the heavy road towards the sandhills. Now and then a van, laden with about ten or eleven of “the talent”, and drawn by a horse that cost fifteen shillings at auction, rolled softly along in the same direction. These were dog fighters who had got “the office”, and knew exactly where the chewing match was to take place.

The “meet” was on a main road, about half a mile from town, and here some two hundred people had assembled, and hung up their horses and vehicles to the fence without the slightest concealment. They said the police would not interfere with them, and, in truth, they did not seem a nice crowd to interfere with. One dog was on the ground when we arrived. He had come out in a hansom cab with his trainer, and was a white bull terrier, weighing about forty pounds, “trained to the hour”, with the muscles standing out all over him. He waited in the cab, and licked his trainer’s face at intervals to reassure that individual of his protection and support. The rest of the time he glowered out of the cab and eyed the public scornfully. He knew as well as any human being that there was sport afoot, and he looked about eagerly and wickedly to see what he could get his teeth into. Then a messenger came running up to the cab and demanded to know, with a variety of expletives, whether they meant to sit in the cab till the police came: also, he said that the other dog had arrived and all was ready. The trainer and dog got out of the cab, and we followed through a fence and over a rise, and there, about two hundred yards from the main road, was a neatly pitched enclosure like a prize ring—i.e. a thirty-foot-square enclosure formed with stakes and ropes. About a hundred people were at the ringside, and in the far corner, in the arms of his trainer, was the other dog, a brindle.

It was wonderful to see the two dogs when they caught sight of each other. The white dog came up to the ring straining at his leash, nearly dragging his trainer off his feet in his efforts to get at the enemy. At intervals he emitted a hoarse roar of challenge and defiance. The brindled dog never uttered a sound. He fixed his eyes on his adversary with a look of intense hunger, of absolute yearning for combat. He never for an instant shifted his unwinking gaze. He seemed like an animal who saw the hopes of years about to be realised. With painful earnestness he watched every detail of the other dog’s toilet; and, while the white dog was making fierce efforts to get at him, he stood Napoleonic, grand in his courage, waiting for the fray.

All details were carefully attended to, and all rules strictly observed. Most people think a dog fight is a go-as-you-please outbreak of lawlessness, but there are rules and regulations—simple, but effective. Possibly one could even buy a book containing the rules of dog fighting. There were two umpires, a referee, a timekeeper and two seconds for each dog. The stakes were said to be ten pounds a side. After some talk, the dogs were carried to the centre of the ring by their seconds and put on the ground. Like a flash of lightning they dashed at each other, and the fight began. Nearly everyone has seen dogs fight;—“It is their nature to,” as Dr Watts puts it. But an ordinary worry between (say) a retriever and a collie, terminating as soon as one or other gets his ear bitten, gives a very faint idea of a real dog fight. These bull terriers are the gladiators of the canine race. Bred and trained to fight, carefully exercised and dieted for weeks beforehand, they come to the fray exulting in their strength and each determined to win. Each is trained to fight for certain holds, a grip of the ear or the back of the neck being of very slight importance. The foot is a favourite hold; the throat is, of course, fashionable—if they can get it. These dogs sparred and wrestled and gripped and threw each other, fighting grimly, and disdaining to utter a sound under the most severe punishment. Their seconds dodged round them unceasingly, giving them encourage-ment and advice. “That’s the style, Boxer—fight for his foot.” “Draw your foot back, old man”, and so on. Now and again one dog got a grip of the other’s foot and chewed savagely, and the spectators danced with excitement. The moment the dogs released hold of each other they were snatched up by their seconds and carried to their corners, and a minute’s time was allowed, in which their mouths were washed out and a cloth rubbed over their bodies. Then came the ceremony of “coming to scratch”. After the first round, on time being called, the brindled dog was let loose in his own corner of the ring, and he was required by the rules to go across the ring (some thirty feet) of his own free will and attack the other dog. If he failed to do this, he would lose the fight. The white dog, meanwhile, was held in his corner waiting the attack. After the next round it was the white dog’s turn to make the attack, and so on alternately. It, therefore, became evident that the animals need not fight a moment longer than they chose, as either dog could abandon the fight by failing to go across the ring and attack his enemy. While their condition lasted they used to dash across the ring at full run, but, after a while, when the punishment got severe and their “fitness” began to fail, it became a very exciting question whether or not a dog would “come to scratch”. The brindled dog’s condition was not so good as the other’s, and he used to lie on his stomach between the rounds to rest himself, and it several times looked as if he would not cross the ring when his turn came. But as soon as time was called, he would start to his feet and come limping slowly across glaring steadily at the other dog; then, as he got nearer, he would quicken his pace and at last make a savage rush, and in a moment they would be locked in combat. So they battled on for fifty-six minutes till the white dog (who was apparently having all the best of it), on being called on to cross the ring, only went halfway across and stood there growling savagely till a minute had elapsed, and so he lost the fight.

No doubt it was a brutal exhibition. But it was not cruel to the animals in the same sense that pigeon shooting or hare hunting is cruel. The dogs are born fighters, anxious and eager to fight, desiring nothing better. Whatever limited intelligence they have is all directed to this one consuming passion. They could stop when they liked, but anyone looking on could see that they gloried in the combat. Fighting is like breath to them—they must have it. Nature has implanted in all animals a fighting instinct for the weeding out of the physically unfit, and these dogs have an extra share of that fighting instinct. Of course, now that the world is going to be so good, and we are all to be teetotal and only fight in debating societies, and the women are to wear the breeches, these nasty, savage animals are out of date, and we will not be allowed to have anything more quarrelsome than a poodle about a house—though even poodles will fight like demons when they feel like it. And the gamecock and the steeplechase horse and all animals with sporting or fighting instincts must be done away with. Guinea pigs will, perhaps, be safe to keep, though even they have a go-in at one another occasionally.

And the man of the future, the New Man, whose fighting instincts are not quite bred out of him, will, perhaps, be found at grey dawn of a Sunday morning with a crowd of other unregenerates in some backyard frantically cheering on two determined buck guinea pigs to mortal combat.

The Bulletin, 18 May 1895


The Merino Sheep

The prosperity of Australia is absolutely based on a beast—the merino sheep. If all the sheep in the country were to die, the big banks would collapse like card houses, the squatting securities, which are their backbone, being gone. Business would perish, and the money we owe to England would be as hopelessly lost to that nation as if we were a South American state. The sheep, and the sheep alone, keeps us going. On the back of this beneficent creature we all live. Knowing this, people have got the impression that the merino sheep is a gentle, bleating animal that gets its living without trouble to anybody, and comes up every year to be shorn with a pleased smile upon its amiable face. It is my purpose here, as one having experience, to exhibit the merino sheep in its true light, so that the public may know what kind of brute they are depending on.

And first let us give him what little credit is his due. No one can accuse him of being a ferocious animal. No one could ever say that a sheep attacked him without provocation, though there is an old bush story of a man who was discovered in the act of killing a neighbour’s wether. “Hullo,” said the neighbour. “What’s this? Killing my sheep! What have you got to say for yourself?” “Yes,” said the man, with an air of virtuous indignation. “I am killing your sheep. I’ll kill any man’s sheep that bites me!” But as a rule the merino refrains from using his teeth on people, and goes to work in another way.

The truth is that the merino sheep is a dangerous monomaniac, and his one idea is to ruin the man who owns him. With this object in view, he will display a talent for getting into trouble and a genius for dying that are almost incredible. If a mob of sheep see a bushfire closing round them, do they run away out of danger? Not at all; they rush round and round in a ring till the fire burns them up. If they are in a river bed, with a howling flood coming down, they will stubbornly refuse to cross three inches of water to save themselves. Dogs and men may bark and shriek, but the sheep won’t move. They will wait there till the flood comes and drowns them all, and then their corpses go down the river on their backs with their feet in the air. A mob of sheep will crawl along a road slowly enough to exasperate a snail, but let a lamb get away from the mob in a bit of rough country, and a racehorse can’t head him back again. If sheep are put into a big paddock with water in three corners of it, they will resolutely crowd into the fourth corner and die of thirst. When sheep are being counted out at a gate, if a scrap of bark be left on the ground in the gateway, they will refuse to step over it until dogs and men have sweated and toiled and sworn and “heeled ’em up”, and “spoke to ’em”, and fairly jammed them at it. Then the first one will gather courage, rush at the fancied obstacle, spring over it about six feet in the air and dart away. The next does exactly the same, but jumps a bit higher. Then comes a rush of them following one another in wild bounds like antelopes, until one “over-jumps himself” and alights on his head, a performance which nothing but a sheep could compass.

This frightens those still in the yard, and they stop running out, and the dogging and shrieking and hustling and tearing have to be gone through all over again. This on a red-hot day, mind you, with clouds of blinding dust about, with the yolk of wool irritating your eyes, and with, perhaps, three or four thousand sheep to put through. The delay throws out the man who is counting, and he forgets whether he left off at 45 or 95. The dogs, meanwhile, take the first chance to slip over the fence and hide in the shade somewhere. Then there are loud whistlings and oaths, and calls for Rover and Bluey, and at last a dirt-begrimed man jumps over the fence, unearths a dog and hauls him back to work by the ear. The dog sets to barking and heeling ’em up again, and pretends that he thoroughly enjoys it, but he is looking out all the time for another chance to “clear”. And this time he won’t be discovered in a hurry.

To return to our muttons. There is a well-authenticated story of a shipload of sheep being lost once, because an old ram jumped overboard into the ocean, and all the rest followed him. No doubt they did, and were proud to do it. A sheep won’t go through an open gate on his own responsibility, but he would gladly and proudly follow another sheep through the red-hot portals of Hades: and it makes no difference whether the leader goes voluntarily or is hauled struggling and kicking and fighting every inch of the way. For pure, sodden stupidity there is no animal like the merino sheep. A lamb will follow a bullock dray drawn by sixteen bullocks and driven by a profane “colonial” with a whip, under the impression that this aggregate monstrosity is his mother. A ewe never knows her own lamb by sight, and apparently has no sense of colour. She can recognise her own lamb’s voice half a mile off among a thousand other voices apparently exactly similar, but when she gets within five yards of her lamb she starts to smell all the lambs in reach, including the black ones, though her own may be a white lamb. The fiendish resemblance which one sheep bears to another is a great advantage to them in their struggles with their owners. It makes them more difficult to draft out of a strange flock, and much harder to tell when any are missing.

Concerning this resemblance between sheep, there is a story told of a fat old Murrumbidgee squatter who gave a big price for a famous ram called, say, Sir Oliver. He took a friend out one day to inspect Sir Oliver, and overhauled that animal with a most impressive air of sheep wisdom. “Look here,” he said, “at the fineness of the wool. See the serrations in each thread of it. See the density of it. Look at the way his legs and belly are clothed—he’s wool all over, that sheep. Grand animal, grand animal!” Then they went and had a drink, and the old squatter said, “Now, I’ll show you the difference between a champion ram and a second-rater”. So he caught a ram and pointed out his defects. “See here—not half the serrations that other sheep had. No density of fleece to speak of. Bare-bellied as a pig, compared with Sir Oliver. Not that this isn’t a fair sheep, but he’d be dear at one-tenth Sir Oliver’s price. By the way, Johnson” (to his overseer) “what ram is this?” “That, sir” replied the astounded functionary, “that’s Sir Oliver, sir!” And so it was.

There is another kind of sheep in Australia, as great a curse in his own way as the merino—namely, the cross-bred or half-merino-half-Leicester animal. The cross-bred will get through, under or over any fence you like to put in front of him. He is never satisfied on his owner’s run, but always thinks other people’s runs must be better, so he sets off to explore. He will strike a course, say, south-east, and so long as the fit takes him he will keep going south-east through all obstacles, rivers, fences, growing crops—anything. The merino relies on passive resistance for his success; the cross-bred carries the war into the enemy’s camp, and becomes a living curse to his owner day and night. Once there was a man who was induced in a weak moment to buy twenty cross-bred rams, and from that hour the hand of fate was upon him. They got into all the paddocks they shouldn’t have been in. They scattered themselves all over the run promiscuously. They got into the cultivation paddock and the vegetable garden at their own sweet will. And then they took to roving. In a body they visited the neighbouring stations, and played havoc with the sheep all over the district. The wretched owner was constantly getting fiery letters from his neighbours: “Your . . . rams are here. Come and take them away at once”, and he would have to go off nine or ten miles to drive them home. Any man who has tried to drive rams on a hot day knows what purgatory is. He was threatened with actions for trespass for scores of pounds damages every week. He tried shutting them up in the sheep yard. They got out and went back to the garden. Then he gaoled them in the calf pen. Out again and into a growing crop. Then he set a boy to watch them, but the boy went to sleep, and they were four miles away across country before he got on to their tracks. At length, when they happened accidentally to be at home on their owner’s run, there came a huge flood. His sheep, mostly merinos, had plenty of time to get on to high ground and save their lives, but, of course, they didn’t, and they were almost all drowned. The owner sat on a rise above the waste of waters and watched the dead animals go by. He was a ruined man. His hopes in life were gone. But he said, “Thank God, those rams are drowned, anyhow.” Just as he spoke there was a splashing in the water, and the twenty rams solemnly swam ashore and ranged themselves in front of him. They were the only survivors of thousands of sheep. He broke down utterly, and was taken to an asylum for insane paupers. The cross-breds had fulfilled their destiny.

The cross-bred drives his owner out of his mind, but the merino ruins his man with greater celerity. Nothing on earth will kill cross-breds, while nothing will keep merinos alive. If they are put on dry saltbush country they die of drought. If they are put on damp, well-watered country they die of worms, fluke, and foot rot. They die in the wet seasons and they die in the dry ones. The hard, resentful look which you may notice on the faces of all bushmen comes from a long course of dealing with the merino sheep. It is the merino sheep which dominates the bush, and which gives to Australian literature its melancholy tinge, and its despairing pathos. The poems about dying boundary riders and lonely graves under mournful she-oaks are the direct outcome of the author’s too close association with that soul-destroying animal, the merino sheep. A man who could write anything cheerful after a day in the drafting yards would be a freak of nature.

The Bulletin, 14 December 1895


Concerning A Steeplechase Rider

Of all the ways in which men get a living there is none so hard and so precarious as that of steeplechase riding in Australia. It is bad enough in England, where steeplechases only take place in winter, when the ground is soft, and where the horses are properly schooled before being raced, and where the obstacles for the most part will yield a little if struck and give a horse a chance to blunder over safely. In Australia the men have to go at racing speed on very hard ground, over the most rigid and uncompromising obstacles—ironbark rails clamped into solid posts with bands of iron. No wonder they are always coming to grief, and are always in and out of hospital in splints and bandages. Sometimes one reads that a horse has fallen and the rider has “escaped with a severe shaking”. That “shaking”, gentle reader, would lay you or me up for weeks, with a doctor to look after us and a crowd of sympathetic friends calling to know how our poor back was. But the steeplechase rider has to be out and about again, “riding exercise” every morning, and “schooling” all sorts of cantankerous brutes over the fences. These men take their lives in their hands and look at grim death between their horses’ ears every time they race or “school”.

The death-record among Australian cross-country jockeys and horses is something awful: it is a curious instance of how custom sanctifies all things that such horse and man slaughter is accepted in such a calm, callous way. If any theatre gave a show at which men and horses were habitually crippled and killed in full sight of the audience, the manager would be tried for manslaughter in no time. But the racetracks use up their yearly average of horses and men without attracting remark. One would suppose that the risk being so great the profits were enormous; but they are not—quite otherwise, in fact. In “the game” as played on our racecourses, there is just a bare living for a good capable horseman while he lasts, with the certainty of an ugly smash if he keeps at it long enough.

And they don’t need to keep at it very long. After a few good “shakings” they begin to “take a nip or two” to put heart into them before they go out, and after a while they have to increase the dose. So that at last they cannot ride at all without a regular cargo of alcohol on board, and they are either “half muzzy” or shaky, according as they have taken too much or too little. And then they commence to fall—it is an old axiom that as soon as a man begins to funk he begins to fall. The reason is that a rider who has lost his nerve is afraid of his horse making a mistake, and takes a pull or urges him onward just at the critical instant—the one crucial moment when the horse is rattling up to his fence and judging his distance so as to make his spring. And the little pull at his head or the little touch of the spur takes his attention from the fence, with the result that he makes his spring a foot too far off or a foot too close in, and—smash! And then the loafers who hang about the big fences rush up to see if the jockey is killed or stunned, and, if so, they dispose of any jewellery he may have about him—they have been known to almost tear off a finger in their endeavours to secure the ring. And the ambulance clatters up at a canter, the poor rider is pushed in out of sight, and the ladies in the stand say how unlucky they are—that brute of a horse falling after they backed him. And a wolfish-eyed man in the Leger stand shouts to a wolfish-eyed pal, “Bill, I believe that jock was killed when the chestnut fell”, and Bill replies, “Yes, damn him, I had five bob on him.” And the rider, gasping like a crushed chicken, is carried into the casualty room and laid on a little stretcher, while outside the window the bookmakers are roaring “Four to one bar one”, and the racing is going on merrily as ever.

Which remarks may serve to introduce one of the fraternity who may be considered as typical of all. He was a small, wiry, hard-featured fellow, the son of a stockman on a big cattle station, and began life as a horse breaker—he was naturally a horseman, and able and willing to ride anything that could carry him. Then he left the station to go with cattle on the road, and, having picked up a horse that showed pace, amused himself by jumping him over fences. Then he went to Wagga and entered the horse in a steeplechase, rode him himself, won handsomely, sold the horse at a good price to a Sydney buyer, and went down to ride the horse in his Sydney races. Did very well in Sydney and got a name as a fearless and clever rider, and was offered several mounts on fine animals, so he pitched his camp in Sydney and became a fully enrolled member of the worst profession in the world—that of steeplechase rider. I had known him in the old days on the road, and when I met him on the course one day I enquired how he liked the new life.

“Well, it’s a livin’,” he said, “but it’s no great shakes. They don’t give steeplechase riders a chance in Sydney” (which is true enough). “There is very few races, and the big sweepstakes keep horses out of the game.”

“Do you get a fair share of the riding?” I asked.

“Oh, yes; I get as much as anybody. But there’s a lot of ’em got a notion I won’t take hold of a horse when I’m told (i.e., pull him to prevent him winning), but some of these days I’ll take hold of a horse when they don’t expect it.”

I smiled as I thought there was probably a sorry day in store for some backer when the jockey “took hold” unexpectedly.

“Do you have to pull horses, then, to get employment?”

“Oh, well, it’s this way,” he said, rather apologetically, “if an owner is badly treated by the handicapper and is just giving his horse a run to get weight off, then it’s right enough to catch hold a bit. But when a horse is favourite and the public are backing him it isn’t right to take hold of him then. I would not do it.” This was his whole code of morals—not to pull a favourite; and he felt himself very superior to the scoundrel who would pull favourites or outsiders indiscriminately.

“What do you get for riding?” I asked him.

“Well,” he said, looking about uneasily, “we’re supposed to get a fiver for a losing mount and ten pounds if we win, but such a lot of the steeplechase owners are what I call ‘battlers’—men who have no money and get along by owing everybody money. They promise us all sorts of money if we win but they don’t pay if we lose. I only got two pounds for that last steeplechase.”

Two pounds! I made a rapid mental calculation. He had ridden over eighteen fences for two pounds—had chanced his life eighteen times at less than half a crown a time.

“Good heavens,” I said, “that’s a poor game. Wouldn’t you be better back on the station?”

“Oh, I don’t know—sometimes we get laid a bit to nothing and do well out of a race. And then, you know, a steeplechase rider is somebody—not like an ordinary fellow that is just working.” I realised that I was an “ordinary fellow that was just working” and felt small accordingly.

“I’m just off to weigh now,” he said— “I’m riding Contractor, and he’ll run well, but he always seems to fall at those logs. Still, I ought to have luck today. I met a hearse as I was coming out. I’ll get him over the fences, somehow.”

“Do you think it lucky, then, to meet a hearse?”

“Oh, yes”, he said, “if you meet it. You mustn’t overtake it—that’s unlucky. So is a cross-eyed man unlucky. Cross-eyed men ought to be kept off racecorses.” And away he went, followed by a little knot of hungry-looking men who were beseeching him for a “tip” for the race.

When he reappeared he was clad in racing rig, and we set off to see the horse saddled. We found the owner in a great state of excitement. It seemed he had no money, absolutely none whatever, but had borrowed enough to pay the sweepstakes and stood to make some-thing if the horse won and lose nothing if he lost, as he had nothing to lose. My friend the rider insisted on being paid two pounds before he would mount, and the owner nearly had a fit in his efforts to persuade him to ride on credit. At last a backer of the horse came forward who agreed to pay two pounds ten, win or lose, and the rider was to get twenty-five pounds out of the prize if he won. So up he got, and as he and the others walked the big muscular horses round the ring, nodding gaily to friends in the crowd, I thought of the gladiators going out to fight in the arena with the cry of, “Hail, Caesar, those about to die salute thee!”

The story of the race is soon told. My friend went to the front at the start and led nearly all the way, and “Contractor!” was on everyone’s lips as the big horse sailed along in front of his field. He came at the log fence full of running, and it looked certain that he would get over. At the last stride he seemed to falter, then plunged right in to the fence, striking it with his chest and turning right over it, landing on his unfortunate rider. Evidently meeting the hearse had not brought him luck.

Man and horse lay still, and there was silence in the stand, broken only by a few audible curses from those who had backed the horse. A crowd clustered round and hid horse and rider from view, and I ran down to the casualty room to meet him when the ambulance came in. The gay silks and colours were all mud-spattered and bloodstained as the limp form was carefully taken out and laid on a stretcher while a doctor examined the crushed ribs, the broken arm, and all the havoc that the horse’s huge weight had made. There was no hope from the first. My poor friend, who had so often faced death for two pounds, lay very still awhile, gasping and quivering slightly. Then he began to talk, wandering in his mind. “Where were the cattle”—he had lost the cattle—his mind evidently going back to the old days on the road. Then he spoke quickly, “Look out there—give me room!” and again wandered off: “Five-and-twenty pounds, Mary, and a sure thing if he don’t fall at the logs”. And “Mary” was sobbing beside the bed, cursing the fence and the money that had fetched him to grief. At last, in a tone of satisfaction, he said, quite clear and loud, “I know how it was—there couldn’t have been any dead man in that hearse!”

And so, having solved the mystery to his own satisfaction, he again drifted away into unconsciousness, and woke somewhere on the other side of the big fence that we can neither see through nor over, but all have to face sooner or later.

The Bulletin, 12 December 1896



Buckalong was a big freehold of some 80,000 acres, belonging to an absentee syndicate, and therefore run in most niggardly style. There was a manager on two hundred pounds a year, Sandy McGregor to wit—a hard-headed old Scotchman known as “four-eyed McGregor”, because he wore spectacles. For assistants, he had half-a-dozen of us—jackaroos and colonial experiencers—who got nothing a year, and earned it. We had, in most instances, paid premiums to learn the noble art of squatting, which now appears to me hardly worth studying, for so much depends on luck that a man with a head as long as a horse’s has little better chance than the fool just imported. Besides the manager and the jackeroos, there were a few boundary riders to prowl round the fences of the vast paddocks. This constituted the whole station staff.

Buckalong was on one of the main routes by which stock were taken to market, or from the plains to the tablelands, and vice versa. Great mobs of travelling sheep constantly passed through the run, eating up the grass and vexing the soul of the manager. By law sheep must travel six miles per day, and they must keep within half a mile of the road. Of course, we such hapless wretches as did venture through Buckalong used to try hard to stray from the road. We kept all the grass near the road eaten bare, to discourage travellers from coming that way, and pick up a feed, but old Sandy was always ready for them, and would have them dogged right through the run. This bred feuds, and bad language, and personal combats between us and the drovers, whom we looked upon as natural enemies. Then the men who came through with mobs of cattle used to pull down the paddock fences at night, and slip the cattle in for refreshments; but old Sandy often turned out at 2 or 3 a.m. to catch a big mob of bullocks in the horse paddock, and then off they went to Buckalong pound. The drovers, as in duty bound, attributed the trespass to accident—broken rails, and so on—and sometimes they tried to rescue the cattle, which again bred strife and police court summonses.

Besides having a particular aversion to drovers, old McGregor had a general “down” on the young “colonials”, whom he comprehensively described as a “feckless, horse-dealin’, horse-stealin’, crawlin’ lot o’ wretches”. According to him, a native would sooner work a horse to death than work for a living, any day. He hated any man who wanted to sell him a horse. “As ah walk the street,” he used to say, “the folk disna stawp me to buy claes nor shoon, an’ wheerfore should they stawp me to buy horses? It’s ‘Mister McGregor, will ye purrchase a horrse?’ Let them wait till I ask them to come wi’ theer horrses.”

Such being his views on horseflesh and drovers, we felt no little excitement when one Sunday, at dinner, the cook came in to say there was a “drover chap outside wanted the boss to come and have a look at a horse”. McGregor simmered awhile, and muttered something about the “Sawbath day”; but at last he went out, and we filed after him to see the fun.

The drover stood by the side of his horse, beneath the acacia trees in the yard. He had a big scar on his face, apparently the result of collision with a tree; and seemed poverty-stricken enough to disarm hostility. Obviously, he was “down on his luck”. He looked very thin and sickly, with clothes ragged and boots broken. Had it not been for that indefinable self-reliant look which drovers—the Ishmaels of the bush—always acquire, one might have taken him for a swagman. His horse was in much the same plight. A ragged, unkempt pony, pitifully poor and very footsore—at first sight, an absolute “moke”, but a second glance showed colossal round ribs, square hips, and a great length of rein, the rest hidden beneath a wealth of loose hair. He looked like “a good journey horse”, possibly something better.

We gathered round while McGregor questioned the drover. The man was monosyllabic to a degree, as real bushmen generally are. It is only the rowdy and the town-bushy that is fluent of speech.

“Good morning,” said McGregor.

“Mornin’, boss,” said the drover, shortly.

“Is this the horrse ye have for sale?”


“Aye”, and McGregor looked at the pony with a businesslike don’t-think-much-of-him air; ran his hand lightly over the hard legs and opened the passive creature’s mouth. “H’m,” he said. Then he turned to the drover. “Ye seem a bit oot o’ luck. Ye’re thin, like. What’s been the matter?”

“Been sick with fever—Queensland fever. Just come through from the north. Been out on the Diamantina last.”

“Aye. I was there mysel’,” said McGregor. “Have ye the fever on ye still?”

“Yes—goin’ home to get rid of it.”

It should be explained that a man can only get Queensland fever in a malarial district, but he can carry it with him wherever he goes. If he stays, it will sap all his strength and pull him to pieces; if he moves to a better climate, the malady moves with him, leaving him only by degrees, and coming back at regular intervals to rack, shake, burn, and sweat its victim. Queensland fever will pull a man down from fifteen stone to nine stone faster, and with greater certainty, than any system of dosing yet invented. Gradually it wears itself out, often wearing its patient out at the same time. McGregor had been through the experience, and there was a slight change in his voice as he went on with the palaver.

“Where are ye makin’ for the noo?”

“Monaro—my people live in Monaro.”

“How will ye get to Monaro if ye sell the horrse?”

“Coach and rail. Too sick to care about ridin’,” said the drover, while a wan smile flitted over his yellow-grey features. “I’ve rode him far enough. I’ve rode that horse a thousand miles. I wouldn’t sell him, only I’m a bit hard up. Sellin’ him now to get the money to go home.”

“How old is he?”


“Is he a good horse on a camp?” asked McGregor.

“No better camp horse in Queensland,” said the drover. “You can chuck the reins on his neck, an’ he’ll cut out a beast by himself.”

McGregor’s action in this matter puzzled us. We spent our time crawling after sheep, and a camp horse would be about as much use to us as side pockets to a pig. We had expected Sandy to rush the fellow off the place at once, and we couldn’t understand how it was that he took so much interest in him. Perhaps the fever-racked drover and the old camp horse appealed to him in a way to us incomprehensible. We had never been on the Queensland cattle camps, nor shaken and shivered with the fever, nor lived the roving life of the over-landers. McGregor had done all this, and his heart (I can see it all now) went out to the man who brought the old days back to him.

“Ah, weel,” he said, “we hae’na much use for a camp horrse here, ye ken; wi’oot some of these lads wad like to try theer han’ cuttin’ oot the milkers’ cawves frae their mithers.” And the old man laughed contemptuously, while we felt humbled and depraved in the eyes of the man from far back. “An’ what’ll ye be wantin’ for him?” asked McGregor.

“Reckon he’s worth fifteen notes,” said the drover.

This fairly staggered us. Our estimates had varied between thirty shillings and a fiver. We thought the negotiations would close abruptly, but McGregor, after a little more examination, agreed to give the price, provided the saddle and bridle, both grand specimens of ancient art, were given in. This was agreed to, and the drover was sent off to get his meals in the hut before leaving by the coach.

“The mon is verra hard up, an it’s a sair thing that Queensland fever,” was the only remark that McGregor made. But we knew that there was a soft spot in his heart somewhere.

And so, next morning, the drover got a crisp-looking cheque and departed by coach. He said no word while the cheque was being written, but, as he was going away, the horse happened to be in the yard, and he went over to the old comrade that had carried him so many miles, and laid a hand on his neck. “He ain’t much to look at,” said the drover, speaking slowly and awkwardly, “but he’s white, when he’s wanted.” And just before the coach rattled off, the man of few words lent down from the box and nodded impressively, and repeated, “Yes, he’s white when he’s wanted.”

We didn’t trouble to give the new horse a name. Station horses are generally called after the man from whom they are bought. “Tom Devine”, “the Regan mare”, “Black McCarthy”, and “Bay McCarthy” were amongst the appellations of our horses at that time. As we didn’t know the drover’s name, we simply called the animal “the new horse” until a still newer horse was one day acquired. Then, one of the hands being told to take the new horse, said “D’yer mean the new new horse or the old ‘new horse’?” “No,” said the boss, “not the new horse—that bay horse we bought from the drover. The one he said was white when he was wanted.”

And so, by degrees, the animal came to be referred to as the horse that’s white when he’s wanted, and at last settled down to the definite name of “White-when-he’s-wanted”.

White-when-he’s-wanted didn’t seem much of an acquisition. He was sent out to do slavery for Greenhide Billy, a boundary rider who plumed himself on having once been a cattle man. After a week’s experience of “White”, Billy came in to the homestead disgusted—the pony was so lazy that he had to build a fire under him to get him to move, and so rough that it would make a man’s nose bleed to ride him more than a mile. “The boss must have been off his head to give fifteen notes for such a cow.”

McGregor heard this complaint. “Verra weel, Mr Billy,” said he, hotly, “ye can just tak’ one of the young horrses in yon paddock, an’ if he bucks wi’ ye, an’ kills ye, it’s yer ain fault. Ye’re a cattle man—so ye say—dommed if ah believe it. Ah believe ye’re a dairy farmin’ body frae Illawarra. Ye don’t know neither horrse nor cattle. Mony’s the time ye never rode buck jumpers, Mr Billy,” and with this parting shot the old man turned into the house, and White-when-he’s-wanted came back to the head station.

For a while he was a sort of pariah. He used to yard the horses, fetch up the cows, and hunt travelling sheep through the run. He really was lazy and rough, and we all decided that Billy’s opinion of him was correct, until the day came to make one of our periodical raids on the wild horses in the hills at the back of the run. Every now and again we formed parties to run in some of these animals, and, after nearly galloping to death half a dozen good horses, we would capture three or four brumbies, and bring them in triumph to the homestead. These we would break in, and by the time they had thrown half the crack riders on the station, broken all the bridles, rolled on all the saddles and kicked all the dogs, they would be marketable (and no great bargains) at about thirty shillings a head.

Yet there is no sport in the world to be mentioned in the same volume as “running horses”, and we were very keen on it. All the crack nags were got as fit as possible, and fed up beforehand, and on this particular occasion White-when-he’s-wanted, being in good trim, was given a week’s hard feed and lent to a harum-scarum fellow from the upper Murray who happened to be working in a survey camp on the run. How he did open our eyes. He ran the mob from hill to hill, from range to range, across open country and back again to the hills, over flats and gullies, through hop scrub and stringybark ridges; and all the time White-when-he’s-wanted was on the wing of the mob, pulling double. The mares and foals dropped out, then the colts and young stock pulled up deadbeat, and only the seasoned veterans of the mob were left. Most of our horses caved in altogether; one or two were kept in the hunt by judicious nursing and shirking the work, but White-when-he’s-wanted was with the quarry from end to end of the run, doing double his share; and at the finish, when a chance offered to wheel them into the trap yard, he simply smothered them for pace and slowed them into the wings before they knew where they were. Such a capture had not fallen to our lot for many a day, and the fame of White-when-he’s-wanted was speedily noised abroad.

He was always fit for work, always hungry, always ready to lie down and roll, and always lazy. But when he heard the rush of the brumbies’ feet in the scrub, he became frantic with excitement. He could race over the roughest ground without misplacing a hoof or altering his stride, and he could sail over fallen timber and across gullies like a kangaroo. Nearly every Sunday we were after the brumbies until they got as lean as greyhounds and as cunning as policemen. We were always ready to back White-when-he’s-wanted to run down single handed, any animal in the bush that we liked to put him after—wild horses, wild cattle, kangaroos, emus, dingoes, kangaroo rats—we barred nothing, for, if he couldn’t beat them for pace, he would outlast them.

And then one day he disappeared from the paddock, and we never saw him again. We knew there were plenty of men in the district who would steal him, but, as we knew also that there were plenty more who would “inform” for a pound or two, we were sure that it could not have been the local “talent” who had taken him. We offered good rewards and set some of the right sort to work, but we heard nothing of him for about a year.

Then the surveyor’s assistant turned up again after a trip to the interior. He told us the usual string of backblock lies, and then wound up by saying that out on the very fringe of settlement he had met an old acquaintance.

“Who was that?”

“Why, that little bay horse that I rode after the brumbies that time. The one you called White-when-he’s-wanted.”

“The deuce you did! Are you sure? Who had him?”

“Sure? I’d swear to him anywhere. A little drover fellow had him. A little fellow, with a big scar across his forehead. Came from Monaro way, somewhere. He said he bought the horse from you for fifteen notes.”

And then there was a chorus about the thief getting seven years.

But he hasn’t so far, and, as the Queen’s warrant doesn’t run much out west of Boulia, it is not at all likely that any of us will ever see the drover again, or will ever again cross the back of “White-when-he’s-wanted”.

The Bulletin, 12 December 1896


Bill And Jim Nearly Get Taken Down

“You see, it was this way,” said Bill reflectively, as we sat on the rails of the horse yard, “me and Jim was down at Buckatowndown show with that jumpin’ pony Jim has, and in the high jump our pony jumped seven foot, and they gave the prize to Spondulix that only jumped six foot ten. You know what these country shows are; a man can’t get no sort of fair play at all. We asked the stooards why the prize was give to Spondulix, and they said because he jumped better style than the pony. So Jim he ups and whips the saddle and bridle off the pony, and he says to the cove at the jump, ‘Put the bar up to seven foot six,’ he says, and he rides the pony at it without saddle or bridle, and over he goes, never lays a toe on it, and Spondulix was frighted to come at it. And we offered to jump Spondulix for a hundred quid any time. And I went to the stooards and I offered to back the pony to run any horse on the ground two miles over as many fences as they could put up in the distance, and the bigger the better; and Jim, he offered to fight as many of the stooards as could get into a room with him. And even then they wouldn’t give us the prize—a man can’t ever get fair play at a country show. But what I wanted to tell you about was the way we almost got took down afterwards. By gum, it was a near thing!

“We went down from the show to the pub, and there was a lot o’ toffs at the pub was bettin’ Jim a pound here and a pound there that he wouldn’t ride the pony at this fence and at that fence, and Jim picked up a few quid jumpin’ ’em easy, for most of the fences weren’t no more than six foot six high and, of course, that was like drinkin’ tea to the pony. And at last one cove he points to a big palin’ fence, and he says; ‘I’ll bet you a fiver your horse won’t get over that one safely.’ Well, of course, it was a fair-sized fence, being seven feet solid palin’s, but we knew the pony could do it all right, and Jim wheels round to go at it. And just as he sails at it, I runs up to the fence and pulls myself up with my hands and looks over, and there was a great gully the other side a hundred feet deep and all rocks and stones. So I yelled out at Jim to stop, but it was too late, for he had set the pony going, and once that pony went at a fence you couldn’t stop him with a block and tackle. And the pony rose over the fence, and when Jim saw what was the other side, what do you think he did! Why, he turned the pony round in the air, and came back again to the same side he started from! My oath, it astonished those toffs. You see, they thought they would take us down about getting over safely, but they had to pay up because he went over the fence and back again as safe as a church. Did you say Jim must have been a good rider—well, not too bad, but that was nothin’ to—hello, here comes the boss; I must be off. So long!”

The Bulletin, 3 April 1897


Preparing For Premiers

SCENE: Office of High Official in charge of Colonial affairs in London. High Official discovered glaring at table covered with lists of visiting potentates, programmes of amusements, lists of precedence, cablegrams, &c., &c. A waste-paper basket full of K.C.M.G. ribbons and orders stands by the table. On the table a handbag full of Privy Councillorships. High Official rings bell angrily. To him enters subordinate official, the Honourable Somebody, a very tired-looking youth.

HIGH OFFICIAL: “Look here, this is a nice state of things. I’m only just back from Monte Carlo, and I’ve got to set to work and clear up all this business. Now, have you got a list of the people we are responsible for?”

TIRED YOUTH: “Ya-a-as.”

HIGH OFFICIAL: “Well, who is there? There’s the Indian Viceroy, of course, and the Premier of Canada—we know all about them. And then there’s the chappie from China, my brother-in-law, he’s all right. But what about these Australian brutes? How many are there? Two, I suppose—Premier of South Australia and Premier of North Australia—eh? there must be a North Australia if there’s a South Australia! Where’s your list—how many are there?”

TIRED YOUTH: “There’s seven.”

HIGH OFFICIAL: “Seven! Good God, are the whole population Premiers over there? There’s not seven places for them to be Premiers of! You must have made a mistake. Get the map!” (They get the map and pore over it discontentedly.)

HIGH OFFICIAL (triumphantly): “There you are! What did I tell you! There’s only five colonies, even if each place has a Premier, which I don’t believe. There’s Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and West Australia. Now, how the devil do you make seven out of that?”

TIRED YOUTH: “I don’t know. One of the clerks made out the beastly list.”

HIGH OFFICIAL: “Which clerk?”

TIRED YOUTH: “I don’t know. How should I know one beastly clerk from another?”

HIGH OFFICIAL: “Well, you must find out. Seven! There must be two frauds among ’em. Nice we’ll look if we let two infernal pickpockets loose among those Indian Rajahs all over diamonds. How are you going to identify ’em when they come? There’s one fellow I could swear to, anyhow—a big, hairy, orang-outang of a man about seven feet high. He was here before. I’ll swear to him anywhere. What was his name again? Gibbs or Gibson, or something like that.”

TIRED YOUTH: “Dibbs, I think. Always reminded me of money, I know.”

HIGH OFFICIAL: “Well, perhaps it was, but I think it was Gibbs. Anyhow, is he coming?”

TIRED YOUTH: “I don’t know. How should I know? I suppose he is.”

HIGH OFFICIAL (at his wits’ end): “Well, for goodness sake send someone here that does know. You’ll get me into nice trouble, going on like this. Send for a clerk that knows about it, and, meanwhile, we’ll have a go at this list of precedence.” (Tired youth rings bell for clerk, and returns to table to look over list of precedence.)

HIGH OFFICIAL: “See here, the truth’s this. We’ve got orders from headquarters to soap these confounded self-governing colonies all we can. But, if we send their Premiers in to a function before the Indian Princes—my goodness, the Indians will stick ’em in the back with a tulwar, or something. Then there’s the Indian, China, Straits Settlement, African, and Crown colonies’ lot. Which is to come first, and which last? Have you any idea?”

TIRED YOUTH: “I don’t know. There’s a clerk knows all these things.” (Enter clerk.)

HIGH OFFICIAL: “Look here, is there any table of precedence in the office?”

CLERK: “Yes, my Lord.”

HIGH OFFICIAL: “Thank God! Who made it out?”

CLERK: “Lord Titmarsh, when he was in office, my Lord.”

HIGH OFFICIAL: “Bless him and praise him! See that it is followed with literal accuracy; literal accuracy, you understand—and I’ll take all the credit if it goes right, and Titmarsh can take all the blame if it goes wrong. So far, so good. Now there’s another thing. How many Premiers are coming from Australia?”

CLERK: “Seven, my Lord!”

HIGH OFFICIAL (to Tired Youth): “See! He’s made the same mistake you did. If I wasn’t here to look after you fellows you’d run the empire to the devil. Seven, indeed!” (To Clerk): “Do you know, sir, there are only five colonies in Australia? Look at the map.”

CLERK: “Yes, my Lord; but there’s a Premier of Tasmania and a Premier of New Zealand.”

HIGH OFFICIAL: “Oh, good gracious! They say America is mostly colonels; this place appears to be mostly Premiers. Now, what do you know about ’em? How are you going to be sure that some fraud doesn’t pass himself off as a Premier—some anarchist, with a bomb in his trousers pocket, and blow us all kite-high?”

CLERK: “We have photographs of them all, sir, and a private and confidential cipher report from the Governor of each colony as to their political leanings.”

HIGH OFFICIAL: “Let’s have a look. Who’s this fat, bald-headed man, that looks like a tallow-merchant?”

CLERK: “The Hon. G. H. Reid, my Lord, Premier of New South Wales.”

HIGH OFFICIAL (angrily): “There you go again! I tell you a man named Gibbs is Premier of New South Wales—great, long, hairy man, quite different from this fellow. I met Gibbs often. This is a fraud, I’ll take my oath. Don’t he look it—look at his face, all jowl and jelly.”

CLERK: “There has been a change of Ministry, my Lord, and this is the present Premier.”

HIGH OFFICIAL: “Well, he’s not much to look at, anyhow. What does his Governor say about him? Who is his Governor, anyhow? Hampden—Oh, I was in the House with Hampden. Dry sort of fellow, not such a fool as he looked. What does he say about him? Let’s have a look. (Reads report mumblingly.) Truckles to Labor Party...time server...not last long... change may be for the force of character...afraid of the Labor Party...dare not take K.C.M.G...better be bought with a P.C.-ship. I like that—a P.C.-ship indeed for a ruffian like this—an anarchist without the courage of his villainy. We bought Gibbs with a K.C.M.G. Let this ruffian have a K.C.M.G. or nothing.”

TIRED YOUTH (waking to interest in proceedings): “I read those reports. There’s one chappie there rather a good sort. All the rest are awful rotters. Read his report. Nelson I think was the name.” (High Official mumbles over Nelson’s report.) “Fights Labor Party. . . fearless...can’t last long . . . has worked well for Imperialistic ideas ... very courageous man ... will support Anglo-Japanese treaty. Ah! that’s the sort of man. What’s he to get?”

TIRED YOUTH: “Headquarters say they are all to get P.C.-ships.”

HIGH OFFICIAL: “All! Good heavens. Well, if we can’t degrade that man Reid in any way, see that he gets the suite of rooms in the worst part of the hotel, and give him a hard seat at all functions. And, by the by, what about taking them round? Who’s to do it? You’ll have to do it: I’ve got the Canadian and Indian lot to look after.”

TIRED YOUTH: “Oh, I’ll send one of the clerks and get them tickets for everything that is going in the way of concerts and public receptions and so on. I suppose they can’t go to anything really select.”

HIGH OFFICIAL (very slowly and deliberately): “I should think not. Take ’em to the British Museum and the waxworks, and see that the name of some unattached lord or other is always associated with theirs. It will be put in their cables, and help to damn Reid in the eyes of his friends—and that’s about all, isn’t it?”

TIRED YOUTH: “And supposing they kick up a row, don’t you know, if they’re not asked to any of the really swaggah things?”

HIGH OFFICIAL: “My dear boy, if they try anything of that sort on, have them bayoneted by the soldiers the moment they show their noses at the gate. Fill up these P.C. forms, and see that you don’t fill ’em up wrong. And now I’m off to the Club. Just be decently civil to these people, but don’t go too far, because, you know, by this time next year they will probably be back in their shops selling sugar—I’m certain that man Reid sells sugar, by the look of him. Au revoir!”

Cable item: All preparations have been made for the reception of the Australian Premiers in London, and they will be the principal items of the Jubilee.

The Bulletin, 17 July 1897


“Where The Dead Men Lie, And Other Poems”
By Barcroft Henry Boake

A Review

The latest edition to Australian literature comes to us in the form of a volume entitled, Where the Dead Men Lie and Other Poems, by Barcroft Henry Boake, published by Messrs Angus and Robertson of Sydney. The book comprises about thirty short pieces of verse, and a memoir of the life of the writer, containing extracts from letters written by Boake at various periods of his career and various details of his life, supplied by friends.

Before dealing with Boake’s work, it is advisable to glance at the memoir and see by what manner of man, and under what circumstances that work was done. Boake’s letters show us his temperament—very variable, as the artistic temperament always is, but on the whole despondent and sensitive; and it is no wonder that his hard life—that of a surveyor’s assistant and drover, spent among the rugged mountains of Kiandra, and the plains and sandhills of the far west—in time worked on that temperament, till, in a fit of depression, he committed suicide.

The bush is not a good home for melancholiacs. In the long days in the saddle, and the silent lonely watches by the camp fire, queer impulses and thoughts come to a man. Life, human and otherwise, seems of so little account in the bush. Where the sheep and cattle perish by hundreds in hopeless misery, where accident and sickness lie in wait for the strong man, it is not wonderful that a man of morbid temperament at last regards his life as a matter of little value, and ends it on slight provocation. And yet Boake loved the bush, and when in good spirits could appreciate it to the full. He says, “I might have been jogging along in monotonous respectability as a civil servant: but they don’t live, these men, they only vegetate. We have a pleasure and excitement in our work that they never feel.” In another letter he gives the following beautiful pen picture of cattle in camp: “There is pleasure in the dead of night to find yourself alone with the cattle; all the camp asleep, perhaps, only a red spark betokening the camp. I always, when I think of it, find something unearthly in this assemblage of huge animals, ready at any moment to burst forth like a pent-up torrent, and equally irresistible in their force. When every beast is down, asleep or resting, just pull up and listen. You will hear a low, moaning sound, rising to a roar, then subsiding to a murmur, like a distant surf—or, as I fancy, the cry of the damned in Dante’s Inferno. When the cattle are like that, it is a good sign. But in the moonlight, this strange noise, the dark mass of cattle with the occasional flash of an eye, or a polished horn catching the light, it always conjures up strange feelings in me; I seem to be in some other world. If I could only write it, there is a poem to be made out of the back country. Some man will come yet who will be able to grasp the romance of western Queensland, and all that equally mysterious country in central and northern Australia. For there is a romance, though a grim one—a story of drought and flood, fever and famine, murder and suicide, courage and endurance.”

This letter was written before Boake had done any noticeable literary work; later on he himself, in the poem, “Where the Dead Men Lie”, wrote the romance of that “mysterious country” in lines that simply startle the reader with their vivid word painting and depth of feeling.

Such, then, was the author of this book—a moody, thoughtful, despondent man, moving among the solitudes of the Australian bush, feeling to the full at once their eerie charm and their grim desolation. This appreciation of the romance of the bush is not a rare gift, though, strangely enough, the man who could have made best use of it, Henry Lawson, seems to be absolutely without it. Most bushmen feel the influence of the intense stillness of a night out on the plains when the tropical stars blaze overhead, and the dimly seen clumps of saltbush and low scrub look like the encampment of a mighty army; but to very few is it given to express their feelings in such words as came with the poetic inspiration to Barcroft Henry Boake. It is necessary to say “with the poetic inspiration”, because without it Boake sank to a very medium level. In fact, his work is so uneven that on reading over the various pieces, it would be difficult to believe that they are all one man’s work, if one did not fully realise that in his best pieces the spirit of the bush took hold of him, and he spoke as one possessed. In his uninspired work he was rather a poor literary craftsman, writing without any of the vigour and dash that might have atoned for other shortcomings. For instance, what could be feebler than such work as this:

How well I remember the Fifth of November,
When Jack and his little mare Vanity fell;
On the Diamantina there never was seen a
Pair who could out a beast half as well.

Or this again:

He asks if I knew little Poll! Why, I missed her
 As often, I reckon, as old Mother Brown,
When they lived at the Flats, and old Sam went a burster
 In Chinaman’s Gully, and dropped every crown.

The book abounds in narrative verse dealing with bush incidents; but as a rule this work is flat, dull, and unprofitable. The two examples given above are, perhaps, of the worst; but in very few of the narrative pieces do any thrilling or dashing lines occur. It is strange that an excitable, emotional man, as Boake evidently was, should have failed to convey any excitement or emotion in such verses. For instance, here is a description of how a child rode a racehorse:

Oh! Gaylad was a beauty,
 For he knew and did his duty,
Though his reins were flying loosely, strange to say, he never fell:
 But he held himself together,
 For his weight was but a feather
Bob Murphy when he saw him, murmured something like, “Oh, Hell!”

Very much better in style are “Featherstonhaugh” and “Jack Corrigan”, in both of which pieces some really spirited lines occur, and a fairly high level is maintained throughout; but as a whole, the narrative verse, of which the bulk of the book consists, is not by any means good, though there is one notable exception, “‘Twixt the Wings of the Yard”, mentioned hereafter.

Of purely imaginative verse there is little. “A Song” contains some pretty, though not very new lines:

She lay and laughed on a lazy billow,
 Far away on the deep,
Who had gathered the froth for my lady’s pillow,
Gathered a sparkling heap.
And the ocean’s cry was the lullaby
That cradled my love to sleep.

In the verses, “A Wayside Queen”, there occur some beautiful lines recalling Swinburne:

She is sweet as white peppermint flowers,
And harsh as red gum when it drips
From the heart of a hardwood, that towers
Straight up: she hath marvellous powers
To draw a man’s soul through his lips
With a kiss like the stinging of whips.

Once only does our writer drop into humour, and in the story of Josephus Riley, from the “North Countree”, he has told the history of a bush joke in such splendid style that one wishes he had more often risen from the depths of his narrative verse, or descended from the heights he had more often risen from the depths of his narrative verse, or descended from the heights of his true poems, and written a little more of this kind of thing. It is not a very high class of verse, but if it is well done, it is better than bad description and unpathetical pathos. He of verse, but if it is well done, it is better than bad description and unpathetical pathos. He tells us how:

The rum was rich and rare,
There were wagers in the air,
The atmosphere was rosy and the tongues were wagging free;
But one was in the revel,
Whose occiput was level
Plain Josephus Riley, from the North Countree.
The conversation’s flow
Was not devoid of blow,
And neither was it wanting in the mild, colloquial D.
With a most ingenious smile:
“This here is not my style,”
Said plain Josephus Riley, from the North Countree.
“And I wouldn’t be averse
To emptying my purse,
And laying some small wager with the present companee.
To cut the matter short,
Foot-racing is my forte,”
Said plain Josephus Riley, from the North Countree.

Josephus backed himself to run 300 yards against a horse whose rider had to drink a cup of tea before starting; but how Josephus won it the reader should find out for himself.

The really first-class work in the book consists of three pieces, “‘Twixt the Wings of the Yard”, “At the J.C.”, and “Where the Dead Men Lie”.

The first is a wonderfully vivid and swinging description of a mob of cattle crowding their way into a stockyard. Every incident is true to nature, and thoroughly well told.

Hear the loud swell of it, mighty pell-mell of it,
Thousands of voices all blent into one.
See hell-for-leather now, trooping together now,
Down the long slope of the range at a run.
Dust in the wake of ’em, see the wild break of ’em,
Spearhorned and curly, red, spotted and starred.
See the lads bringing ’em, blocking ’em, ringing ’em,
Fetching ’em up to the wings of the yard.

That is a splendid description of the din and tumult of a big mob of cattle. Read this also:

Watch the mad rush of ’em, raging and crush of ’em,
See when they struck, how the corner post jarred.
What a mad chasing, and wheeling, and racing, and
Turbulent talk ‘twixt the wings of the yard.

“At the J.C.”, is a poem founded on the discovery of a dead man in the bush.

None ever knew his name,
Honoured, or one of shame,
High-born or lowly.
Only upon that tree,
Two letters, J. and C.,
Carved by him, mark where he
Lay dying slowly.
Were Fate and he at war?
Was it a penance, or
Is it a glad release?
Has he at length found peace,
Now death has bid him cease
Now, wind across the grave,
Tuning a sultry stave,
Drearily whistles;
Stirring those branches where,
Two silent ciphers stare,
Two letters of a prayer—
God’s Son’s initials.

This is fine verse, and in the final poem, “Where the Dead Men Lie”, the writer reaches his highest level. Everyone who knows the desolation of the central Australian country, the sense of loneliness that weighs upon the heart of the traveller, and remembers the occasional rude of loneliness that weighs upon the heart of the traveller, and remembers the occasional rudegraves by the wayside where men have died of thirst, will appreciate this poem. It embodies in a marvellous way the whole soul and feeling of that lonely land.

These are some of the verses.

Out on the wastes of the Never Never,
That’s where the dead men lie.
There where the heatwaves dance for ever,
That’s where the dead men lie.
That’s where the earth’s loved sons are keeping
Endless tryst. Not the west wind, sweeping
Feverish pinions, can wake their sleeping,
Out where the dead men lie.

Where brown summer and death have mated,
That’s where the dead men lie.
Loving with fiery lust unsated,
That’s where the dead men lie.
Out where the grinning skulls bleach whitely,
Under the saltbush, sparkling brightly,
Out where the wild dogs chorus nightly,
That’s where the dead men lie.

Only the hands of Night can free them;
That’s when the dead men fly!
Only the frightened cattle see them—
See the dead men go by!
Cloven hoofs beating out one measure,
Bidding the stockman know no leisure,
That’s when the dead men take their pleasure,
That’s when the dead men fly!

Ask, too, the never-sleeping drover:
He sees the dead pass by;
Hearing them call to their friends—the plover,
Hearing the dead men cry;
Seeing their faces stealing, stealing,
Hearing their laughter pealing, pealing,
Watching their grey forms wheeling, wheeling,
Round where the cattle lie.

In this poem, to use his own words, Boake has “grasped the romance of the mysterious country”, and embodies it in words of marvellous beauty and power.

What Boake might have done, had he lived, is a matter for conjecture. The fact remains that in the short space of eighteen months, he produced this poem and at least three others of more than average merit, while turning out a lot of hack work. The death of such a man is a loss to our scanty roll of writers.

The book is well got up, and is admirably illustrated by local artists; but the illustrations lose much of their value by being so reduced in size that all detail is lost. The “Memoir of Boake’s Life” is compiled by Mr A. G. Stephens, and Mr W. H. Ogilvie furnishes a set of introductory verses of considerable merit.

The Review of Reviews, 15 September 1897


The Cycloon, Paddy Cahill, And The G.R.

Far in the north of Australia lies a little-known land, a vast half-finished sort of region, wherein Nature has been apparently practising how to make better places. This is the Northern Territory of South Australia. Britain, it is said, thinks of establishing an Imperial naval station at Port Darwin. But let Britain beware! The Northern Territory has “broke” everybody that ever touched it in any shape or form, and it will break Britain if she meddles with it. The decline and fall of the British Empire will date from the day that Britannia starts to monkey with the Northern Territory.

This vast possession, which extends halfway down the continent of Australia, is not, strictly speaking, a part of the S.A. province. It is a Crown possession, handed over to the Adelaide folk to manage and work for their own loss, and for years they have poured their capital like water into this huge sink. And still, after swallowing two and a half millions of Government money, and Heaven only knows how much private capital, the place is steadily going seventy thousand a year to the bad. Year after year the South Australians have swallowed the same old wheeze about the immense undeveloped resources of “our magnificent Northern Territory”, and have hung on pluckily, in the hope of one day getting some of their money back—and possibly also in the fear of the N.T.’s resumption as a Crown colony, an event which would at once be followed by an influx of cheap Asiatics from Britain’s Eastern possessions. And, in fact, the Territory itself is now clamouring for the introduction of the cheap and nasty Chow, notwithstanding that it is breeding its own Chinky fast enough, in all conscience. The Territory people want more Chows, and would gladly cut loose from South Australia to get them. As for the trifle of two and a half millions that they owe, they would attend to that small matter after the wet season. In the Territory everything good is always going to happen after the wet season.

The capital of the Northern Territory is Palmerston on Port Darwin, a harbour little, if at all, inferior to Port Jackson. Palmerston is unique among Australian towns, inasmuch as it is filled with the boilings over of the great cauldron of Oriental humanity. Here comes the vagrant and shifting population of all the Eastern races. Here are gathered together Canton coolies, Japanese pearl divers, Malays, Manilamen, Portuguese from adjacent Timor, Cingalese, Zanzibar niggers looking for billets as stokers, frail (but not fair) damsels from Kobe; all sorts and conditions of men. Kipling tells what befell the man who “tried to hustle the East”, but the man who tried to hustle Palmerston would get a knife in him quick and lively. The Chow and the Jap and the Malay consider themselves quite as good as any alleged white man. In Japtown (the Easterner’s quarters) Chinese children by the dozen play about all day long in the dusty streets; gaily dressed cheerful little barbarians, revelling in the heat. The gold-fields are all worked by Chinese labour; hundreds of Chinese fossick about the old alluvial claims; fifty pearling tuggers go out every tide, carrying seven hands each, practically all coloured men—350 yellow, brown, and brindled vagrants moving backwards and forwards with the tide. And more boats building and more brindle-coloured Japanese arriving every month. To supply the needs of all these, there are stores of every kind in Japtown, and the storekeepers all deal with the East for their supplies. There is an Eastern flavour over everything; when the Palmerstonians want to gamble at the annual races they do it by Calcutta sweeps, an Eastern form of betting little known or practised elsewhere in Australia.

Palmerston is supported by the pearlers, the gold mines, and the Government officials. The Overland Telegraph ends at Palmerston and employs a large staff known as the O.T. men; and the Singapore cable which there leaves Australia, also employs a large staff of British and Australasian Telegraph (“B.A.T.”) officials. These, with a publican or two, the Government Resident (always referred to as “the G.R.”), a couple of lawyers, a doctor, a few storekeepers, customs and railway officials and Paddy Cahill, the buffalo shooter, pretty well make up the white population of a place upon which the Government has nevertheless squandered money madly. The huge jetty cost £70,000 and here it was well finished the teredo had eaten the piles away, and a gigantic crane, that had just been erected, fell into the water with a mighty splash. It is there still, but they will get it out “after the wet season”. Also, the little tin-pot railway to Pine Creek cost a million and doesn’t pay working expenses; and yet S.A. Parliament talks of spending nine millions in prolonging this useless railway down the centre of the continent.

There’s a curse on all N.T. undertakings. Private enterprise, as represented by Fisher and Lyons, Dr Brown, and many other “big” men of the past, has poured into it hundreds of thousands of pounds in cattle stocking and so on. What is there to show for it all? When not dead, the cattle are unsaleable, because there are no markets. Not a station in the Territory today would fetch at auction half the money it cost; not a mine in the Territory pay steady interest on its capital. Sugar planting and quinine planting have failed; the blacks now hunt for wild goose eggs on the lagoons at Sergison’s abandoned sugar plantation and the wild buffaloes wallow in the swamps below Beatrice Hills where the quinine was. Once, though, a ray of hope broke the gloom when ruby-like gems were discovered in the MacDonnell ranges. These stones look exactly like rubies, which at their best are far more valuable than diamonds, and as they lay about in any quantity it was thought for a while that the Territory was Saved. A few three-bushel bags were hastily filled with “rubies” and sent to England. Alas, the curse of the Territory was on those stones—the English experts on examination pronounced them no more than worthless natural simulacra of the ruby. The gold mines were rich down to water level; but there the ore became refractory, and now all the mining is surface. A few market riggers bought a lot of mines from the Chinese for about £17,000 and then subdivided these properties, and watered the capital till it now stands at about £90,000 nominal value. But subdivide and water as they like, they are still the same £17,000 worth of Chinese gold mine and apparently not likely to pay interest on even that modest capital. Out in the ranges are all sorts of prospectus claims—some of them good shows; but no one does any work in the Territory. They put everything off till “after the wet season”. It is the land of Later On. If a Northern Territory man knew that his mine was full of gold, he would not dig it out. He would sit down and wait for a Chinaman to come along and take it on tribute. If no Chinaman came, he would “send it Home to float”. Said one miner, “I’d sooner be in W.A. on one feed a day than be on good gold here. They don’t ’elp a man to do nothin’ here. If the G.R. would only let us have a Guv’ment battery we might get some stone out and have a crushin’.” And there he sat waiting for a Government battery. Waiting—always waiting, that is the typical Northern Territory attitude. The old brisk days have gone; the pushing men have departed; and those who have stayed have got the white-ant in their systems. There is always a wet season just past or coming. If it is past, they wait “till the ground dries”; and by the time it is dry they think the next wet season might come early, and they—wait!

The Government sent up a buoy to mark a dangerous reef. The buoy was taken out with great ceremony, and anchored over the reef, and immediately sank. They didn’t get it up again. It is at the bottom of the sea now, and the reef is unmarked. Another buoy got adrift from a dangerous reef; this buoy was cruising Vernon Straits for some time, but no one fetched it back. When some lepers were discovered at Palmerston once, a leper station was formed at a little island in the harbour, and the lepers were landed there with great precaution, but as soon as the tide went down (it falls 24 feet) the lepers calmly waded ashore and returned to town. Nobody bothered any more about them.

There is only one great landmark in Palmerston history—the cyclone which some years ago blew the town down. A lot of it isn’t rebuilt yet. This atmospheric disturbance, locally known as “the cycloon” is one of the three topics of conversation in Palmerston; the second is the Government Resident (the G.R.). He is an English barrister, and, in his own person, Supreme Court, Head of the Mining Jurisdiction, Protector of Blacks, and Police Magistrate. No wonder they talk about him. Good man for the position too as he doesn’t care a damn for anybody, and, starting from that safe basis, discharges his varied duties with a light heart. The third subject of discussion is Paddy Cahill, the buffalo shooter; he is popularly reported to pursue the infuriated buffalo at full gallop, standing on his saddle, and dressed in a towel and a diamond ring, and yelling like a wild Indian. The trinity of the N.T.; the cycloon, the G.R., and Paddy Cahill! The inhabitants sit about the shady verandahs and drink, and talk about one or all of these three. They start drinking square gin immediately after breakfast, and keep it up at intervals till midnight. They don’t do anything else to speak of, yet they have a curious delusion that they are a very energetic and reckless set of people. But it’s all talk and drink. Palmerston is the city of booze, blow, and blasphemy. There is an Act compelling a publican to refuse drink to an habitual inebriate. This is locally known as the “Dog Act” and to be brought under the Dog Act is a glorious distinction, a sort of V.C. of Northern Territory life.

To sum up, the Northern Territory is a vast, wild land, full of huge possibilities, but, up to now, a colossal failure. She has leagues and leagues of magnificent country—with no water. Miles and miles of splendidly watered country—where the grass is sour, rank, and worthless. Mines with rich ore—that it doesn’t pay to treat. Quantities of precious stones—that have no value. The pastoral industry and the mines are not paying, and the pearling, which does, is getting too much into Jap hands. The hordes of aliens that have accumulated are a menace to the rest of Australia. Nevertheless, the white folk there are hospitable to a fault. The strangers within their gates never have a dull moment—nor a sober one—if the inhabitants can help it. And, after all the hard things I have written about it, I would give “my weary soul” to be back in Palmerston in that curious lukewarm atmosphere and watch the white-sailed pearling boats beating out; to see the giant form of Barney Flynn, the buffalo shooter, stalking emu-like through the dwarfish crowd of Japs and Manilamen; to be back once more with the B.A.T. and the O.T. and Paddy Cahill and the G.R., while the Cycloon hummed and buzzed on the horizon; or to be in the buffalo-camp with Rees and Martin, shooting big, blue bulls at full gallop, or riding home in the cool moonlight with the packhorses laden with hides.

If you’ve heard the East a’callin’ you don’t never heed naught else.

And the man who once goes to the Territory always has a hankering to get back there. Some day it will be civilised and spoilt; but up to the present it has triumphantly overthrown all who have attempted to improve it. It is still “the Territory”. Long may it wave!

The Bulletin, 31 December 1898


Buffalo Shooting In Australia

Very few people in Australia know anything about the buffalo shooting to be had in that great tract of country to the north of South Australia known as the Northern Territory. Many people profess to know all about it and are very free with most extraordinary information on the subject. For instance, many will tell you that the buffaloes are not real buffaloes at all, but simply cattle gone wild; that they are Indian Brahmin cattle, very small and quiet; that there are no buffaloes at all, they were all shot out long ago; that the buffaloes are in myriads, but that they retreat to the dense jungles, where no one can follow them; that they are water buffalo, and never leave the water, and can only be captured by an expert swimmer; that they are land buffalo and are shot on foot, and are no sport at all, as one cannot well miss them, they being as big as haystacks; that they are always shot from horseback, the buffaloes preferring that method, and that the whole business is so rough and dangerous that no one but a lunatic would attempt it. Among these various statements one soon gets confused, and reference to the literature on the subject does not make matters much more cheerful. Rudyard Kipling describes the wild buffalo as “the nastiest tempered animal in the jungle”, while Lydekker’s Natural History states that “buffaloes are by far the boldest and most savage of the Indian Bovidae, and a bull not infrequently attacks without provocation. A wounded animal of either sex often charges, and has occasionally been known to knock an elephant down”; and the Badminton Library of Sport states that a buffalo would “charge an elephant before or after being wounded”. Fortified and cheered by these assurances, I went to Port Darwin per s.s. Guthrie to make the closer acquaintance of these formidable animals, and to see what sport buffalo shooting could afford.

The Indian buffalo is the animal which is hunted in our Northern Territory. They were brought from the island of Timor to the settlement on Melville Island about 1829. This island is close to the northern shore of Australia. Later on, that settlement was abandoned and a fresh settlement was made at Port Essington, on the mainland of Australia, and at this settle-ment also a few pairs of buffaloes were introduced from Timor. Both settlements were abandoned and the buffaloes were left to their own devices and they ran wild. The country must have suited them, as both on Melville Island and the mainland they increased at an amazing rate.

They are ungainly, savage-looking brutes, having a dull, bluish-coloured hide and enormous horns. They have little affinity to domestic cattle, and will not inter-breed with them. They are almost hairless, and the hide is enormously thick. The place where they are found is a tract of coast country on the extreme northern shore of Australia. Here are vast rolling plains, very little higher than sea level, covered with coarse jungle grass, reeds and bamboos. For three or four months of the year in the wet season the whole of the plains are under water, and in this swamp and quagmire the buffaloes make their home. They eat, and thrive on, any kind of green thing—grass, reeds, rushes, bamboos, water lilies, even mangrove leaves, all come alike to the buffaloes. The country is too sour and washy for cattle, but these animals are just suited by it. They are built very much like pigs, being tremendously deep in the body and broad in the back, with short powerful legs. They stand as high as a bullock and are much more solid. It was some years before anyone discovered that their hides were of any value, and during those years they throve and multiplied unmolested. The stockmen on the cattle camps used to see them walk right in among a mob of cattle, give a snort or two and a threatening shake of their huge horns and stroll out again unconcerned. They were then perfectly fearless of men or horses. Later on, the cattle stations were abandoned, and the country given up to the buffaloes, which then numbered thousands. It was ascertained that their skins had a market value of about fifteen shillings for large hides, and a few men began to shoot them for the hides. At first the shooting was done on foot, but this was found too slow, too unprofitable, and too dangerous, and soon some of the dashing cattle men of the Territory took the matter up in earnest and started shooting from horseback, which is the plan that now prevails. It was found that the strength of the buffaloes was so great and their vitality so wonderful that half a dozen bullets would not stop them, but at last the shooters discovered that a bullet fired into the loins from above would paralyse the hindquarters, and cause the animal to drop in his tracks. This was the only method of shooting them that could be made to pay. If the beasts were shot anywhere else they would not fall at once, but would stop and charge, and, while the shooters were reloading to despatch a wounded animal, the rest of the herd would be making the best of their way to cover, and would ultimately escape. Even if mortally wounded, a buffalo will usually struggle on for half a mile or so before he drops, and in the long jungle grass the skinners could not find the carcase. So that it became evident, if the shooters wished to get a living at the business, they had to be prepared to race right alongside the buffalo and shoot downwards into the loins alongside the spine. This particular part of the animal can only be reached from above, as the high hips and croup protect the loins from any bullet fired from behind. Thus there was evolved the present method of buffalo shooting, where the shooter, holding the carbine in one hand like a pistol, races right alongside the buffalo and fires at full gallop, taking his chance of the animal wheeling and attacking him either before or after he fires. If the shot is properly placed, the buffalo drops as if struck by lightning, and the shooter races on after the flying herd, reloading as rapidly as he can for his next victim. An expert shooter will drop buffalo after buffalo at an average distance of two hundred yards apart, never needing more than one bullet to each, while a novice, not knowing the correct place to fire at, may shoot eight or nine bullets into a buffalo without bringing him down.

It is easy to understand that there is great danger in racing up alongside an animal that can “knock over an elephant”, and firing at him at such very close quarters. Still, if the men wish to get a living they have to do it, and it is marvellous how expert both men and horses become.

Having dealt so far with the buffaloes, it is only right to introduce the reader to the shooters and their horses. The shooters are, as a rule, men who have been stockmen—bold, fearless riders, with any amount of nerve; men who undertake the riding of unbroken horses, and the management of vindictive wild cattle, as a regular part of their lives. Usually a couple of men go into partnership as shooters, taking their buffalo horses and some twenty or thirty pack horses. They set out to the great coast plains and pitch their camp alongside the local blacks’ camp, and enlist all the able-bodied blacks of the tribe in their service. Their stores consist of flour, tea, sugar, Worcester sauce, salt, and arsenic for the hides, and unlimited cartridges. For meat they eat buffalo beef, which is first-class, especially the tongues and tails. They use a small tent for the stores, but always sleep out in the open themselves, with no shelter except their mosquito nets. On these low-lying plains, amid the swamps and reed beds, the mosquitoes are something to shudder at. I have seen and felt mosquitoes at Port Hacking, the Hawkesbury, Hexham (where the famous Hexham greys come from), on the Castlereagh, in Gippsland, on the Diamantina and the Dawson River in Queensland, but all these places put together could not furnish enough mosquitoes to act as trumpeters for the vast mosquito army that every night spreads itself over the whole face of nature in the buffalo country. A stout cheese cloth mosquito net is the first and indispensable requisite of every man’s outfit in this country. It never rains in the dry season, and, winter or summer alike, the temperature, day or night, is always blazing hot. The shooters make little or no pretence at camp, simply rigging their mosquito nets on a couple of sticks and spreading their blankets on the hard ground. The black gins do the cooking, such as it is.

From this it may be gathered that a buffalo shooter’s life is not one of refinement and luxury. Hard and dangerous work and hard living make the men rough and ready, but they are genuinely good sportsmen and hospitable as Arabs. Their horses are a queer mixture. It is only one horse in a hundred that will make a buffalo horse. In addition to needing a lot of pace and determination, the horse has to be courageous enough to race right up alongside the formidable buffalo bulls and cool enough to dodge their onslaught if they wheel and charge without any warning, as they have a nasty way of doing. Added to this, the constant roar of the carbine close to their ears makes some horses timid and unmanageable. So that the shooters have to weed out the cowardly horses, the hot-headed, excitable ones, the lazy slow ones, and the timid gun-shy horses, and those that survive the ordeal are not selected for their style or quality, but simply because they have the requisite coolness and courage. These qualities are found to exist in most unlikely animals, and the crack buffalo horses of a camp comprise all sorts, shapes, and sizes, it being of course necessary that they are all fairly fast and up to weight. It is wonderful how clever they get. They watch every movement of the buffalo, being on the alert to swing off to one side at any moment if he wheels. If the ground is broken and cracked with great fissures, or crossed with water courses, they bide their time and rush up alongside the quarry with a great dash the moment they feel good ground under their feet again. And some of the older hands among the horses are cunning enough to tell at once a formidable old bull from a timid, frightened young cow, and they will race up alongside the cow boldly enough, but insist on running wide of the bull, causing the shooter to waste valuable cartridges and still more valuable time in his destruction.

Let us now give a description of a day’s shooting from the point of view of a stranger. Let us suppose our stranger has arrived in the camp overnight, with no experience—with nothing but a hopeful mind and a well-oiled rifle. He finds that the camp consists of a smal tent full of stores, while behind it are a few low rails that do duty as a catching place for the horses, and on which are deposited pack saddles, saddle cloths, bridles, riding saddles, hobbles and all manner of gear. Close round the tent are grouped the mosquito nets and blankets a the shooters, in close proximity to the nets and blankets of the black gins who do the cooking. A rough slab table with log seats occupies the foreground. A Chinaman, employed to skin buffalo, has his net and blankets a few yards away. Some pots, buckets, and cooking utensil; are scattered around. A few yards off in a clear space are stretched dozens of buffalo hides drying in the sun, and smelling villainously. And back of all, through the corkscrew palms and tree trunks, may be seen the small fires of the blacks’ camp, where the sable chieftain! and chieftainesses are sleeping off the effects of their daily gorge of buffalo meat. At bedtime the stranger crawls in under his mosquito net and tucks it well in under his blanket. His saddle does duty for a pillow. And so, on the hard ground, he lies awake and listens to the dull booming roar of the mosquitoes as they hustle each other in myriads round his resting place and the choking snores of the Chinese skinner who is sleeping in the next blankets. Fron away in the distance comes the howl of a dingo and the clink, clink of the horse bells; from a tree overhead a mopoke calls in wearisome iteration. And over all and above all is the steady, persistent stench of the drying buffalo hides. At dawn the camp is astir. The blacks are out after the horses, the gins are building the fire and frying buffalo steaks and boiling tea. The shooters emerge from their blankets yawning and stretching. Breakfast is soon despatched—buffalo beef, damper, and strong, black, well-stewed tea. The buffalo shooters, the Chinese skinner, and the stranger all feed together, each airing his views on any subject that occurs to him, while the gins sit silently by the fire and kill mosquitoes on their bare legs, By the time breakfast is over the horses are brought up by the blacks. The crack buffalo horses are usually given a nosebagful of much-cherished oats. The gins attend to this, and they are very solicitous that their pets get their full allowance and are not worked too many days consecutively. The Chinese skinner sharpens his knives to a razor-like keenness on an oilstone. The pack horses are first caught and saddled—some eight or nine of them. Then the black boys, or rather black men, catch their horses and mount, their clothing being limited to a very brief loincloth and a stick through their nose. The Chinese skinner climbs onto his quiet old nag. The shooters get their carbines out of the tent and strap on their belts filled with cartridges, and so they mount and away across the sunny plains at a slow jog, the pack horses, the blacks, and the Chinaman stringing slowly along in the rear. The sun is blazing down and the great plain dances and quivers in the heat as the procession straggles across it. In front the plain extends to the horizon, with never a tree to break the view—a vast, silent expanse of waving jungle grass, crossed here and there with watercourses and scarred with bare patches where fires have been. The procession moves along the edge of the plain, which is bordered by open paperbark forests, clumps of corkscrew palms, or dense jungles, where all sorts of tropical trees, creepers, and shrubs make a retreat impracticable to any animal except the thick-hided, heavy-horned buffalo. After riding perhaps a couple of hours one of the shooters says, “There’s buffalo!” The stranger sees far away on the plain some things that look like seven or eight large black mounds standing out solid against the back-ground of jungle grass. A hurried consultation is held. The animals are rather near the edge of the plain, and it all depends on the start they get whether the shooters can get to them before they reach cover. Girths are tightened, hats firmly jammed on, and the novice, with beating heart, rides steadily off with the two shooters towards the unsuspecting herd. The pack horses with their attendants pull up and watch the chase. Slowly and quietly the shooters approach the herd, the novice getting many whispered instructions on the way—to be sure and not fire till he can fire downwards into the loin, never to let his horse stand still when near a wounded buffalo lest the beast’s sudden charge take him by surprise, not to pull his horse about in broken ground, and so on and so on. Steadily they draw nearer the herd, until, when they are about three hundred yards off, one of the mounds suddenly lifts up a huge, black-muzzled, bull-like head, decorated with immense sickle-shaped horns, reaching right back to the animal’s shoulders. Instantly all the others throw up their heads, and stare for a few seconds with sullen fierce eyes at the intruders. Great ungainly brutes they look with their heavy shoulders and quarters. Suddenly they wheel and dash off at a lumbering canter towards the timber. “Come on”, yell the buffalo shooters, setting their horses at full speed, and the novice finds that his horse needs no urging once the game is afoot. Away they dash after the buffaloes, the horses making great springs through the long rank grass, exactly as if they were racing through a high and heavy crop of wheat. Under the crop of grass are all sorts of hidden dangers—great cracks in the ground made by the dry weather, huge circular holes where the buffaloes have wallowed, now overgrown and hidden with grass, patches of boggy ground where the water has lain. Over all these difficulties the horses go full speed with a cleverness really marvellous, every now and again “pecking” almost on to their knees, but recovering themselves smartly and racing on, always with their eyes fixed on the flying mob. The buffaloes settle to a slogging, clumsy gallop, and the novice expects to run up to them easily, especially as the shooters are riding desperately, just as if finishing a race, urging the horses to their very utmost, as the cover is very close, and if once the mob reach the shelter of the corkscrew palms they will be lost. The novice finds his carbine a terrible weight on one hand while galloping, and the occasional stumbles of his horse almost jerk it out of his grasp, and for all their hard riding they do not seem to be gaining much on the buffaloes. Suddenly they reach a patch of short grass and firm ground, where the horses are better suited, and they draw up close to the mob. The buffaloes scatter slightly, and the novice, now thoroughly winded with his gallop, holds the carbine out ready to fire and urges his horse after the nearest buffalo. Half-wild with excitement he tries to remember all the injunctions he got about firing, but the springing of the horse and the rolling gallop of the buffalo make it no easy matter to hold the carbine straight with one hand, more especially as the place to be fired at is not painted on the buffalo. His carbine points anywhere except the right place, and then, just as he intends to fire, the buffalo suddenly dodges to one side and makes for the timber at redoubled speed, while our hero pulls his horse round in pursuit. On they go, the novice having but one aim and object in life—to get the muzzle of the rifle up against that broad blue back. Suddenly, with sickening anxiety, he notices that the timber is very close, and without more ado he holds out the carbine and fires at about a dozen yards’ range. The quarry goes on with the same determined rolling gallop, giving no sign whether the shot has hit or missed, and the novice, with a dismal feeling of failure, clutches frantically at the lever of his carbine, ejects the cartridge, fumbles wildly in his belt for another, and jams it home just as the buffalo passes the first few outlying screw palms. Then there is a whiz and a rush of hoofs, and one of the professional shooters, sitting square in his saddle, dashes past the novice, shaves a palm tree or two by a hair’s breadth, and swoops down on the buffalo like a hawk on a pigeon. He has no trouble in managing his rifle and his horse, recognising the urgency of the case, brings him alongside the quarry in three or four bounds. The buffalo swerves at once, but the trained horse follows his every movement. The shooter leans forward holding out his rifle, elbow up and muzzle down, exactly like a man going to spear pig. Bang! goes the carbine, and through the jet of white smoke the novice sees the buffalo sink to the ground paralysed, shot through the loins, while the horse swings clear of his falling victim, and “I’m sorry to rob you of him, mister,” says the shooter apologetically, “but he would have got away in these palms.” The novice swallows his mortification, and asks how the two men got on. “Shot every one of the mob”, is the answer. And, sure enough, outside the palms lie all the rest of the herd, still kicking in the agonies of death. The skinners come up and the hides are soon stripped off by the blacks and Chinaman and fastened on the pack saddles.

After a short rest to breathe the horses, another start is made out into the plain, and for an hour or two they jog on slowly, seeing no game until they have got right out into the solitude of the plain, and the nearest timber is a dim black line on the horizon. Suddenly, out of a mud hole, where he has been rolling, there rises a huge blue bull buffalo, a vast monster that glares fiercely at them and then turns to run. This is the novice’s opportunity—there is no cover for the animal to get into, and jamming his hat down and sending the spurs home he starts off alone in pursuit of the monster. So they tear across the plain, pursuer and pursued. How the wind whistles past! The horse gains slowly—he will not go as confidently with a strange rider as with his own master—and the novice, as he draws near, has plenty of time to note the fierce backward glances of the buffalo and the ominous swing, swing of those terrific horns as the bull labours along in his swaying gallop. The novice fully intends to race right alongside, but somehow, each time that he draws near either the bull swerves and gains a little, or the horse loses ground on some rough going, and the result is that when he does fire he is not quite close enough, and instead of hitting the loin the bullet buries itself in the buffalo’s massive hindquarters. Whoof! With a snort like a grizzly bear the bull wheels and charges his assailant, and all the rider’s previous efforts are as nothing compared to the dash he puts into his riding while urging his horse out of harm’s way. The bull follows for a hundred yards or so, and then, finding himself outpaced, wheels suddenly off and resumes his dogged canter. The novice canters after him, reloading as he goes, and then goes up for a second shot. The horse will not draw up close to a wounded bull; he knows too much for that. He swings off, and our hero gets a broadside shot, a red spurt of blood showing where the bullet has struck just behind the shoulders. Round comes the bull for another charge, and again the wary horse takes his rider out of harm’s way. The bull stands for a while, then pretends to retreat, but wheels suddenly round and charges again, and this time the novice really thinks he is caught, so rapid is the onset. A slip or stumble would be fatal, but the horse draws away, and the bull “bails up”, charging everyone that comes near. Another bullet or two tell their tale, and soon the large creature sinks to the ground and expires without a sound. The novice receives the congratulations of the shooters on getting his first buffalo, but he feels in his heart that it was a case of buffalo assassination rather than legitimate shooting, and he resolves to do better in future. So the day wears on, small mobs being met with and shot right out, the patient skinners following up and getting the hides. Incidents there are in plenty. A buffalo swerves so suddenly that the man’s boot brushes against the animal’s forehead as the horse springs clear of the charge. A bull bails up in a patch of bamboo and makes sallies out of it and hurried retreats into it, trying to draw his foe in after him. Once he gets in, instead of running away he craftily hides behind a patch of thick bamboo and waits for someone to follow him. More and more hides are got, and the novice feels a glow of pride as he gets his first clean shot home in the loins, and sees his buffalo fall to one bullet. The pack horses are loaded until each has as much as he can stagger under. The sun sinks low, and a start is made for home, the shooters riding slowly on in front, the pack horses stringing after them, and the blacks silently smoking in the rear. The sun goes down and the moon rises, flooding the plain with a glorious golden light. A few wild buffaloes come sniffing up to the procession and bolt away again into the darkness. Far away is the glow of the campfire, and when the shooters reach it they have to unload the hides, eat their rough food in the smoke of the fire to protect themselves from mosquitoes, and so straight off to bed. There is no such thing as sitting about and talking in the camp where the mosquitoes make life outside the mosquito nets an absolute purgatory.

Such is life in a buffalo camp—about the last remaining relic of the old wild days. It is life as it was in the beginning of things. Risk and roughness there no doubt are. Sometimes the horses are killed by charging buffaloes and the riders seriously hurt. One of the Melville Island shooters was speared through the shoulder by a wild black, and the man who wants his sport combined with luxury had better leave buffalo shooting alone. But it is a rare experience to anyone who is not afraid of roughing it a little. Besides the buffalo shooting there is any amount of other game—alligators, dingoes, wild fowl and ducks, and pigeon and quail and snipe in thousands. But this sort of shooting is tame after the rushing gallop alongside the fierce buffalo bull. And it is satisfactory to know that the supply of buffaloes shows no signs of diminishing. In the visit that I have endeavoured to record here, which took place in September 1898, our camp shot 100 buffalo in a week. The two professional shooters had got 700 in three and a half months’ shooting, and this sort of thing has been going on for years. Anyone intending to go up may be sure of getting plenty of game, and the shooters will be glad to take anybody into the camp who cares to go, but as the men are shooting for a living they would have to be paid for the use of their horses and their loss of time. A party going up could make quite a comfortable trip of it by going round by sea from Port Darwin, but the intending visitor must remember that the Northern Territory is a “land of lots of time”, and he cannot plan his trip (like the Americans planned their war) to get his buffalo and be back for lunch. All arrangements take time to make, and anyone desiring to go up should make inquiries long beforehand as to means of transport, etc., from the Eastern and Australian Steamship offices, on whose ships most of the hides come down.

(Since the above article was written news has reached Sydney of the murder of two buffalo shooters by the blacks. No details are to hand, but it will probably be found that drink had a good deal to do with it, as the blacks are quiet enough unless interfered with. Still, our black brother in the north is a child of impulse, and there is no saying how small a matter may have caused the attack. It was hard that, after finishing their season’s shooting safely, these men should be killed by their own blacks. But it is all in the season’s risk—the man who goes buffalo shooting has to reckon this chance in with his other risks. And it speaks well for the men and their management of the blacks that casualties are so few.)

The Sydney Mail, 7 January 1899


Bush Justice

The town of Kiley’s Crossing was not exactly a happy hunting ground for lawyers. The surrounding country was rugged and mountainous, the soil was poor, and the inhabitants of the district had plenty of ways of getting rid of their money without spending it in court.

Thus it came that for many years old Considine was the sole representative of his profession in the town. Like most country attorneys, he had forgotten what little law he ever knew, and, as his brand of law dated back to the very early days, he recognised that it would be a hopeless struggle to try and catch up with all the modern improvements. He just plodded along the best way that he could with the aid of a library consisting of a copy of the Crown Lands Acts, the Miner’s Handbook and an aged mouse-eaten volume called Ram on Facts that he had picked up cheap at a sale on one of his visits to Sydney. He was an honourable old fellow, and people trusted him implicitly, and if he did now and then overlook a defect in the title to a piece of land—well, no one ever discovered it, as on the next dealing the title always came back to him again, and was, of course, duly investigated and accepted. But it was in court that he shone particularly. He always appeared before the police magistrate who visited Kiley’s once a month. This magistrate had originally been a country storekeeper, and had been given this judicial position as a reward for political services. He knew less law than old Considine, but he was a fine, big, fat man, with a lot of dignity, and the simple country folk considered him a perfect champion of a magistrate. The fact was that he and old Considine knew every man, woman, and child in the district; they knew who could be relied on to tell the truth and whose ways were crooked and devious, and between them they dispensed a very fair brand of rough justice. If anyone came forward with an unjust claim, old Considine had one great case that he was supposed to have discovered in Ram on Facts, and which was dragged in to settle all sorts of points. This, as quoted by old Considine, was “the great case of Dunn v. Dockerty—the ’orse outside the ’ouse”. What the ’orse did to the ’ouse or vice versa no one ever knew; doubts have been freely expressed whether there ever was such a case at all, and certainly, if it covered all the ground that old Considine stretched it over, it was a wonderful decision.

However, genuine or not, whenever a swindle seemed likely to succeed, old Considine would rise to his feet and urbanely inform the bench that under the “well-known case of Dunn v. Dockerty—case that Your Worship of course knows—case of the ’orse outside the ’ouse”, this claim must fail; and fail it accordingly did, to the promotion of justice and honesty. This satisfactory state of things had gone on for years, and might be going on yet only for the arrival at Kiley’s of a young lawyer from Sydney, a terrible fellow, full of legal lore; he slept with digests and law reports; he openly ridiculed old Considine’s opinions; he promoted discord and quarrels, with the result that on the first court day after his arrival, there was quite a little crop of cases, with a lawyer on each side—an unprecedented thing in the annals of Kiley’s Crossing. In olden days one side or the other had gone to old Considine, and if he found that the man who came to him was in the wrong, he made him settle the case. If he was in the right, he promised to secure him the verdict, which he always did, with the assistance of Ram on Facts and “the ’orse outside the ’ouse”. Now, however, all was changed. The new man struggled into court with an armful of books that simply struck terror to the heart of the P.M. as he took his seat on the bench. All the idle men of the district came into court to see how the old man would hold his own with the new arrival. It should be explained that the bush people look on a law case as a mere trial of wits between the lawyers and the witnesses and the bench; and the lawyer who can insult his opponent most in a given time is always the best in their eyes. They never take much notice of who wins the case, as that is supposed to rest on the decision of that foul fiend the law, whose vagaries no man may control nor understand. So, when the young lawyer got up and said he appeared for the plaintiff in the first case, and old Considine appeared a verdict for the defendant, there was a pleased sigh in court, and the audience sat back contentedly on their hard benches to view the forensic battle.

The case was simple enough. A calf belonging to the widow O’Brien had strayed into Mrs Rafferty’s back yard and eaten a lot of washing off the line. There was ample proof. The calf had been seen by several people to run out of the yard with a half-swallowed shirt hanging out of its mouth. There was absolutely no defence, and in the old days the case would have been settled by payment of a few shillings, but here the young lawyer claimed damages for trespass to realty, damages for trover and conversion of personalty, damages for detinue, and a lot of other terrible things that no one had ever heard of. He had law books to back it all up, too. He opened the case in style, stating his authorities and defying his learned friend to contradict him, while the old P.M. shuffled uneasily on the bench, and the reputation of old Considine in Kiley’s Crossing hung trembling in the balance.

When the old man rose to speak he played a bold stroke. He said, patronisingly, that his youthful friend had, no doubt, stated the law correctly, but he seemed to have overlooked one little thing. When he was more experienced he would no doubt be more wary. (Sensation in court.) He relied upon a plea that his young friend had no doubt overlooked—that was that plea of “cause to show”. “I rely upon that plea,” he said, “and of course Your Worship knows the effect of that plea.” Then he sat down amid the ill-suppressed admiration of the audience.

The young lawyer, confronted with this extraordinary manoeuvre, simply raged furiously. He asserted (which is quite true) that there is no such plea known to the law of this or any other country as an absolute defence to claim for a calf eating washing off a line, or to any other claim for that matter. He was proceeding to expound the law relating to trespass when the older man interrupted him.

“My learned friend says that he never heard of such a defence,” he said, pityingly. “I think that I need hardly remind Your Worship that that very plea was successfully raised as a defence in the well known case of Dunn v. Dockerty, the case of the ’orse outside the ’ouse.” “Yes,” said the bench, anxious to display his legal knowledge, “that case—er—is reported in Ram on Facts, isn’t it?” “Well, it is mentioned there, Your Worship,” said the old man, “and I don’t think that even my young friend’s assurance will lead him so far as to question so old and well-affirmed a decision!” But his young friend’s assurance did lead him that far, in fact, a good deal further. He quoted decisions by the score on every conceivable point, but after at least half an hour of spirited talk, the bench pityingly informed him that he had not quoted any cases bearing on the plea of “cause to show”, and found a verdict for the defendant. The young man gave notice of appeal and of prohibitions and so forth, but his prestige was gone in Kiley’s.

The audience filed out of court, freely expressing the opinion that he was a “regular fool of a bloke; old Considine stood him on his head proper with that plea of ‘cause to show’, and so help me goodness, he’d never even heard of it!”

The Australasian Pastoralists’ Review, 15 June 1899



The game of polo is of Indian origin, and has been played for countless years by the hill tribes in the north of India. These wild fellows play on very small ponies, and under a code of rules which never appears to be thoroughly understood by Europeans. A big drum accompaniment and a Nautch dance appear to be the leading features of the game, but for riding and hard hitting they are said to be unequalled by any players in the world. From those natives the game spread to the Indian Army, where it was taken up by the officers, and has become practically the main amusement of Indian cantonment life. Influenced possibly by the fact that the Indians used ponies of very small size, the Englishmen in India began with an absurd rule that no animal over thirteen hands three inches in height should be used in a game. This was supposed to ensure safety for the players, but as a matter of fact had the very opposite effect, as few ponies of that size can be got to carry heavy men without great risk of falling. The result, as might be supposed, was that severe accidents were very common. The players managed to raise the standard of height by a loose system of measurement, but even this did not give them the necessary scope in selection of horse flesh; and as the severe and sometimes fatal accidents still continued, the Commander-in-Chief published a regulation, which Kipling would call “a Solomon of a regulation”, to the effect that no ponies over the absolute standard height should be used. One hears from Indian traders that this regulation, is gradually being defied, and larger and larger ponies are being used; and some day they may come to the wisdom of using horses better able to cope with the weight on their backs. In England, on the other hand, the tendency of the game has always been to increase the size of the ponies, as the heavy riders find themselves unable to get safe mounts among the small ponies. The result is that fourteen hands two inch ponies are now used there, and severe accidents are very rare. It is of course only fair to say that the harder grounds of India make any fall a fairly serious matter, while in England a tumble on the soft turf does not mean much. In Australia, the height has been fixed at fourteen hands one inch, but it is practically certain that the English standard will be adopted, as our local players are hoping some day to sell their ponies in the English market, where as much as seven hundred guineas has been given for a well-trained pony. Merely to send rough, untrained ponies over would be very little use; these great prices are only fetched by animals that show first-class form in matches, and the buyers fondly imagine that by getting one of these ponies they are qualifying themselves to display championship form—forgetting that they are not buying the seat and hands of the man who has trained the pony.

It is hard to institute any comparison between Australian and English or Indian polo. As regards Australian polo, the Adelaide players for many years were the strongest team, and some great battles were played between them and the western districts of Victoria, a team that is now quite at the top of the tree. The Manifold brothers, having played together for many years, are now one of the strongest teams in Australia; yet last year, when they met a scratch English team (composed of the Hon. Arthur Brand, Captain Haigh, Major Bryan, and H. J. Hill), they were hard put to it to hold their own, each side winning a match, which shows that our standard of polo is not equal to the English form. Certainly Captain Haigh and Captain Brand are two players who would be equal to any two in England, but their comrades were not so strong, and the team had never played any matches together. The fact of a scratch four showing such form is convincing proof that a practised four of their class would over-match the Australian players. The Australian riding and hitting could not much be improved on, but there is a tremendous lot to learn in the matter of combination and skill.

The New Zealand players have brought their game to a great pitch of excellence, and a visiting team from that colony recently gave the Victorian champions some hard battles, the latter winning mainly through their skill in combination. The climate of New Zealand is very favourable to the breeding of a good class of pony. The mares are never starved, and the foals are always well looked after, the result being that New Zealand ponies are a well-rounded, well-furnished, sturdy lot of animals, and make New South Wales-bred ponies look quite weedy. Many of the New Zealand ponies are sold at large prices over here, averaging quite fifty guineas.

Polo in New South Wales has never been quite the success that it has in other colonies. The Hunter River players were the first to make a strong team, and for a while they were certainly the strongest players in New South Wales, Messrs White, Shannon, Shaw and Campbell being their possibly strongest players. The best Sydney four that has played were Messrs Watson, Hill, Paterson and Forrest. The Camden team, of whom Messrs Mackellar and Bell are shining lights, has always been a fast and dashing team. But at present the honours, so far as New South Wales is concerned, certainly rest with the Tamarang Club, a hard-riding, well-mounted team from some place at the back of Coonabarabran, or some other equally unpronounceable locality. At time of writing, they have just achieved a sensational win over the Manifolds’ team, beating them by five goals to four after a desperate game. The Manifolds’ team were thought so certain to win that a wager of a hundred pounds to twenty pounds was actually laid on them before the game started, and duly paid afterwards. The winners were much the lighter team, and their riding was a treat to witness. They owed their success to a dashing “number one”, and an exceedingly hard-hitting and accurate back. It was a great triumph for New South Wales, as the Manifolds’ team has not been defeated by any Australian team for many seasons.

Polo in England is mainly a military game, and no better training for riding, coolness, and dash could be found for a young officer. It is a pity that in Australia the military forces are hardly able, as a rule, to afford the expense of the game; indeed, all over the colonies it is the factor of expense which has kept the game confined to a select few, and hindered its growth.

In New Zealand and Victoria, where farming is gone in for and properties are small, it is easy for a team of young fellows living on their own properties to meet together for polo practice, and to work up quite a strong team. It is surprising what a number of really good teams there are in New Zealand, and this works up a healthy rivalry which keeps the game alive. In New South Wales, where squattages are forty miles apart, it is next thing to impossible to get up a team to practise together; in consequence country polo is very spasmodic, and the stimulus of matches against other clubs is lacking. Also the crucial question of £ s d is a large factor in keeping down the standard of play in this colony. Those who have the money to purchase first-class horses cannot ride them, and those who can ride them have not got the money.

It would be a good speculation to send to England a team of good players with well-trained ponies, as the latter would be certain of sale at good prices, provided they were well ridden. In fact sufficient profit should be made to almost cover the expenses of the trip. But it is a game that there is no gate money in, and among the class who play in England a five-pound note is less thought of than five shillings here; and any team going from here would need to be prepared to live at a pace that might shock our slower-going ideas on what expenditure should be. Some years ago all arrangements were completed for the visit of an Indian team to Australia. The team was to consist of officers of the army, under the leadership of the Maharajah of Cooch Behar, but there again the £ s d question nipped the project in the bud. It was intended that the teams should bring their own ponies, but as these would be at least two inches lower in height than the Australian ponies, the game could hardly have been a fair test. It is most probable that before long an Indian team will be got together to come down and play in Australia on ponies obtained locally. A good man can soon make a pony play, even though the pony is trained by another person. The last Indian team would have been a great attraction if the Maharajah had come with them, but it is understood that the British authorities thought it unwise for him to leave his own state at that time, owing to the unsettled state of affairs. Later on we may have the chance of seeing him and his team, and may then hope to learn a few wrinkles in the game of polo, which is so old that its origin is, according to the leading authorities on the subject, “shrouded in the hoary mists of centuries”. It is, perhaps, too much to hope that our players would hold their own with a really good, well-drilled Indian team; but in the matter of riding and hitting there is no fear that a team like the Tamarangs would not give a good account of themselves in any company.

The Australian Magazine, 6 July 1899


A War Office In Trouble

SCENE: War Office, London. Telephones are ringing, typewriters clicking, clerks in dozens rushing hither and thither at express rate. An atmosphere of feverish unrest hangs over everything. In the passages and lobbies crowds of military contractors, officials, newspapermen and inventors of patent guns have been waiting for hours to get a few minutes’ interview with those in authority. Mounted messengers dash up to the door every few seconds. In the innermost room of all, a much-decorated military veteran with a bald head, a grizzled moustache and an eyeglass is dictating to three shorthand writers at once, while clerks rush in and out with cablegrams, letters and cards from people waiting. On the table are littered a heap of lists of troops, army-contracts, and tenders for supplies, all marked “Urgent”. A clerk rushes in.

CLERK: “Cablegram from Australia offering troops, sir!”

MILITARY VETERAN: “No! Can’t have ’em. It has been decided not to use blacks, except as a last resource.”

CLERK: “But these are white troops, sir—the local forces. It is officially desired that they be taken if possible.”

MILITARY VETERAN: “Who is the Australian Commander-in-Chief? I didn’t know they had an army at all. I knew they had police, of course!”

CLERK: “There are seven distinct cablegrams, sir; seven distinct Commanders-in-Chief all offering troops.”

M.V. (roused to excitement): “Great Heavens! are they going to take the war off our hands? Seven Commanders-in-Chief! They must have been quietly breeding armies all these years in Australia. Let’s have a look at the cables. Where’s this from?”

C: “Tasmania, sir. They offer to send a Commander-in-Chief and” (pauses, aghast) “and eighty-five men!”

M.V. (jumping to his feet): “What! Have I wasted all this time talking about eighty-five men! You must be making a mistake!”

C: “No, sir. It says eighty-five men!”

M.V.: “Well I am damned! Eighty-five men! You cable back and say that I’ve seen bigger armies on the stage at Drury Lane Theatre. Just wire and say this isn’t a pantomime. They haven’t got to march round and round a piece of scenery. Tell ’em to stop at home and breed!” (Resumes dictation.) “At least five thousand extra men should be sent from India in addition to—”

C: “Cabinet instructions are to take these troops, whether they’re any good or not, sir. Political reasons!”

M.V. (with a sigh): “Well, let ’em come. Let ’em all come—the whole eighty-five! But don’t let it leak out, or the Boers will say we’re not playing ’em fair. Tell ’em to send infantry, anyhow; we don’t want horses eating their heads off.”

C. (interrupts again): “These other colonies, sir—are we to accept ’em all?”

M.V.: “Yes. Didn’t I say let ’em all come? There’ll be plenty of room for ’em in South Africa. They won’t feel crowded.” (Resumes dictation.) “The expenditure of a hundred thousand pounds at least will be needed to—”

C: “They want to know, if they pay the men’s fares over, will the British Government pay their return fares?”

M.V.: “Yes, I should think we would. We’ll put ’em in the front and there won’t be so many of ’em left to go back. If the colonies had any sense they’d have paid the return fares. Now, please go away and let me get to work”.

(Ten minutes later, clerk timidly reappears.)

C: “If you please, sir, another cable from New South Wales. They say they would sooner send artillery!”

M.V.: “Oh, blast it all! What does their artillery amount to?”

C: “One battery, sir”.

M.V.: “One battery! Well, they’ve got to come, I suppose. Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war. Stop their one battery if you can; but if not, let it come. And now go, and don’t let me have any more of you.” (Resumes dictation, and has just got to “the purchase of ten thousand horses” when the Clerk reappears.)

C: “Fresh cable, sir! Two circus proprietors in Sydney have presented six circus horses—”

M.V.: “Shivering Sheol! This is the climax! Six circus horses! Didn’t they say anything about a clown and pantaloon? Surely they wouldn’t see the Empire hurled to ruin for want of a clown. Perhaps they could let us have a few sword-swallowers to get off with the Boers’ weapons? Look here, now—hand the whole thing over to one of the senior clerks, and tell him to do exactly what he d— well pleases in the matter, but that if he comes in here to ask any questions about it, I’ll have him shot! Now go, and don’t you come here any more, or I’ll have you shot too. Take this cheque for a hundred thousand to the petty cash department, and tell that contractor outside that his tender is two millions over the estimate, and don’t let me hear any more of this blessed Australian army.”

* * * * * * * * *

Cable message: Some difficulty exists in ascertaining from the War Office whether the colonial troops will be expected to take their own saddles or not, and whether the officer commanding shall take one horse or two. It is not definitely known whether the offer of Fitzgeralds’ six circus horses will be accepted. Great enthusiasm prevails.

The Bulletin, 4 November 1899


A Visit To Basutoland

Part 1

All through the Transvaal war, the attitude of the Basutos has been a matter of great interest. They were described as being in “a state of unrest”, and only kept from joining in the strife by the exertions of the English commissioner, Sir Godfrey Lagden. From reading the reports one got the idea that there were about ten thousand raging savages rushing up and down along the border, dressed in war-paint and feathers, and brandishing assegais and knob-kerries, and only waiting an excuse to hurl themselves over the border and wade in blood. After General Hunter had captured Prinsloo, on the Basuto border, I came through Basutoland to have a look at those warlike people. We had some little experience of them during the war, as plenty of Basutos were working for the army as mule drivers and ox conductors, and so on. One black man was very impudent to an English officer, and when told that he must not speak in an impudent way he said, “Oh, I’m a Basuto! We always speak to white men that way in my country.” Whereupon the Englishman, in defiance of army rules, hit the Basuto a smashing blow in the face, knocking him off his feet, just to show him that he wasn’t in his own country, and couldn’t be impudent to his superiors with impunity.

While Hunter’s column was fighting in the Caledon Valley it was close on the edge of Basutoland, and the nearest civilian telegraph line available was in that country, so all the war correspondents used to try to get their messages over to Seribe, in Basutoland, because a long message could go from there quicker than a short message on an army line. One day two correspondents, of whom I was one, left Hunter’s column and rode down to the Basuto border, only about eight miles off, to see if we could get anyone to send down to the river with messages. We half expected to find the border lined with armed savages, ready to shoot at anything that moved, and we kept a sharp lookout as we rode down through the big bare hills that overlook the Caledon River, which forms the Basuto border. The river is only a mountain stream, and we could see across into Basutoland as we rode down to the border, but we saw no savages, nor any sign of life, except two little white tents on the river bank. At the crossing place we came unexpectedly on a little stone store, and the storekeeper (an Englishman) told us that the tents belonged to the Basuto Police, who were watching the border to prevent the Boers coming into Basutoland. He also explained that the police had orders to arrest all strangers, and bring them before the local magistrate. This put a sudden stop to all our flights of imagination about the Basutos and their savagery. Here we were threatened with arrest by a common policeman and with trial by a magistrate, when we had expected to meet assegais and other uncivilised weapons.

We had to get the messages away somehow, so we decided to chance being arrested, and rode up to the tents. Two English officers came out—a sub-inspector of Basuto Police, and a resident magistrate. They had been living for eight months in these tents with a staff of about 10 black policemen to prevent an army of 20,000 men coming over the river. The police were all fine, big blackfellows, dressed in a kind of drab uniform. They were all mounted police—in fact, all Basutos are mounted; never walk any distance. By the tents they had rigged up a sort of rough shelter for the men, and the horses were picketed in military fashion at the back. The officer in charge was very anxious to know all about the war. We asked him what good he expected to do with 10 men if the Boers had tried to cross the border. He said, “Oh, the police couldn’t do anything, but we could soon raise the villagers. The Basutos are all ready to fight, but they aren’t any too good with a rifle. They mostly have Martinis.” We asked him if the Basutos could shoot at all well, and he said, “Well, there’s one man here might hit a barn if he got inside it before he fired, but the others aren’t up to much.” These heroes were walking about very proud of their uniforms, and very military in their movements. They halted and wheeled sharply on being spoken to, and saluted very formally every time they addressed the officer. They were all fine, big men, black as the ace of spades, with tremendous chests and shoulders.

They were all fat and sleek, which the sub-inspector explained was owing to their living mostly on Kaffir beer—a rather venomous fluid according to European ideas, but it agrees with these men. It is made from Kaffir corn, and is a thin, washy liquor, about as strong as German lager, and the way these Basutos could drink it would have opened the eyes of any beer champion of a German University. We saw—but a truce to beer for the present, till we describe the country and the people a little. It doesn’t look well to rush onto the subject of beer the moment one is in a foreign country. Well, the sub-inspector said he could get us a messenger to go down to the telegraph station, 35 miles, for 5s, and one of the police went out in front of the tents, and lifted up his voice, and proceeded to “raise” a village about a mile and a half distant. He put his hands to his mouth and emitted a series of roars like a healthy bull, and soon from the little collection of red earth beehives on the far distant hillside there came an answering bellow, and for a few minutes they fog-horned to each other. Then the policeman turned and saluted formally, and said, “Man come soon.” We found that this shouting business is a great characteristic of the Basutos.

The country is all bare mountains with broad valleys between, and they call to each other across the valleys. The whole plateau is 5,000 feet above the sea, while the hills run up another 3,000 feet or so, and at that height the voice carries wonderfully through the thin air. They all have tremendous voices, and they think nothing of talking to a man a mile off. We waited for the messenger to come along, and soon he appeared—a tall, grim-visaged Basuto clad in a pair of tattered tweed pants, and a scarlet blanket wrapped round his body. He was riding a very fine, well-built pony. He took the telegrams and the 5s and disappeared on his 35-miles ride. Then, out of the red earth beehives, we saw the Basutos coming down to the camp to see the strangers. These were the “rude forefathers of the hamlet”—the leading citizens of the village of Matela’s Drift, which was the name of the crossing place where we came over the Caledon. The two white police officers went off to see General Sir Archibald Hunter, and we waited to interview the Basutos, and find out what they thought of the war, and what chance there was of their rising. The men who came down were all six-footers, at least, big black men with fine presence and great natural dignity. Each was dressed in a red, blue, or many-coloured blanket folded round the body, and secured by a big pin.

The chief was an evil-faced fellow, who was distinguished by having his blanket folded a different way from the others, and by wearing a curious conical fur cap. His natural dignity was enhanced by the fact that he was wearing a pair of old leather leggings, and as he had no trousers nor boots on, the leggings looked rather out of place and lonely on his bare shins, with his big bare feet beneath. He waved his hand with rapid grace in answer to our salutes, and all his followers, about 16 in number, sat them down, and conversation began by medium of one of the police, who spoke English. The natives all had a dull drugged look about their eyes; just like the eyes of the Australian Aborigines who smoke opium. I asked, “Do these men smoke opium?” but it seemed they had never heard of it. It turned out that they smoke a root called “dhar”, which they bury in the ground and suck up the smoke by a tube. This is like Indian hemp in its effects, and stupefies them if they smoke for long. We asked some questions as to what they thought about the war, but they seemed “fed up” on the war—wouldn’t evince any interest in it. But there was evidently some subject that was interesting them, as they chattered away to each other, and at last it came out—their one object in life was cattle. They knew that the English had just captured thousands of Boer cattle, and they wanted to get cattle. Would the army sell them the cattle or give them the cattle—those that were no good to eat? They wanted cows to breed from, and would give horses in exchange—Basuto horses, very good horses. It seemed that the rinderpest had killed nearly all their cattle a few years ago, and they wanted to stock up again. This was the only thing they took the slightest interest in. If they had “risen” in the late war, it would simply have been for the purpose of getting cattle; and they would not have been very particular whose cattle they took. Once they had broken out, it is not likely they would have stopped at cattle, and they would have looted and raided the Boer farms along the border, and as they can put about 10,000 men under arms, it would have been a terrible business.

The chief was under the idea that the army would give him six cows for a good horse, so he started to tell us about a horse he had, and the others all chimed in, singing the praises of this horse in true horsecoper fashion. Their horses certainly are excellent, being the result of a cross between the Arab, or African horse, and a lot of Shetland ponies that were imported to these mountains some years back by some patriotic Scotchman. They are all very square-built active animals, just the thing for campaigning, but the Basutos would not sell their own riding horses for love or money. All they would sell were the spare horses, and these they would not take money for if they could get cows. The cow is the currency of the place. When a Basuto can afford an extra wife—they have as many as 100 sometimes—he goes and buys a girl from her father at a fixed price in cows, with a fat bullock as a wedding present to the lady herself. This was explained to us by the policeman, who said that if the bridegroom failed to produce the fat bullock, the bride would go through the ceremony, but would refuse to enter the house, and would stand silently outside till he brought the animal. The bullock was a sine qua non. We asked if a man could sell a wife again—if he could make a profit on her.

Part 2

In my last article on Basutoland I described the first view of that country, and left off at the point where I was about to start down through Basutoland and pass the country of Joel, the would-be rebel chief. A war correspondent always travels on horseback, with his belong-ings carried in a cart drawn by two long-suffering veldt ponies. The white man who had been driving the cart had gone with despatches, so before starting down from Matela’s Drift to Joel’s country it was necessary to get a nigger man to drive the cart. The black police recommended a fine strapping nigger who they said spoke English perfectly, knew every-body, and would be of the greatest assistance in getting through the disturbed districts. I engaged him at 10s a week and his provisions, and started off in high feather, and it was not until we had gone some miles that I found the new acquisition could not speak any English. When I told him to take the horses out and give them a drink, he said, “Inkoosibaas!” which means, “O great white man!” This was a very gratifying title, no doubt, but when I found it was his only answer to every order he got, it was a rather serious business having a servant who did not understand a word you said. However, the procession had to go on, so we faced down through the Basuto country, prepared to encounter Joel and any of his people with a stout heart.

It was a most wonderful relief to drive through that Basuto country after having been so long at the war. The road ran down a sort of undulating flat with the great mountain peaks, covered with snow, towering upon either side of the plain. The flat was constantly intersected by small creeks running into the river, and at each of these creeks was a crossing so steep and rugged that it would have intimidated a Cobb & Co.’s driver of the olden time. All scattered along the plain or perched in on the side of the mountains were the little villages of the Basutos, with here and there a stone and galvanised iron roofed store, where some trader was located.

The Basutos themselves are a fine race, and poverty and sickness seem unknown among them. Their lands are all cultivated on a communal system, and they appear to yield enough to keep these simple people in comfort. As one drives through the country crowds of horsemen are met along the roads, all sitting well upright, their ponies ambling at a great rate. It takes a little time to get used to the shock of finding that the riders are all coal-black men. They always greet a stranger with the deep-toned, “Ai marai,” which is their form of, “Good day.” The correct answer to this is, “Ai,” and even the smallest children call out a friendly greeting as the traveller passes by their little flocks of sheep or cattle.

These children have one peculiar sport. They form a long row and walk across the veldt whistling in a shrill manner in imitation of a hawk. This calls up the small brown mousing hawk, which is very common in these localities, and when any mice or small birds run out before the feet of the youngsters the hawk flying overhead pounces on its prey, the children then rush forward and scare it with sticks till it drops the capture, which they at once secure. In fact, they go hawking on foot, using a wild hawk. It is an extraordinary sight, the long row of these black imps, with their keen eyes glancing from side to side as they tramp across the veldt whistling and shouting, while overhead flutters their brown accomplice, waiting for any kind of prey to get up. Another sport they have is to march in a row with their little playing assegais, and with these to transfix any small animal or lizard that runs out from in front of them.

Talking of assegais, the assegai as a war weapon is a ridiculous farce. No nigger can throw an assegai far enough to do any harm, nor accurately enough to hit anything less than a house. The old Boers used to fight desperate battles with these, which are described by their historians as terrible combats with thousands of naked savages, armed with the destructive assegai. As a matter of fact the assegai is about as much to be feared as the waddy or throwing stick of the Australian aboriginal, and it is much less effective than the Australian spear when thrown with a “womerah”.

After passing through some of the villages, Joel’s Kraal hove in sight. Joel is a small prince in the Basuto country, and his village is on the banks of the Caledon River. The first thing we met outside this village was a number of children coming out of a missionary school. They came out singing and dancing, that being part of their drill, but there did not seem to be much spontaneous light-heartedness about it. It rather resembled the efforts of the second row of the chorus when performing in an opera bouffe. It had a studied look about it.

Passing the mission school, Joel’s Kraal became unpleasantly close, the said kraal consisting of about two acres of ground on the bank of the river enclosed by a mud wall, the enclosure containing 50 or 60 small red mud houses, each like a beehive in shape. Around the mud wall a few waggons were drawn up, and behind the wall there stalked a large number of majestic Basutos, each carrying a rifle, and obviously forming part of Joel’s bodyguard. These people made no sign of greeting, but the villagers gave the customary loud, “Ai marai,” and it was soon evident that no danger was to be anticipated from Joel, even though he had written and offered to join the Boers—while his villagers were apparently not bothering their heads about either Joel or anything else in the world.

A curious procession came past out of the mass of red-roofed houses; a lot of clean-limbed, bronze-coloured Basuto women hurrying off to a dancing festival up on the hills. Some of them were carrying boots in their hands, intending no doubt to cut a great figure when the dances began. Some had European dresses resplendent with tawdry ornaments, but the general run had just a blanket wrapped round them. They are square-built, sturdy, little women. They shave the head quite close, and their brown faces and shaven heads stick out above the folds of the blanket somewhat like the bald head of the vulture from out of his ring of neck feathers. They all gave the Basuto good morning, and hurried on their way, obviously very keen indeed on the day’s enjoyment. Human nature is very much the same all the world over, and these little half-naked women off to their improvised ballroom were just as excited as a society belle going to a civilised dance. Unfortunately time did not allow of a visit to the dancing ground, but a single white trader, resident in Joel’s village, volunteered the information that Kaffir beer formed no inconsiderable part of the attractions. We thought that perhaps a man might buy a few “store” wives, and sell them as fats after a treatment of Kaffir beer. The Basutos think a great deal of a fat wife. The policeman explained the question to the others, who all laughed loudly. It seemed to strike them as inexpressibly funny that a man should think of selling a wife. Buying one was all right, but not selling her. This plurality of wives is the great obstacle to missionary work, as the natives stubbornly refuse to give up the wives that they have paid good cows for. When the rinderpest was bad no one had any cattle to buy wives with, so they evolved a system of buying wives by promissory note. The buyer took the wife, and handed over to her father a certain number of stones, daubed with white paint. Each stone represented an animal, and as he managed to get hold of the cattle he handed them over, and the stones were solemnly broken as each beast came in. We were not told what happened if the stones were dishonoured—if the husband failed to meet his engagements. Perhaps the lady went back to her parents, or perhaps he asked for time from his creditors. The subject would suit Gilbert for a comic opera—the old wife upbraiding her husband with bringing home new wives while she was yet unpaid for.

After a good deal of talk, the policeman said that, if we liked, the chief would send for some Kaffir beer, and, as we were quite agreeable, we walked over to the village, while some of the party conversed amicably with friends away up on the side of the mountain, their voices rolling and echoing through the passes.

At the village we found a lot of little red earth houses, shaped like circular beehives and covered with thatch. The wives of the Basutos, each dressed in the inevitable blanket, were bustling about, grinding mealies (Indian corn) on their mortars, or nursing their babies. The whole place was very clean. Each chief has a compound or square walled off with a mud wall, and inside this enclosure he builds a new house or “rondavel” for each wife. An old chief will have quite a village. The common people build their houses in some sort of order in a kind of street, and round each house is a little mud wall. Inside the house is a hard earth floor, and a few mats and blankets and gourds as furniture, but nothing to sit down on. They use no tables, nor chairs, and all hands sit on the ground. They make huge grass baskets to hold their mealies, and these baskets are always about the doors of the houses. The chief sat down at the door of his house and started sewing a basket while waiting for the beer. The policeman told us that the beer would be a shilling, so we had to pay for the entertainment. The beer was brought in a huge gourd carried on the head of a lady, who walked down a precipice with it without once putting her hands up to steady the gourd. It was sour, thin stuff, but the Basutos drank about a wash-hand basinful each, and all the time they talked about cattle. After a time the name of Joel came up. Joel was the next chief further down the river, and he had been fool enough to write to the Boers offering to join them. Perhaps he thought they would give him more cattle than the English. Anyhow, old Matela, the chief we were then entertaining, said that he knew Joel was in great trouble because the English had got hold of his letter to the Boers, and he expected Joel would be arrested. Joel had turned nasty, and had called in all his retainers, and had made a laager of his waggons, and had got all his assegais ready, and was waiting for the British nation to come and arrest him. As I had to go past Joel’s camp next day I expected at last to see a real live Basuto savage—not a cow-hunting, beer-drinking, old fraud like our then host; and how I met Joel and Jonathan and saw their country must keep for another article.

The Sydney Morning Herald, 15 December 1900


French’s Cavalry And Their Work

Of all the puzzles of the war, there is no greater puzzle than to find out what was the real value of the cavalry. French’s cavalry are supposed to have done better work than any other arm of the service, and yet we have an Australian cavalry officer who accompanied French’s troops stating his opinion that “the only place for the cavalry weapons (sword, lance, and carbine) is at the bottom of the nearest well”; and we have no less an authority than Conan Doyle saying that the lances and swords should be put in museums. How are we to reconcile these statements with the undoubted success of French’s cavalry operations?

The cavalry are a class by themselves. The officers of other branches of the army are more or less like each other, but there is nothing quite like the cavalry. The cavalry officer is a man who must have money, otherwise he can’t live in a cavalry regiment; usually he has breeding also, but the mere fact of his being an officer in a cavalry regiment confers a secure, unassailable superiority, which admits of no question. The cavalry officer fears no man. He has a light-hearted toleration of all other branches of the service, a superior patronising way of looking at them which makes them restive, and they all abuse the cavalry roundly and pick holes in whatever they do; but then, what matter? They are not cavalry themselves, and no amount of talk can make them cavalry, so it is not of the slightest importance what they think. And now in regard to what the cavalry did in the war. There are two kinds of reputation —firstly, public reputation, which is gathered from the illustrated papers and the music halls; the other is army reputation, which is based on practical knowledge. In the eyes of the public the cavalry were the heroes of the Transvaal campaign; in the eyes of the army they were the rankest failures. And this requires a little explaining. The duties of cavalry are to scout, to dismount and shoot if need be; and particularly to harass a flying enemy, to get in the rear of his position, to charge him when retiring, and to prevent his getting his guns and transport away. With this latter object in view the cavalry soldier is armed and trained for the work of fighting on horseback. That is the distinction between cavalry and mounted infantry. The latter only use the horse as a means of locomotion, and they only carry a rifle. The cavalry are supposed to fight on horseback, to bear down with swords or lances, and carry havoc into the ranks of the foe, and to have any hope of doing this effectively they must be able to ride well, and to use their weapons well. Every cavalry recruit is put through a severe course at a riding school, and unless he shows possession of light hands and a good seat on horseback he is rejected. The riding school is a hard course to go through, and even the rank and file of our own “dashing Australian horsemen” find themselves a bit troubled by it. What an outcry there was when it was heard that the New South Wales Lancers were being put through a course at the riding school. Fancy an Australian having anything to learn in the way of riding! And yet the men themselves admitted that the riding school test was too severe for most of them. The result of this careful selection and training is that the cavalry Tommy rides really well, a good firm seat and light hands being universal among them. In fact, one does not realise how well they ride till one sees them alongside mounted infantry. But for the loose movable fighting of the South African campaign the cavalry equipment was altogether ridiculous; all the army equipment was cumbersome, but cavalry equipment was the worst. The saddle and gear weighed no less than seven stone. Take, for instance, the equipment of a Lancer. He is hung all over with weapons and gear like a Christmas tree; he has a carbine swinging at one side of his horse, a sword flapping at the other, a lance clutched in his hand, about 6 stone of dead weight gear tied round his saddle, in the most inconvenient places, and a hard, slippery, cavalry saddle under him, and he would indeed be a marvellous horseman who could hurt anybody under these drawbacks. Just to help him along in his cold world he carries a stock-in-trade about with him in the shape of boot blacking, hoof pickers, horse brushes, extra shirts, &c., which load the unfortunate horse down to the last possible stage of exhaustion. So overloaded with gear is the Lancer that it takes a very nice judgment when getting on his horse for the trooper to lift his leg high enough to clear the saddle and carbine and other gear, and yet not so high as to overbalance himself. When dismounted for rifle firing, one man holds three of his mates’ horses, and has four lances sticking out all round him like a porcupine. If the Boers had only played the game properly, and showed up in masses to be charged, as they should have done, then no doubt our cavalry would have given them a frightful cutting up; but the Boers used to scatter in all directions, and as they went about twice as fast as our men, there wasn’t much chance for the cavalry to smash them at all. Of the few cavalry charges that took place in the war, it is safe to characterise 90 per cent as utter fiascos. The first was at Klipsdrift in French’s march to Kimberley, where the 9th and 16th Lancers charged some Boers across the open. A few of the Boers’ horses fell in the ant-bear holes, and the dismounted Boers and some of their horses were killed with lances, but on the whole it was a failure. The overworked, underfed cavalry horses could not get near the Boer horses. At Poplar Grove, the 9th Lancers made a rush out towards some Boers who were firing from the flank, but at once met such a hot fire from the front and two sides that it was suicide to go on; and the 8th Hussars and 7th Dragoon Guards had a small charge near the Vet River. In this latter case some few of the rearmost Boers were taken and killed, but those who were in advance got off their horses and poured in so hot a fire that the pursuit had to be abandoned. The charge which resulted in the death of the Earl of Airlie was a gallant performance by all accounts, but did it pay? Did the number of Boers killed compensate for the men we lost? Just consider that a charging squadron begins to lose men at 2500 yards, and has to go on with tiring horses, and getting into hotter and hotter fire without even seeing what they are charging at. No troops in the world could go on at it. In the old days of massed troops and muzzle-loading guns, a cavalry charge was a different matter. The men got close to their enemies and went at full gallop knee to knee, and a blood fever got hold of them; but in these days of open formation a cavalry charge could go right through a firing line and back again, and never touch a man. The cavalry, owing to their superior horsemanship, their better training, and their having a better class of horses, did a lot of work in the campaign, as mounted infantry could have done; they fought often and well, dismounted, and did mounted infantry work. But their swords and lances were of no practical use to them. It is of course open to argument that, as the Boers had no cavalry we did not need them, but in any other war, if the enemy had cavalry we must also have cavalry to meet them in the event of their charging guns or a convoy. It is suggested that cavalry might be wanted to repel cavalry, and the sight of two cavalry regiments charging each other would no doubt be a fine thing, and would command big prices in a cinematograph, but it could only be done by arranging beforehand that the infantry or mounted infantry should not interfere and spoil the show with their rifle fire. If any infantry were lying round they would break up a cavalry charge at 1000 yards, and the troops would never get near enough to the cinematograph to be taken properly, and the film would be spoilt. But it was not in the matter of failing to charge infantry that the cavalry lost their army reputation. And by “army reputation” is not meant the opinion of the “Mounted Foot”, who were jealous, or of the “real Foot”, who were, as a rule, so far behind the cavalry that they usually arrived after the Boers had been driven off, and because they saw no fighting they said there had been no fight. By “army reputation” is meant the opinion of those in high places; and it is an open secret that in all operations after Cronje’s surrender the cavalry work did not satisfy the Field-Marshal. What they did was all right, but it was what they left undone that brought them to grief. A non-military writer can hardly venture to express an opinion on the subject of what they should or should not have done; but it is best to quote the opinion of an outside authority, one of the attaches—the Russian attaché, a cavalry man himself. This is what he delivered as his opinion on the subject.

“Ze cavallaree ’ee ’ave no made charge in Sout’ Afrique at all. What for as ’ee no made charge? It is ze ideale country for ze cavallaree. If ’ee not make charge ’ere zen ’ee never make charge anywheres, however—not anywheres, however. Eet ’elps ze campagne, zee open plain, everywhere; but ’ee no make charge. At Driefontein ’ee was sent round to ze back; ’ee go round nearly to ze back, and zen ’ee stop; ’ee stop two, three hour. I see him myself, he stop. He ride up and down ze veldt three hour. What for ’ee stop? What for ’ee not go on? And zen when ze Boers retreat wit de waggon and de guns he is four, five miles off. His horses zey cannot charge; he does nozzing. He come back, he say my horses are not fed, I can not charge four, five miles; but why he not go more early? At Poplar Grove ’ee does ze zame; ’ee ride round ze seven kopjes, ’ee see ze Boers in tousands, and, mon Dieu, ’ee stop again. ’Ee stay two hours, and ze Boers get away ze guns and ze waggons again. Eet is for ze cavallaree to go on; ’ee must not stop. One time you lose half your men; but anosser time you take ze waggon, all ze guns, and 4000 prisoners. Ze English cavallaree ’ee ‘as too much stop.”

Whether our Russian friend in his criticisms is right it is for military authorities to say; certainly at both Dreifontein and Poplar Grove a demoralised and routed Boer army successfully got their guns and waggons away under the noses of the British cavalry. True, as the Bulgarian says, the cavalry were four miles off when the retreat began, but he says they had no right to be four miles off; they should have pushed on earlier in the day, instead of going in a half-hearted way about the veldt. The whole secret lies in the Bulgarian’s words, “One time you lose half your men.” While generals were summarily “stellenbosched” for losing men, it was not likely that any leader would imperil his whole career by taking risks in sending cavalry on to meet possibly a destructive rifle fire. General French had his reputation to consider, and if he had attacked the fleeing Boers and not got their guns, but had lost half his men, he would have been sent back to England in disgrace. So far as the Boer war is concerned there was very little true cavalry work done, and what was done did not pay; but in future wars, though cavalry may never again have to charge into masses of men nor into other cavalry, there will always remain the most useful of all cavalry work, viz., to clinch a victory by dashing in upon and absolutely wrecking a flying foe. A “victory” in South Africa meant nothing, because the enemy simply retired to the next hill and started all over again; but if men on lightly equipped horses could have been thrown on them as they retired the Boer war would have been over in March of last year.

The main thing would appear to be to lighten the equipment; and, secondly, the officer leading the cavalry would have to be utterly regardless of the men’s lives. A cavalry regiment charging even a flying and demoralised enemy would have to be prepared to do as the Bulgarian suggested, “lose half its men”, but if it brought the guns, waggons, and supplies of the enemy to a halt it would still justify the existence of the cavalry soldier.

The Sydney Morning Herald, 12 February 1901


Prince Alexander Of Teck

Among the staff of the Duke of Cornwall and York is Prince Alexander of Teck, brother of the future Queen of England. This Prince, with his two brothers, served in the South African war, and was for a time with the Inniskilling Dragoons, a regiment to which the New South Wales Lancers were attached. His elder brother—the present Duke of Teck—was in charge of the remount department in the field, and the third brother was for a time with the 10th Hussars. It might be expected that these young officers, considering their relationship to the Royal family, would only be allowed to do what might be called “ornamental soldiering”; but so far as Alexander of Teck is concerned the New South Wales soldiers can testify that he took his share of the work exactly the same as any other officer. If it was his turn for patrol or outpost duty he was sent out quite irrespective of whether the duty was specially dangerous or otherwise. There was no favouritism shown in his case, and so far as could be learnt, his brothers were treated in exactly the same way. The old Duke of Teck, now dead, was a soldier who saw much active service, a fine man, and undoubtedly a brave man, and the sons are all splendid specimens of the young British officer. Alexander of Teck, our expected visitor, is about twenty-eight years of age, tall and well set up, with the swarthy complexion of a Spaniard. He quite won the hearts of the New South Wales troopers with whom he was associated, and when he left the Inniskillings to go to Mafeking, the men of the New South Wales squadron turned out on their own initiative to give him a cheer on his departure—a thing that was not known to happen to any other officer in the campaign. While on the march he roughed it as much as anybody. He and some other young officers shared a small cart, which carried their belongings, i.e., their canvas sleeping valises, cooking pots, tinned meat, &c., and if, as often happened, they were sent out on outpost duty and got separated from their cart, he and the others were quite prepared to roll a blanket round themselves and lie down on the wet ground among the men without anything to eat. Not that anybody roughed it more than could be helped. After a few weeks of experience, the business of keeping touch with the carts was developed into a fine art and it was quite a usual thing to hear men, while under hot fire, passing frenzied questions back along the line, not as to how the fight was going, but, “Are the carts up?” After a night or two on the South African veldt, in the frost and bitterly cold wind whistling round the bleak kopjes, the whereabouts of one’s cart, with food and bedding, became a very important matter. Sometimes the officers’ carts of one squadron would be “up”, while those of the next squadron would be miles away, and when this occurred the officers who had their carts used to lend blankets and food to those who had none and if young Teck found himself cartless at night he did not stand on his royal dignity or expect to have things brought to him because he was a prince; no, he hustled round with the rest to raise a spare blanket, or a horse rug to keep himself out of the bitter cold, or the leg of a fowl or a half tin of bully beef to eat, and when he had his goods at hand he was always ready to lend in his turn. He had previously seen active service and is, in fact, very well up in his profession. He has a fair share of humour, too. One day, near Bloemfontein, a troop of Australian Horse were on outpost on a hill in sight of the Boer position. The next hill was occupied by Teck with his troop of Inniskillings, and when the Boers began to move about on their hills the Australian Horse officer galloped over to Teck in a great state of excitement, and asked for advice. He was only a young volunteer officer, and felt the responsibility very keenly, and was anxious to get some approval of the way he had placed the men, because if the men were cut up he would be responsible. He was starting to explain how he had placed them when Teck interrupted. “Tell each man to get behind a rock and shoot for all he’s worth; that’s all you can do.”

“Well, I’ve done that”, said the Australian officer, “but what should I do myself while the attack is on? What would you do if you were me?”

“I would lie flat on my face till the danger was over. Then, when you’re quite sure the Boers are running, get up and have a shot at them.”

This sage advice was duly followed, with the best results. But on one occasion with the New South Wales Lancers Teck got himself into a serious position, and showed that he could stand fire as well as the best. It was outside Kimberley, where a troop of Inniskillings and a troop of New South Wales Lancers, the former under Teck, and the latter under Lieutenant Heron, were acting in conjunction. The Boers were holding a cluster of hills, and as they had good cover, and were keeping up a hot fire, French’s cavalry were feeling their way round the hills, trying to get a position from which they could pour a fire into the enemy. One or two hills were tried, and were found well occupied by an entrenched enemy, and the Scots Greys lost 20 or 30 men in the process of reconnoitring. The Lancers and Inniskillings squadron were moving along the plain, skirting the hills, when an individual, who looked like a common soldier, and a dirty specimen at that, came over to them at full gallop, with his eyes bulging out of his head with excitement. He hailed Teck and Heron, and screamed, “Come up here! Bring your men up here! Up to this hill! It’s all right, I’m a lootenant in —’s Horse, though you mightn’t think so,” he added, parenthetically looking at his own ragged turnout. “Come on,” he yelled, shaking with excitement, “I’ve been up there, and there’s no Boers there, an’ you can shoot right into the laager.” Teck hesitated, but the stranger screamed, “Come on, come on; don’t lose the chance. It’s a fine place to put the men; lots of cover. Of course, don’t come if you’re frightened.”

This settled it, and Teck took the responsibility of pushing the men up to the hill as fast as possible. As soon as they arrived at the top of the rise where the “good cover” was, they found themselves on a bare exposed hill without any cover whatever. The Boers, who were not supposed to be commanding the hill at all, at once directed a heavy fire on it from two sides. Everybody had to lie as flat as possible while the bullets whistled over, and to crown all, the “lootenant in —’s Horse”, having led them into this trap, ran down the hill at top speed, shouting, “Look out! Look out! They’re there after all.” As Lieutenant Heron said afterwards, “There wasn’t much inducement to look out when every time you lifted your head you heard half a dozen bullets singing around you.” The two troops were kept there for a couple of hours, losing men from time to time and firing when they saw anything to fire at. The officers conversed in whispers, without lifting their heads off the ground, and it was a ticklish question for young Teck, as he had taken the men there and would have to answer for the consequences if he lost a lot of them.

“I’ve got ’em here now,” he said, “and it’s more dangerous to shift them than to stay here. We’ll see it out,” and sure enough after a while the Boers suddenly withdrew to the northward, leaving our men to brush the dust off themselves, and to search for the “lootenant in —’s Horse,” but that hero had made himself scarce, and the two troops returned to camp with a few prisoners, which, by the way, were taken from them en route by a superior officer, and brought into camp as his particular trophy.

The other brothers are very good soldiers and the extraordinary story that one of the Tecks was responsible for the Sanna’s Post disaster has not the shadow of a foundation. The system of choosing officers only from the wealthy classes—or rather of making the pay so poor and the life so expensive that only wealthy men can go in for it—is undoubtedly a failure. Many of the officers were not at all competent to lead men in positions of danger, and a great outcry is often made against the appointment of aristocratic officers to high commands. No doubt in many cases these appointments savour too much of class privilege to find favour in Australian eyes, but there are some good officers even among the most influential. As one of the men said, “It’s not the real swell that’s so bad; it’s the ’alf and ’alf swell that treats the men like dogs, and gets them that way that they won’t follow him.” And indeed these young Tecks showed that it is quite possible for a man to be a good soldier, even though he be a relation of Royalty.

The Sydney Morning Herald, 4 May 1901


Our Federal Army And Its Cost

One of the most important questions of the day is the amount of money to be expended on our Federal Army. Nowadays the tendency is to cut down all expenses of equipment and salaries of staff officers, and to rely upon the “intuitive quickness” of our citizen soldiers.

Various well-meaning people have flooded the press with suggestions that all we need to do is to give the men a rifle each and a few packets of ammunition, and encourage them to shoot promiscuously about the country till they learn to judge distance well and to aim accurately. After a few weeks of this sort of practice the men are expected to be a serviceable force of “self-trained experts”, ready to take the field at a moment’s notice and to fight when required.

People are urging in all seriousness that no further training is needed, and the Minister is promising to see that no “extravagance” in matters military shall occur. If this programme is adhered to our prospects of getting anything like value for the money spent in defence are small indeed.

It is true enough that riding and shooting are of more importance than drill, for a fairly smart bushman can learn in a few days all the drill required for active service, and the writers who urge that the men should be allowed to train themselves in the bush instead of being drilled on the parade ground are correct enough so far as their views go. But there is a much more important matter than the training of the men, and that is the training of the officers. In their pride at the achievements of our troops in Africa, people are apt to forget that all the commissariat, transport, horse supply, clothes supply and ammunition supply work was done for us by the English officers—done badly enough, some will say, but that is a matter of opinion; it is hard to have everything up to concert pitch on active service, and those who sneer at the army management of affairs should reflect in humble silence that in New Zealand lately, nine hundred men were left absolutely starving in a camp alongside a big city through some officer’s blunder. Old soldiers who fought in the New Zealand war against the Maoris will tell you that in that campaign “everything broke down”. The supplies, the ambulances, the communications were all defective. There has hardly ever been a fixed camp held in any colony but what some more or less important hitch occurred in the arrangements. In one case the bread was left behind, in another the water supply was ludicrously deficient, and some troops actually left the camp and came into town because they could not get the first essential for their comfort—water to live on. If these bungles occur in a fixed camp with plenty of time to prepare beforehand and within telephone distance of every conceivable requirement, it is hard to guess what ghastly failures would occur on service. It is obvious that if we wish to get an efficient service we must train the officers so that they may be able to feed and move the men. It is an old saying that an army “travels on its stomach”. The boasted mobility of our bush troops would be absolutely nullified unless the commissariat and supply branches kept pace with them. The men must be fed, and to feed, clothe, and transport large bodies of men is a very difficult matter, and a matter not so much of theory as of practice. The practice of putting out troops into standing camps and putting them through a few manoeuvres every year is absurd and ridiculous. The men can learn the drill in a few days, the riding and shooting they can teach themselves, but how are the officers to learn their transport and commissariat work unless the troops are moved about? An army that cannot move is like a snake with its back broken; it is utterly powerless against a mobile foe. And any army of “self-trained experts” would be an unfed, disorganised, grumbling rabble if asked to move for a few days’ journey under present arrangements. Kipling’s line might well be altered to read, “the backbone of the army is the commissariat men”. These matters are so obvious that it becomes the duty of even the Labour party, opposed to military expenditure as they are, to open their purse strings sufficiently to allow our forces the necessary transport and commissariat equipment and to give our officers the necessary experience.

In the past the military votes have been starved down until there is now no Australian colony that could put even its small handful of men into the field properly equipped.

At the Duke of York’s parade in Sydney there were 8000 men present, and the New South Wales people were delighted to think that they could put so many men into the field at such short notice. But if an alarm had come that an enemy had landed at Eden, could we have marched those 8000 men down to the threatened spot? They could not have been got under way at all for want of transport equipment. The self-constituted authorities on military matters appear to think that men can fight without blankets, without food, and without supplies of any kind. An unfed army is useless for any purpose, and we need not go far to look for an example. The Boers surrendered in thousands simply because they had no supply organisation, and could not carry on for want of food. Their losses in battle were very small, their skill as bushmen and riflemen was beyond question, but their officers were untrained and unsupplied, even as ours are, and what arrangements they were able to make broke down appallingly. They lost half of their army through desertion from want of food, and those who are fighting on are, as the cables tell us, in terrible straits for want of supplies, and their resistance must fail as soon as the farms are stripped of their contents. For another example —in the American War of Independence Washington sent to the Congress a message to say in effect: Don’t send me any more men—send me boots and food, and blankets and clothes, and supplies for the men that I have. He took the field with a force largely composed of American frontiersmen, whose fighting capacity was equal to that of any nation in the world, but his officers were untrained and his political superiors grudged him the money necessary for the war. The result was that his commissariat transport arrangements broke down; his troops could be tracked in the snow by the blood marks made by their bare, bleeding feet, and it was only by superhuman effort that he kept his men together till bitter experience taught the authorities to give him the necessary supplies to carry on the war, and his officers bought by the loss and suffering of the troops that knowledge which they should have had by training and experience.

These are lessons by which we should profit. Not General Pole-Carew nor Ian Hamilton, nor even Lord Roberts himself, could train our forces or make an army of them unless the officers are trained in their work.

As for the system to be adopted, that must be left to the judgment of the general selected by the Commonwealth; but whatever general comes and whatever system he adopts, we must be prepared to spend enough money to equip the men and to move them about. If General Pole-Carew comes over here the first thing he will ask will be, “What is your transport and equipment like?” and if our legislators are going to deny him a fairly free hand in these matters they might just as well ship him back to England at once and revert to the old slipshod penny wise and pound foolish style which now characterises our military administration.

Carts and horses, and blankets and rations, and hospital stores and ammunition, all require to be in first-class order before the troops can move effectively. These things cost money, and the handling of them can only be learnt by practice, and to deny our officers the chance of practising is poor economy indeed. A good test of the efficiency of our troops would be for us to march a large force by road to, say, Bombala, and there meet the Melbourne forces who have marched there similarly on their side. If this could be done without any serious breakdown then we would know that we have a serviceable force. The standing camp business is a mere farce: it is no use herding four or five thousand men where they can ring up on a telephone for any supplies they may have forgotten, and flattering ourselves that we could put those four or five thousand men into the field if wanted. We are too apt to plume ourselves on the number of men, and we do not look enough to their efficiency. It is better to have a few men and let the officers learn their business than to have a lot of men and leave the officers untrained. The extra men could be got at a moment’s notice—men unequalled in the world as material for soldiers—and a few days would teach them all the drill they require.

The author of The Absent-Minded War complains bitterly that the English officers are not allowed to gain experience by actual marching of their troops with supply waggons and all complete, and it is to this want of practice that he ascribes all the bungles made in South Africa. The pursuit of the Boers by the British troops was always hampered by the antiquated transport system adopted. The officers were learning their business as the war went on, and learning it at a terrible cost to the nation in lives and money. We shall have no excuse if we make a similar blunder in this country.

The Sydney Morning Herald, 13 July 1901


The Bullock

Having written of the merino sheep, it is time to treat of the other great Australian delusion—the bullock. The true typical Australian bullock—long-horned, sullen-eyed, stupid, and vindictive—is bred away out in Queensland, on remote stations in the Never Never land, where the men live on damper and beef exclusively, and occasionally eat a whole bottle of hot pickles at a sitting, without other refreshment, simply to satisfy their craving for vegetable food. Here, under the blazing tropic sun, among flies and dust and loneliness, they struggle with the bullock from year’s end to year’s end. It is not to be supposed that they take up this kind of thing for fun. The man who worked cattle for sport would wheel bricks for amusement. The fact is, that on paper there is a fortune in nearly every cattle station. At periodical intervals a boom in cattle country arises in the cities, and syndicates are formed to take up country and stock it with cattle. It looks so beautifully simple—on paper. You get your country, thousands of miles of it, for next to nothing. You buy your breeding herd for a ridiculously low price, on long-dated bills. Your expenses consist of a manager, who toils for a share of the profits, a couple of half-civilised white stockmen at low wages, and a handful of blacks, who work harder for opium-ash than for money. Plant costs nothing, improvements nothing—no woolshed is needed, there are no shearers to pay, no carriage to market, as the bullock walks himself down to his own doom. Granted that prices are low, still it is obvious that there must be huge profits in the business. So the cattle start away out to “the country”, where they are supposed to increase and multiply and enrich their owners. Alas! for such hopes. There is a curse on cattle.

No one has ever yet been able to explain exactly how the deficit gets in. Put the figures before the oldest and most experienced cattle man, and he will fail to show why they don’t work out right. And yet they never do. No one ever yet made any money out of cattle. It is not exactly the fault of the animals themselves. Sheep would sooner die than live, and when one comes to think of the life they lead, one can easily understand their preference for death; but cattle, if given half a chance, will do their best to prolong existence. If they are running on flooded country and are driven off when a flood comes, they will probably walk back into the floodwater and get drowned as soon as their owner turns his back. But, as a rule, they are not suicidal. They sort themselves into their own mobs, they pick out the best bits of country, they find their way to the water, they breed habitually, but it always ends in the same way. The hand of fate is against them. If a drought comes, they eat off all the grass near the water and have to travel far out for a feed after getting a drink. Then they fall away and get weak, and when they come down to drink they bog in the muddy waterholes and die there. Or else Providence sends the pleuro, and the big strong cattle slink away by themselves and stand under trees glaring savagely till death comes. Or else the tick attacks them, and soon a fine, strong beast is a miserable, shrunken, tottering wreck. Once cattle get really low in condition, they are done for. Sheep can be shifted when their pasture fails, but you can’t shift cattle. They would die quicker on the roads than on their own run. The only thing is to watch and pray for rain. It always comes—after the cattle are dead. There is a curse on cattle.

As for describing the animals themselves, it would need volumes. Sheep are all alike, but cattle are all different. The drovers on the road with a mob of cattle get to know the habits and tendencies of each particular bullock. The one-eyed bullock that always pokes away out to the side of the mob, the inquisitive bullock that is always walking over towards the drover as if he were going to speak to him, the agitator bullock who is always trying to get up a stampede and prodding the others with his horns. In poor Boake’s “Where the Dead Men Lie” he says

Only the hand of night can free them,
 That’s when the dead men fly;
Only the frightened cattle see them,
 See the dead men go by.
Cloven hoofs beating out one measure,
 Bidding the drovers know no leisure,
That’s when the dead men take their pleasure,
 That’s when the dead men fly.

Cattle on a camp see ghosts, sure enough—else, why is it that, when hundreds of cattle are in camp at night, some standing, some lying asleep, all facing different ways, in an instant, at some invisible cause of alarm, the whole mob are on their feet and all racing in the same direction, away from some unseen terror? It doesn’t do to sneak around cattle at night; it is better to whistle and sing, and let them know somebody is there, than to surprise them by a noiseless appearance. Anyone sneaking about frightens them, and the next thing is that they charge right fair over the top of somebody on the opposite side of them, and away into the darkness, frightening themselves more and more as they go, smashing against trees and stumps, breaking legs and ribs, and playing the dickens with themselves generally. Cattle “on the road” are unaccountable animals; one cannot ever say for certain what they will do, and in this respect they differ from sheep, whose movements can be predicted to an absolute certainty.

The cow is the mother of the bullock. All the cussedness of the bovine race is centred in the cow. In Australia the most opprobrious epithet one can apply to a man or other object is “cow”. In the whole range of a bullock driver’s vocabulary there is no word that expresses his blistering scorn so well as “cow”. To a species of feminine perversity, a cow adds a fiendish ingenuity in making trouble. A quiet milking cow will “plant” a young calf with such skill that ten stockmen cannot find him in a one-mile paddock. While the search goes on the cow grazes unconcernedly, as if she never had a calf in her life. By chance he may be discovered and then one notices a curious thing. The very youngest calf, the merest staggering Bob two days old, will lie as close as a snake in cover if left in hiding by his mother. He will not move till the old lady gives him orders to do so. One may handle him and pull him about without getting a move out of him. Now, how does he learn this trick? For a calf is a born fool if ever there was one. If sufficiently persecuted he will at last sing out for help, and the cow will arrive full gallop, charge at men and horses indiscriminately, and clear out with her calf for the thickest timber in the most rugged part of the creek bed, defying man to get her to the yard. The calf seconds her efforts with great judgment. But if the calf can be separated from the cow, he loses all his sense. He will follow a horse and rider up to the yard thinking he is after his mother, though she will bellow instructions to him from the rear. Then the guileless agriculturist, having got the calf penned up, sets a dog on him, and his cries soon fetch the old cow full run to his assistance. Once in the yard she is roped, hauled into the bail, propped up with stocks to prevent her throwing herself down, and milked by sheer brute force. After a while she steadies down and will walk into the bail, knowing her turn and behaving like a decent animal. Cows and calves have no idea of sound or distance. If a cow is on the opposite side of the fence from her calf, and wishes to communicate with him, she will put her head through the fence, place her mouth against his ear, as if she were going to whisper, and then utter a roar that can be heard two miles off. It would stun a human being on the spot; but the calf thinks it over for a moment, and then answers with a prolonged yell in the old cow’s ear. So the dialogue goes on for a half day without either party dropping dead.

There is an element of danger in dealing with cattle that makes men smart and self-reliant and independent. Men who deal with sheep get gloomy and morbid, and are for ever striking. Nobody ever heard of a stockmen’s strike. The true stockrider thinks himself just as good a man as his boss, and inasmuch as “the boss” never makes any money out of cattle, while the stockman gets his wages, the latter may be considered as having the better position of the two. Sheep men like to think that they know all about cattle, and could work them if they chose. A Queensland drover once took a big mob from the Gulf right down through New South Wales, selling various lots as he went, till at last he had to deliver the remnant to a small sheep man near Braidwood who was buying a few hundred cattle as a spec. By the time they arrived, the cattle had been on the road eight months and were as quiet as milkers. But the sheep man and his satellites came out, all riding stable-fed horses and brandishing twenty-foot whips, determined to sell their lives dearly. They galloped round the astonished cattle and cracked their whips and spurred their horses till they roused the weary mob to a fair amount of excitement. Then they started to cut out some that they wanted. The horses rushed and pulled, and the whips maddened the cattle, and all was turmoil and confusion. The Queensland drovers looked on amazed, sitting on their patient leg-weary horses, resting on the saddles they had occupied almost continuously for eight months. At last, seeing the hash the sheep men were making of the cutting out, the drovers set to work, and in a little while, without crack of whip or shout of voice, their well-trained camp-horses had cut out the required number. These the head drover delivered to the buyer, simply remarking, “Many’s the time you never cut out cattle.”

And now, as I write, there rises a vision of a cattle camp on an open plain, the blue sky overhead, the long grass rustling below, the great mob of parti-coloured cattle eddying restlessly about, thrusting at each other with their horns, and in among the sullen, half-savage animals go the light, wiry stockriders, horse and man working together, watchful, quick and resolute. A bullock is wanted that is right in among a throng of others. Way! make way! and the horse and rider edge into the restless sea of cattle, the man with his eye fixed on the selected animal, the horse glancing eagerly about him trying to discover which is the one wanted. He half starts towards a big bald-faced bullock, but is at once checked. The press divides and the white steer that is wanted scuttles along the edge of the mob, trying to force his way in again among the others. Suddenly he and two or three others are momentarily eddied out onto the outskirts of the mob, and in that second the stockman dashes his horse in between them and the main body. The lumbering beasts rush hurriedly hither and thither trying to return to their comrades. Those not wanted are allowed to run back, but the white steer finds, to his dismay, that wherever he turns the man and horse are confronting him with the dreaded whip. He doubles and dodges and makes feints to charge, but the horse anticipates every movement and wheels quicker than the bullock and blocks his return. At last the bullock sees the outlying mob which he is required to join, and trots off to them quite happy, while the horse and rider return to cut out another.

It is a pretty exhibition of skill and intelligence, doubly pleasant to watch because of the undoubted interest that the horse takes in it. Every animal has his own amount of brain power, and seems to take pleasure from exercising it. A collie puppy will amuse himself by yarding fowls into a stable, “working” them with a knowledge which was instilled into his mother, and his mother’s mother before him; and the horses—big stupid creatures that they are, cursed with highly strung nerves, and blessed with little sense—they are pathetically anxious to do such work as they can understand. So they go into the cutting out camp with a zest, and toil all day dodging the lumbering bullocks out of the mob; and the moment that a bad rider gets on them and begins to haul their mouths about, their nerves overcome them, they get awkward and frightened, and a horse that is a crack camp horse in one man’s hands is a hopeless brute in the hands of another.

Which reminds me that, having dealt with the sheep and the bullock by the grace of the editor, I will someday write a treatise on the ’orse. It will be a labour of love.

The Bulletin, 7 December 1901


An Informal Letter From London

A Yellow Gloom

I arrived in London on the evening of the record fog; the whole city was choking in a kind of yellow gloom, out of which the whistles of the bus conductors and the shouts of cabmen rose like the din of fiends in a pit of torment. The theatres nearly all closed their doors. Trafalgar Square was full of buses all night; buses that had failed to make their way home, and simply pulled up and waited for daylight, with their passengers huddled inside; the cabmen wouldn’t even try to take people home—a five-pound note was vainly offered by one man for a drive of half an hour—what would have been half an hour’s drive if there had been any light, or even any decent sort of darkness to drive by; but this awful yellow shroud choked everything; and yet, talking it over with an English bus driver next morning he said with the greatest pride, “Ah! You don’t see fogs like that in no other part of the world!” There is a beautiful serene self-complacency about these people that one can never sufficiently admire. We were moving up the Strand in a stream of traffic, doing about four miles an hour, halted every now and again by policemen, the old well-trained bus horses picking their way along like two well-regulated machines; and the busman said to me with conscious superiority, “Ah! You don’t see drivin’ like this in no other part of the world!” I thought of various little bits of driving that I had seen some of Cobb and Co.’s men do on dark nights with unbroken horses in very broken country; but I didn’t try to tell the busman about them.

What do they understand?
Beefy face and grubby ’and.

He went on placidly, “Ah, London for me; all the luxuries of the world come to London; the best of everythink’s good enough for us; and it’s a healthy place too. Look at me. I’m past fifty, and I’m sixteen hours a day on this bus.”

I thought he must have a lot of time to enjoy luxuries.

The Public And The Politicians

Public affairs here are conducted on quite a different basis from ours; here, a political career, like the army, is a matter for the “classes”—wealthy or respectable—and the public don’t bother themselves much about the politicians, and the latter certainly don’t bother themselves at all about the public. To give an example. The Buller affair is just now making as much commotion as anything can make in this vast wilderness. The papers and records dealing with Buller are all known to be at the War Office, and the whole question could be settled in five minutes. The public ask—at least, they don’t ask really because they are too apathetic, but we would expect them to ask—(1) Did Buller make blunders in Africa sufficient to justify his recall? (2) If so, why was he appointed to command the First Army Corps? (3) Being so appointed, why was he dismissed?

I was talking this over with an English gentleman interested in political matters and having considerable knowledge of affairs. He said, “Of course we know, and the newspapers know, all the facts about Buller, and the papers can be seen by us, but not officially. The Ministry have thought it better not to publish them. If they do publish them—” and he left it to be inferred that things would be very bad for Buller. I said, “Why don’t the public insist on their publishing them?” I saw a hundred thousand people in Hyde Park—certainly most of them had only gone there for what is to them a day’s sport in the country—to go into Hyde Park and boohoo at the mention of Lord Roberts—but still they were there, and the press are trying to raise a clamour about Buller, and the music hall singers are getting great applause for “extra verses” about Buller, and yet no one knows in the least how the affair really stands. He said, with an air of settling the matter, “But I told you the Ministry don’t think it worthwhile to publish the papers.”

Public Indifference

“Well,” I said, “in Australia, if anything as important as this occurred, there would be a dozen members of Parliament who would go and demand the papers, and would tell their constituents what was the truth. There would be a member on every step of the War Office stairs waiting till it opened in the morning and a howling crowd of their constituents outside.”

After hearing him, and seeing a few things for myself, I began to realise how it was that the favouritism and contemptuous disregard for public interest that we constantly saw in Africa could go unremarked and unchecked. It appears to be nobody’s business to interpose. England and Australia are at the two extremes in political matters. Here a general may half wreck an Empire and no one does anything; with us if a sergeant of Volunteers is disrated for drunkenness there is a Labour member to demand a special committee of the House to inquire into it. Those are the two systems, and each has its drawbacks. You pay your money and don’t have any choice.

I went to the War Office, the centre of public indifference in London just now (you can’t say public interest, because there is no public interest that one can see); one would expect to find it besieged by a crowd of people, considering that the war is in full swing; one would expect to find inventors with new explosives; colonels with new schemes to end the war; politicians with blunt axes that wanted grinding. Instead of that a peaceful, tranquil calm rested over the place. I appeared to be the only visitor they had that day. Truly, it is an amazing country.

Where Australians Abound

If one knows where to go and look for them London holds a fair number of Australians, and curiously enough they are nearly all engaged in music, literature, or art of some sort. Are we an artistic nation? One would be forced to that conclusion by visiting the artistic circles here. In other circles it is the greatest rarity to meet an Australian; in these circles they abound, and all appear to do fairly well. Our artists come over and grimly set to work at any work they can get at any rate of pay they can command—a proceeding that does not commend itself to the “established” artists, who are getting their ten or twenty pounds a page for inferior work—work that sells because of the name and not because of its merit. By and by the Australian works up, till he, too, gets his ten or twenty pounds a page. The same with the singers. The girls come over here and go into humble little lodgings and work hard—oh, so hard—on the few pounds of capital that their friends have got together for them. They take all sorts of small concert engagements; and before long they always seem to drop into some steady work, and one characteristic thing is that they always help each other. Melba, Ada Crossley, Florence Schmidt, and the others who have succeeded are always ready to give a hand to their countrywomen who have only started to make their way; and the same is the case with the artists. In fact, all our national representatives who are doing well themselves are not disposed to forget others. But none of them like the life here, the terrifically hard work, the impossibility of getting any exercise, fresh air, or change.

Amy Castles’ debut was a great Australian function, but her friends rather made a mistake in “packing” the hall and making it apparent that the “success” and “enthusiasm” were all arranged beforehand. The general public rather resented it. The girl’s singing is wonderful, and at another concert, when she sang just before a leading concert soprano well known in London, the contrast in the two performances was all in Amy Castles’ favour. The other girl had to strive visibly for her high notes, but Amy Castles just simply opened her mouth and the notes came—a regular flood of melody, with the impression of great reserve power behind it—which is such a charm in a singer.

Everyone Has A Chance

That is one of the greatest fascinations of London life—the fact that everyone has a chance, for all are treated alike with indifference, and there is no royal road to a success. Kubelik the violinist came here an unknown foreigner, and played at a cheap concert as a start. Down in Australia we are apt to read inflated cablegrams, and get an undue idea of our own importance; the debut of an Australian singer is not an important event. The singers of all nations “debut” here at the rate of about four a day; the night before Amy Castles there appeared a new Russian singer, and the night after an Austrian princess made her first (and, it is whispered, probably her last) appearance on a concert platform. They fall into London like hail into a pond, and one debutante more or less makes just about as much difference as one hailstone more or less. Our Australian view of it is rather like that of an old back-block friend of mine, a butcher up Walgett way, who sent his son down to Sydney at the time of the Jubilee celebration. When the hopeful came back—after seeing the crowds and the festivities, mostly from the top of a bus—the old man said with great complacency, “Well, Bill, what did they think of yer in Sydney? I suppose they were all talkin’ about yer?” And Bill was silent.

I have never seen more than a few lines of Australian news in any paper, and very rarely does any at all appear. Australia is the least known place in the world here; the London press are beginning to take some interest in it now, mainly because of the visit of the Prince and Princess of Wales.

We get good fun out of meeting men from other parts of the world sometimes; each gets telling the other about the place he comes from, and before long each tries to outdo the other in stories. The latest is that an Australian and an Indian met at a club, and the talk was on grass. “Grass? my dear fellow,” said the Indian, “I’ve positively seen grass so high and thick that the elephants couldn’t force their way through it. Positively, couldn’t get along, I assure you!” The Australian drew at his pipe for one second, and then said in a hushed voice, “Would you mind changing the subject? Ever since I was out in the Territory” (pause) “and a blade of grass fell on a friend of mine and killed him—I hate talking about grass.”

The Sydney Morning Herald, 11 January 1902


A Fighting General

Of all the generals at the war none commanded more personal loyalty from all who served under him than did Lord Methuen. He was a fighting man in every inch of his 6 feet 3 inches of height; and it is the irony of fate that he, who always pushed on and pursued the enemy and took risks and made dashing marches, should be humiliated, while stay-at-home generals, who would not move a yard without supports, and who never did any good in the war, are able to pose as “successful generals”.

He had been a great athlete and boxer in his day, and was “too fond of a fight”, if such an expression can be used about a general. In the early part of the war he sent his division remorselessly against the kopjes of Belmont and Grasspan, and attacked the trenches in the Modder River. Then came his great reverse of Magersfontein. In all the earlier fights his men had carried the positions by brilliant dash; here, owing to coming unexpectedly on the trenches in the dark, the brigade were decimated before they had time to make their rush. The result is ancient history by now, but if the ground had been properly scouted, the disaster could not have occurred.

After this Lord Roberts superseded Lord Methuen in direct command, and the latter idled away some weeks on the banks of the Modder—a general without an army. The army under Lord Roberts had gone on up the Modder River after the flying Cronje, and nothing was left at Modder River station but a mushroom forest of empty tents. Among these Methuen had his camp, with just his own personal staff round him. Here he attended to all detail work of the lines of communication, while his fate as a soldier hung in the balance. Lord Roberts found that he could not do without him, and restored him to command of a division.

With this division he was mainly engaged in pursuit of De Wet; time and again he pushed his division along with worn-out horses and sleepless men, only to find that through some want of co-operation on the part of other columns the enemy had slipped through a gap and got away. The severest disappointment he ever encountered was when he chased De Wet for days, fighting every day, up to the passes at Oliphant’s Nek. The pursuing forces were so exhausted that they could scarcely crawl along, and De Wet was abandoning waggons, guns, and horses, all along the route. His capture seemed certain, as the passes were all held against him by British troops, but by some awful blunder the Nek was vacated a few hours before De Wet’s vanguard arrived. Army report ascribed this fiasco to the versatile Baden-Powell, but the truth of the rumour will never be known till the sea gives up its dead—or until the despatches are all published. On those forced marches Lord Methuen would start the column away and then walk right through it—a gaunt old figure striding along at the head of his staff—while his saddled horse was led in readiness behind him. Fatigue he never seemed to know, though he was nearly sixty years of age. He would travel his fifteen or twenty miles a day on foot, never seeming weary, and his quickness of decision never seemed to falter. The moment that his division came in touch with the enemy his mind was made up. Certainly he was an expensive General, for he would throw away men’s lives rather than fail in his plans. But he also was expensive to the enemy on many occasions.

In his dealings with those under him he was always courteous, and Methuen’s division was always a happy family, unlike some other commands in which there arose friction. It was this sense of personal attachment to their leader that made all his subordinates do their utmost to carry out his wishes. He had many Australians under him, and had a very high opinion of them as soldiers. He always showed extreme care in choosing a camp and in making a country safe before he marched through it, but his troops dwindled in number down to about 1,000 men, and he had a very dangerous district to patrol, and the watchful Delarey always on the alert to swoop down on him. Methuen scored off Delarey more than once, taking on one occasion practically the whole of the Boer general’s waggons, but now the fortune of war has thrown the English general into the power of his enemy. The meagre details to hand do not give any idea how the disaster occurred. Those who know Methuen best are very sure that it has not been through carelessness on his part. The Boer prisoners often stated that they were always trying to surprise Methuen, but could never manage it. It has been managed at last, and Methuen has met his Waterloo. But it is almost better to have put up his record of unwearied fighting and marching, even though it ended in a mishap, than to have succeeded by never doing anything.

The Sydney Morning Herald, 12 March 1902


Thirsty Island

As the traveller approaches any bush township he is sure to meet, at some distance from the main town, a lonely public house waiting by the roadside to give him welcome. Thirsty (miscalled Thursday) Island is the outlying pub of Australia.

As the China and British-India steamers arrive from the north the first place they come to is Thirsty Island, sitting like a sentinel at the gate of the Torres Straits. The new chums on the steamers see a fleet of white-sailed pearling luggers, a long pier clustered with a hybrid crowd of every colour, caste and creed under Heaven, and back of it all a little galvanised iron town shining in the sun. For nine months of the year a crisp, cool south-east wind blows: the snow-white beach is splashed with spray and dotted with the picturesque figures of Japanese divers and South Sea Island boatmen. Coconut palms line the roads by the beach, and back of the town are the barracks and a fort nestled in among the trees on the hillside. Thirsty Island is a nice place—to look at.

When the vessel makes fast, the Thirsty Islanders come down to greet the newcomers and give them their welcome to Australia. The new chums are inclined to patronise these poor outlying people, who apparently are such simple folk. Fresh from the iniquities of the China coast cocktail and the unhallowed orgies of the Sourabaya Club, the new chums think that they have little to learn in the way of drink, and that, at any rate, they haven’t come all the way to Thursday Island to be taught anything. Poor new chums! Little do they know the kind of people they are up against.

The following description of a night at Thirsty Island is taken verbatim from a new chum’s notebook.

“Passed Proudfoot shoal and arrived at Thursday Island. First sight of Australia. Lot of men came aboard, all called Captain. They are all pearl fishers or pilots, not a bit like bushmen as I expected. When they came aboard they divided into parties. Some invaded the Captain’s cabin; others sat in the smoking room; the rest crowded into the saloon. They talked to the passengers about the Boer War, and told us about pearls worth £1,000 that had been found lately. One captain pulled a handful of loose pearls out of a jar and handed them round in a casual way for us to look at. The stewards opened drinks and we all sat down for a drink and a smoke. I spoke to one captain—an oldish man—and he grinned amiably, but did not answer. Another captain leaned over to me and said, ‘Don’t take any notice of him, he’s been boozed all this week.’ Conversation and drink became general. The night was very hot and close, and some of the passengers seemed to be taking more than was good for them. A kind of contagious thirst spread round the ship, and before long the stewards and firemen were at it. The saloon became an inferno of drink and sweat and tobacco smoke. Perfect strangers were talking to each other at the top of their voices. Young MacTavish, who is in a crack English regiment, was asking the captain of a pearling lugger whether he didn’t know Talbot de Cholmondeley in the Blues, and the pearler said very likely he had met ’em, and no doubt he’d remember their faces if he saw them, but he never could remember names. Another passenger—a Jew—was trying to buy some pearls cheap from the captains, but the more the captains drank the less anxious they became to talk about pearls. The night wore on, and still the drinks circulated. Young MacTavish slept profoundly. One passenger gave his steward a sovereign, as he was leaving the ship, and in half an hour the steward was carried to his berth in a fit—the fit being alcoholic in its origin. Another steward was observed openly drinking the passengers’ whisky. When accused, he didn’t even attempt to defend himself—the great Thursday Island thirst seemed to have communicated itself to everyone on board, and he simply had to drink. About three in the morning a tour of the ship disclosed the following state of affairs: captains’ room full of captains gravely and solemnly tight; smoking room empty, except for the inanimate form of the captain who had been boozed all the week, and who was now sleeping peacefully with his feet on the sofa and his head on the floor. The saloon full of captains and passengers—the latter mostly in a state of collapse or laughing and singing in a delirium of drink; the rails lined with firemen who had business over the side; stewards ditto; then at last the Thursday Islanders departed, unsteadily, but still on their feet, leaving a demoralised ship behind them. And young MacTavish, who has seen many messroom drunks, staggered to his berth, saying, ‘My God! Is all Australia like this place?’“

When no ships arrive, the Islanders just drop into the pubs, as a matter of routine, for their usual evening soak. They drink weird compounds sometimes—horehound beer, known as “lady dog”, and things like that. About two in the morning they go home speechless, but still able to travel. It is very rarely that any Islander gets helplessly drunk, but strangers generally have to be put to bed.

The Japanese on the island are a strong faction. They have a club of their own, and lately held a dinner to mark the death of one of their members. It seems he was shrewdly suspected of having tried to drown another member by cutting his air pipe, so, when he died, the club celebrated the event. The Japanese are not looked upon with favour by the white islanders. They send their money to Japan—thousands of pounds go through this little office in a year, in money orders—and so they are not “good for trade”. The Manila men and kanakas and Torres Strait Islanders, on the other hand, bring all the money that they do not spend on the pearling schooners to the island, and “blow it in”, like men. They knife each other sometimes, and now and again they have to be run in wholesale, but they are “good for trade”. The local lock-up has a record of eighteen drunks being run in in seven minutes. They weren’t taken along in carriages and four, either; they were dragged along by the scruff of the neck mostly. Billy Malkeela, the South Sea diver, summed up the Japanese question—“Seems to me dis Islan’ soon b’long Japanee altogedder. One time pa-lenty rickatta [plenty regatta], all same Isle o’ Wight. Now no more rickatta. All money go Japan!”

An English new chum made his appearance here lately—a most undefeated sportsman. He was put down in a diving dress in about eight feet of water, where he bubbled and struggled about in great style. Suddenly he turned and made a rush for the beach and an ebony wit suggested that he was going up to see the diver’s wife. He made for the foot of a tree, and was trying to climb it under the impression that he was still at the bottom of the ocean, when he was hauled in by the life line. The pearlers thought to get some fun out of him by giving him an oyster to open in which they had previously planted a pearl; he never saw the pearl and threw the oyster into the scuppers with the rest, and the pearlers had to go down on all fours and grope for that pearl among the stinking oysters. It was funny—but not in the way they had intended.

The pearlers go out in schooners called floating stations (their enemies call them floating public houses), and no man knows what hospitality is till he has been a guest on a pearling schooner. They carry it to extremes sometimes. Some pearlers were out in a lugger, and were passing by one of these schooners. They determined not to go on board, as it was late, and they were in a hurry. The captain of the schooner went below and got his rifle and put two bullets through their foresail. Then they put the helm down and went aboard; it was an invitation almost equivalent to a royal command. They felt heartily ashamed of themselves as they slunk up on deck, and the captain of the schooner eyed them reproachfully. “I couldn’t let you disgrace yourselves by passing my schooner,” he said, “but if it ever happens again I’ll fire at the deck. A man that would pass a schooner in broad daylight is better dead.”

There is a fort and garrison at Thirsty Island but they are not needed. If an invading fleet comes this way it should be encouraged by every possible means to land at the island; then the heat, the thirst, the horehound beer, and the Islanders may be trusted to do the rest.

The Bulletin, 5 April 1902


The Late Lieutenant Morant

A Personal Sketch

The photograph shows the late Lieutenant Morant, taken while boxing with a friend on a station away out in the Bourke district. The photograph is characteristic of the man and of the life he led. He was an ardent devotee of sport. From fox hunting to riding at shows, there was nothing in the way of sport that Morant would not tackle; all his life he feared nothing but hard work—or rather sustained steady work, because the hardships he went through to avoid working were much more formidable than the work itself would have been. An Englishman by birth, he was an excellent rough rider, and when he was young, with a nerve unshaken, he was a first-class horse breaker and a good man to teach a young horse to jump fences. Morant lived in the bush the curious nomadic life of the Ishmaelite, the ne’er-do-well, of whom there are still many to be found about north Queensland, but who are very rare now in the settled districts: droughts and overdrafts have hardened the squatters’ hearts and they are no longer content to board and lodge indefinitely the scapegrace who claims their hospitality; even yet in Queensland it is quite common for a young fellow to ride up to a station with all his worldly goods on a packhorse and let his horses go in the paddock and stay for months, joining in the work of the station, but not getting any pay—except a pound or two by way of loan from the “boss” now and again—and leaving at last to go on a droving trip; but in New South Wales the type is practically extinct. Morant was always popular for his dash and courage, and he would travel miles to obtain the kudos of riding a really dangerous horse. He revelled in excitement and boon companionship, and used to weary of the monotony of the bush and would constantly come to town to “see life”; as he had no money, and no means of earning any beyond a few pounds gained by very fitful work with his pen, these trips involved borrowings and difficulties that would have driven differently constituted men out of their minds. But Morant used to manage to keep his place among his friends—and they were many—but how he managed it was always a problem. Such then, was his life—hard and dangerous labour in the bush, given for nothing to avoid having to work, flashes of enjoyment in town so dearly bought that they were worthless. In character he was kindhearted and good-natured to the last degree, an enemy to no man but himself. Money he never valued at its true worth; he was a spendthrift and an idler, quick to borrow and slow to pay—as many literary and other Bohemians have been from time immemorial. He would buy a young colt on credit, and ride him till he had knocked the nonsense out of him, and would then sell him and spend the proceeds—instead of paying his debts—in a visit to an orchestral concert or in the expenses incident to a day’s hunting. He never saved a penny in his life, and the idea that he would take or order the taking of the life of an unarmed man for the sake of gain is utterly inconsistent with every trait of his character. Those who knew him best say that he would sooner have given a sick Boer the coat off his back than shot him for any money—especially Transvaal paper money—that he might have about him. Morant had one peculiarity, which perhaps arose from his literary propensities—he was always very untidy in his dress; and though he claimed to be the descendant of a leading English family he never affected the “swell” in his manner, and he never tried to dress himself up to act the part of the well-connected “adventurer”. Such as he was, he was the same to all men. With a good commander over him he might have made a fine soldier. As it turned out he got into exactly the worst company that a man of his temperament could have met—it was always so with him. He gambled with his chances all through life, and the cards ran against him. What is it that such men lack—just a touch of determination, or of caution, maybe—to turn their lives from failures to successes? His death was consistent with his life, for though he died as a criminal he died a brave man facing the rifles with his eyes unbandaged. For him Gordon’s lines would make a fitting epitaph:

An aptitude to mar and break
What others diligently make
That was the best and worst of him.
Wise, with the cunning of the snake;
Brave, with the sea-wolf’s courage grim;
Dying hard and dumb, torn limb from limb.

The Sydney Mail, 12 April 1902


Sitting In Judgment

A Show Ring Sketch

The scene is an Australian country show ring—a circular enclosure of about four acres extent—with a spiked batten fence round it, and a listless crowd of back-country settlers hanging around the fence. Back of these there are the sheds for produce, and the machinery sections, where steam threshers and earth scoops are humming, and buzzing, and thundering unnoticed. Crowds of sightseers wander along the cattle stalls and gape at the fat bullocks; side shows are flourishing, a blasé goose is drawing marbles out of a tin canister, and a boxing showman is showing his muscles outside his tent while his partner urges the youth of the district to come in and be thumped for the edification of the audience.

Suddenly a gate opens at the end of the show ring, and horses, cattle, dogs, vehicles, motor cars, and bicyclists crowd into the arena. It is called a general parade, but it might better be described as general chaos.

Trotting horses and ponies, in harness, go whirling round the ring, every horse and every driver fully certain that every eye is fixed on them; the horses—the vainest creatures in the world—arch their necks, and lift their feet up, whizzing past in bewildering succession, till the onlookers get giddy at the constant thud, thud, thud of the hoofs and the rustle of the wheels.

Inside the whirling circle of vehicles, blood stallions are standing on their hind legs, and screaming defiance at all corners; great shaggy-fronted bulls, with dull vindictive eyes, pace along, looking as though they were trying to remember who it was that struck them last. A showground bull always seems to be nursing a grievance.

Mixed up with the stallions and bulls are dogs and donkeys, the dogs being led by attendants, who are apparently selected on the principle that the larger the dog, the smaller the custodian should be, while the donkeys are the only creatures absolutely unmoved by their surroundings, for they sleep peaceably as they walk along, occasionally waking up to utter melodious hoots.

In the centre of the ring a few lady riders, stern-featured women for the most part, are being “judged” by a trembling official, who dares not look any of them in the face, but hurriedly and apologetically examines the horses and saddles, whispers his award to the stewards, and runs at top speed to the official stand, which he reaches in safety just as the award is made known to the competitors.

The defeated ladies immediately begin to “perform,” i.e., to ask the universe at large whether anyone ever heard the like of that! But the stewards slip away like shadows, and they are left “performing” to empty benches, so they ride haughtily round the ring, glaring defiance at the spectators.

All the time that the parade is going on, stewards and committee men are wandering about among the competitors trying to find the animals to be judged. The clerk of the ring—a huge man mounted on a small cob—gallops about, roaring out in a voice like a bull: “This way for the fourteen-stone ’acks! Come on, you twelve-’and ponies!” and by degrees various classes get judged, and disperse grumbling. Then the bulls begin to file out with their grievances still unsettled, the lady riders are persuaded to withdraw, and the clerk of the ring sends a sonorous bellow across the ground: “Where’s the jumpin’ judges?”

From the official stand comes a brisk, dark-faced, wiry little man; he has been a steeple-chase rider and a trainer in his time; long experience of that tricky animal, the horse, has made him reserved and slow to express an opinion; he mounts the table, and produces a notebook; from the bar of the booth comes a large, hairy, red-faced man, a man whose face shows absolute self-content. He is a noted show judge, because he refuses, as a rule, to listen to anybody else’s opinion, and when he does listen to it, he scornfully contradicts it, as a matter of course. The third judge is a local squatter, who has never judged before, and is overwhelmed with a sense of his own importance.

They seat themselves on a raised platform in the centre of the ring, and hold consultation. The small dark man produces his notebook.

“I always keep a scale of points,” he says. “Give ’em so many points for each fence. Then give ’em so many for make, shape, and quality, and so many for the way they jump.”

The fat man looks infinite contempt. “I never want any scale of points,” he says. “One look at the ’orses is enough for me. A man that judges by points ain’t a judge at all, I reckon. What do you think?” he goes on, turning to the squatter. “Do you use points?”

“Never,” says the squatter, firmly; which, as he has never judged before in his life, is not at all surprising.

“Well, we’ll each go our own way,” says the little man. “I’ll keep points. Send ’em in.”

“Number one: Conductor!” roars the ring steward in a voice like thunder, and a long-legged grey horse comes trotting into the ring and sidles about uneasily. His rider points him for the first jump, and goes at it at a terrific pace. Nearing the fence the horse makes a wild spring, and clears it by feet, while the crowd yell applause; at the second jump he races right close under the obstacle, props dead, and rises in the air with a leap like a goat, while the crowd yell their delight again, and say, “My oath! Ain’t he clever?” At the third fence he shifts about uneasily as he comes near it and finally darts at it at an angle, clearing about thirty feet quite unnecessarily, and again the hurricane of cheers breaks out. “Don’t he fly ’em?” says one man, waving his hat. At the last fence he makes his spring yards too soon, and, while his forelegs get over all right, his hind legs drop on the rail with a sounding rap, and he leaves a little tuft of hair sticking in the fence.

“I like to see ’em feel their fences,” says the fat man. “I had a bay ’orse once, and he felt every fence ever he jumped; shows their confidence.”

“I think he’ll feel that last one for awhile,” says the little dark man. “He hit it pretty hard. What’s this now?”

“Number two: Homeward Bound!” And an old solid chestnut horse comes out, and canters up to each jump, clearing them coolly and methodically, always making his spring at the correct distance from the fence. The crowd are not struck by the performance, and the fat man says, “No pace!” but surreptitiously makes two strokes to indicate number two on the cuff of his shirt.

“Number eleven: Spite!” A leggy, weedy chestnut brute, half racehorse, half nondescript, ridden by a terrified amateur, who goes at the fence with a white set face. The horse races up to the fence, and stops dead, among the jeers of the crowd. The rider lets daylight into him with his spurs, and rushes him at the fence again, and this time he gets over.

Round he goes, clouting some fences with his front legs, others with his hind legs. The crowd jeer, but the fat man, from a sheer spirit of opposition, says, “That would be a good horse if he was rode better.” And the squatter says, “Yes, he belongs to a young feller just near me. I’ve seen him jump splendidly out in the bush, over brush fences.”

The little dark man says nothing, but makes a note in his book.

“Number twelve: Gaslight!” “Now, you’ll see a horse,” says the fat man. “I’ve judged this ’orse in twenty different shows, and gave him first prize every time!”

Gaslight turns out to be a fiddle-headed, heavy-shouldered brute, whose long experience of jumping in shows where they give points for pace, as if the affair were a steeplechase, has taught him to get the business over as quickly as he can. He goes thundering round the ring, pulling double, and standing off his fences in a style that would infallibly bring him to grief if following hounds across roads or through broken timber.

“Now,” says the fat man, “that’s a ’unter, that is. What I say is, when you come to judge at a show, pick out the ’orse that you would soonest be on if Ned Kelly was after you, and there you have the best ’unter.” The little man makes no reply, but makes his usual scrawl in the book, while the squatter hastens to agree with the fat man. “I like to see a bit of pace myself,” he ventures to remark.

The fat man sits on him heavily. “You don’t call that pace, do you?” he says. “He was only going dead slow.”

Various other competitors come in and do their turn round the ring, some propping and bucking over the jumps, others rushing and tearing at their fences, none jumping as a hunter ought to do. Some get themselves into difficulties by changing their feet or misjudging their distance, and are loudly applauded by the crowd for their “cleverness” in getting themselves out of difficulties which, if they had any cleverness, they would not have got into.

A couple of rounds narrow the competitors down to a few, and the task of deciding is then entered upon.

“I have kept a record,” says the little man, “of how they jump each fence, and I give them points for style of jumping, and for their make and shape and hunting qualities. The way I bring it out is that Homeward Bound is the best, with Gaslight second.”

“Homeward Bound!” says the fat man. “Why, the pace he went wouldn’t head a duck. He didn’t go as fast as a Chinaman could trot with two baskets of stones. I want to have three of ’em in to have a look at ’em.” Here he looks surreptitiously at his cuff, and seeing a note, “No. II,” mistakes it for “number eleven,” and says: “I want number eleven to go another round.”

This order is shouted across the ground, and the leggy, weedy chestnut with the terrified amateur up, comes sidling and snorting out into the ring. The fat man looks at him with scorn.

“What is that fiddle-headed brute doing in the ring?” he says.

“Why,” says the ring steward, “you said you wanted him.”

“Well,” says the fat man, “if I said I wanted him, I do want him. Let him go the round.”

The terrified amateur goes at the fences with the rashness of despair, and narrowly escapes being clouted off on two occasions. This puts the fat man in a quandary, because, as he has kept no record, he has got all the horses jumbled up in his head, but he has one fixed idea, viz., to give first prize to Gaslight; as to what is to come second he is open to argument. From sheer contrariness he says that number eleven would be “all right if he were rode better”, and the squatter agrees. The little man is overruled, and the prizes go—Gaslight, first; Spite, second; Homeward Bound, third.

The crowd hoot loudly as Spite’s rider comes round with the second ribbon, and the small boys suggest to the judge in shrill tones that he ought to boil his head. The fat man stalks majestically into the steward’s stand, and on being asked how he came to give Spite the second prize, remarks oracularly: “I judge the ’orse; I don’t judge the rider.”

This silences criticism, and everyone adjourns to have a drink.

Over the flowing bowl the fat man says, “You see, I don’t believe in this nonsense about points. I can judge ’em without that.”

The scene closes with twenty dissatisfied competitors riding away from the ring, vowing they will never bring another horse there in their lives, and one, the winner, saying:

“Bly me, I knew it would be all right with old Billy judging. ’E knows this ’orse.”

The Pastoralists’ Review, 15 May 1902


Pearling Industry At Thursday Island: A Day On A Lugger

The schooner Tarawa is lying at anchor in Endeavour Straits, just opposite the place where Captain Cook landed. Around her, like chickens round a hen, are anchored her fleet of a dozen pearling luggers. The sea is as smooth as glass, and there is a constant clatter of rowlocks and splash of paddles as the black boys row the little dinghies from lugger to lugger, laughing and chattering with their countrymen; “go walkabout” they call it. The sun strikes down dazzlingly on the white sand of Possession Island, and the hills of the Australian mainland are wrapped in a blue haze; on the beach a crowd of black men are disporting themselves, swimming and racing and shouting with laughter.

On the luggers the Japanese divers—serious little men—are overhauling their gear, and round the schooner there is a cluster of small boats, because it is refitting season, and every lugger wants something—either a new diver’s dress, or a new sail, or a new anchor, or a new meat cask, or some other item. The clerk of the stores on the schooner consults with the captain as each demand is made, but no reasonable thing is ever refused, because a diver will not work with bad gear: so that to be sparing of stores is false economy. By degrees some of the luggers are fully fitted out ready for work, and they are ordered to go out and fish until the rest of the fleet are ready, when they will all move off together to the pearling grounds out by Radhu Island or down the coast. A slight breeze springs up, and at once there is a clinking of pawls, a rattle of chain, and the creaking of blocks as the anchors are got up and the sails set in the luggers that are ready for sea, and away the little white-sailed vessels go, each with its crew of happy black faces forward and its serious little Japanese diver at the helm. The diver is always the captain of the lugger, and there are matters of etiquette in connection with pearl diving which the outsider finds it hard to grasp. The diver, for instance, never rows a dinghy. If he wishes to visit the schooner or another lugger, one of the crew has to pull the dinghy for him; also the diver and “tender” sleep aft in a tiny little cabin the size of a dog kennel, while the crew live forward under the half deck. Among the luggers ready for sea is the Pearl, commanded by Billy Makeela, a South Sea islander who has been diving for 25 years, and on this lugger the stranger is sent out to see how the pearl oyster is obtained.

On coming aboard he finds the lugger to be a 10-ton vessel of beautiful yacht-like lines, and, indeed, some of these luggers are designed by the best designers in Australia. The sails are white and the gear in good order. Billy Makeela makes us welcome in a stately way. He is very black, and his only clothing is a dirty loincloth, but that is his service equipment. When he goes ashore in parade order he is majestic, and Solomon in all his glory is not arrayed like Billy Makeela. As this is only a short trip to kill time till the other luggers are ready, Billy has taken with him his wife, Balu, a native of the Torres Straits. Balu is very black, but very comely; she is about 30 years younger than Billy, and is clothed in a white print dress which she got at the mission station. She can read or write English, but the unaccustomed surroundings make her shy, and as the lugger moves off the old primeval instincts overcome her civilised training, and as Billy squats down by the helm she crouches submissively behind him, holding on to his shoulders, with her nose buried in the small of his back, and all that one can see of her is the back of a round, woolly head. As the boat “goes about” and Billy shifts across the deck she shuffles over with him, never looking up and never letting go his shoulders. It is the primeval woman trusting blindly to the skill of the primeval man. The lugger bends over to the breeze till her lee rail is under water and the spray comes flying aboard. The crew forward consists of four Torres Straits Islanders, fine specimens of humanity. The Torres Straits Islanders are a compound of the Australian black, the Malay, and the South Sea islander; they are born natural boatmen and are as much at home in the water as the dugong which they occasionally hunt to death. They have great contempt for the “Binghies” or Australian Aboriginals. These boys on the Pearl are missionary-trained boys, but as soon as the lugger is fairly under way they go below and begin to play cards. Two of them are brothers of Balu, so that it is quite a family party.

They are dressed in cheap pyjama trousers, et praeterea nihil. Aft with Billy and his wife sits Joe, the Portuguese tender, who has to attend to Billy’s lifeline. Joe has been a steward on various vessels, and has been in more parts of the world than the Wandering Jew. He confides to us that “dis Billy’e altogether good diver. ’E get shell on de reef. Dese Japanese dey walk over it; dey do not see it.” As a matter of fact, the Malays and islanders have more natural hunter craft than the Japanese, and they can find shell in the reefs and under rocky ledges; but for sheer hard work the Japanese is their master, and he will outwork them on open bottoms.

We thresh our way to the “old ground”—a large area of open sea about eight fathoms deep—and here Billy studies his landmarks by the neighbouring islands and studies the look of the water. At last he orders, “Stan’ by foresail. Down foresail. Down mainsail. Down jib. Let go,” and the anchor goes over with a couple of turns of chain round the fluke, so that it will allow the lugger to drift. Billy dresses rapidly with the assistance of Joe, the tender. The dress is canvas and india rubber, with great heavy lead-soled boots, a corslet of great weight, gun metal helmet and two lead weights to hang over the shoulders. A man can only just move with this gear on him. Billy stands on the ladder, half in the water, two of the black boys set to work at the pump, and the plumb line is thrown over. This is sent down so that the diver may keep hold of it and see what sort of bottom he is coming to. If he chanced to find that he was descending just over a big valley in the bottom of the sea, or among jagged rocks likely to foul his line, he could hold on to the plumb line and reconnoitre the bottom before finally descending.

Joe screws the face-plate into the helmet and Billy suddenly throws himself backward with a loud splash into the water, and sinks slowly—a grim, uncanny object descending through the blue water. Joe, the Portuguese tender, holds the lifeline, one of the boys holds the air pipe to prevent its drifting and fouling, and a smother of white bubbles coming up in the lee of the lugger shows where Billy is walking along beneath us. Balu, his wife, is not concerned at her husband’s peril; she takes little interest in the dress or the descent, but stares fascinated at her two brothers, who are methodically turning the air pump. The revolution of the handles and the rise and fall of the cylinders seem to her much more wonderful than the diving does. Meanwhile from below Billy is talking through the rope to Joe, the Portuguese tender. Two sharp vicious pulls come, and Joe calls over his shoulder to the two boys at the pump, “More air,” and the boys make the handles fairly spin for a few moments, to Balu’s great admiration. Then four distinct tugs, and Joe calls to the forward hand, “Haul up; li’l piece more chain. Dat’ll do.” For Billy has seen a shell out of his reach, and wants the lugger to drift over to it. Then a shake on the line and Joe calls sharply, “Slack up chain”; for evidently Billy has got on to a patch and wants the boat’s pace retarded. Thus the lugger drifts for nearly an hour, the signalling going on all the time, when suddenly there comes one sharp pull, and Joe calls, “Haul up”; it is curious what a different tone is impressed into the “haul up”, because if the other orders are muddled it only means the loss of a shell or two, but “haul up” may mean that the diver is in trouble, and “haul up” must be obeyed at once. Down below, Billy, having been down long enough, has decided to come up, so he closes the escape valve of the helmet, and the confined air fills his dress, and as Joe and the boy with the air pipe haul away, Billy suddenly floats to the top about 20 yards from the lugger, a ghastly, sprawling, bloated sea monster; his huge uncanny helmet is face down, half-buried in the water; the air has filled his dress till it looks as though his body were swollen out of all proportion of humanity; his legs and arms sprawl feebly like the limbs of some wounded animal. This gruesome object is hauled alongside, and the stranger is quite sure that some accident has happened and the diver is dying. Once alongside he clutches the ladder and hands up his little open basket full of shells. Then the face-plate is unscrewed, he is helped on the deck, and the lugger sails away with Joe at the helm, to another ground, while Billy sits on deck in his diver’s dress and smokes and tells stories of the old days “before dem Japanese come”.

Arrived at the new ground Billy dives for another hour or so, and while he is down the shells are inspected by the strangers. They are the size of a fruit plate, covered with weed and coral growths. The smaller oysters are always attached by a strong green ligament to some object—a piece of rock or pieces of coral—but this ligament dies as the oyster gets older. The shells are opened in the lugger on this occasion only—by rule they should be brought to the schooner unopened. Inside each shell is a fish more like a squid than an ordinary oyster, and with the fish there live on terms of great amity a small reddish-coloured lobster about an inch long, and a small crab about a quarter of an inch in diameter. These three seem to agree well with each other. The pearls, if any, are visible among the fringe of the oyster’s beard, but occasionally they are hidden among the oyster’s anatomy.

On the long cruises, when the schooner and her fleet are out for months at a time, it is the rule for the schooner to send her collecting boat, a half-decked 20-footer, round the luggers every second day at least, if it be at all possible. But sometimes the weather is bad, and the luggers have got a long way from the schooner and the shell may be a week or more on the luggers before it is collected. Then the heat of the sun makes the oysters open and the deft little Japanese fingers soon pick out any pearls that may be visible. Sometimes an oyster is induced to open by being held near the galley fire on the lugger, and once open is kept open by the insertion of a piece of cork, while the pearl, if any, is hooked out by a piece of wire. Then the cork is removed and the oyster closes again as good as ever. Some-times the bumping in the collecting boat shakes the pearl out of an oyster that is just a little open, and when these boats are washed out a careful search for pearls is always made among the bottom boards. Fancy getting a pearl worth a thousand pounds drifting about among the slime and rubbish at the bottom of a dinghy!

One great difficulty is keeping the boats in water. In the tropics a lot of water is wanted, and it is always carried in canvas bags.

By great persuasion, Billy Makeela is induced to allow the stranger to go down in eight fathoms. Billy is not encouraging. He says, “I frighten let you down. S’posin’ anything go wrong; you die queek.” At eight fathoms the pressure is severe for a beginner; the blood is crushed out of the body into the head, but the severe feeling of oppression vanishes after a time. The floor of the ocean lies level and flat, studded with knobs of coral and patches of greyish weed. Here and there are clusters of marine growths, and a few shells lie about on the bottom. The diver can see some 10 or 15 yards, apparently, and beyond that all is an opaque mist; small fish come and look in at the eye holes of the helmet; the novice feels oppressed by the weight of the water, and blunders along, feeling as though he were held back by some invisible power as he tries to walk. The mud rises as he moves, and beyond him stretches always the level sand and all round him the oppressive opaque mist. He feels like a very small and insignificant fish in a very large aquarium. After 10 minutes’ search, he finds one shell and is hauled up by the anxious Billy. Then the lugger is headed for the schooner; the dress is turned inside out and hung up to dry. Joe and the black boys lie down and smoke, while Balu makes a fire in the little iron fireplace bedded in some earth in a box in the well of the lugger and makes tea, while Billy sails the lugger back. One boys goes up in the rigging to look out for reefs, and thus we get back to the Straits just as the soft tropical darkness shuts out the islands, and the mainland, and leaves only the schooner’s lights to show the way.

Billy will have to leave Australia under the new legislation but it does not trouble him much; he and his wife are simple people, and back in his own island he can get “plenty banana” without any such arduous work as diving; but having once risen above the savage scale of existence he is not likely to go back home; he is most likely to go to New Guinea and get employment on Dutch boats, and become a South Sea Dutchman—a sort of coloured Van Tromp of the ocean bed.

The Sydney Mail, 17 May 1902


A Visit To Drought Land

This is a full, true, and particular account of a visit to Drought Land, with all accessories thrown in.

I had seen drought before—when we had a station out on the western side—but this was reckoned to be something extra in the way of a drought. In Sydney one would not know that there was anything particular the matter with the country. True, one found that the lawyers were all complaining that times were bad, a sure sign of business depression; and a few of one’s old friends, who used to be working as clerks and shop assistants, were now doing “casual labour work” down at Darling Harbour, and many people one met wanted to know what prospects there were in the New Hebrides or Africa or China—anywhere out of Australia. But otherwise there seemed just as much money going in the city as ever.

After all, it is a great country, and covers a lot of ground. The drought which is death to the north-western squatter is a Godsend to the southern man, and down about Braidwood and the Monaro they are making more money this year than they have made any year for the last twenty. It takes a lot to break this country.

On getting into the train one began to hear more definite things about the drought. One squatter had a good deal to say about it. “Up Tamworth way,” he said, “you can get a team of horses and a dray and a man to drive them for ten shillings a week, provided you’ll feed the horses. Everybody’s feeding their stock—that is, those who have got anything left to feed. Sheep will be worth two pounds a head when the drought breaks.”

Here another man broke in. “How can they ever be worth two pounds a head? Who’ll have two pounds to give for a sheep? The loan companies won’t lend you two pounds to buy a sheep with.”

“Why not?”

“Because a sheep only grows one fleece a year whatever happens, drought or no drought, and that fleece isn’t going to be worth any more in London because of our drought. People will have to wait till sheep get cheaper before they buy, that’s all about it.” The squatter was driven back on his last line of defence. “Well, anyhow, there’s been a lot of money put into the sheep, keeping ’em alive.”

“Yes, more than they’ll ever be worth.”

“Ah, well, I wouldn’t mind having a few thousand fats now,” said the squatter. And then the train rolled out of Redfern station, up through the orchard districts of Ryde with their outcrops of volcanic soil, through the miles and miles of Hawkesbury sandstone scrub, where a few misguided farmers are trying to get a living in little holes and corners simply because there is no good land left available for settlement anywhere; up past Gosford and the Newcastle collieries, and on into the Hunter River valley.

Then, for the first time, one realises what a sickly sort of country Australia can look when it likes. For miles and miles there was nothing to be seen out of the train but bare, dry earth. Even the dusty grey roots of the grass had been eaten out. On properties where the fat stock should be wading knee-deep in clover and thistles and prairie grass at this time of year, a few poor starving skeletons of cattle were tottering feebly about.

At the railway stations men talked to one another almost in whispers, and moved about quietly like men at a funeral. There was nothing to be done but wait. Overhead, the sun blazed down brightly out of the clear wintry sky. Underneath, the ground, hard as adamant, lay and stared dumbly back. The shadeless, flowerless, fruitless gum trees seemed to be looking on sullenly at the destruction that was being wrought among the cattle. And this was Australia!

For hour after hour the train roared and swung through the same arching, parching desert. One would hardly see fifty head of stock in fifty miles, except for the horses hanging up to the fences at the railway stations. These horses, being maize-fed, found themselves in quite unaccustomed high spirits.

After a while we began to climb the range up into the New England tableland. Here there were occasionally to be seen patches of rough, coarse, rushy-looking grass, and everywhere there was a litter of leaves where branches had been cut down to feed stock. The squatter explained the situation.

“This,” he said, waving his hand towards the surrounding grey desert, “is the good country. This is where they’re sending their stock to, to keep ’em alive. There’s thousands and thousands of stock being. travelled down here for this grass, such as it is.”

“And will it save their lives?”

“No, it only makes their funeral a bit more expensive. This rubbishy dry stuff that they have to eat, they can’t digest it, and it balls inside them and kills them. Cattle too!”

“What’s going to come of the country, then?”

“Oh, as soon as the rain comes, they’ll have to go round and try and get money for a fresh start, though where they’re to get it goodness knows. The land’s mortgaged up to its neck already, and the stock are dead! They’ve got the price of land too high, that’s where the trouble is. A man has to pay such a price to get a property in any of these settled districts that he has to overstock from year’s end to year’s end to pay his interest. You’d think stations would be cheap now, wouldn’t you? Well, they’re not! The most of them are heavily mortgaged, and the mortgagees won’t let them be sold at a loss, and the men who are not under mortgage, of course they’re not going to sell cheap. It’s as hard to get a place now as ever it was!”

We swung through New England and on up to the northern districts, nearly to the border. Here we came on the cattle country, where the big ranges are. Here there was grass of a sort; the sort that is no good. Meat in the town 6d a pound; butchers going out of business because they could get no stock to kill!

We left the train and got horses, and rode out past one of our principal northern towns, over the same bare, granite-like earth; but here a bit of alluvial or volcanic soil had given a chance to grow crops—such crops as they would sneer at in almost any other part of the world.

“What’s this land worth?” we ask the squatter.

He looks round over the surrounding parched flats, where a few “cockies”—i.e., small settlers—were farming, and where some shadow-like cattle were groping about among the stalks of a field of maize.

“They have to pay 15s an acre rent,” he said.

“The land isn’t for sale, but if it was they’d have to give about twelve pounds an acre.”

Twelve pounds an acre for that sunburnt desert! We began to understand why some men were off to South Africa!

We passed on, out of the area of “good land”, and came on to the real genuine Australian bush. Hour after hour and mile after mile we rode through thick stringybark and hop scrub, among rocks and fallen timber, picking our way down sidelings and up dry watercourses, and in the whole of two days’ riding we did not see any land that would keep a family.

This is unalienated Crown land. There were supposed to be five thousand cattle in these hills, but a two days’ ride only showed us about fifty live animals. Where were the rest?

No wonder that the typical Australian is a bitter cynic; such a country would make a cynic of anybody.

Not only are they cynics in Drought Land, but they are all politicians. Every man has a legislative pill that would cure all evils if he were only allowed to administer it. We found one descendant of Cincinnatus at a farm, where he was trying by the aid of two half-starved horses to break up the ground with a “cultivator”, as it was too hard for the plough. “What this country wants,” he said, leaving his horses and coming to the fence to talk to us, “is to have the good land forced into use. What’s the good of small farmers going on to this drought country? It’d break Tyson. There’s lots of districts where there’s good land lying idle. Illawarra and the like o’ that.”

“How are you going to bring it into use?”

“Do like Seddon done in New Zealand—tax ’em till they have to use it or sell it. It’s no good resoomin’ it at high prices because the cockies can’t make it pay. Tax it, till they have to sell it cheap!”

“Then you’d start to save the country by ruining those who own the land now?”

The reformer was quite prepared to sacrifice other people in the good cause.

“It can’t be helped,” he said. “After all, who’d be the losers—only the banks! And what better do they deserve?”

In the eyes of a man from Drought Land a “bank” is fair game for all classes. To him a bank among the farmers is like a dingo among the sheep. He wants a Government bank, where his local member can borrow money for him; any person or institution out of political control is abhorrent to him.

After a time we had left the worst country and came back along the main road. We came on to an unfenced area of ground, or rather it is a mistake to call it “ground”, as it was mostly stringybark saplings and rocks, with here and there, on the flats, a thin coating of soil washed down from the ranges above.

“This,” said the squatter, “is a reserve. If it were thrown open tomorrow there would be a hundred and fifty applicants. You have no idea of the land hunger there is, or what they’ll take up. They will take up anything. If the seasons are good they make a living, but if they’re bad they go broke; but it’s wonderful how they struggle along. It takes a fearful lot to break a cocky. Of course, they go broke sometimes.”

That is the weird characteristic of Australian life—the possibility that, work as hard as you will, you may find yourself broke any minute. In no other part of the world—except, perhaps, South Africa—is there the same uncertainty of return and high initial outlay. In Java, for instance, magnificent plantation land, such as Australians have no idea of, better than the best of Gippsland—well watered, and with abundance of cheap labour available—can be rented for half a crown an acre per year, because the land is all leasehold; and if a man does not want to use land, he can make nothing by holding it idle.

We rode home from Drought Land past cattle eating fallen oak; past the little “cockies’“ homesteads, where the dust heaps that had once been gardens were blowing clean away from the fronts of houses, leaving the roots of the plants bare. One week’s rain and all this would be flourishing with grass; and the inhabitants of Drought Land would at once begin over-stocking again and borrowing money to buy sheep with. They are a hard people to discourage. It’s wonderful how the country rallies from these droughts. In the words of the squatter, “it takes a fearful lot to break a cocky”.

The Sydney Morning Herald, 23 August 1902


In The Cattle Country

We were going for a day in the cattle country, and also to vary it with a dash after dingoes. Nowadays there are not many cattle stations left in New South Wales, and there are fewer still where there are any dingoes; but there are still some bits of ragged country left where, even from the train, one can see the wary dingo slinking through the scrub and the wallaby skipping among the rocks.

The trouble began at the homestead over the horses. Being drought time, one naturally thought that the horses would be poor and weak, and hardly able to gallop: instead of which they were all fed on maize and were fat and jumping out of their skins with animal spirits. The horse that I rode was a big bay with hair on his back and clipped underneath. He was introduced as a grandson of Musket, and the head stockman was enthusiastic about him.

“Man and boy,” he said, “I’ve been ridin’ horses for five and forty years, and this is the best horse I’ve ever ridden. There’s no day too long for him. He can win a shearers’ race, he can cut out cattle, and he can go through scrub like a wallaby.”

“I suppose he won’t hit me against a tree in the scrub, will he?”

“Oh, won’t he just! He ain’t afraid of a tree. He don’t care where he goes.”

“Does he pull much?”

“Well, if he gets woke-up like, he’s a very hard horse to hold. We mostly ride him in a curb bit, but we put the snaffle on him for you. It was you wrote about the ‘Man from Snowy River’, wasn’t it? Yes, well you ought to be able to ride him right enough.”

This was a gay prospect for a man who had not ridden in scrub for ten years, and was never very expert at it at the best of times. Anyhow, I put a good face on it, and the grandson of Musket was brought forth ready saddled and bridled.

It was indeed a treat to ride such a horse—a great raking sixteen-hand bay with black points, with enormous barrel and ribs, broad hips, and a shoulder laid right back till there seemed at least the length of an ordinary horse in front of the saddle. He was one of the examples of the old type of stockhorse—a horse with quality enough to run a race, strength enough to pull a cart, and pluck enough to die galloping.

The head stockman did not come with us. He sent a sunburnt substitute who was well mounted, and who was the master of the dingo hounds, that is to say, he had with him a kangaroo slut, so narrow and wasp-waisted that she looked like an embodiment of hunger and speed, and a fierce-looking brown staghound, with a rough coat, and three sore feet, on which he limped alternately. But the genius of the party was Barney, the cattle dog, an aged dingo-looking reprobate into whose face all the wisdom of centuries was crowded. It was understood that Barney would follow nothing but dingoes. Emus might frolic around him in flocks, kangaroos might leap affrighted from under his very nose, but nothing would turn Barney off a dingo.

The sunburnt stockman advised me, if I fell off or got lost, to sit still and not move about, as they were sure to find me again some time or other; and with this comforting advice we started. The young squatter who went with us was riding a station mare, well-bred, and a good mare in scrub, but running to weediness. The grandson of Musket strode out sleepily as a carthorse, lounging along as placidly as an old cow. The other two stockhorses fretted and fidgeted at their bits, but not so this veteran. He was waiting for the climax—the great critical moment when he would set the seal on his reputation by knocking me off against a tree and catching the dingo himself.

We rode through scrub and stringybark, over country consisting mostly of loose rocks up on end, and covered carefully from view by hop scrub, thickets of wattle, and the limbs of fallen trees. Sometimes we scrambled up hills, clinging round the horses’ necks for fear we should slip over the tail. Other times we slid down mountains with the stones clattering round us, the horses blundering from rock to rock, and grazing our shins against the trees as they walked. We rode for hours without seeing any dingoes, or any cattle for that matter. Just mile after mile of worthless scrub and rock and wilderness: I was beginning to lose interest in the thing, and to believe that the dingoes were a myth, and to hope that after all the grandson of Musket wouldn’t have the chance to destroy me against a tree, when all of a sudden, just as we were scrambling down the wickedest piece of rock and scrub in the world, the sunburnt stockman yelled out, “Hool ’im, hool ’im, hool ’im!” The sagacious Barney began to utter loud yelps of excitement; the greyhound and staghound flashed like arrows into the scrub; and the grandson of Musket took the bit in his teeth and tore through the timber, going as if he were on a racecourse, while the crash, crash, crash of the small scrub and fallen timber was punctuated by hairbreadth escapes—say twenty every second—from trees and saplings and overhanging branches. I never saw the dingo. I don’t think anyone else did. We tore madly down the side of a range, arrived by some miracle at the foot of it, and there found ourselves face to face with a bottomless dry gully over which the grandson of Musket strode as if it were a crack in the earth; and then up, like rock wallabies, over the rocks and fallen stones on the opposite slope.

We had ridden about a mile. The two hounds had been out of sight from the very start. The feathery tail and the loud yelp of the sagacious Barney had been our guiding star—our oriflamme as it were—and now even Barney had disappeared. His yelping had suddenly ceased.

We managed to pull the horses up, and then everyone began to make excuses.

The sunburnt stockman started. “I was follerin’ the kangaroo slut,” he said, “and I see you two fellows makin’ over here towards the left like, and I thought, of course, you must be on to the dingo, so I come over after you. That’s how I come to lose the dorgs.”

The young squatter followed suit. “I was following Ranji” [the deerhound] “but when I heard old Barney yelping I made across after him. And that bad clump of wattle delayed me a lot, and that’s how I came to lose ’em.”

Then they looked at me as if it was time for me to put in my explanation.

“How did you come to lose ’em?”

“Well,” I said, “when I started of course I made sure of catching a dingo straight off, but I shaved the bark off so many saplings and knocked the limbs off so many trees with my head that my attention sort of wandered from the dogs. I wasn’t following the dogs at all, it took me all my time to navigate this horse. That’s how I came to lose the dogs.”

The sunburnt stockman shook his head despondingly. “It’s a pity,” he said, “they’re sure to catch him, in fact they’ve got him cot by now.”

“Do you really think so?”

“Oh, certain,” he said with a superior smile, “quite certain. They never miss a dorg, once they start him. Now, if we’d only kep’ up with ’em, I’ll bet you,” he went on slowly and impressively, “if we’d only kep’ up with ’em, I’ll bet you we would have found them now killin’ him. After as good a run as a man could want! It’s a great pity!”

It was indeed sad. Visions arose of the sagacious Barney and the shadow-like kangaroo slut engaged in the combat to the death with the dingo, who was dying silently, fighting to the last. I thought sadly of all I was missing, for I had come all the way from Sydney to see a dingo killed, and now he was actually being killed, and I hadn’t been able to keep up.

Here I happened to look over my shoulder and saw the sagacious Barney trying to dig a lizard out from under a fallen log, while the two hounds watched him with an air of grave interest.

“There they are,” said I, “there’s the dogs now.”

The stockman wasn’t a bit taken aback. “So they are,” he said, “They must have come on-sighted. This time last year they missed a dingo just about the same way—just about here it was, too. It’s only an accident like when they miss one, I tell you.”

We had many another dash after Barney and his dingoes, and they all ended in the same way. The dogs dashed yelping out of sight, the horses tore through the scrub, the sunburnt stockman screamed encouragement from the rear, and the grandson of Musket swept through the timber over rocks and fallen logs, with the swoop of some great bird. After half a mile or so we would find ourselves left in the vast silence of the Australian bush, no dog nor dingo in sight; then we put in the time till the dogs came back, explaining to each other how it was that we had failed to keep up with them.

We didn’t catch any dingoes. I saw one once in the distance and Barney was taken up and put on the scent; it was an anxious moment for me, because if Barney failed to howl and run on the scent, then that would have proved that I was a liar, and had not seen a dingo. Luckily for me Barney went nearly into hysterics when he came on the scent, and we had a glorious dash for a while; shortly after, we came on a dead yearling calf which the dingoes had killed. They had eaten the carcase almost out of the skin, leaving the empty skin like a discarded glove. The sunburnt stockman said that when they want to kill a calf they snap and bite at the heels of the mob till they start them racing, and as soon as a weak one falls to the rear, they snap at its hocks till they hamstring it; then they bite it to death.

The squatter produced a little bottle of strychnine and put some into the body of the calf. While he was doing this the sagacious Barney and the two hounds returned from their fruitless chase. Barney snuffed round the carcase for a while, then threw up his head and set off across the range at a businesslike trot.

“Look at him,” said the stockman. “He’s on to ’em! He’s trailin ’em! There’s been a lot round that calf, and he’ll be on to ’em in a minute! Be ready now! Be ready! That’s the way he always goes when he’s trailin ’em!”

My heart beat high with excitement. I gripped the grandson of Musket by the head and peered through the dense timber to see if I could risk a hundred yards of safe going, so that I might see a little of the hunt before I was killed. I expected a summons to death at any moment.

With intense excitement we watched Barney pause on the top of the rocks and snuff the air, irresolute; then he trotted on for some distance and wagged his tail, evidently having found what he wanted. There was a pool of water there and he lay down in it; he had not been after dingoes at all; having slaked his thirst, he trotted back and began to eat the poisoned calf. I suggested that in reward for having sold us like that, he should be allowed to eat as much of it as he wanted, but his owner explained that there had been dingoes drinking at the waterhole and Barney had gone there to see if any were planted near there. No matter what happened, you couldn’t shake his faith in Barney.

After this contretemps we lost interest in the dingoes and went to look for cattle. We found a few poor starving relics, eating the scrub which was cut down for them from day to day. When they first came on the place, they were so wild that the sight of a man would set them galloping in all directions, and now, as soon as they heard an axe they would come crowding down to it.

Cattle are going to be worth phenomenal money after the drought. Judging by what we saw in the bush, next year’s export of frozen meat will be mostly frozen bone dust.

The hounds caught a few kangaroos during the day, and the shades of night saw us returning to the station with horses, dogs, and men all pretty tired, and no result in the shape of dingoes. But that wasn’t Barney’s fault. As his owner said, “If we’d only have been able to have kept up, he would have got a lot of ’em.”

The Sydney Mail, 30 August 1902


The Dog

The cat is the roué, sportsman, gambler, gay Lothario of the animal kingdom. The dog is the workman, a member of society who likes to have his day’s work, and who does it more conscientiously than most human beings. A dog always looks as if he ought to have a pipe in his mouth and a black bag for his lunch, and then he would go quite happily to the office every day.

A dog without work is like a man without work, a nuisance to himself and everybody else. People who live about town, and keep a dog to give the children hydatids and to keep the neighbours awake at night, imagine that the animal is fulfilling his destiny and is not capable of anything better. All town dogs, fancy dogs, show dogs, lap-dogs, and dogs with no work to do should be at once abolished; it is only in the country that a dog has any justification for his existence.

The old theory that animals have only instinct and not reason is knocked endways by the dog. A dog can reason as well as a human being on some subjects, and better on others; and undoubtedly the best reasoning dog of all is the sheepdog. The sheepdog is a professional artist with a pride in his business. Watch any drover’s dogs bringing sheep into the yards. How thoroughly they feel their responsibility, and how very annoyed they get if any stray vagrant dog with no occupation wants them to stop and fool about! They snap at him and hurry off as much as to say, “You go about your idleness. Don’t you see this is my busy day?”

Dogs are followers of Carlyle. They hold that the only happiness for a dog in this life is to find his work and to do it. The idle, dilettante, non-working aristocratic dog they have no use for.

The training of a sheepdog for his profession begins at a very early age. The first thing is to take him out with his mother and let him see her working. He blunders out lightheartedly, frisking about in front of the horse, and he gets his first lesson that day, for his owner tries to ride over him, and generally succeeds. That teaches him one thing—to keep behind the horse till he is wanted. It is amusing to see how it knocks all the gas out of a puppy, and with what a humble air he falls to the rear and glues himself to the horse’s heels, scarcely daring to look to the right or to the left for fear he may commit some other breach of etiquette. Then he watches the old slut work, and is allowed to go with her round the sheep, and, as likely as not, if he shows any disposition to get out of hand and frolic about, the old lady will bite him sharply to prevent his interfering with her work.

Then by degrees, slowly, like any other professional, he learns his business. He learns to bring sheep after a horse simply at a wave of the hand; to force the mob up to a gate where they can be counted or drafted; learns to follow the scent of lost sheep and to drive sheep through a town without any master, one dog going on ahead to block the sheep from turning off into by-streets, while the other drives them on from the rear.

How do they learn all these things? Dogs for show work are taught painstakingly by men who are skilled in handling them, but after all they teach themselves more than the men teach them. There is no doubt that the acquired knowledge of generations is transmitted from dog to dog. The puppy, descended from a race of good sheepdogs, starts with all his faculties directed towards the working of sheep; he is half-educated as soon as he is born. He can no more help working sheep than a born musician can help playing the fiddle, or a Hebrew can help making money. It is bred in him. If he can’t get sheep to work, he will work a fowl; and often one can see a collie pup painstakingly and carefully driving a bewildered old hen into a stable or a stockyard, or any other enclosed space on which he has fixed his mind. How does he learn to do that? He didn’t learn it at all. The knowledge was born with him.

If would be interesting to get examples of this inherited ability, and only that I don’t want to let a flood of dog-liars loose on the paper, I would suggest to the editor to invite correspondence from those who have seen unquestionable examples of young, untaught animals doing things which they could only have learnt by inheritance.

When the dog has been educated, or educated himself, he enjoys his work; but sometimes, if he thinks he has had enough of it, he will deliberately quit and go home. Very few dogs like work “in the yards”. The sun is hot, the dust rises in clouds, and there is nothing to do but bark, bark, bark, which is all very well for learners and amateurs but is beneath the dignity of the true professional sheepdog. Then, when the dogs are hoarse with barking and nearly choked with dust, the men lose their tempers and swear at them, and throw clods of earth at them, and sing out to them, “Speak up, blast you!” At last the dogs suddenly decide that they have done enough for the day, and, watching their opportunity, they silently steal over the fence, and go and hide in any cool place they can find. After a while the men notice that hardly any dogs are left, and then operations are suspended while a great hunt is made into all outlying pieces of cover, where the dogs are sure to be found lying low and looking as guilty as so many thieves. A clutch at the scruff of the neck, a kick in the ribs, and the dog is hauled out of his hiding place, and accompanies his master to the yard, frolicking about and pretending that he is quite delighted to be going back to work, and only happened to have hid in that bush out of sheer thoughtlessness. He is a champion hypocrite, is the dog.

After working another ten minutes, he will be over the fences again; and he won’t hide in the same place twice. The second time he will be a lot harder to find than the first time.

Dogs, like horses, have very keen intuition. They know when a man is frightened of them, and they know when the men around them are frightened, though they may not know the cause. In the great Queensland strike, when the shearers attacked Dagworth shed, some rifle volleys were exchanged. The shed was burnt, and the air was full of human electricity, each man giving out waves of fear and excitement. Mark now the effect it had on the dogs. They were not in the fighting; nobody fired at them, and nobody spoke to them; but every dog left his master, left the sheep, and went away about six miles to the homestead. There wasn’t a dog about the shed next day, after the fight. They knew there was something out of the common in the way of danger. The noise of the rifles would not frighten them, because many of them were dogs that were very fond of going out turkey shooting.

The same thing happened constantly with horses in the South African war. A loose horse would feed contentedly about while his own troops were firing; but when the troops were being fired at, and a bullet or two whistled past, the horses at once became uneasy, and the loose ones would trot away. The noise of a bullet passing cannot have been as terrifying to them as the sound of a rifle going off, but the nervousness and excitement of the men communicated itself to them. There are more capacities in horses and dogs, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

Dogs have an amazing sense of responsibility. Sometimes, when there are sheep to be worked, an old slut, who has young puppies, may be seen greatly exercised in her mind whether she should go out or not. On the one hand, she does not care about leaving the puppies; on the other, she feels that she really ought to go out, and not let the sheep be knocked about by those learners. Hesitatingly, with many a look behind her, she trots out after the horses and the other dogs. An impassioned appeal from the head boundary rider, “Go on back home, will yer!” is treated with the contempt it deserves. She goes out to the yards, works, perhaps half the day, and then slips quietly under the fences and trots off home, contented.

Besides the sheepdog there are hunting, sporting, and fighting dogs who all devote themselves to their professions with a diligence that might well be copied by human beings; there is no animal so thoroughly in earnest as a dog. But this article is now long enough. Hunting, sporting and fighting dogs must be dealt with at another time; and, meanwhile, any readers who can forward any striking instances of canine sagacity should write same out in ink on one side of the paper only, got them attested by a missionary, mark them “Dog Story”, and forward them to this office, where they will, as a rule, be carefully burnt.

The Bulletin, 18 October 1902


Gleanings Of A Globe Trotter

A Day’s Racing In France

The American whose acquaintance I had made coming down the China coast was a very good fellow, but long residence among the Chinese had made him look upon all foreigners as so much dirt, so when we landed at Marseilles he insisted on talking to the French in Chinese “pidgin English”, and wanted to beat them when they did not understand him. I can speak French—or at least I used to think I could till I went to France—and I had to do the translating, punctuated with remarks such as “Can do”, “Maskee you”, “You take luggage topside” addressed by the American to the gesticulating Frenchmen. He was very pleased with himself when he got the guard of the tram to change a 5-franc piece for him, by his own unaided vocabulary, but he got very silent and broody when he found that the money which the guard gave him was all bad. We went to the hotel where most English people go—the same hotel at which there was nearly a riot on the day of Kruger’s landing. It seems that, as Kruger’s procession passed, some English people who were staying in the hotel threw pennies among the crowd. Now, in France, to throw coppers to any performance is the most deadly insult; instead of hissing a music hall singer who does not please them they throw coppers on the stage—thereby expressing their valuation of the performance. As Kruger’s procession passed, a whole shower of coppers was thrown from this hotel. Perhaps the people who threw them did not know what they were doing; on the other hand, perhaps they did! Anyhow, the mob broke out into uncontrollable fury, and besieged the hotel for two hours, while the English visitors cowered inside, and the P. & O. boat had to delay her departure for a long time before the passengers could get down to the wharf. But, when the American and I arrived, all the excitement and frenzy had subsided, and beyond the fact that they looked upon all English-speaking people as assassins, they did not seem to mind taking our money at all.

It was a Sunday when we arrived, and Sunday is the recognised day for races and sports in France. A French journal informed us that there was a day’s racing to be held; so the next thing was to find out where the course was, and how to get there. With this object in view we went to a barber’s shop—all the shops were wide open although it was Sunday—and in my best French I asked how one could get out to the course. The barber got me to repeat the sentence, and then said that they had a man in the shop who spoke German, but he was out at his lunch. I explained to the American what had happened, and he said, “I reckon that Australian French of yours doesn’t go here. Let me at him!” Then, talking through his nose at the top of his voice, he said, “Whurrs the hoss race, sonny?” This only made the barber shrug up his shoulders and spread out his hands, and the American looked at him with supreme disgust. “He knows right enough,” he said, “but he won’t tell us! It’s all on account of that Boer War of yours!” Then we went back to the hotel, and found out all about it from the “boots”, who was—like the boots at hotels all the world over—an ardent sportsman. Perhaps it is because they are such ardent sportsmen that they are reduced to being “boots”. After lunch we chartered a cab, drawn by a horse whose forelegs fairly tottered under him—I have seen some equine wrecks in my time, but nothing to approach the French cab horse—and drove out to the course, and all the inhabitants of Marseilles shut up their shops and came out also.

A day’s racing in France is something to remember. In Australia racing is a business, and everyone who goes out goes with bent brows and an anxious mind, to try and unravel what is to him a serious problem. But with the Frenchman, a day’s racing is a light-hearted holiday. He closes his shop at one o’clock, and goes out with his wife, in a trap drawn by a little fat pony with jingling bells and harness, and rattles away through the clear crisp air, with the dry aromatic smell of the autumn leaves all round, down the long avenue of sycamores out to the course. The tram cars, loaded with the happy, laughing crowds, go thundering along the streets. Motor cars rush past at a pace that would not be tolerated for an instant in any Australian or English community; on the seat of each motor car, alongside the driver, sits a large black French poodle, sagely contemplating the moving scene around him, and with the wind blowing through his whiskers as the car rushes along. Everyone is laughing, and everyone looks on the racing in a light-hearted way, quite foreign to our idea. They have left dull care behind them for the day, and they will back a horse because they like the look of his tail or the colours of his jockey, and then say it is treachery if they lose their money! Allez-vous-en! Let her go, Gallagher! The trams roared, the motor cars whizzed, the little fat ponies were urged to their wildest pace, and amidst shouting, laughing, and bell-ringing we arrived at the course, a beautiful piece of natural turf, shut in by sycamores and hedgerows of various sorts. The track itself was very little prepared, but in all these countries the great rainfall and the natural grass make such turf as we poor drought-stricken people can only wonder at. The surroundings of racing in the old countries are less businesslike and more pleasant than in Australia. We drove in through the gates of the course, and left our trap standing in what we would call the “flat”, while we went on into the grandstand and saddling paddock. Prices of admission were much the same as they are in Australia. The totalisators were at work in the saddling paddock, one being for a straight-out win and the other for a place. Some horses were being paraded round a turf ring, the turf ring being enclosed by a lot of drying sheds, and although the appointments were complete enough there was a lack of the businesslike formality about them which one notices with us. It was more like what we would call a picnic meeting. The horses were nearly all English bred, and were equal to any stock I have ever seen anywhere. They differed from our horses only in the matter of condition. It would make a Randwick trainer weep to see the condition in which these horses were sent out to race. Some of them were as fat as fools, prancing about the paddocks on their hind legs, led by their “trainers”—men who looked like sort of cross between a Sicilian bandit and an ice cream merchant.

Before getting out to the track we purchased a daily paper, which gave all the runners, and a collection of the “tips” of all the local newspapers, besides a set of “tips” of its own. After a struggle with the French idioms, I gathered that one horse in the first race had at one time shown good form but had since “couru obscurément”. I thought this would probably be a good sort of horse to back, as I had had experience in Australia of horses that had run “obscurely” for a time, and then suddenly astonished their critics. The crowd was pretty thick, about as numerous as would be seen at a suburban meeting near Sydney. The ladies were in great numbers, gorgeously dressed, escorted by heavy French swells, who simply rioted in huge fur-lined overcoats, with great cuffs of fur running halfway up the arms. A few English visitors were present, looking at the proceedings with dull eyes, but the horses of one stable were trained by English trainers, and the bulk of the riders in the races were English or American jockeys. I asked one of the English trainers whether the horses ran to win, and his remarkable reply was, “Yes, they always try here. The owners are all French noblemen; they have lots of money and don’t know nothing.” On this comforting suggestion the American and I started to try to back winners, being guided solely by the condition of the horses, occasionally fortifying our opinions by reference to the tips in the daily paper.

The first race was for a prize of 2000 francs (about £80), and for a distance of 2200 metres (I should guess it at about a mile), and carrying 47 kilograms, which looked to me about eight stone seven. The horse that had “couru obscurément” was not a favourite on the totalisator, but then the French do not back horses on form, they back them because they belong to local owners, or to a Bonapartist, or to a pro-Boer, or for any other reason that strikes their erratic fancy. A horse belonging to an Englishman could not have found a backer in the crowd, though he were as good as Carbine. We decided to back the best-conditioned horse and away they went down to the post. There were four runners, three of the jockeys being American, riding in the real gilt-edged American style, which is even more forward than our Australian boys ever get. Our horse justified our judgment by going to the front with a solitary opponent hanging on to him. Half a furlong from home, our horse looked to be having the best of it and his jockey then put in an American “finish”, that is to say, he lay flat down on the horse’s neck, and struck out with his legs and arms exactly like a man swimming, making wild flaps in the air with his whip at the same time. He missed the horse altogether with the whip more often than he hit him. His opponent was ridden by a French jockey, in the ordinary way, and snatched a well-deserved victory by a neck. In the next, a selling race of 2200 metres, we went for a very well-conditioned bay mare called Rentière, by Gonsalvo from Rentless, and therefore evidently English-bred. The mare won her race for us like the aristocrat she undoubtedly was, but the interest in the racing was as nothing compared to the amusement of watching the spectators. A dashing young Frenchman, with waxed moustache, tall hat and fur-lined coat, was sitting in the stand near us with a party of three superbly dressed ladies round him. As the horses started he fixed his glasses on the race and sprang to his feet, his face working with emotion. The ladies huddled together, and watched, with undisguised admiration, the tornado of passion that was racking the frame of their cavalier. He had backed a big chestnut horse, which was running well up with the leaders. The horses not being wound up for condition, it is usual for them to muddle away the first half of a race, first one leading and then another, and every time that this chestnut horse drew out to the lead the Frenchman’s face lit up, his chest expanded, and he turned with the air of a conqueror to the timid females behind him, saying, “Il gagne, il gagne!” When the horse dropped back, an ashen grey hue spread over his countenance, and his hands trembled so that he could hardly hold the glasses.

Round the turn they came, the chestnut and the Rentiere fighting it out in the lead. Both boys got to work with their whips at the distance, and they raced home locked together. Every instant of that finish must have seemed a year to our French friend. He clutched the rail in front of him, and clenched his teeth, and fairly shook with the strain that was put on him, while the females never looked at the race but watched him in mute sympathy. As the horses flashed past the post, with his chestnut beaten by a neck, he dropped back on the seat with the air of a man whose hopes in life are crushed. He was too heartbroken to speak for a long time. It turned out afterwards that he had five francs (four and twopence) on the chestnut in the place totalisator, so that he saved his money, but it was the defeat of his judgment that annoyed him. We gathered afterwards, from what he said, that the defeat of the chestnut horse was solely due to treachery. After the race, the American wished to walk up into a part of the grandstand which was marked in large letters “Défendu”, evidently being reserved for the committee or some such body. I told him he could not go up there, but he said he would like to see them stop him, and he started to march gaily up the stone steps. He had not got far before he was in altercation with a pink-trousered gendarme, who tried to shove him down the steps. The next minute he had the gendarme round the waist, there was a flash of pink trousers in the air, we heard the gendarme’s agonised cry of “A moil” and the two rolled down the steps, locked in each other’s arms. The authorities were going to arrest the American under the impression that he was English, but when they found that he was an American they apologised profusely to him, and a douceur to the unfortunate gendarme settled all the trouble.

While the racing was going on, the holiday-making crowd of workmen, with their wives and children, a merry-hearted, laughing mob, sat on the turf outside the course, but only separated from it by a broad deep ditch. Here they had just as good a view of the racing as anyone in the track, and they enjoyed the day thoroughly. That is the right way to go racing —to squirm and yell when your horse gets ahead, and prance about the paddock with-an eagle-soaring step after a win of 1s 6d. The French do not know much about racing, but they get a lot of fun out of it. They take out a little basket full of cakes and lemonade, and the old father and mother sit in the sun on the grass while the children play about. They look at the racing just as we look at a race on the stage, merely as a spectator, and the entertainment doesn’t cost them anything.

The day’s sport was brought to a successful finish by a win in the last race by an English-bred, English-trained, and English-ridden horse, but, as he belonged to a local owner, a French vicomte, the crowd were quite satisfied, for they had all backed him, and they departed for home in the best of spirits.

The drive home was even more hilarious than the drive out. Everybody was laughing, shouting, and singing. We saw a horse run into by a motor car and killed on the spot, but the carcass was soon taken away, and everyone, including the owners of the horse, appeared to look upon the accident as an excellent jest. The crowd soon made their way back into their shops, and settled down for their next week’s hard work, for the Frenchman lives in his shop, and his shop is open all the time that he is at home.

The best prizes for the racing were given by a society for the encouragement of horse breeding. Steeplechasing, that test of stamina and endurance, is at a very much higher level in France than in England, and there is not much doubt that the French do try to make racing a means to improving the breed of horses. Someday in Australia we may come to look at it in the same way.

The Sydney Morning Herald, 25 October 1902


The Coloured Alien

The ship had sweated her way down from China, past Manila, with its swarming horde of Filipinos, and now was ploughing along the sea lane formed by the Australian coast on one side and the Great Barrier Reef on the other. The passengers were of all the nationalities of the world. There were sturdy little Japanese coming down to work as divers in the pearling fleets; Chinamen by the dozen coming back to Australia after a visit to their own country; kanakas moving up and down the coast to their work on the sugar plantations; white men of all sorts—Greek pearl merchants from Thursday Island; sunburnt squatters from the back-blocks of Queensland; verdant new chums who stared uncomprehendingly at everything; with the usual selection of tired globetrotters who had been everywhere and seen everything till nothing was left in the heavens above nor in the earth beneath—certainly not in Australia—which could astonish them. Such patriotic Australians as were on board were naturally anxious to have their own country make a good show in the eyes of these superior persons. The Australian will growl at the defects of his own country till further orders, but when he gets among strangers he is just as jealous of its reputation as the most patriotic man in the world.

The navigation inside the reef is too dangerous to be undertaken in the darkness, so the ship anchored for the night in the most glorious sunset. As the light died away there remained a rose-coloured glow, with a border of pitchy black clouds which rested like a great picture on the support of a couple of hazily-seen islands, that just showed up in the distance over a vast stretch of sea, perfectly smooth, and tinted with all the colours of the opal. The patriotic Australians pointed this sunset out to the superior globetrotters and only got the reply: “Ah, my dear fellow, you ought to see the sunsets in the desert of Sahara!” Then we all went below for the night.

Next morning bright and early we arrived off a Queensland port, and all the passengers hung over the railings to see the boats come alongside. A string of long lanky sunburnt Queenslanders came on deck and slouched “forrard”. One of them carried a weird instrument which puzzled the other passengers, but which my practised eye detected as a “measuring stick”—a wooden affair used for ascertaining the height of ponies and galloways for racing purposes. It was a problem what they could want with such a thing on board a ship, and everyone crowded “forrard” to see what was going to happen.

When we got “forrard”, we found great excitement among the Chinese passengers. These Celestials had all been in Australia before, and were now returning by virtue of certificates permitting them to do so. At least that was the theory; but as a matter of fact, it is the pleasing custom of the Chinaman when he leaves these shores to take a certificate allowing him to come back if he chooses, and then he sells that certificate for cash to another Chinaman, who comes down and tries to pass himself off as the original Simon Pure. Among every batch of returning Chinamen there are frauds, and at each port there are men whose duty it is to examine new arrivals and see if they correspond with the photographs and descriptions of the men who went away. That was what the measuring stick was for—to test the height of the new arrivals. It occurred to me that some of our Sydney pony trainers would soon fix up the little matter of height if allowed to handle the Chinamen for a few days before the examination.

The Chinese who wished to land—some seven of them—all stood up in a dismal row, while the officer took a sort of preliminary look at them; they were all dressed in European clothes, which makes a Chinaman harder to identify than he is even in his own gear. Each Chinaman wore a stolid impenetrable look, but the other Chinamen on board, who were going to other ports, were herded together by the forecastle, jabbering away in a great state of excitement; so far as one could guess, there were two or three frauds in the batch standing up for examination, and the question was would they succeed in getting through.

Then the following melodrama occurred. The Customs officer walked out onto a clear space of deck with his measuring stick, and consulted some papers that he held in his hand. Then he called out the name of a Chinaman, and one stolid heathen stood forward; the Chinaman took his boots off, and a passing stranger immediately kicked them into the scuppers, where they floated about like a pair of miniature junks; his hat was knocked off on to the deck; then he straightened himself up under the measuring stick, and closed his eyes while the officers carefully scrutinised his face and compared it with the photograph. Then followed the examination.

“You been here before? Where you live before?”

Chinaman, with the air of one repeating a lesson, “Towsiwille!”

“Townsville, eh? What did you do at Townsville?”

No answer, but a subdued jabber arose from the Chinamen “forrard”, who were apparently talking to each other, but were in reality prompting the candidate what to say. After some time, he spoke.


“Garden, eh? Whereabouts garden?”

No answer from the Chinaman, but renewed jabber from “forrard” and the officer turned on them.

“Stop that noise there, will you! I can deal with him without you interfering!”

This produced silence, and the Chinaman was ordered to stand aside; his hat was thrown after him, he fished his boots out of the scuppers, and he stood aside without knowing whether he had passed or not, while another candidate took the stand.

He was glib and oily; had been away for years, but he remembered everybody in the town, and asked after them with touching affection; he passed at once; some of the others were more or less doubtful. Some of the questionable ones were brought up for a second exam-ination; then at last, the verdict was pronounced—they could all land!

A yell of triumph went up from the Chinamen “forrard”, a shrill, high-pitched, Chinese yell, such as I had only heard once before and that was at a Chinese race meeting, where an outsider had won well backed by all the Chinese grooms; there was a malicious triumph in the yell, that made us feel pretty sure that at least one fraud had got through, and babbling with delight the successful candidates put their goods over the side and prepared to go ashore.

Then from the motley crew “forrard” there stepped out the educated kanaka. He was carrying a petition up and down the coast, to be signed by all the kanakas, protesting against being sent away under the South Sea Islanders Exclusion Act. He held the audience of globe-trotters, pearl merchants, and bushmen spellbound while he laid his case before them. “What for boys sent away?” he said. “All boys not want to go ’way. Many boy he marry English woman, Irish woman, Scotch woman. What you do about children? They belong British flag!” “More better you go back to Islands, I think,” said an Australian. “What for? Boy he no want to go. I get all boy sign petition. Boy work hard, earn beer money! What for dese Japanese no go? What for dese no go”—pointing to the Chinamen with an air of infinite superiority—“what for dese no go?”

“The sooner the lot of you go the better we’ll like it,” said a squatter. “It’s a bit rough on some of these island boys, though. They will go back to their islands and find their own tribe nearly all dead, and the other tribes will kill and eat them, as likely as not. Some of them are going to their doom just as surely as if they were killed already. Some of them will get on the wrong Islands, too, as likely as not, and they will soon be disposed of there.”

The superior globetrotter was very indignant. “You don’t mean to say that they would be so careless of human life as to land them on the wrong islands?” he said. “Why, that would be nothing short of murder.”

This was what we had been waiting for. We had astonished him at last.

The captain of the ship spoke to him patronisingly. “When you travel a little in Australia, you’ll get used to that sort of thing,” he said. “They are great people for leaving things to luck, are the Australians!”

But the superior globetrotter had gone below to write to the English papers about it.

The Sydney Morning Herald, 15 November 1902


The Cat

Few know anything about domestic animals—about their inner life and the workings of their minds. Take, for instance, the common roof-tree cat. Most people think that the cat is an unintelligent animal, fond of ease, and caring little for anything but mice and milk. But a cat has really more character than most human beings, and gets a great deal more satisfaction out of life. Of all the animal kingdom, the cat has the most many-sided character. He—or she—is an athlete, a musician, an acrobat, a Lothario, a grim fighter, a sport of the first water. All day long, the cat loafs about the house and takes things easy, and sleeps by the fire, and allows himself to be pestered by the attentions of silly women and annoyed by children. To pass the time away he sometimes watches a mouse hole for an hour or two—just to keep himself from dying of ennui, and people get the idea that this sort of thing is all that life holds for the cat. But watch him as the shades of evening fall, and you see the cat as he really is.

When the family sits down to tea, the cat usually puts in an appearance to get his share, and he purrs noisily and rubs himself against the legs of the family, and all the time he is thinking of a fight or a love affair that is coming off that evening. If there is a guest at table the cat is particularly civil to him, because the guest is likely to have the best of what food is going. Sometimes, instead of recognising his civility with something to eat, the guest stoops down and strokes the cat, and says, “Poor pussy! Poor pussy!” The cat soon gets tired of that—he puts up his claw and quietly but firmly rakes the guest in the leg.

“Ow!” says the guest, “the cat stuck his claw into me!” The family is delighted. It remarks, “Isn’t it sweet of him? Isn’t he intelligent? He wants you to give him something to eat.”

The guest dare not do what he would like to do—kick the cat through the window—so with tears of rage and pain in his eyes, he affects to be very much amused, and sorts out a bit of fish from his plate and gives it to the cat. The cat gingerly receives it, with a look in his eyes as much as to say: “Another time, my friend, you won’t be so dull of comprehension,” and purrs maliciously as he carries the bit of fish away to a safe distance from the guest’s boot before eating it. A cat isn’t a fool—not by a long way.

When the family has finished tea, and gathers round the fire to enjoy the hours of indigestion together, the cat slouches casually out of the room and disappears. Life, true life, now begins for him. He saunters down his own backyard, springs to the top of the fence with one easy bound, drops lightly down the other side, trots across a right-of-way to a vacant allot-ment, and skips to the roof of an empty shed. As he goes, he throws off the effeminate look of civilisation; his gait becomes lithe and panther-like; he looks quickly, keenly, from side to side, and moves noiselessly, for he has many enemies—dogs, cabmen with whips, and small boys with stones. Arrived on the top of the shed, the cat arches his back and rakes his claws once or twice through the soft bark of the old roof, then wheels round and stretches himself a few times, just to see that every muscle is in full working order; and then, dropping his head nearly to his paws, sends across a league of backyards his call to his kindred—his call to love, or war, or sport.

Before long they come—gliding, graceful shadows, approaching circuitously, and halting occasionally to look round and reconnoitre—tortoiseshell, tabby, and black, all domestic cats, but all transformed for the nonce into their natural state. No longer are they the hypocritical, meek creatures who an hour ago were cadging for fish and milk. They are now ruffling, swaggering blades with a Gascon sense of their dignity. Their fights are grim, determined battles, and a cat will be clawed to ribbons before he’ll yield. Even the young lady cats have this inestimable superiority over human beings that they can fight among themselves, and work off the jealousy, hatred and malice of their lives in a sprawling, yelling combat on a flat roof. All cats fight, and all keep themselves more or less in training while they are young. Your cat may be the acknowledged lightweight champion of his district—a Griffo of the feline ring! Just think how much more he gets out of his life than you do out of yours—what a hurricane of fighting and love-making his life is—and blush for yourself. You have had one little love affair, and never a good, all-out fight in your life!

And the sport they have, too! As they get older and retire from the ring they go in for sport more systematically, and the suburban backyards that are to us but dullness indescribable, are to them hunting grounds and trysting places where they may have more sport and adventure than ever had King Arthur’s knights or Robin Hood’s merry men. Grimalkin decided to go and kill a canary in a neighbouring verandah. Consider the fascination of it—the stealthy reconnaissance from the top of the fence; the care to avoid waking the house dog; the noiseless approach and the hurried dash upon the verandah, and the fierce clawing at the fluttering bird till the mangled body is dragged through the bars of the cage; the exultant retreat with the spoil and the growling over the feast that follows. Not the least entertaining part of it is the demure satisfaction of arriving home in time for breakfast and hearing the house-mistress say, “Tom must be sick; he seems to have no appetite.”

It is always levelled as a reproach against cats that they are more fond of their home than of the people in it. Naturally, the cat doesn’t like to leave his country, the land where he has got all his friends, and where he knows every landmark. Exiled in a strange land, he would have to learn a new geography, would have to find out all about another tribe of dogs, would have to fight and make love to an entirely new nation of cats. Life isn’t long enough for that sort of thing and so, when the family moves, the cat, if allowed, will stay at the old house and attach himself to the new occupiers. He will give them the privilege of boarding him while he enjoys life in his own way. He is not going to sacrifice his whole career for the doubtful reward which fidelity to his old master or mistress might bring.

And if people know so little about cats, how much less do they know about the dog? This article was started as an essay on the dog, and the cat was only incidentally to be referred to, but there was so much to say about cats that they have used up all the space, and a fresh start must be made to deal with the dog—the friend of man.

The Bulletin, 13 December 1902


The Dog—As A Sportsman

The sheepdog and the cattle dog are the workmen of the animal kingdom; sporting and fighting dogs are the professionals and artists.

A house dog or a working dog will only work for his own master; but a professional or artistic dog will work for anybody, as long as he is treated like an artist. A man going away for a week’s shooting can borrow a dog, and the dog will work for him loyally, just as a good musician will do his best, though the conductor is strange to him, and the other members of the band are not up to the mark. The musician’s art is sacred to him, and that is the case with the dog—Art before everything.

It is a grand sight to see a really good setter or pointer working up to a bird, occasionally glancing over his shoulder to see that the man with the gun has not lost himself. How he throws his whole soul into his work, questing carefully over the cold scent, and feathering eagerly where the bird is close, and at last drawing up like a statue. Not Paganini himself ever more thoroughly lost himself in his art than does the humble Spot or Ponto. He is rapt, ecstasied, carried away. It is not amusement and not a mere duty to him; it is a sacred gift, which he is bound to exercise. A pointer in need of amusement will play with another dog—the pair pretending to fight, and so on, but when there is work to be done, then the dog is lost in the artist. How crestfallen he looks if by any chance he blunders on to a bird without pointing it! A fiddler who has played a wrong note in a solo is the only creature who can look as discomfited. Humanity, instead of going to the ant of the parable for wisdom, should certainly go to the dog.

Sporting dogs are like other artists, in that they are apt to get careless of everything except their vocation. No sporting dog is ever reliable in his affections—nor is any human artist, either, for that matter. They are not good watchdogs, and take little interest in chasing cats. They look on a little dog that catches rats much as a great musician looks on a cricketer—it’s clever, but it isn’t Art.

Hunting and fighting dogs are the gladiators of the animal world. A fox hound or a kangaroo dog is always of the same opinion as Mr Jorrocks: “All time is wasted what isn’t spent in ’untin’.” A greyhound will start out in the morning with three lame legs, but as soon as he sees a hare start he must go. He utterly forgets his sorrows in the excitement, just as a rowing man, all over boils and blisters, will pull a desperate race without feeling any pain. Such dogs are not easily excited by anything but a chase, and a burglar might come and rob the house and murder the inmates without arousing any excitement among these athletic canines. Guarding a house is “not their pidgin” as the Chinese say; that is one great reason for the success of the dog at whatever branch of his tribe’s work he goes in for—he is so very thorough. Dogs who are forced to combine half a dozen professions never make a success at anything. One dog, one billet, is their motto.

The most earnest and thorough of all the dog tribe is the fighting dog. His intense self-respect, his horror of brawling, his cool determination, make him a pattern to humanity. The bulldog or bull terrier is generally the most friendly and best-tempered dog in the world; but when he is put down in the ring he fights till he drops, fights in grim silence, though his feet are bitten through and through, his ears are in rags, and his neck a hideous mass of wounds. In a well-conducted dog fight each dog in turn has to attack the other dog, and one can see the fierce earnestness blazing in the eye of the attacker as he hurls himself on to the foe. What makes him fight like that? It is not bloodthirstiness, because they are neither savage nor quarrelsome dogs; a bulldog will go all his life without a fight, unless put into a ring. It is simply their strong self-respect, their stubborn pride, which will not let them give in. The greyhound snaps once at his opponent and then runs for his life, but the fighting dog stands to it till death. Just occasionally one sees the same type of human being—generally some quiet-spoken, good-tempered man who has taken up glove fighting for a living and who, perhaps, is pitted against a man a shade better than himself. After a few rounds he knows he is overmatched, but there is something at the back of his brain that will not let him cave in. Round after round he stands punishment and round after round he grimly comes up till, possibly, his opponent loses heart, or a fluke hit turns the scale in his favour. These men are to be found in every class of life—many of the gamest of the game are mere gutter-bred boys who will continue to fight long after they have endured enough punishment to entitle them to quit. You can see in their eyes the same hard glitter that shows in the bulldog’s eyes as he limps across the ring, or in the eyes of the racehorse as he lies down to it when his opponent is outpacing him. It is grit, pluck, vim, nerve force; call it what you like, and there is no created thing that has more of it than the dog.

There is another phase of dog that has never been quite understood—the occasional longing that comes over dogs to get into mischief. Every station owner knows that sometimes the house dogs—no matter of what breed—are liable to take a sudden fit of sheep killing. Any kind of dog will do it, from collies downwards. They are very artful about it, too. They lie round the house till dark, and then slink off and have a wild night’s blood spree, running down the wretched sheep and tearing their throats open, and then, before dawn, they slink back again and lie down around the house as before. Sometimes dogs from different homesteads meet in the paddocks, having apparently arranged the whole affair beforehand. Even little dogs, like fox terriers and Skye terriers, will have an occasional fit of murder. Many and many a sheep owner has gone out with a gun and shot his neighbour’s dogs for killing his sheep, which his own wicked, innocent-looking dogs had slain. If by any chance one happens to meet dogs while they are on these little excursions, they show at once that they know the game is up. They sneak away like dingoes, and then go for home as hard as they can run. Some dogs will not kill sheep on their own run, but always visit neighbours’ paddocks. In civilised parts, where there are no sheep to kill, the dog sometimes takes to fowl killing, by way of diversion.

Dogs learn by experience, and the experience is handed down from generation to generation. In districts where dingoes are bad it is easy to poison them at first; but, when poisoning has been going on for a few years, it is almost impossible to get a dingo to swallow a bait. The best plan is to take out a sandwich and eat some of it (before it is poisoned), then poison the fragments and throw them about, and rub some of the bread and meat, well poisoned, into a crack in a log. The dingo will lick it out of the log, doubtless thinking that what the man has been eating must be all right.

So much then for the dog whose courage, concentration and earnest attention to his business or profession make him a pattern to humanity. No man can equal a dog in any of these characteristics. It will be seen that in this article there is no reference to the dog with the tenor voice, who howls in suburban backyards, or the big swaggering dog, who lies fragrantly in the sun before the doors of town houses. These poor unfortunates have missed their vocation. The real dog is a workman, and should be respected as such.

The Bulletin, 27 December 1902


Lord Milner

Lord Milner, who is now spoken of by a London journal as the next Governor-General of Australia, was the man on whom all England relied for cool-headed guidance in the manifold troubles of South Africa. It may surprise Australians to know that even in the middle of the war the possibility of his becoming Governor-General of Australia had been mooted, and he talked of the matter as of a thing which had been much in his mind. Having for months gone through that awful strain, he was looking longingly over to this country as to a haven of rest, and he spoke of it with a wistful sigh. “Even if it were offered to me,” he said, “I couldn’t afford to take it. I am a poor man.” He spoke of it as one of the highest rewards to which he could aspire.

Milner And Kruger

And yet if there ever was an occasion on which a man might have reason to feel satisfied with himself, it was the occasion of the visit of Lord Milner (then Sir Alfred Milner) with Lord Roberts’s army to Bloemfontein. Some months previously he had gone up to Bloemfontein to negotiate on behalf of England with Paul Kruger, admittedly one of the most astute negotiators in the world, on matters of supremest importance. He had to try to adjust the difficulty between England and the Transvaal, peaceably, if possible, but without yielding too far. On the one hand, he had to fear that he might be tricked or cajoled into conceding too much; on the other hand, if he did not make terms, he had to face the responsibility of plunging the nation into war—a heavy responsibility for any man to be loaded with. He met Kruger, and they at once split about preliminaries. Milner would talk about nothing but the franchise, Kruger wanted to talk about every possible subject except the franchise. If Lord Milner had been a weak man or a vain man the temptation to show his ability by negotiating with so renowned an adversary on so important a subject would have led him into talk and negotiations; but he was strong enough to withstand the temptation. He deliberately threw away what seemed to be the opportunity of a lifetime, and refused to negotiate. His friends were disappointed, the public dissatisfied. Why hadn’t he done something after going so far? He came away from Bloemfontein having done—nothing.

The War Strain

Then followed the strain of the war, the humiliating defeats in Natal, the slaughter at Magersfontein, the delays and reverses with which the campaign opened. Small wonder that during those weary months heavy lines of care were drawn on Milner’s face. There was always present to his mind the idea that if he had negotiated all this might have been avoided. But he made no sign of disquiet; he entered into no explanations or excuses as to why he had not negotiated. Having chosen his course he abided by it in silence, until the advent of Lord Roberts as Commander in Africa changed the whole face of the campaign, and at last Milner went once more to Bloemfontein, but this time with a conquering army, and he rose to speak at a banquet given in his honour in the very hall where he had met Kruger in fruitless negotiations.

His Speech

When he rose, enthusiastically cheered, he might well have been forgiven if he had indulged in a little self-congratulation, but there was no self-satisfaction but an infinite thankfulness and not a little pathos in the speech. There was no triumphing over a fallen foe. He is not a man of the bluff, hard, thick-skinned type on whom responsibilities sit lightly. The thin frame, the careworn face, the lean nervous hands, all indicate a temperament more suited to a writer and a thinker than to a politician or a diplomat; and the speech was in keeping with the indications. “When I last visited Bloemfontein,” he said, “I entered this very hall charged with most difficult and important negotiations. I took a course which seemed in my judgment to be the right one. Since then you all know the terrible strain and distress of mind through which the nation has passed; let us hope that we may never have to undergo such an experience again; and let us feel devoutly thankful to Divine Providence that has blest our armies with such success.”

All Things To All Men

If Lord Milner hoped for rest after the practical overthrow of the Boer forces he was doomed to disappointment. All through the long weary months of irregular warfare he was harassed and worried as no other man in Africa was worried. The military took over practical control of all railways and means of transport and food supplies in the disturbed districts, not only of the Transvaal and Free State but in Cape Colony. The result was that the inland towns were often unable to get supplies for their civilian population, and the local authorities—mayors and town councillors—at once ran to Milner with their grievances. He had to try to tone down as far as possible the hardship of military rule on the one side and vexations and often insincere complaints of the civilians on the other. Tradesmen and shopkeepers wanted to go back to Johannesburg, and were refused permits by the military authorities. They at once ran to Milner to intercede for them. An up-country storekeeper had a couple of truckloads of supplies, urgently needed, which the military refused to allow him to forward. He at once brought his grievances to Milner. Residents of Capetown, shrewdly suspected of being in league with the Boers, were unable to land goods at the port, and came in a deputation to Milner. Prominent citizens, arrested for being out after eight without a pass, sent indignant appeals to Milner. He might very easily have refused to listen to any of these people and their troubles, but he took the view that, as civil head of the community, he was bound to do what he could to adjust the difficulties that arose under military rule. He tried to be all things to all men, and for a wonder he succeeded. All day long there was a steady stream of people to see him—military, civilians, outlanders, pro-Boers, ship captains, Australians wishing to settle—all came to him with their grievances, and all were patiently, firmly, and straightforwardly dealt with. But consider the strain and worry of it all: and so little thanks for it did he get that he was always represented as the bete noire of the Boers and their sympathisers, and of the Afrikanders generally, while all the time they were running to him for advice and assistance at all hours of the day and night. He appeared to have no fixed hours for reception of visitors, and his working day lasted for about 18 hours.

In Australia

There is much yet to do in Africa to settle the place and adjust differences, but Lord Milner has earned rest and reward as fully as any man could earn it, and it now appears possible that the reward is to take the shape of the Governor-Generalship of Australia. He has shown himself abundantly possessed of the tact and judgment necessary for the position, and after what he has been through the work here would be practically a holiday task. If the appointment should be given to him he should prove just the man to fill it.

The Sydney Morning Herald, 31 December 1902


Dr Morrison: A Notable Australian

Today there arrives in Sydney one of the most notable Australians of the present day—Dr Morrison, the Times correspondent in China.

It is necessary to visit China itself in order to get any clear idea of the responsibilities and difficulties of Dr Morrison’s position. The huge Chinese Empire has for years been jealously guarded from outside intrusion; just a few treaty ports have been thrown open, and the fringe of the country has barely been touched; and yet, so quickly has the trade grown, that in 1898 China imported over seven million pounds’ worth of English goods—almost equal to the New South Wales imports for the same year. Besides the English trade, there is the American, German, French, Russian, and Japanese trade of China waiting to be developed; and not only is there trade development to carry on, but there are in China undreamed of sources of wealth—fertile lands that will grow anything, mines of fabulous richness, water rights for irrigation to be snapped up, permits to be obtained to make railways that will soon be carrying their millions of passengers annually; all these prizes lie in China awaiting the hardy adventurer who can get in as “first robber”. In every Chinese treaty port there is a restless crowd of adventurers of all nations—English, Russian, American, German, and Jew—all scheming and struggling to secure land, to secure railway rights, to secure water rights, or to secure mining rights. There are officials to be bribed or bullied into granting concessions—officials whose oath their dearest friends would not believe, and whose written promise is a mere piece of waste paper. There are political adventurers, pulling all sorts of hidden strings and producing all sorts of amazing gyrations among the puppets of Chinese politics. There are days when the mere knowledge that an agreement has been signed by a Chinese official may be worth ten thousand pounds in cold cash. There are rumours, lies, threats, open violence to be encountered; and among this tumult and strife there moves one man to whose knowl-edge all white men—Russian, American, German, and Jew alike—defer, Morrison, the Australian, who represents the Times in China.

It is hard to explain the secrets of his success in getting information. It is not the amount of money that he has to spend, because the utmost sum that the Times could allow for secret service money would be a mere flea bite to the amount that some of the concessionaires and political agents would give for early and exclusive information. And yet so marvellously does he manage that the full text of the important treaty, signed in 1901 at the conclusion of hostilities, was actually wired by him to his paper, and was being read and discussed in English homes, several days before the document was laid before the representatives of the nations for signature. This is not luck—it’s a gift!

Dr Morrison lives for the most part at Peking, where he is in touch with the best-informed Chinese circles. But he moves constantly about, travelling in men-of-war, on tramp steamers, on mule litters, on pony back, or on his feet, as occasion demands. He is a powerful, wiry man, of solid and imposing presence, and those who know him best in China say that he has mastered the secret of all Chinese diplomacy—bluff. In China you must “save your face”, i.e., preserve your dignity at all hazards. He never allows any Chinaman, however important, to assume for a moment that he (the Chinaman) is in any way the equal of the Times corre-spondent in China. He has been known—so his friends say—to pull a Chinese mandarin out of his chair of state and seat himself in it, in order to impress upon that Chinaman and his friends the transcendental amount of “face” possessed by the Times correspondent. For the rest, a keen knowledge of men, a gift of diplomacy, and a dogged Scotch persistency pull him through his difficulties.

It needs an exceptional man to hold his own in such troubled waters; every day there is some new rumour, some new threat, some new difficulty. What are the Russians doing, what the Germans, what the Americans? He has to report, and report faithfully, every move in a game in which the stakes are millions, and the counters are the lives of men. So thoroughly do the various Europeans rely on him that when the Legations were besieged and no news came through, and it was known that Morrison was in the besieged buildings, all hope was abandoned. The general opinion all down the China coast was: “If Morrison was alive, he would manage to get some news through.” As a matter of fact, the wires were never cut, and the Chinese in Hong Kong and Shanghai had news from their friends all through the siege that the Legations were safe; but no European would believe it, because it was thought that if the white people in the Embassy were alive they would be able to bribe a Chinaman to send a message somehow; the existence of an unbribable lot of Chinamen was a thing they did not believe in. And yet it was so, and for all the length of that siege the bland, imperturbable Chinaman threw off the mask, and showed his cold, uncompromising detestation of the European and all his works; and in the great Armageddon yet to come, when the Chinaman makes his next try to eject the white barbarian, woe betide those who fall into his hands.

Dr Morrison’s movements are timed to take him back to China in the spring, when the gentle Chinaman, and the Russian, and the Manchu, awake from their winter sleep, and resume their game of swapping concessions and privileges; when the German once more starts to undersell his English competitor, and the river highways teem with human life, and the fishing junks go out to sea from Swatow in a cluster as thick as sailing boats at a Balmain regatta. China is the theatre of the world’s chief performance for the next few years; and we may watch the unfolding of the drama with added interest from the fact that the man who is to tell us most about it is an Australian.

The Evening News, 21 January 1903


The Election Season
An Illustrated Guide For Candidates

By A. Woodby, M.P.

I have not been asked to contest any electorate, so far, and the letters M.P. after my name do not signify Member of Parliament, but simply Member of the Public. I hold that every white citizen has a right to put what letters he chooses after his name, and I choose to describe myself as M.P.

When I say I have not been asked to contest any electorate, I am not speaking quite accurately. As a matter of fact, a few friends offered to “run me” for the electorate in which I reside. We held a lot of meetings in the back rooms of public houses, and an enormous lot of liquor was consumed at my expense. Every man that heard of it “dropped in”, and assured me that my chances were of the brightest. Then each drank about three beers and “dropped out” to pass the word along to his mates, that a candidate was standing drinks, and later on, all the mates dropped in. My meetings were always unanimous in my favour, and I believe I would have beaten George Reid for East Sydney, I was so popular. I employed a man to go round and get signatures to a petition to me to come forward. To make sure that he would work hard, I paid him at so much per hundred signatures. He brought me in a most gratifying list, but I found that most of the signatures were written by the canvasser himself. He took a bottle of ink, a pen, and a rug out to the bush at Bondi, and lay in the sun all day, writing signatures. I found that my friends had “run me” to the tune of twenty pounds, or so, and I stopped my candidature right there. I am now prepared, however, to contest any safe seat on either the free trade or protectionist side. And while I am awaiting a requisition, I have decided to make a few notes on canvassing the female vote, which may serve as a guide to my fellow-candidates.

The Need For Fat

Every candidate should be a fat man. Not that a fat man is any cleverer than a thin man; but because a superstitious reverence is paid to obesity. A young Boer, writing a book on the war, said that the greatest mistake made by his brave but misguided nation was the reverence paid by them to the old Boers, who were only distinguished by profusion of waistcoat and growth of beard. In fact, he said, worship of hair and tallow had been the ruin of the nation. It is much the same in Australia. Even the gifted Shakespeare, or the person, whoever he was, that wrote his works, says—

Let me have men about me that are fat;
Sleek-headed men, and such as sleep o’ nights;
I like not yon lean candidate.

or words to that effect. We may take it, then, that a fat candidate has a tremendous advantage over a thin one.

Female Voters

The female vote is the one that will take some catching at the next election. Unless the women “take to” a man, there is not the least hope of their voting for him, as they are notoriously swayed by their likes and dislikes. The candidate will, therefore, have to be prepared to adapt himself to the various classes he will have to meet: And it is in this adaptability that his chances of success will be.

The Barmaid Vote

To secure this vote you should get yourself up as much like a commercial traveller in jewellery as you can. You should have on a diamond ring that makes the South Head light look like a farthing candle, and a waistcoat that out-Herods Herod in its killing capacities. Conversation should be directed mainly to supper parties after the theatre, and you should smoke a cigar all through the interview, even though it makes you sick afterwards. These things must be gone through if you mean to be a member of Parliament.

The Servant Girl Vote

For the servant girl vote, a disguise in the costume of a policeman is advisable. The candidate may explain in a whisper that he isn’t a real policeman, and may work up quite a “penny dreadful” romance out of the situation. If the girl once firmly believes that you are somebody in disguise, her impulsive sympathies will carry her to any lengths. She will poison the family rather than allow them to vote against you. If you don’t disguise yourself, the head of the house may never let you see the domestics at all, so the policeman dodge is the best. No one dares to stop a policeman.

The Lady Politician

Having canvassed the barmaids, and the servant girls, you may as well have a trial of strength with the lady politician. Your best attitude is that of abject humility, and the less you say the better. When she asks you, “What do you think of Smith’s Wealth of Nations?” you must not let her guess that you think she is referring to Bruce Smith. No; rather should you stand in an appealing attitude, and she will proceed to “deal it out to you” by the yard—all you have to do is to listen. No lady politician can keep silent long enough to allow you to answer a question; so, unless you interrupt her, you are safe. Therefore, don’t interrupt her. She probably will not think much of you, but she must vote for somebody, and you are as likely as not to be the one.

The Potts Point Vote

In canvassing for the female Potts Point vote the candidate should wear a frock coat, eyeglass, spats, and striped trousers. In this class of canvassing it is advisable to adopt what the doctors call a good bedside manner. You should strive to impress the lady with the idea that you are somebody in particular. In these high society circles the great thing is to get the first blow in. On being shown into the room, you should at once say, “Ah, aren’t you some relation to my friend Lord Fantod?” If she says, “No, I don’t think so,” you should say at once, “Ah, pardon me; but I’m sure I heard him mention your name!” That will settle it. You needn’t say anything more. That women will tell her husband she is going to vote for you whether he likes it or not, and if he says, “Why?” she will say, “Because he knows Lord Fantod.” That will dispose of one class of female voter.

The Rocks Push

Last, but not least, comes the Rocks lady. To canvass this class is a matter of risk. To begin with, your wife may stop you if she gets any idea where you are off to. Then, if you can dodge her, the risks are great of being “topped off with a bottle”, or disposed of by the admirers of the lady you approach. A good suit of clothing provokes open hostility. The candidate’s only chance is to get a pair of bell-bottoms, high-heeled boots, and a soft hat. Just walk past the lady a few times, and look hard at her, and she will say, “Hullo, Face,” and the rest is easy. The “lidy”, if she likes the look of you, will vote for you, and if she doesn’t she won’t. And that is all there is to say about it.

In canvassing about the Rocks, you must always be ag’in the Government. Talk in a dark way about “blokes that puts themselves into good billets”, and be severe on everybody, and you can’t go wrong. Now and again, you will meet a lady voter who has made a study of politics, and has read all the democratic papers. If this disastrous fate befall you, the only thing to do is “bluff”. On no account must you betray any hesitation—if you do you are lost. If fairly cornered, you can always fall back on Coghlan. Coghlan has helped many a lame political dog over a stile. If you are challenged as to any facts, you should begin the debate by asking, “Have you seen the last volume of Coghlan?” Of course she hasn’t. Then you can say with a mysterious air, “Well, look at Coghlan, an’ you’ll see all that clearly laid out.” Then leave before you get laid out yourself. If you have a good florid bluff manner, you will hear the push say as you leave, “An’ ’e’s a scholar, that bloke. Knows Coghlan like a book.” For foreign facts, always refer to Mulhall. If they ask, “Who is Mulhall?” say he wrote the political columns in Reynolds Weekly for years. They won’t know any better. But whatever you do, in dealing with the Rocks vote, never get confused or “lose your block”, as the saying is. You may be “topped off” at any minute if you do.

These few hints are put forward in the hope that they may save the breath of many worthy persons, who would otherwise waste a lot of energy in what is called “hot air talk” to female voters. Politics don’t matter: clothes are the main thing.

The Evening News, 14 November 1903


The Amateur Gardener

The first step in amateur gardening is to sit down and consider what good you are going to get by it. If you are only a tenant by the month, as most people are, it is obviously not much use your planting a fruit orchard or an avenue of oak trees, which will take years to come to maturity. What you want is something that will grow quickly, and will stand trans-planting for when you move it would be a sin to leave behind you all the plants on which you have spent so much labour and so much patent manure. We knew a man once who was a bookmaker by trade—and a leger bookmaker at that—but he had a passion for horses and flowers, and when he “had a big win”, as he occasionally did, it was his custom to have movable wooden stables built on skids put up in the yard, and to have tons of the best soil that money could buy carted into the garden of the premises which he was occupying. Then he would keep splendid horses in the stables, grow rare roses and show-bench chrysanthemums in the garden and the landlord passing by would see the garden in a blaze of colour, and would promise himself that he would raise the bookmaker’s rent next quarter day. However, when the bookmaker “took the knock”, as he invariably did at least twice a year, it was his pleasing custom to move without giving any notice. He would hitch two carthorses to the stables, and haul them away at night. He would dig up not only the roses, trees, and chrysanthemums that he had planted, but would also cart away the soil he had brought in; in fact, he used to shift the garden bodily. He had one garden that he shifted to nearly every suburb in Sydney in turn, and he always argued that change of air was invaluable for chrysanthemums. Be this as it may, the proposition is self-evident that the would-be amateur gardener should grow flowers not for posterity, nor for his landlord, nor for his creditors, but for himself.

Being determined then to go in for gardening on commonsense principles, and having decided on the class of shrubs that you mean to grow, the next thing is to consider what sort of a chance you have of growing them. If your neighbour keeps game fowls it may be taken for granted that before long they will pay you a visit, and you will see the rooster scratching your pot plants out by the roots as if they were so much straw, just to make a nice place to lie down and fluff the dust over himself. Goats will also stray in from the street, and bite the young shoots off, selecting the most valuable plants with a discrimination that would do credit to a professional gardener; and whatever valuable plant a goat bites is doomed. It is therefore useless thinking of growing any delicate or squeamish plants. Most amateur gardeners maintain a lifelong struggle against the devices of Nature, and when the forces of man and the forces of Nature come into conflict Nature will win every time. Nature has decreed that certain plants shall be hardy, and therefore suitable to suburban amateur gardens, but the suburban amateur gardener persists in trying to grow quite other plants, and in despising those marked out by Nature for his use. It is to correct this tendency that this article is written.

The greatest standby to the amateur gardener should undoubtedly be the blue-flowered shrub known as plumbago. This homely but hardy plant will grow anywhere. It naturally prefers a good soil and a sufficient rainfall, but if need be it will worry along without either. Fowls cannot scratch it up, and even a goat turns away dismayed from its hard-featured branches. The flower is not strikingly beautiful nor ravishingly scented, but it flowers nine months out of the year, and though smothered with street dust and scorched by the summer sun you will find that faithful old plumbago plugging along undismayed. A plant like this should be encouraged and made much of, but the misguided amateur gardener as a rule despises it. The plant known as the churchyard geranium is also one marked out by Providence for the amateur, as is also cosmea, a plant that comes up year after year when once planted. In creepers, bignonia and lantana will hold their own under difficulties perhaps as well as any that can be found. In trees, the Port Jackson fig is a patriotic plant to grow, and it is a fine plant to provide exercise, as it sheds its leaves unsparingly, and requires to have the whole garden swept up every day. Your aim as a student of Nature should be to encourage the survival of the fittest. In grasses, too, the same principle holds good. There is a grass called nut grass, and another called Parramatta grass, either of which will hold its own against anything living or dead. The average gardening manual gives you recipes for destroying these grasses. Why should you destroy them in favour of a sickly plant that needs constant attention? No. The Parramatta grass is the selected of Nature, and who are you to interfere with Nature? Having thus decided to go in for strong, simple plants that will hold their own, and a bit over, you must get your implements of husbandry. A spade is the first thing, but the average ironmonger will show you an unwieldy weapon only meant to be used by navvies. Don’t buy it. Get a small spade, about half-size—it is nice and light and doesn’t tire the wrist, and with it you can make a good display of enthusiasm, and earn the hypocritical admiration of your wife. After digging for half an hour or so, you can get her to rub your back with any of the backache cures advertised in this journal and from that moment you will have no further need for the spade.

Besides a spade, a barrow is about the only other thing needed, and anyhow it is almost a necessity for removing cases of whisky into the house. A rake is useful sometimes as a weapon, when your terrier dog has bailed up a cat, and will not attack it till the cat is made to run. And talking of terrier dogs, an acquaintance of ours has a dog that does all his gardening. The dog is a small elderly terrier, whose memory is failing somewhat, so as soon as the terrier has planted a bone in the garden the owner slips over and digs it up and takes it away. When the terrier goes back and finds the bone gone, he distrusts his own memory, and begins to think that perhaps he has made a mistake, and has dug in the wrong place; so he sets to work and digs patiently all over the garden, turning over acres of soil in his search for the missing bone. Meanwhile, the man saves himself a lot of backache.

The sensible amateur gardener, then, will not attempt to fight with Nature but will fall in with her views. What more pleasant than to get out of bed at 11.30 on a Sunday morning, and look out of your window at a lawn waving with the feathery plumes of Parramatta grass, and to see beyond it the churchyard or stinking geranium flourishing side by side with the plumbago and the Port Jackson fig? The garden gate blows open, and the local commando of goats, headed by an aged and fragrant patriarch (locally known as De Wet from the impossibility of capturing him), rush in; but their teeth will barely bite through the wiry stalks of the Parramatta grass, and the plumbago and the fig tree fail to attract them; and before long they scale the fence by standing on one another’s shoulders, and disappear into the next-door garden, where a fanatic is trying to grow show roses. After the last goat has scaled your neighbour’s fence, and only De Wet is left in your garden, your little dog discovers him, and De Wet beats a hurried retreat, apparently at full speed, with the little dog exactly one foot behind him in frantic pursuit. We say apparently at full speed, because old experience has taught that De Wet can run as fast as a greyhound when he likes; but he never exerts himself to go any faster than is necessary to just keep in front of whatever dog is after him; in fact, De Wet once did run for about a hundred yards with a greyhound after him, and then he suddenly turned and butted the greyhound cranksided, as Uncle Remus would say. Hearing the scrimmage, your neighbour comes onto his verandah, and sees the chase going down the street. “Ha! that wretched old De Wet again!” he says. “Small hope your dog has of catching him! Why don’t you get a garden gate like mine, so as he won’t get in?” “No; he can’t get in at your gate,” is the reply, “but I think his commando are in your back garden now.” The next thing is a frantic rush by your neighbour, falling downstairs in his haste, and the sudden reappearance of the commando skipping easily back over the fence, and through your gate into the street again, stopping to bite some priceless pot plants of your neighbour’s as they come out. A horse gets in, but his hoofs make no impression on the firm turf of the Parramatta grass, and you get quite a hearty laugh by dropping a chair on him out of the first floor window, and seeing him go tearing down the street. The game fowls of your other neighbour come fluttering into your garden, and scratch and chuckle and fluff themselves under your plumbago bush; but you don’t worry. Why should you? They can’t hurt it: and besides, you know well enough that the small black hen and the big yellow hen, who have disappeared from the throng, are even now laying their daily eggs for you at the back of the thickest bush. Your little dog rushes frantically up and down the front bed of your garden barking and racing, and tearing up the ground, because his rival little dog who lives down the street is going past with his master, and each pretends that he wants to be at the other—as they have pretended every day for the past three years. But the performance he goes through in the garden doesn’t disturb you. Why should it? By following the directions in this article you have selected plants that he cannot hurt. After breakfasting at 12 noon, you stroll out, and, perhaps, smooth with your foot or with your small spade the inequalities made by the hens; you gather up casually the eggs that they have laid; you whistle to your little dog, and go out for a stroll with a light heart. That is the true way to enjoy amateur gardening.

The Evening News, 19 December 1903



A Tragedy as Played at Ryde

Macbreath  Mr Henley
Macpuff    Mr Terry
     The Ghost


TIME: The day before the election.
SCENE: A Drummoyne tram running past a lunatic asylum.
All present are Reform Leaguers and supporters of Macbreath.
They seat themselves in the compartment.

MACBREATH: Here, I’ll sit in the midst.
Be large in mirth. Anon we’ll all be fitted
With Parliamentary seats.
(Voter approaches the door.)
There’s blood upon thy face.

VOTER: ’Tis Thompson’s, then.

MACBREATH: Is he thrown out? How neatly we beguiled
The guileless Thompson. Did he sign a pledge agreeing to retire?

VOTER: Aye, that he did.

MACBREATH: Not so did I!
Not on the doubtful hazard of a vote
By Ryde electors, cherry-pickers, oafs,
That drive their market carts at dread of night
And sleep all day. Not on the jaundiced choice
Of folks who daily run their half a mile
Just after breakfast, when the steamer hoots
Her warning to the laggard—not on these
Relied Macbreath, for if these rustics’ choice
Had fall’n on Thompson, I should still have claimed
A conference. But hold! Is Thompson out?

VOTER: My Lord, his name is mud. That I did for him
I paid my shilling and I cast my vote.

MACBREATH: Thou art the best of all the shilling voters.
Prithee, be near me on election day
To see me smite Macpuff—and now we shan’t
Be long—
(Ghost of Thompson appears.)
What’s this? A vision!
Thou canst not say I did it! Never shake
Thy gory locks at me. Run for some other seat,
Let the woods hide thee. Prithee, chase thyself!
(The ghost of Thompson disappears, and Macbreath revives
himself with a great effort.)
Leaguers all,
Mine own especial comrades of Reform,
All amateurs and no professionals,
So many worthy candidates I see,
Alas that there are only ninety seats.
Still, let us take them all—and Joe Carruthers,
Ashton, and Jimmy Hogue, and all the rest,
Will have to look for work! Oh, joyous day,
To-morrow’s poll will make me M.L.A.


TIME: Election day.
SCENE: Macbreath’s committee rooms.

MACBREATH: Bring me no more reports: let them all fly;
Till Labour’s platform to Kyabram come
I cannot taint with fear. How go the votes?
Enter First Voter

FIRST VOTER: May it please my Lord,
The cherry-pickers’ vote is two to one
Towards Macpuff: and all our voters say
The ghost of Thompson sits in every booth,
And talks of pledges.

MACBREATH: What a polished liar!
And yet the dead can vote! (Strikes him.)
What if it should be!
(Ghost of Thompson appears to him suddenly.)

GHOST: The Pledge! The Pledge!

MACBREATH: I say I never signed the gory pledge.
(Ghost disappears. Enter a Messenger.)
Thou com’st to use thy tongue. Thy story quickly!

MESSENGER: Gracious, my Lord,
I should report that which I know I saw,
But know not how to do it.

MACBREATH: Well, say on!

MESSENGER: As I did stand my watch in Parliament
I saw the Labour platform come across
And join Kyabram—Loans were overthrown—
The numbers were reduced—extravagance
Is put an end to by McGowen’s vote.

MACBREATH: The devil damn thee black, thou cream-faced loon!
Where got’st thou this fish yarn?

MESSENGER: There’s nearly forty—

MACBREATH: Thieves, fool?

MESSENGER: No, members, will be frozen out of work!

MACBREATH: Aye, runs the story so! Well, well, ’tis sudden!
These are the uses of the politician,
A few brief sittings and another contest;
He hardly gets to know th’ billiard tables
Before he’s out ...

(Alarums and Harbour excursions; enter Macpuff at the head of a Picnic Party.)

MACPUFF: Now, yield thee, tyrant!
By that fourth party which I once did form,
I’ll take thee to a picnic, there to live
On windfall oranges!

MACBREATH: ... Nay, rather death!
Death before picnic fare! Lay on, Macpuff,
And damned be he who first cries Hold, enough!
(They fight. Macbreath is struck on the back of the head by some
blue metal from Pennant Hills Quarry. He falls. The referee counts,
“One, two, three, eight, nine, ten—out!”)

MACPUFF: Kind voters all, and worthy gentlemen,
Who rallied to my flag today, and made me
Member for Thompson, from my soul I thank you.
There needs no trumpet blast, for I can blow
Like any trombone. Prithee, let us go!
Thanks to you all who shared this glorious day,
Whom I invite to dance at Chowder Bay!


The Evening News, 25 January 1904


The Oracle At The Races

No tram ever goes to Randwick races without him; he is always fat, hairy, and assertive; he is generally one of a party, and he takes the centre of the stage all the time—pays the fares, adjusts the change, chaffs the conductor, crushes the thin, apologetic stranger next him into a pulp, and talks to the whole compartment freely, as if they had asked for his opinion.

He knows all the trainers and owners, apparently—rather, he takes care to give the impression that he does. He slowly and pompously hauls out his race book, and one of his satellites opens the ball by saying, in a deferential way, “What do you like for the ’urdles, Charley?”

The Oracle looks at the book, and breathes heavily; no one else ventures to speak. “Well,” he says, at last, “of course there’s only one in it—if he’s wanted. But that’s it—will they spin him? I don’t think they will. They’s only a lot o’ cuddies any’ow.”

No one likes to expose his own ignorance by asking which horse he refers to as being able to win; and he goes on to deal out some more wisdom in a loud voice:

“Billy K—told me” (he probably hardly knows Billy K—by sight). “Billy K—told me that that bay ’orse ran the best mile an’ a half ever done on Randwick yesterday; but I don’t give him a chance, for all that; that’s the worst of these trainers. They don’t know when their horses are well—half of ’em.”

Then a voice comes from behind him. It is the voice of the Thin Man, who is crushed out of sight by the bulk of the Oracle.

“I think,” says the Thin Man, “that that horse of Flannery’s ought to run well in the Handicap.”

The Oracle can’t stand this sort of thing at all. He gives a snort, and wheels his bulk half-round, and looks at the speaker. Then he turns back to the compartment full of people, and says, “No ’ope.”

The Thin Man makes a last effort. “Well, they backed him last night, anyhow.”

“Who backed ’im?” says the Oracle.

“In Tattersall’s,” says the Thin Man.

“I’m sure,” says the Oracle; and the Thin Man collapses.

On arrival at the course, the Oracle is in great form. Attended by his string of satellites, he plods from stall to stall, staring at the horses. The horses’ names are printed in big letters on the stalls, but the Oracle doesn’t let that stop his display of knowledge.

“’Ere’s Blue Fire,” he says, stopping at that animal’s stall, and swinging his race book. “Good old Blue Fire!” he goes on loudly as a little court of people collect, “Jimmy B—” (mentioning a popular jockey) “told me he couldn’t have lost on Saturday week if he had only been ridden different. I had a good stake on him, too, that day. Lor’, the races that has been chucked away on this horse. They will not ride him right.”

Then a trainer, who is standing by, civilly interposes. “This isn’t Blue Fire,” he says. “Blue Fire’s out walking about. This is a two-year-old filly that’s in the stall—”

“Well, I can see that, can’t I?” says the Oracle, crushingly. “You don’t suppose I thought Blue Fire was a mare, did you?” and he moves off hurriedly, scenting danger.

“I don’t know what you thought,” mutters the trainer to himself, as the Oracle retires. “Seems to me doubtful whether you have the necessary apparatus for thinking—”. But the Oracle goes on his way with undiminished splendour.

“Now, look here, you chaps,” he says to his followers at last. “You wait here. I want to go and see a few of the talent, and it don’t do to have a crowd with you. There’s Jimmy M over there now” (pointing to a leading trainer). “I’ll get hold of him in a minute. He couldn’t tell me anything with so many about. Just you wait here.”

Let us now behold the Oracle in search of information. He has at various times unofficially met several trainers—has ridden with them in trams, and has exchanged remarks with them about the weather; but somehow in the saddling paddock they don’t seem anxious to give away the good things that their patrons have paid for the preparation of, and he is not by way of getting any tips. He crushes into a crowd that has gathered round the favourite’s stall, and overhears one hard-faced racing man say to another, “What do you like?” and the other answers, “Well, either this or Royal Scot. I think I’ll put a bit on Royal Scot.” This is enough for the Oracle. He doesn’t know either of the men from Adam, or either of the horses from the great original pachyderm, but the information will do to go on with. He rejoins his followers, and looks very mysterious. “Well, did you hear anything?” they say.

The Oracle talks low and confidentially.

“The crowd that have got the favourite tell me they’re not afraid of anything but Royal Scot,” he says. “I think we’d better put a bit on both.”

“What did the Royal Scot crowd say?” asks an admirer deferentially.

“Oh, they’re going to try and win. I saw the stable commissioner, and he told me they were going to put a hundred on him. Of course, you needn’t say I told you, ’cause I promised him I wouldn’t tell.” And the satellites beam with admiration of the Oracle, and think what a privilege it is to go to the races with such a knowing man.

They contribute their mites to a general fund, some putting in a pound, others half a sovereign, and the Oracle takes it into the ring to invest, half on the favourite, and half on Royal Scot. He finds that the favourite is at two to one and Royal Scot at threes, eight to one being given against anything else. As he ploughs through the ring, a whisperer (one of those broken-down followers of the turf who get their living in various mysterious ways, but partly by giving “tips” to backers) pulls his sleeve.

“What are you backing?” he says. “Favourite and Royal Scot,” says the Oracle.

“Put a pound on Bendemeer,” says the tipster. “It’s a certainty. Meet me here if it comes off, and I’ll tell you something for the next race. Don’t miss it now. Get on quick!”

The Oracle is humble enough before the hanger-on of the turf, and as a bookmaker roars “Ten to one Bendemeer”, the Oracle suddenly fishes out a sovereign of his own—and he hasn’t money to spare for all his knowingness—and puts it on Bendemeer. His friends’ money he puts on the favourite and Royal Scot, as arranged. Then they all go round to watch the race.

The horses are at the post; a distant cluster of crowded animals, with little dots of colour on their backs. Green, blue, yellow, purple, French grey, and old gold; they change about in a bewildering manner, and though the Oracle has a (cheap) pair of glasses, he can’t make out where Bendemeer has got to. Royal Scot and the favourite he has lost interest in, and he secretly hopes that they will be left at the post or break their necks; but he does not confide his sentiments to his companions. They’re off! The long line of colours across the track becomes a shapeless clump, and then draws out into a long string. “What’s that in the front?” yells someone by the rails. “Oh, that thing of Hart’s,” says someone else. But the Oracle hears them not; he is looking in the mass of colour for a purple cap and grey jacket, with black armbands. He cannot see it anywhere, and the confused and confusing mass swings round the turn into the straight.

Then there is a babel of voices, and suddenly a shout of “Bendemeer! Bendemeer!” and the Oracle, without knowing which is Bendemeer, takes up the cry feverishly. “Bendemeer! Bendemeer!” he yells, waggling his glasses about, trying to see where the animal is.

“Where’s Royal Scot, Charley? Where’s Royal Scot?” screams one of his friends, in agony. “‘Ow’s he doin’?”

“No ’ope!” says the Oracle, with fiendish glee. “Bendemeer! Bendemeer!”

The horses are at the Leger stand now, whips are out, and three horses seem to be nearly abreast—in fact, to the Oracle there seem to be a dozen nearly abreast. Then a big chestnut seems to stick his head in front of the others, and a small man at the Oracle’s side emits a deafening series of yells right by the Oracle’s ear: “Go on, Jimmy! Rub it into him! Belt him! It’s a cake-walk! A cake-walk!” and the big chestnut, in a dogged sort of way, seems to stick his body clear of his opponents, and passes the post a winner by a length. The Oracle doesn’t know what has won, but fumbles with his book. The number on the saddlecloth catches his eye. No. 7; and he looks hurriedly down the page. No. 7—Royal Scot. Second is No. 24—Bendemeer. Favourite nowhere.

Hardly has he realised it, before his friends are cheering and clapping him on the back. “By George, Charley, it takes you to pick ’em.” “Come and ’ave a wet?” “You ’ad a quid in, didn’t you, Charley?” The Oracle feels very sick at having missed the winner, but he dies game. “Yes, rather; I had a quid on,” he says. “And” (here he nerves himself to smile) “I had a saver on the second, too.”

His comrades gasp with astonishment. “D’ye’r that, eh? Charley backed first and second. That’s pickin’ ’Em, if you like.” They have a wet, and pour fulsome adulation on the Oracle when he collects their money.

After the Oracle has collected the winnings for his friends he meets the Whisperer again. “It didn’t win?” he says to the Whisperer in inquiring tones.

“Didn’t win!” says the Whisperer who has determined to brazen the matter out. “How could he win? Did you see the way he was ridden? That horse was stiffened just after I seen you, and he never tried a yard. Did you see the way he was pulled and hauled about at the turn? It’d make a man sick. What was the stipendiary stewards doing, I wonder?”

This fills the Oracle with a new idea. All that he remembers of the race at the turn was a jumble of colours, a kaleidoscope of horses, and of riders hanging out on the horses’ necks. But it wouldn’t do for the Oracle to admit that he didn’t see everything, and didn’t know everything; so he plunges in boldly.

“O’ course, I saw it,” he says. “A blind man could see it. They ought to rub him out.” “Course they ought,” says the Whisperer. “But look here, put two quid on Tell-tale; you’ll get it all back!”

The Oracle does put on “two quid”, and doesn’t get it all back. Neither does he see any more of this race than he did of the last one; in fact, he cheers wildly when the wrong horse is coming in; but when the public begins to hoot, he hoots as loudly as anybody—louder if anything—and all the way home in the tram he lays down the law about stiff running, and wants to know what the stipendiaries are doing. If you go into any barber’s shop, you can hear him at it, and he flourishes in suburban railway carriages; but he has a tremendous local reputation, having picked the first and second in the handicap, and it would be a bold man who would venture to question the Oracle’s knowledge of racing and of all matters relating to it.

The Evening News, 30 January 1904


The Oracle In The Private Bar

“Cumanavadrink!” said the Thin Man to the Oracle, when they met at the corner hotel, and he moved to the main entrance.

“I never go into the threepenny bar,” said the Oracle, “because I am liable to gout, and can’t drink beer, and they can’t sell anything drinkable for threepence but beer, which they ought to sell for twopence now that the brewers have reduced the wholesale price; but threepence seems to be what the Japanese in their weekly ultimatums to the Czar of Russia call the irreducible minimum.”

“Well, come into the private bar,” said the Thin Man.

And they did.

“Of course, you know why this is called the private bar?” said the Oracle.

“Well, no, I don’t,” said the man of slight obesity.

“It is called the private bar,” said the Oracle, “because it is open to the public. That is, it is open to those members of the public who are the happy possessors of the irreducible minimum of one sprat. To every possessor of sixpence a private bar is a public bar, and to every person with less than threepence a public bar is a private bar. In fact, he is barred altogether. In this country you cannot look at a barman through the end of a long-necked tumbler, or through the glass bottom of a pint pot, for less than threepence; that, as Admiral Kamimura would say, is the irreducible minimum.”

“I see,” said the Thin Man, who was so thin that his friends used to ask him if he were a grandson of Napoleon Boney Party.

“Hennessey and Schweppe, my dear,” said the Oracle to the flaxen-haired Hebe behind the bar, “and my friend will have the same, because he knows that when you sell a fair nobbler of brandy and soda for sixpence you do so at a dead loss; while, if you sell two for a shilling and split the soda there is a profit of very nearly a halfpenny!”

“But I could come in and have a Hennessey and Schweppe on my own for sixpence, couldn’t I?” inquired the Thin Man, well knowing that he could do so.

“Of course you could,” said the Oracle.

“Then why, if it doesn’t pay them, do they sell one brandy and soda for sixpence?”

“It’s the quantity they sell that makes it pay,” said the Oracle. “I am inclined to think,” he went on, as he half emptied his glass, “that drink should be put down.”

The barmaid smiled, and the Oracle frowned.

“This,” he said, pointing to the young woman, “seems to be a very respectable girl; but I do not think a bar is a proper place for a girl. In this view I have the support of many estimable persons, who have never been inside an hotel, and consequently do not know anything at all about them. The number of things which are condemned by people who know nothing at all about them is one of the quaintest paradoxes of the twentieth century. Did you ever know a temperance lecturer to come into a bar, have a drink, shout for the barmaid, and invite her to Manly to shoot the chute and tobog the toboggan? No! Why? Because he is afraid it would be a Steyne on his character! But, as Antony said to Cleopatra, as recorded by the immortal bard, ‘Let’s to billiards!’“

“Who was the immortal bard?” asked the Thin Man.

“I refer,” said the Oracle, “to William W. Shakespeare, the greatest of all English poets, and the first to mention the game of billiards. Apparently he played billiards, and probably Ben Jonson called him the Spot Stroke Bard.”

“I observe,” said the Oracle, when they reached the billiard room, and he was searching the rack for a cue with a tip as big as a shilling, “I observe that the Labour party have constructed an entirely new platform of six planks, all cut of their own heads, and I have no doubt that they have wood enough left to make another half-dozen. Shall I play you with a ten break, or give you fifty in a hundred?”

“Oh, we’d better play level,” said the Thin Man.

“Play level!” cried the Oracle; “what’s your name; Memmott?”

“No,” said the Thin Man.

“Who’ll break?” said the Oracle.

“I’ll toss you for it,” said the Thin Man.

“Oh, if we toss for it you probably won’t have a shot at all. I can often make a hundred off the red from baulk. John Roberts used to pay me £200 a year to stop in Australia. He was afraid, you see, if I went to England I would be matched against him. Grand player, John. Did it ever strike you that the man who reaches the highest position in his trade or profession is generally named Roberts?”

“Nonsense!” said the Thin Man.

“No nonsense about it,” went on the Oracle. “Look at John Roberts as a billiardist. Look at Lord Roberts as a general. Well, I’ll break ’em up, give you 98 start, and bet you five bob you don’t score at all.”

“It’s a wager,” said the Thin Man, and the marker smiled as he put him on to 98. Then the Oracle fired straight into the middle pocket and the game was over.

“You’re out,” said the Oracle, “and I’ll have to pay for the table out of the five bob I won from you on the side wager that you wouldn’t score!”

“I don’t like this way of playing billiards,” said the Thin Man.

“Oh, it’s like Bill Scroggins,” said the Oracle. “It’s all right when you know it, but you’ve got to know it first. Have another game? No? All right. Let’s have another drink.”

They returned to the P.B.—the Private Bar, the Pretty Barmaid, and the Pale Brandy. “Drink,” repeated the Oracle, as he again emptied his glass, “drink should be put down.” “You seem to be putting it down all right,” said the barmaid.

“And barmaids,” went on the Oracle, “should also be put down. A beautiful creature like this leads men to drink. How much a week do you spend in drink?”

“Probably a pound,” said the Thin Man.

“And how long have you been a drinker at that rate?”

“About twenty years.”

“Ah, well, I was a teetotaller for forty years, that is what makes my hand so steady at billiards. You noticed my steady hand, probably, as I fired into that middle pocket? And you have been spending a pound a week in liquor for twenty years. Disgraceful! Twenty times fifty-two equals 1040. You have spent £1040 in drink, and probably kept sober all the time. Must have kept fairly sober, or you couldn’t have earnt the money to buy liquor. Do you know, sir, that if you had put that pound per week into the Post Office Savings Bank, or into any other bank at a reasonable interest, you might now be the happy owner of a terrace of three or four fairly good houses?”

“Very likely,” said the Thin Man. “Where’s your terrace of houses?”

“Eh?” queried the Oracle.

“Where is your terrace of houses?”

“I’ve got no houses,” said the Oracle.

“Well, where’s the money?” asked the Thin Man.

“I’ll tell you,” said the Oracle, “if you promise not to let the matter go any further than the columns of a newspaper. The money that I didn’t spend in drink during the forty years I was a teetotaller is in the same place as Mr Thomas Waddell’s next surplus!”

The Evening News, 6 February 1904


The Oracle In The Sanctum

“No,” said the Oracle to Editor Clipham, as he lit his pipe and seated himself comfortably in the editor’s room at the office of the Warrogolga Weekly Weathercock, with the air of a man who can make himself at home anywhere, “no, it isn’t every man who knows how to run a newspaper.”

“Have you come to tell me how to do it?” asked the Editor.

“Well, not exactly that,” said the Oracle, “but I have come to make a few suggestions, if you care to listen to them.”

“Oh, certainly,” said the Editor, “it is the regular rule of all editors to listen to advice from anybody and everybody. Proceed; I am all ears, as Shakespeare says.”

“I should not have thought you old enough,” said the Oracle, “to have been personally acquainted with Shakespeare; but if he did say you are all ears it was merely a slight exaggeration, a sort of Oriental hyperbole, as it were, for you have legs and arms, and other physical attributes, though your ears are certainly the most noticeable.”

“Copy!” yelled the Printer’s Devil, as he opened a little sliding shutter in the wall, and stuck his head through into the sanctum. “Ain’t yer done the leader yet? The foreman says we’ll miss the post if yer don’t hurry up!”

“I won’t keep you one calendar second,” said the Editor, as he proceeded to clip from a paper a column-long letter on “Ecclesiastical Millinery in the Time of Queen Elizabeth”. “Tell the foreman to alter the personal pronoun into the editorial ‘we’.”

“Righto!” said the Devil. “That’ll stop the beggars jeffin’ em-quads on the stone for an hour or two.” And he drew in his head and arm together, and slid down the shutter. “What does that impudent boy mean by ‘jeffin’ em-quads?” asked the Oracle.

“I thought you knew all about a newspaper office?” replied the Editor.

“I do not pretend to know all about the composing room,” admitted the Oracle.

“Don’t you know what a quad is?” asked the Editor, with considerable surprise, for it was the first time the Oracle had confessed to a lack of detailed knowledge on any subject, however technical.

“There are certain establishments at Berrima, Goulburn, Maitland, and Darlinghurst, which I believe, are known among vulgar persons by that name,” replied the Oracle with dignity; “but I am not in the habit of using such terms myself.”

“An em quad,” explained the Editor, “is used for indenting an article.”

“I see; something like an invoice or bill of lading?” said the Oracle.

“The number of things you don’t know about a newspaper office,” said the Editor, “would fill a book. But go on, tell me the proper way to run a paper.”

“I merely wish to offer some suggestions in a friendly manner,” said the Oracle, “but if you prefer to sneer I will not do so. What is more, I will stop the paper!”

“Don’t do that,” implored the Editor, “or you’ll prevent me from being able to sell out at a fair price. Your account is the biggest book debt in the subscribers’ ledger!”

“Your unkindly reference to the state of my account,” said the Oracle, “is most unseemly. That I am in your debt for a certain paltry amount is true. Do you imagine that I can’t pay?”

“Oh, no,” said the Editor, “not at all; but I have an idea that you don’t! However, go on with the suggestions, and I’ll lock the door and send the Devil down to the corner for a billy can of beer.”

“I should be only too happy to assist you in any little matter of that sort,” said the Oracle.

“I daresay,” said the Editor. “In that branch of journalism you would probably shine. But go on; you’ve made me give the comps. reprint instead of fresh matter, so that I could spare the time to listen to your suggestions, and now you’d better tell me what they are.”

“In the first place,” quoth the Oracle, “you want a column of short paragraphs and little verses, something like this:

They gave John G.
A send-off spree
His health was drunk
And so was he!

“Something jocular, you know. When the lampooned party calls round with a stick, ask him to select the person to form the subject of another little jibe, and promise John G. a complimentary par about his nice little orchard. That’ll please him. Occasionally work up a sectarian row; nothing sells a paper like a rattling good murder, a slashing divorce (one with half a dozen co-respondents and a mother-in-law of doubtful character), or a sectarian row. If you can’t get anybody to set the ball rolling, do it yourself. Write yourself a letter, headed ‘Why the celebration of the twelfth of July should be suppressed’ and sign it ‘Michael O’Rafferty’, so long as there isn’t anybody of that name in the district. Then bring the letter under the notice of the Worshipful Master of the local Orange Lodge. He will respond with quotations from Liguori and Maria Monk, and there you are! If nobody steps into the breach, dear friend, all you have to do is to again appear in the character of Michael O’Rafferty, asking what consistency there is in men who revere the memory of one Dutchman, the same being William of Orange, denouncing so very Dutch a Dutchman as Oom Paul Kruger. See? Presently somebody will take up the Catholic side of the argument and you can leave that alone, too, and they’ll half write your paper between ’em.”

“Just so,” said the Editor.

“Then,” went on the Oracle, “there is the obituary poem idea. You can always get an ad, referring to the dear departed and subsequent in memoriam notices with ‘Russian and Hungarian papers, please copy’ in them, if you sling ’em a bit of a jingle; something in this style:

We have lost our darling mother,
She has left us sad and lone!
And our hearts are filled with sorrow
’Cause we don’t know where she’s gone!

“Or this, for a widower:

In the cold ground
My wife doth lie;
She’s happier now
And so am I!

“There is money in obituary poetry. The more grief-stricken the relatives, the less likely they are to observe the ludicrous absurdity of obituary and in memoriam verses. But the little jingle may be cheerful in the births and marriages, especially marriages. People very seldom get married unless they want to; but they very often have babies whether they want to or not! Choose, if possible, a method that will play upon the names. I read an excellent wedding quatrain once for a couple named respectively John Smith—you’ve heard the name before, perhaps—and Annie Bread. She wasn’t a baker’s daughter, either. This was the quatrain; it took well:

“What were the words that Johnnie said?
Oh, what did Johnnie mutter?
He said, “I will have Annie Bread,
And won’t have any but her!”

“And now,” said the Editor, “can you give me any advice about libels?”

“Certainly,” said the Oracle; “the only thing a responsible journalist in this great free country—where any white man can come and live if he isn’t a hatmaker—needs to do in regard to libels is to refrain from writing them. Praise everyone, and deceive the public. The public doesn’t mind being deceived. If you know a politician with four wives who has (I mean the politician) never been known to go home sober, speak of him as a highly moral citizen!”

“Thank you,” said the Editor; “and as the billy-can is empty we will repair to the Royal and cut out a bit more of that running ‘ad’.”

The Oracle smiled an acquiescent smile, and said he had always been an advocate for irrigating the interior.

The Evening News, 13 February 1904


The Oracle In The Barber’s Shop

“You’re next!” called the Barber, as the Oracle put his head in the saloon on Monday morning. “Won’t keep you a minute.” The Oracle stepped in to find, as usual, six men waiting to be shaved, each with a chin on him as bristly as the barrel of a musical box.

There may have been at some time in some country a barber who told the truth about how long the unshaven customer would have to wait; but, if so, he is now in Heaven, with the only politician who ever told the truth about the prospects of his party.

But the Oracle was in no particular hurry, and had not believed the Barber when the latter told him he was “next”. Nobody ever takes a barber’s word in a matter of that sort, without seeing that the saloon is empty.

“It’s a bit awkward in this business,” said the Barber. “Can’t help keeping people waiting on Saturdays and Mondays. Can’t put on extra hands, because all the shops want ’em at the same time and if there were enough to go all round on Saturdays and Mondays, three-fourths of them would be unemployed all the rest of the week, as a good many are now.”

“But I don’t find customers growl much,” proceeded the Tonsorial Artist, as he scraped some more bristles off the neck of the gentleman in the chair. “I don’t know how women would stand waiting in a shaving saloon. It’s a good job they don’t have beards.”

“I suppose,” whispered the Oracle to the Thin Man seated next to him, and who looked as if he had swallowed a bird cage, and the wire were growing out of his chin, “I suppose you know why it is that women don’t have beards?”

“I should imagine,” said the Thin Man with the porcupine bristles, “that it is in accord with the natural law under which the male animal is the most beautiful. Compare the peacock with the peahen.”

“Just so,” said the Oracle, “one never hears of a peacock being discounted, and subsequently dishonoured, but it is a thing that frequently happens in the case of a P.N.”

“Observe,” went on the Thin Man, “the noble mane of the lion as compared—I should say contrasted—with the smooth neck of the lioness.”

“Exactly,” said the Oracle. “Then there is the Lyre Bird and the Bird of Paradise; how beautiful are the male birds! But the case of the Queen Bee shows that the law of male superiority is not universal, as is commonly supposed. And the reason that women have no beards has no bearing on the question of sex superiority at all!”

“No?” queried the Thin Man.

“Certainly not,” said the Oracle. “The reason that women have no beards is that the Creator was aware that no woman could possibly keep her chin still long enough to admit of her being shaved without being in imminent danger of having her throat cut. That is why men have beards, and women do not. Dowie has a fine beard.”

“Yes,” said the Thin Man. “Strange form of religion he has, isn’t it?”

“There is nothing very new about it,” said the Oracle. “Faith-healing is as old as the hills, and has caused the deaths of tens of thousands of people at various periods of the world’s history. Oliver Cromwell was a great believer in faith. What did he say at the battle of Marston Moor? ‘Put your faith in the Lord and don’t forget to keep the powder dry!’ Voltaire was also very strong on faith.”

“Voltaire?” said the Thin Man, with the fencing-wire whiskers. “Why, he was an atheist!”

“It is a common idea,” said the Oracle, “but it is just as erroneous, as it is common. When charged with atheism, Voltaire said he was not an atheist, or an agnostic, but he went so far in the opposite direction that he was profoundly superstitious. ‘So far from believing in nothing,’ he said, ‘I can believe in witchcraft and am confident that with incantations (and arsenic) it is possible to poison a flock of sheep!”

“Next!” called the Barber, and Thin Man went into the chair.

“If I had a stubbly beard like that,” said the Oracle to the Fat Man who had moved along the form, and came nearer, when the Thin Man took the chair. “If I had a beard like that, I think I would run the lawn mower over it before I had the impudence to bring it into a barber’s shop to be shaved off for threepence.”

“Perhaps he doesn’t own a lawn mower,” suggested the Fat Man.

“Then he should use a keyhole saw or a jack plane,” said the Oracle, “or he should borrow a scythe blade. It isn’t shaving at all; it is harvesting a heavy crop, with plenty of thistles and cobbler’s pegs among the wheat!”

“What’s your opinion,” asked the Fat Man, “about this retrenchment scheme? Pretty rough to make the civil servants pay for the extravagance of the Government, ain’t it?”

“It is,” said the Oracle. “The trouble is they don’t begin at the right end.”

“That’s it; they should cut down the big screws,” said the Fat Man.

“I didn’t mean that,” said the Oracle. “What we want is a sliding scale of payment for Ministers and members. Of course, they don’t cause the drought; but as they always take credit for a good season, we might as well blame them for a bad one, just to even things up a bit. If I had my way I’d have payment by results. The Treasurer shouldn’t be allowed to use any revenue to the extent of a cab fare until the money was voted by Parliament, and Ministers’ and members’ salaries should be put on the Estimates, and be liable to alteration every year. There never was a Treasurer anywhere who even anticipated a deficit, and I don’t remember one in this country that ever had a surplus of more than about half a crown, and he only got that by charging a million of current expenses to loan account. What we want is to make the Treasurer run the finances so that the balance at the end of the year will be something like what he prophesied at the start.”

“How on earth could you do that?” asked the Fat Man.

“Wait till I tell yer,” proceeded the Oracle. “There are always a lot of people in favour of retrenching somebody else; but I’d make it compulsory for the politicians to retrench themselves.”

“Well, they’ve done that now,” said the Fat Man.

“They’ve reduced the numbers,” said the Oracle, “but that’s no use, except that it saves a good bit of gas. The saving in salaries will only be fooled away in some other direction. This is what I’d do. When the Treasurer made his financial statement, and gave his forecast, I’d make it a matter of direct personal interest to him and every other politician to carry out the pledges given in the forecast. If the surplus for the year was 10 per cent below the estimate, the Parliamentary salaries, from the Premier’s down to the Boghollow representative’s, should be reduced 20 per cent, and if the surplus was 10 per cent above the estimate, their salaries should be raised 5 per cent. And no statement at the end of a financial year should be admitted as correct unless signed by the Premier, and countersigned by the Leader of the Opposition, who, when there was a surplus, could count over the amount of it in hard cash. Suppose you were a member of Parliament—”

“I am,” interrupted the Fat Man.

“Oh, you are, are yer? Well, you’ve got a good job, and I hope you won’t be one of the 35 unfortunates. Well, the amount of your screw should depend on the correctness of the Treasurer’s Estimates. When there was a deficit, you’d lose 10 per cent, if the deficit was 10 per cent, and when there was a surplus of the same amount, you’d gain 5 per cent. You’d take jolly fine care that O’Sullivan didn’t fool too much money away in some other chap’s electorate, and the other chap would have his weather eye on O’Sullivan’s beneficence in your back yard, and you’d all see that the Treasurer didn’t waste any money on statues of Australia Making Faces at the Pawnshop. My word, when Parliament is the first place to be retrenched in case of a deficit, you can take my tip there’ll always be a surplus!”

“Next!” called the Barber.

And the Oracle took the chair.

The Evening News, 20 February 1904


The Oracle At The Bowling Green

“Never been on a bowling green before, haven’t you?” said the Oracle, as he and the Thin Man seated themselves on one of the seats kindly provided for spectators. “Why, it is the oldest of all games, and one of the most scientific.”

“Is it as old as cricket?” asked the Thin Man.

“Cricket be hanged!” replied the Oracle. “Why, hockey is the grandfather of cricket, and hockey wasn’t invented until bowling was as old as Methuselah. The rolling bowl is as old as the flowing bowl, and Noah got tight just after he came out of the Ark, if you remember.”

“No, I don’t remember,” said the Thin Man. “I’m not quite as old as you are. Were you in the Ark?”

“I was not,” retorted the Oracle, “but if you had been there I have no doubt they would have placed you in the monkeys’ cage along with your ancestors!”

“You needn’t be insulting,” protested the Thin Man.

“I did not mean to be,” said the Oracle; “but every time I look at you I am inclined to wonder whether the Darwinian theory as to the origin of species may not be true after all. But it is a grand old game. Don’t you remember—”

“Sweet Alice, Ben Bolt!” added the Thin Man.

“Look here,” said the Oracle, “if you’re going to talk a parcel of nonsense, I won’t explain the game to you at all. Don’t you remember, or have you not read of, that immortal game of bowls played on the Plymouth green, one side being Lord Howard and lieutenants Drake, Hawkins, and Frobisher? All noted naval commanders. When the Spanish Armada was sighted Howard wanted to stop the game at once; but Drake said there was time to finish the game and beat the Spaniards, too. That’s the story, but there’s probably no more truth in it than there is in the yarn that the Duke of Wellington said, ‘Up guards and at ’em!’ at the Battle of Waterloo”.

“I thought it was Bill Adams who said that?” remarked the Thin Man.

The Oracle ignored this little pleasantry, and just then the captain at the other end of the rink threw a white ball, about the size of a billiard ball, towards them.

“That’s the jack! See?” said the Oracle.

“Oh! that’s the Jack See, is it? Well, which is the Joe Carruthers?”

The Oracle frowned, and then his face broke into a smile. “By the way,” he said, “this game always reminds me of Parliament. Now in that next rink, where the jack is in the gutter, is what they call a dead head; but this is a very good head.”

“Oh,” said the Thin Man, “I didn’t know they had any very good heads in Parliament; but, of course, we all know they have deadheads, at least I am told that is the opinion of the manager of the refreshment room.”

“Very likely,” said the Oracle, “but the resemblance between the game of bowls and the game of politics is remarkable.”

“Is that so?” responded the Thin Man, encouragingly.

“It is so,” said the Oracle. “The jack represents office, and the art of the game of bowls is to get as close to the jack as possible. See? The bowls represent the politicians, and a bowl that runs perfectly straight will never get on to the jack if there are any other bowls in front of it. All the bowls, like all the politicians, must have a bias. The bias in a bowl or a politician causes a leaning to one side or the other; that is why it is called a bias.”

“Just so,” said the Thin Man.

“If a bowl or a politician,” went on the Oracle, “runs perfectly straight, then neither of them achieve the object intended. They must twist and turn and curve and lean to one side or the other. They mustn’t be too slow, or they’ll never reach the objective, and they mustn’t be too fast, or they’ll find themselves in the ditch, and the twisting and curving must be nicely timed and judged, or the bowl, like the politician, will be wide of the mark. Of course, all bowls have not the same degree of bias.”

“Haven’t they?”

“Oh, no; they vary as much as politicians do. Some will go in any direction that suits them; others are so nicely balanced that they will run just as they are wanted to, if only properly directed. The degree of bias varies considerably, but they all have some bias, which may be easily noticed; just the same as with Mr O’Sullivan and Mr Law, when they go to Mort’s Dock picnic at Clifton Gardens. In the game of bowls,” went on the Oracle, “with a full rink, there are eight players, four on either side, a leader, a scorer, a measurer, and a captain, who play in the order named. The leader is the person who moves the vote of censure; the scorer is the member who reckons up how many votes they are likely to get; the measurer takes the measure of the opposing side, and the captain is—well, I don’t know who the captain is on the Opposition side, but on the Government side the captain, being the person who does all the ordering about and all the directing, is, of course—”

“Jim M’Gowen,” suggested the Thin Man.

“I do wish you wouldn’t take words out of my mouth like that,” said the Oracle. “I am trying to explain to you the close resemblance between bowls and politics.”

“They don’t allow ladies to take any part in bowls,” said the Thin Man.

“Excuse me,” said the Oracle, “it is a regular rule of all bowling clubs, included in the code that ladies are specially invited to visit the green while the matches are on.”

“But they don’t let them play,” said the Thin Man.

“Do you see that gentleman there?” responded the Oracle, “that tall player, with one leg stretched along the green, pointing due east, while the other leg is doubled up, with the knee pointing due west?”

“I observe him,” said the Thin Man. “He’s thinner than I am. Looks as if he was in training to climb through a stovepipe for a wager.”

“But do you notice his extraordinary attitude? Would you like to see a lady in such an attitude as that?”

“Well, that all depends upon circumstances,” said the Thin Man; “but I’ll admit the attitude is not graceful.”

“These attitudes are not really essential to the game. Many gouty gentlemen, who are not able to get into anything like such an attitude, are excellent bowlers.”

“Then why do some of them do it?”

“Because,” said the Oracle, “bowling is one of the few games that sweet woman has not yet invaded, and bowlers are usually, in fact, almost always, men of conservative ideas. They do not wish to have lady members, inquiring into the consumption of whisky in the bar, and all that sort of thing, which, of course, they could do if members; and, as the ladies who visit the green are all very respectable, and generally relatives of the players, or personal friends, the bowlers have struck the idea of performing remarkable feats in the way of striking attitudes which no lady would dream of copying. Of course, the ladies naturally suppose these attitudes are essential features of the game, and, though they are, no doubt, sometimes greatly entertained by the acrobatic performances of the gentlemen, they, being ladies, have not the least desire to copy them. See the idea?”

“Yes,” said the Thin Man, “but I thought they only struck these attitudes by way of showing off. A bit of style, as it were!”

“Not at all,” said the Oracle, “they only do it to keep the ladies from wanting to play the game. Bowling is about the only game there is left to men only. Why, in some places, ladies even play football. As for cricket, the time is not far distant when a visiting English team will have to play a match against the ladies. Billiards they are good at, in tennis they lead. Bowls alone they have never attempted to invade, and it’s the artful notion of the impossible attitude which makes all ladies shudder at the idea of wanting to play bowls.”

Just then a stout old bowler came up to the Oracle, and shook hands, remarking that it was a dry afternoon, and would they be his guests, and try a “damper” in the refreshment room?

There is no need to record the reply.

The Evening News, 27 February 1904


The Oracle On Music And Singing

“Hello!” said the Oracle, as he met the Thin Man on George Street, “fancy me eating you! as the cat said to the mouse. Quite a treat to get a dry afternoon in this drought-stricken country, isn’t it?”

“We’ve certainly had a lot of rain here,” replied the Thin Man; “but I hear it is very dry in the interior.”

“So it is,” said the Oracle, “so it is. Let us, therefore, proceed to irrigate the interior before we go any further.”

And they entered a corner hostelry, whence they presently emerged, the Thin Man wiping his mouth.

“If you must wipe your mouth after imbibing,” said the Oracle; “you should do so before leaving the hotel. It does not look well as you are stepping out into the street.”

“Oh, there is no pretence about me,” replied the Thin Man, in a boastful tone. “I am no humbug.”

“Just so,” said the Oracle, “that is your way of putting it. Another, and perhaps, a more correct way, would be to say that you are lost to all sense of shame.”

“Sir!” exclaimed the indignant Thin Man.

“Don’t get your hair off,” said the Oracle; “you wouldn’t look half as pretty with a bald head.”

The twain had walked along until they came abreast of a large music warehouse, standing in front of which was a short, stout gentleman with long hair, a Kaiser Wilhelm moustache, a pair of pince-nez, and a broad-brimmed sombrero jauntily poised on one side of his head.

“Ah!” said the Oracle, “there is my friend, Herr Walzer Wiegenlied. I have heard—but, of course, you needn’t mention it—that his real name is James Smith. Of course, he had to adopt another; no man could possibly hope to succeed as a music teacher if he bore the name of James Smith. He must also let his hair grow long. Some of them do that for appearance sake, and others, perhaps, because they lack the necessary sixpence demanded by the relentless tonsorial artist.”

“Sir Arthur Sullivan,” said the Thin Man, “did not use to get himself up like Buffalo Bill or a Spanish brigand, did he?”

“Well no,” said the Oracle. “On the contrary, Sir Arthur wore a moustache of modest size, mutton-chop whiskers, and short-cropped hair. He also dressed like an ordinary person, and looked more like a stockbroker or an attorney than a musician. But Sullivan was immensely successful with his beautiful melodies; and could, therefore, afford to despise the idea that eccentricity is genius! But Walzer Wiegenlied is a very good fellow, indeed. He has often told me that the broad hat and long hair idea is absurd; but, at the same time, he feels compelled to follow the fashion of the musical world, lest it should be thought that by getting his hair cut short, and wearing a hard felt hat, he was trying to show off. It is not a matter of personal taste; it is a question of professional necessity. The public would never believe a man was a first-class violinist if he had his hair cropped short, and called himself Jim Smith. So our friend has long hair and calls himself Herr Walzer Wiegenlied—Walzer, of course, is waltz, and Wiegenlied means a lullaby—’Mummer’s Little Alabama Coon’, as it were. But he knows me well, and he’ll wonder what we’ve stuck here so long for, jabbering away. Come along and I’ll introduce you. Good fellow, Jim is; always willing to do the amiable with a couple of friends when he has ninepence.”

“Ah, mein Herr! Gut morgen!” said the Oracle to Professor Wiegenlied.

“Morgan was a bushranger,” muttered the Thin Man to himself, “this cove looks more like a circus cowboy.”

“The others did not hear this sotto voce criticism, and the Professor and the Thin Man were duly introduced.

“I am always pleased to meet a musician,” said the Thin Man, as he shook hands with Professor Wiegenlied. “‘Music’, as Shakespeare says, ‘hath charms to soothe the savage beast’.”

“Breast,” corrected the Oracle; “savage breast, not savage beast.”

“Oh,” said the Thin Man, “I always thought it was savage beast; in fact, I thought that explained why people generally put a brass band round a bulldog’s neck!”

“Well, gentlemen,” said the Professor, “my class is over for this morning, and I was about to drink success to a new venture I have in hand. Will you join me? I am neither as rich as Rockefeller, nor as poor as Job; but fortunately I had a pupil taken away by an indignant parent this morning.”

“Do you call that fortunate?” was the Oracle’s dubious query.

“Certainly,” said the Professor, “very fortunate. I had to teach the young lady to sing and to play also, and she could do neither, and never will. She has no ear at all. It would make your blood run cold to listen to her. But her parents thought she could be taught. It is impossible; she doesn’t know a bar of music from a bar of soap, and she never will. I am very glad she is gone.”

“But you lose a pupil,” said the Oracle.

“I lose a pupil, but I get my pay,” said the Professor. “There are some parents who while their children are doing well never think of paying, but let the fees run on. But, of course, when they grow indignant because you haven’t made another Melba of their own little Mary Ann, and resolve to take the pupil away, they must pay up, if only to preserve their own dignity. Let us come in here and have a chat until lunch time,” he added, pushing open the side door, and entering the saloon bar.

The three sat around a marble table, and Professor Wiegenlied “did the amiable”.

“I am sorry you don’t speak German,” said the Professor, “as I have to keep in practice. My own compositions are of the Wagnerian order. I adopted the Wagnerian because it is the easiest, and suits my professional name best.”

“I thought,” said the Oracle, “that Wagner’s music was very difficult.”

“It is very difficult to understand,” said the Professor, “and that is why so many people pretend to appreciate it; but, to a musician, the Wagnerian style is like rolling off a log, for though you must write a lot of chords, and break off here and there into a minor key that sounds like a dog moaning with the stomach ache, you need no tune.”

“No tune!” exclaimed the Oracle.

“I don’t mean that Wagner never composed a melody,” said the Professor, “because that would be absurd; but much of his music is so smothered in strange chords that the melody hasn’t a possible chance to get into the ear of the auditor; it is crowded out for want of space and Wagner’s disciples, of whom I am one, have abandoned the idea of having any tune in the music. Makes composition so much easier; that is why I took up Wagner, and adopted a German name. Don’t you know German at all?”

“Only wurst and sauerkraut and pretzel and lager bier,” said the Oracle, “and we could hardly keep up a conversation on that.

“And you?” asked the Professor of the Thin Man.

“I know only this,” said the Thin Man:

Gott erhalte unzern Kaiser! Unzern gooten Kaiser Bill!

“I’m afraid we’d better stick to the vernacular tongue of Balmain, Bloomsbury and the Bowery,” said the Professor.

“Although I am not a professional musician,” said the Oracle to the Thin Man, “I understand a good deal about it and more particularly of the business part of the profession. It is on my advice that our friend proposes to recommend that no fewer than six of his pupils shall be sent to Paris to finish their musical training under Madame Whatsthis.”

“Marchesi,” interpolated the Professor.

“Ma Casey!” repeated the Thin Man. “Is she Irish?”

“Of course not! She’s French,” said the Professor.

“Name sounds Irish,” murmured the Thin Man.

“Six entertainments,” went on the Oracle, “will be given in the Town Hall, and subscription lists will be opened. Other teachers of music have been content to discover one genius at a time; it is on my advice that our friend has determined to discover half a dozen. The Sydney people are always willing to send some really good singers abroad. If the singers are only middling, or so-so, as Touchstone says, we are loth to part with them; if they are bad we refuse to part with them at any price; but when they are really good we insist upon them going away to the other end of the world, and staying there as long as possible. We do the same with musicians as with singers; we provide them with the means to go away and stay away. The rule in England is just the opposite. When a German band is playing outside a house in the West End of London, the footman or the page boy is sent out to inform the bandmaster that he will get a half-crown to go away at once, a shilling if he gets through in ten minutes, and nothing at all if he stays for a quarter of an hour. They pay bad musicians to go away; we offer inducements to the best musicians to leave; and if a violinist happens to be born in Sydney and hampered with the unclassical name of Brown, his only possible chance of appreciation in his native village is to wear a sombrero like our friend here, let his hair grow long, and call himself Monsieur Le Brun. With a foreign name and a foreign appearance, an Australian musician has a chance in his own country; with his hair cut short and a hard-hitter hat he has no more chance of being fairly appreciated than the late lamented Mr Buckley.”

“Fillemupagen,” said Professor Wiegenlied to the lady behind the bar.

“Is that German?” asked the Thin Man.

“No” said the Professor, “that’s Volapuk, the universal language!”

“Ah,” said the Oracle, “they may talk of singers as they please, but I’d sooner have a fiver than a tenor!”

Then they arose and departed their several ways.

The Evening News, 5 March 1904


The Oracle At The Theatre

“Plays,” said the Oracle to the Thin Man (as they sat in the third row of the gallery, waiting for the curtain to rise for the due performance of that popular melodrama The Glazier’s Revenge, or the Bloodstained Putty Knife), “plays are not as good as they used to be.”

“No,” said the Thin Man.

“Actors are not as good as they used to be.”

“Certainly not,” said the Thin Man.

“Scenery is not as good as it used to be.”

“You’re right again,” said the Thin Man. “Nothing is as good as it used to be; in fact, nothing ever was as good as it used to be!”

“What?” said the Oracle.

“Nothing ever was as good as it used to be,” repeated the Thin Man.

“Are you trying to be sarcastic?” asked the Oracle. “If you are, I advise you to abandon the idea, because sarcasm is unsuitable coming from persons of your complexion.”

“What’s the matter with my complexion?”

“It’s your nose,” said the Oracle. “It is such a very red nose that you should not draw attention to it by trying to be sarcastic at other people’s expense. Persons whose noses shine like the starboard light of an Orient steamer entering Port Jackson at midnight when there is no moon cannot afford to be disagreeably jocular in respect to the peculiar personal attributes of others.”

As the orchestra finished the overture, and the drop scene rose (it is called the “drop scene” because every time it is let down between the acts the male portion of the audience goes out to have a “drop”, and comes back chewing cloves and coffee beans), the two friends observed immediately in front of them a lady wearing a hat the size and shape of a wash basket. Unfortunately, she was a short lady with scarcely any neck. If her neck had been long enough to carry her hat a couple of yards nearer to the ceiling, it would not have been in the way; but then, of course, she wouldn’t have worn it.

“We won’t be able to see anything for that hat,” grumbled the Thin Man.

“You keep calm for a second and watch me,” said the Oracle. “I’ll soon make her take that hat off,” and he immediately put on his own hat, and sat bolt upright.

“Take that hat off! Take yer hat off! Give us a chance ter see a bit o’ the stage!” and similar cries came from the people behind.

The Oracle removed his hat; so did the lady!

“I knew that would fetch her,” said the Oracle to his friend; “it is an old London dodge. She naturally thought the crowd behind were singing out at her. Now we shall be able to see something of the show.”

The first scene of Act One showed the interior of a poorly furnished room in Soho. Enter fair-haired young man with long legs, who begins thus:

“What would my landlady say if she but knew that I, known here as Jim the Glazier, am really nephew to the Earl of Cucumberland; that I am the Honourable Eric Trehowmuch; and that only one life prevents me becoming Viscount Purplebeak and heir to the earldom? Ha! And what would the lovely Lady Ermyntrude Plantagenet, only daughter of the Duke of Wollongong, say, did she but know that I, Eric Trehowmuch, am masquerading as a journeyman painter and glazier of Frith Street, Soho? Yet even now must I, the possible heir of 20 earls, prepare the putty for the day’s work! As the immortal bard says, “’Tis true ’tis putty, and putty ’tis, ’tis true!” (Slow music.)

“Is he the villain or the hero?” whispered the Thin Man.

“The hero, of course,” said the Oracle. “Why do you ask such foolish questions? Can’t you see his hair is fair and wavy? Heroes always have fair, wavy hair. In melodrama the villain always has very dark hair, heavy black eyebrows, and black moustache; the hero has blue eyes and fair, wavy hair.”

“Ain’t there any heroes in Japan?” asked the Thin Man.

“Of course there are,” said the Oracle. “Why don’t you read the cables about the war?”

“Well,” said the Thin Man, “I never saw a Japanese with fair, wavy hair and blue eyes.”

“We’re not talking about Japan,” replied the Oracle, irritably; “we’re talking about melodrama.”

“Oh, close your ’tater traps down there!” called a gentleman, in a back seat, with the charming politeness for which occupants of the gallery are universally remarkable.

“Must be a cranky-tempered chap, that,” murmured the Thin Man.

“Not at all,” whispered the Oracle. “This isn’t the dress circle. People come to the gallery to listen to the play. If they want to chatter and jabber all the time, same as they do in the drawing-room, after worrying some reluctant vocalist to sing, they go into the dress circle with the deadheads.”

“The deadheads?”

“Yes; the dramatic critics of the papers, who come on business and would far sooner be somewhere else playing billiards, and the other people who get in on the nod; they’re all bundled into the dress circle in Sydney theatres.”

“But,” said the Thin Man, “the price of a seat is much more there.”

“Of course it is,” said the Oracle, “but it’s always half-empty, except when there’s something very special on. That’s why they draft all the pressmen and deadheads into it. Everybody pays in the gallery; that’s why the manager takes so much notice of the gallery’s opinion. It isn’t that the gallery has more brains than the dress circle, but its opinion is honest. It doesn’t applaud what it doesn’t like; it feels under no obligation to clap its hands when a play is absurd; it sometimes hisses the villain because he is a good actor, but it always ends with a cheer when he is called before the curtain. The gallery crowd doesn’t pay much individually, but there is a lot of them, and they all pay. Their opinion settles the fate of any play. When Mr Haddon Chambers, of this township, went to London with a play called Captain Swift, Mr Beerbohm Tree offered to stage it at a matinee as a trial. ‘If the gallery likes it, I’ll take it,’ said Mr Tree. The gallery did like it and Mr Chambers jumped from being a Sydney newspaper reporter to be a front-rank London playwright. Sometimes an actor will lose his temper when the gallery hisses, but it only hisses the villain as a rule, which is a compliment to the actor in the part. It is when the gallery hisses the play that actors of mediocre ability lose their tempers; but whether they do or do not, the gallery is nearly always right, and even if it isn’t right its opinion is the honest public opinion of any show, from a problem play to a skipping rope dance. And it won’t stand any inversion of moral principles; it must have virtue triumphant, and vice and crime duly punished. It is the opinion of the gallery that has made many problem plays a dead loss, despite the efforts of able managers and famous artists. Of course there are people in other parts of the house who belong to the same class as the folks in the gallery, only they are a bit better off, and can afford a bit better seat, but they are mixed up with others, and—”

“Shut up!” called the man behind, as the drop scene went up again.

“Certainly,” said the Oracle. “We seem to have a descendant of the celebrated Earl of Chesterfield in the gallery this evening.”

In the second act, the two lives that stood between the glazier and the earldom of Cucumberland were skilfully removed, in accordance with the ancient traditions of melodramatic art. They were not blown up and exploded in a motor car, as they might have been, if Mr Bland Holt or some other up-to-date manager had been in charge—their bodies were found stabbed, and beside the bodies was found a putty knife, bearing on the handle the name and address of a glazier in Frith Street, Soho!

In Act Three the hero was tried, found guilty, sentenced to death, and released under the First Offenders Act; and solemnly declared his innocence, which nobody believed, except Lady Ermyntrude.

In Act Four, Lady Ermyntrude takes the role of a female edition of Sherlock Holmes and, dressed in male attire, she haunts the neighbourhood of Frith Street, Soho, and discovers, by the fingerprint system of identification, invented by Pudd’n’head Wilson, that the double murder was really committed by a Russian Nihilist, named Blowmenozoff, who stole the putty knife to commit the murders, in order to throw suspicion on the hero. This momentous discovery was greeted with loud applause.

“I don’t see,” said the Thin Man, as he and the Oracle wended their way out to the nearest bar, to see what time it was, “I don’t see why that Russian cove wanted to kill ’em.”

“Did it for practice,” said the Oracle.

“Practice?” queried the Thin Man.

“Certainly,” said the Oracle. “They’re always trying to find a way to kill the Czar, and this is a new idea. A window gets broken in the Winter Palace, and the glazier, a Nihilist in disguise, comes to put in a new pane. The Czar looks to see how it is being done, and is stabbed with the putty knife! Of course, the Nihilist would have to practise on somebody else before he tackled the Czar, for fear he made a mess of it.”

“I see,” said the Thin Man. “Shall we go back?”

“If you like,” said the Oracle, “but there’s no need. In the last act the glazier is acknowledged as the rightful Earl of Cucumberland, marries the Lady Ermyntrude amid general rejoicing, and they decide, in view of the dreadful disclosures about the declining birth rate, to raise a considerable family, and live happy ever afterwards!”

The Evening News, 12 March 1904


The Oracle On Politics

The 10 p.m. tram from Ridge Street to Milson’s Point on Monday night stopped where all North Shore trams stop, halfway up the hill called Alfred Street. The object of stopping halfway up the hill instead of going right down to the ferry boat is to give the passengers, especially the fat passengers of asthmatic tendencies, a chance to take some healthy exercise in running to catch the boat. It is a recognised rule of vehicular engineering in this enlightened country that the terminal point of any railway or tram line shall be as inconvenient as possible. I am inclined to think this is one of the causes of the declining birth rate. It is no wonder people object to being born in a country which always leaves the railway outside the town, same as New South Wales does. The city of Sydney is the only town of any considerable size on the earth’s surface which hasn’t got a railway station in it. There is a railway station across the harbour in North Sydney, and there is one in the suburb of Redfern, but those are the nearest points by which the visitor may reach Sydney by train. Tramway terminal points are made similarly inconvenient, the object being, of course, to give the passengers plenty of exercise.

On Monday night, when the tram stopped halfway up Alfred Street as usual, the passengers hurried out, and, softly muttering fervent blessings on the New South Wales railway and tramway system, ran down the hill for about a quarter of a mile to catch the boat.

Among the passengers who scampered down the mountainside and on to the boat was our friend the Thin Man, and whom should he meet on the boat but the Oracle.

“Well, I’m blest!” exclaimed the Oracle. “‘Here you are again’, as the clown says in the pantomime! I suppose when I pass out of this vale of tears I shall meet you on the Golden Shore.”

“That all depends upon how you behave yourself,” said the Thin Man. “I have known wickeder men than you are and more immoral men, but not much.”

“Thank you,” said the Oracle, “though I must confess that the compliment can hardly be called fulsomely adulatory. What are you doing on the North Shore at this time of the night?”

“I came over to hear George Reid,” said the Thin Man.

“That’s queer,” said the Oracle, “so did I. But I didn’t see you, though there weren’t 50 men at the meeting—nearly all women.”

“It was really a women’s meeting under the auspices of the North Sydney Women’s Liberal League,” said the Thin Man, “that’s why the audience were nearly all ladies. There were no men on the platform, either, only George, but quite a bevy of ladies.”

“Quite a what?” asked the Oracle.

“Quite a bevy,” said the Thin Man.

“What’s a bevy?” asked the Oracle.

“I don’t know,” said the Thin Man, “but you often see the term in the papers. They talk of a mob of cattle, a flock of sheep, a swarm of bees, a pack of wolves, a herd of swine, a crowd of people, a bevy of ladies, and so on. But the meeting wasn’t up to much. Of course, the ladies on the platform knew as much about politics and public meetings as men do, and more than most men; but the average woman merely goes to these hen conventions out of curiosity, and takes more notice of the other women’s dresses than she does of what the party on the platform is saying. But, of course, George Reid recognises that women have votes, and he hopes to secure their support by delivering addresses to them; still, it is dull work. Even when they understand what he’s driving at they cannot applaud by clapping their hands for fear they might burst their gloves. There never was a woman who bought a pair of gloves big enough to fit her, that’s why they can’t clap their hands without taking their gloves off; and if they did that their hands would get hot with the clapping, and then they wouldn’t be able to get their gloves on again. It would be all right if they would buy gloves big enough to fit them, but they won’t—no woman ever did.”

“I’m surprised at Mr Reid being so strongly opposed to Mr Chamberlain,” said the Oracle.

“Why?” asked the Thin Man.

“Well, there seemed to be a natural affinity between them,” said the Oracle; “they are so much alike.”

“So much alike!” cried the Thin Man. “Why, there are no two men more unlike. One is short and rotund, and the other is long and lean. If they were both shipwrecked on a cannibal island the natives would make Joe their King and cook George for the coronation banquet.”

“I did not refer to any physical resemblance,” said the Oracle, “although they are the only two well-known statesmen in the British Empire, if not in the world, who look out upon their fellow-creatures through a pane of glass in the right eye, and both Reid and Chamberlain are opportunists.”

“Do you mean that Australia’s only George is a mere opportunist?” asked the Thin Man.

“I mean that all politicians are opportunists,” answered the Oracle, “and must be so. They can’t go the whole hog; any man who wants the whole hog in politics will find himself very short of bacon. That’s why the single taxers carry no weight. If you refuse to believe that the single tax will cure the measles they say you’re an ass.”

“I don’t believe in single tax,” said the Thin Man. “All the single taxers I ever met with were liable to go off like an alarm clock about single tax on the least provocation and to keep on whirring for an hour. I once had a single taxer follow me five miles just for the sake of having someone to talk to. He talked to me till I thought my ear would fall off.”

“Yes,” said the Oracle, “that’s what they do. They get together and talk at each other. If there was a tax on talk—”

“You’d have more taxes than you do now,” said the Thin Man. “Here’s the wharf. Goodbye!”

The Evening News, 19 March 1904


The Oracle On War And Debt

“I must say,” said the Oracle to the Thin Man, as the latter stepped into the tram on Tuesday morning, and found his friend already there reading the cable news about the war, “I must say that I agree with General Blowmenozoff in regard to the unseemly behaviour of the Japanese in starting the war before the Russians were ready. Admirable as the Japanese may be in some respects, they seem to be lacking in politeness.”

“Oh! Is that what Blowmenozoff says?” said the Thin Man. “In my paper the expression of opinion was attributed to Admiral Boskertoffski; but whichever it was, I don’t see much sense in it.”

“Ah!” said the Oracle, “that is because you do not really understand. Politeness in warfare should be closely observed. There is a great advantage in politeness. It was, I think, a captain in the French Army who was ordered by his colonel during an action to take a body of men to the left. The captain bowed his acquiescence, and as he bowed a cannon ball passed over his shoulders and took off the head of the man behind him. If the captain hadn’t bowed he would have lost his head. I entirely endorse the views of General Blowmenozoff.”

“You may be right,” said the Thin Man, “but my paper says the remarks you refer to were made by Admiral Dimitri Boskertoffski. But it doesn’t matter which paper is right. It is nonsense anyhow.”

“Not at all,” said the Oracle. “All war should be conducted in a polite manner. The Japanese commander should have waited until the Russian troops and warships were ready. Then he should have sent to the Russian commander a note, saying: ‘The Marquis de Matsu Nagasaki will have much pleasure in bombarding the forts of Port Arthur on Monday next, commencing at 6 a.m., if not inconvenient to His Excellency General Blowmenozoff.’“

“Or Admiral Boskertoffski,” muttered the Thin Man.

“But the Russians are occasionally lacking in courtesy also,” went on the Oracle. “A Russian captain has been very cruelly treated. With a view to turning an honest penny, he is alleged to have sold Russian army plans to Japan, and, for doing so, has been executed.”

“What was his name?” asked the Thin Man.

“Katchokoff,” said the Oracle.

“I don’t think that was it,” said the Thin Man.

“Well,” said the Oracle, “if it wasn’t Katchokoff it was Borrowokoff, or Snavelokoff, or Grabokoff, or something like that.”

“You mean Irokoff,” said the Thin Man.

“The difference between hiring a cough and borrowing a cough,” said the Oracle, “is not so very obvious.”

“Well, war is a terrible thing, anyhow.”

“Not a bit of it,” said the Oracle.

“But this war may ruin Japan, even if she wins. It will compel her to increase her national dept enormously, in any case.”

“That’s the beauty of it,” said the Oracle.

“The beauty of it?” echoed the Thin Man. “Do you mean to say it is a good thing to be deeply in debt?”

“Of course it is,” said the Oracle. “I never met such a dull, beef-witted person in my life. Don’t you know that the deeper in debt you are, the more friends you have? A large national debt is the best security a nation can have. What is the bulwark of Britain? The British National Debt! Yes, sir. There in Britain you have a people to whom the Government owe eight hundred million pounds! Everybody in the country is not a creditor; they have not all money in the Funds—they call ’em the Funds because there are no Funds—but such an immense number of people have, that revolution is impossible. The British people will never revolute worth a cent while the Government owes them all that money. About the only sensible thing our State Government ever did was to firmly resolve to live on borrowed money. While the people are not taxed, they don’t care how much money is fooled away in building statues of ‘Australia making Faces at the Pawnshop’. And being in debt renders the country safe from invasion.”

“Well, I’m blest!” ejaculated the Thin Man.

“You will be when you get a bit more sense,” said the Oracle. “Suppose we had never borrowed any money from Britain or anybody else, what would our position be? We should be without a friend in the world! Or, at all events, we would have nobody directly interested in our welfare, except as a mere matter of national sentiment. But now that we have borrowed until we can borrow no more, we can refuse to contribute to the cost of the navy that defends us from foreign invasion and we can imprison English hatmakers as alien immigrants, and do all sorts of other things that we couldn’t possibly do if we were not over head and ears in debt. Our bondholders are our best friends, and the more heavily mortgaged we are, the better friends they are likely to be. Do they want to see Sydney bombarded by a foreign fleet? Certainly not. Do they want to see foreign soldiers break into the New South Wales Treasury and steal Mr Waddell’s deficit? No fear! The fact is, my boy, that you don’t understand the true inwardness of national finance. The British national debt saves the country from revolution, our national debt saves us from invasion; that is why we always borrow the money to pay the wages of our members of Parliament. Some of them say they object to our borrowing, but they none of them carry the objections so far as to refuse to accept their wages out of borrowed money.”

“Would you, if you were a member of Parliament?” asked the Thin Man.

“If you refrain from asking senseless questions, you will be less likely to receive offensive answers,” said the Oracle. “We were speaking of war and debt. And what is true of a national debt is true of a private debt. Who is interested in the success of a business if the person conducting the business is not in debt? Nobody but the man who has the business. No one else, except his wife, perhaps, and his children, if his wife allows him to be a parent. The man who is deeply in debt is the man who has friends anxious for his welfare. They’ll keep the claws of the bailiff off his furniture; they’ll pay his life insurance premium for him; if he is out of employment they will spare no effort to get him a decent billet; they will do all sorts of things for him that they would not do if he were not in their debt. Did you ever hear of a landlord putting himself about to find a billet for a tenant who always paid his rent regularly? No chance. But let the rent fall in arrears, and let the tenant explain that he is out of employment, and the most sincere friend the tenant will have will be the landlord, who will do his utmost to get him something to do.”

“That explains it,” said the Thin Man.

“Explains what?” demanded the Oracle.

“Why, I heard your landlord begging a friend of his to offer you a job in his office. I was surprised, because I thought you didn’t get on well together; but now I understand why he was so anxious for you to be offered a billet.”

“I don’t owe my landlord a shilling,” said the Oracle, warmly.

“No?” said the Thin Man. “Then why do you look so annoyed?”

“I don’t look annoyed,” said the Oracle.

“You are annoyed,” said the Thin Man.

“I’m not,” said the Oracle.

“You are.”

“No I’m not.”

“Yes, you are!”

“If you say that again, I’ll punch your nose, just to prove that I’m in the best of tempers!”

“Oh, well, I thought you’d be pleased for everybody to know you’re in debt.”

“I’m not in debt,” said the Oracle.

“Then, according to your philosophy, you ought to be ashamed to admit it,” said the Thin Man.

“My philosophy is all right,” said the Oracle, “but I don’t like your offensively personal application of it. If it were not for debt, half the judges and lawyers in the country would have nothing to do. And look at the debt collecting agencies and the bailiffs, with wives and families to keep. The country would be ruined if everybody got out of debt; completely ruined. Here we have the City Council threatening to sue the Harbour Trust and the Commonwealth Government for rates alleged to be due. Then the High Court has reversed the judgment of the Full Court in the case of the Borough of Glebe versus the Gas Company, and allowed the borough’s claim for rates. Possibly the Gas Company will appeal to the Privy Council. I don’t know whether these are legitimate debts or not, but that makes no difference. Any kind of debt is good for business; but you would like to see no debt at all, and would like to see a lot of judges, lawyers, bailiffs, and bad debt collectors compelled to join the unemployed! Here we are at our corner. Let’s get out and lubricate.”

The Thin Man assented, and the pair left the tram.

The Evening News, 26 March 1904


The Oracle On The Capital Site

“My granddaughter,” said the Oracle, when he met the Thin Man on Monday morning on the Block in George Street, “my granddaughter, who was married about a year ago, was kind enough to present me with a great-grandson yesterday.”

“Good gracious!” said the Thin Man.

“Yes, it makes a person feel a trifle patriarchal,” admitted the Oracle, “but the young mother is but little more than forty years my junior. She is my daughter’s daughter. I have suggested that the little boy who made his debut yesterday shall be named Methuselah.”

“After yourself?”

“Certainly not. Old I may be, but not so old as all that. The original Methuselah, although not a Government pensioner, lived to be 969 years old, and if he were possessed of any considerable property his heirs and assigns must have grown extremely tired waiting for the old gentleman to ‘throw the seven’, if I may be allowed a somewhat flippant expression. Among patriarchs in days of old, of course, 400 or 500 years was not regarded as unseemly delay in giving somebody else a chance, but the effort of Methuselah to last for ten centuries—in which he very nearly succeeded—could not be considered a fair thing by those naturally entitled to the reversion of the old gentleman’s real and personal estate. I wish my great-grandson to be called Methuselah, in the hope that he may live as long as his historic namesake, for I feel a desire, my friend—a strange yearning, as it were—to gaze upon the face of some human creature who may live to see the Federal capital established in New South Wales, as provided in the Constitution Act. Should the little Methuselah who appeared for the first time yesterday live for ten centuries or thereabouts it is possible that he may see the terms of the compact carried out. Such a sight is not for our eyes, my friend, nor for the eyes of our children or grand-children; but I have a lingering hope—something tells me—that should my little great-grandson live for ten centuries he will see the Federal Capital established, unless Australia is annexed by the Japanese in the meantime.”

“Oh, we’ll have the capital long before that!” said the Thin Man, hopefully.

“You think so,” said the Oracle, “and so do other people, but I don’t. I am not one of those who believe in underestimating the astuteness of a rival. The politicians of Victoria are more astute than ours. The boycotting of Sydney as a capital was a stroke of genius—positive genius! If Sydney could be selected, New South Wales would be practically unanimous as to where the capital should be. Inside the proscribed area more than half the people live; outside the proscribed area there are 495 districts, all struggling against each other to be selected.”

“Nonsense,” said the Thin Man.

“Nonsense?” repeated the Oracle. “You mustn’t suppose that, because only half a dozen possible sites are mentioned, there are no others. There are dozens and scores of other possible sites—any site is possible, so long as it isn’t within a hundred miles of where it ought to be. But they don’t want to trot them all out at once—half a dozen rival sites at a time is quite enough to prevent anything definite being done; and then, if any agreement should be come to about them, they have official inspections and picnics for another half dozen. The Constitution doesn’t bar Albury or Broken Hill, Bourke or Tenterfield. There are quite 495 places that have a chance of being selected; in fact, any place that is not within 100 miles of Sydney may have a chance.”

“Buckley’s chance,” said the Thin Man.

“Just so,” said the Oracle, “but legally they all have a chance. If the representatives of N.S.W. would work together to see the bargain adhered to, the matter might be settled in a couple of centuries, or even earlier; but everything is in favour of delay, not merely temporary delay, but eternal, everlasting delay. What are all these fresh picnic excursions for?”

“I suppose they like picnics,” said the Thin Man.

“Of course they do,” said the Oracle; “but if they ever do select a site in N.S.W. there will be no further excuse for picnics. Talk and tucker is one main factor of delay, feeding and orating!”

“Is that why they call it Feed-oration?” asked the Thin Man.

“That’s one reason,” said the Oracle. “The picnic obstacle is being worked for all it is worth. Because there are some new members in the Federal Parliament, they all have to be taken on picnic excursions to the possible sites. Was there ever a Parliament dissolved of which all the members were re-elected? Never in the history of the British Empire. There are always new members in every new Parliament, and if the picnic inspection is to be renewed for the guidance of new members after every general election, that alone will be quite sufficient to delay the matter for ever. But that’s not the only factor.”


“No, indeed,” said the Oracle. “Suppose the Federal Parliament determined to select a site at once, and did so?”

“That would settle the matter,” said the Thin Man.

“Oh, would it?” said the Oracle. “In the first place, Mr Chapman wants the capital in his electorate, and Sir William Lyne is the same, and so are all the other members in regard to their electorates, or nearly all of them. It is almost impossible for them to agree upon a site. Mr Chapman hasn’t made up his mind yet as to which part of his electorate he would prefer to see selected as the capital; neither has Sir William Lyne. And they are the N.S.W. members of the Federal Cabinet! But supposing all these rivalries were got over and the Government determined on one site, and Mr Watson were given a portfolio to induce the Labour Party to support, and the Opposition, for the sake of political honesty, offered to support the selection of any site at all, what then?”

“Surely that would settle the question?” asked the Thin Man.

“No, it wouldn’t,” said the Oracle, “not by a jugful! I suppose you know that if the capital ever is in New South Wales there will have to be public buildings for Parliament, the Law Courts, the Government departments, and so on.”

“Certainly,” said the Thin Man.

“Well,” said the Oracle, “will all these palatial buildings spring up like mushrooms when Alfred Deakin waves a magician’s wand over the selected area? Is Alfred Deakin the modern embodiment of Aladdin of the Wonderful Lamp?”

“Of course he isn’t,” asserted the Thin Man.

“Well how are these palaces to be built when the State of N.S.W. can’t borrow enough money to pay the interest on what it owes already?”

“We wouldn’t have to pay all the cost,” said the Thin Man.

“The other States would very properly take all sorts of care that we paid our full share of it, if not more. In the Centennial year—sixteen years ago—Lord Carrington laid the foundation stone of new Parliament Houses for New South Wales in the Domain. The foundation stone is still there, unless somebody has run away with it; but where are the new Parliament Houses? Not there, my child! Not there!”

“Don’t call me a child,” said the Thin Man.

“You are but an infant to me,” said the Oracle. “Do you think, if a site were selected, say at Dead Horse Gully; in Sir William Lyne’s electorate; or at Cow Flat, among Mr Chapman’s constituents, do you think Alfred Deakin would hire a tent from Fitzgerald Brothers’ Circus to be the meeting place of the Federal Legislature? Would he ask the Governor-General and suite to camp in a stringybark hut? Would you like to see Sir Samuel Griffith and his brother judges of the High Court sitting on gin cases in the bush to hear an appeal case, from the New South Wales Supreme Court?”

“But,” protested the Thin Man, “the politicians ought to settle the capital question.”

“Settle it?” repeated the Oracle. “Settle the capital question? They are capable of settling anything, and if they haven’t settled Australia altogether it isn’t for want of trying! Yes, I hope that great-grandson of mine may live to be as old as the original Methuselah, and then he may see the Federal capital in New South Wales. Let’s go in here and drink his health.”

And they did.

The Evening News, 9 April 1904


Humours Of A Horse Bazaar

The business of the bazaar begins at daylight. Overnight the stalls have been cleaned up, fresh straw put down, and neat tan rides laid on the ashphalt, and at daylight the stable hands are off to meet horses arriving by trains and steamers—terrified, bewildered horses, rushed hurriedly in from their grass paddocks and hustled on board of coasting craft, with the long swell of the ocean swaying before their astonished eyes, and a chattering, old-fashioned steam winch making a terrifying din just alongside them. Or else they have been crushed and jammed into a railway truck, bumped off their feet each time that the engine shunted, and frightened half out of their lives each time that a screaming, flying monster of a passenger train rushed past with a dizzying, nerve-destroying roar and rattle. No wonder that by the time they arrive in Sydney the country horses have become dazed, and the stable hands go in among them in the yards or on the steamers, pushing them about in a style that makes the uninitiated wonder how it is that some of those men don’t get their brains kicked out every week. But the men know that to be afraid is the surest way to make the horses afraid, so they push them about like so many old cows, and before long the string are clattering up to the bazaar, each horseman riding one horse and leading two or three others, each horse being tied to his mate’s neck. Then they are hosed and cleaned, a process that would startle the life out of them, only that they have been through so much already, and then they are put into the stalls ready for the day’s sale.

After breakfast the town horses begin to arrive—the dealers’ horses, who are passed from hand to hand; “swell” horses, who, perhaps through overfeeding, have become too flash for their owners, and are sent in to be sold for what they will fetch; carthorses, sold by hard-up men, who have given up any hope of making a living at their work; race ponies that cannot race fast enough to win, or else that have got themselves so much up in the weights that they are no longer valuable; gigantic draughts and small boys’ ponies, all come threading their way in, and take up their positions in the stalls. The vehicles, too, begin to arrive—the sulky of the broken-down sport, with the flash trotting pony in the shafts; the four-wheeled buggy, with lamps and hood, and a sturdy old slave attached to it; the traveller’s waggon, with two road-worn, wiry, long-distance horses in the pole, and the splotches of the Darling River mud still on the wheels and under-gear.

All sorts and conditions of horses and vehicles find their way to the bazaar; and as they arrive the regular attendants at the sales—the dealers and exporters, and buyers with commissions to execute—drop in, too, and walk round the stalls scrutinising each horse. Some they dismiss with half a glance, while others are carefully inspected, their legs felt, their mouths opened, their eyes looked at, and their feet picked up. As each possible buyer examines a horse there gathers round a little group of the bazaar hangers-on, the human flotsam and jetsam that attend each day at the sales. They never buy anything; they never even bid for anything; but day in and day out they are there scrutinising the horses, watching the sales, and criticising the wisdom or folly of each purchase. They are mostly broken-down men that have been in racing stables or have been horse dealers or coachmen.

From long practice they can tell to within half a sovereign what each animal should fetch, but if they see a novice examining a horse they always make out that the animal is first-class and should be secured at all risks. This is known as “bearing up” for the owner of the horse, and is done in hopes that the owner may come along and reward them with a beer, though it sometimes has quite another effect, as the following anecdote will show. A dealer was trying to sell to a novice a pony for saddle work, and was talking hard, trying to convince him that the pony was all that could be desired, but the buyer thought that the pony was too heavy, and said, “He’d make a nice buggy pony.” A casual passer-by happened to hear this last sentence, and seeing that a “deal” was going on, he dashed into the fray with enthusiasm. “Buggy pony,” he said, “why, o’ course he’s a champion buggy pony! What else is he but a buggy pony? He ain’t one of those all-sorts-no-sort ’orses! He’s a buggy pony and nothin’ else.” “That’s just it,” said the buyer. “I want a saddle pony.” The dealer was naturally a bit put out, and he turned on the “casual” in style. “Why can’t you keep your mouth shut?” he said. “What business have you comin’ puttin’ your oar in?”

“Well, Bill, I was only bearin’ up for you,” said the poor casual humbly, and the deal was declared off.

As the forenoon wears on, a good crowd has collected. The casuals, the dealers, the sporting men who buy for India, have gathered together. The auctioneer mounts his box, and after hammering on the sides of it for a time to attract attention, he starts the sale.

The earlier lots are nearly always equine derelicts, poor old worn-out horses shifting uneasily from one infirm limb to another; “radicals” that have been starved and bullied into some kind of submission, eyeing the crowd with hostile glance; showy cripples that surprise the onlooker by their apparent cheapness. All these are offered at the start of the sale, and are dealt in almost exclusively by a few dealers who know where they can place their purchases at a profit—possibly with rabbit-oh vendors. Now and again among those castoffs one sees an old horse of good type, whose strong constitution and iron limbs have been proof against all the assaults of starvation, overwork and ill-treatment. Such a one only wants feeding and fair working to become once more a valuable horse; but, as a rule, the early lots do not contain many of this description. The saleyard crowd do not pay much attention to these derelicts, but when a start is made with the advertised lots there is a closing in, and dealer and loafer, swell and bearer-up, all alike gather to inspect, to criticise, and perhaps to bid. Then it is that the cognoscenti get in their fine work. A horse is brought out and ridden up and down at a great pace, with much shouting, whip-cracking, and general flourish. A small group of buyers stands looking on, and from the moment that the animal appears, each buyer’s eye at once fastens on his weak spot. Perhaps it is a slightly enlarged fetlock; perhaps the mark of an old blister; perhaps an incipient curb on the hock. Whatever it may be, it is safe to say that ninety out of every hundred in the bazaar will have noticed it before the horse has gone ten paces. The odd ten will be the non-professional buyers who have just dropped in to see if they can pick up a twenty-pound horse for a tenner—a thing that they invariably persuade themselves they have done till they try to realise their bargain. And it is this anxiety on the part of the public to get twenty-pound horses for tenners that leads to all the lying and chicanery of the horse trade. A dealer always says his horse is worth double what he is asking for him, because he knows that the would-be-sharp purchaser will not buy unless he thinks he is getting twice the value of his money. To the expert, the bazaar value of each horse is as definite as the value of a bale of wool to a wool buyer, and the guileless novice must remember that if he likes to go to the bazaar and buy at the dealer’s price, he must also take the dealer’s risk. The auctioneer will tell him what the owner represents the horse to be, the trials promised must be performed, and from then on the buying is easy, because, as a sale ring Solon put it: “You’ve only to nod your head, and you can find out afterwards what you’ve got”.

The Evening News, 3 December 1904


The Last Of Sherlock Holmes

The Mystery of the Governor’s Message and the Missing —

Those who have followed the career of the marvellous detective Sherlock Holmes, and his assistant, Dr Watson, will remember that the final exploit of the great Sherlock, as recorded by Conan Doyle, was the recovery of a missing despatch box lost by the Prime Minister of England. This adventure is supposed to have closed the history of the great detective so far as English readers are concerned; but such a master mind could not remain long unoccupied; such a genius must find an outlet for its energies; and there are indications that various mysteries now puzzling Australians—such as why Pye was left out of the Australian eleven, and the Missing Diamonds, or the Mystery of the Mont de Piétè, will before long engage the attention of his giant intellect. In other words, Sherlock Holmes is in Australia.

If any confirmation were wanted of this statement, it would be found in the solution recently worked out of a labyrinthic mystery which Sherlock Holmes and Company alone could have successfully solved.

Suppressing, for obvious reasons, the real names of the parties, let us proceed to narrate how Sherlock Holmes unravelled the mysterious telegram sent by one whom, for the purposes of the story, we shall call Sir Tarry Hawser, the Governor of New South Carolina.

It was midnight of a sweltering Sydney summer night. The streets were quiet, except for the usual crowds round the betting shops, and Sherlock Holmes, disguised as an Officer of Detective Police, paced restlessly up and down his official sitting-room, holding in his hand a telegram. From time to time he glanced restlessly at the door. A step was heard without, and three knocks were given. The door slid noiselessly into a groove in the wall, admitting Sherlock’s old and true friend, Dr Watson, now disguised as a policeman. Without looking round, Sherlock motioned him to a chair, saying, “Sit down, Watson. I have a small matter in hand.”

“How did you know it was me?” said Watson, gazing admiringly at the back view of the greatest detective the world has ever known. “I never spoke, nor gave my name to a soul.”

“My dear fellow”, said Sherlock, with calm superiority, “I knew it was you the moment that you started to come up the stairs. I knew it was you by the heavy way you put your feet down. When I heard the sound on the stairs, I said, ‘This is either Watson, or a draught horse,’ and as no draught horse could get round the angle in the first landing, I knew it was you the moment you had passed that point. But there is a small matter, a mere official trifle, which is likely to afford us a little work. It is a matter which, as a rule, I would hand over to the traffic constables, with instructions to inquire whether any strangers had been seen in town lately; but as our old friend, Sir Tarry Hawser is concerned in it we must attend to the matter ourselves.” So saying, he tossed to Watson a telegram timed 11 p.m. and bearing the Hoss Valley telegraph stamp.

Watson held it up to the light, and read it aloud. “Hawser, Hoss Valley, to Sherlock, Sydney. Have just come home from the amateur races. Very hot. Have lost—what’s this he has lost—‘exiguous co-ordinate’?”

“That’s where the difficulty is,” said Sherlock. “That part is in cipher, and we have lost the key. It is evident he has lost something. I deduce that from the fact of his sending the telegram, and from the further fact that he goes on: ‘Send two detectives at once.’“

“And what do you think he has lost?” said Watson.

Sherlock smiled his inscrutable smile, and threw himself into an easy chair. “I think I recognise the hand of Moriarty in this,” he said.

“Do you mean Moriarty, the Crown Prosecu—”

“No, I mean Moriarty, the great chief of crime, the Napoleon of iniquity. See here, Watson”, he went on, stepping over to the window, and drawing aside the curtain; “look out, and tell me what you see.”

“I see Phillip Street, and a cab at the corner, and a man over the way going into a pub, after hours.”

“What does he look like?”

“He looks like a beer fighter.”

Sherlock smiled his slow smile of satisfaction.

“Watch that man,” he said, “and tell me if he looks round as he goes into the bar.”

“Yes, he does.”

“Does he beckon with his hand, and is he joined by another man?”

“Yes, he is.”

“I thought so. Moriarty, at every turn! This is no ordinary emergency. I would go myself, but—” And here he paused, lost in thought.

“Why not telegraph Sir Tarry, and see—”

“What, and have the telegram intercepted by Moriarty? Watson, you surprise me. Oblige me by pressing the bell.”

A velvet-footed official came to the door.

“Are all arrangements made?” said Sherlock sharply.

“They are, sir.”

“Have you rung up the press, and told them at what time the detectives leave, and where they are going, and by whom they are wanted?”

“We have, sir.”

“Have they been photographed, and their descriptions circulated among the criminal classes?”

“They have, sir.”

“Have they got a banner, and masks for their faces, and a bloodhound to follow the tracks?”

“They have, sir.”

“Excellent, excellent,” said Sherlock Holmes. “It is a great aid to detective work, Watson, to notify beforehand what you are going to do. It lowers the number of convictions, and enables Neitenstein to effect a saving in gaol expenditure. And now let us snatch a few hours’ sleep. We can do nothing till the morning. Good night, Watson. Mind the step.”

Next morning there was a great to-do. People were asking: “What had the Governor of New South Carolina lost? Had the miscreants been arrested? Had Roshdestvensky’s fleet appeared on the Upper Murrumbidgee, and begun to shell the Barren Jack Reservoir? Was a Russian emissary disguised as a commerical traveller trying to sell fire-extinguishers to the burnt-out settlers?” The public mind was all unrest, and all looked to the great detective to know what had been done.

Meanwhile, the detectives had started for the railway station with the utmost secrecy, accompanied by a German band, a banner, and a bloodhound. The time and place of their departure and the object of their visit were all chronicled in the society columns among the fashionable intelligence, and were read with interest by the criminal classes.

They followed up the bloodstained trail. “A Russian spy has passed along here,” they said. But the desperado was found to be only an ordinary swagman, and the sleuth hounds of the law were puzzled. “Strange!” they said, “that the criminals are not here to meet us after our departure was so extensively advertised.” They returned as unobtrusively and secretly as they set out, and were met by four hundred people at the railway station, who cheered them heartily.

Public excitement ran higher than ever. The mysterious message—what was it about? Had the detectives arrested anyone?

It was then that the genius of our friend Holmes shone out more brightly, with more lustre and luminosity than on any occasion in his history. He rigidly refused to give any information. “We have told the criminals what we were going to do,” he said, “but it would never do to tell the public what the affair was all about. Enough for them to know that the criminals, whoever they were, were taken no unfair advantage of. Let it never be said that Sherlock Holmes descended to the low expedient of surprising a burglar. Any officer giving any information whatever will be sacked.”

Later on in the day, the Prime Minister, by one of those singular lapses of which even the greatest minds are capable, actually made public the details of the affair. There was nothing to make a fuss about, he said. There had been no crime committed, and he didn’t see why the public should be kept in a state of unrest. He said that Sir Tarry Hawser had merely wanted two detectives to look after some unsaleable bonds that the Carruthers Government were trying to palm off on the British moneylender; but the public would not believe this story at all. “Why,” they said, “should he wait till the middle of the night to remember about the bonds? No; there was a mystery in it, and Sherlock Holmes is the only man who can tell us.”

When this was reported to Sherlock, he again smiled his deep, enigmatical smile.

“To the ordinary superficial observer, Watson,” he said, “there was nothing in it. But the trained, deductive intellect discards all the theories of guarding bonds. The great master mind of crime was at work in this.”

“And what was it then that Sir Tarry Hawser wished the detectives to do? What did he wish them to guard?”

Sherlock Holmes looked round furtively, and drew his questioner close to him.

“The family washing,” he hissed. “He didn’t like sending it down, considering the people that were about. Look out, Watson, and tell me what you see in the street.”

“I see the same pub, and I think the same man going in to have a drink.”

Sherlock Holmes gave his usual chuckle of triumph. “There you are, Watson,” he said, “that proves that my suspicions were correct. Moriarty is yet at large.”

The Evening News, 28 January 1905


Motoring To Melbourne
The History Of The Haste Waggons

Part 1

Monday, February 20 1905 There is nothing very granite-like about the roads in Australia, worse luck. Ruts and loose metal, sidelings and sand drifts, washed-out creeks and heartbreaking hills—these are the items on the bill of fare before the cars that start on the reliability trial to Melbourne tomorrow. If an English or French automobilist was told that a “reliability” trial in Australia consisted in running 600 miles in five days on a main public road between two capital cities, at sixteen miles an hour running time, if he were told that this constituted a “reliability” trial, he wouldn’t see where the “trial” came in. On English or Continental roads such a trial would be a mockery, as every car would get full marks, and as for sixteen miles an hour, they wouldn’t call that motoring; they would only call it oozing along. They would tell you that a good motorist ought to be able to get out and push the car as fast as that. But if the same English or Continental motorist had a look at our roads, he would whistle softly and would withdraw his car. In those old-fashioned places they don’t care about racking a car to pieces by teaching it to jump down the side of a hill from one rock to another.

English Motoring

And right here it is worthwhile to say a little about motoring in England. The roads in England require to be seen to be believed. Even narrow little country lanes, overhung by great oaks, and littered ankle-deep in leaves, even these have a surface as smooth as glass, whereon the motorist can let her out to his heart’s content, drawing the leaves and dust to a whirlwind after him. Down about Brighton, which is the happy hunting ground of the London motorist, in dry weather each car flies along, raising a cloud of dust that moves like the pillar of fire that guided the Israelites, but a trifle faster. And it is just the excellence of the roads that has made the motorist so unpopular in England. When a man has got a machine under him that can travel at thirty miles an hour and a good road to run her on, it isn’t in human nature to throttle her down to six miles an hour. So they let her out and the Bumbles and Parish Council prosecute and fine them relentlessly, planting policemen in hedges to take the time of the flying motors from one milestone to another, and the motor clubs pay men to track out these policemen and to stand outside their hiding places and wave a red flag, so that the motorist can see where the danger lies and can slow up in time.

Shaving The “Coppers”

In rural England they do not love the motorist. The local squire, who has never been hurried in his life, is condescending to cross the village street at his usual leisurely strut, when “booh! booh! whizz!” a motor is all but over him, and he has to skip in a very undignified way for the sidewalk if he wishes to save his precious life. Giles Jollyfowl, the farmer, taking a load of manure home, sleeps peaceably on top of his load as usual, and lets the old horses go their own way. Next thing there is an appalling whizz and a racing Panhard or Gladiator tears past like a long streak through the atmosphere, the old horses wheel round, and rush off the road, and Giles Jollyfowl finds himself in the ditch with his load of manure on top of him. That is why the English papers are full of complaints against motorists. They don’t like being hurried in England. But the motorist is a good deal to blame, for a sort of professional pride exists among gentlemen motorists and their chauffeurs, and it is considered de rigueur to drive full speed just where the traffic is thickest, to cut corners by the merest hairsbreadth, to graze vehicles as closely as possible in passing—just to teach them to give a bit more room another time—and, above all, always to pass a traffic constable so close as almost to shave the buttons off his uniform. They are great people for “the correct thing” in England, and “the correct thing” in motoring is to make all created things step lively when you are on the road.

In Australia

And how will it be with the overland to Melbourne trip? The Australian is not so conservative as the Englishman, and the only objection to the cars is that they frighten horses, but the Australian looks upon a race of any sort as a sacred thing—all business and public interests must be suspended in favour of a race, so that the cars on the reliability trial are being warmly welcomed and a country mayor is actually going to entertain the motorists in his public capacity. In England, he would take all their names and “summons” them.

A Trial Trip

A Sydney car had a trial run as far as Picton and back last Saturday. Roads were not bad, but how they will be for eighteen or twenty cars, if it is dusty, goodness only knows. However, sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof. It’s no good anticipating trouble, as they told the steeplechase rider who wanted to know whether the horse he had to ride could jump the fences or not. “You will find that out,” they said, “as you go along.” So we will, no doubt, find out a good deal between here and Melbourne.

Cras ingens iterabimus aequor. Tomorrow we start on a reliability trial, as our old friend Horace used to say.

The Reliability Trial

Part 2

Thursday, February 23 1905 When a friend asked me to go in a motor car trip to Melbourne and said that over twenty cars were going, I had an idea that the whole commando would go together, and visions arose of a horde of motors flying along in clouds of dust, hooting like fiends in torment. But such expectations were agreeably disappointed. The cars were despatched at intervals of three minutes or so—enough to put about a mile between each car—and there seemed to be little or no closing up in the running. The motorcycles started first, and went spluttering and shaking their way along at a great pace, each rider’s head nodding over the handles like the head of a Chinese mandarin. Every man to his taste, of course, but I am of the opinion that the man who would ride a motorcycle for pleasure would go to the infernal regions for pastime. Anyhow, these get away first each day, and the light cars, and then the heavy cars. After a few miles, one begins to come up with the motorcyclists—mostly camped by the roadside mending something.

One such unfortunate hailed us with a frenzied appeal for petrol, and he was so pathetically anxious to get along that our driver stopped and gave him a lot, though he risked losing points by delay. This is written at Goulburn after the first day’s run and at time of writing only about half the motorcyclists have showed up. The rest are scattered far and wide, by mount, and stream, and gully. One of the first to get in was so elated with his success that he told us, “It was dead easy”; he had time to stop at every pub if he’d liked. The others who have not arrived would probably have a different tale to tell.

Passing Each Other

As a rule, one sees very little of the other cars. Sometimes on climbing a hill there appears far ahead a little doll-like vehicle climbing the next hill, flying for dear life, with two little hunched-up figures sitting in it. Then after a hill or two the big horsepower begins to tell, and though all cars can go much the same pace down a hill, the uphill grades bring back the low-powered cars, and while a twenty-four horsepower will stride up a hill without turning a hair, the little cars have to use their lowest speed and go up slowly, clattering like threshing machines.

As one car overhauls another the leader is bound to give room to pass, and so far there has been nothing but the best of good fellowship over it. The car that is leading, if it carries on to a bit of dangerous road, will signal to the car behind, the signal being given by a vigorous waving of arms. Whether this brotherly love will continue all the way remains to be seen. The amateurs who are competing do not particularly care whether they are in first or not so long as they get in by the specified time, but the agents of various cars are anxious to get in first, and there may be a little more rivalry later on.

Being Overtaken

Though it is all right overtaking a car, it is a different thing when you hear “toot, toot” behind you and you have to pull to one side to let a car go by. It was much more annoying to us than to the surprised swagman upon whom we came suddenly. We had to let the French (Brasier) car with the French driver go by and he was letting her spin, too. He is said to have won a Grand National, or something equivalent to it, in France. But nothing could catch the Darracq that is driven by the Melbourne agent for these cars. He said he came through with his spark retarded (I think this is the right expression), but the other drivers don’t altogether accept the statement. In fact, the motorist is just like the hunting man that always jumps the biggest fence. Each motorist, by his own account, has used less petrol and less spark and has been in bigger ruts and his car has jumped higher and side-slipped more than any other car. It is quite a new language that has to be learned—something like golf language—when one goes motoring.

The Luck Of The Game

There is an awful bit of luck about it, too. The car that the writer was in hit nothing, jumped nothing and picked up nothing. Another car picked up two nails—punctures each time—and blew out a tube once by plunging into an unexpected washaway. Next day the luck may be reversed. At time of writing, it is said that the only car driven by a lady is stuck in a river about four miles from anywhere, but this, like many other rumours, may be disproved later on.

The Sacredness Of A Race

In a previous article, reference was made to the sacredness of a race in Australian eyes. We had abundant evidence of it in this run. Everywhere the people cheered the cars on, even though their children and poultry were snatched by hairsbreadths from untimely graves. Men ran to show us the turnings and volunteered the information. “He’s just ahead of you. Go at him. You’ve got him!” as if they were cheering on a friend in a foot race. None of the cars did any racing—the road is too bad for that, but occasionally, in stretches of good road, one could “let her out” a bit, and then it really was enjoyable. Occasionally a horse will object to us, but nothing serious in this way has so far happened.

The Joy Of Motoring

It is only now and again that you get the full advantages that motoring can offer. When you get a bit of really good road, clear away as far as you can see, smooth gravel for choice and the car is at her best, the engine working with a rhythmic hum but everything else as noiseless as the tomb, and you feel her answer to every least touch of acceleration, while the milestones slip past one after another in surprisingly rapid fashion, and you put the watch on her and find she is doing thirty miles an hour and only sauntering along at that. Then one knows for a few brief minutes what motoring really is. But when the smooth looking stretch of road is constantly crossed by the apparently harmless waterways that rack and jolt the car two or three feet in the air, if you let her rush into them or when the hills are long and steep and dusty and loose metal lies thickly and she doesn’t seem to answer properly when you liven her up a little, that is the depressing side of the sport. But one gets a glorious rush through fresh air, laden with scent of half-dry gum leaves, and sees the homesteads flying past, and catches glimpses of far-off blue hills and deep gullies, that make the ride worth having, even if there were no race or trial at all. The car is like an untiring horse that breasts the hills gallantly and then flies away again as fresh as ever on each stretch of smooth road.

The Competitors

There is not much intercolonial jealousy among the competitors, though three states are represented. Motorists are cosmopolitans and the only rivalry is as to the make of the car. American, German, English, and French workshops have turned out their best work to enable us to fly through Australia a little faster than we could otherwise do. And the various owners—Australian, English, or foreign, think only of their cars. It is a contest of foreigners. The chauffeur is more important than the driver. To compare it with horse racing, the driver is the jockey, while the chauffeur is the trainer. The driver must take the risk of sending her along, must save every bit of bad road, and let her out on the level, and a lot depends on his skill, nerve, and judgment. But the chauffeur has to know by the slightest sound if anything is wrong, and he must know what is wrong. If any stoppage occurs and he takes an hour to find out what is the matter, then the best driving in the world can’t serve him. Anyone with a little skill in steering, or fair share of pluck, and a quick decision, can drive and perhaps drive well, but it takes years of training to make a man a really first-class chauffeur.

The Motor Rig-Out

By common consent, breeches and gaiters similar to those used for riding, seem to be adopted as the correct motor costume. Add to these a high-peaked cap, a white macintosh, a pair of awful goggles, and possibly a mask with a false leather nose, and you have some idea of the visitors who are stirring up the City of Goulburn at the time of writing.

There is a famous expression used by Mark Twain in the Innocents Abroad—“We made Rome howl.” That is just what the motorists are doing here. They are making Goulburn howl. From 11.52, when H. L. Stevens’ Darracq car rushed into Goulburn ahead of the ruck, up till 4 p.m., the main street has been blocked by a singing, jabbering, mass of small boys, agriculturists, and local oracles, all explaining to each other all about motor cars. As each fresh car comes in there is a wild rush, and the small boys push each other nearly under the wheels, and just as the throng is thickest a Yankee driver, with a face like granite, sends two thousand pounds’ weight of priceless mechanism in amongst them, and the mob scatters and drifts up and down the street, fingering the cars that are waiting by the roadside filling up and making adjustments before being handed over. Each fresh chauffeur is a thing of less beauty than the last, and Goulburn has not got reconciled to their peaked caps, their goggles, and their iron features. One hears of bicycle face. Motor face is the same, but a good deal harder. Concentrated watchfulness is the essence of the motor face—the watchfulness of the man who may hit a drain, or take a side-slip and spin off the road at any moment and land in the ditch with a lot of nearly red-hot machinery on top of him. They say the crack drivers in the old country have to be in full training to do one of their long speed runs, and when one sees the wreck that can be made by the hundredth of a second’s carelessness, one can easily believe it.

The Trial

So far everything has worked all right, and the officials are in high good humour. Tomorrow we strike worse roads, deeper washaways, and steeper grades. We go through Gunning and Yass. At the former town the residents asked that the cars should be allowed to go through full speed, so that they might see a race. But the only Yass resident yet met with said cautiously, “Well, look out yer don’t run over some of my crossbred ewes!” But, undismayed by bad roads, big hills, and crossbred ewes, we point her nose for Gundagai in the morning, and only hope that she will eat up the miles till we get there.

The Reliability Trial

Part 3

Friday February 24

It is a “reliability” trial sure enough. The second day’s run was enough to fix that in the minds of the competitors. Eighteen miles an hour over bush roads tries the best car, and there is a lot of luck needed to get through. The extra speed necessitates driving for all she is worth on the level, and if the level happens to be bisected by a drain, you haven’t time to step out; must just bump over it. The result is that constant bumping and straining weakens the axles, and the wheels begin to lean in towards each other. Quite three-fourths of the competing cars are “developing bowed tendons”, as the racing men would say. The axles are all bending a little. And coming round sharp curves through loose metal causes a side strain that sooner or later tells on the wheels. Two cars today—Messrs Rand’s and Langford’s—pulled their wheels right off. Of course, an occasional “interesting adventure with cattle” is met with, but nothing of a serious character.

In fact, disasters began early, as the lady competitor—Mrs Thompson—got into difficulties soon after leaving Goulburn. The French demon driver, who has so far formed the chief topic of conversation on the trip, came to some sort of grief at Gunning. We passed him, but, as Mr Jorrocks says the pace was too good to inquire. From Goulburn to Yass you get the best bit of road we have seen so far; and being delayed soon after the start, we had to make the most of that bit of road.

The Delirium Of Speed

In an English magazine lately appeared a picture of a car going at full racing pace. It is called the delirium of speed. The last car to leave on each day has some such sensation. With all the others ahead, and with a perfectly clear road and good grades, the driver bends over his wheel, and, so long as the road is clear ahead, he lets her rip. Hill after hill, level after level, we fly behind, till at last a car is sighted in front, and then the driver knows that he is holding his place. It is a good deal like “picking up the wheel” of a racing cyclist; but when once the cars have settled to work it becomes a terrible, nerve-straining contest against time. The motorist must have one eye on the watch and the other on the road. The other cars are almost sympathised with, as they, too, have their struggle against the common enemy. And as the bad roads are met, signals pass from car to car, and warnings are shouted as cars pass each other.

On The Road

During the run the people whom we have met have, as a rule, taken an agreeable interest in the race. There was one exception, who cursed us with great fluency.

Gunning went by like a flash. Yass full of people, had a lovely road for eight miles or so on either side of it, and the Victorians, who had driven their cars over, had a big advantage, as they knew where they could safely “let her out”. At Jugiong they were holding a race meeting, the march of civilisation having as yet made no mark on Jugiong. The Murrumbidgee was running yellow, probably with melted snow water from the mountains. And then we plunged again into the stringybark ranges. By the way, though the guide-book issued by the Dunlop Company says that there is a “nice drop down” to Jugiong, the road we struck nearly landed us in Jugiong in one jump from the top of an adjoining hill, as the metalled road suddenly ceased, and the unmade track nearly led to disaster. But after Jugiong we got out into the good flats about Colac, and so on to Gundagai, all good country, and good road.

Incidents were few and far between today. J. M. Arnott’s big Innes car passed all the small cars on the hills, and as she is fitted for touring and carries three passengers and a lot of luggage, it is a good performance for the Sydney-owned haste waggon. The next stage they say will try the cars more thoroughly than anything yet met with. Stevens, in his Darracq, again headed the procession, and as things now are, with the Frenchman and Rand out of it, it looks like a well-deserved win for the Darracq, but there is a lot of road between here and Melbourne, and already the drivers are offering to bet that not half a dozen cars finish.

The Reliability Trial

Part 4

Saturday February 25

Gundagai to Albury was the hardest of the three days in the New South Wales ride, and it was hard enough for anyone. The metalled road ceases soon after Gundagai, and the track is an ordinary bush affair, rusty and dusty, and the bushfires had burnt nearly all the culverts.

The Sydney cars did badly on this part of the run. Mark Foy’s Panhard car got along all right, but he is only out for an airing, and is very indifferent whether he scores full points or not. J. M. Arnott’s big Innes car being new, ran hot, and two of the four cylinders ceased work. This stuck us up for hours, and we lost 68 points. Trying to make up points was the fun; during the afternoon we had 70 miles to do in under two hours—a quite impossible task on such roads, but the car was sent headlong into such dust and holes as we would have pulled up for on the first day.

Once she took charge in a sand drift, and spun away to one side like a skidding bicycle, and picked up a log and did a sort of waltz with it, and then regretfully dropped it again, and was coaxed back on to the road. The rest of the journey was run in a dust storm that nearly hid the front of the car, and nearly blew the chauffeur out of it; but no amount of hard driving would pull up the deficient points.

H. R. Arnott, the third Sydney car, just saved his points by steady and careful handling of his car; but the advantage of knowing the road is very great, and Stevens, the Victorian, again did fast time; while his rival, the Frenchman, lost several points.

The French Driver Interviewed

The French driver, who knows no English but the two words “bad road”—was asked how our glorious highways struck him. He said there are no roads in all France anything like as bad as what we saw here, but there are some in Scotland nearly as bad, which is rough on Scotland. He does not despair of getting to Melbourne, as he considers the pace nothing—in fact, his great trouble is to go slow enough. The other drivers predict that he will snap an axle doing some of his steeplechase driving; but his car seems to stand anything.

The Lady Driver

Mrs Thompson, the South Australian lady, had an awful time. Her car is one of the slow but sure order, and her great ambition is to do the run irrespective of what points she gets. All hope that her pluck will be rewarded. Her car stuck in the sand, and was towed out by “yokels”, who seemed to spring up out of the ground. She arrived in Albury a lot late, but undaunted. Another Melbourne car dropped out, Mr Stewart not having showed up.

The Rest Of The Run

Friday’s run is only set at 14 miles an hour, so the road must be awful. The contestants are all pretty tired of it, half blinded with dust, and bruised and shaken by being jolted about in the cars like a pea in a pod. It is really hard work to sit in a car on some of the most jolty places; but those who have got full points, or near it, mean to see it out, unless they break something. One chauffeur said, “I reckon it’s worth five pounds a minute to drive over such roads.” The result of the hard knocking about is that no one feels equal to attending the entertainment very kindly arranged by the Mayor of Albury.

Last Stage Of The Journey
Chauffeur Nearly Thrown Out

Euroa (Vic.), Saturday morning

The last stage of the motor trial was entered upon today. The weather is fine, and the roads good. For the last sixty miles into Melbourne they are reported to be like a billiard table.

It is almost impossible to make any change in the order of points. The competitors who tie will have to run off in a trial to Ballarat.

Mrs Thompson got through yesterday. She started again today. She is very plucky. The Adelaide car, Nichols’ Darracq, is only one point off the full number of marks. He intends to appeal against the Dunlop Company on the ground that the timetaker at Gundagai delayed taking his time.

The Sydney cars are out of it. We did not know what to expect in the way of bad roads, but will know more another time.

The Frenchman intends to drive his car back again. His chauffeur was thrown almost out of the car yesterday. The driver managed to clutch him. He says that in the big Continental races the chauffeur is tied in.

A big reception is being arranged at Melbourne. Each car as it enters will be preceded by a cyclist.

If There Be A Tie

The contest will finish in Melbourne this afternoon, and at the end of the fourth section it seemed almost certain that contestants in each class would finish with the same number of points.

Of the motor cyclists, B. James and V. Gard have each scored the possible 2,000; and in the light-car class J. G. Coleman, J. H. Craven, and S. Day have done the same; while four have got the maximum number in the heavy-car section—H. L. Stevens, H. Tarrant, S. Stott, and W. Ross.

The conditions deal with a tie, and those who tie will have to compete in a further eliminating road contest, from Melbourne to Ballarat, a distance of 70 miles.

The Evening News, 1905


Dan Fitzgerald Explains

The circus was having its afternoon siesta. Overhead the towering canvas tent spread like a giant mushroom on a network of stalks—slanting beams, interlaced with guys and wire ropes. The ring looked small and lonely in the midst of the circle of empty benches which seemed to stare intently at it, as though some sort of unseen performance were going on for the benefit of a ghostly audience. Now and again a guy rope creaked, or a loose end of canvas flapped like faint, unreal applause; as the silence shut down again, it did not need much imagination to people the ring with dead and gone circus riders performing for the benefit of hundreds of shadowy spectators, young men and old men, women, and children, packed on those benches. An empty circus or a stage by daylight is an uncanny thing.

In the menagerie portion matters were different; here there was a free and easy air, and the animals seemed to realise that for the present the eyes of the public were off them, and they could put in the afternoon just as they chose. The big African apes had dropped the “business” of showing their teeth, and pretending that they wanted to tear the faces off the spectators and were carefully and painstakingly trying to fix up a kind of rustic seat in the corner of their cage. They had got a short piece of board, which they placed against the wall, but every time that they sat on it, it fell down, and the whole adjustment had to be gone through again. The camel had stretched himself full length on the tan, and was enjoying a luxurious snooze, oblivious of the fact that before long he would have to get up and assume that far-off ship-of-the-desert look that so much impresses a curious audience. The remainder of the animals were, like actors, resting before their turn came on, and even the elephant had ceased to sway about, while a very small monkey, perched up on a sloping tent pole, was actually so fast asleep that he had an attack of nightmare and would have fallen off his perch only for his big tail; in fact it was a regular land of the lotus-eater:

A land in which it seemed always afternoon.

But these visions were dispelled by the entry of a person who said, “D’ye want to see Dan?” and before long Mr Dan Fitzgerald, the man who knows all about the training of horses, came into the tent, with Mr Montgomery, the ringmaster, and between them they proceeded to expound the methods of training horseflesh.

“What sort of horse do we buy for circus work? Well, it depends what we want ’em for. There are three sorts of horses in use in a circus—ring horses, trick horses, and school horses; but it doesn’t matter what he is wanted for, a horse is all the better if he knows nothing. A horse that has been pulled about and partly trained by one man has to unlearn a lot before he is any use to us. The less he knows, the better he is.”

“Then do you just try any sort of horse?”

“Any sort, so long as he is a good sort, but it depends on what he is wanted for. If we want a ring horse, he has to be a quiet sober-going animal, not too well-bred and fiery. A ring horse is one that just goes round the ring for the bareback riders and equestriennes to perform on. The human being is the star, and the horse is only a secondary performer, a sort of understudy—yes, that’s it, an understudy—he has to study how to keep under the man.”

“Are they hard to train?”

“Their work all depends on the men that ride them. In bareback riding there’s a knack in jumping on the horse. If a man lands awkwardly and jars the horse’s back, the horse will get out of step and flinch at each jump, and he isn’t nearly so good to perform on. A ring horse must not swerve or change his pace; because if you’re up in the air, throwing a somersault, and the horse swerves from underneath you—where are you?”

“Some people think that horses take a lot of notice of the band—is that so?”

“Not that I know of. If there are any horses in the show with an ear for music, I haven’t heard of them. They take a lot more notice of the ringmaster.”

“Does it take them long to learn this work?”

“Not long; a couple of months will teach a ring horse; but of course, some are better than others.

“First of all we teach them to come up to you, with the whip, like horse breakers do. Then we run them round the ring with a lunging rein for a long time; then, when they are steady to the ring, we let them run with the rein loose, and the trainer can catch hold of it if they go wrong. Then we put a ‘roller’ on them (a ‘roller’ is a broad surcingle that goes round the horse’s body), and the boys jump on them and canter round, holding on to the roller, and standing up and lying down, and doing tricks till the horse gets used to it.”


“Well, you give ’em a couple of hours of it, perhaps, and then dry them and feed them, and give them a spell, and then bring them out again. They soon get to know what you want; but you can’t break in horses on the move. The shifting and worry and noise and excitement put it all out of their heads. We have a fixed camp where we break horses. And a horse may know his work perfectly well, when there is no one about, but bring him into the ring at night, and he is all abroad.”

“Do you have to give them much whip?”

“Not much. If a horse doesn’t know what you want him to do, it only ruins him to whip him. But once he does a thing a few times, and then won’t do it, then you must whip him.”

“Then, what about trick horses?”

“A trick horse rolls a barrel, or lies down and goes to bed with the clown, or fires a pistol—does any trick like that. Some small circuses make the same horses do both trick and ring work, but it isn’t a good line. A horse is all the better to have only one line of business—same as a man.”

“How do you teach them tricks?”

“Oh, it takes a long time and a lot of hard work and great patience. Even to make a horse lie down when he’s ordered takes a couple of months sometimes. To make a horse lie down, you strap up one leg, and then pull his head round, and after a while he gets so tired of the strained position that he lies down, after which he learns to do it at command. Then, if you want him to pick up a handkerchief, you put a bit of carrot in it, and after a while they know that you want them to pick it up—but oh! it takes a long time. And then a strange hand in the ring will flurry them, and if anything goes wrong, they get all abroad. A good active pony, with a bit of Arab blood in him, is the best for tricks.”

“Then what’s a school horse?”

“Ah, that’s a line of business that isn’t enough appreciated out here. On the Continent they think a lot of them. A school horse is one that is taught to do passaging and to change his feet at command, to move sideways and backwards; in fact, to drill. Out here no one thinks much of it. But in Germany, where everyone goes through military riding schools, they appreciate it. The Germans are the best horse-trainers in the world; and the big German circus-proprietors have men to do all their business for them, and they just attend to the horses.”

“How long does it take to turn out a school horse?”

“Well, Chiarini was the best trainer out here, and he used to take two years to get a horse to his satisfaction. For school horses, you must have thoroughbreds; because their appearance is half their success. We had a New Zealand thoroughbred that had raced, and was turning out a splendid school horse, and he got burnt after costing us a year’s training. But that’s the luck of the game, you know. You keep at it year after year, and sometimes they die, and sometimes they get crippled—it’s all in the luck of the game. You may give fifty pounds for a horse, and find that he can never get over his fear of the elephant, while you give ten pounds for another, and find him a ready-made performer almost.”

We passed out through the ghostly circus, and through the menagerie tent, down to the stable tent, where among a lot of others, a tranquil-looking animal was munching some feed, while in front of him hung a placard, “Tiger Horse”.

“That’s a new sort! What is he, ring, trick, or school horse?”

“Well, he’s a class by himself. I suppose you’d call him a ring horse. That’s the horse that the tiger rides on.”

“Did it take him long to learn that?”

“Well, it did not take this horse long; but we tried eleven others before we could get one to stand it. They’re just like men, all different. What one will stand another won’t look at. Well, goodbye.”

Just like men, no doubt; many men have to carry tigers of various sorts through life to get a living.

Written c. 1905: published the Evening News


Done For The Double

By Knott Gold
Author of “Flogged for a Furlong”, “Won by a Winker”, &c., &c.

Chapter 1
Wanted, A Pony

Algernon de Montgomery Smythers was a merchant, wealthy beyond the dreams of avarice. Other merchants might dress more lavishly, and wear larger watch chains, but the bank balance is the true test of mercantile superiority, and in a trial of bank balances Algernon de Montgomery Smythers represented Tyson at seven stone. He was unbeatable.

He lived in comfort, not to say luxury. He had champagne for breakfast every morning, and his wife always slept with a pair of diamond earrings worth a small fortune in her ears. It is things like these that show true gentility. All others are shoddy.

Though they had been married many years, the A. de M. Smythers had but one child—a son and heir. He was brought up in the lap of luxury. No Christmas Day was allowed to pass by his doting parents without a gift to young Algy of some trifle worth about £150, less the discount for cash. He had six playrooms, all filled with the most expensive toys and ingenious mechanical devices. He had a phonograph that could hail a ship out at the South Head, and a mechanical parrot that sang “The Wearing of the Green”. And still he was not happy.

Sometimes, in spite of the vigilance of his four nurses and six under-nurses, he would escape into the street, and run about with the little boys that he met there. One day he gave one of them a sovereign for a locust. Certainly the locust was a “double-drummer”, and could deafen the German Band when shaken up judiciously; still, it was dear at the price of a sovereign.

It is ever thus.

What we have we do not value, and what other people have we are not strong enough to take from them.

Such is life.

Christmas was approaching, and the question of what should be given to Algy as a present agitated the bosom of his parents. He had nearly everything a child would want; but one morning a bright inspiration struck Algy’s father. Algy should have a pony.

With Mr Smythers to think was to act. He was not a man who believed in allowing grass to grow under his feet. His motto was, “Up and be doing—somebody”. So he put an advertisement in the paper that same day.

“Wanted, a boy’s pony. Must be guaranteed sound, strong, handsome, intelligent. Used to trains, trams, motors, fire engines, and motor buses. Any failure in above respects will disqualify. Certificate of birth required as well as references from last place, when calling. Price no object.”

Chapter 2
Blinky Bill’s Sacrifice

Down in the poverty-stricken portions of the city lived Blinky Bill the horse dealer.

His yard was surrounded by loose boxes made of any old timber, galvanized iron, sheets of roofing felt, and bark that he could gather together. He kept all sorts of horses, except good sorts. There were harness horses that wouldn’t pull, and saddle horses that wouldn’t go—or, if they went, used to fall down; nearly every animal about the place had something the matter with it.

He kept racing ponies, and when the bailiff dropped in, for the rent, as he did every two or three weeks, Bill and the bailiff would go out together, and “have a punt” on some of Bill’s ponies, or on somebody else’s ponies—the latter for choice. But the periodical punts and occasional sales of horses would not keep the wolf from the door. Ponies keep on eating whether they are winning or not and Slinky Bill had got down to the very last pitch of desperation when he saw the advertisement mentioned at the end of the last chapter.

It was like a ray of hope to him. At once there flashed upon him what he must do.

He must make a great sacrifice; he must sell Sausage II.

What, the reader will ask, was Sausage II? Alas, that such a great notability should be anywhere unknown!

Sausage II was the greatest 13.2 pony of the day. Time and again he had gone out to race when, to use William’s own words, it was a blue duck for Bill’s chance of keeping afloat unless the pony won; and every time did the gallant race pony pull his owner through. Bill owed more to Sausage II than he owed to any of his creditors.

Brought up as a pet, the little animal was absolutely trustworthy. He would carry a lady or a child, or pull a sulky; in fact, it was quite a common thing for Blinky Bill to drive him in a sulky to a country meeting and look about him for a likely “mark”; if he could find a fleet youth with a reputedly fast pony, Bill would offer to “pull the little cuddy out of the sulky and run yer for a fiver”. Sometimes he got beaten but, as he never paid, that didn’t matter. He did not believe in fighting, except under desperate circumstances, but he would always sooner fight than pay.

But all these devices had left him on his uppers in the end. He had no feed for his ponies, and no money to buy feed; the corn merchant had written his account off as bad, and had no desire to make it worse. Under the circumstances, what was he to do? Sausage 11 must be sold.

With heavy heart Bill led the pony down to be inspected. He saw Mr Algernon de Montgomery Smythers and measured him with his eye. He saw it would be no use to talk about racing to him, so he went on the other tack.

He told him that the pony belonged to a Methodist clergyman, who used to drive him in a “shay”. There are no shays in this country; but Bill had read the word somewhere, and thought it sounded respectable. “Yus, sir,” he said, “’e goes lovely in a shay,” and he was just starting off at twenty words a second, when he was stopped.

Mr A. de M. Smythers was brusque with his inferiors, and in this he made a mistake. Instead of listening to all that Blinky Bill said, and disbelieving it at his leisure, he stopped his talk.

“If you want to sell this pony, dry up,” he said. “I don’t believe a word you say, and it only worries me to hear you lying.”

Fatal mistake! You should never stop a horse dealer’s talk. And call him anything you like, but never say you doubt his word.

Both these things Mr Smythers did; and though he bought the pony at a high price, yet the insult sank deep into the heart of Blinky Bill.

As the capitalist departed leading the pony, Blinky Bill muttered to himself, “Ha! ha! Little does he know that he is leading Sausage II, the greatest thirteen-two pony of the century. Let him beware how he gets alongside anything. That’s all! Blinky Bill may yet be revenged!”

We shall see.

Chapter 3
Exit Algy

Christmas Day came. Algy’s father gave orders to have the pony saddled, and led round to the front door. Algy’s mother, a lady of forty summers, spent the morning superintending the dinner. Dinner was the principal event in the day with her. Alas, poor lady! Everything she ate agreed with her, and she got fatter and fatter and fatter.

The cold world never fully appreciates the struggles of those who are fat—the efforts at starvation, the detested exercise, the long, miserable walks. Well has one of our greatest poets written, “Take up the fat man’s burden”. But we digress.

When Algy saw the pony he shouted with delight, and in half a minute was riding him up and down the front drive. Then he asked for leave to go out in the street, and that was where the trouble began.

Up and down the street the pony cantered, as quietly as possible, till suddenly round a corner came two butcher boys racing their horses. With a clatter of clumsy hoofs they thundered past. In half a second there was a rattle, and a sort of comet-like rush through the air. Sausage II was off after them with his precious burden. The family dog tried to keep up with him, and succeeded in keeping ahead for about three strides. Then, like the wolves that pursued Mazeppa, he was left yelping far behind. Through Surry Hills and Redfern swept the flying pony, his rider lying out on his neck in Tod Sloan fashion, while the ground seemed to race beneath him. The events of the way were just one hopeless blur till the pony ran straight as an arrow into the yard of his late owner, Blinky Bill.

Chapter 4
Running The Rule

As soon as Blinky Bill recognised his visitor, he was delighted. “You here,” he said, “Ha, ha, revenge is mine! I’ll get a tidy reward for taking you back, my young shaver.” Then from the unresisting child he took a gold watch and three sovereigns, which he had in his pocket. These he said he would put in a safe place for him, till he was going home again. He expected to get at least a tenner ready money for bringing the child back, and hoped that he might be allowed to keep the watch into the bargain. With a light heart he went down town with Algy’s watch and sovereigns in his pocket. He did not return till daylight, when he awoke his wife with bad news.

“Can’t give the boy up,” he said. “I moskenoed his block and tackle, and blued it in the school,” meaning that he had pawned the boy’s watch and chain, and had lost the proceeds at pitch and toss. “Nothing for it but to move,” he said, “and take the kid with us.”

So move they did.

The reader can imagine with what frantic anxiety the father and mother of little Algy sought for their lost one. They put the matter into the hands of the detective police, and waited for the Sherlock Holmeses of the force to get in their fine work. They heard nothing.

Years rolled on, and the mysterious disappearance of little Algy was never solved. The horse dealer’s revenge was complete. The boy’s mother consulted a clairvoyant, who said, “What went by the ponies, will come by the ponies”; and with that they had to remain satisfied.

Chapter 5
The Tricks Of The Turf

It was a race day at Pulling’em Park, and the ponies were doing their usual performances. Among the throng the heaviest punter is a fat lady with diamond earrings. Does the reader recognise her? It is little Algy’s mother. Her husband is dead, leaving her the whole of his colossal fortune, and, having developed a taste for gambling, she is now engaged in “doing it on the ponies”. She is one of the biggest bettors in the game.

When women take to betting they are worse than men.

But it is not for betting alone that she attends the meetings. She remembers the clairvoyant’s “What went by the ponies will come by the ponies.” And always she searches in the ranks of the talent for her lost Algy.

Here comes another of our dramatis personae—Blinky Bill, prosperous once more. He has got a string of ponies and punters together. The first are not much use to a man without the second; but, in spite of all temptations Bill has always declined to number among his punters the mother of the child he stole. But the poor lady regularly punts on his ponies, and just as regularly is “sent up”—in other words, loses her money.

Today she has backed Blinky’s pair, Nostrils and Tin Can, for the double. Nostrils has won his race, and Tin Can, if on the job, can win the second half of the double. Is he on the job? The prices are lengthening against him, and the poor lady recognises that once more she is “in the cart”.

Just then she meets Tin Can’s jockey, Dodger Smith, face to face. A piercing scream rends the atmosphere, as if a thousand school children drew a thousand slate pencils down a thousand slates simultaneously. “Me cheild! Me cheild! Me long-lost Algy!”

It did not take long to convince Algy that he would be better off as son to a wealthy lady than as a jockey subject to the fiendish caprices of Blinky Bill.

“All right, mother,” he said. “Put all you can raise on Tin Can. I’m going to send Blinky up. It’s time I had a cut on me own, anyway.”

The horses went to the post. Tons of money were at the last moment hurled on to Tin Can. The books, knowing he was “dead”, responded gamely, and wrote his name till their wrists gave out. Blinky Bill had a half-share in all the bookies’ winnings, so he chuckled grimly as he went to the rails to watch the race.

They’re off. And what is this that flashes to the front, while the howls of the bookies rise like the yelping of fiends in torment? It is Dodger Smith on Tin Can, and from the grandstand there is a shrill feminine yell of triumph as the gallant pony sails past the post.

The bookies thought that Blinky Bill had sold them, and they discarded him for ever. He is now a bottle-oh!

Algy and his mother were united, and backed horses together happily ever after; and sometimes out in the back yard of their palatial mansion they hand the empty bottles, free of charge, to a poor old broken-down bottle-oh. It is Blinky Bill. Thus has his revenge recoiled upon himself.

Written c. 1905: published the Evening News


Dispatch - The Great War



Up to Albany nothing of importance occurred in the voyage of the troops of the Imperial Force. Sunday, November 1, was a red-letter day in the history of Australia, for on that day our big fleet of transports put out from Albany for the long trip across half the world.

The ships arrived at Albany in ones and twos and threes, till at last all the fleet was gathered. They anchored in the roadstead outside the inner harbour of Albany. There they swung at anchor for five clear days, while water and coal were taken in by the vessels that required them. Each day there was a report that we were to sail on the following day, but day after day passed, and no move was made by any of the ships.

A couple of small men-of-war came and went but the vessels that were to escort us still waited. At last on Saturday October 31, word passed round in the mysterious way in which word does pass round at sea that the transports would leave next morning. Two sick men and one sick officer were sent ashore from our vessel, and all hands turned in with the serene hope that this at last was the real signal to move.

Ready To Sail

Grey dawn sees pretty well everybody astir and all eyes keep turning to the flagship of the transports. All sorts of hours have been rumoured as the time of departure. Time goes on, and still no move. A red sun rises behind a long island away out to seaward, on which is a lighthouse, sharply silhouetted against the sky.

The island is at the end of a long sea lane or waterway, landlocked on either side by bare rugged hills, with here and there a patch of gorse showing yellow against the sombre green of the coastal scrub, or the dull brown of the rocks. Not a sound, nor any movement of any living thing, comes from the frowning hills on either side of the waterway. It is as if they were watching the transports getting ready for sea. From these, too, comes no noise at all that can be heard from one ship to another. The watcher on the deck of the inshore vessels sees the three long rows of ships lying silent as painted ships at their anchors.

The only sign of life is the column of smoke pouring from each funnel, and this alone it is that tells us that Australia’s greatest maritime venture is about to put out to sea. Each ship seems to stand out double her natural size, every spar and rope showing clearly outlined against the rosy sky. The sea is dull, still grey, without a ripple. A vague electric restlessness is in the air. What are those coming out of the inner harbour? Two grim, gliding leviathans, going majestically out to sea to take their places as guardians of the fleet.

There is something uncanny in the absolute silence with which everything is done. They glide past the frowning cliffs, whose feet are awash with the sea, through the long lines of waiting transports, and are soon lost to sight steaming right out into the eye of the sun.

The Departure

Then there is a stir at the stern, a gliding, oily rush of water, which tells us that the screw is turning at last. At least a thousand pairs of field glasses are centred on her anchor chain. Link by link it comes inboard and the leader of the fleet is under weigh. Noiselessly the great ship gathers speed and moves ahead through the waiting fleet; and, as she goes out the vessels that are to follow her in line get silently under weigh and fall in line behind her.

Now is seen a very pretty evolution as the leader draws out past the lighthouse and turns sharply to the west, rising to the lift of the open sea, and as each big vessel clears the gateway of the harbour she, too, swings around to the west and after her leader, and seems to dip her head into the waves with a sort of enjoyment at being once more on the trail. As gracefully as a fleet of swans after some great leader, they drop into place and soon are rising to the sea.

Suddenly, we too realise that we are under weigh. So silently does the anchor come in, so smoothly do the turbine engines work, that only the sailors on board know that we are moving, till the rocky headlands begin to glide past us and we pass the waiting ships of our own fleet. As we pass each one it gets up its anchor and glides after us.

The New Zealand Troops

The New Zealand transports all painted the same greyish-black colour, with black funnels, are still at their anchorage as we steam past, and they give us Honi Heke’s old warcry, “Ake, Ake, Ake, Kia Kaha”: “We will fight on for ever and ever.” Past the frowning cliffs and the lighthouse we draw out to the sunlit sea, our division following in beautiful order, each ship swinging gracefully round into line, as we set our course for the Leeuwin and draw slowly up alongside the other two lines.

Thirty thousand fighting men, representing Australasia, are under way for the Great War.

A Great String Of Ships

From the leading ship of our line we saw a great string of ships steaming along in our rear, the one just behind us keeping always her distance, the white foam always at her bows, her great frame lifting and sinking rhythmically to the swell.

Day and night she is always there, just behind us, until the pursuit becomes a sort of haunting thing. One looks aft sometimes to see if by any chance she may have relaxed her pursuit for an instant, but the great bow and the towering deck houses and bridge are always there just behind us; and behind her always trails the long line of ships. The only change is when a vessel going a trifle too fast finds herself closing on the one in front of her and falls out of line and makes a slight detour so as to lose a little distance without slowing her engines. Sometimes there are two or three vessels out of line at once, and it is a positive relief after the long, grim line of vessels.

It is a great experience for the merchant captains this navigating in line by day and night. Men-o’-war navigators are trained to it all through their career, and rush through manoeuvres at full speed with only a couple of cables’ lengths between the vessels; but the captain of a gigantic merchantman has no practice at playing tricks with his vessel, and the further away he can keep from all others the better he is pleased. It is fairly safe to say that not one captain left his bridge during the whole of the first night.

It would never do to make a blunder with all those brethren of the cloth looking on; and not a blunder was made. It is not exactly the easiest thing in the world to keep accurate distance and direction at night with only a stern lamp ahead and a masthead light behind to give distance and direction.

Adjusting The Pace

The engineers had a field day, too. The pace had to be kept down to the pace of the slowest of the transports. With a fourteen-knot vessel to handle care had to be taken not to overrun the constable, so to speak, and the engine room bells tinkled pretty constantly until the pace was finally adjusted. A speed cone hung in each vessel’s rigging, and was lowered or raised according as she was slowing down or making speed. At night a crimson light took the place of the speed cone.

All eyes were on the slowest ship. It was expected she would prove the slowest of the fleet, but at first she hung on to her pacer, as the bicycle men say, surprisingly well. No doubt, the engine room staff and stokers were getting every ounce out of her, and for a while she did quite well. But a head sea made a big difference, and the gap between the flagship and her chaser lengthened and lengthened until the fleet had to be slowed right down every now and again to let that line catch up. Once she was given a rather long chance to close up, and managed to get right on the flagship’s heels, whereupon she proudly lowered her speed cone to half pace, which of course suggested that the flagship was too slow to get out of her road. She did not get many more chances to lower her speed cone.

A Pillar Of Smoke

Away ahead of the whole fleet, just in sight, on the edge of the horizon, is a pillar of smoke—a cruiser is clearing the way for us, setting the pace, giving the direction, and keeping a watchful eye out for enemies. Far away to starboard, just visible on the skyline, is another pillar of smoke keeping guard, and another pillar of smoke and dimly seen low-lying vessel on the horizon to port show where a cruiser is day and night keeping her watch over our movements.

So we move across the ocean like a large regatta of great steamships, always the same order being inflexibly kept. It is sometimes hard to believe that 120 miles have been covered since one saw them last, they seem to be so exactly in the same place. And always behind us are the great towering leviathans of merchantmen, each loaded with men, horses, and war material.

It is the most wonderful sight that an Australian ever saw.

The Sydney Morning Herald, 8 December 1914


The Cook-House

Our unit is a base unit, and does not have to hustle and shift about; our cook-house, therefore, is more a permanent structure than is usual with Army cook-houses. It consists of a brick oven, frequently out of action, half a dozen Sawyer—or should it be Sayer—stoves, a brick-floored, mat-sided, reed-roofed shed, a meat house, and a mat shed, used indifferently by the cook-house gang as a debating hall, a gymnasium, and a shelter from the heat. Here, when the day’s work is over, the wits of the squadron assemble and discuss various topics in the cool of the evening. Anybody can have, at any hour of the day or night, a drink of tea, an argument, a punch on the nose, or a duel of wits, by applying at our cook-house. Not that there is much, or, indeed, any fighting ever done there, though, to hear the talk, one would expect to see about six fights a day. The fights never come off, though they are there if you want them: and all the talk of fight is good-natured banter, intended to pass the time pleasantly and to draw out whatever mother wit there may be in the troops.

Our work as a unit consists in the supply of helmets and steel burnishers for bits and stirrup irons to the Australian Forces. So we are not a very popular unit; but such as our work is, we do it to the best of our ability: and we are enabled to employ a number of middle-aged men, too old for the fighting line. Thus our cook is well over forty-five and has run to flesh somewhat: he is an old soldier and knows how to carry himself; and only that his chest has slipped down a bit, he still has a fine military figure. During his years of military service he has learnt how to handle men. So he affects a ferocity of demeanour and language that serves it purpose by keeping the younger men in order; while he is quite ready, nay, even eager, to enter into an argument with the seasoned old soldiers, who tell him to “cut out the bluff and talk sense”. In private life he is a quiet and successful tradesman, whose life is devoid of incident; but here he has to cope every day with the problem of feeding two hundred hungry Australians, some of whom have known the best, and others the worst, cooking in the world. As he says himself, “It’s not the blokes that lived at the Hotel Australia that grumble; it’s the men that’s been in the Northern Territory, livin’ on water-lily roots and goannas, cooked by black gins!” But he does not lose any sleep over the grumblers—not like the French king’s cook who hanged himself because the fish was not done enough. Our cook would persuade any grumblers that they did not know the right way to cook fish!

His staff consists of three—an offsider, who is supposed to understudy the cook, and two helpers, who cut wood, peel vegetables, wash pots, carry firewood and do the hundred and one other jobs of a cook-house in a base camp. As birds of a feather flock together, so the cook has got round him the philosophers and sages of the unit. His offsider is a bushman of the old school, a tall, lean and very old giant, who has carried a swag to many a station and swung a pick in many a mine, always on the new rushes and to the far out stations. He is silent, shrewd and good-natured to a fault. He it was who cut out the pictures from the Australian weeklies—oddly varied here and there by cuttings from La Vie Parisienne—and pasted them on the cook-house walls. When you come to think of it, no true outback Australian cook could possibly inhabit a cook-house for long without pasting some pictures round it. His taste in illustrations follows the old groove, and the present-day Australian racehorses and high jumpers look out in effigy on the grey Egyptian desert. His part in the daily cook-house comedy is that of the oracle of Delphos. If anybody comes up looking for a fight, they are told they must fight Donnelly; if any very knotty point arises in argument, it is always referred to Donnelly; and many a grumbler has had to go away, snorting under the assurance that his grievance will be reported to Donnelly first thing in the morning. Donnelly is supposed to have fought all the leading pugilists, beaten all the leading runners, to have dug up the biggest nuggets, and to have had more adventures of an amorous nature than Don Juan. With true Australian fatalism, he meekly accepts this outlandish role, and always plays up to the cook in business and dialogue without any previous rehearsal. “It keeps the boys amused,” he says.

The other two members of the cook-house are cast for thinking parts (as the actors have it), and say nothing, except that they come in occasionally, like the chorus of a Greek play, with observations that lend point and confirmation to their chief’s arguments—one of them, it should be mentioned, is a pocket Hercules, as fearless as a bulldog; and everyone knows that, if they really went looking for trouble in the cook-house, they could easily find it: consequently, nobody ever looks for it, and the most bloodthirsty threats are taken as they are meant to be, in a purely figurative and diplomatic sense.

Let us suppose, now, it is after tea in camp. The boiling Egyptian sun has slid down into his couch of fleecy clouds and the cool desert breeze brings life and cheerfulness on its wings. The cook-house gang, all smoking, sit on the form outside their shed, prepared to take on anybody. A fair sprinkling of men are lounging about, smoking after tea, and there is a constant coming and going of men from the tents. A dixie of water is simmering on the fire, and this has to be kept to make the tea for a detachment of men, who have been away delivering helmets and steel burnishers to brother Australians further up the line. There is a concert on at an adjoining camp, where many “sisters” will be present; so every man who has leave for the concert wants to get some of that hot water to shave with. And first comes up one, “Bluey”, a character, mug in hand, and sidles towards the dixie, with one eye on the cook.

“Now then, ‘Bluey’,” says the cook, “cut it out! You can’t have none of that water. I want it for the boys that are coming in late.”

“Bluey” is a large, red-headed, good natured youth, full of joie de vivre, and, occasionally, other liquids: he is no debater, but is always ready to join in any sort of rough-house gambols that will serve to help the afternoon performance along. He puts his mug on the ground, and adopting an exaggerated version of the Hughie Mehegan smother, he advances on the cookhouse.

“Now then,” says he, “I’ve fought and beat every man in this cook-house, except one.”

“Which one is that?”

“Donnelly! Come on, Donnelly, you’ve lived too long! Come out here and stack your apparel, till I kill you.”

The words “till I kill you” are apparently Donnelly’s cue, as he at once takes the stage and grapples with the intruder. They wrestle and bump about among the stoves and firewood. The spectators cheer impartially. “Stay with him, Donnelly!” “Good on you, ‘Bluey’!” “Uppercut him, ‘Bluey’!” “Come off the stove!” From distant tents come hoarse cries of encouragement: “Choke him!” “Put the boot in, Donnelly!” And so on. After a while, the Cook, seeing that the “turn” has lasted long enough, signals to his next in rank. “Jack”, he says, “go over there and throw that man ‘Bluey’ out. Donnelly might kill him.”

Jack makes a short rush, puts his arms around the struggling pair, and rushes them out into the open. Here “Bluey” is sorted out from his antagonist, his mug is thrown after him, and he disappears from the stage, not without applause.

Next comes a tall, angular, morose-looking soldier, very dirty. He is known as “The Nark”, being a man of trouble-making disposition; on more than one occasion he has put in a complaint to the orderly officer about the cookery. He has a great flow of invective, and spectators rouse themselves in anticipation as he bears down on the cook-house. The cook, on the principle that attack is the best defence, gets in the first shot.

“Now, ‘Nark’, what do you want? It’s no good your comin’ after water. You’d only say that it wasn’t boiled the way you like it.”

The audience laugh, but “The Nark” regards the cook coldly, and says nothing. Following up his initial success, the cook is emboldened to further flights.

“Ho”, he says, “‘The Nark’s’ a good soldier. When you roust on him, and he knows he’s in the wrong, he don’t answer back; just stands there and takes it.”

“The Nark” shows his teeth in a dry grin. “Was you roustin’ on me?” he inquires, in great surprise.

“Corse I was roustin’ on you. Who else would I be roustin’ on?”

“I thought most likely you were talkin’ to some of those pot-washin’ staff coves of yours. They want roustin’ on. If the whole lot of you went cookin’ in a shearin’ shed, you’d be lynched.”

“You hear that, Donnelly!” says the cook, in horror. “He says you wouldn’t cook for shearers! You that was voted in as cook seven years runnin’ in the biggest shed in Queensland, with two hundred shearers! Wasn’t you, Donnelly?”

“I suppose I was,” says Donnelly. But “The Nark”, like a good General, throws on his forces on the weakest point of defence.

“Donnelly,” he says, “put in most of his life helping to put new roofs on public houses!” And with this parting blow, which is generally conceded to be somewhat of a bit below the belt, he slouches off with the dishonours of war.

Next comes a little London cockney, who has joined up with us in Australia. He has the Londoner’s readiness of tongue.

“Cook”, he says, as he swaggers up, “why don’t you call those men of yours to attention when I come past? I’ll ’ave that stripe off you, if you ain’t careful!”

“I’ll put Donnelly on to you,” says the cook, for want of any better retort.

“I’ll job Donnelly on the bread basket. Why ain’t he boilin’ up some water for me, instead of loaf in’ there?”

“Why don’t you go out and pinch some firewood, and I’ll give you plenty ’ot water?”

“Garn! If there was enough of you there to put up a decent fight with me, I’d go in and knock the lot of you.”

Thud! Thud! Thud! Three bad potatoes, skilfully thrown by the cook-house gang, land on him like machine gun fire, and he ducks and bolts off, to the accompaniment of Homeric laughter from the troops.

“There you are,” says the cook. “I was keeping them potatoes to show the orderly officer, and you go and waste them on that!”

But now there is a tramp of feet in the gloom, and the detachment marches in, hungry, tired, and bad-tempered, as men are after a long day in the Egyptian sun. While they are having a wash, the cook bustles about dealing out the stew, and making tea. Two mess orderlies come up to draw the stew, and the cook ladles out the steaming mixture. The first man gets his allowance and departs, and the cook, glancing casually into the stew pot, says, “How many have you got, Mick?”

Mick is a harassed youth who takes everything seriously.

“Nine, and all gormandisers,” he says.

“Do they like ungyuns?”

“Yes, I suppose so.”

“Well, here you are then. There’s a beautiful lot of ungyuns in this.” And the cook ladles out a mixture in which the “ungyuns” advertise themselves with no uncertain voice. The mess orderly has learnt to fear Greeks bringing gifts, so he inspects the dish narrowly.

“Why,” he says, “it’s all onions. There’s hardly any meat.”

“Go on! There’s plenty meat. And you said you wanted plenty ungyuns.”

And the mess orderly retreats with his steaming dish, merely pausing to throw over his shoulder, the remark, addressed apparently to the universe in general, “Cooks always is the lowest dorgs in the Army!”

But the cook takes no notice. The day’s work is over, and turning to Donnelly, he asks him whether he thinks he could keep one down; and Donnelly feeling equal to the task, they go off to the canteen together.

The Kia-Ora Coo-ee, October 1918


A General Inspection

“When’s the General’s inspection?” inquired the cook, uneasily, of the Orderly Room Sergeant. The Sergeant, being Scotch, and in daily converse with “The Heads”, was always supposed to know everything about everybody in the military world.

“What are you worrying about?” he said.

“You never know what a General’ll want”, the cook explained. “One’s all for drill, another for shootin’; and all that. One come one day, and it seems his dream was to have every officer know the men’s names and all about ’em. Our captain had been put fly to this, so he sez to us, just before the General came round, ‘Whatever name I give you men today, see you answer to it’, he says. So the General come along the line, lookin’ at our boots and feelin’ our toonics between his finger and thumb, because some of ’em were different issue to the others; and all of a sudden he points to me, and he sez, ‘What’s that man’s name?’, he sez. An’, of course, our Captain knew my name all right; but bein’ ast sudden that way, he got rattled and outs with the first name he can think of. ‘His name’s McFarland,’ he says. Well, there was a McFarland about ten paces further down the line; and just as the General comes opposite to him, he halts and snaps out, ‘Trooper McFarland, two paces to the front, march!’ He wanted to see if our Captain had give me the right name or not. So o’ course, this real McFarland, he steps out, and I steps out, too. And the General lamps us a bit, and he says, ‘What’s this?’ he says. ‘Is there two McFarland’s, are you brothers?’ he says. So I says ‘Yes, sir’, and the other real McFarland he says, ‘No, sir’, both together, just like that: and, of course, the General went off a treat. So you see, Scotty, you want to know what this one will ask?”

The Orderly Sergeant was quite in the dark as to what form the General’s questions were likely to take, so he side-stepped the problem.

“Nobody keers whit happens tae a kuk,” he said.

“Oh! don’t they!” said the cook. “That’s all you know. I bet you the General’ll ask me more questions than any man in the Regiment.”

All this Scotty pondered till you could almost hear his brain working; and then he put forward a valuable suggestion.

“He’ll go tae the Light Horrse lines before he comes here”, he said. “You step over to yon Light Horrse kuk-house, and find out what he asks them, an’ ye’ll be a’ richt!”

It was a quarter of a mile to the Light Horse cook-house; and a half mile walk on a hot day over loose desert sand did not appeal to our cook, who is a credit to his own cooking: but he saw nothing else for it, so he set off doggedly to plod over the sand in the blazing heat and disappeared among the Light Horse tents. Soon we saw the cavalcade of the inspecting General moving slowly up the Light Horse lines, and with our mental vision, we could see, and with the ear of imagination we could hear, the General pointing with his cane and asking why the tent flaps were not rolled evenly, and why there were so many Egyptian beds in the tents.

There came a long halt before the Light Horse cook-house: and it is a singular fact that Generals often show great interest in the doings of cooks. One has been known, after shaking everybody from the C.O. to the Company Sergeant Major to their foundations, to speak quite pleasantly with the cooks, and ask them what they did for a living before the war. Possibly the reason for this is, that an army travels on its stomach, and the cook is really a very important man. “No cook, no company” would be a very good military maxim to be elaborated in lectures at Duntroon and elsewhere.

At last the General moved away from the Light Horse cook-house, and soon afterwards we could see our own cook in the distance ploughing his way back through the sand. When he arrived he was sweating profusely, but wore a contented look. The Orderly Room Sergeant had made a job for himself to take some papers to the Quartermaster’s, so as to escape for a while from the state of high nervous tension that prevails in orderly room when a general inspection is on. He hailed the cook as he passed.

“Find oot onything?” he said.

“I think so”, said the cook. “I went to both cook-houses after the Head had been there; and he ast each of ’em whether they gave the men roast meat or only stool. He roared one of ’em up a treat for not having an oven to roast meat in. Roast meat!”

By this time the General rode up, with his A.D.C., and the local Commandant the regulation distance behind him. He noted whether the Officers’ Mess room was in good order, and whether the mess orderly was tidy. For it is by details that military shows are judged: and incident to this it may be mentioned that one of the greatest station inspectors in Australia once said that he always judged a station manager by his gates. If the gates were in good order, then everything else was likely to be in good order: by their gates ye shall know them! But to return to the inspection.

The General, having immediately awarded full points for neatness of turn-out to the officers’ mess, and for speed, style and action to the mess orderly, set off round the camp. At the first squadron, the squadron leader rode up and saluted and fell in beside the General to receive whatever of praise or blame might be coming his way. Now, the squadron leader had put in a couple of anxious hours going about his lines, seeing that the white stones round the camp were nicely whitewashed, all dunnage and litter out of the road, everybody dressed correctly, and so on. But he had made his inspection on foot, and, not being able to see to the roofs of the sheds, had missed the fact that all the natives employed in the lines had stacked their gallabiehs on the roof of one of the sheds. The General’s eagle eye fell on this: “What have you got up on that roof”, he said, “an old clothes store?” Then he found a fire bucket empty and volunteered the remark, that fire buckets without water in them would not be of much use in case of a conflagration. “You can’t put out fires with ‘eye-wash’, you know”, he said, pointing to the rows of beautifully whitewashed stones on which such hopes had been built. In fact, things were going badly all along the line, and it was felt that it rested with the cook-house to redeem the day. Had not all the cook-house staff once been awarded a prize of two pounds for the best and cleanest cook-house in camp? All was not yet lost!

The General rode up to the cook-house and the cook came out, saluted, and stood to attention. The General asked the usual questions as to how long the cook had been at the job and whether he was a cook in civil life, to which latter question he received the reply that the cook, in private life, was a revolving window shutter manufacturer! Not being able to carry the conversation further in that line, the General turned to the cook-house.

“Very good”, he said. “No flies. Sink in good order. Brick floor. Very clean. What did the men have for breakfast this morning?”

“Porridge and bacon, Sir; and most of ’em buys a few eggs, and I fry ’em.”

“Very good. And what did they have for dinner?”

Now the men had had stew for dinner, but the cook wasn’t going to say so. He had not walked half a mile in the heat and sand for nothing.

“They had roast meat and baked potatoes and puddin’”, he said.

“Very good, very good. That’s it. Not too much stew. Feed men well, and they’ll do well at any job. Very satisfactory.”

The day was saved. Our cook had redeemed the honour of the Regiment; but alas, just as the General drew his bridle to move off, his eye lit on the cook’s bare, hairy chest, which was exposed by an open shirt.

“Where’s your identity disc?” said the General.

A personal search revealed, that not only the cook, but two of his assistants were minus their discs. The General moved on without a word. And thus it was that our report of the inspection contained the dreadful sentence: “A little more attention to details would be desirable”. And thus it was that our cook trod the orderly room tarpaulin next morning on a charge of “neglect, to the prejudice of good order and military discipline in that he omitted to wear his identity disc”.

“There you are”, said the cook, “me walkin’ all that way to the Light Horse for nothin’. I wish I’d told him the men had stoo for dinner. He’d a gone that wild, he wouldn’t ha’ noticed the identity disc!”

The Kia-Ora Coo-ee, November 1918


In A Hospital

There are three sorts of hospitals with an army: first, the base hospitals, where some of the greatest specialists in the world experiment, toiling ceaselessly with the infinite patience of genius to isolate and destroy some microbic enemy of the human race—an enemy so small that it can not be seen by the naked eye, but more deadly than all the machine guns of the enemy; next, the stationary hospitals, which get a bit nearer to the front than the base hospitals and frequently belie their name by having to shift themselves to a new location; and, thirdly, the casualty clearing stations, which work within sound of the guns and have, on various occasion, served as targets for German aeroplanists. In a base hospital everything is done according to the drill book; in the stationaries you keep as near as you can; but in the casualty clearing stations you do the work first and think about the drill book afterwards.

Nursing sisters do not, as a rule, figure on the staff of a casualty clearing station; but this war has seen many stranger things occur, and it so happened that, at a certain casualty clearing station in a front line camp, a nurse found herself in a hospital tent with every bed occupied and wounded men lying on stretchers in all spare corners.

In private life, when out of her nurse’s uniform, she was a small, unaggressive person, with very little to say for herself; but in the soldiers’ ward no Commander-in-Chief is more absolutely and implicitly obeyed than the army nurse. This girl had, in her own phrase, always been lucky, which is to say that she had been on transport work in the early days of Gallipoli and had helped the doctors working like driven devils twenty-four hours out of the twenty-four, doing their best to keep up with the rush of work all day and performing urgent operations all night—red-eyed from want of sleep, sickened with the constant smell of anaesthetics, untended wounds and unwashed humanity. Later she had been at an advanced stationary hospital in Palestine, where the Hun aeroplanes came over once a day, and where there was a constant coming and going of troops and guns, camels, Arabs, soldiers—in fact, a sort of daily picture show with most of the actors alive. And now she had got a chance to do some work in a casualty clearing station, where the men came in fresh from the battlefield and all hands were working feverishly to keep up with the rush. Truly, if there is ever a parade of troops in order of merit, the medical and nursing units should march very near the front.

Amongst the patients was one boy shot through the head; by some queer freak the brain injury had not been immediately fatal, and he kept trying to tear the blood-stained bandages from his head, and to get out of the cot and go back to duty. By all the rules of military novels, the nurse should have sat by his side and held his hand and soothed him; but this particular nurse had a good deal else to do—she had all the rows of men, with patient eyes turned to her every movement, watching her with much the same look that one sees in the eyes of starving horses as they watch their owner go past. So she put two men, who had fairly slight bullet wounds in the leg, to sit, one on each side of him, and prevent him doing himself any harm. Being brother “diggers” they cheerfully took it on, one merely remarking, “It’s up to a bloke to do what he can.” And the nurse went about her work among the rest of the maimed and suffering men that were waiting for her.

After a while she came and stood by the bed.

“How is he getting on?” she said.

“Not too good,” replied one of the amateur nurses, judicially. “He’s a signaller, and he will keep on trying to call his mates up; won’t keep his hands still at all.”

Here the patient broke in with a rush of words half reasonable, half delirium, with his poor shattered brain still trying to set the organs of speech and action in motion.

“Can’t raise ’em,” he said. “We went together all through it, me and Charley and Bluey. And...there, is that a flag?...Regimental signallers we were...Ack-emma, ack-emma .. . What does he keep sending ack-emma for?...Regimental signallers is no catch...half the time lying on your stomach in the sand with a Turk whanging at you, and trying to work the flag over your head...I’ll ring ’em again...This is Brigade...this is Brigade...Do you get me?...They put me on Brigade signalling, but I’d sooner be back with the old Regiment...Let me try if I can raise ’em with the flag; line’s cut somewhere...” And again he struggled to get his hand free.

The nurse looked at him in silence for a while. She had seen birth and death, had seen plenty of suffering—querulous hypochondria and silent heroism. Death, the great mystery, was around her every day; and yet she never had got quite used to it; some nerve vibrated always at sight of a man passing out into the great unknown.

Then the patient broke out into an army song with one or two questionable verses in it. “Cut it out, digger, cut it out,” implored a watcher. “Don’t sing that, there’s a nurse here.”

“Let him sing,” said the nurse, briefly. “I have heard that—and worse.”

Then an idea struck her. “Give him this fan to hold,” she said, “it might keep his hands quiet. It’s very good of you boys to look after him; and I’ll be back in a minute.”

As soon as the fan was placed in his hand, the patient began to wave it from right to left and back again in a sort of figure of eight. “I’ll call up G.H.Q.,” he said. And for a while he lay fairly quiet, the motion of his hand apparently serving to keep him contented. Then he made another struggle to get out of bed, but the watchers held him.

“I must go and raise G.H.Q. on the wire,” he said. “If I did well with Brigade, I must report to G.H.Q....I don’t like leaving the Regiment though...It’s a rise to get on G.H.Q....all among the heads there...Is that a flag!...See me on G.H.Q.; you won’t know me...” And again he relapsed into unconsciousness.

The wind sprang up suddenly, as it has a way of doing in the Desert, and set a small piece of green tent lining fluttering at the door. The patient’s eye caught it and he waved his fan in answer.

“There they are,” he said, “that’s Charley callin’ up...and they’re all right...all the boys...I don’t feel too good...Take the flag a minute...”

And a few seconds later the signaller had marched out to report to G.H.Q.

The Kia-ora Coo-ee, December 1918


J. F. Archibald: Great Australian Journalist

Twenty-odd years ago a man who had sent anonymous contributions to the Bulletin newspaper was startled and surprised by seeing in the Answers to Correspondents column a brief notice saying, “Please call on editor.” The Bulletin of these days was a sort of literary chameleon that changed its aspect according to the eyes of the beholder. In the eyes of all “right-thinking people”—a class which its editor held in sincere detestation—it was a scurrilous rag, certain to do a great amount of harm; in the eyes of the ordinary, heedless, unthinking man in the street, it was a very good comic paper; to such few iconoclasts, uplifters, and regenerators of society as then existed, it represented a new gospel.

Figure to yourself, then, oh reader, the progress of the contributor who by the way, was neither right-thinker, comic man, nor uplifter, down Pitt Street to the small, shabby brick building hidden away among ship chandleries, fish shops, and wool stores, up a narrow and never dusted flight of stairs into a narrow and equally undusted passage, with hardly room for two men to walk abreast. Off this passge there opened two or three little cubicles of rooms, each about the size of, and in many ways resembling, a racehorse’s loose box—if one can imagine a loose box furnished with a table and a chair, dust illimitable, piles of newspapers all about the floor, and its walls decorated with ink stains and newspaper illustrations. The first loose box contained a sallow young man who with feverish haste was writing paragraphs. That was Wilfred Blacket, sub-editor, now a King’s Counsel, and man of respectability. Without pausing in his manufacture of sausage-machine literature, without even looking up from his task, he indicated with a jerk of his thumb the loose box next door as the editor’s room, and there Archibald was found.

Racially, Archibald looked like a Jew. He had the hawk nose, the open eye, and the quick movement of the Oriental people; physically he was a fairly strong and well-set-up man of medium size, long in the arms, untidy in dress, wearing a moustache and pointed beard. He was not at any time a man who had the commercial traveller’s gift of making himself at home with strangers; it took him a long time to size a man up, a process in which he often made curious mistakes. At that first interview little was said except that the contributor was asked to send in copy, and was instructed in the art of cutting out the copy when it appeared, sending it in, and getting paid for it. But next day’s mail brought a long letter from Archibald, a letter which contained much that is worth reading by those who aspire to journalism.

“I want you,” he wrote, “to remember that Australia is a big place, and I want you to write stuff that will appeal not only to Sydney people, but that will be of interest to the pearler up at Thursday Island and the farmer down in Victoria. On all public questions the press are apt to sing in chorus. If you go to a concert you may hear a man sing a discord which is put there by the composer, and that discord catches the ear over the voices of the chorus. Well, don’t be afraid to sing the discord. Even if you are wrong, you will have drawn attention to what you want to say, and you may be right. In my experience the man who sings the discord is generally right nowadays.

“For the same reason, do not be afraid to cheer for the underdog in a fight. You will have all the cheering to yourself, for one thing, and the underdog may come out on top.”

A singular letter for a man to write in those days, when all right-thinking people got their ideas, their boots, their shirts, their titles, their jobs, their political, moral, and religious standards from England. It was looked upon as “blow” and bad taste for an Australian to talk of anything that Australians had done. We were patronised by imported Governors, insulted by imported globetrotting snobs, exploited by imported actors and singers, mostly worn-out and incompetent. These people rode rough-shod over us, and we meekly submitted.

Archibald was about the first Australian to “call” the English bluff. In pursuance of his policy of cheering for the underdog, he asserted that an Australian lawyer, or doctor, or inventor, or singer, or actor was every bit as good as any importation. The Governor of those days happened to be a worn-out diplomat with a hobby for fowls, so Archibald drew him—or caused his artists to draw him—as a broken-down swell leading a muscovy drake by a string and carrying a broken top hat full of eggs. Such a cartoon nowadays would pass unnoticed in the general whirligig of things, but at that time it was lèse-majesté; Australian irreverence, Australian ignorance, sacrilege; in that cartoon Archibald certainly “sang the discord”.

“A good journalist,” said Archibald once, “should be free of all trammels. He should have no family ties or connections, because they are sure to sway him and prejudice his judgment. A man without a country would be an ideal journalist, because then he could tell the truth about any place without hurting his own national pride; and he should not be tied up to any religious belief, because a man who always tells the truth must sometimes shame whatever God he believes in. In fact, the ideal man to reform the world would be a bastard atheist born at sea. Such a man would start free from ties and prejudices, anyhow.”

An iconoclast, a questioner, a critic, a fearless fighter, he was all these, but had he any constructive genius? Alas, no. Your constructive genius does not go into journalism, and Archibald had all the defects of the born journalist. He could expose a wrong, detect an injustice, but he had no Morrison’s pill to cure national disorders. He was a great diagnostician, but after detecting the disease he left the cure to others. To his type of mind the exposure of the Mount Rennie injustices was of more importance than the construction of any national land or industrial policy. He could tell people when they were on the wrong road, but he could not point out the right one.

His services to Australia, therefore, may be summed up in four words: “He made people think.” Breaking away from traditions, holding no shams sacred, he was one of the first to make the Australian believe in himself. To that extent he rendered a service to his country, and this good at any rate lives after him: the rest of his work is interred with his bones.

Even after his death he has done something to carry on the advancement of Australia, as he has left a fairly large sum of money to provide for the purchase each year of the best portrait painted in Australia of any Australian distinguished in art, literature, or research, and this in itself speaks the character of the man’s mind. Cynic and pessimist as he was, he never lost faith in the ultimate success of Australians, and when in the process of time his name is forgotten and people ask, “Who was this Archibald who left this bequest?”, the question can be answered by saying, “He was the first man who believed in the home-made Australian article.”

The Sydney Sportsman, 25 January 1922


Shakespeare On The Turf

An Unpublished Drama - A Winter’s Turf Tale

As the public have “stood” uncomplainingly the publication of a portrait of the Supreme Being, they may accept the following drama as the work of William Shakespeare.



SCENE: The saddling paddock at a racecourse.
Citizens, Battlers, Toffs, Trainers, Flappers, Satyrs, Bookmakers and Turf
Experts. Enter Shortinbras, a Trainer, and two Punters.

FIRST PUNTER: Good Shortinbras, what thinkest thou of the Fav’rite?

SHORTINBRAS (aside): This poltroon would not venture a ducat on David
to beat a dead donkey; a dull and muddy-mettled rascal.
(To Punter): Aye marry Sir, I think well of the Favourite.

PUNTER: And yet I have a billiard marker’s word
That in this race to-day they back Golumpus,
And when they bet, they tell me, they will knock
The Favourite for a string of German Sausage.

SHORTINBRAS: Aye, marry, they would tell thee, I’ve no doubt,
It is the way of owners that they tell
To billiard markers and the men on trams
Just when they mean to bet. Go back it, back it!

(Tries to shuffle off, but Punter detains him.)

PUNTER: Nay, good Shortinbras, what thinkest thou of Golumpus?
Was it not dead last week?

SHORTINBRAS: Marry, sir, I think well of Golumpus.
’Tis safer to speak well of the dead: betimes they rise again.


They pulled him barefaced in the mile,
Hey, Nonny, Nonny.
The Stipes were watching them all the while;
And the losers swear, but the winners smile,
Hey, Nonny, Nonny.

Exit Shortinbras.


SECOND PUNTER: A scurvy knave! What meant he by his prate
Of Fav’rite and outsider and the like?
Forsooth he told us nothing. Follow him close.
Give him good watch, I pray you, till we see
Just what he does his dough on. Follow fast.

Exeunt Punters


The same. Bookmakers call: “Seven to Four on the Field!”
“Three to One, Bar One!” “Ten to One, Golumpus.”

Enter Two Heads

FIRST HEAD: How goes the Battle? Did thou catch the last?

SECOND HEAD: Aye, marry did I, and the one before,
But this has got me beat. The Favourite drifts,
And not a single wager has been laid
About Golumpus. Thinkest thou that both are dead?

Re-enter Punters

PUNTER: Good morrow, Gentlemen. I have it cold
Straight from the owner, that Golumpus goes
Eyes out to win today.

FIRST HEAD: Prate not to me of owners. Hast thou seen
The good red gold Go in. The Jockey’s Punter
Has he put up the stuff, or does he wait
To get a better price. Owner say’st thou?
The owner does the paying, and the talk;
Hears the tale afterwards when it gets beat
And sucks it in as hungry babes suck milk.
Look you how ride the books in motor cars
While owners go on foot, or ride in trams,
Crushed with the vulgar herd and doomed to hear
From mouths of striplings that their horse was stiff,
When they themselves are broke from backing it.


Enter an Owner and a Jockey.

OWNER: ’Tis a good horse. A passing good horse.

JOCKEY: I rode him yesternoon: it seemed to me
That in good truth a fairly speedy cow
Might well outrun him.

OWNER: Thou froward varlet; must I say again,
That on the Woop Woop course he ran a mile
In less than forty with his irons on!

JOCKEY: Then thou should’st bring the Woop Woop
course down here.

OWNER: Thou pestilential scurvy Knave. Go to!

Strikes him.
Alarms and excursions. The race is run and Shortinbras enters,
leading in the winner.

FIRST PUNTER: And thou hast trained the winner, thou thyself,
Thou complicated liar. Didst not say
To back Golumpus or the Favourite!

SHORTINBRAS: Get work! For all I ever had of thee
My children were unfed, my wife unclothed,
And I myself condemned to menial toil.

PUNTER: The man who keeps a winner to himself
Deserves but death. (Kills him)

Enter defeated Owner and Jockey.

OWNER: Thou whoreson Knave: thou went into a trance
Soon as the barrier lifted and knew naught
Of what occurred until they neared the post.

(Kills him)

Curtain falls on ensemble of punters, bookmakers,
heads and surviving jockeys and trainers.


The Sydney Sportsman, 8 May 1923


The Man Who Gave ’Em What They Wanted

Peace hath her victories no less renowned than war; here is the story of a man of peace who became a hero overnight.

In the last war there was a bloke named Cherry, a scientist of sorts, though nobody seemed to know how he got there. He was retiring as an Italian general, and if he had seen a keg of beer without an owner he would not have known what to do with it.

It turned out that he was an agricultural professor and had been sent out to uplift the troops, but he didn’t seem to know where to take hold of them. He said that he wanted to go home, as he was not doing anything to earn his pay. Fancy wanting to go home when you were drawing a major’s pay and didn’t have anything to do! That was the kind of bloke he was.

One of the troops happened to ask him how the barren country around Jerusalem had ever carried the big population you read about, and that started him. He was only a prawn on war, but he was a whale on Jerusalem. The big camp at Moascar, like every other big camp anywhere, at any time, in the history of the world, had the usual percentage of lead-swingers and refugees from the front line; and if two men were talking together, they soon had a crowd round them like a two-up school. Before long, the Professor had to ask them to stand back and give him air.

“It was this way,” he said. “All those mountains about Jerusalem used to be covered with soil up to the tops, with trees growing all over them and holding the soil together. There is overwhelming evidence of a vast population and exuberant fertility. When the Persians invaded Palestine they are said to have massacred 90,000 Christians in Jerusalem, but I suppose we must allow for some little exaggeration by the Persian war correspondent.

“The tribes, who had got some flocks and herds together, cut down the trees to improve the grass for their stock. The rain got at the soil and washed it all away, and now anybody who wants to start a farm at Jerusalem has to carry the soil up on donkeys.”

One would hardly think that this sort of talk would capture the troops, but it did. The big stadium built by Arnott at Moascar would not hold the Professor’s audiences.

And why should troops take any great interest in such a dry subject as alterations in the Earth’s surface? They are trying to alter it themselves a lot of their time. Soldiers are given sweets for their stomachs and cinemas for their souls and these things are supposed to satisfy them; but deep down in the minds of most of them, like a streak of pay dirt under a lot of overlay, there is a craving for something more substantial whereon to exercise their mental teeth. You must let them choose provender for themselves. Don’t try to make them eat it.


Project Gutenberg Australia