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Title: With Cobb & Co. in Far Inland Australia
Author: John Arthur Barry
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 1302461.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: May 2013
Date most recently updated: May 2013

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

Title: With Cobb & Co. in Far Inland Australia
Author: John Arthur Barry

*

With Cobb & Co. in Far Inland Australia
By John Arthur Barry.

*

Published in Chamber's Journal
Saturday, March 24, 1894

Also Published in the Warwick Argus, St. Lucia, Qld.
Saturday, July 28, 1894

*

'Come by boat to Rockport, then train to Miamia; and take Cobb & Co.'s
coach as far as the first gate on Warrgeen, coming via Dingo Creek. I'd
run over to Miamia with the buggy and meet you; but we're in the middle
of shearing, and Union troubles are thick this year.' Thus ran a
portion of a friend's letter containing an invitation to visit him on
his sheep-station in the far Australian interior.

They are essentially a long-distance people, the Australians, and my
friend spoke of a trip around the coast of one colony and through three
parts of another, much as if he were asking me across the road to
dinner. However, without seeking any more information as to my route, I
started; and the farther I travelled, the more distant and elusive
seemed that gate. The sea journey of eight hundred miles proved rough
enough for anything; and the narrow gauge from Rockport to Miamia was
so narrow that the train was more than once nearly blown bodily off the
rails whilst crossing a long stretch of plain. But all this was mere
play compared with what was before me.

Tired and shaken, I hailed with delight our arrival at the little bush
township of Miamia, holding just then the coveted honour of terminus.

'Do you know,' I asked confidently of mine host that evening, 'how far
it is to the first gate on Warrgeen, going by Dingo Creek?'

'Warrgeen--Warrgeen,' said he meditatively. 'Lessee; that's Percy's
station, ain't it?'

'No,' I replied; 'it belongs to Mr Simpson. I thought it was close to
the township here.'

'Oh, ah, Simpson's, o' course!' said he. 'Well, to begin, it's a
'underd an' twenty-five to the Crik; an' then--But here's the man as'll
be able to tell you within a couple o' chain.--Bill, here's a gent as
wants to know how far it is to Warrgeen--Simpson's place 'way back on
the Raroaro.

'Good two 'underd an' fifty, boss,' said Bill, a tall, tow-haired,
cabbage-tree hatted, lanky man, with a shrewd weather-beaten face, as
he lounged into the bar and seemed at a loss what to do with his legs.

'Good gracious!' I exclaimed in dismay. 'I thought by my friend's
mentioning a gate, that the place must be somewhere close to Miamia.'

The other grinned whitely out of his tanned face as he said: 'Well, you
see, it's the big boundary gate o' the run. There ain't no missin' it,
if you tried. Coach goes right through it; an' it's there the station
buggy allus meets the mail. I useter drive that line myself oncest I
only takes you 'bout half-ways now--Dingo Crik. You gets another coach
there. If you're a-goin' with us, you'll be able to book over at the
office in the mornin'--Cobb & Co., you know.'

'Full this trip, Bill?' asked the landlord, wiping some glasses
suggestively.

'Big mail an' two insides,' replied Bill. 'Goin' to take the small
coach--roads ain't none too good atween here an' the Crik.'

I had heard many travellers' tales of inland roads, and terrible
shakings-up by coach upon them. But so far, having kept well within the
limits of steam, I had never gone through such an experience. And I,
even now, had a good mind to back out and go no farther. Between sea
and rail, I thought I had come far enough, and felt aggrieved that
Simpson hadn't been a little more circumstantial in his directions. Nor
did I altogether fancy finding myself in the heart of a district where,
apparently, the 'shearers' war' was just then in full swing. However,
after a bath, supper, and a good night's sleep, I determined to find
that boundary gate if it lay anywhere betwixt Miamia and the Indian
Ocean. As it happened, I never did see it, but that was through no
fault of mine.

Early next morning, wandering out into the inn-yard, I came across
half-a-dozen of a curiously hybrid kind of vehicles, quite unlike
anything I had ever seen before. They were mostly a cross between an
omnibus, a buggy, and an American wagonette. The particular one I
noticed was, I imagined, laid up for repairs. The long pole had been
broken recently, but was spliced and 'fished' with a split pine sapling
bound round with green hide. A spoke was also missing, and a felloe
rattled loosely to the touch. From top to bottom the thing was thickly
caked and splashed with mud. As I speculated idly in what fashion the
mishap had occurred, a couple of men laid hold on the nondescript and
pulled it away. 'Nearly time it went to the blacksmith's!' I remarked
to them. But they only stared, and I re-entered the hotel for
breakfast. Later, going across to the little office to book my seat, I
saw, to my amazement, the damaged vehicle I had been inspecting dash
past at the heels of four horses going almost at a gallop.

'Better take box seat, sir,' said the agent. 'She's pretty full inside.
Heavy mail and lots of parcels. She's just gone up to the post-office
for the bags.'

'What!' I exclaimed; 'do you mean to say that we have to travel in that
thing? Why, it's not safe! One of the wheels is coming to pieces, and
the pole's smashed!'

'Safe as a church, sir,' replied the agent impressively; 'that little
thing'll stand twice as much as a big one. She's a regular tearer over
a rough road. Of course, we'd have had her fixed up, only the
blacksmith's been on the spree this last fortnight.'

'Is there a life-assurance office anywhere handy?' I ask desperately,
as I watch the 'machine' come rattling back rolling, shaking, and
quivering over ruts, lumps, and stumps in the primeval street.

'I'm afraid there ain't,' says the agent, laughing.--'Will you take the
box? It's an extra five bob.

Repressing a strong desire to take nothing at all, I measure the
altitude with my eye and reply: 'No; I'm blowed if I do! It's too far
to fall. One will be safer inside amongst all that lumber. Five
shillings is an extortion for the privilege of having one's neck broken
at the first capsize.'

'All aboard!' yells Bill at this moment; and I scramble in to where the
other passengers have already taken their seats, or rather perches,
amongst the big leather mail-bags and packages of every description
which overflow on to the tailboard, only prevented from falling out
altogether by stout rope lashings. One of my companions is a pale-faced
young man with a semi-clerical look; the other is an unmistakable
'commercial,' who exclaims sarcastically, as he squeezes back amongst
the cargo and tries to make a little space for me: 'Ain't there any
more coming, driver? Lots more room! Believe now I 'm sitting on a coil
of barbed wire, by the feel of it. If I lose any skin this trip, I'll
sue the company!'

Crack goes the whip as the grooms run from the leaders' heads, the
coach gives a lurch to each side and a pitch forward, the long traces
tighten sharply with a clatter of stout leather against flanks brown
and bay, and we are off.

In two minutes the straggling hamlet is lost to sight in the box
forest, and we are careering between dense walls of brigalow and pine
scrub. Far ahead as we can see stretches a two-chain cleared road,
running straight as a dart into the western sky. We sit doubled up, and
facing 'aft! along the way we came. The track has been lately
'cleared,' and stumps of all sizes grow thickly. Over one of these, at
intervals, a wheel climbs, and comes down again with a thump into a rut
that takes it to the hub, and shakes and grinds us and our lading into
a common mixture. Now we are in red clay; then into a stretch of heavy
sand; then across a patch of black soil, which hangs round the wheels
until they are solid revolving blocks of sticky mud; then we dash into
a wet swamp, which cleans them, and where tall bulrushes with soft
brown heads nod to us gravely in at the open sides. And all the while
the driver whistles to his team and stares straight ahead.

Suddenly, as the horses, fresh and hot-headed yet, come down from their
swinging canter to a smart trot, the pale-faced young man turns paler
and shouts: 'Stop! stop the coach! The wheel is broken!' He is staring
at the vacant space where the spoke should be, and at the loose felloe
wobbling as if about to come off and leave a naked section of tire.
'All right,' replies the driver without turning his head. 'It'll last
our time.--Git up!' and away we spin again, the horses black with sweat,
and tossing dabs of foam into the air.

All at once we dart off at a tangent through the scrub, which flogs in
on each side across our faces and bodies, now willowy young pines, now
sharp twigged brigalow, covering us with leaves and scratches. We roar
at the driver, the commercial putting the matter strongly. But he takes
no notice. This, it appears, is a short-cut, saves two miles, and rubs
all the old mud and a good deal of the fresh off the coach.

'Don't bother 'bout keeping your eye on that wheel, Mister,' says the
commercial to the pale young man; 'Bill, there, knows what the thing'll
stand. So does the agent, back yonder. They're too 'cute, these people,
to run risks foolish. These coaches ain't just slapped together
anyhow--built by the mile cut off to order. They're hickory, whalebone, steel,
an' the best of English leather; an' they 'll shake the bones out of
your skin, leavin' only the skeleton, before they 'll smash.--Going
right through, Mister?'

'I am proceeding,' says the pale young man, 'to the Aboriginal Mission
Station at Balooga, to act as assistant to the Rev. Mr Scroggs.'

'Phew!' exclaims the commercial. 'Over four hundred mile! My word,
Mister, you've got a picnic in front of you!'

The pale young man smiles faintly, but makes no reply.

Presently the walls of high scrub seem to suddenly fall away,
disclosing a grassy open space, a large slab hut, a water-hole, a
stockyard full of horses, some black-fellows and their gins, and a
couple of white grooms.

'The Reedy Lagoon! Twenty minutes for a snack!' sings out the driver as
he pulls up his steaming team and jumps down; whilst the men take the
horses out and prepare to harness a fresh lot, and we passengers
stretch our cramped limbs and tenderly feel bumps and abrasions. This
is the first stage, twenty miles from Miamia. The fare is plain, and
the charge half-a-crown. Damper, tea, cold beef and pickles, and a good
pudding. Everything is clean and neat, and a pleasant-faced, smiling
little woman, wife to the stage-keeper, waits at table. I notice three
Winchester rifles in a rack, and some revolvers hanging on the walls.

'How's the missis an' the kids, Billy?' asks the hostess.

'Nice an' lively, thank 'ee,' replies the driver.--'All O. K. here?'

'Pretty fair,' says she, 'only for them rippin', rantin' Unioners. When
the men's all away after the horses, an' me alone with the kids, I
feels a bit lonesome. Most on 'em's right enough. But there's some
flash customers among 'em as I'd as soon put a bullet into as a dingo;'
and she instinctively glances at the arms with a look on her face that
makes one believe her thoroughly.

As we finish our meal, a couple of troopers and a black tracker ride
up. The Unionist shearers have, it appears, only the preceding night
fired a wool-shed and shot a number of valuable horses on a station in
the neighbourhood. About five miles from here, the shearers--so the
police say--have formed a camp a thousand strong, from which they sally
out to shoot, burn, and destroy.

'There's the Fire Brigade at work on Aranca Run now!--see!' says one,
pointing to where, far away on our right, rises into the sky a thick
volume of smoke, tawny coloured in the sunlight.

As they ride off at full gallop for the scene of the mischief, 'All
aboard, gents!' falls on our ears, and we clamber once more into the
torture cell on wheels.

'Look out for the young uns, Bill!' shouts some one.

'Right O!' says Bill, pulling on his gloves and signalling to let go.

As they get their heads, the 'young uns,' on their first trip, rear
wildly, and snort and kick, and do their best to tie themselves into
knots with the traces, and drag the swaying coach hither and thither
about the place; whilst all the while the whip rains down upon them,
until at last they fairly bolt, and with such a furious plunge as sends
the three of us ramming against each other as if shot from a catapult.

The walls of scrub have disappeared, and the country is improving; but
prickly-pear grows luxuriantly--acres broad.

Although no houses are to be seen, there is evidently settlement
somewhere around; for at intervals the coach is checked with its wheels
just grazing the bark of some conspicuous tree, to which is nailed a
box at the level of the driver's seat. Here Bill deposits the incoming,
and removes the outgoing mail. Everything is done up in small parcels
ready to hand, so that there is no delay. At times, too, a mailing
horseman appears ahead, and to him is thrown a bag. This is a station
mail. Perhaps it is a twenty-mile ride to the homestead. Presently, we
whirl across a broad black belt which crosses the road, and from which
rise ashes and cinders under the wheels.

'Bad work! bad work!' exclaims the commercial, shaking his head.
'Hundreds of pounds' worth of fencing burnt, and thousands of pounds'
worth of grass! The working-men must be going mad!'

Perhaps they are. But, by-and-by, emerging from a belt of thick timber,
and crossing another band of ashes, charred wood, and burnt wire, we
meet the universal corrective to such lunacy. Along the track--strange
sight, indeed, on these far inland pastures!--comes at full trot, with
waving plumes and accoutrements sparkling and jingling, a large body of
cavalry, who, at sight of that other servant of Her Majesty Queen
Victoria, wheel off by sections on each side to let us pass, their
chargers' hoofs raising clouds of black grass-dust thickly into the
air. Evidently the royal mail, begrimed and scarred though it be, is of
some importance yet; and as Bill keeps up the sense of responsibility
by sending his horses at a gallop through the armed ranks, we
passengers feel a little proud and self-conscious. These troops have
travelled a thousand miles from the far south, and are on their way to
beat up the Union camp.

At the next stage, a wild spot in the heart of a scrub, things look
forlorn. The presiding genius is a snuffy, enormously stout old woman;
there is no table-cloth, and the fare is sodden damper and scraggy
mutton. But the charge is just the same as before. The starting scene
is also similar, only the horses are even less broken-in than at the
last stage.

Presently, a mob of kangaroos, headed by a grand 'old man,' come
hopping leisurely out of a patch of wild cherries and wattle, right
across the noses of our team. Pausing for a moment, they turn their
deer-like heads and stare, and in that moment we are amongst them. The
startled horses go off with a rush; there is an awful concussion, and
before I can grab my strap, I find myself lying on the broad of my back
in a big clump of prickly-pears. Rising, I see the coach, a black
speck, far ahead, and close beside me my fellow-travellers. Luckily,
beyond a skinful of prickles, no one is hurt. Intently watching the
kangaroos, we had for the moment neglected the so essential hold-on,
and suffered accordingly.

As we inspect the cause of our mishap--a jagged stump, broad and high,
to which even Bill would have, we think, given the pass, but for the
animals hiding it from sight--it is agreed that if the coach has not
received further damage, it is indeed wonderful. Few, if any, wheeled
vehicles are constructed to jump a good two feet six of forked
hardwood, with a drop into a deep channel worn by rain on the further
side.

Walking along, we pick up a mail-bag, then another.

'It's all right,' says the commercial. 'He mightn't come back for
passengers; but he's bound to for the mails.' Sure enough, we presently
see that the coach has turned, and is approaching us at a full gallop.

'Never missed you, gents,' remarks the driver sarcastically, 'till,
wantin' a match, I happens to turn round. P'raps nex' time as you wants
to git out an' have a quiet yarn, you'll let me know. If people won't
hold on, I'd like to know how it's possible as a feller can drive to
time.--All aboard, please!--Stump? Shoo! That's nothin'. I've druv over
miles o' bigger'n that un an' never lost no passengers. Git up!
Bolivar! Henchman! you bay colt!--s-s-s-sh!'

Remonstrance is evidently out of the question; and refastening the
bags, and clutching each man his strap, we roll off, the coach
seemingly no worse than it was before, and its driver fully prepared to
put it at a house if necessary.

More stages are halted at and passed, the last ones in the darkness.
Then, as a moon is rising and shining whitely on the galvanised iron
roofs, we rattle into Dingo Creek township. Here we change drivers,
and, by rights, coaches also. But it seems that the mail from the Lower
Tarlee is not yet in. If it does not arrive before four A.M., our
starting hour, we shall have to go on in the same one. But we are stiff
and sore, and smarting all over, and strongly object.

'Well, gentlemen,' at last says the agent blandly as we stand and argue
the point, 'I can't help it. She leaves here at four sharp. I have an
idea that the other coach is stuck up at the Raroaro--a flood most
likely--and that the other driver'll be here through the night with the
mails on horseback.'

'But what shall we do if this river you speak of is actually in a state
of flood?' asked the pale young man.

'Oh, it'll be lowering by the time you get there,' replies the agent;
'and Jack Pritchard'll put you through all right--most careful driver on
the road, Jack, you know.'

We groan at this, and retire to the hotel over the way for refreshments
and a brief sleep.

It is pitch dark when there comes a knocking at the door with
'Breakfast for the coach passengers!'

The new driver, who came in last night after swimming the river with
the mails packed on horseback, is at the table. He is a square-set,
red-whiskered, determined-looking customer, who, when asked about the
river, replies laconically: 'Fallin'. 'Bout a fair swim for the little
coach when we gits there.'

At this, the pale young man promptly announces his intention of waiting
for the next mail, and at once goes back to bed again. I am about to
follow his example, when the driver hands me a note, quite wet, but
legible. It is from my friend Simpson, saying that he will meet me with
his buggy at the Raroaro crossing-place. This news revives my flagging
courage, and, with the commercial and a heavier load than ever of
miscellaneous parcels, we make another start.

The moon is down, and it is very dark. The country seems open, and the
road rough as ever. We are sitting facing due east. Presently, a faint
ghostly light is visible on the horizon. As I gaze, it broadens and
deepens to a well-defined gray, which flushes presently into a sea of
palest yellow, streaked here and there with long streamers and patches
of vivid crimson. Then up shoot great bars of glowing flame into the
still darkling sky, and in a few minutes the sun himself rises
majestically, throwing the glory of his light across a beautiful,
thickly-grassed land, interspersed with clumps and belts of trees, from
around whose trunks long strings of sheep are moving off to begin the
day's feeding. Here and there we come across the work of the Union
firestick--blackness and desolation.

As, late in the afternoon, we neared the Raroaro, we saw the abandoned
coach on the other bank, but no buggy.

At the last stage, a team of quiet powerful horses had been put in, and
without a moment's pause the driver sent them at the river. It was only
partly a swim, though the yellow water swirled and eddied over the
floor of the coach, and the horses had as much as they could do to pull
it up the steep and slippery bank.

There was smoke, thick and black, rising ahead on our track; and in
half an hour from leaving the river we dashed into a crowd of men
congregated around a buggy, in which sat Simpson dispensing
refreshments.

Close by, the familiar broad black belt, hot and smoking now, stretched
across the road into a sea of black and green patches.

'The beggars stole a march on me after all!' exclaimed my friend as he
shook hands. 'But we've got the fire out pretty well. You've come too
late, though, to see the Warrgeen boundary gate, old man. There's all
that's left of it now.--Come along; jump in, and let's get home. Had a
pretty rough trip, I see.'

'How do you know?' I ask, as, bidding farewell to my commercial, I am
driven off at right angles to the coach-track.

'Easily enough,' replies my friend, laughing. 'The back of your coat's
all worn to rags by the friction. But that's nothing. Cobb & Co. 'll
always pull a fellow through somehow.'


THE END


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