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

Title: Life in the Australian Backblocks
Author: Edward S. Sorenson
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 1305751h.html
Language: English
Date first posted:  October 2013
Most recent update: October 2013

This eBook was produced by: Walter Moore

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

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

This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions
whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms
of the Project Gutenberg Australia Licence which may be viewed online at

To contact Project Gutenberg Australia go to


Title: Life In The Australian Backblocks
Author: Edward S. Sorenson

* * *

Life In The Australian Backblocks
Edward S. Sorenson


The Bushman
First Homes
Bella Bush
Bushman Junior
Bullock Punchers
A Dissertation On Travellers
Bush Cooks
Tent Life
Mail Coaching
The Stockman
The Cattle Muster
The Shepherd
The Boundary Rider
The Drover
Pioneer Life In Scrubland
The Selector
Shearer And Rouseabout
The Prospector
The Fossicker
Quart-Pot And Billy Can
Carrying Water
Christmas In The Bush


The Camp Fire
The Mailman Brings A Pill Pamphlet
The Old Bark Hut
Vision In Satin Shoes
Kingston . . . Got At The Clothes-Line The Night Previous And Gorged
Himself With A Baby's Flannelette Night-Dress
Going To School
The Firm
Clever Knack Of Turning Pancakes
"Come Outside!"
By The Darling River
The Pilot
Waiting For The Mail
The Stockman
Flourbags, Mounted On ''The Quietest Thing They've Got," Brings Up The
A Pretty Tight Fix
He Wrote Poems In His Pocket-Book, And Recited Them To His Dog
The Sheep-Dog Requires A Nip Pretty Often
He Orated With Great Empressement
Being Menaced With A Waddy, And Further Instructed In Abusive Language,
The Animal Started For Home
They Put The Cook Up A Tree
He Dismounted To Light His Pipe
Felling Timber
He Laughed For A Week Over The New Chum's Misfortune
Hand-Clasps And Squeezes
An Awkward Place
Something Like An Earthquake Happening
The Travelling Storekeeper
Father Points Out Where The Henhouse And The Pigsty Are Going To Be
The Bush Cow
Nothing Riles The Cook More Than The Tactics Of These Gentry
One Type Of Cook
A Demand For Tar
"Wool Away"
The Pursuit Of The Glittering Speck
"That's The Key To All Th' Pleasures Of Earth"
"I'll Back My Billy To Boil First"
New Year's Eve]

* * *


Whatever part of the bush you find him, you are sure of a welcome at
his camp or hut; and the farther out you go the heartier is your
reception. His doors are always open. The exception, who, as a
disappointed caller related, "never asked him if he had a mouth on
him," very quickly earns a reputation for meanness in the
neighbourhood. It is not in the nature of the average bushman to be
mean; and he is as ready with a helping hand to the stranger as to his
nearest friend. His self-sacrifice in another's interest is one of his
finest traits.

Wherever you meet him, too, he greets you cheerily, and will most
likely haul up for a yarn, though you have never seen him in your life
before. I remember my first trip to Sydney. I arrived late at night,
and after breakfast next morning I set out for a stroll round. Being
bush-bred, I said, "Good-morning" to every person I met. At first I met
them singly, then I met them in a mob. Some eased up and peered at me;
one stopped, after I had passed, and stared after me; but none of them
spoke—except the crowd. It grinned expansively, and desired to know in
a collective, loud voice when I had come down. Then I shrank up, I felt
lost and lonely, and wished myself back in the bush. There no
introductions are required, strangers mingle and converse like friends;
there is no reserve or ceremony, but a pleasant, respectable
familiarity. If one said "Good-morning" to you, and you didn't answer,
he would not ask when you had come up, but he'd want to know in
forcible language if you hadn't got a tongue in your head.

There is no friendship or mateship so complete and happy as exists
among those whom accident has thrown together in numerous isolated
camps of the backblocks. They live principally on damper and beef and
black tea, and are strong, healthy, and happy. Tough, sinewy fellows,
tempered against frost, sun, wind, and rain, patient, dogged fighters
in the vanguard of civilisation, fighting ever against fires, floods,
and droughts, against the torments and terrors of the wilderness,
overcoming all obstacles, laughing at distance. They dress in dungarees
or tweeds, in flannel or Crimean shirts, with a blue jumper in cold
weather and a yellow oilskin in rain; heavy blucher boots, shod with
hobnails, and broad felt hats. They seldom wear vests, and as often as
not they go into town in their shirt-sleeves, the footman carrying his
coat on his arm, the horseman bearing his strapped across the pommel of
the saddle. They know each other's little failings and peculiarities;
they know each other's careers, where he has been, and what his
intentions are; their loves, disappointments, hopes, and fears are all
laid bare. At the same time, their pedigrees may be so many secrets,
not that there is anything in them to be ashamed of, but because the
man himself, the knowledge of his individual worthiness or
worthlessness, is all-sufficient for his companions, and no manner of
family trimmings can alter their opinion of him. He is taken on his
merits. Truth, frankness, and honesty in all things are expected of
him; deceit, affectation, and pretence are abhorred.

They trust one another implicitly (note that bush people don't lock up
their houses when they go out, and property left unguarded day and
night in tents is not molested), and in field and camp their conduct in
regard to one another is governed by the best impulses and the highest
principles of "white" men. Everything they have is shared; one lends
his trousers and shirt as readily as money or horses; and when it comes
to the last "smoke" the pipe is passed round, for the least suggestion
of selfishness or stiffness would be considered an unpardonable breach
of faith. When one has been to town the others overhaul his purchases,
and when he has counted the balance of his coin—if there is any—they
reckon up what the trip has cost him. He tells them how many drinks he
had, how he came to have them, who were his pot-companions, what he
said to this one, and what that one said to him; how many times he fell
off coming home, how he got on again, and all the rest of it.

Bushmen are accused of being heavy drinkers—called drunkards, in fact—
yet what they drink in a year is but a fractional portion of the
quantity consumed by many of the nabobs of society. Bill and Jim have
lapses at long intervals; they go on a roaring bender for a week, or
two weeks, after which they do not touch a drop of liquor for months.
Some get drunk only once a year. Others can't pass a pub without a
drink or go into town without getting drunk.

Every year resolutions are made in out-camps and huts to keep on the
"strict Q.T." for twelve months, then go down and see the Melbourne
Cup, the Mecca of the bushman. The "resolutions" are often well carried
out till the long ride down begins, and the wayside pubs start a-
callin'. They are hard places to negotiate. Localised grog, and
frequently unscrupulous designs on the traveller's cheque, make them
so. A man on the Paroo told me of two abortive trips. The first time he
got as far as Brown's hostelry, ten miles from his starting-point, and
went back a week later with a sore head. The next time he was fitted
out with a pair of good horses, and was resolved to camp out every
night, and give all the pubs a wide berth. But his hack lost a shoe
when nearing the first town, and as it was tender-footed he had to make
a call at the blacksmith's. While the latter was putting the shoe on an
old chum strolled in and insisted on his going to the pub to have just
one—which wouldn't hurt him. He had it, and forgot all about the Cup.
Two weeks afterwards he carried his swag back to the station. Another
man, before starting the first time, sent his money down to the bank.
He pulled up at the first pub to have "just one nip," and there being
convivial company present, he had several; thereafter the publican
supplied him with blank cheques till the limit of his account was
reached. On the next occasion he left his money at the station, with
instructions to the boss to send it along when he wrote for it. He
wrote for it three days after, and the only races he saw were run by
blue snakes and green goannas through the mulga. He made a third
attempt, again leaving his money with the boss, with strict injunctions
not to send it to him, no matter how he asked, until he received a
letter direct from Melbourne. But the publican had a friend named Jones
in Melbourne. The letter was sent enclosed to Jones, who posted it back
to the station manager. Then when Jones received the letter containing
the cheque he returned it to the publican, and—there you are.

Therein lies his weakness. Another fault is that his expressive and
picturesque vocabulary is redolent of the most horrifying expletives.
Commonplace remarks are intermixed with profanity; even a favour is
acknowledged with an oath. Yet in the presence of women he can speak
with the tongue of a saint, and you would not think that the vile camp
language ever polluted his lips. It is a habit that grows on him in his
silent haunts, in which one follows the other like sheep; he becomes so
inured to it that ordinary language seems tame to him, and he feels
that he is losing in an argument if the other fellow is using
ornamental qualifications and he is not.

Like all high-spirited animals, the bushman frets under restraint, and
of authority he has a hatred that is liable at any moment to blaze into
fierce rebellion. If he is ordered or commanded instead of asked
respectfully to do things by his employer, the position becomes
intolerable. Though he may not have a second shirt to his back at the
time, he is likely to inform the boss to go and do it himself, or
sarcastically inquire, "Are you talking to me or to the dog?" Neither
can he tolerate the term "master." As I heard one say to a squatter:
"You are my employer, not my master. If you think otherwise, take your
coat off and prove it." For this reason he makes an unsatisfactory
sailor. He won't go sailoring. In war he combines all the essentials of
a fine soldier, a superb fighter, but he must be led by a fighter—and a
shrewd, solid-thinking man, not by a gilded Johnny. Used to thinking
and acting for himself in all manner of emergencies, and to doing
things according to his own ideas and inclinations, he is not inclined
to obey unquestioningly the command of one in authority, but will judge
for himself and argue the point if the step appears unnecessary or

As before remarked, he is constant and persevering, but he is not a
hustler. He tells you that the world was not made in a day, or "there
are plenty more days," and will set to work to dig away a mountain with
the utmost serenity. But he will do a big day's work, and can hustle to
some account when it is necessary. He is "white when he's wanted."
Being endowed with a stout heart and a philosophical mind, misfortune
has to strike hard and often to crush him. I have seen the farmer on
the eve of harvesting a splendid crop of grain, when corn was £1 a bag,
lose every grain of it in a sudden flood; and as soon as the ground was
dry enough he would begin all over again as hopefully as ever, clearing
it and ploughing it, furrow by furrow—slow, hard work, with always the
prospect of another flood before him. And I have known the crops of the
wheat-grower to fail year after year through dry seasons; then, when he
had got a crop going twenty-five bags to the acre ready to strip, or
all threshed and bagged, a bush fire has come along and swept it all
away—perhaps his barn, house, fences, and everything else with it. "By
—, that's hard luck!" he says, gazing at the ruin. Then he builds it
all up again, and puts in another crop. Look at him in the jungles of
the Tweed and the Dorrigo, where the scrub is so dense that no sunlight
ever penetrates. He has to clear that and sow grass to pasture his
dairy cattle. And he faced this in the old days, when hordes of wild
blacks were around him and blood tragedies were frequent.

He works and lives where there are no such conveniences as trains and
steamers; his train is the slow-going bullock-dray—toiling over rough
and heavy roads cleared by himself, crossing gullies, on bridges of his
own building; his river craft the flat-bottomed punt, propelled by his
own strong arms. He walks, rides, or drives wherever he wants to go,
and he travels astonishing distances. My father, in the early days of
the Richmond, walked from the head of that river to Grafton—seventy
miles—to see the races. He wasn't a sportsman, either.

The mailman rides by once a week, or once a fortnight. The family watch
for his coming as they would for some one near and dear to them.
Sometimes he brings a pill pamphlet, and the excitement in the bark hut
or the tin house is tremendous. They study the almanack, regulating the
antediluvian clock when the moon rises or the sun sets; they read
dreams and tell each other's fortunes, and the youngsters explain why
father's back aches and his legs feel tired after working sixteen hours
in the paddock. Father, enjoying his smoke-o in contemplative silence,
smiles, and pretends to believe in it; or he gets annoyed with the
diagnosis, and says "Shuh!" with much contempt.

The smoke-o is an honoured and long-established custom. Nothing is more
suggestive of ease and comfort than the evening smoke-o, when the day's
work is done, and supper is over, and dad sits on his favourite block
in front of the humpy in summer and before a blazing log fire in
winter, meditatively puffing at his pipe. That is the time he becomes
reminiscent, and entertains all and sundry with his quaintly-
embellished experiences of the old days. In the shearing-shed smoke-o
is indulged once between breakfast and dinner and twice between dinner
and knock-off time. At weekly work smoke-o occurs pretty well every
hour, but at piecework it doesn't happen along nearly so often.

On an average the bushman is very wide-awake. Nothing in his native
surroundings comes amiss to him; he can cook his dinner, wash his
clothes, patch his pants, darn his socks, plait a whip, mend his own
harness and boots, build his own house; he is musterer, drover,
shearer, fencer, miner, bullock-driver, trapper, horse-breaker, hunter,
what-not. He is good-tempered, good-natured, plain-spoken, witty, and
humorous. He smokes heavily of strong tobacco, has a vigorous appetite,
and laughs heartily—like the kookaburra. He is not religious, though I
have heard him say grace before meat even in a shearing-shed. This is
the grace:—

"One word's as good as ten,
Wire in. Amen."

He is a naturalist and botanist of the aboriginal class, well learned
in the habits and characteristics of his native fauna and flora. He has
acquired many of the traits of the aborigine, notably in bushcraft, and
likewise he has developed a keenness of vision in tracking, beehunting,
'possum-shooting, and searching for distant objects. He requires no
compass on a cloudy day, knowing the north and south side of plants; he
points out the straight-grained and cross-grained trees by the bark;
and the locale of water is indicated to him by the convergence of bird
and animal tracks.

Like the aborigine, too, he is quick to notice the idiosyncrasies,
eccentricities, and peculiarities of people, and he names them
accordingly. Thus in conversations we hear of "Johnny All-sorts,"
"Jacky-Without-a-Shirt," "Long Bob," "Billy the Rooster," "Mick the
Rager," "Day-light Mac," "Jimmy Short-breeches," "Boko," "The
Splinter," "Shovellin' Archie," "Crayfish Dan," "Yorky," "Scotty,"
"Stumpy," "The Long 'Un," and a family comprising Big Angus, Little
Angus, Red Angus, Black Angus, Pole Angus, Baldy Angus, Young Angus,
Old Angus, Angus the First, and Angus-Come-Lately.

His grit and endurance under trying conditions are proverbial. We often
hear of men and boys who, after being thrown, crawl after their horses
with a broken leg, drag themselves into the saddle, and ride many miles
home. Men, too, bind up their own broken limbs between bits of rough
wood, and, using a forked stick for crutch, cover long journeys without
food or water. I remember a teamster who fell under his wagon, and the
wheels, passing over him, crushed a leg, arm, shoulder, and several
ribs. He instructed his mate to lash the injured leg to the sound one,
and to tie the arm to his side. Then he said, "Put me in the cart, and
I'll ride as right as pie." There was no hope for him from the start,
but he was cheerful and game to the end. In towns people get accustomed
to depend on the ambulance and the hospital, and to look to the doctor
being in attendance in five minutes. In the bush a man learns to depend
on his own resources, and being seldom within reach of a doctor, he
never looks for one except when his bones are broken, or when his home
remedies have failed in other cases. Mere flesh wounds to him are
nothing to trouble about; his only concern is to stop the bleeding. He
never knows when he goes out alone into the bush what he may be called
upon to endure before he gets back. The boundary-rider jogging along
his fences, the shepherd, the stockman, the prospector, and the scrub-
cutter, when unaccompanied by a mate, have always before them the risk
of a lingering death.

But he loves his wild surroundings with the love of the true child of
Nature; for the bush is bright, fragrant, invigorating, interesting;
the leaves whisper symphonies to him, and the birds are brilliant and
cheery. There all is health and vigour, music and gladness, beauty and
laughter—a land of sunshine and happiness. To the old hand the bush is
an open book; it is his Bible. Bird and animal life, botanical and
physical characteristics are all so many chapters in it, read and
studied, re-read and understood. Like Shakespeare's solitary, the
bushman sees—

"Sermons in stones, books in running brooks,
And good in everything."

Often have I heard him say, in a burst of that poetic feeling that is
peculiar to him, "Oh, if I could write a book!" His mind is full of
books (an amazing jumble that he could never straighten into any
semblance of sequence or order), stored up through years of wandering,
studied out in lonely corners; books he would like to see written as
they appear to him, true to life and environment; vivid pictures he can
con over in the cloudy fragrance of tobacco smoke, while his life is in
the making, and when his bustling days are done.

There is no keener critic when it comes to familiar details than the
bushman; errors or palpable ignorance in matters of detail earn his
contempt. His bullocky hero must talk learnedly of key-strings,
coggles, pipe-bows; of near-side leaders and off-side polers, of pin-
bullocks, of wagon-beds, naves, and felloes, and so on through the
whole catalogue of the adjuncts of his calling, with a practised
tongue. The cattleman spurns the hero who misnames or misplaces any
part of his gear; or who conducts himself in his dealings with horses
and cattle otherwise than as an experienced man should; and so with the
miner, shearer, cocky, and the knockabout. Join a gathering of drovers,
old shepherds, or battlers at a camp fire, and they will hold your
attention better than any book. The subject may be personal
experiences, and as the saga passes round the circle it becomes more
exciting and sensational, and, when the inventive genius gets to work,
with less regard to truth. But no strong point is missed, the
vernacular is picturesque, and the yarn is drawn to an effective
climax. A bushman's joke is seldom evident until the last word is
spoken. It appears to be a serious narrative until the end comes, then
it evokes a spontaneous burst of laughter. With many of these men yarn
telling is an art, studied and practised from boyhood. Singers are not
plentiful. Only occasionally one is found who can stand up and render a
complete song.

His characteristic call is the world-famed "coo-ee," a word that comes
from the aborigines, who use it, with slight variations, in nearly all
parts of Australia. In a Report on the discovery and exploration of the
Hawkesbury in 1789 by Captain Hunter this passage occurs: "In the woods
we frequently saw fires, and sometimes heard the natives. . . . We
called to them in their own manner by repeating the word 'cowee,' which
signifies 'come here.'" Some oldtimers assert that, as used by the
blacks, it was imitative of the call-howl of the dingo; while others
say it was an imitation of the farsounding note of the wonga pigeon.
There is certainly no call known in the bush, apart from the call of
the wonga and the dingo's howl, that can equal the penetrative power of
the coo-ee. Phonetically speaking, "coo-ee" is the call of the
bushwoman; the male notes are more like "ca-aw-whey"—the first syllable
lingering and comparatively low, the second loud, sharp, and abrupt—a
deep liquid sound formed in the throat and forcibly ejected—which is
the secret of its far-reaching quality.

He likes you to call him Bill, not Mr. Smith; but if you addressed his
wife as Mary instead of Mrs. Smith, he would want to know what the
everlasting fires you meant by it, and very likely your dignity and
spruce appearance would be considerably wrecked in a strenuous argument
with him. Bill is a hard-hitter. Cast your eyes over his broad, hairy
chest, his huge, muscular arms, note his activity, his fine build, his
quiet, keen eye, and his matchless physique, and you can appreciate his
ability without a physical demonstration. He hates pride in any one,
and has a whole-souled contempt for the person who considers him not
good enough to drink with. A man of surging robustness, rugged as his
native hills, rough of speech and manner, despising the silly
conventionalities of modern society, he would be painfully conspicuous
in a drawing-room. But he is one of Nature's gentlemen.


Slabs, bark, greenhide, and dog-leg fences were the leading features of
the old bush home, and still are in many places; but in settled
districts shingles and galvanised iron have taken the place of bark,
and two-rail and wire fences succeed the dog-leg. Neat cottages gleam
everywhere in the deep forests, and carts and buggies rattle in the
wake of the primordial slide. Yet I doubt if the man in the modern
cottage is happier than his progenitor in the little bark hut, whose
saddle reposed on a peg in one corner, his bagbunk rigged up in
another; who stepped out on a cowhide mat, stood his dampers on a
packing-case, and slung his billy on a wire hooked to a blackened

Though a resourceful person in the main, the bushman's home does not
always show to advantage. There is so much for him to do when he goes
on his land, and housing being an urgent desideratum, he sticks up a
temporary structure with the handiest material about him, the principal
object aimed at being to make it keep out rain. A married man, with
little or no capital, begins with a two-roomed hut—intended later for a
kitchen—but any sort of jerry-built humpy suits the bachelor. When he
can cook and eat and sleep comfortably in a one-roomed hut, he sees no
reason why he should erect any more, while there is other and more
pressing work to which to devote his time and energy. By limiting his
domicile to one apartment, he makes a considerable saving in cleaning
and general housekeeping. Behind many places there is a galley, or
lean-to, where much of the cooking and baking is done.

The crudest habitations are found among the giant timber of Gippsland.
The upper part of a big hollow tree is sawn off, and a roof put on.
Sometimes the top is left intact, and there may be two or three floors
built inside the trunk, with little windows cut out here and there.
This tree-house makes a capital first residence, and may afterwards be
turned into a kitchen, stable, store, or poultry-house. It is more
roomy than a stranger might suppose. Commissary Hall, who lived at
O'Brien's Bridge, Hobart, recorded of a tree on his property: "It is a
trifle over 300 feet, and there are some 50 feet of the top blown off.
I myself have seen fourteen men on horseback in the hollow of it. In
1854 Sir William Denison, the Governor, and seventy-eight of the
Legislative Assembly and their friends, dined in the hollow of it."

In the early days many a settler's house was built of solid logs and
pug. It was roofed with stringybark, the latter being hung with
greenhide and held down with poles ("riders" and "jockeys") pegged
together. This was, no doubt, a replica of the log cabins of Yankee

It was a formidable structure, more comfortable than elegant. Then
there was the mud house. Many squatters in Western Queensland lived for
years in this kind of dwelling, the walls being built of stiff clay,
with grass for binding. Similar structures are still in use west of
Windorah, the walls built of earth and tallow, and the floors of ashes
and tallow, which set like cement. Currawilla Station, in this
neighbourhood, is surrounded by a great wall, 8 feet high, built of the
same material. The enclosure prevents the homestead being inundated
when the flood comes down Farrar's Creek. It is a unique sight to see
this place low and dry in the midst of miles of seething waters. The
blending of tallow makes the walls waterproof, and also prevents
erosion when subjected to a strong current.

Mention of the log-and-pug recalls that it was from this kind of
building that our wattle-trees got their name. The earliest settlers
around Port Jackson found these trees handiest for building purposes.
The trunks were laid horizontally between uprights, and the interspaces
filled with stiff mud, a process known as wattling. They were thus
called wattle-houses.

Our backblock architectural styles and their periods have never been
definitely named or classified. In the central parts the gradation from
the canvas humpy and bough or cane-grass shed to the galvanised iron
dwelling, and thence to the stone or brick house, is distinct. But
along the coastal belt, with its wealth of bark and timber, there is
such a heterogeneous mixture that it would take an architectural genius
to sort them out. The bark hut is recognised as emblematic of the first
period of settlement; it is walled with slabs, and roofed in the same
way as the log-and-pug house; but nowadays many people begin on the
land with a little capital, and start with a good house built of sawn
timber and roofed with galvanised iron.

What may be taken as a typical settler's house, all considered, is that
built of rough timber—with slab walls and shingle roof. There is
usually a veranda in front and a skillion at the back. It is sometimes
floored with slabs; often there is nothing but the bare earth, which
requires frequent watering to keep it firm. Bags, kangaroo skins, and
an occasional cowhide are thrown down here and there for mats. The gaps
between the slabs are stuffed with bagging, or nailed over with strips
of tin, and the walls inside covered with newspaper. The room is thus
an open book, plentifully illustrated. It is not, however, a convenient
book to read. One has to stand on a chair, or "the stool" to start at
the top of the page, and go down on his hands and knees on the floor
when he gets to the bottom.

The fireplace is one of the main features of the domicile. It would put
to shame many of the rooms in city lodging-houses. When a couple of big
logs have been put on the fire, there is room enough around them to
accommodate a large family. It is a sitting-room in winter. The
youngsters play with fire-sticks, see visions in the flames, and kill
centipedes, scorpions, and other things that crawl out of hollow logs.
The good housewife whitewashes the walls once a week with a solution of

Just outside the door is the water-cask, standing on a slide; another
cask, or an iron tank, at the corner, under an assortment of homemade
spouting, the roof being the catchment area; and by the step is a
scraper, made of hoop-iron, supported by two stakes. Here, too, is a
tin dish on a bench, or propped up on three stakes, with a sardine-tin
nailed to the wall above it to hold soap. Here the family perform their
ablutions. The towel, which serves for all hands, hangs on the inner
side of the back-door. The bath is a hole in the creek—"down below
where we dip our water." These little items are pointed out to you when
you call, if you are staying for the night and look as if you hadn't
had a wash for a week or so.

The furniture is of the sort that can take care of itself, scorns
polish and varnish, and smiles serenely at rough usage. One notices
that the table and cupboard legs stand in tins of water, or have bands
of rabbit-skin round them to prevent ants from climbing. The family sit
at table on stools, cases, blocks, oil-drums, and the sofa. A row of
brightly-polished mustard, groats, and other tins invariably decorates
the mantelshelf. They represent the family silver. The women often go
about barefooted, and outside they wear the cast-off hats of the men.

Distributed about the place in the customary haphazard fashion are the
sapling-yards and pens, gallows (with bullocks' heads and hoofs lying
about), pig-sty, and hen-roost; and across a clear spot, where it is
most likely to catch a horseman round the neck and half strangle him,
if it doesn't drag him out of the saddle, is the inevitable clothes-
line, stretched from tree to tree. Another ever-present item is the big
stack of wood, with half an acre of chips around it, dumped down very
often in front of the house.

The fences near the homestead show some variety of style. There is the
dog-leg afore-mentioned; the chock-and-log, the log-and-stub, the
brush, cockatoo, sapling-rail, and the zig-zag. All require a mass of
timber and a lot of hard labour to construct; and they make a great
blaze when a bush fire happens along.

The fowls hang about the place, following the shade, but never venture
inside while there is any one about. They gather at the door at
mealtimes, just behind the dogs, waiting for crumbs and scraps; and
when it rains they range up on the veranda. They are an accidental
breed—cunning, wiry, and self-reliant. They hunt for themselves, mostly
living on grasshoppers and caterpillars. They lay anywhere in the grass
and brush, consequently egg-hunting is a frequent diversion among the
family. Stolen nests are hard to find in such places; the existence of
many are not known until the hens appear with broods of chickens around
them. Occasionally one rears her family in the scrub. These go wild,
and later on the owner shoots them, as he does the scrub turkey and
Wonga pigeon.

You will see the cart standing in one place, generally near the wood-
heap—if somebody hasn't borrowed it; a plough in one corner of the
cultivation patch, and a harrow in another, rusting and splintering in
the sun. The maul and wedges are a mile away, where the last tree was
split; also the cross-cut saw—jambed under the remains of the trunk.
There is no particular place for anything. It is sufficient that they
are on the premises—somewhere. It sometimes takes a week to find the
axe, or the shovel, or the crowbar. "Where did we have it last?" is a
common query when anything is wanted.

The bullock-dray is also a conspicuous detail in the picture of home.
It stands near the yard. As a means of enjoying a drive this vehicle
has pretty well gone out of fashion. One doesn't often see it going to
the races with a load of Long Gully enthusiasts now as in former times.
The carts which take the family to church on Sundays and wherever else
it wants to go, with an over-tame horse in the shafts, are not much
better. But there is less risk of dropping through the floor, or
rolling out through the dilapidated railings. They are a trifle
swifter, and much easier to steer; they look homely with the old man
sitting near the front board, his legs dangling under the shaft, a part
of a sapling in his hand to keep the horse awake, and his tobacco smoke
keeping the flies and mosquitoes away from those near him; the mother,
and as many olive branches as can find room, sitting in a row on a
plank; the rest stowed behind, with the exception of the baby, who
leans over the front and helps to drive.

The dogcart is the dream of the small settler, though many rise to the
pre-eminence of a buggy or sulky. Any peregrinating bush worker may
possess a "horse and trap" to travel about in; but the man who goes on
the land is usually a long while getting past the dray-of-all-work.
Once in a while you will see a family driving into a backblock town in
an alleged spring cart, with the tyres wedged all round and lashed on
with wire, the spokes rattling, the springs straightened; while one
shaft has been broken off and a round stick bound on in its place. The
harness is an object-lesson in emergency patchwork. There is some
leather in it, curled and perished, likewise rope, hide, twine, hoop-
iron, and dog-chains, besides a yard or two of blanket, some bagging,
grass, and wool, which make up the collar.

Some curious turn-outs were those used by the early Richmond River
farmers. They were mostly slides, though made in a variety of ways. The
commonest was simply the fork of a tree, with a couple of pegs at each
side. This is still much used for drawing water, the cask being stood
on or laid across it, with a wet bag over it to keep the water from
splashing out. One has to be careful in turning corners with it, as it
always has an inclination to turn turtle, except when going straight
ahead on level ground. This work is not infrequently left to the girls,
many of whom can manage a horse or a pair of bullocks as well as their
brothers. One of the prettiest girls I ever knew, the daughter of a
well-to-do farmer, was an expert bullock-driver. A mounted constable
married her afterwards while I was up-country.

The queerest habitation I have seen in the bush was built on four high
stumps, which were sawn off eight feet from the ground. The owner, who
was a "hatter," had to climb a ladder to get into it. The stumps had
sprouted, and almost covered the bark roof with greenery. He said he
built it so that he could see when the cockatoos were on his corn, and
also to get away from snakes. This was near Tomki, on the Richmond

In and around Broken Hill many people live in houses built on wheels,
and it is common to see cottages travelling about, leaving gaps in one
street and filling vacancies in another. Removing in the Silver City
means taking the house with you. They are sometimes drawn up to the
auction-mart and sold. I saw only one selector in a habitation of this
kind. He had been a travelling saddler and cobbler, and when he
selected he simply drew his saddle and harness shop into position and
settled down.

In the north-west of New South Wales the dug-out is common, only the
low roof showing above ground. It is cool in summer and warm in winter,
besides being free from flies. A fossicker and gardener lived for years
in one of these in Mount Browne district. One night, during a heavy
storm, a dam alongside burst, and the inrush of water washed him out of
his bunk. He escaped through the roof, and spent the night watching the
overflow to see that nothing got away. It took him two days to pump his
house out, then he had to leave the roof off for a week to let it dry.
To dive below like a wombat was his ideal of comfort. But most people
look upon the dug-out with horror. As one remarked, "Let's keep on top
while we can kick; we'll be underground long enough."


Woman's sphere in the bush is defined according to the size of the old
man's purse. On squattages, and on the better-class selections, she has
time to bang the piano into a tuneless horror, to play tennis—with a
rabbit-proof fence across the centre of the "lawn"—to spin into town
behind a pair of good trotters to get the mail, to attend the flower
show, the hospital ball, or the grass-fed races, to discuss the latest
books and the prevailing fashions. Among her less fortunate sisters the
change of fashion means remodelling the old dress. The cream decoration
that was a feature of last year's ball will be resurrected for this
year's whirl as a beautiful blush-pink, or some delicate shade of blue,
subsequently turning saffron for the races. Whatever her station, Bella
is an adept at "making a do of things."

It is no novelty to come upon her in the deep forests and trackless
hills of big runs at mustering times, well mounted, and her pretty sun-
kissed face glowing through the tunnel of a plain bonnet or a big straw
hat tied down over her ears with a pink ribbon. She slides down into
steep gorges and leaps over gullies and logs with easy seat and
graceful movement; and she shoots round the wings of half-wild cattle
with stock-whip in full blast. Her whip is a pearl, being mostly
presented by some admiring Greenhide Jack; and when Jack makes anything
for the pet creation, you can bet your bottom Cobar he will put all his
ingenuity into it.

At many backblock stations the mustering troupe, riding off in the
early morning, is delightfully picturesque, being composed of white men
and black men, of black girls and white girls. On some Bulloo River
runs I have seen black girls wearing trousers and riding astraddle on
men's saddles; but Bella Bush, though she may use a man's saddle, sits
in conventional fashion when the opposite sex is present. Otherwise she
is capable of throwing her leg over, and riding with the gay
abandonment of her black sisters. If you meet her on the run, she will
probably pass you in frigid silence, but with the steady scrutiny of a
tracker. When the cattle are in the yards, Bella loves to perch on a
cap and handle a drafting gate.

At one time in the bush it was the ambition of every girl and woman to
have a horse and side-saddle. When Jim went to see the girl she
expected to be taken for a ride, and if she didn't possess the means
herself he had to bring it with him. He is still met on many tracks on
Sunday, leading a saddled horse for the girl; and when they are engaged
the riding outfit is one of the most cherished presents. They ride to
the races, to the show, and to the dance; and occasionally one is
reminded of old days by seeing mother on a horse, with baby on her
knee. She goes shopping on horseback then, with a white pillow-slip
strapped in front of her, and she takes Bill's dinner to him likewise
when he is splitting or fencing two or three miles from the house.

Nowadays the desideratum is a horse and trap, and there is more driving
than riding, except among the young folk in the backblocks. The
incursion of town-bred people into the closer-settled areas has wrought
many changes, including, with the concomitant shortening of distances,
the decadence of the equestrienne. The town person regards the wild
nature-moods of Bella Bush as improper; but Bella is more broad-minded,
and though she may be as free in her speech as in her actions, she is
likely to be a better girl than many of those who are shocked by her
wanton wiles.

I was one morning waiting at a station store with some stockmen when a
slip of a girl in a tweed cap and satin shoes, and some diaphanous
material between, came out of the house with a double-barrelled breech-
loader in her hands. A hundred hawks were circling overhead. Standing
in the garden, she put the gun to her shoulder and brought down two in
quick succession. I had seen many a smart girl behind a gun; one was a
governess in the north-west, who used to go rabbit-shooting with me
among the rocks, carrying her own artillery; and in many homes there is
a special light gun hanging on the wall for Bella's use when hawks,
crows, or goannas make a raid on the poultry and eggs; but the vision
in satin shoes surprised me.

With the poorer classes life in the bush is generally a compound of
hard work and isolation. Here Bella has to perform many tasks that a
city woman would rebel against. Yet they are always cheerful, always
ready for a joke. After a long day's work, in and out of doors, they
will walk or ride miles to a dance at night, returning about daylight
to set to work again. In places when Bella Bush has to walk to the
dance she goes rough-shod, carrying her dancing shoes in a
handkerchief, but she changes when near the place of entertainment, and
leaves the rough footgear tucked under a log.

Once, in a drought-time, I saw a woman and two girls lopping trees to
keep a few sheep alive, climbing aloft and straddling the limbs like
men; while another was drawing water with slide and cask from a lagoon
three miles away. Hard, wiry, sun-browned women are these, with the
hearts of gold that surmount the barriers of lonely lands.

Many carry water for domestic use in buckets, sometimes using a yoke or
an iron hoop to keep the buckets clear of their skirts. A part of their
laundry is a small bench on the bank of the creek, whither the clothes
are carried on washing day. They seldom have a washing-board, never a
wringer; and they stand, barefooted, for hours on a sloppy bank. An
ordinary boiler, or a kerosene tin, takes the place of the usual
copper, and fuel is collected in the favourite haunt of snakes,
scorpions, centipedes, and other inimical livestock. Most of the
wardrobe is spread out on the grass and bushes, on logs, and along the
fence. There is no mangling, there is no mangle, but Bella can tell you
precisely the merits of different woods for heating flat-irons, and
which is the best for baking; also the most suitable to burn a white
ash for whitewashing the fireplace, the hearthstone, and the front
doorstep. Likewise she is familiar with the composition of tea-trees,
the soft-leaf one providing the gigantic broom with which she sweeps
the bare patches round the domicile and assaults the poultry when they
hang around.

She is doctor and nurse when sickness comes and accidents happen; many
a long night journey she has ridden for the doctor; many a flooded
stream she has swum to save the stock; and when the bush fire is
threatening home and crops and fences you will find her, with skirts
tied up behind, and not infrequently wearing pants for safety, half
blinded with smoke, scorched and blackened, fighting the flames side by
side with Bill and Jim. She can tell of floods that crept up in the
night till the beds were awash, how they piled the furniture on the
table, and mounted higher and higher, till ultimately they were driven
out on to the roof; how one rode eighty miles in a night when sickness
called, and of long tramps undertaken as light-heartedly as a city
woman goes on a tram ride.

Neighbours live miles away, and when they call on one another they
start away immediately after breakfast, driving or riding, and often
walking, returning about sundown. Even mother, who has grown portly
with years, thinks nothing of walking five or six miles to see her
neighbour, and besides carrying a baby she has the care of half a dozen
other progeny, who are excitedly chasing around her in the grass.

As wife of the poorer digger on small alluvial fields she does a good
deal of hard graft with pick and shovel, turning at the windlass, and
rocking the golden cradle or the dry-blower. Her sun-browned progeny
who are too young to work amuse themselves meanwhile among the gullies
and in the bush; or else they are tethered like poddy-calves near by
the residence to keep them from rambling; and the baby is left to roll
on a bag in the shade of a tree. At smoke-o time she gives baby a
drink, while the old man pulls at his pipe. Her lot is a hard one, and
yet she is happy in a way if there are a couple of "weights" to clean
out of the black sand by the slush lamp at night. She has to sit there,
too, long hours into the night, patching the children's clothes and
doing other home duties that have been neglected in the interests of
the more important work at the claim. She seldom has a sewing machine
to lighten her labours; nearly all the clothing, including Bill's
flannels, and sometimes the family head-gear—as cabbagetree hats,
holland hats and bonnets—are laboriously made and mended by hand. In
many instances the husband does the baking, and helps in other ways to
equalise things.

At times, too, to supplement the inadequate earnings of the bread-
winner, and to save the meat bill, she takes a hand at parrot-trapping,
rabbit-catching, and 'possum-snaring; and, in her spare time—if she has
any—she trudges off to favourite fishing-holes, carrying rod and line
and pickle-bottle, and catching grasshoppers and crickets on the way
for bait. It falls to her lot also, in dry times when the men are on
the roads with teams, shearing, or rouseabouting on stations, to cut
scrub for the stock, and to pull out bogged sheep and cattle. Once or
twice a week she takes eggs and butter into town, carrying them in a
bucket on horseback or in a two-wheeled trap that has strong claims to

In juxtaposition to this many farmers and selectors, as on the Richmond
River, start on their new holdings in model houses that cost £400 and
over, and are even provided with a callers' bell on the front door, and
set in a garden plot as pretty as one could look upon. The callers'
bell does not ring very often. In many parts of the bush there is a
casual visitor once a week, or once a month, according to the state of
remoteness, and his approach is announced by the familiar sound of the
sliprails as they are let down or put up. If there are no sliprails to
act as knocker, there is bound to be a canine bell lying about the
veranda somewhere, which considers it his duty to bark at everybody who
comes in sight. This brings the inmates to the door, but in many cases
the stranger is studied through a telescope before he has got within
coo-ee. By the time he arrives the place is ready for inspection. Bella
Bush has hitched up her stockings and put on a clean apron, the ragged
urchins have been called in and stowed away in the skillion, and the
others have washed their faces.

Some of her travel about, and live in tents, as wives of tank-sinkers,
fencers, and teamsters. She hasn't much to do beyond cooking—under
difficulties; but she misses the companionship of her own sex, and at
night, when the men foregather on the grass or before an open fire, she
sits by, listening, with her chin resting on her palm, occasionally
taking a modest part in the conversation.

When her lot is cast with drovers and shearers, who are absent for many
months in the year, she bears the responsibility of homestead manager,
and has a lonely time.

A woman on the Richmond River, many years ago, on opening the door one
morning was horrified to see thirty or forty blacks standing still and
silent before her. All were armed with boomerangs and spears and in a
state of seminudity. They only wanted to be rowed across the river,
knowing she had a punt moored to the bank below. To get rid of them,
and fearing to give offence, she went down to the river and ferried
them over in five trips. The last one to step ashore said, " Tank yer,
mithus; you berry good woman. Mine get it yo' sugarbag byneby. Good

In the far north and north-west blacks mingle much in her every-day
life. The gins are requisitioned for scrubbing and washing; often there
is no better hand in the neighbourhood at making a batch of bread or a
sponge-cake than old "Mammy" from the camp. Mrs. Potts Point would turn
up her nose at Mammy, but Bella likes to have her about the place.
Lying back in a canvas chair, she has long talks at times with Mammy,
who sits on the veranda floor, enveloped in a cloud of tobacco smoke;
and when the sky pilot calls on his long round Mammy &. Co. form part
of the congregation in the drawing-room. But Mammy is not permanent.
She leaves the station with her followers pretty frequently for a
"walk-about," for the call of the wild comes irresistibly, no matter
how long she has mixed with the whites.

In her average home, which is neat, clean, and comfortable, Bella Bush
is a full-bosomed, broad-hipped, plump specimen of femininity of the
sort that make good mothers. She is plainly dressed, but her healthy
surroundings have given her such a charm and beauty that anything
becomes her. She is a little shy at first, perhaps, but she is more at
ease with men than Bill is with women; and no one can take a rise out
of a man quicker than Bella Bush. You see mischief in her eyes, humour
in the smile on her kissable lips. She is jolly, big-hearted, and
constant; and nowhere is she prettier than on the tablelands of New
England and on the Richmond River.


About the first thing that impresses itself upon the stranger when he
makes a casual call at a far-back bush home is the animal-like habits
of the younger children. They cling to the skirts of the rough-shod,
sunburnt woman, stealing timid glances from behind her, and nudging and
whispering to one another between whiles. The bigger ones are inside,
peeping through the cracks or round the door-post; and, looking round
suddenly, the stranger might notice a smudgy face pop down behind a
bush some twenty yards away, and another withdraw hurriedly behind the
trunk of a tree. These are a couple who had been too far away when the
alarm was given that "somebody's coming," and hadn't time to come in.
They are often scattered about the bush along the creeks and water-
holes, and particularly in scrubs, ever hunting like aborigines; but
when the mother bangs a tin dish with a stick, or coo-ees for dinner,
or the moment the alarm of "Somebody's coming!" is raised, they rush
for the house as fowls run in for protection when menaced by hawks.
This class is almost as wild as kangaroos; but others treat strangers
and everything else with a stolid indifference.

Their clothing is of the scantiest, mostly ornamented with a host of
patches, and ragged at that. "Anything does for the bush," the mother
tells you. When you see them playing 'possum in the trees, and sliding
down the straight poles, you quite agree with her that anything does.
Hats, which have no longer any definite division between crown and
brim, are worn till the head wears right through, and what remains
drops round the neck; they are then patched with calico, bagging, or
wallaby skin, and made "as good as new." Clothes last a long time in
the bush. And boots? Look at the hard, blackened, prehensile-toed feet,
scored with hundreds of lines and cracks that only the scrubbing brush
can clean, and you will know they are strangers to boots. Indeed, some
of them are twelve or fourteen years old before their feet are encased
in their first leather coverings. You will notice one with a roll of
dirty rag round the toe, tied on with a piece of twine or a wisp of
kurrajong bark; another has a thorn in his foot, and limps on his heel;
while a third has a daub of tar on his instep where there is a cracked
sore. The soles of their feet are seldom pierced or bruised; they can
race unflinchingly over rocks, and even walk over a bed of bindy-eyes.
The sun never affects them, even though they are running about
bareheaded in the heat of a midsummer's day; it only browns them. When
naked, these children present a comical appearance, their bodies being
white, while their legs, arms, necks, and faces are severely tanned.

Their food is plain, even rough, and very little varied. They augment
it with much that grows around them; fruit they get occasionally in the
scrubs, and, like the wild birds, they have a fine, discriminating
sense of what is edible and what is poisonous. They hunt for birds'
eggs, and they root turtle-eggs out of the sand and roast them in hot
ashes. They climb to enormous heights after young birds and 'possums,
and are skilled in all the native methods of catching fish. They bathe
at all hours of the day; the dwellers along the rivers are almost

In the great humming gum bush that is veined by coastal rivers,
childhood is spent under the most pleasant and favourable conditions.

Winter is the hardest time for these little folk. At night they gather
round the big fireplace, squatting in the ashes, and squabbling for
choice places, while keeping a begrudging eye on the scanty wood pile.
Their own little arms have to carry the sticks during the day; at best
they have a horse and slide to draw it, or a box-cart drawn by a couple
of goats. This, of course, is a boy's delight no matter where he is
situated. Where goat races are held annually, their joy in training
Billy and riding him in the Overland Cup is supreme. Here is a country
paper's description of a billy-goat race which happened out Mackay
(Queensland) way in July, 1903:—

"There were six entries—Barton, Kingston, Lyne, Deakin, Bamford, and
Glassey. There was some trouble in getting a fair start. Barton, a
fine, fat goat of the Angora type, appeared to require all the track.
This Lyne resented, horns being freely used. Bamford, a jet-black
animal, was hopelessly outclassed. Kingston, a fine grey goat, should
have made the pace warmer, but he got at the clothes-line the night
previous and gorged himself with a baby's flannelette nightdress.
Glassey made a hard fight, but his horns appeared to be always in the
way. A protest was lodged against Barton for wilful jostling, but after
an exhaustive inquiry the committee disallowed it."

Hard-worked, horny-handed little mites they are, most of them, whose
knowledge is of cattle and horses, of reptiles, beetles, birds, and
animals, and their home and playground the trackless bush. They master
the secrets and mysteries of life at an early age through constant
association with the native fauna, flock, and herd, and hearing the
talk of their elders. Their most admirable traits are their homeliness,
courage, self-reliance, and mateship.

They can ride almost as soon as they can walk. You will see a little
mite throw the bridle-rein over the neck of a big horse, and lead him
thus to a log or stump, and there put on the bridle and mount; and
presently you will see him cantering bare-back across the hills. I
noticed a little fellow one day trying to mount a rogue. Time after
time he brought him side-on to a log, and each time as he prepared to
cross his back the old horse sidled away so that he stood at right
angles to the log. At last the boy led him into a fork where he
couldn't sidle away, and triumphantly mounted.

It is surprising how soon these children learn the bush, what clever
little heads they have for working out the problems of their timbered
world. I have met them, boys and girls, riding along mountain spurs,
miles away from home, looking for cattle. And if you ask them at any
time in what direction home lies, no matter how they have turned and
twisted during the day, they will at once point to it like a compass.
Fences do not stop them from going as straight as the crow flies
either; they strap down the wires, with a stick across for the horse to
see, and lead or ride him over. Rail fences give a little trouble; but
when a loose top rail is found, they jump their cuddies over the bottom
one. They can describe a beast minutely, even to a single white spot at
the tip of its tail, or a tiny black streak on its off-side horn. They
can recognise a beast or a horse at sight, though they may not have
seen it for a couple of years or more; and they have a wonderful memory
for brands and earmarks. Though they may be otherwise illiterate, they
will squat on the road, and with a stick faultlessly portray the brands
and earmarks of every station and selection for miles around them.

I was one day travelling towards Bourke with a mob of Queensland cattle
when a boy rode up and asked me where they were from. I named a
squattage south of the border. He grinned.

"You can't stuff me with that," he said. "Them's Queensland brands."

"How do you know a Queensland brand from a New South Wales brand?" I
asked him.

"Why," he said, "a Queensland brand has letters an' a number; New South
Wales brands ain't got no number."

Another day I was trying to catch up to a man who was riding a day in
front of me, and asked a boy at a wayside hut if he had seen him pass.
He didn't remember him according to my descriptions; but he had seen a
person go by wearing a straw hat and riding a brown horse branded H.P.,
with a star on its forehead, off fetlock white, and carrying its tail a
little aside as though it had been broken, and it had cast its near
fore-shoe. This was correct in every particular; yet that boy had never
seen the horse before in his life, and had just leaned lazily on a rail
as it was ridden past him.

In regard to ordinary school tasks they are poor scholars, principally
through lack of opportunity. The bush school is often a small, isolated
building standing among the trees, with no fence around it and no house
in sight of it. But little tracks, winding through the bush in many
directions, show where the children come from. Some of them walk four
or five miles to school, starting away at daylight on winter mornings,
and returning in the twilight or after dark. When grass is white with
frost or wet with dew, when rains have left pools and sheets of surface
water along the track and set the creeks and gullies running, the bush
kiddies carry their boots in their hands or over their shoulders to
keep them dry, putting them on when they reach the school. In the dry
interior regions, besides the usual dinner-bags and books, they carry
bottles and water-bags. They get over rivers in flat-bottomed punts,
and any creek that is too deep to ford is crossed on the trunk of a
tree that has been felled across from bank to bank; they pass through
mobs of half-wild cattle, and at times through miles of burnt and
burning grass; but they very seldom come to any harm. Some drive to and
fro in light traps; others ride—at times three and four on a horse—and
have races, jumping contests over logs, humiliating busters, and all
sorts of adventures along the road. Many a coat is peeled off on the
school track, too, and many a punched nose goes bleeding to the
waterhole. Frequently half a dozen are seen running through the bush,
the big ones in front, the little ones, flushed and panting, in the
rear. They have been playing on the road, or have started late, and are
making up for it. Some have to run part of the way home, so as to be in
time to put the calves up or to change their clothes and carry an
armful of wood or a bucket of water for the morning; and if they live
on a farm they have to join the parents after tea in the barn, husking
corn. Preparing for examination under these circumstances is pretty
stiff work for Bushman Junior.

Religious duties absorb little of his time. Many are grown up and
married before they are christened. A good shepherd, missioning in the
west of Queensland, related that he visited a secluded hut one day,
after an accidental meeting with the owner of a neighbouring cattle
station, and on informing the woman of his purpose was left standing
for nearly half an hour while they discussed the problem inside. Then a
youth about sixteen came out and reported progress: "Mother says I can
hold th' moke for yer while yer christen father, an' then he'll hold
him while you christen me." As he took the bridle a couple of hens
started fighting behind the horse, and the animal nearly jumped on him.
"Whey, yer cranky, church-bred mule, where yer jumpin' ter!" he cried.
Then he turned to the horrified owner. "Better hit out an' fix th' ole
feller up, mister—this wobbly-eyed cow's got the fidgets."

Like his elders, the budding bushman shows commendable grit and
extraordinary endurance under trying circumstances. Out west of Broken
Hill in October, 1902, a boy named Barraclough, aged twelve, while
riding alone in the bush, was thrown from his horse and broke his leg.
He dragged himself along the ground until he obtained a forked stick,
and, using that as a crutch, he recovered his horse, which he mounted
by pulling himself on by the mane. Then he rode twelve miles home, and
was subsequently driven to White Cliffs, a long, rough journey, for
medical treatment. Very young children sometimes wander away and get
bushed, and these, too, show remarkable endurance. A little girl, named
Evelyn Harris, two and a half years old, was lost in August, 1902, near
Bollon (Queensland), and was found the following day walking along
Mitchell Road, having covered a distance of twenty miles. A two-and-a-
half-year-old son of Chris Connors, of Packsaddle Bore, between Broken
Hill and Milparinka, wandered among the mulga and sandhills from
Thursday afternoon till Sunday afternoon in the bitter cold weather of
June, 1904. When discovered he was still trudging along, though pretty
well done up from starvation and exposure. In August, 1901, Linden
Culnane, aged nine, and Alfred Collins, aged seven, lost their way
while rabbiting at Reno, near Gundagai, and wandered about the bush for
thirty-six hours in bitterly cold and rainy weather. Eventually they
reached a settler's hut on Cooba Creek, having travelled thirty miles.
On the other hand, a little girl named Edith Liddle, aged two and a
half years, was lost at Mulya, near Louth, some time in 1902, and no
trace of her was ever found. Such a happening is among the most bitter
experiences in bush life.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about bush children is that they are
very rarely bitten by snakes. They roam the day long about creeks and
billabongs with bare feet and bare legs, playing in scrubs, wading
through long grass and ferns, turning over bark and logs, thrusting
their hands into hollows and burrows, and almost invariably come off
unscathed. When I was going to school we used to think it fun to kill a
snake by jumping on it. If it was a green or whip snake, one of us
would pick it up quickly by the tail, and, keeping it swinging around,
chase the other children with it, finally cracking its head off with a
sudden jerk. It is only in districts where snakes are rare that they
are dreaded by children; where they are plentiful they are generally
treated with contempt—except at night. The average bush youngster has a
horror of darkness, and talks in awe-struck whispers of hairy men,
ghosts, and bunyips. This fear is inculcated from babyhood. The mother
can't always be watching in a playground that is boundless, and she
knows the horrors that wait the bushed youngster. So she tells them
there is a bunyip in the lagoon, and gigantic eels in the creek; and
beyond that hill there, and in yonder scrub, there is a "bogey-man."
Those fairy tales keep the children within bounds—until they are old
enough to know better. Then they can take care of themselves.


Once the crack of the bullock-whip and the high-pitched voice of the
bullocky were heard daily around Sydney; it was the wheels of his dray
that marked out George Street, the early citizens building along on
each side of his track. That accounts for the winds that are in it,
showing where Bill had to gee off or come hither to avoid a stump or a
tree. Now he belongs almost exclusively to Outback; the bullock has
been ousted by the horse from "inside" roads. Horses are quicker and
more easily handled than bullocks. They certainly require more care,
more expensive gear, are less hardy, and cost more than the horned
animal, but the time saved on the road makes up for all that.

The bullock was an adjunct that well fitted in with the ruggedness of
pioneering, but advanced settlement has no use for him, and has driven
him into remote regions to mark out more George Streets. Though much
used everywhere by timber-getters, only an odd bullock team is found
now in the carrying line, except far inland where time is of little
consequence. Even on the dry roads where the horned beast has beaten
the horse the camel has beaten him, and where the camel has not
intruded the mule has become a formidable rival. The poor bullock has
ever to plod the hard road, and with no hope of an old age pension at
the end of it. When he has slaved for Bill till he is too old to work
any longer, Bill kills him and eats him. Bullock-driving is not the
sort of calling that the average man hankers after; the average man, in
fact, considers it one of the worst that he could be asked to take up.
But to the veteran ox-conductor there is no grander thing on earth than
his wagon and a spanking team of sixteen bullocks. Henry Kendall sings
of "Bullocky Bill":—

"What trouble has Bill for the ruin of lands,
Or the quarrels of temple and throne,
So long as the whip that he holds in his hands
And the team that he drives are his own?

He thrives like an Arab. Between the two wheels
Is his bedroom, where, lying upcurled.
He thinks for himself, like a Sultan, and feels
That his home is the best in the world.

Of course he must dream; but be sure that his dreams,
If happy, must compass, alas!
Fat bullocks at feed by improbable streams,
Knee-deep in improbable grass."

While smoking a pipe in a bullocky's camp one evening the conversation
turned on Tattersail's sweeps, and I asked Come-Hither-Jack what he
would do if he had the luck to draw a big prize. "I'd 'ave one glorious
drunk," he said. "Only a month, though," he added quickly. "A month
satisfies me at any time. Then I'd get a real spankin' new table-top,
with broad tyres, that 'ud carry twenty ton. I'd 'ave it made to order.
I've got it all specified, an' drawed out, an' it's runnin' beautiful—
in my mind. I'll lay it 'ul take a bend outer some o' those carrion-
choppers out 'ere."

"What would you do, Bill?" I asked, turning to another man.

"I'd 'ave the best bloomin' team this side o' Bourke," said Bill in an
emphatic burst of confidence.

Punching is the mainspring of Bullocky Bill's existence, and he could
hardly be happy if released from the thraldom of the yoke. In the team
all his interests are centred; there his ambition begins and ends. To
carry a bigger load than any one else or do a trip in record time is
fame; to possess a bullock that can pull any other bullock on the road
is to cover him with glory and to perpetuate his name and the name of
Strawberry among the fraternity generation after generation. They will
tell you where that quadruped was calved, how he was bought and broken
in, what roads he worked on, how he died, and where his bones are

Bill can talk bullock to you for a week at a stretch, dilating on the
merits of Straggler and the skull-dragging propensities of old Brindle;
and on the fashions of yokes, chains, bows, and other jewellery; on the
respective merits of black myrtle and kindred woods for whip-handles,
and the marvellous things that can be done with a whip. Greenhide Jack,
for instance, never used an axe on barren roads, but fed his stock by
whipping showers of leaves from the trees. He could pick up a sixpence
nine times out of ten with a whipthong, and he flogged his name as
neatly as a man could carve it on the trees in passing. He
particularises his team from polers to leaders; how Rowdy and Ball stop
dead, and will stand dragging at the call of "Whey," and would steady a
wagon down any hill without chain or brake; how Spot handled the steer,
shoving him off and lugging him to; and how Starlight was the devil's
own for turning his yoke. He gives you novel ways of starting a sulky
bullock—making a fire under him, pounding his ribs with a shovel, or
rubbing a stick smartly backwards and forwards on his tail; and he has
equally effective methods of dealing with the skull-dragger and the
beast that is always getting his splaw foot over the chain.

I innocently gave my ear one day to Crooked Mick as he reclined lazily
on a bale of wool, waiting for a load at a border station. He started
at 9 a.m. to tell me his experiences down the track in yoking-up a
refractory team. When we adjourned for lunch he had one bullock, named
Bismarck, yoked, and was bringing back his mate Rattler across a mulga
paddock for the forty-eleventh time. He got him bowed and keyed during
the meal, but had forgotten the coggles. He was searching for them
about the yard when I left the table. Mick always made for me
afterwards while he remained at the shed, to edify me with the yoking
of the other fourteen, but I remembered urgent engagements elsewhere.

It is a pet contention of the bullocky that, beast for beast, his team
can shift a heavier load than the horse team. Bullocks go at their work
with a steady pull, while horses mostly plunge and jerk, especially if
there is any bulldog tenacity in the "hang" behind. But the horse-
driver treats such statements with ridicule. At a gathering of mixed
carriers this question will be argued with animation for a week, and
some astonishing feats, real and imaginary, will be described.

Bullock camps were once plentiful along the main roads. Not
infrequently there would be fifty or sixty men in camp, and, gathered
round the blazing log fires, they would mix the yarns of the roads with
songs and music. Two out of every three teams carried a concertina or a
violin. Travellers joined them, and many a time bushrangers have shared
their fires; more than once the lawless bands have helped themselves to
the cargo. This, of course, was in the long ago, when bullock-driving
had its thrills and possessed something of the picturesque features of
the southern overlanders. A swagman was one evening chopping up an old
yoke to boil his billy when ten or twelve sovereigns dropped out of it.
They had been secreted in an auger hole, which had been neatly plugged
and painted over. This was one of the devices adopted by the bullocky
to defeat the ends of the robbers. The yoke had probably been lost or
the plant forgotten.

Out in the far west, where there is a drought between each shower of
rain and bush fires are unknown on account of the scarcity of grass,
bullock-punching is an occupation calculated to deaden a man's soul. It
is cruel; but men forget the cruelty when, at a pinch in the blistering
sun, the way-worn brutes refuse to pull together. I have seen many a
man, after tearing up and down like an escaped lunatic, gesticulating
wildly, slashing left and right, and venting all the execrations at his
command, throw himself down by the wagon exhausted and speechless. When
he has cooled down, he looks remorsefully at the whip-streaked ribs of
his beaten team, and his conscience pricks him, as one by one the dumb
brutes turn their heads slowly towards him, their eyes full of
suffering and mute appeal. He looks pityingly—and then curses himself.

Some men are naturally cruel, and even go to the extent of lighting a
fire under a stubborn animal.

A peculiar instance of a bullock turning the tables on a driver
occurred some years ago on a western track. One of the pin-bullocks had
lain down, and all other means failing to shift him, the man with the
whip lit a fire under his middle. When it began to burn well the jibber
jumped up and put his shoulder to the yoke with great energy, and,
assisted by his mate and the polers, pulled on just far enough to leave
the wagon fairly over the fire. The smile that had momentarily played
on the driver's face died suddenly; he rushed forward with dilating
eyes, lashed with the whip, belted with the handle, yelled and howled;
but the whole team had gone on strike. The wagon, loaded with
inflammable material, caught fire, and was quickly reduced to cinders.

On the dry bush tracks, with their frequent intermissions of heavy sand
and stony hills, between Bourke and the Queensland border the bullock-
driver has a hard time. A long day through blistering heat, flies, and
dust; then a ride back with tired bullocks, eight or ten miles, to the
last water; and to-morrow a long night ride ahead to the next water.
There he camps for the night, getting back to the wagons about sunrise
next morning. There is often no grass or herbage, and after taking his
cattle to water he has to cut scrub to feed them. One can hardly blame
the poor bullocky if he helps himself to a nip from the tempting
consignment of hotel goods he has on board. He has many ingenious ways
of accomplishing this. One of the hoops on the beer-cask is knocked up
the least bit, and a small hole bored through the side. This is
afterwards plugged with deal, and concealed by replacing the hoop. The
rum or brandy cask is managed in another way. A couple of quarts of
boiling water are poured on top and left there all night. In the
morning it is strong enough to make the hardiest of them drunk if they
drink enough of it. Again, when the worn-out ox-persuader feels the
need of a reviver in the shape of a glass of whisky, one feels inclined
to excuse him when he lets some heavy weight drop—accidentally, of
course—on the whisky-case and smashes a bottle. It is only natural, and
in accordance with the laws of economics, that he should catch the
flowing spirit in his billy and drink "better luck" to the rest of the

Many teamsters on the western tracks are bound to time, and in making
up for some unforeseen delay the cattle suffer, and not infrequently
several head are left by the roadside to die. There is a stiff penalty
for dilatoriness, ranging up to one pound per day. Sometimes the
drivers are docked so much per ton for every day over contract time. On
these roads grass and water are precious, and very often a good night
for the team is not to be had for love or money. Still, the team must
eat and drink to get the load through; so the teamster has to battle
for it; and the cunning begotten of long experience on the roads is set
against the watchfulness of the landowner. The bullocks are taken
quietly to the tanks at night—not to the one near which the teams may
be camped, but to one several miles distant. Then the wires are
strapped down, and the hungry animals are slipped in where the feed is
best and left till nearly daylight, one of the men sleeping in the
paddock with them. Perhaps only half the team will be thus treated at a
time, the other half being left on neutral ground, carrying all the
available bells to mislead the enemy.

I knew a teamster to camp one night in a lane where there was an
excavated tank on each side of him. About midnight two boys, carrying a
far-sounding bell in each hand, walked across to one tank, and the
tolling of the bells soon brought out the owner and his assistant. The
boys sought cover while the deluded pair rode round; and when they were
leaving the neighourhood one bell rang out violently as when a bullock
shakes its head. Back came the searchers, and another hour was wasted
in beating about among the bushes. By this time the old man had watered
the bullocks at the other tank, brought them back into the lane, and
turned in with his face wreathed in smiles.

The bullocky takes as much pride in his wagon as a captain does in his
ship, and, like the ship, the wagon is always "she." To quote Kendall

"His dray is no living, responsible thing,
But he gives it the gender of life;
And, seeing his fancy is free in the wing,
It suits him as well as a wife."

Each wagon bears a name fancifully painted on the sides. Some I have
met with are: "Margaret Catchpole," "Gipsy Queen," "Currency Lass,"
"The Never Get Stuck," "Dancing Girl," "Sarah Bernhardt," "Rose of
Beauty," "Flirt," "Marie Corelli," "Mary Ah Foo," and "The Eulo Queen."
There are "Freetraders," "Protectionists," "Democrats," "Republicans,"
and "Home Rules" wheeling about in dozens; also "Wombats," "Wallabys,"
"Brumbys," and other animals. One happens upon peculiarities at times
in bullock nomenclature. One teamster called his pets Villain, Rascal,
Vagabond, Scoundrel, Demon, Vampire, Monster, &c.; and another's team
was named after prominent politicians, with Barton and Kingston in the
pole and Reid and Lyne in the lead. Occasionally one meets a team
composed of all Devons (red), or all Herefords, or all spotted
bullocks. I saw one all-black team, which belonged to a farmer; but I
never met an all-white turnout. White is an off-colour with Bullocky

The Queensland bullockies are generally in better fettle than those of
New South Wales and Victoria, having the main roads yet very much in
their own hands. There they take their families and their fowls and
goats with them on their far-inland trips. I happened upon a camp of
them once in a bend of the Ward River, spelling on good feed. There
were eight teams; each man had his wife and children, his herd of
goats, and his coop of poultry; and the place resembled a prosperous
farmyard. The women clustered under trees in the cool of the evening,
the men reclined by the wagons, all swopping yarns and experiences;
whilst the bare-legged children yelled and gambolled about the
billabongs. When travelling, the missus sat on top of the load or drove
behind in a tilted cart; the children—some mounted, some walking—drove
the goats and spare oxen; while the coops swung under the tails of the
wagons. On reaching camp the fowls were let out, to chase the unwary
grasshopper and disport themselves in the bush until all was ready to
trek next morning. Under such circumstances the carrier gets much
pleasure out of life. Every camp is home; and when the day's work is
done the voices of his wife and little ones add cheeriness to the camp
fire's blaze.

"And thus through the world, with a swing in his tread,
Bill Bullock self-satisfied goes.
With his cabbage-tree hat on the back of his head.
And the string of it under his nose."


The old battler can usually tell at a glance what State a man belongs
to by the way he carries his swag. The swags, too, are different.
Matilda, of Victoria, has the most taking figure. She is 5 feet or 6
feet long, neat and slim, and tapering at the ends. Her extremes are
tied together, and she is worn over the right shoulder and under the
left arm—much in the way a lubra wears a skirt. The Banana-lander's 1
pet is short and plump. She is carried perpendicularly between the
shoulder-blades, and held in position by shoulder-straps. Getting into
this, to a new chum, is like putting on a tight shirt. The Cornstalk 2
doesn't much care how he rolls his; he merely objects to bulk and
weight. Generally it is borne on a slant from right shoulder to left
hip, his towel doing duty for shoulder-strap. He chucks it down as
though it was somebody else's luggage, and takes it up as if he would
much rather leave it behind.

1 Queenslander's.
2 The young countryman in New South Wales

I was once shocked to see Matilda brutally assaulted by a Murrumbidgee
whaler. Stopping at a camping spot, he pitched Billy aside with a
growl, then took hold of Matilda by her tentacles, swung her high
overhead, and banged her on the ground. Then he propelled her violently
across the landscape with his boot, unstintedly cursing her in the
meantime for not being able to travel on her own.

Neddy, the tucker-bag, or nose-bag, is of more importance than the blue
one, and by way of precedence dangles in front, mostly hanging to
Matilda's apron-strings. Billy sticks faithfully to the hand that
claims him. The exact time when Swaggie, Bluey, Neddy, and Billy first
entered into partnership would be hard to determine. Go where you will
in the backblocks, and no matter how lonely, dry, and hopeless the
track, you will not fail to meet the firm taking its usual walk and
going to its customary picnic. Catechetical formula of such meetings:
"How far's the next station?" "What's it like for tucker?" "Any one
died there lately? No! Then it's no use askin' for work." And, as the
firm moves on again, the manager mutters: "Hard lines—nobody won't

Nearly everywhere in country parts the term "traveller" is more often
heard than "swagman." It is applied to the footman, as though he were
the only genuine species of the order that has a habit of moving about.
The man with horses, the man on the bike, and the men who trek per
medium of vehicles are just as much travellers as the person who "pads
the hoof"; but the bush doesn't recognise them in the same light at
all. Track society has its castes and classes, its ramifications and
complications, like any other society, and its lowest ebb is the
sundowner. Too many people are prone to judge the fraternity by its low
classes. The word "tramp" to them is almost a criminal suggestion; it
came from the Old Country with a bad reputation, and is seldom used by
the native-born. On the average, swagmen are as honest and straight-
going and just as worthy of respect as their fellows who are in
constant billets. They are shearers to-day, drovers to-morrow, and
something else later on; and as these billets are not permanent, and
good jobs are not in the habit of coming after a man, they must shift
from one place to another, and carry their drums on their own backs or
on pack-horses. But the man's a man for a' that.

There are all sorts and conditions of men on the track, from men of
genius to harmless cranks. There are sons of lords and dukes, heirs to
earldoms and vast estates in England—men who had renounced everything
rather than marry in accordance with parental tastes and inclinations,
as they tell you confidentially. Once on Mount Browne I met the Czar of
Russia selling needlewood pipes. He was travelling incognito, and only
revealed his identity to me because the inadequate postal service of
the back country had temporarily left him without the means of
confusing his enemies in vodka. The most amusing are the lonely gentry
of Farther Out—men from other lands who have spent lonely years in
shepherding, or who made their piles on the goldfields and lost them,
having thus sustained the shock of sudden wealth and the more stunning
shock of sudden reversion to poverty. I met one on the road to
Eromanga, who was dragging his open blanket behind him. Being spread
out, and loaded with his effects, it swept the road like a street
sweeper. Now and again he would emit an echoing yell and spring into
the air, upsetting everything. Slowly and methodically he would gather
the properties up, take hold of the ends of the blanket behind him, and
start on again. "I'm loaded for Kyabra" he told me, and I put him down
for a broken-down teamster. On another track I encountered an excited-
looking man, who was riding a brigalow stick, with a swag strapped in
front of him, and using his bootlaces for bridle. He was driving an
imaginary mob of sheep, and yelling to his dog to "get round them
there." The dog couldn't understand, though occasionally he would make
a vengeful rush at a flying grasshopper. Then the loony drover would
dismount, tie the brigalow colt up to a tree, take off his belt, and
chase the dog round and round for splitting up the sheep that weren't
there. He cautioned me not to go too near that horse, as he was a
terror to kick, having been mounted only for the first time yesterday;
and he intimated that he was shorthanded. I wasn't looking for droving
just then.

There was a well-known Murrumbidgee whaler in the Wagga district, who
had been doing the one circuit—embracing Gundagai, Hay, and Wagga—for
thirty odd years, and during the whole of that time had never done a
tap of work. He went down one side of the river and up the other, the
round occupying from twelve to fifteen months. "A man's a fool to
work," he said, and he acted up to it by doing no other toil than
carrying his swag.

There are men doing similar circuits in nearly all parts of settled
Australia. I knew six who habitually worked a few stations in the lower
Buloo and Paroo country. But these occasionally took work, and with the
proceeds thereof had a holiday and a jamboree at the wayside pub. That
is what they term "going home to mother's." They know every person and
place, and every waterhole on the beat; they can tell you how old
Spargo's baby is, who is running the show with the Jackson girls, what
Anderson is doing now, and when Maloney's slut is likely to have pups.
They generally have the promise of one.

The occasional swagman, thrown on the track by force of circumstances,
is of a different stamp. He looks upon swagging as the hardest of
graft, and the last and lowest calling on earth. He sees only the grim
side of the battler's life; the gums whisper no symphonies to him, the
birds only mock him, and the benighted bush is a horror that gets on
his nerves. He is no companion for the old hand who looks up at his
favourite stars and says, "It's time to turn in," and, making a pillow
with his boots and spare suit, goes peacefully to sleep. He may tramp
for months, tramp thousands of miles, through all weathers and seasons,
before he gets work; but he never loses heart, and is just as cheerful
at the end as when he set out.

All men who pad the hoof do not carry the swag on the back. Some years
ago a fossicker gained some renown by wheeling his belongings in a
wheelbarrow from an adjoining State across Westralia to Coolgardie. He
had a mate, but the mate knocked up on the road, and he put him and his
swag on top of his own dunnage, and pushed the lot on to the goldfield.
On the Crows' Nest track (Queensland), I came up to a man pulling a
brandy-box on four wooden wheels. He had a good load on, which was
covered over with a bag, and on top of that was coiled a tender-footed

"Goreny grease on yer, mate?" he asked. "Th' bloomin' squeak o' this
fakus is enough to give a cove th' blues."

I regretted I wasn't doing anything in that line, and he deplored the
scarcity of goannas.

" 'F I could only drop across a ole gwana," he said, looking round at
the forest of blackbutts, "I'd get enough axle-grease out of him ter do
a week. It's not th' wear-an'-tear o' th' axles alone, but it's a
devil's own drag when yer wheels ain't greased. Have ter make a do of
it though, I s'pose. S'long!"

Coming down once from Glen Innes to Grafton, I passed two new chums
carrying the most awkward-looking load one could imagine. Their
property was contained in a chaff-bag, and hung by the middle across a
pole which they carried on their shoulders, walking one behind the
other. A billy-can and a kerosene tin (for boiling meat) also hung
under the pole; and, while one carried a gingham, the other flourished
a walking-stick and smoked cigars. They looked as though their mothers
had just let them out for an airing.

Two terms that are often confounded one with the other are swagman and
bagman. The first is a footman, the other a mounted man who may have
anything from one to half a dozen horses. Though both are looking for
work, they move on very different planes; the latter is considered a
cut above the former, and looks down with a mildly contemptuous eye on
the slowly-plodding swagman. They are rarely found in the one camp. If
they both make a halt for the night at the same waterhole, they camp
apart from each other, and, though one may visit the other's fire for a
yarn, it is not as the meeting of two bagmen or two swagmen. Apart from
the perennial quest of a job, they have little in common.

The bagman's main concern is grass and water. He is not always
fortunate in getting both together. When he finds water there may be no
picking there, and after watering his horses he has to ride on to feed,
carrying a supply of water for himself. This is what a swagman calls a
dry camp. The swagman can get sufficient water for his own consumption
where the horseman cannot, as by rooting in the bed of a creek, by
fishing down a well or a bore pipe with a tin and a few yards of
string, from station dams and tanks, and other private reservoirs. He
has no eye for grass; he doesn't know whether the way he has come is
barren or rich in feed. Again, what he would term good feed the other
might consider insufficient for a bandicoot, and vice versâ. At times
the bagman is led off a good road on to a starvation track by the
misresentations of the swagman; his horses suffer consequence, and the
gulf between them widens. On the other hand, a brother bagman can not
only accurately locate the good patches, but describe the different
kinds of grasses and herbage along the road. This is probably the most
potent reason why the bagman dissociates himself from the swagman.

But there are many more differences between them. Apart from the fact
that a horseman appears to greater advantage, can dress better, and can
keep clean, he hasn't to work hard in looking for work, and can
represent himself as a stockman or drover, or even a cattle-buyer,
while there can be no mystery about a swagman; affect what airs he
likes, he can't disguise what he obviously is—a hard-up worker. Though
there is little difference on a long journey in the daily stages made
by each, the horseman travels faster, and may not occupy more than half
the time in going from camp to camp. But he always has a horse-hunt to
do in the mornings, and if his horses are ramblers, he has often to
walk the equivalent of a day's journey in search of them before he
starts, whereas the swagman has simply to roll up and strike straight
away for the next station. The bagman, also, is listening half the
night for his bell, or he is troubling over a lame foot, a swelled
fetlock, or a sore back, while the swagman has nothing to disturb his
night's rest if he has not inadvertently spread out his blankets on an
ant's nest.

At times one finds the bagman and the swagman merged in one, forming a
link between the two classes. Two mates have a horse between them, upon
which they pack their belongings. They walk themselves, either leading
the loaded animal in turn or driving him before them. Sometimes he
becomes cantankerous when being thus driven, and bolts, scattering the
pack along the road. As a rule, he is a quiet old moke, rough and
hardy, who plods resignedly along with halfshut eyes, and sometimes
goes to sleep altogether, dreaming of the sweet, wild days before he
was a slave horse—of evergreen runs and perennial springs. He is an
excellent judge of distance, and when he considers he has done about
the usual day's stage he begins to look about for a camping-place,
turning off at a clump of trees or making a bee-line for any depression
in the landscape that has the semblance of a waterhole. If his wishes
are disregarded for long, he is likely to zigzag about, particularly
where there is any growing timber where the limbs might bump the pack
off him. His eyes show annoyance; he begins to sulk, and his lip seems
to hang lower than usual. If he happens to be far in front, he will
probably lie down and roll, crunching up the billy-cans and doing other
damage before he can be reached; and another favourite trick of his, if
not closely watched on reaching a waterhole, is to give the
objectionable pack a mud-and-water bath. He has learnt many dodges in
his travels.

Of one-horse men there are two classes. One packs his horse and walks
himself, in the same fashion as the mates. His horse is mostly too
tired to take liberties, being a cheap old screw that takes six months
to fatten and gets dog poor in a week, and it is owned by a man who is
more used to walking than riding, but who objects to making a beast of
burden of himself. The other man packs his horse and rides him too.
When he is mounted you can see little more than the head, legs, and
tail of his animal. He has a small swag strapped in front, but most of
his dunnage is carried in a wallet thrown across behind the saddle. His
quart-pot and meatbilly hang at the sides, his water-bag is suspended
against the horse's chest, and the bell and hobbles are strapped round
its neck. The animal is often a sturdy half-draught, more common in a
spring cart than on a cattle camp. It is never put out of a walk, and
is almost as omnivorous as the goat of backblock towns. If grass,
herbage, or other fodder is unprocurable, it shares the owner's damper;
in fact, it would leave its natural food for a few mouthfuls of dry
damper or bread, and it thrives well on the diet. The footman, when he
has got his ration bag dusted, solicits scrag ends of meat for his dog,
but the one-horse man asks for any pieces of stale bread that may be on
hand as a treat for the moke.

The bagman proper has at least two horses; one he uses as a hack and
the other as a packer. He may be a shearer, drover, rouseabout, or
general bush worker, and has usually a very fair turnout. The bagman is
mostly without pack-bags, and the pack-saddle is often an old riding
saddle (sometimes an overlander), the pack being rolled into a long
bundle, and laid across the seat, and strapped down to the sides. His
billy-cans, which are mostly rugged, are strapped on top, and ordinary
paraphernalia are distributed about on the encircling straps. His
equipment comprises a yard or two of oilcloth as an outside covering
for his pack and foundation for his nap, a small tent or fly, a
tomahawk, a gun or rifle, and sometimes a dish. He shoes his own
horses, and is provided with a good shoeing tackle for the purpose. In
districts where flies are bad his horses are fitted with leather
protectors or netted veils. One of these animals is sometimes a cutter—
a racehorse in disguise; and at stations, wayside pubs, drovers' camps,
and shearing sheds he occasionally pulls off a match for a pound or a
fiver. His best fields are the little towns. The town swell ridicules
the idea of his flash hack being put down by the "old pack-horse," so a
match is easily made, and side wagers laid as well. The packer, looking
his roughest for the occasion, and moving slowly and sleepily about,
becomes suddenly electrified on facing the starter, and to the surprise
of everybody streaks away to the front like a second Carbine. But the
owner doesn't call him Carbine; he calls him Mulga Bill, or something
equally appropriate.

He contrives to be handy for the grass-fed races, and having knocked
about the neighbourhood for a while and got his harmless-looking pair
known to the officials (who are publicans and storekeepers), and having
entered them when apparently drunk, he is rewarded for his trouble by
getting Mulga Bill light-weighted for the Kookooboorara Jockey Club
Handicap. Then he goes a few miles out and assiduously trains Bill for
the event. When the regulations require Bill to be imprisoned in the
club's paddock for a week or two, he is trained by moonlight along the
main stock route, and has the nosebag slipped on him in quiet corners.
Bill is used to substitutes and rough preparations, and very often
springs a surprise on the public when the races come off.

There is also the man with the spare horse, which might be anything
from an encumbrance to a flyer—mostly an encumbrance. He either drives
it and the pack-horse before him, or leads the packer and lets the
spare nag follow. It is useful at times; it comes handy to ride up to
town while the others are spelling, but it is, nevertheless, a
nuisance. It is always running off the road to feed, or to get a drink;
it turns down the creeks and gullies, and trots over to any strange
horses that appear. When it is being driven it reaches the gates first,
and turns down the fence, and when it is following it is usually a mile
behind when the gate is reached, and there is either a long wait or the
owner has to go after it. It is often a colt and is broken in on the
road to carry a pack, and generally succeeds in breaking up the pack
during the process. The man, if he has no money and desires to tap the
stations for rations, takes the precaution to hide his stock, and goes
up to the homestead on foot, perhaps carrying a readied-up swag and
specially dressed for the occasion. When he has got his supply he makes
a wide detour to escape observation, and turns out where his bells
won't be heard by the station people.

Some men travel with several horses, all of the average stamp of
station hacks. There are usually one or two flighty ones among them,
but the majority are quiet and staunch. These travellers are cattle-
men, scalpers, brumby-hunters, buffalo-shooters, or prosperous diggers.
They have first-class riding gear, perhaps a couple of pack-saddles
each, with complete fittings. They pay their way wherever they go, and
never stoop to cadging at stations. Some of them employ a black boy (or
a black woman dressed as a boy) to look after the horses. This is
common in the west and north-west of Queensland. Travelling to them is
like a holiday, and when several meet in a camp they enjoy a merry
evening. The packs will produce two or three different musical
instruments, and music, songs, recitations, and yarning alternate till
late at night, while a dozen horse-bells are jingling in the bush
around them. Finally, there are those who travel about with buggy and
pair, in wagonettes, light spring carts, tilted carts, spiders,
sulkies, and other traps (not to mention the huge contingent spinning
around on bikes). These are mostly big-gun shearers, shearers' cooks,
drovers, and bush contractors. Most of them, as a rule, have a definite
destination, while the other travellers seldom know where they are
going to pull up. No notice is taken of even rouseabouts driving up to
a shed in spanking turn-outs at shearing-time, and asking for a job in
starched shirts and stand-up collars; but if one clattered up in his
buggy at other times and asked for ordinary station work, he would be
regarded as an escaped lunatic. So the buggy, like the bike and the
horse, must be planted among the bushes.


The rough-and-ready cookery of the early days, when everybody lived in
tents and bark huts, and the crude appliances that figured in every
bush home are still very much in vogue in far-out parts of Australia,
and probably will be until the whole country is cut up into small
settlements and the aborigines have passed to their happy hunting-
grounds or acquired the habits and tastes of the more civilised of the

At many shearing-sheds the oven is simply a square iron tank, built in
with mud and stones; at other places it is made of bad bricks by an
amateur, the roof being "stayed" with iron bars or sheets of galvanised
iron, and every batch of bread, cakes, pudding, &c., has to be covered
with sheets of paper to keep off the falling dust. Stoves are unknown;
iron pots, buckets, and billy-cans, hung on hooks over a blazing log-
fire, take the place of saucepans, kettle, fountain, and other handy
utensils of the better-settled and more modernised parts of the
country. The dresser is another missing quantity, and as often as not
the only safe is a bag, with a bit of deal board for bottom, or a
suspended cask, with a bag drawn over it and tied. The water stands in
a 200-gallon tank in the dray at the back of the hut; but if the creek
or waterhole happens to be handy, the cook carries it up in buckets as
required. He chops his own wood, and very often has to face the
disagreeable task of killing his own sheep. Table-laying, clearing
away, washing-up, and everything else connected with the mess are
included in his duties.

In big sheds, where he is provided with a "slushy," or "off-sider," he
enjoys comparative comfort. He bakes, gives orders, cheers the boys
with a joke or a yarn at meal-times, reads the papers, and smokes
fairly good tobacco between times. Slushy is made to do all the rest—on
the principle that a man is a fool to keep a dog and do the barking
himself. The chef gets four shillings per man per week, whilst slushy
has to be satisfied with thirty shillings to forty shillings per week.
Some of the cooks make big money, and follow the rounds of the sheds in
a buggy and pair. Others swamp their earnings at the wayside rubby, and
have themselves to blame that they are every year humping bluey.

Of bush cooks there are many classes, each following his own particular
line, the shearers' cook, station cook, drovers;' cook, &c. Among the
nondescripts, who treat all as fish that comes to their net, one
encounters some hard characters. I made the acquaintance of one at a
wayside hotel out west, an under-sized, wizened-faced man, who smoked
prodigiously while kneading, and included tobacco-ashes and whatever
else fell into the sponge as a matter of course. He had a clever knack
of turning pancakes by tossing them into the air and catching them,
cooked side up, in the pan. He was an economical worker, but the
principle was carried a little too far. For instance, when he had soup
to make and a plum-duff to cook at the same time, the duff was always
boiled in the soup.

This class of cook is frequently met within mustering-camps on the big
cattle stations of Western Queensland. He has a good time, for there
are seldom more than two meals a day, and no table to lay. The two or
three dishes—mostly big milk dishes—are set down on a bag, and
everybody helps himself. His cooking, however, is done under
difficulties, especially if there is any wind. His only shelter is a
low, semicircular break of bushes round the fire; while for baking he
has a circular hole a foot deep for the camp-oven to fit in. In wet
weather he plods round up to his boot-tops in mud, performing the more
particular duties on a sheet of bark laid flat on the ground in a small
tent. An experienced hand manages very well whatever the circumstances;
but a combination of botch cook and bad weather is simply Sheol to the
hungry horsemen.

The "knights of the flour-bag" come in for a good deal of discussion at
camp fires. A stockman one night related an experience with a "pick-
up," who officiated during a mustering tour, being provided in this
instance with a small hut:—

"First night for tea he put a cake on the table, an' when we cut
through the shell of charcoal an' cinders th' inside run out an' spread
per the table. It come crawlin' after us like boa-constrictor, an' old
Flourbags set dishes the floor to ketch what went overboard. Next night
he 'ad it dished up as a bread puddin'. Instead o' bein' steamed, it
was smoke-dried; could smell it comin'. The overseer 'ad a go at it
with the axe, but the axe gapped. Nobody touched it any further. Well,
on Sunday he treated us to a plum-duff, which didn't go too bad. We
were rather flabbergasted, though, when he told us afterwards that it
was the old cake-cum-smoked-puddin' that 'ad haunted the table through
the week. 'Never throw away what a Christian ken eat,' he told us. But
he 'ad to throw away the remains o' that duff. None of us could tackle
it again after discoverin' its identity. It was a puddin' with a past."

The drovers' cook, who travels per pack-horse, has the hardest time. He
has few utensils, has to pack-up and unpack, travel a dozen miles or
so, driving horses, and a fresh camp to make every day. Often he
arrives in pouring rain, and has the pleasure of making a fire with wet
wood on soppy ground, and cooking in oilskins and top-boots. Sometimes
he has to build a bank, with trenches around it, and strip a sheet or
two of bark to put over it, before he can boil the billy.

I remember one such camp on the Barcoo. A heavy storm bowled over the
cook's tent during the night, and spoiled pretty near everything in it.
We were on low ground, which was soon flooded. All hands bundled up
their belongings and shifted to a rise some distance away. The cook
remained, doing salvage duty, until the cattle, ringing on the wet flat
and threatening to rush over him every minute, frightened him away. In
the morning we found him puddling at a waterhole and panning off rice,
the only eatable he was able to save from the mud for breakfast.

The pioneers were quick to grasp the aboriginal methods of cooking as
being simple and easy, and entailing no carrying of heavy and
cumbersome utensils. Men on horseback sometimes carry a frying-pan, but
nothing more, excepting, of course, the inevitable billy-cans. The pan
does duty for broiling, boiling, and frying, and also for baking a
Johnny-cake. The footmen carry only a couple of billies, one inside the
other, the smaller being used for tea and the other for boiling meat
in. Some have only one, which fulfils the dual office of meat-pot and
kettle. This economic person is no epicure in the matter of flavours.
His main concern is to get sufficient to "fill," and as the ultimate
fate of everything that goes to that end is to get mixed, a little
previous mixing, as he puts it, is neither here nor there." In all
other lines of cookery he follows pretty closely the primitive style of
Murri—except when he feels inclined for a little pastry, when he boils
a lump or two of dough in the same old billy. "Doughboys," he tells
you," are very filling; you can feel them for a long time after."

There is very little he cannot cook, and cook well, given firewood and
a match. He can turn out a brace of stuffed ducks as delicately browned
and juicy as any woman could with her stoves and ovens. And the process
is simple. He merely wraps the birds in a sheet of well-greased brown
paper and buries them in hot ashes. His damper is mixed up on a sheet
of bark or tin, or on the outside of a piece of oilcloth, if he happens
to have such a thing round his swag, and when he has worked it to the
required consistency he scoops a hole in the hot ashes, drops it in
carefully, and covers it over, first with ashes, and then with red
coals. When baked it is stood on end to cool. It has a sweet, delicious
flavour that is peculiarly its own.

When bread is wanted for immediate use a few Johnnies are baked on the
coals. In cooking a rich currant cake the batter is also wrapped in
brown paper, and from its appearance no one could tell that it had not
been cooked in a brick oven; but the brownie (which is simply a damper
with currants and sugar added) is placed in the naked ashes. A pigeon-
pie is baked in a casing of stiff clay, obtained round the margins of
waterholes. When lifted out of the ashes the baked clay is broken off
by tapping the top with a stick. Many a good pie is made in turtle-
shells, and even in stones having a concave surface.

It is surprising what a lot of things can be cooked, and what excellent
cooking can be done, in bare ashes and on coals. Steak and chops are
thrown on the latter and grilled, but in fixed camps various appliances
are used. A gridiron is made by zigzagging a piece of hoop-iron, which
is stood on the coals; another is made by twisting and plaiting pieces
of fencing-wire together. Shearers use a barrel-hoop, covered with wire
netting and having a wire handle, so that it can be hung over a fire,
in preference to any modern invention. Sufficient meat can be grilled
on this at once to serve a dozen men. A traveller's duff is made by
mixing the batter in a billy-can with a stick. It is then poured into a
handkerchief or into the sleeve of a shirt or something equally
convenient, tied with a bootlace, and boiled in the same vessel.

The implements and appliances of the bushwhacker are in keeping with
his surroundings. His rolling-pin is a bottle; his toasting-fork is
made out of fencing-wire; and his skimmer is a piece of perforated tin
tacked on to a stick about two feet long. An old billy or pint-pot,
with holes punched in the bottom, makes a serviceable colander; and the
bread-knife and carving-knife are made from the broken blade of a hand-
saw, with two flat pieces of wood riveted on one end for a handle. His
dishcloth is a piece of moleskin tied on the end of a stick and cut in
strips. It is an effective weapon in the hands of a cantankerous and
pugnacious cook in silencing a complaint about the tucker. A sudden and
unexpected swipe across the mouth with it (and it laps and clings
beautifully) has a remarkably depressing effect on the average
grumbler. It is a handy, useful instrument; with it Slushy can wash the
tinware and pots without greasing or even wetting his hands.

Then, again, he has his own-made tongs—a piece of iron-hoop bent
double. Iron-hoop and fencing-wire have a wonderful range in the matter
of utility in the bush. So has greenhide. This triumvirate figures in
every hut and camp in the back country, and in the home or in the
paddock it is the settler's everlasting standby .

Despite all inconveniences, the average farback cook is generally a
smiling, happy-go-lucky individual, who looks upon flies, dust, and
smoky chimneys as part and parcel of his profession, with a cheery "Sit
in, mate" to every chance traveller, and views everything with an
optimistic eye.

Among the exceptions is the short-spoken, sour-tempered man, who not
infrequently has a fighting reputation, built up on suppositional,
accidental, or other lines. The notion was once prevalent that all
wayback dough-bangers were pugilistic champions, and dozens, who were
ignorant even of the rudiments of boxing, and lacked also the essential
grit and stamina, traded on this reputation, going smilingly through
camp and shed on the game of bluff, challenging any man to fight who
found fault with the tucker. Ultimately the challenge is taken up, for
the man who looks for fight will find it soon or late, and in time the
reputation of the combative cook becomes a legend of the past. Dough-
banging does not develop the muscles in the manner that bush-whackers
used to imagine, and the profession, on the whole, rather tends to
leave its followers with a lack of wind.

It is not to be wondered at that many cooks become crabby, for the
cook, on the whole, has an unenviable time, having innumerable
grievances to contend with, of which his city brother knows nothing.
Take the man, for instance, who "dishes up" for station-hands. If he is
allowed full and plenty from the store, and a regular supply of
vegetables from the garden, he serves his boys well and wins a
reputation that will get him into any shearing-shed within a radius of
a hundred miles. On the other hand, if he is rationed out, as at many
stations, and allowed none of the extras that help, as many bushmen
say, to top off a meal, the table naturally suffers, and the best name
the men can find for him is "poisoner."

His excuses and explanations are wasted; the men blame him, and him
only. Besides this, he is unable, for want of material himself, to
treat travellers, and is in consequence known by all the vilest names
imaginable along the highways and byways of several contiguous
counties. For this reason good shearers' cooks, unless very hard
pushed, will seldom take a job at a station kitchen. They contend that,
unless given practically the "run of the store, meathouse, and garden,"
no matter what they do or try to do, they are bound to lose their good

I happened to be on a station where one, who was known as Jock, took
such a job. The times were bad, and supplies had consequently been
shortened. One would hardly credit the state of suspense and anxiety
that Jock passed through during his sojourn there. He lived in dread of
swagmen calling; he mostly shut the doors, and took his boots off to
lay the table when he saw them coming. If one happened upon him
unawares, he tendered some plausible excuse, saying that Jock, the
cook, was in town, and he was merely a rouseabout, doing him a favour,
and as such hadn't the run of the place, and he had no idea where
anything was kept. Occasionally he encountered a persistent swagger,
who called the next day, and the day after, and Jock would then have to
be on the spree, and the unlucky rouseabout was doing him an enormous
favour, and trying desperately to find out where Jock kept things. When
circumstances were unfavourable for such thin excuses, Jock would lose
several nights' sleep thinking of the dire consequences of what the
swagman might say of him along the track.

When a gang of men, such as shearers, are engaging a cook, which is
done by ballot, they do not look at references, as the squatters do; a
good reference from a squatter has exactly the opposite bearing with
shearers; they know his whole pedigree; his movements and doings have
been regularly posted in every quarter from last shearing to date, and
the ballot speaks accordingly. If he is a stranger, and none of their
own party can put in a good word for him, he is considered worth
leaving alone, on the principle that every man is a bad egg until he
has proved himself otherwise; but if no other cook is available, he
goes in on sufferance.

The regular station cook, who eschews shearers, drovers, and camps
generally, is exactly opposite in his bearing and disposition to the
class of which Jock was a worthy member. He depends on the squatter for
a livelihood, and it is to his interests to serve that gentleman in
every way with the utmost zeal. In pursuance of this step he considers
it incumbent upon him to discourage travellers. These gentry, apart
from causing a constant drain on the stores, entail additional work in
the preparation and cooking of what they carry away from the larder.

Jack Fitzgerald, known far and wide as Jack-Without-a-Shirt, who died
at Wilcannia in May, 1908, would cook anywhere and for anybody, but it
was always understood before he started that he was to have a free hand
in dispensing rations. He got his nickname in this way. A traveller
came to him for rations and said he had no bags, having lost everything
but what he stood up in while crossing a flooded creek. "Never mind,"
said Jack, pulling off his shirt, "this will do." He tore off the
sleeves, and knotting them at the wrists, stuffed one with tea and the
other with sugar, then filled the body of the shirt with flour. His
only other shirt being at the time in the wash, for the rest of the day
he went about his duties with only trousers and boots on.

Concerning fighting cooks the tales are legion. I remember one snag in
a north-western (New South Wales) shed, who cooked abominably, but
rendered his position tenable by punching the ringer, spreading out the
shed pug, and knocking pieces off the wool-presser. After this he
became more domineering than ever, and soddened doughboys took the
place of the usual blancmange. In his own phraseology, he "knew his
cake was dough"; he would never be elected in another shed in that or
surrounding districts, and determined to make matters particularly warm
while his reign lasted. His election there had been compulsory. Their
own cook was on a jamboree when the shed started, and "Long Mick," a
stranger, was the only emergency.

As it was impossible to approach "Long Mick" on the subject of his
cooking without being knocked down, the shearers held a conference in
the shed, with the result that £10 was subscribed and a rouseabout
dispatched to a neighbouring station for a noted fighter of the bulldog
breed, known as "Bandy Ike." He was only a dwarf compared to Mick, but
he was hard as nails, and a big woodcutting contract had got his
muscles up to the required pitch.

He arrived on a Saturday afternoon, and remained very passive during
the evening; but at breakfast next morning he made a scurrilous remark
on the chops. Long Mick bounced in with fire in his eye, and in one
minute he had thrown off his cap and apron and said, "Come outside!"

All hands rushed out to see the battle, which was fought behind the
woodheap. For the first three rounds Ike never struck a blow; he was
dodging, feinting and running round, and taking headers between the
long fellow's legs. The latter began to blow hard; then Ike went to
work with his sledge-hammer fists, and at the end of five minutes we
carried Long Michael in and laid him on his bunk. Every one knew how to
beat him now, and several were willing to have a cut later on; but Long
Mick rolled his swag two days later, and left without saying goodbye.

A rouseabout went on cooking. He proved the greatest poisoner that ever
handled flour; but he had a civil tongue and a nice, taking way of
apologising for all shortcomings; and if his bill of fare was
monotonous, there was no lack of variety in his excuses. So they got on
amicably together, and the shed cut out amidst general rejoicings.


There are hundreds of men in Australia who would not exchange the
humble and diminutive tent for a tuck-pointed villa or a modern
mansion; there are others, living discontentedly in houses, who would
gladly exchange for the tent. To such men the camp fire is more homely
and cheerful than a gas-stove; their beds of grass or gum-leaves, laid
on the ground and covered with a rug, more comfortable than a spring
mattress; and the tea made in the billy-can and drunk out of a pannikin
is incomparable to any that is poured from a teapot into china cups.

I remember an old tent-dweller who once treated himself to a Melbourne
Cup trip, and, getting into a fairly good hotel, discovered the first
spring mattress he had ever seen. He had vegetated in the far-out bark
and sapling architectural districts, and when he got back there he told
his mates that they had given him a wire fence, laid flat, to sleep on,
but he had pulled the clothes off the concern and slept on the floor.

Jimmy Tyson, the squatter king, though he hobnobbed with the best,
loved his quart pot and his tent to the last. People called him mean
because he would boil his quart on the bank of a creek within coo-ee of
a wayside pub, but they did not understand the hold the bush gets on a
man, and the fascination there is in tent life, especially to a
millionaire, to whom a jaunt in the bush was a holiday, refreshing old
experiences, recalling old-time memories.

Phil Moubray, widely known as a writer under the name of "Scotty the
Wrinkler," was an inveterate camper. Scotty had sojourned in many
lands, had travelled half the world, and filled many important posts,
including that of Imperial officer, Royal engineer, surveyor,
draughtsman, journalist, and tutor, and he was never so happy as when
his tent was pitched in some quiet bend of an Australian river. To him
the smell of gum-leaves was sweet, and there was a charm in the myriad
bush voices and the wild environment that nothing could replace. He and
his camp once figured as an exhibit at a Melbourne exhibition.

The tent is certainly clean, and there is no doubt about the life being
healthy. It is the quickest and handiest sort of dwelling to erect; you
can carry it about with you and put it up anywhere in a few minutes—
unless you are a travelling circus. Further, you haven't to buy or
lease the ground as you do when you build a house; you stick it up
without so much as inquiring who owns the territory. There are many
advantages about a tent. It was the castle of our forefathers;
thousands of little Australians were born in it, and the early annals
of many of our goldfield towns were written under its white roof.

Tent furniture is made on the spot. For stretcher, two poles are thrust
through a couple of bags and laid on forked uprights a foot or so off
the ground. Some merely lay the poles on the ground, filling the space
between with leaves or grass. This is not a safe bunk in a snake
country; it also harbours centipedes, scorpions, and other
undesirables. Four stakes and a square piece of bark complete the
table. The usual light is a slush lamp. When a candle is used it is
held between three upright nails on one corner of the table, or in a
slit at the top of a stake, or in a jam tin partly filled with sand. On
windy nights the candle is covered with a glass bottle, the bottom of
which has been evenly taken off. This is accomplished by first tying
some kerosene-saturated twine round the bottle, then burning it and
plunging the bottle into cold water.

Many tents are provided with mosquito netting, which is drawn over two
looped wires to protect the face. Others are content to burn cowdung.
This necessitates the gathering of supplies every evening, and the heap
at the tent door is unsightly. I saw a tent on the Paroo which had a
length of mosquito netting buttoning across the front, allowing the
flaps to be turned back. This made the place cool in summer, besides
excluding all troublesome insects. I never saw but one tent-dweller in
a hammock, and very few bushmen who were encumbered with air mattresses
and air pillows. The hammock is easily carried, and may, on a pinch, be
used for a fishing-net; but it is not easily rigged, and it is anything
but comfortable. A bed of gum-leaves is beneficial.

There is seldom a washhand-basin at a whaler's camp. In the morning he
takes his soap and towel to the waterhole, performing his ablutions at
a certain place; then he dips his water for drinking and cooking
purposes at another place a few yards away, or else at another hole. If
it is only a gilghi, or a small pothole, he washes on the bank with the
aid of a pannikin. In the case of two mates, one pours the water as
required into the hands of the other. When camping near running water,
he washes downstream, and draws his supplies for camp use upstream.

Old stagers exercise considerable care in the choosing of a camp site.
They never pitch a tent within reach of a dead tree or against a log. A
swagman near Greenmount (Queensland), one evening in June, 1903,
indiscreetly lit his fire at the root of a tree, and during the night
the tree burnt down, pinning him under a limb. For hours he struggled
and twisted to free himself, while the fire of the burning tree crept
nearer and nearer. At dawn, when it had reached his legs, his agonised
cries were heard by an old man, who at once brought assistance and
rescued him from his awful predicament.

The old stagers note the lean of green trees, and scrutinise the limbs
from which danger may be expected in stormy weather. Stumps and
driftwood are also avoided, as they are favoured by snakes; so also is
a dinted surface where water is likely to collect. A slight rise or an
easy slope is the best ground, the trench round the tent ensuring a dry
interior in the wettest weather. They choose, if possible, a low, bushy
tree, or a space in a cluster of bushes, the latter acting as a
serviceable break when strong winds are blowing. If the grass is dry,
precaution is taken to burn a patch for a radius of several yards as a
protection against bush fires, also to prevent a disastrous outbreak by
sparks from the camp fire during a temporary absence. Water must be
handy and food plentiful. Nor is this all. The troublesome black ant,
the electrifying jumper, the blistering greenhead, and the pugnacious
"bulldog" have to be considered. There are spots absolutely free from
ants, whilst places within a few yards around are swarming; other
spots, again, are traversed by highways and branch tracks regularly
used by the ants in their comings and goings to and from the nest. In
such places the camper is careful not to throw any scraps about that
would draw them to the tent. These matters are quickly noticed by the
experienced eye, and the site of the primitive habitation is chosen

At many favoured spots little canvas villages spring up, mushroom-like,
in a night, glisten like huge snowballs for a time in the sun, then
disappear, leaving nothing but ash-heaps behind. Along the banks of the
Darling, Murray, Murrumbidgee, Lachlan, Bogan, and Barwon Rivers, and
westward along the Warrego and Maranoa, and on the shores of Bulloo
Lake, the tent-dwellers make their home when out of work, and when the
weather or condition of the country militates against travelling. Fish
is plentiful, and game of many kinds fairly abundant. During the hot
months they make a prolonged stay, for the most part leading a lazy
life, until the craving for a change of diet drives them on to the
wallaby again. The majority break camp periodically, as at shearing-
time, and may be working or wandering for nine months in the year. On
returning they make for the same spot, dig up their "home effects" that
have been buried under a tree, and follow the old routine. Many of them
never leave the rivers, except for short periods, and make a living by
cutting out pipes, snobbing, tinkering, mending umbrellas, making
water-bags, carving emu eggs, polishing bullocks' horns, and following
many other trades that can be carried on under canvas. On the Paroo I
encountered a well-educated Pole who tuned pianos. It was amusing to
watch him dressing in his tent preparatory to going up to the homestead
to inquire about the health of the family instrument. He came out in
faultless style, and with a leather bag in his hand; when "moving" he
was dressed like an ordinary battler, swinging a billycan in place of a

Between the tent and an average dwelling-house there is a long list of
humpies and hovels, gunyahs, mi-mies, canvas and galvanised-iron
habitations, and bark huts, in which the freedom and ruggedness of the
tent life is observable, though, as a rule, they are not as clean and
healthy. Any one of them is acceptable as a home to the majority of
those who lead a rough and wandering life; but there are many, long
used to camping out with only the star-studded sky for roof, who will
not avail themselves of any such shelter when opportunity offers.
Drovers, musterers, and swagmen may often be seen sleeping in the open
around an empty hut. Others, again, with whom the cloister of white
canvas has become second nature, eschew the huts as unclean. I have
seen these men, when they have been working on stations, erect their
customary six-by-eights by the side of the men's hut, though the latter
was well built and comfortable. On one occasion I saw a man rig his
tent inside a hut, though what he did it for only himself knew—unless,
as I have said, the canvas had become inseparable from his idea of

I remember once, when doing a journey across Queensland from east to
west, I camped every night for weeks at a waterhole, or by some
watercourse, making my fire under a bushy tree. One night I was unable
to reach any such place, and I felt lonely and miserable. Another night
I had no matches to make a fire, and experienced the same feelings. A
fire near a waterhole had become home to me—being the only home at the
time available. And thus it is with the aborigines, who, though semi-
civilised, prefer their primitive gunyahs to a white man's palace.

Camping out, however, is not all smooth sailing. The tentless swagman
at times has to make queer shifts on wet nights. I once shared a hollow
log with a dingo—but neither of us had any sleep; we were too
interested in watching each other. On another night I slept in the
hollow of a tree, and next morning I noticed a big black snake crawling
out of the root to sun himself.

When once you have been scared by snakes you live in dread of them, for
they wander on hot nights, and your fire attracts them. They travel for
miles before a dust-storm; so when a dust-storm is coming you lie
expectant. Every crooked stick resembles a snake, and if you look at it
by the firelight it seems to dance and to wriggle. I travelled with one
man who made it a rule to gather up every little stick before dark.
Said he had killed two or three stick-snakes that summer and didn't
want to be making a fool of himself any more—it lowered his dignity.

When a storm finds you in thick timber you are forced to take violent
exercise, dodging falling branches. You become suddenly interested in
various trees which you had not noticed before, and you speculate as to
their powers of endurance, and where they are likely to fall should
they blow down. You shrink from the lightning, wondering if this tree
or that will be struck. You do not feel safe in your tent; you think
every moment that something is going to fall on it.

One evening when I was on an out-of-the-way track I found a black-
fellow trying to rig an old tent between two mulga-trees as a storm was
coming on. I helped him, there being no other shelter. A short stump in
the middle served as a partition. He snored on one side of it while I
marked time on the other, and nine of his dogs scratched fleas between
us. One dog had a lump in his throat and made you feel as if you wanted
to cough to ease him. Another had no hair and whined continually with
cold. But the worst of all was a wall-eyed brindle, which was
everlastingly convulsed in some bristle-stirring nightmare. I never saw
a living thing have so many nightmares on end. Every time he yelped all
the others would start up and yelp too. Then one brute fossicked out a
lizard, which the whole pack chased round and round the stump. They
caught him at last, and worried him until, being a brittle lizard, he
broke up badly, and presently the nine curs were wrestling with nine
pieces all over old Murri. And such an eldritch row he made! After a
while they got round to my side. Two serviceable bluchers met them and
set them fighting in half a dozen places. Then down came the caboose. I
left Murri buried under it, and stepped out through the slush and
pelting rain. When the camp is situated near the foot-hills, rising
gently into dark mountains, by a narrow stream coursing through
luxuriant bush, where a thousand bird voices greet the ear, and every
breeze is laden with a rich perfume, one lives in a state of simplicity
that is pleasant and beneficial. Scores of Sydneysiders every year
spend their summer vacation in tents, forming little communities in
quiet spots where there is fishing, and perhaps shooting; even the
smartest set regard it as the proper thing to go under canvas, and to
sleep on the grass on fine, warm nights, with nothing overhead but a
star-spangled sky.


Travellers who have been used to macadamised highways can't readily
accommodate themselves to the altered conditions pertaining to the back
country, where there are only little patches of made roads, mostly
beside the wayside pubs (where the publicans don't want them), no
bridges or culverts cross the creeks, and the distance from house to
house ranges from twenty to fifty miles. The bush track winds like a
serpent across the hills and through the forests of mulga and gidgee,
whilst over the soft sandbeds the tracks are as manifold as the beds
and billabongs of an inland river, showing the many deviations made by
drivers in their desire to save their horses. The latter, fed mostly on
scrub and saltbush, are not always in the pink of condition, and the
long stages, ranging up to thirty-six miles, together with the immense
loads that are piled on the vehicles, don't assist the animals in
keeping their ribs hidden. A team is often made up of anything handy—
little and big, light and heavy, and it may represent several owners.
Settlers give the coach-driver their half-broken colts to quieten; and
when a man has a horse that kicks, bolts, jibs, or displays other
peculiarities that the owner objects to, the remedy is a few trips in
the body of the coach team. These casual horses may also be one-eyed,
near-sighted, or purblind, but the driver is glad to have their help.

I often heard admiring comments from visitors on the horses that came
spanking into Broken Hill with heavy loads from north and west. These
were the show horses. They had good roads to travel on, and had to cut
out their stage in record time to make up for the deficiencies of
relays farther out. Mail-time is reckoned by minutes in Broken Hill;
but when you inquire at the little places towards the border as to what
time last week's "Bulletin" will arrive, the answer is : "Some time
this afternoon, or to-night, or to-morrow." A few points of rain on the
track, though it would not stop a Chinaman from watering his cabbages,
may delay the mail forty-eight hours. Tibooburra is advised by wire
what time the coach leaves Milparinka, twenty-four miles distant; yet
the people cannot tell within two or three hours, in average weather,
when it will arrive. "Heavy load" means late arrival, "light load"

Sitting behind knocked-up horses on a hot summer's day, with dust and
flies for an accompaniment to the creaking of wheels and the rocking of
a crawling coach, is an experience that the far-back traveller can look
forward to without fear of disappointment. Sometimes, to avoid being
stuck up, he has to walk over the bad places, and even dig away the
sand and mud with a shovel and spoke the wheels. One western line
traversed many heavy sandbeds. On coming to one of these the driver
would call out, "Now, then, out you get!" and women and all would have
to step out and tramp until the horses were able to trot again. But the
westerners are used to that sort of thing, and willingly walk and graft
a lot of the way over which they've paid anything from sixpence to
ninepence a mile for the luxury of riding.

The commercial traveller is an objectionable passenger to a coach-
driver at such times. His tin trunks are numerous, and their weight
would knock up a mule team. He is generally a heavy person, too, and he
doesn't like stepping down into a quagmire. When it is necessary to
open a gate or to hook a trace-chain that has come undone he takes a
tighter grip of his cigar and holds out his hand for the reins. But the
commercial is a good fellow. He has always a fund of anecdote, and is
usually provided with something in a bottle to refresh the driver after
a trying experience. He pays liberally for his ride, and he rides all
the way.

On the two-hundred-mile journey between Tibooburra and Broken Hill I
and others, after sitting cramped up, numbed and shivering, for hours
on a winter's night, have got out and walked five or six miles to the
mail change for a cup of tea, and have then enjoyed an hour or more's
sleep before the coach turned up. By this I do not wish to infer that
the general run of Out-back coaches are slow affairs; but over portions
of the rough tracks it isn't possible for them to travel at full walk,
much less at full trot. Though the casual passenger grumbles at having
to get along by his own volition, the weary whip, tied to his worn-out
team, envies him his freedom, and wishes that he could walk away
likewise. The exigencies of his calling require him to be on the box
for fifty hours at a stretch, with only a day or two and at one end
only a night's rest between trips. Winter and summer, sunshine and
rain, he works all day and all night, and all next day and right on
through the night again, without a spell, stopping only at the changes
for fresh horses and refreshments—and refreshments on this route vary
from eight to eighteen hours apart.

Where there is a long interval between houses, the "change" may be
simply a sapling yard and a bough shed. The groom is mostly a single
man, living in a tent. His only work is to look after a few horses
which run in the bush, groom them, and help the driver with the
changing on mail days. The coach may pass only once or twice a week, up
and down, and between whiles he has a pretty lonely time of it, seeing
nobody but an odd swagman. Where a selector's hut is handy to the road
the selector acts as groom, and his wife earns an honest penny by
providing refreshments for driver and passengers. At one place we
walked nearly a mile off the road to an old roughly-built hut, where
the groom's wife supplied a substantial dinner for two shillings a
head. The dining-room was a bough-covered skillion at the back, and you
sat on long forms before a narrow table made of packing-cases that
called up recollections of shearers' huts. There was no tablecloth, but
we didn't mind little things like that, nor did we complain when the
baby under the table amused itself by counting our legs and undoing our
bootlaces. Everything was spotlessly clean, the women were homely and
chatty, and though mine host carved in a short-sleeved flannel, open at
the neck and bearing signs of recent hard graft, we felt very grateful
as we climbed on board again.

Besides these stopping-places there are dozens of bush post-offices
along the road. These are simply candle boxes, lolly tins, or kerosene
tins, nailed to trees and gate-posts. Hollow trees are also used, a
small piece being cut out of the trunk, and a tin awning nailed above
it. Such receptacles are usually convenient enough for the driver to
draw up alongside and drop the mail in, and take out anything that has
been left for him. They occur in places where no sign of life is
visible, in the heart of the scrub, on the edge of a plain, and on
thickly-timbered hills. At other places a horseman, or a girl, or a
black boy will be waiting, sometimes with parcels which may be anything
from a cabbage to a box of eggs. At night-time the tired passenger,
after sitting and rocking through hours of monotony, occasionally
brightens up at the sight of a light ahead, and inquires the name of
the place. The driver tells him the name of the squattage, or whatever
may be adjacent. When they pull up the passenger is disappointed to
find only a man standing by the roadside with a lantern, having ridden
or walked down to ascertain the whereabouts of a certain bullock team
and how it was getting on, while the place the driver had named is two
miles or more off the road. Swagmen's fires, too, blaze out here and
there, and sometimes the men have a message for the coachman, a letter
to be posted, or they want to know something about the track, where
water is to be found, the distance of places, when shearing starts at
Boulka Lake, and if Bancannia has cut out yet. Maybe they only want a
pipe of tobacco, which, in the swagman's opinion, is sufficient cause
to hold up the Royal Mail.

There are receiving offices here and there—at a wayside store, hotel,
or mining camp. On mail days people gather from all directions at these
places, the arrival of the coach being the most important event of
their lives. The orders and messages a driver receives from them are
many and various. One man wants a pound of tobacco from the store,
another wants a pair of boots or a pair of pants, a third hands him a
bill with the amount and asks him to be good enough to get a receipt,
and a fourth wants his dog registered. Mrs. Brown passes up a pair of
ducks, and would be obliged if he would give them to Mrs. Smith, with
her compliments, as he passes. Mrs. Publichouse wants him, like a good
fellow, to get her a cook or a housemaid in town. Another lady has been
making jam, and desires several jars of it distributed among her
friends along the track. Also McPherson wishes him to ask Anderson for
the loan of his bay colt, and to bring it up alongside his team when he
is coming back. These are a few of the innumerable favours which every
coach-driver on the Out-back roads is expected to do for nothing. If he
forgets one of them, though it might be only a question concerning the
health of Mrs. Jones's baby, he will be told with sarcasm that "he's
got a head and so has a pin."

We had a new experience at Packsaddle Bore, where the road crosses a
wide, sandy creek. There had been rain in the neighbourhood, so the
roads were heavy and creeks running. The upcoach was met here—bogged in
mid-stream. The driver and a passenger were wading knee-deep in water,
one at the horses' heads and one spoking, while a Chinaman, bound for a
border squattage, handled the ribbons and shouted instructions from the
box, "Pullee gley orsee round more better!" he cried. "Hit um the black
one; my wor', lazy brute! Gee up, 'orsee! Gortam, whaffor?" We halted
on the bank, and our leaders were transferred to the bogged team. Our
amiable whip also stepped bare-legged into the water, and with their
combined efforts the Royal Mail was rescued from the bog.

Now came our turn. Paddy, the driver, rushed them in so as to take the
stiff part at a run. Alas! the pole-hook pulled out, and the leaders
dashed away with the reins, leaving us stranded in the middle of the
creek. Luckily the damage was easily repaired, and, there being plenty
of horses, we got out of our difficulties after about an hour's delay.

The coach-driver bears a great deal more responsibility than he is
given credit for. Think of the many steep and nasty gullies crossed in
the dead of night; the deep gutters, begotten of old-time wheel-tracks,
that run parallel with the road on the down grades, where the least
swerve might mean a capsize; the twistings through scrub, where the
track swings sharply round a stump or tree, or round the foot of a
rugged ridge with the steep bank of a creek in juxtaposition, and you
get some idea of what you owe to his steady hand, his keen eye, and his
memory of the road, as he bowls you on through the long night. Half
your time you can see nothing but a black bank before you, for through
the sandbeds, over the stony plains and the powdery, grassless flats
the road is invisible. Yet the horses swing on with an unfaltering
stride that instils within you a sense of security. People whose
avocations take them over many roads know how to appreciate a good
whip; they know what depends on the hand that holds the reins.

On very dark nights, when the skies are clouded, it occasionally
happens that the road is missed. On a barren plain below Wonnaminta,
where the track was hard to discern when starlit, we got astray one
night, and were two hours searching with coach-lamps and matches for
the track. Then there is always the dreaded north-west dust-storm to be
reckoned with. Driving through one of these is worse than any night,
for at times nothing can be seen, and the dust-blinded horses strive
continually to turn from the blast. Once the Hungerford-Bourke coach
was blown over and dragged across the driver, who, however, escaped
without serious injury. During unusually heavy storms the team is
turned tail to the wind, and a halt is made until the worst has blown
over. Again, trees are blown across the road, and a way has to be
picked slowly round through the timber.

Another danger which might at any time cause an accident is embodied in
the simple-looking roley-poley, a huge white ball of burrs and grass.
It is met with everywhere in the north-west, and rolls for miles across
the plains, banking up against fences and filling up the cowals. These
banks at night look like low hills, and the filled-up gutters resemble
level strips of grassy ground. Horses are often frightened by the
roley-poleys, which come spinning towards them, or suddenly roll across
the track under their noses. They are weird-looking things in the
moonlight, hundreds of them rolling along like scurrying sheep,
bounding over the banked fences, and gambolling on again.

When it is mentioned that, besides drapery, spirits, and tobacco, such
items as butter, fruit, bacon, hams, meat, vegetables, wool sheets,
tents, tin dishes, and boots are sent through the parcels post, you can
imagine what the non-postal matter is like. Every available inch of
space is occupied, bags of chaff, buggy wheels, perambulators, and
other bulky light stuff being piled on top to a height of several feet.
Then there are the passengers, generally a mixed lot. Coming down, you
might have a Chinaman beside you, and a couple of manacled prisoners,
with a policeman on either side, on the opposite seat. And there is no
room to stretch your legs or lean back; you are compelled to sit
huddled in one position mile after mile, hour after hour. For this
reason most people prefer the box seat. The inside is cooler on a hot
day, warmer on a cold night, and drier in wet weather; but you are
cramped, and there is bound to be some old party alongside who can't
keep awake, and who persists in making a pillow of his companion and
snoring into his ear, or who bumps him heavily with every roll of the

It is a genuine pleasure to see the lights of a town suddenly blaze out
from the crest of a distant hill. In the early morning the place looks
asleep, and during the day it has the dull sameness of many other
towns; but in the early night, when lights stream from everywhere, a
little town looks big.

The coach often travels through miles of burning bush, enveloped in
smoke and cinders, and running a hot race with long lines of flames
that are closing in on the road. On the Glen Wills line (Victoria), in
February, 1905, the mailcoach and contents were destroyed, and three
horses and a swagman—who had been picked up two miles back—were burnt
to death. The coach had been traversing a cutting on the side of a
hill, on which a fire was burning, when the wind sprang up suddenly and
the flames leaped over the road in a broad sheet and completely
enveloped it. The driver, who was knocked overboard and severely
injured, escaped by crawling into Lightning Creek.

In February, 1902, while the mail-coach was travelling between Albury
and Howlong, a goanna suddenly ran up the legs of one of the horses and
perched on its back. The team became wildly excited, bolted, and
smashed the vehicle against a tree. The goanna was about the only thing
concerned that escaped injury.

Probably the worst disaster in the annals of backblocks coaching was
that which overtook the Powell's Creek and Anthony's Lagoon (N.T.)
mail, when the driver, passengers, and horses perished on a dry stage
for want of water.

On the roads trending west from Bourke and north from Broken Hill it
often happens in midsummer that horses drop dead in harness from the
excessive heat, and the driver, if unable to proceed with his weakened
team, rides off to nearest squattage or to the next mail change for
fresh horses, while the passengers guard the coach and mails, and
beguile the time the best way they can. While coming into Tibooburra
one night a horse dropped from exhaustion, and the coach was pulled on
to it before the team could be stopped. The coo-ees of the driver
attracted a dozen of us to the scene, and after lifting the coach off
the prostrate animal, and disentangling the others from the broken
pole, we took hold fore and aft and rolled her on to the post-office.
This, however, might be considered a good finish, when compared with
the experience of a North Queensland mailman, who, when his horses
caved in forty miles from Winton, carried the mailbags the rest of the
way on his back, the journey occupying him two days.

These are some of the experiences of coaching in the tame times of the
present. They were more exhilarating in the pioneering days of Cobb
Co., when the intrepid whips had to run the gauntlet of armed
bushrangers, and often submit to being lined up with their passengers
by the roadside while the coach was being ransacked. One of the famous
whips of those days was Edward Devine, commonly known as Cabbagetree
Ned. From 1853 (when he was only seventeen) to 1862 Ned drove a six-in-
hand between Geelong and Ballarat. During the first two years his wage
was £16 a week, and his tips from lucky diggers, for whom he conveyed
gold to the banks, averaged even more than that. The roads at the time
were frequented by Captain Melville, Black Douglass, and other

Ned had many narrow escapes, and on one occasion his coach was stuck up
and his passengers robbed of £800 by the notorious Ned Jordan,
afterwards hanged for the murder of Squatter Rutherford. Devine got his
sobriquet from the fact that he usually sported a wide-brimmed cabbage-
tree hat, made in Parramatta for the London International Exhibition
held in 1851, and subsequently presented to him. It was a conspicuous
part of his dress for fifty years.


"'Twas merry 'mid the blackwoods when we spied the station roofs,
To wheel the wild scrub cattle at the yard,
With a running fire of stockwhips, and a fiery run of hoofs—
Oh! the hardest day was never then too hard."

Adam Lindsay Gordon.

The stockman holds the same place in Australia as the cowboy in the
western plains of America, and in Old World eyes no picture of
Australia is complete without him. He is every whit as wild and
reckless, as daring among wild horses and cattle, as his cousin of the
ranch, and has proved himself a more skilled artist in buckjump riding.
He has never adopted the lasso, the bowie-knife, or the six-shooter
(except when scrub-running and buffalo-hunting), though in the early
days, when the black-fellow's spear and boomerang waited for him on his
bush rides, he was seldom without the necessary equipment for a battle
royal; but with the stockwhip and tomahawk he is a master. One of his
pastimes when waiting on a cattle camp is tomahawk-throwing at a small
mark on a tree. The mark is about three inches in diameter, and the
object is to bury the blade in it from a distance of twenty to forty
feet while galloping. Another and more dangerous feat is for two to
stand a few yards apart and engage in a tomahawk duel, each catching
the weapon by the handle as it revolves rapidly towards him. A slight
slip would mean a nasty cut, and a miss would probably result in his
head being split open. One of his favourite feats with the stockwhip is
the whipping of a sixpence into the air and catching it while riding
along. At times stockmen have been known to stand in front of a tree
and cut out their names or the station brand on the smooth bark with
their whipthongs. I have heard of the man, too, who could cut the eye
out of a flying mosquito without touching his eyelash, but I never met

Like the drover, the stockman is a prominent feature in country life,
and the most important in the personnel of the cattle station. He is a
happy-go-lucky, devil-may-care individual. His god is his horse;
without that noble animal he is like the domestic duck that has no
waterhole. He may be unemployed and penniless, but as long as he has a
horse and saddle—and he'll have them somehow—he won't lose any sleep
through worry. Having grown up and lived most of his waking life in the
pigskin, he considers himself disgraced if compelled to travel on foot;
if he has to go to a place half a mile away, he will walk a mile to
catch a horse to ride there. More than that, if the horse is a hard one
to catch, he is likely to spend half a day chasing him round the
paddock, and with running and walking and dodging cover a good twenty
miles in the time. I remember asking a stockman, who was idling at a
wayside hotel, if he was going to the sports—a grass-fed meeting that
was being held in the locality. "I wanted to go badly," he said, "but
blessed if I can rake up a prad anywhere. I humped my bridle and saddle
over to Murphy's this morning, thinking to get one of his young uns,
but they were all turned out. So I'm stuck." Murphy's was two miles
away, the racecourse was one mile. But it wasn't etiquette for a well-
known stockman like him to go to the meeting on foot.

The finest riders and the wildest spirits are found in the backblocks.
Their most favoured rig-out consists of snow-white, tight-fitting mole-
skins, coloured shirt, black coat, light cossacks, and a gaudily-
coloured silk neckerchief. Leggings, once universally worn, have pretty
well gone out of fashion, but the long-necked spurs are inseparable
from the stockman's heels. They jingle him to dinner, and they keep
time to his pirouetting in the dance-room. When he removes his boots at
night the spurs are still strapped on them; if he is camping out, he
very often sleeps in them. The thinking end of him is decked with an
expansive cabbage-tree or a broad-leafed felt hat, something like the
sombrero of the cowboy. He is a picturesque fellow, and not a bad sort,
with all his whims and fancies. He is good-hearted and hospitable, and,
though he has a mild contempt for a man who cannot ride a bucking horse
down a precipice, he is at all times generous enough to give assistance
and advice to a novice, especially to lads who are beginning a station

On many of the big cattle stations half the stockmen are aborigines.
They make good horse-men, are marvellously quick in a yard, keen-
sighted, and are at home in any part of the bush. These supple-jointed,
nimble-fingered gentry can pick up the smallest objects from the ground
while riding at full speed. They fraternise like brothers with the
whites, though at the head station they have separate quarters.

The first thing one hears at daylight in the morning on any big cattle
station is the thundering clatter of hoofs as the horse-boy comes
racing in with the big mob of horses. Immediately after breakfast the
boss and the head stockman appear, and the men follow to the yard, each
with a bridle on his arm. Every man has six or eight horses, which are
practically his own property for the time being. No man may put a
bridle on another man's horse without permission, and this applies to
all, from the overseer down to the horse-boy. They swop among
themselves, often giving something to boot, which may take the form of
money, a pair of spurs, tobacco, or other commodity. Some peculiarity
in the action of a horse may be distasteful to one rider, while being
appreciated by another, and so the exchange is agreeable to both. In
the case of a slow, a rough-paced, or a nasty-tempered horse, the
temporary owner has considerable difficulty in trading it for a more
satisfactory animal. He may, however, possess a good stockwhip, fancy
pipe, pocket-knife, patent spurs, or even a nice-shaped cabbage-tree
hat, which has taken the other's fancy, and by throwing in one or more
of these items the deal is brought about. The inclusion of bridles or
saddles in the deal also at times bridges the gulf between the values
of two horses. I have known new chums, learning to ride, pay away a
good portion of their wages to get rid of bucking horses, or in
tobacco, as fees to good riders to take the rough edge off their mounts
in the mornings by giving them a rooting round the yard.

When a draft of lately-broken colts is brought in from the spelling
paddock they are distributed among the men, and are schooled in slack
times and ridden on "short days." The catching and mounting in the
mornings is at all times attractive to the stranger. The horse-yards
are generally two large squares, connected by a little catching-yard,
which has a gate at each end. The horses are run through it from one
square to the other, while the stockmen stand by with their bridles.
Each one calls out "Block" as the particular horse he wants is run in,
and both gates are closed. Even the little black boy, whose head shows
just above the bottom rail, has the privilege of choosing for himself,
so far as his own batch of horses is concerned. As the horses are
ridden in turn and spelled in batches for three or four months every
year, they are always fresh. Consequently a morning seldom passes
without two or three brisk sets-to at the stables. Some of them are
vicious brutes, and can be depended on to buck into the days of their
old age, having a fly every time a saddle is put on them. Quiet old
stagers are rare. Every year a fresh batch of young ones is broken in,
and the old, slow, and defective animals are fattened and sold off; so
the station always has a supply of rough mounts on hand that require
skilled riders to deal with.

Between the general musterings the work at the head station is not
hard. Though the stockmen start out early in the mornings, they are
often back early in the afternoon, and can then amuse themselves as
they please till next day. It is common to see the whole troop, blacks
and whites, marching down to the river with towels for a bogey after
their day's ride. The home run is subdivided into many paddocks—as the
house-paddock, horse-paddock, bull-paddock, and stud-paddock; and there
are separate paddocks for heifers, weaners, bullocks, fats, and pig-
meaters or culls. There is always something to do among these different
herds, and in summer-time the creeks, lagoons, and waterholes have to
be watched, and bogged cattle pulled out. With the fences, or any job
not connected with stock, they have nothing to do; there are men kept
specially for that purpose. The personnel of the average station
comprises, apart from stockmen, a gardener, cook, bullock-driver,
carpenter, blacksmith, ploughman, groom, and a couple of fencers. But
the stockmen have to join forces when bush fires break out, which occur
pretty frequently in summer. For days and nights, for a week at a
stretch, these fires are sometimes fought, every available hand doing
battle against the annual foe of the pastures. You will see fifty men
retreating before a long line of flame, belting at it with bags and
bushes whenever a chance offers in short grass; boys follow with the
horses, or ride to and fro with buckets and bags of water for the men;
whilst others follow the fences, chopping burning portions off posts
and rails and removing lighted timber.


The head station presents an animated appearance on the morning the
cavalcade starts out on a mustering tour. Swags are being rolled in all
directions, two or three pack-horses are loaded at the store, blacks
and whites, in spotlessly clean clothes, pass in and out for tobacco
and matches, new boots, bridles, saddle-cloths, spurs, or other gear; a
score of horses are ready saddled, and sixty to a hundred spare ones
await in the yard. Then the rails are thrown down, and the big mob
trots away towards the bush, with a man or two in front to steady them,
A merry troop follows in a bunch at their heels, while "Flourbags," the
musterers' cook, mounted on "the quietest thing they've got," brings up
the rear and talks unlearnedly of horses and cattle.

There may be several outcamps or sub-stations, and the musterers go
from one to the other. Often there is only a small hut, deserted
between times, and a stockyard and horse-paddock marking these places,
though on some of the inside runs they are respectable homesteads in
themselves, and are in charge of married couples. Here there are a
whites' hut and a blacks' hut, and conditions vary but little from
those existing at the head station. At the primitive outcamps which
obtain in the far-back country the cook usually monopolises the hut and
the men spread out on the grass. When it rains in the night they pack
up hurriedly and crowd wherever they can. For scores of miles in every
direction around them stretches virgin bush, where one may ride days
and never see a fence, and where lines of rugged hills or scrubby
mountain ranges are the only boundaries between one squatter's run and
another's. Stragglers cross from their own runs occasionally, and a
couple of men come from neighbouring places to pick them out at
mustering times.

On many big runs, especially in the western parts of Queensland, there
are vast herds of wild and unbranded cattle in these divisional ranges.
In slack times men go out and camp among the mountains, and attempts
are made to drive the cattle from their fastnesses. When success
attends the venture the young stock are brought in to the home
paddocks, but the old cattle are shot down wherever sighted. The men
are armed with rifles, revolvers, and sheath-knives. Big cattle are
often hand-thrown on horseback. The stockman catches the tail, and with
a sudden twist throws the animal. He then jumps off quickly and ties it
up before it has time to recover from the buster. There is plenty of
excitement in this life—riding full speed through gorges and ravines,
sliding down rugged spurs, tearing and reefing through scrubs, and
plunging through broad morasses, to the constant crack of rifles,
strewing the way with dead and wounded. Now and again a man is
unhorsed, as when a wounded beast turns suddenly and charges or a mob
breaks through from a tight corner, and he has to scramble into a tree
in quick order. Then he finds his horse attacked, and is lucky if he
doesn't lose him altogether.

In some parts moonlighting is adopted. A few quiet cattle are pastured
in the open, near where the scrubbers water, to act as decoys. The
scrubbers come out at night. As soon as they espy the strangers they go
over to interview them; then the waiting stockmen dash between them and
their scrubby home and drive them off, at the same time shooting down
the bulls.

Two or three weeks are spent in rounding up and shooting these wild
cattle, skinning the carcasses, and packing the hides to the stations.
On other places there are large mobs of brumbies, which are also
rounded up at certain times or caught in trapyards. I saw six hundred
caught in one night on Eurombar, Dawson River, in 1895. A few of the
best colts and fillies are kept for breaking in, but 90 per cent, are
shot for their skins. Some of them are hard to quieten, but as a rule
they don't buck any more than ordinary station stock. The latter on
some runs are as free, and pretty near as wild, as brumbies. Hundreds
of horses in Queensland are only seen once a year or so, their runs
having scarcely any specified bounds. When wanted they are mustered by
contract, so many pounds for the first five hundred yarded, a higher
rate for the next complement, and so on. In such places they soon go
wild, and it is not easy to draw the line between brumbies and station

Around the outcamps the runs are worked in sections and the cattle
drafted in the bush. The men spread soon after leaving the yard, going
off in ones and twos, and meeting again hours afterwards on some far-
off cattle-camp, converging from various points with little mobs, which
come down the deep-grassed valleys and rugged hills at a swinging bat.

A black-fellow was one day pulling up, after wheeling his cattle on to
camp, when the bit parted in the horse's mouth. Finding itself free,
the animal bucked furiously for a while, then bolted through the bush.
The darkey, while dodging limbs and trees, drew the throat lash, and,
buckling it round the horse's neck, hung on until he had choked the
animal to a standstill, which didn't take very long. I knew another
man, finding himself in a similar predicament, to draw his stirrup-iron
and knock the horse down with a blow between the ears. It was a quick
way of stopping him, but he very narrowly escaped breaking his own

The camps are merely clear spots in the bush, low sandy mounds or a
clump of trees by a waterhole. As soon as all the musterers have come
in the drafting commences. The head stockman and one or two others,
mounted on good camp horses, do the cutting out, the other men being
posted at intervals round the mob to keep them together. The drafted
cattle are gathered and held some distance away by a couple of boys.
The work is lively and spirited all through; the cattle are continually
breaking and ringing and horsemen flashing through the trees, crossing
and re-crossing each other, while the lowing and bellowing of cattle,
the cracking of whips, and the shouting of men keep up a continual din.
It is much more exciting than drafting in yards—at times it is a little
too exciting. Cattle often charge, a girth breaks, horses fall, or
something starts them bucking at a critical moment,

I saw a clever horseman one day attempt to turn back a long-horned
bullock that had broken away. The bullock charged, striking the horse
on the hind-quarters. The latter sprang forward and jumped over the
huge butt of a fallen tree. It landed with its head between its
forelegs, and with two sudden bucks unseated its rider. The bullock
followed, but, fortunately, struck the log and turned a somersault over
it, which gave the man time to get up a tree. Another day a cutter-out
was galloping round the closely-packed mob to cut off a cow, when she
suddenly turned across his path, with the result that the horse struck
her and knocked her over. One of the outside men had been following
behind, and not being able to turn in the space on account of a tree,
he spurred his horse at the prostrate beast. She sprang up under him,
throwing the horse violently on its head and breaking its neck. The
rider, however, fell clear and escaped unhurt. Accidents of a more
serious nature occasionally occur, but on the whole the stockman can be
trusted nine times out of ten to come off uninjured. Quick of hand and
eye, and trained from his boyhood to act at an instant's notice while
riding at full gallop, he is seldom caught under a falling horse, and
to spring away on to his feet from one that is rearing over is as
simple to him as lighting his pipe.

When all the cattle wanted have been cut out the rejected are left to
pick their way back to their own feeding-grounds, and a few men take
the drafted lot on to the next camp, while the others spread again to
gather up the stragglers from the surrounding bush.

Towards sundown they reach the yards, hungry and tired. If there is any
daylight left, after a hurried meal, a start on the final drafting
through the yards is made. All are now on foot, and the tumult is
greater than on the cattle camps. Accidents often happen, too, in the
yards. When driving them in lots from one yard to another a beast will
often break back and charge. Most stockmen spring on to the fence, but
there are some reckless spirits who will stand, with a short stick in
hand, and face anything with horns. As the beast comes almost within
touch the man springs nimbly aside, at the same time tapping the animal
on the nose with the stick, and with a plunge and a snort it goes
trotting away. But in a small yard a beast will return to the attack
time and again.

One day, on a Clarence River station, a man, who was standing against a
fence, made an attempt to spring on the rail from a wide-horned bullock
and missed his footing. Next instant the long horns crashed against the
rails at each side of him, one snapping off. Only the huge bovine face
hit the man; and, though he was little hurt, he was in a pretty tight
fix for a moment or two. Fortunately, the other horn got caught between
two rails, and, in twisting his head to free himself, the beast gave
his intended victim a quickly-availed-of chance to get away.

Though there are thousands of men engaged in these pursuits who have
the working and handling of the wildest cattle, one seldom hears of one
being gored. They appear to move among cattle with indifference, but
are very rarely caught napping. It doesn't pay to be absent-minded
while in company of a lot of pugnacious scrubbers in a small enclosure.
For all that, hairbreadth escapes frequently occur, and now and again a
man, in a slippery or dust-clouded yard, is knocked over or tossed, but
he generally manages get away with no more damage than a slight bruise
or a scratch. It is the constant risk attending the work that makes it
so acceptable and fascinating to most men. Sheep work is dull and
monotonous; there is no danger about it to excite the brain, no
stirring incidents ever recurring to thrill the fibres and quicken the
pulse as among cattle. Thus a cattle-man will never work on a sheep
station if he can help it. In this respect the stockman and the drover
are of the one frame of mind.

There are several yards to be negotiated, diminishing in size from the
large receiving-yard to the centre of operations. This is the little
drafting-yard, which is a scene of continual activity. It is no more
than a dozen or fifteen feet square, with gates opening into a branding
shed and three or four squares. A man sits on the cap in charge of each
gate. The boss, with book in hand, is also perched on the capping, and
to his calls of "bush," "bullock," "calf," "weaner," &c., the gates are
kept almost continually swinging. A couple of men are in the yard, each
armed with a stick to turn and hunt up stubborn and refractory animals,
and as their eyes are on the gates, and cattle are pouring in from the
yards behind, their position is anything but a sinecure. I remember
well when I was first put into that yard. I was so busy looking after
myself that I hadn't time to do any work. At the end of half an hour I
landed heavily in the next yard, having sprung on to the rails from a
charging beast with so much celerity that the impetus carried me over
the capping. Another day I attempted to drive a single cow, with a
young calf, out of the receiving-yard. She charged, and, being a long
way from a fence, I lodged my hat in front of her and ran. She impaled
that hat on her horn, and as she broke out immediately afterwards and
escaped, I had to buy a new one.

The branding of the calves is done each day as soon as the drafting is
finished. Some of the calves, or "clean-skins," have horns six inches
long, and when strong and fat give the men a tough tussle to throw
them. Ropes are not used on anything that can be hand-thrown; roping
takes too much time. Two men handle each animal, one at the head and
one at the tail, the latter having the worst of it. As soon as the calf
is flung on to its side the man has to sit down quickly, plant his feet
against the under leg, and hold the other back in his hands. The
struggling of a strong calf under a burning brand makes his teeth
rattle. It is fine warming exercise on a winter's morning.

When the drafting has been completed the night before it is usual to
see the fires burning, the brands hot, and the men waiting at the pen
for daylight. There are perhaps two hundred or three hundred calves to
be branded before breakfast, and these are rattled through in a couple
of hours. Two or three pairs are throwing, two more operate on each
calf with brands and knife, and three or four boys are outside
attending to the fires and passing brands to and fro.

Breakfast is waiting when the job is over. Then into the saddle again
and out for more cattle; drafting again till dark, branding again at
daylight. There is no stopping, no pause in the whole round, till
mustering is over and the drafted mobs are paddocked, and the cavalcade
returns to the head station.


One who has been used to the brisk, stirring life on a cattle station
does not easily adapt himself to the tame, commonplace routine of
sheep. The first is poetry, the other prose; yet the prosaic existence
is responsible for three parts of the bush doggerel that is written. It
affords more time to dream. For all that, sheep-farming is not a lazy
man's job. Even on the tablelands of New England, the river-lands of
Riverina, and the prairie-lands of the Darling Downs, it is the hardest
of all stock work; while on the runs of the Western Division, in dry
times, it is one of the short cuts to constitutional ruin. It is
significant that very few aborigines will work constantly among sheep,
while they will live their lives out among cattle. Nevertheless, sheep
life has its gleams, and at least twice a year it presents attractive
features—when the fleeces are falling, and when the lambs are losing
their tails. Once all sheep were shepherded, and penned at night.
Occasionally some are still shepherded in the trans-Darling country.
Men follow in the wake of thunderstorms in quest of a liquid deposit
where a flock may be pastured for a week or so; or flocks are removed
from dried-out paddocks to a distant bore, or into the open country—
which in good seasons is no man's land, but in the time of want is
traversed by myriad flocks. Here the old shepherding days are revived—
the days of small flocks and unfenced runs that gave employment to
thousands of greybeards and others who were unfitted for hard work, but
who, with the help of a dog, and carrying a gum-stick in lieu of a
crook, could still follow quiet jumbucks across hill and flat. Then the
presence of hostile natives—whose weakness was mutton and long pig—made
shepherding necessary and likewise interesting. Now a million miles of
wire fencing do the work, and an odd boundary rider keeps them in

Old fellows, following flocks from place to place, travelling for feed,
talk of those days as the "good old times," agitate their pale locks
sorrowfully, sigh for the degeneration of the age, and tell of their
glorious experiences. I have met them coming in from the north, and I
have seen some resting on the Darling Downs, pitiable wrecks who were
still vibrating from fever and ague, whose eyes were dim and lids
aflame from sandy blight. But the good times are always at the back of
yesterday. We who feed our dried-out flocks to-day on the open country,
who dodge among the lignum of the Bulloo floodwater, anathematising our
neighbours for coming too near, and thus making more work; who
foregather at evening by the drains and channels diverging from
Tinneroo Bore, and on the fringes of Thurloo Downs, raising one
unanimous voice that everything is as bad with us as it can be, will be
talking fifty years hence of the good times we spent there. What a
mellowing hand old Time has! what a glamour of romance he throws over
our woes in the course of a few decades! The good times of the past are
the days when we were boys—and wished we were men.

But the era of the shepherd is gone. Australia is too big for
shepherds, and no peregrinating unemployed thinks of inquiring if such
an expert is wanted at the stations he passes. Selectors here and there
shepherd a flock, but the work is done by the children, often by one or
two girls, who follow the woollies all day and yard them at night. The
little barefooted shepherdess, bringing her flock to the fold, is a
touch of old-world romance that has been sadly neglected by the
Australian poet and artist; yet the environment of the Australienne is
more picturesque, with the great gums and ironbarks towering over her,
millions of brilliant-hued parrots screeching and chirruping in their
tops, the magpie warbling its good-night song, the crow of evil memory
watching the sick, and the skreel of the curlew and the plaintive call
of the mopoke ringing from hill and scrub as the sun goes down.

The old man, who finds the usual avenues of employment closed against
him on account of his age, yet is too proud to live on charity,
sometimes gets a little flock to tend for a month or so. Then he
resumes his wandering, regretting the good times when his sort were
wanted as shepherds everywhere.

I spent some days with one in the neighbourhood of Tinneroo. It was not
a time when homesteads are abandoned, and families migrate and follow
the vanishing reservoirs like birds; but "Old Jack" shepherded a flock
every summer in this particular quarter. He was a tall man, with a long
grey beard, and must have been quite sixty, but he was still wiry and
active. He was not an old-timer at this work; he had been a drover and
stockman, and had pioneered on more than one run. He lived in a tent,
and had a temporary brush yard to hold his sheep at night. Dingoes
troubled him, and the ominous rumble of rushing hoofs and the barking
of his canine assistant would rouse him out more than once between dusk
and dawn. When the dry time lasted longer than his main pasture, and
compelled him to shift, he had calico hurdles with which to make an

His was a lonely life—dawdling after the sheep all day through the
bush, looking now and again at the sun to note the time, and anon
sitting under a tree to smoke a pipe, while crows cawed around him, and
the eagle-hawk, with a critical eye for fat lamb, preened itself
overhead. He wrote poems in his pocket-book, and recited them to his
dog. When that patient animal went to his happy hunting grounds, the
ancient "In Memoriam" doggerel would find a fitting place on his
monument: "Affliction sore long time he bore." At night, when the sheep
were shut up, Jack would repair to his tent to boil his quart-pot and
refresh himself with salt-junk and damper. For an hour or two after he
would talk to himself by the camp fire. Then he would stretch himself,
have a look round, and turn in, "all standing."

One day, while shearing was in progress, a rouseabout was sent out to
tell Jack to bring his flock in on the following day. The flock was
found scattered about the bush, but the shepherd had disappeared. In
dodging about after the sheep he had lost his bearings, having shifted
to new quarters, and during the first night out had also lost the
flock. When found, four days later, he was standing on the brink of a
claypan, which had been filled by a passing thunderstorm, holding a
long rod in his hands. Now and again he would swing it through the air,
and call excitedly to his dog, "Block him, Bluey!" He explained that
his sheep had all dived into the claypan, and he was fishing them out.
Later, he ascribed his strange behaviour to a touch of the sun, coupled
with exposure, starvation, and scare. They took him to the homestead,
and after a week's spell he went back to his lonely camp and told the
quart-pot what a qualified old fool he had been.

There were thousands like old Jack in the ante-fencing days, and some
not only lost their sheep but their lives also; and there were those of
them whose fate has for ever remained unknown. Jack was not one who
regretted the passing of the shepherd. He finally joined the
fossickers, chasing the elusive speck on the sun-baked fields of Mount

Exclusive of tank-sinkers and fencers, who mostly work under the
contract system, the average western sheep station employs about half a
dozen hands—a blacksmith, a rough-carpenter, a bullock-driver, a couple
of boundary-riders, and a general rouseabout or "wood and water joey."
The cook and the Chinese gardener are not included among "station
hands." Neither is the manager's principal factotum, who may be store-
keeper and book-keeper, or overseer. In any case he's another boss.

When there is a day's mustering to do, you will see the blacksmith
mounted on a sorry-looking crock, and armed with a lump of wood to
induce him to hurry occasionally; the carpenter, wearing one rusty
spur; and the bullock-driver in heavy bluchers, which are thrust with
difficulty into the largest-sized stirrup-irons, and carrying the
bullock-whip fastened to a short stick with tying wire. These are
"sheep-station stockmen," and they are brilliant riders—some of them. I
was once riding with one of them when he challenged me to a jump over a
two-foot log. I accepted, and he went a hundred yards back and rode
hard, but not necessarily fast, at the obstacle. The horse cleared it
with several inches to spare, and though the rider received a rough
shaking and a slight shock to the system, he was able to remount and
ride home.

Besides riding and following their special avocations, the three
tradesmen mentioned have to repair fences, yards, and the woolshed,
pump water from the well, and water sheep in the troughs in summer,
trap and poison rabbits and dingoes, cut scrub, pull out bogged sheep
and skin dead ones, cut stacks of grass for hay with reaping-hooks, and
do many other things. They are the handy-men.

At lamb-marking time the number of men is doubled, and a special cook
is put on for the out-camp. He takes the swags, tents, rations, and
cooking utensils out in a spring-cart or wagonette, while the new men,
engaged for yard work, walk along behind. If the horses are in good
condition, they ride with the cook. The outcamp may be only six miles
away, and it may be twenty. Each man has a water-bag, either carried in
the hand or swung under the vehicle, and when the camp is far out a
halt is made for lunch by the roadside. They look like a mining
syndicate going to the rush.

The mounted men carry their bags strapped under the necks of their
horses. They leave early in the morning for the first paddock. Here
they spread, keeping in sight of one another from end to end of the
paddock, and driving all stock towards the centre men. It is slow work,
the mustering of a paddock four miles square occupying the greater part
of the day. As the mob increases, progress becomes slower, and good
dogs are much in requisition. But dogs soon tire on a hot day, and if
pushed too much they strike, and take the shortest cut for camp. While
a good cattle-dog is required to bite and not bark, the sheep-dog must
"speak up" but never bite. So the sheep-dog gets hoarse and dry-
throated, and requires a nip pretty often. This the owner gives him by
pouring a pint of water from the bag into the dumped-in crown of his
hat. The less barking the dogs do, the more shouting the men have to
do, and it is not uncommon to see an unfortunate dog being kicked and
belted on the way for not making enough noise. The owner objects to
keeping a dog and barking himself. The men are often on foot, leading
their horses, and bashing the packed sheep with bushes. Sometimes a man
having a slow-starting horse will jump off and run after breaking
sheep, that course being much the quicker.

As they come in sight of the brush yards the men of the camp contingent
go out on foot and meet them, some armed with bushes, and some with old
tins, which they bang with stones and waddies; and each one dances the
"shepherd's hornpipe" with great energy. They are useful at the yard
gates, being able to turn quickly, and block a running string of sheep,
while the black-smith is pulling up or the carpenter is hauling his
horse round.

The work in the yard is the merriest. There is more barking and
shouting, to the accompaniment of swinging bags and bushes and the
whacking of tins, while the whole yard is obscured with blinding dust,
and the sheep are continually ringing and stubbornly refusing to go
through the gates of the inner yards that lead to the race. At last a
few are rushed in, and a man crouches behind the brush and stubs to
hold them there until the main mob is brought back to the gate. Then
the men jump and "shoo" and yell and bang tins, and swing the jute
goods and shrubbery for another half-hour. By that time the first yard
is full, and when the dust has cleared sufficiently for them to see
where they are, the whole performance is gone through again until the
two or three smaller yards are packed. Then the sheep are jammed and
shoved and poked and prodded through the race, at the end of which a
man stands with a gate in each hand, opening into three pens, and
drafts the running string by earmarks and faces. The least stoppage in
the race sets the corroboree going again in full blast. When the pens
are full there is a blessed respite while the lambs are marked.

The men are dressed in all manner of overalls. Some wear chaff and bran
bags, with head and armholes cut in the bottom and sides; others don
old shirts, back to front, and hanging loosely to their knees. The
markers are ranged on the outside of the pen, and operate on the lambs
as they are dumped on the rail by the catchers, who hold a foreleg and
a hindleg in each hand. Knives and teeth are used alternately by the
operators. Splashed with blood and covered with dust, they are as good
as a turn in a circus when, the pen emptied and the tails counted, they
scramble over fences in their fancy costumes and resume their wild
fandango down the yards. It is the shepherds' fancy-dress corroboree.

At dusk the worn-out men file down to the camp, coated with dust from
head to foot, hoarse with shouting, and their eyes inflamed and half-
blinded. Then tents are pitched among the trees by the side of a
waterhole or on the bank of a creek. They are used only on wet or cold
nights. The men sleep under trees, using green leaves for mattresses,
and with mosquito fires smoking around them. Supper is served on a bag
spread out on the ground, and the men sit on logs around the fire,
which is their only light, with tin plates on their knees and pannikins
of black tea beside them.

At daylight in the morning the work begins again, and sore throats from
dust and shouting are now evidenced on all sides. When the yardful is
put through, the horses, belled and hobbled, are run up on foot, and
another paddock is mustered. The camp men meanwhile shepherd drafted
sheep, repair the damaged yard, and build brakes.

Lamb-marking, like shearing, comes but once a year; but sheep are
mustered and drafted scores of times for other purposes. Then, when the
wethers, ewes, hoggets, &c., have been separated and put into different
paddocks, they have to be daily driven off the fences to tanks, until
they become accustomed to their new conditions. With a mob of stubborn
old ewes, you travel at the rate of one mile in two hours, and when you
feel that you cannot yell any more without doing yourself some serious
injury, you get off and push and shove and kick them along. Your dog
has long ago knocked up, and is lying somewhere in the shade; your
horse follows suit and, tying the reins to the stirrup-iron, you finish
the heart-breaking task on foot. Your track is strewn with knocked-up
sheep, and I have seen the manager driving behind with drums of water,
and a rouseabout pouring the refreshment down the throats of the
perishing animals to revive them sufficiently to get them to the tank.
The year 1902 was a perisher. Jupiter Pluvius had been napping a long
time, and the stock were on their last legs. At some places the
shearers had to go to the sheep on the run, and shear them on
tarpaulins; at other places rouseabouts carted them to the sheds in
drays. Those that didn't die on the shears were carted back again after
the operation. Fortunately, mustering with a horse and cart is a rare
experience, or even the veteran shepherd would get him to a cattle


The bush claims many lonely lives, none lonelier perhaps than that of
the boundary rider, who is posted on the outskirts of a run to look
after the stock, to watch the tanks and waterholes, and keep the
boundary and intermediate fences in repair. To some temperaments the
life offers advantages; only the flies by day and the mosquitoes by
night disturb the peace, only the cries of the birds and the rustling
of leaves break the quietude. To the "hatter" by temperament this is an
ideal state of existence, and a man who loves to talk, but likes to do
all the talking himself, is suited by a dog listener as well as any.
Still, the average boundary rider is a "hatter" more by compulsion than

Sometimes he has a hut to live in; more often, outside the coastal
divisions, he has only a six by eight tent, pitched in a lonely spot,
where wood and water are close at hand. The site is mostly chosen by
the manager, and he takes care that it is out of view of frequented
roads, since, on the one hand, the property must be left unguarded
through the greater part of the day, and, on the other, it is not
desirable that his frugal board should be taxed and his meditations
disturbed by passing travellers. When the waterhole dries up or the
feed gets scarce he shifts his residence to another quarter.

One of the fraternity, whom I came to know in the great central
depression, was known as Jack-the-Rager. Most of his life was cast in
monotonous places, yet he was a very entertaining old chap when he came
in from his hatterage, and spent an evening with the men in the station
hut. He could tell a good yarn. He could recite, too; but his best
efforts were delivered when standing alone at his camp fire. Having a
strident voice and a somewhat extravagant sense of dramatic attitudes,
he once in a while astonished a benighted wanderer bearing down on the
inviting blaze, and caused him to sheer off with cautious and
accelerated step.

He told me how the boss had ridden on to him one night when he was more
than ordinarily wound up. He had not been long on the run then, and as
yet was only plain Jack Smith. It was election-time, and Jack was
putting up for No Man's Land. Standing beside a gidgee-stump, on which
stood a quart pot of water and a pannikin, he orated with great
empressement, punctuating with hand clappings and "hear hears,"
interjecting and making sarcastic remarks, and wheeling this way and
that way to reply thereto. Now and again he would point a thumb at the
wilga-bush on his left, and tell the mulga-tree on his right that a
gentleman wanted to know what he was going to do about the deceased's
wife's sister; then, having put in a general laugh, would inform the
audience how he intended to dispose of that troublesome lady. He had
closed a successful meeting, carried a vote of confidence in himself,
and thanked the chairman, when he was suddenly semi-paralysed by
hearing a real clap and a real "hear hear" in the darkness beyond. It
was the boss. After that the candidate was known as Jack-the-Rager.

Jack was a good example of his kind, performing his duties with
unfaltering regularity, very exact, and scrupulously clean. He had one
way of doing each little job, never altering his hand. He took
particular care of his two or three horses, which were consequently in
good condition all the year round. He put his saddle always in one
place, and when he brought his horse up in the morning he led him under
the same tree, and hitched the bridle to the same limb, though there
were twenty others equally as good and quite as accessible. You saw his
mop for washing up hanging here, his tea-towel hanging there; and if
you called six months after you would find them hanging in precisely
the same places.

His bunk was simply a couple of bags with two poles, resting on forks,
run through them; his safe was also a bag, suspended lengthwise from
the limb of a tree, with a piece of board laid in for bottom. His
washstand consisted of three stakes driven in the ground to hold a tin
dish, and nailed to the tree-trunk alongside was a sardine tin, with
perforated bottom, for soap. If a chance visitor happened to use it, he
was told to cover it up when he had done, so that the crows could not
see it. Crows and ants were two persistent items that Jack had always
to keep in mind. He cooked in the open, wet and dry, his fireplace
being merely a couple of forks, with a pole across them, from which
dangled a few wire hooks.

Before riding away in the morning, if no one was left in charge, Jack
would carefully sweep over the bare patches around the domicile with a
brush broom. He departed backwards, sweeping out his own tracks as he
went. On returning he dismounted several yards away and approached his
door slowly, examining the ground for evidence of callers. Having
entered and found everything right, he went back by a circuitous route
round the camp to his horse and let him go. If some one had called
during his absence, the amount of tracking he did would seem a waste of
time and energy to any but a bushman. He studied closely the man's
tracks, the shape and size of the horse's hoofs, and, having
ascertained that he came from the direction of the stony rise, that he
dismounted near the broken stump, stood at the door for a while and
looked round, and finally rode away in the direction of Thompson's
Tank, he worried his brain for hours trying to solve the mystery of the
person's identity. And he mostly wound up with "a good idea who he

Sometimes, as cranks of the bush often do, he amused himself for hours
at a time, trying to match the spiral columns on the lids and bottom
parts of wax-match boxes, by playing peg-knife and other "silly" games.
If you came quietly on to his camp at night, it was not unusual to hear
a heated discussion going on between him and the fat-lamp. He spoke in
one tone and voice for himself, and in another for the fat-lamp. As he
tersely put it when surprised, "Just a little argyment between me an'
Slushy." Sometimes they had a row, and an imaginary fight, and Slushy
was kicked out of the tent. At other times he sulked, as a result of
the pigheadedness of the other fellow, and wouldn't speak to the fat-
lamp for a week. He would even "see him farther" before he would light
him. Yet no one who knew this man would say that he had a mental kink
in his composition. Many men, and women too, in the bush talk to
themselves, and have excited arguments with people who are not present,
expressing their opinions in a loud voice, and saying in return what
they think the absent party would be likely to reply. I can recall one
good old woman who indulged in this way every washing-day over her
tubs, beginning with "Good-day, Mrs. ——," and going at the rate of
knots until the final "Goodbye"—not forgetting the invitation to call
again; and she would drop down and laugh till her face was aflame, and
the tears ran down her cheeks, when surprised. Yet no one would call
these people eccentric. It is the craving for conversation, for some
one to talk to.

Jack was also given to card-playing—left hand against right. When it
was right hand's deal, left passed or ordered it up. If right was weak,
he turned it round and left made it. The old man was careful to hold
the cards back to back, so that right wouldn't see what left had got,
overlooking the fact that one head was super-intending both hands. He
got awfully interested in the contest, too, which was mostly for the
championship of Burton's Tank or Gidgee Creek, or probably for "the new
girl down at Barney's." He had a peculiar sundial, though what he had
constructed it for I don't know, for he was seldom there when its
services would be required. It consisted of stout pegs stuck in the
ground, at a radius of ten feet, round a tree. There were ten of them,
standing exactly one hour apart, so that the shade, lying across the
first at 8 a.m. would be on the last at 5 p.m. A traveller with a watch
had camped with him one Sunday, and between them they had evolved this
crude timekeeper. He complained, however, that it required a lot of
regulating, as it didn't accommodate itself to the changing of seasons.
Once when miles away from the clock I asked him the time. Taking a
small twig, he broke it into two pieces about three inches long, and,
holding his left hand palm upwards, he stood one piece between the
second and third fingers, and the other between the third and fourth.
Then, facing due north, he held his hand straight out before him, and I
noticed that the shadows of the twigs were just a trifle east of a
direct north and south line. "'Bout 'alf-past twelve," he said.

His almanack was equally as curious, consisting of two jam tins and
seven pebbles. One tin was marked "This week" and the other "Last
week." On Monday morning he would take a pebble from "Last week" and
drop it into "This week," and one every subsequent morning till "This
week" had swallowed the seven. They were then returned to "Last week,"
and the old fellow would wash himself and change his clothes. It was
Sunday—and, it might be remarked, his usual recreation on Sunday was
washing last week's wearing apparel and making a brownie.

A neighbouring shepherd, who had rusticated in the back country for
thirty consecutive years, used a piece of deal board and a bit of
charcoal, making a stroke on the former every morning till Sunday was
reached. The "slate" was then wiped clean in readiness for Monday. A
third man used a circular board divided by grooves into seven sections.
A piece of deal, pivoting from a nail in the centre, was shifted one
section each day. But the owner of this contrivance was absent-minded
and often forgot to shift it in the mornings, and never knew at night
whether he had shifted it or not. Having made several mistakes in the
date, he tried a new idea. He made a big damper on Sunday night and
marked it into seven sections, each section being a day's allowance. He
wouldn't forget to eat, and every time he picked the damper up the
grooves would remind him of the day. Unfortunately, on the first
Tuesday there came a visitor with a ravenous appetite. The host stinted
himself that the hungry one might be satisfied with the day's section.
But he wasn't. There were no houses in that part, and he had come a
long way since breakfast, and didn't lose sight of the fact that he had
equally as far to go to supper. With bulging eyes the host saw the
knife cleaving the boundary line. He fidgeted and coughed and made
several irrelevant remarks. Still the hungry man carved into the
almanack. At last he could stand it no longer.

"Stop, stop, for God's sake!" he cried, leaning across the bark table
and speaking in an agitated, rasping voice. He grabbed the damper and
glared at it. "Hang you!" he said. "You've eaten Toosday an' We'n'sday,
an' now yer wanter slice the best o' the mornin' off o' Thursday!"

The traveller left with unusual briskness, and the host sat down to
reconstruct his almanack.

The boundary rider's bill of fare is less changeable than that of a
"hash-house." He gets little in the way of luxuries (a tin of jam or
golden syrup, perhaps, once in a while), nor has he any vegetables,
except just after rain, when he may gather the young pig-weed along the
creek. For breakfast he has damper, mutton, and brownie; for dinner he
has damper, mutton and brownie; for supper he has damper, mutton, and
brownie; and for Sunday dinner, having spent the morning cooking, he
has fresh damper, hot mutton, and new brownie.

With his tools (a tomahawk, straining fork, wire key, plug, and a
length of coiled wire), and a well-filled waterbag under his horse's
neck, he starts out soon after sunrise on his day's round, and
frequently rides forty or fifty miles before he returns to camp. He
rides one fence to-day, driving the sheep off it and out of corners,
brushing the creeks, and splicing and straining broken wires. To-morrow
he has a look at the tanks and waterholes, pulls out bogged sheep, and
skins the dead ones. If he comes upon a carcass that is too far gone to
skin, he plucks the dead wool and carries it to camp in a bag. The next
day he rides another line of fence, and so on, doing a little dingo-
poisoning and scalp-hunting at the same time. Now and again he pilots a
travelling mob through his part of the run, which is about the only
relief he has from the dull monotony of his lonely rides, where "the
creaking of the saddle is a dreary sound to hear." For this he gets
from fifteen shillings to twenty-five shillings a week.

As a rule he has no literary matter by him to beguile the tardy hours,
and, consequently, knows nothing more of the world's news than what he
gleans from passing travellers. He lives in a world of his own, a world
of sand and stones and stunted trees, learning the tracks of different
animals and studying out better methods of trapping dingoes. His
conversation bristles with grass and sheep and wire fences. Sometimes
he keeps one well-worn book to swop with, or gets a bundle of stale
papers from the homestead. There are exceptions, of course, but the
boundary rider who is fond of reading is not favoured by the squatters,
it being argued that an interest in books and papers induces
carelessness and neglect of duty. Lacking the mental stimulant of a
book or paper in his companionless evenings, he is impelled to
discourse to inanimate things, to play patience, or commit doggerel.

There is a tragic side to the boundary rider's life, which renders his
hermit-like existence objectionable to most men. He may be a fort-night
or a month without seeing a soul; or, if illness overtakes him, or he
meets with an accident, he has no one to nurse him or even to cook for
him. He must shift for himself and trust to Providence. One who is
every day of his life in the saddle, particularly in country riddled
with rabbit-burrows, may get a leg or an arm broken at any moment. On
some runs the main camps are connected by telephones, carried on wire
fences, with the homestead, by which the boundary rider reports and
receives orders and may summon assistance at any time when needed.

I think it was in October, 1898, that a man named M'Dermott, who was
boundary riding on Mount Wood, North-West New South Wales, nearly lost
his life through being left too long unvisited. He had gone out for his
horse on a Friday morning, and was riding it in bareback, when it
stumbled in a rabbit-burrow, within half a mile of the camp. M'Dermott
was thrown, his hip striking a dry, knotty root of a mulga-tree. He was
severely injured, and lay there suffering agonies till Monday evening.
He fastened a message to his dog's neck and tried to drive it away, but
the dog would not leave him. Now and again through the hot days it
trotted to the creek for water, but, though hungry enough, it never
once went near the hut for food. In the meantime a traveller had come
to the camp, and, thinking M'Dermott had gone to the homestead for
rations, remained there waiting, with the patience of the faithful dog,
until he should return. Mac had coo-eed at intervals through the long
days and nights, but no sound came to the traveller's ears. On Monday a
boy came out with meat, and the appearance of the place, and the
traveller's assurance that he had seen nothing of M'Dermott, at once
indicated that something was amiss. No fire had been lit for some time,
and the man's saddle was in the hut. Moreover, the hut was untidy, and
as Mac never went out for the day without putting things shipshape, it
was at once apparent to the bush boy that Mac had left with the
intention of returning shortly, and that something serious had happened
to him not far from camp. His first act was to look to the horses, to
see if any were missing.

He found the mare with the broken bridle and the hobbles round her
neck. That told its tale, and he rode post haste to the homestead for
assistance. Picking up the tracks, the rescue party followed to where
he had caught the mare; then they tracked the mare to the rabbit-
burrow, where they found M'Dermott all but dead, the hungry dog lying
by his side, with the undelivered message still tied to its neck.

A boundary rider on Gobbagumbalin run, near Wagga, in January, 1902,
was better served by his brute companion. His leg was broken by a fall
from his horse when a long distance from camp. Like M'Dermott, he wrote
a message and tied it round his dog's neck. His course being indicated
to him, and being menaced with a waddy, and further instructed in
abusive language, the animal at once started for home, and the required
aid was thus promptly secured.

Another man, named Frank Dacey, in February, 1904, was making his way
across Bonnie Doon run when he was taken seriously ill. His small
supply of provisions soon ran out, but he managed to make one billy of
water last him three weeks. He was able to crawl about near his tent,
which had been temporarily pitched, and kept himself alive by eating
pigweed. When the water gave out he gradually became weaker, and at
last was unable to move. When discovered by a black boy he was in a
dying condition, but subsequently recovered in hospital.

There is little in the grim experiences of lone humanity to equal that
of the man who, some years ago, while camping by himself, attempted to
split a log with maul and wedges. When he had burst it along the top he
double-banked the middle wedge, which caused another to drop into the
crack. He thrust his hand in to get it, when the banked wedges flew
out, and the half-burst log snapped together, crushing his hand and
holding him as in a vice. How long he lingered, with his hand thus
gripped, no one could tell; he was long dead when found. His axe lay a
few inches from his feet, and he had rooted a semi-circular hole in his
efforts to reach it, with the intention evidently of cutting off the
imprisoned hand.

The annals of the Australian bush are replete with such experiences,
with instances of dogged grit and patience, and of long-suffering


From the memorable time when those enterprising and picturesquely-
garbed men, whose arrival created more excitement than the local
earthquake, steered the first mobs of cattle into Adelaide the
overlanders have left their tracks across the pages of Australian
history and have passed on to the Big Muster under a halo woven of song
and story. From the Gulf and the northern peninsula, from Arnheim's
Land and no-man's-land, and from other regions of broad, wild runs the
mobs still come teeming down, over hundreds of miles of unfenced
country, under conditions very similar to those of early times. When
they reach the zone of the small settler, the modern squattages and
townships, then the conditions are different. They are hemmed in on all
sides, and where once only King Murri was concerned about their
movements they are now closely watched by boundary riders, mounted
troopers, and stock inspectors. Every drover must carry a passport,
giving date and place of delivery, destination, and the number and
description of the cattle and horses. Sheep on the road must bear the
travelling brand "T" on the rump. Then the stations ahead have to be
notified of their coming on to the runs.

This is usually done by the horse-boy, who, having to report twenty-
four hours in advance, has many a long ride through rain and shine, and
through light and shadow, to perform.

Taking a mob of cattle overland is not as simple as it looks. To the
uninitiated it appears to be merely a matter of driving the animals
along during the day and camping them at night; but driving and droving
are very different as understood by cattle-men. Some drovers certainly
drive them steadily from the night camp, thus getting over half the
day's stage during the cool morning hours; then they feed them on to
the next night camp. Others keep the mob moving ahead from the night
camp, feeding the while, to the midday camp, and thence again till late
in the afternoon, when, if the next camp is still far ahead, they move
with lifted heads and regular step to the day's end. They are never
hustled out of the customary walking pace of cattle. The methods of
travelling and the stages depend on the condition of the country and
the state of the weather. When there is a long, dry stage to cross in
summer many drovers reverse the usual order by travelling at night and
camping through the day.

Under fair conditions there is no work in the back country as pleasant
as droving—that is, given good cattle, good horses, plenty of grass and
water, and a first-class man in charge. One might go on the road a
hundred times, however, and not find this happy combination in actual
working. Feed is seldom good all through a long trip in the best of
seasons, as mob after mob travel over the same routes, and boundary
riders shepherd them sedulously through the runs to see that they do
not encroach on the station preserves. They have only a narrow strip
along the unfenced roads to feed on, and this is not exclusively
theirs, as station stock are continually on it. When they strike a good
patch they are not permitted to spell on it. The limit is twelve miles
a day, and that distance must be placed between camp and camp. Still,
they can hurry over the bad patches and dawdle over the good places.

A man must have his wits about him, and use his opportunities to the
best advantage when taking cattle over bad country, if he wishes to
deliver them in good marketable condition—which, of course, is the
ambition of every good drover. Many start with poor cattle, and, though
numerous barren and waterless tracts are crossed on the way, they land
them in the saleyards, months later, in the pink of condition. Some
years ago a mob was taken from the Bulloo (Queensland) to Adelaide,
where a pen of them was immediately shown at the exhibition as fats and
took the prize.

Again, in February, 1904, a mob of fourteen thousand wethers from
Manuka (Queensland) were delivered at Killarney Station, Narrabri (New
South Wales ), by Drover Harrison without the loss of a single head.
The trip of nine hundred miles occupied six months, an average of six
and a half miles a day (half a mile over the regulation). Harrison had
with him six shepherds, and though many difficulties were met with in
the early stages, such as want of water, prevalence of burrs, long
grass, scrub, and grass seeds, the mob was delivered in the "best order
and condition."

Water is the most troublesome item to a drover. In the central parts of
the country there are no permanent rivers or creeks, and the holes
where stock can water are often a long way apart. A sixty-mile stage to
water is common. Then the cattle are restless at night, especially when
a light storm passes over, and the smell of rain maddens the thirsty
animals, and the watch has to be continually on the move. The first
water will probably be only in small potholes, and the cattle have to
be taken to them in small detachments. This is not always an easy
undertaking. They smell water at a long distance. You may be moving
along quietly, your charges steady but sullen, when suddenly a puff of
wind comes from the direction of the potholes. You notice an electric-
like movement pass through the mob; every head is raised, and a
thousand throats announce the proximity of a drink. Thenceforth they
are noisy and restless, and take a lot of holding. Often the whole mob
breaks away with little or no warning, and makes a maddened rush for
the holes, particularly when they have been brought too near before
being broken up into little lots. These holes are usually boggy, and
frequently encompassed by steep banks, over which the cattle sweep in a
huddled mass, crowding and tumbling on top of one another in the mud
and water, with the result that many are smothered, dozens are bogged,
and the others have puddled up the water to such an extent as to make
it undrinkable. He would be a stoic indeed who could look unmoved upon
a boggy waterhole, strewn with its dead and dying, after being charged
by a frenzied mob. Hundreds of crows, drawn by natural instinct, come
flocking from all directions to the scene of disaster, and tear out the
eyes of unfortunate beasts still struggling and plunging in the mud.
The survivors go ringing and lowing around them, maddened more than
ever by the splash and smell of the puddle and the odour of blood,
unable to satisfy their craving.

Some cattle-men carry you back to scenes of twenty years ago that
occurred at some insignificant little waterhole that a traveller would
not otherwise notice. In other places there are piles of bones in
evidence of some big disaster, as at Wonnamitta Waterhole (North-West
New South Wales), where six hundred out of thirteen hundred bullocks
were smothered one night in 1883. On the Wanaaring Road, towards the
Paroo, a single bullock's skull stuck on a mulga limb marks one of the
most thrilling incidents in droving annals. It was in the dry summer of
1899 that a mob of five hundred Kooroongoola bullocks were hard pressed
for water on the way to Bourke. At one camp the cook was taking some
water out of the bags when the cattle smelt it and rushed the camp.
They overturned the wagonette, doing considerable damage to the camp
ware, and put the cook up a tree. A day or so later they met a bullock
team. The cattle got a sniff of the water in the teamster's cask, and,
breaking away from the drovers, rushed the wagon. The men had a hard
fight to get them under control again, in the course of which two of
the yoked animals were killed, and the teamster, from the top of the
wagon, killed one of the travelling mob with an axe.

When well mounted it is not a difficult matter to turn the lead, though
there are times when nothing will stop them, and it is dangerous, even
on a good horse, to get directly in front of a stampeding herd. An old-
time overlander once met with a thrilling experience while crossing a
dry tract of country in South Australia. When nearing the Murray River
the cattle rushed a waterhole, carrying three of the drovers into it
with them. The three horses and two of the men were trampled into the
mud and smothered. But "the old man" escaped by clambering somehow on
to the back of a bogged bullock, and thence across the backs of the
compact mass.

When water is obtainable daily there is no trouble in this respect; and
at other times, when there is a considerable body of water in front, as
a lagoon or a shallow river, no precautions are necessary, beyond
steadying the lead. The worst of the dry roads is that the cattle won't
feed while the craving is on them, and there is continual hard work day
and night keeping them in hand; while the presence of station dams and
tanks just off the road, either fenced off or closely guarded by a
boundary rider, is further aggravation. It is pitiful to see the poor
brutes turn lowing towards the forbidden water, to force them on to
where there is none, and to hold them and listen to them as they move
restlessly on the camp at night. On some routes artesian bores are the
source of supply; in other places, where Government wells and tanks are
leased, the cattle are watered at troughs at a small sum per head. This
is a slow process.

Fodder is rarely purchased on the road—there is seldom any to purchase
out-back; but here and there a paddock is leased for short periods to
spell in, and occasionally men have to set to work with axes to cut
scrub for the starving stock. This generally occurs when the strong
cattle have to be held back for the stragglers or crawlers (as the weak
ones, doddering miles behind, are called) to catch up. Dodging the
crawlers along is the most disheartening of all stock work. If you try
to put them out of their own pace, they will turn and charge. They can
always do that. So you have just to potter along after them, and leave
them to make headway at their own convenience.

Most drovers are familiar with the facts concerning the mob of cattle
that left Mornie Plains, in Northern Queensland, some years ago for a
southern market. They were about two years on the roads, and only a
remnant of the once splendid mob reached their destination. The trip,
under ordinary conditions, should not have occupied more than six

There have been many sensational smash-ups on backblock roads. In
December, 1899, 600 out of a mob of 870 stores, in charge of Drover
Dargin, perished on the main stock route near Hungerford (Queensland),
The road was thickly strewn with carcasses. During the same month, at
Gilgandra (New South Wales), 800 out of a mob of 2,500 fat sheep, after
journeying forty-five miles, died from want of water. Also, in the same
month, a mob of 9,000 sheep, travelling from Narromine to Brewarrina
(New South Wales), camped one night near Dundullimal. In the morning
700 were lying dead on the camp. This abnormally heavy loss at one
swoop was attributed to poison weed. This may or may not have been the
case. Experienced drovers know that sheep, when overheated on a hot
afternoon, will die by the score during the night. Camping them too
closely together on a hot night, when the ground retains much of the
fierce heat of the day, is frequently the cause of heavy loss on camp.
Again, over-gorging after coming suddenly on to green feed will result
in a heavy mortality.

In 1899 a drover left Evesham Station for Rockhampton, a short trip,
with fourteen thousand sheep, and reached the Government tank, twenty
miles from town, with less than three thousand, the rest having
perished on the way. Sheep, unlike cattle, are stubborn brutes to
handle when perishing for water. They have to be literally shoved
along, and the chances are, on reaching water, they will either over-
gorge themselves and die or stand by the water perishing, too stupid to
drink. I have had to hold them by the tanks, after bringing them off a
dry run, and pour the water down their throats with a pannikin. I have
ridden back with bags of water, and driven with drums and kegs of it,
to succour the stragglers dropped along the track during the day, and
have spent half the night coaxing the best of them on to camp.

When there is a driving, pelting rain, as when a strong wind is
blowing, the cattle have to be continually forced against it. I have
seen them turn and drive the men back until brought to a standstill.
When in that mood, with lowered heads and their tails to the wind, it
requires some force and determination to compel them to face the music.
At night you splash round and round the camp, shivering in your
stirrups, and trusting more to your horse than to your own eyesight.
You are worn out with the long day and the long watch, and could go to
sleep in the saddle, even while the rain beats about your ears. The man
who sleeps on watch is regarded with scorn by drovers; but the sin is
committed at times when conditions are favourable.

The cook, who has charge of the camp-ware and drives the wagonette, has
an unenviable time in wet weather. The roads are boggy, banks slippery,
and gullies and creeks flooded. It takes him pretty well all day to
zigzag his team along, and now and again he has to dig himself out.
Horses knock up, a breakdown occurs, or he is left stranded in a sea of
water. When he gets to camp he has to make a fire with sodden wood, and
cook supper in the wet, up to his boot-tops in mud. On the black-soil
plains I have seen him come in after dark and make a pile of wet earth
to build his fire on, with a drain round it to run the water away. The
tents are pitched near the fire, and the men spread bags on the ground
where they make their naps to keep out some of the damp. In the morning
the blankets are wet and muddy, and if it is still raining they are
rolled up in that condition; yet, though the men may get drenched
through the day, their clothes may dry on them and get drenched again,
and they sleep in them on wet ground, they seem to suffer no effects
from it. Summer and winter they go through it, and are nearly always
free from colds—which in itself is evidence in favour of open-air life.

Crossing flooded streams is at times attended with considerable risk. A
drover, in 1904, lost 300 out of 1,470 head while crossing the
Georgina. The cattle, instead of going straight across, started to ring
in mid-stream, and simply drowned one another. The usual course is to
take a few to the opposite bank first, then the others swim to them. At
many well-known crossings there are decoys—quiet old cows, that have
been borrowed for a small consideration time after time to lead the way
for the travelling mob. Where these are not available, or are not used
when they are, and the cattle turn in the water, the drovers ride in
and swim with them, a couple on each side, marshalling them through as
on land. You will see a horseman swimming in one place and cracking his
whip over his head or flipping a contrary beast with the thong; whilst
another, leaning over, grasps a bullock by the horn to slew him round.
This work, of course, is only necessary at the start; once the leaders
have landed there is no more trouble. When crossing sheep a narrow race
is often built across the stream with saplings and bushes, the deck
being covered with bags strewn with sand and leaves. Then men have to
cling on to the side of the bridge here and there, concealed among the
bushes, to poke them up whenever a block occurs. This has to be done
with care, for if one sheep is startled, and makes a leap, the whole
string will act similarly, and some are bound to go overboard.

In 1906 Drover Stuart Field built a bridge over the Koopa, 140 yards
across, with deep water and a strong current. It was completed in
fourteen days, at a cost of £43, and in two days twenty-two thousand
sheep crossed it. The bridge saved two months' delay.

I travelled with one drover under these conditions from Tambo to
Mungindi. It was a dry time, and we had a lot of bare country to cross.
A good many of the cattle were poor and weak, and delayed us
considerably by straggling behind. It was a case of dropping them or
sacrificing the good cattle. About sixty of them were shot and the
brands cut out; many more got bogged, and these had to be killed also
to get the brands. In fact, the cook had so many bits of branded hide
packed in the wagonette that an extra pair of horses had to be put on
to pull it. Still, we got them all down.

As a set-off against this. Drover Jerry Connolly, in 1904, started from
the Northern Territory with 1,224 fats, and after travelling 1,900
miles, delivered 1,220 head at Muswellbrook (New South Wales) in first-
class condition, the four missing bullocks having been lost while
crossing a flooded river.

Cattle from some stations are very quiet on the roads and may go
through a long trip without a single stampede. From other places come
timid, half-wild herds that are ever restless and fretful of their own
runs. The least thing startles them at night, and they often rush
without any apparent reason. But cattle have their fancies and
prejudices respecting camping-grounds, just as they have in regard to
mateships among themselves. On some spots they rest contentedly, while
on others they are fidgety and uncomfortable all night. At such times
it requires very little to cause them to break camp. A slight rise, as
a sandy mound or a small clump on a flat, is favoured by drovers, while
depressions are avoided. Sheltered spots are picked on cold nights, but
it does not follow that they will remain quietly there. They are just
as liable to rush, too, on an open plain on a clear night as in thick
timber on a dark night. They may be all lying down and the camp as
quiet as possible. Suddenly they spring up almost as one beast, and the
next instant there is only a cloud of dust to mark where they had been,
while the roar of pounding hoofs, the crash of timber, and the shouts
of the man on watch tell the way they have gone. There are times when
the nights are so dark in the timber that a horseman has difficulty in
distinguishing objects close in front of him; but still he rides at a
gallop through thick and thin, leaning forward to escape overhanging
limbs, and trusting to his horse.

A good camp-horse knows his business, and will quickly take his rider
to the side, and race for the lead. I found myself one night directly
in front of a mob as they rushed off camp. The drovers' dictum is "keep
to the side," because the pressure behind and the desperate anxiety of
each panic-stricken beast to keep clear gives the leaders little chance
of turning at short notice off a straight course. I aimed to get clear
by riding anglewise across the course, but my mount wanted to go
straight out across the front of the cattle, and he had his way despite
a tussle on my part to pull him out. We had only just got clear when
the mob crashed into a wire fence, levelling about sixty panels of it.
Had the horse allowed me to steer him, I must have come to grief in
that fence and been trampled under the mob.

I was six weeks with this lot, and during that time they passed two
whole nights without rushing—the first and the last. We spent half one
night up a tree. A couple of beasts had been crippled in a rush during
the first watch, and lay on the camp unnoticed. It was a dark night and
the country was thickly timbered. Just as the mob would be brought back
and rounded up, one of the cripples would kick and moan in its agony,
and in a second the whole herd would be crashing through the timber
again in a wild panic. Twice they scattered the camp fire, and I
believe if it had not been for the rattle of the tea bucket, as they
bowled it over, they would have carried the tents and wagonette with
them. Several were killed in stampedes during that trip, many more were
crippled, and something like 150 horns were broken off.

A mob, travelling down country from the neighbourhood of Moree, was
camped one night in thin forest, with a few small fires burning around
it. The first watch had passed without a stir. The second watchman had
ridden a dozen rounds under similar conditions, when he dismounted to
light his pipe. While doing this the cattle rushed towards him, and
were on him even before he had time to get into his saddle. Both man
and horse were killed. Sometimes cattle, through not getting up quick
enough, or being knocked over while in the act of rising, are crippled
or trampled to death on camp. As a rule they get through timber without
smashing against big trees, though dozens of horns are broken off, and
an odd shoulder is put out in getting round the trunks.

The duration of a rush is not long, though occasionally a mob will
continue in full flight for three or four miles. Once the leaders are
turned the rush is practically over, for then they ring, and soon
quieten down, when they can be brought back to camp with little
trouble. During the stampede one hears no sound from them but the
pounding of hoofs and crashing of timber, but when they turn and ring a
multitudinous lowing and bellowing breaks on the night air. They are
crying for their mates, from whom they have become separated in the
inevitable jumble.

Cattle, like human beings, have their fancies and friendships, and no
one knows this better than the seasoned drover. When he lifts a mob of
bullocks from a squattage he notices that some are more anxious to get
back than others, and for several days are looking and calling, like
cows that have lost their calves. Their mates have been left on the
run, and it takes them a long while to forget their old associates, and
form new ones among their fellow-travellers. Some bullocks fret and
lose flesh, and are particularly restless at night, when parted from
their pet companions—like a young man who has lost his girl. They
travel along dejectedly for days, "lost and lone in the midst of
crowds," until constant association, which they can't avoid, turns them
in sympathy to one another.

Certain bullocks in a travelling mob, remarkable for some peculiarity,
soon impress themselves upon the drover's notice. These are the first
he comes to know individually, and they are often named. As time goes
on his knowledge of the units of his mob extends. He knows their mates,
their positions in the mob, and can often tell, by simply riding round
them, if any escaped off camp the previous night; for cattle do not
intermix promiscuously, and take up chance positions, when going their
own pace. When they have "dropped into their places" you will notice
certain ones always in the lead, certain ones at the tail, and the same
on the left and right sides; and if you watch the known ones carefully,
you will notice that each one has always the same mate near him. Thus a
drover can tell at once, when he sees a marked bullock without its
usual mate, that something is wrong. Often the bullock attracts his
notice by occasionally lowing. Then a search takes place, a count, and
probably there is a ride back after lost cattle.

A drover once dropped a well-marked bullock when two hundred miles on
the road. He described the animal on returning to the station where the
cattle were lifted, and it happened that a boundary rider knew him. "I
can soon tell if he's come back," he said, "I know where his mate
runs." He rode out specially next day, and, sure enough, the lost
bullock was there, in company with his old mate.

On the night camp, no matter how much cattle have been hustled and
jumbled-up in getting there, they soon sort themselves out, and lie
down in their accustomed order. In one mob I travelled with was a
spotted bullock, which always camped three or four yards out from the
mob on one side. Several times during the first week I drove it in, but
it always went back, and wouldn't lie down anywhere else. Its mate was
a roan bullock, and could be seen regularly lying opposite, but close
in against the mob.

Drovers themselves, and most bushmen, in fact, have this same animal
peculiarity. Almost every night you will find them ranged in the same
order round the camp fire, and at table, in hut and camp, occupying the
same seats and places, and warmly disputing with any new-comer who
innocently jumps the claim. I have travelled with men who would
invariably locate the points of the compass before spreading out.
"Where's the north?" was the usual query of one man. He explained that
he couldn't sleep if he lay down with his head to the north. Perhaps my
spotted bullock couldn't sleep if he lay down anywhere but four yards
from the side.

Again, put a strange beast into a small mob, and it will attract the
aggressive notice of every animal there, and be horned and butted and
rooted all over the premises. It has an uncomfortable time until the
mob get used to it, and eventually, if kept together, it chums up with
one of them and becomes a recognised member of the community.

Cattle are very rarely yarded or paddocked while on the road, whereas
the sheep-man takes advantage of any chance that offers of a night off.
The average sheep-man doesn't like cattle, and the cattle-man scorns
sheep while he can get the mobs to which he has been accustomed. For
one thing skilled stockmen are not necessary to manage woollies; old,
grey-bearded men follow them on foot, though a trained dog is an
essential. In fact, a sheep-dog commands a good wage, and is often
equal to two horsemen. His owner just mooches along behind, directing
operations, and carrying a bag of water, from which, in hot weather, he
refreshes his canine worker at intervals by pouring a little into the
crown of his hat. With cattle the dog is tapu.

As a rule, one man takes the cattle off camp in the morning, moving off
in the grey dawn, or earlier, while the others are having breakfast.
They are rounded up again about dusk, and the first watch begins almost
immediately. If fixed watches are the rule, the same man takes first
watch every night; but if shift watches prevail, he takes first watch
to-night, the second tomorrow night, and so on. Some hold that this is
the fairest method, whilst others object to the shift system, on the
ground that, turning in at a different hour every night, they don't get
to sleep as easily as when accustomed to regular hours.

On cold nights the men sleep two and three, and sometimes four, in a
tent, or in a circle round the fire, a chain or two away from the
camping cattle. A common practice is for two men to make one bed with
their blankets, and sleep together. The nap of the man on watch is
generally "borrowed" by his scantily-covered mates. Men without
overcoats, gloves, &c., use those of their mates, and timepieces are
often passed round in the same way. One horse does duty all night, but
with bad cattle another is kept ready saddled at the tents for
emergencies, and when a stampede occurs the first man out mounts it and
goes to the assistance of the man on watch. Some mobs, however, make
little starts so often that no one in camp takes any notice of them,
and the watchman has to manage them the best way he can.

Some drovers like to have fires burning at intervals round the camping
cattle at night, but the majority object to them. Besides entailing
much more work in carrying wood and lighting, and replenishing from
time to time, the flitting of the horseman from shadow to light as he
rides round has a tendency to scare cattle. Very often there is a
sudden flare, or a shower of sparks, or an explosion of gas, that is
apt to cause a stampede. One drover tried the experiment of hanging
lamps here and there on trees, and declared it a great success. It is a
good plan with sheep, if lights are needed at all. They are better
campers, and can be shut up every night by running calico hurdles round
them. Then one man can watch them from the cook's fire. The cattle-man
has to keep moving, and it is customary for him also to keep whistling
or singing while doing so. He has, further, to keep a sharp look-out
for bush cattle, which come in if not driven away from the vicinity, or
whose presence entice the cattle off camp. Then there is either a box-
up, necessitating a lot of drafting next day, or some are lost and not
missed until the next count, when it is probably too late to find them.

Cattle string off camp very quietly at night. There are always a few
standing up, even during the most restful periods, and seldom is there
a mob that does not include one or two beasts whose habit it is to get
up frequently to feed about. If the watchman is negligent, or tardy in
completing the circuit, these draw off, and others follow, stringing
quietly away into the dark bush, till the call of one on camp or the
cry of a distant leader gives warning.

The mob is counted once or twice a week. A few drovers make it a rule
to count off camp every morning, a practice that involves a
considerable loss of time. The mob is allowed to draw off to a point,
then the horsemen form a lane, through which they pass in a continuous
string. The man in charge sits on his horse a little in advance, and at
every hundred calls out "tally," while the man next him, provided with
a stick and a knife, cuts a notch to correspond. Cattle soon get used
to this procedure, and give little trouble in breaking round the

Killing-day on the track is not one that is enjoyed by drovers,
although it affords them a pleasant change from salt junk. It
interferes with the regular work, upsets the whole camp, and keeps the
wagonette back several hours, to the inconvenience of all hands. Some
drovers make a short stage on killing-day, but, as a general rule, the
plant has to cover the same distance after butchering as on other days.
With several hundredweight more to carry on the old wagonette, with
rough roads, up and down hills, in and out of gullies and creeks,
through sand-beds and quagmires, and with a team never famous for
quality and efficiency, the cook has by far the worst time of any on
the day that the "harness cask" is replenished.

On one trip out Hungerford way I stayed behind to help the cook and
horse-boy with the butchering and to see them a few miles on the road.
It was four days before I saw the cattle again, and when the cook
caught up he had only two small pieces of meat left. It was very hot
weather, and the flies were so thick that they could not fly half the
time without getting their wings tangled together. The beast had
dropped near a bull ants' nest, and we had to burn them out before we
could get a start on the carcass. Thus the butchering took longer than
usual, and we were hurrying the old chef until we got him flurried. We
had gone only a mile when he fouled a tree and broke the trap. A
thunder-storm came up while we were repairing it, and soon after
starting again we got bogged on a flat and spent the night there. Next
morning a wheel broke, and another day was lost taking the wagonette to
town and bringing out a spring-cart. This trap had stood in the
blacksmith's backyard for a couple of years or more. It collapsed
almost immediately. The horse-boy now went on with the horses and some
rations for the drovers, and I watched the wreckage while the cook went
back for his own vehicle. All our meat, except two or three pieces,
went bad in the meantime and had to be thrown away, and when the cook
overtook the cattle there was another killing-day—and more trouble.

Morning is generally chosen for killing, and the mob is held back on
camp till a beast is shot. This is not always a matter of a few
minutes. I saw some drovers one morning occupy two hours in shooting a
beast. One man rode into the mob and fired at it, but the shot was not
effective. After that it was difficult to get near the wounded bullock
or to get a shot at him among the others. They were spread out, strung
it, and rung round by turns, but he always bored in between two or
three others, with his head down. A second bullet was put into his neck
over the back of another animal, and a third struck him in the ribs.
Finally they rushed him out, and brought him down with the fourth shot.
Half that meat went bad, too.

The flaying and cutting up takes only a few minutes. The hide is
stripped down each side, and the meat is then stripped off the bones,
leaving the frame intact. The meat is roughly salted on a bag or in a
dish and stacked at the back of the wagonette. It drains along the road
as the cook drives to the next camp. There is usually enough meat left
on the bones to last an average family a week, and in most cases the
hide is left with it. No water is used, and the butchers have to be
smart to beat the flies and ants. In sandy country ants are always
plentiful, and they quickly swarm on to fresh meat, while crows and
hawks gather in the trees, waiting for the rich pickings.

I travelled once with a West Queensland drover, who always killed in
the evening. Just before sunset he would post a man in a tree with a
gun, and let the cattle feed towards him. Gradually he would manœuvre
the one he wanted until he got it under the tree, when the man above
would shoot it behind the horns. The hide, head, and legs would then be
taken off, and the paunch taken out, and all hands would haul the
carcass up under the limb with a rope. There it hung all night. The
hide was thrown over the wagonette pole and washed. Before daylight a
big fire was made close by, and the carcass lowered on to the hide and
cut up. After salting the meat was allowed three hours or so to drain,
and was not put into the wagonette until the horses were harnessed and
all ready to start away. At the next camp it was again taken out, and
in the morning was lightly rubbed over and put into bags.

Drovers sometimes make use of bogged cattle. I helped on different
occasions to butcher two that we could not pull out and which were
considered too good to leave. These were pole-axed, and the hide
stripped down each side from the backbone. We stood up to our belts in
mud and water at this job. When we had taken the meat off to the water-
line one held the hide up while the other dug a little farther down.
The meat got rough usage, being hacked off anyhow, and tossed out on to
the bank as one would throw bricks. It was a peculiar-looking bogged
beast when we were done with it.

Cattle that get their legs broken or are otherwise crippled in a rush
are also butchered when meat is wanted—and often in very awkward
places. Swagmen fare well at these times, helping themselves liberally
from the carcass. There was a little mutiny in one camp on the Balonne
over the meat. Two fine bullocks had been struck dead by lightning, and
the drover in charge wanted to use them for meat. He stuck both with a
long knife, but neither would bleed. We jibbed, and there was trouble.
But the electrocuted animals remained for the crows.


They were men of grit and stamina who first faced the jungles of the
north, when there were no steamers or railways to carry off their
produce, and the wild tribes that flourished everywhere in the
neighbourhood added a strong flavour of danger to the enterprise.

Time was when one could ride from sunrise to sunset on the Richmond and
Tweed Rivers and never see a fence where now swing-gates and painted
homesteads meet him on every hand; and vast forests, where the bell-
bird's note and the coo of the pigeons resounded, have given place to
waving fields of corn and cane. Macadamised roads cross and recross
each other where only an odd cattle-pad guided us a few years ago; and
bridges span the creeks and gullies where our bullock teams were
bogged, and we rode up to the saddle-flaps through mud and slush. One
teamster I remember "corduroyed" a bog on the Tatham Road with
smothered bullocks. The leaders turned when the wagon had sunk up to
the bed, and getting entangled, were buried and smothered before they
could be released. At another place, where a bush bridge made of rough
logs spanned the high banks of a creek, a teamster was crossing when
his leaders swung round and went over. The whole team were dragged
down, and more than half of them were drowned in the deep water, many
of them huddled under the wrecked wagon. It was no uncommon thing
either to have to ride through several miles of mud and water on the
main roads, and that within sight of the now flourishing towns of
Casino, Coraki, and Lismore. The struggling farmer, in want of a few
shillings, had often to battle through it with a slide-load of pigs,
potatoes, or corn, wading barefooted alongside his team, and now and
again hanging on to the side of his inelegant conveyance to readjust
its equilibrium, or frantically poking up his livestock when the water
rushed in and threatened to drown them.

The farm that didn't make our fortunes was let, like a good many
others, rent free by the station for the sake of having it cleared. A
rough two-roomed house, with walls of split slabs, earth floor, and a
shingle roof, was the first improvement. A fence across the bight,
enclosing part of the scrub, followed months later. Timber was
plentiful, but farmers built sparingly in those days, being content
with the roughest habitations imaginable. Doors were made of split pine
palings, having plenty of daylight over the top; shutters of the same
material; both being fastened with wooden pegs, which, when not in use,
hung to the doorpost by a strip of hide or a piece of cord. Beds were
also made of pine battens. Some of the more fastidious settlers went in
for spring mattresses—made of round timber and fencing wire. Chairs
were unknown, the universal seats being rough stools, made with a slab
and four round legs. A couple of sawn blocks stood by the fireside, and
there the "Old Man" smoked his evening pipe and told yarns of the
blacks and the goldfields, intermixed with sundry reminiscences of the
"Old Days."

Saturday was a busy day—for me. There was the cask to fill, with
buckets of water carried from the river up a bank three hundred yards
from top to bottom. It was a sort of fatigue duty; it fatigued me
anyway. And there was an armful of tea-tree bush to get from the One-
mile Swamp to make the new broom with. These brooms were about six feet
in circumference, with a young sapling thrust through the centre for
handle, and with care they lasted a whole week. By that time the leaves
had died and were easily broken off, so that they left more litter
behind than they swept before them.

Sunday morning was generally spent in shooting around the swamps and
lagoons. Occasionally we all walked down to the next farm, five miles
distant. None of us kept carriages at this time. On the following
Sunday our neighbour and his wife, followed by half a dozen bare-legged
children and three or four dogs, would return the visit. It was in this
way we kept some sort of grip on civilisation. We also had a neighbour
some miles above us. He came down occasionally at night-time to play
cards—when there was no husking to do; and "Harry" would return the
visit the following week, plodding home somewhere about midnight. They
were not gamblers; they played only for the honour of "Lone Man's

The loneliness of that place is with me yet; the distant ring of the
axe and the peculiar cry of the cat-bird gave it an impressiveness of
its own. The scrub began within a few yards of the door, growing
thicker and darker as it extended into the bight. The first work was to
clear the undergrowth and vines with brush-hooks. All the small growth
is brushed in the jungle, low branches are lopped, the vines that twine
into the tops and lace the trees together are cut at the root and
severed where they cross near the ground. These include the tenacious
lawyer vines, that cling like tiger's claws to anything that touches
them. Thousands of little hooks and needle-points wait for the
slightest contact of the unwary, tearing the clothes to ribbons, and
lacerating hands and arms. Thorns and stinging trees, myriads of
mosquitoes, and hordes of leeches help the lawyer vine to make the work
interesting. Enveloped in deep gloom, the pioneer clears the way
steadily into the heart of the jungle, while the startled wallabies
bound over the decaying leaves, and a thousand scrub birds call to him
from the tree-tops, till enough is cleared to commence felling. The
brushing is about the easiest part of the work. It is clean and light,
though subject to many annoyances. When it is done one can walk
comfortably through the scrub, and the way is clear for the swing of
the axe.

Felling the scrub is slow and laborious work, and at times attended
with considerable risk. The small trees are merely nicked, the larger
ones are cut partly through. Perhaps half an acre or more will be done
like this, then a big tree is cut down and carries the lot crashing to
earth in one tangled mass. Trees beyond the boundaries of the axeman's
operations are torn and broken also by the far-reaching tentacles that
hold them, branches tumble down in showers, and vines snap and recoil
with a vicious swing. The axeman runs for safe ground as soon as his
giant begins to sway, and thence till the cracking ceases he watches
the tree-tops around him, for he never knows in a vine-bound jungle
whence a limb might come. Half-dazed 'possums scramble from the wreck,
the squeaking of young birds is heard, and broken nests and eggs are
everywhere. Here and there, perhaps, a stripped trunk will be left
standing or a small, tough sapling bending over the mass of greenery.
These take some trouble to reach before they can be cut down. Then
another patch is commenced, and so he goes on till ten or twenty acres
are down. This has to remain a long while to dry, and in the meantime
he works in some other quarter of the scrub so that there will be a
green wall between the two when the first is dry enough to burn. The
very look of that huge patch drying in the sun is encouraging to the
new settler, and he works harder than ever on the next.

Very little of the big timber is consumed in the first burning off, and
the blackened logs lie thickly across each other all over the ground. A
road is cut down the centre, wide enough for a dray to pass through
when the time comes to bring in the crop. Cross-cutting the huge, black
logs, and levering them aside is heavy work, and takes weeks to

Then the crop is put in. With a bucket of seed soaking on the road, and
a bag-pouchful in front of him, and a long, narrow-bladed hoe, the
farmer starts along his first row, running it as straight as possible
from road to river, digging the hoe in at every stride, and dropping
four grains behind it so that the earth will drop back. Only about half
the ground is thus planted the first year, the other half being covered
with timber, over which he climbs all day, finishing at night as black
as a chimney-sweep. His rows are usually as straight as were those of
the new chum hand who steered for the brindle cow that was feeding
along on the outside of the field. Still, corn grows as well in a
crooked row as in a straight one, and if his neighbours didn't laugh at
him and pass uncomplimentary remarks about his eyes, and ask if he was
sober at the time, the farmer wouldn't mind. A drill that has the least
tendency to wobble is a thing to engender mirth among farmers, so each
one aims to go as straight as the proverbial arrow.

They had heroic hearts, those early farmers, to face the prodigious
pioneering work that confronted them on every side. They were
unconventional people for the most part. So much so were some of them
that I have seen men dressed in pants of soojee-bag, and shirts made of
flour-bags, the brand in broad letters still visible across the back in
cases where it could not be hidden conveniently on the tail. Hats were
home-made, cabbage-tree and calico forming the principal material. As
for boots, one member of the family wore them regularly—the "Old Man"—
and his clod-squashers were patched with hide and wire as long as
anything remained to hold by. The overcoat was a bag, having a head-
hole at the top and arm-holes at the sides.

From daylight to twilight was the common working day. A coo-ee was the
signal for breakfast or for dinner. Some used cow-bells. We had one at
the start, but a wall-eyed cow we bought lost it in the big paddock. If
the work were at the bottom of the farm dinner was brought down to save
time. Sometimes a bit of sheeting or an old shirt was hoisted on the
clothes-prop when the planter was beyond coo-ee. It was a time of happy
relief when the flag went up, or "mother called to dinner."

Weeds grew quickly after the burning off, and when the corn came up it
was a race between it and the wild growth for supremacy. Then every row
had to be chipped. Occasionally when there was much rain a second
chipping was necessary. Then the farmer had a respite until the corn
was ripe, albeit he had to protect it from the attacks of paddymelons,
parrots, and cockatoos. That, however, is part and parcel of the

Then came the pulling, of which the "missus" had to do her share. The
husking was done at night in the winter months, when the cold compelled
one to work hard to keep the blood in circulation.

Shipping the bags of corn was a pleasant diversion, and not
infrequently provided a good deal of fun. Our wharf was half a mile
from the barn, where the bank was short and steep. Two long skids were
fixed from the top to the landing, down which the bags were run. These
became so slippery in time as to require a man on guard at the bottom
to steady the bags. One day a new chum deck-hand, on his first trip up
the river, stood in front of his skids waiting his turn to carry a bag
on board. He allowed the bag to come down full force against the
crosspiece at the bottom, with the result that it broke away, and the
new chum stopped the flying bag with his stomach, and immediately after
took a header backwards into the river. Another day the engineer,
stepping unsteadily on to the gangway, toppled into the river, bag and
all. There was a tremendous difference between these two accidents from
the farmer's point of view; he laughed for a week over the new chum's
misfortune, but he always swore when he thought of the engineer—he had
lost him a bag of corn. However, once the corn was shipped, there was
much satisfaction to be derived from a trip to town for the settling. I
accompanied "Harry" on those trips—to show him the way back, and to
catch his horse and hold it when he fell off.

Harvest-time only came once a year, and the liquidation of the
accumulated debts had to be commemorated somehow. It was no uncommon
thing to be without money for several months at a stretch on a farm.
Luckily, an order sent up or down by the steamer was always honoured.
The captains were courteous; a flag hung out on a stick was the only
signal they wanted to come in to the wharf; and if an empty kerosene
tin was suspended over the water on a pole, they knew what was meant;
they boat-hooked it aboard, and brought it back full of treacle next

The dealer's boat, which was fitted with lockers, and sometimes with a
light awning over the after part, was another convenience. It was well
laden at the start with groceries, clothing material, &c., which were
exchanged for eggs, butter, and even poultry.

If the farmers of those early days had to toil harder than the men on
the same ground do to-day, they lived proportionately well, and yet at
little cost. Ground corn made good porridge for breakfast, and boiled
green corn gave a flavour to the salt meat. Vegetables were plentiful,
once the scrub was down; and fish and game were to be had in sight of
the hut any day in the week. Wild fruits grew there in abundance, and
we made pies and puddings with tomatoes, gooseberries, passion-fruit,
black-berries, &c., and there was always plenty of fresh milk and
butter, wild honey, and bacon and eggs.

After the demolition of the scrub the axe figured no more in the farm
work. Our only implements were brush-hooks and hoes. Weeds grew thickly
and luxuriantly after the corn was pulled, reaching a height of seven
or eight feet. These were cut down with the brush-hooks and fired when
dry. Occasionally, in dry seasons, we had to suspend operations until
the weeds grew sufficiently for a good burn-off, without which we could
not plant. It is here that the ploughman has the draw on the man with
the hoe.


No one appreciates the comfort and pleasure of a winter's evening spent
by the fireside so much as the corn-grower and his family. This is
because they seldom know that luxury through the coldest months; for
several weeks at a stretch there is only Sunday off, and it passes all
too quickly. To those who combine agriculture with dairying there is
little relaxation even on Sunday, but they have the evening to
themselves, a short, blissful evening, spent for the most part in a
spacious fireplace, squatting round the blazing logs.

June and July is about the time the corn is being carted into the barn.
Every night as soon as supper is over the whole family (except the
little toddlers who are too young to work), wrapped up in coats,
jackets, bags, shawls, and comforters, go shivering to the barn to husk
corn till eleven o'clock—perhaps till midnight. The front of the
average barn, where the carts back in, is open, and when the wind blows
in that direction it acts as a spur to lagging fingers. You notice the
young ones working hard and piling the husks up behind them for warmth.
When there is a big heap right across they feel more comfortable, and
begin to get drowsy; the interval between falling cobs in the straddles
gradually lengthens; some fall short, and perhaps one catches the old
man on the ear. The latter concludes that it is time to "shove the
husks out of the way." Then the wind comes keener than ever, and, like
coral workers, they slowly build up their protecting ridge again.

At the commencement there is a cone-shaped pile of white cobs between
the straddles, which the eyes of the tired huskers magnify to the
semblance of a mountain. They sit down in a row in front of it, each on
a wooden block, with a folded sack on top of it for a cushion. A slush
lamp hangs by a wire from a beam in front of them, and is fed from time
to time with fragrant tallow. One by one the cobs are husked: a strip
down one side, a turn and a twist with each, and thrown into the
straddles to left and right. Fingers get sore, backs ache, feet "go to
sleep," legs grow stiff, and eyes become painful from the ever-
flickering light. But the work is easy, though fatiguing and

The farmer seeks from time to time to instil renewed energy and a
little enthusiasm into his flagging co-workers by starting husking
races—a hundred cobs up. There is no prize, unless it is a promise of
something extra at Christmastime to the fastest husker. He starts off
himself at a great pace, and cobs fly thick and fast. He reaches the
hundred when the boys and girls are not much past eighty—and the
"missus" has lost count. She never could count, somehow. They have
another go, and this time they are about ninety when he reaches the

This is encouraging; they believe they can beat father yet. They work
harder than ever in the next race, and get to about ninety-five. There
is a little excitement among them now; they think they are improving,
while the old fellow is getting tired. They don't notice that he is
keeping tally of their cobs and husking anyhow himself, as though he
didn't care whether he got there to-night or to-morrow.

They try again. This time he counts nothing, but is working
prodigiously when one of them calls out "hundred." He looks surprised.
He's only ninety-one, he says; the winner must have skipped ten
somehow. There's a little argument—not much, arguments take time—and it
is decided to husk that race over again. He doesn't bother about
counting, of course; and when the young one again calls "hundred" he is
not quite sure "whether this cob's ninety-seven or ninety-eight." The
cold night air is unnoticed in the jubilation of having beaten father.
Then another aspirant for championship honours is backed to run the
winner. There is jealousy among the young ones, and the cobs and husks
literally fly. Not a word is spoken during these contests (it would
interfere with the counting), and a big hole is made in the stack in
consequence. Father smokes his pipe while he works, and there is
contentment on his face. He was a youngster himself once.

These competitions are more exciting (to farmers) at the corn-husking
concerts, or parties. A farmer takes his family to a neighbour's
tonight, and spends the evening (a farmer's evening runs to midnight)
husking his corn. Next night the neighbour and his family return the
visit, and on the following night, probably, some other farmer's barn
is visited. This is the farmer's "at home" night, and for entertainment
all the gossip of the district is ventilated, yarns are told, and songs
are sung—while working; Sarah Jones's engagement with Jim Smith is
announced, and all the remarkable and unremarkable incidents in the
lives of the old people are aired—an interesting jumble of gold-
digging, blacks, and bushrangers. The young folks enjoy these parties;
the work is much more pleasant, and time doesn't drag. But the system
is not followed to any great extent. There is too much talking for the
average farmer (a lot of people can't work and talk, and some can't
work and listen), and too much time is lost tramping to and fro, while
the young people get playing and giggling. Many a courtship has started
at those husking parties, and many a union could be traced back to the
sly hand-clasps and squeezes when fumbling for cobs. In that respect a
husking party offers many advantages over the bush dance.

Many freaks and novelties turn up during a winter's husking—five-
fingered cobs, corkscrews, cobs of jet black, blood red, snow white,
and black and white (magpies). These are put by, with the husk stripped
back but not broken off, and are afterwards placed on the mantelshelf
or hung on the walls of the living-room—with the 'possum skins and emu
eggs. The seed corn is also picked out at husking-time. The biggest and
weightiest cobs with straight, even rows and full grain are chosen.
They must also have red cores. Many farmers will not plant a grain that
comes off a white core, though white and red cores are about equal in
every stack, and there is no apparent difference in the grain.

Sometimes there is a little exciting diversion that enlivens the sleepy
huskers. The Richmond has always been a great place for carpet snakes.
I remember one night we were husking late to finish a stack. The
straddle was half full, and we were grouped under it, half-buried in
husks. Suddenly a ten-foot carpet snake that had probably been pounded
with cobs at the back of the straddle slipped down off the sloping corn
and dropped on top of us. There was consternation for a moment, and in
the hurry and confusion the slush-lamp was knocked off the swing, and
it set fire to the husks. We managed to bash out the fire with bags,
and then there was a hunt for the snake. A fire was made with the
outside husks to light up the surroundings, and then the heap was
carefully raked back until the intruder was discovered. Other times
'possums and native cats got into the barn and formed a target for many
a flying cob.

There is joy when the huskers turn out for the burning. The air is
crisp, the landscape shows white, and even the stars have a frosty
look. The huge pile of husks is forced back with wooden forks, and the
heap is lighted in three or four places. All hands stand round,
enjoying a delicious warm, and occasionally poking up the fire, until
it burns out. The "missus" has already gone to the house, and she has
the kettle boiled, and hot coffee and doughnuts ready when the others
arrive. Then to roost.

Our farm was in a big bight. Round us, on the opposite side of the
river, were half a dozen farms about an equal distance away. We could
see the glare of their fires at night as we stood round our own. For a
long while our fire was the signal for the others to light up. Then one
got a bullock's horn, and blew it regularly at about eleven o'clock.
This came to be recognised as the knock-off call, and the husks would
be forked back as expeditiously as possible, and all the fires would
blaze up at about the same time. But it didn't last long. Others got
horns, and they blew them in the mornings. Among these farmers early
rising was a virtue. Each tried to be earlier than his neighbour, and
to beat him in the day's work. A good many fairy stories had been told
in connection with this early rising business. One man had boasted of
being up at 3.30 every morning through the harvest. A neighbour watched
him (neighbours are suspicious people), and discovered that he "didn't
crawl out till eight o'clock."

When the "bugles" were introduced it was thought that all deceit was at
an end. The first man up would blow his horn and go to work. This led
to a deal of rivalry, and horns blew earlier and earlier every morning.
One sounded one morning at two o'clock; but it was discovered
afterwards that this man merely leaned out of his bedroom window, and
having announced with a blast that he was up, chuckled to himself and
went to sleep again. That night a neighbour husked corn till twelve
o'clock, had his coffee and a smoke, then blew a terrific blast and
went to bed. Several of the others got up and went to work. They worked
long, dark hours, and when they saw the morning star rising they left
off and said things. That was the end of the "fog-horns," and
afterwards, if any one happened to mention the time he got up in the
morning he was looked upon with suspicion, and his word was treated
with scorn.


There was a time when the native-born who could not mount a brumby and
stick to him like wax to a blanket was an exception, who was not only
chaffed and scoffed at by his fellows, but was viewed with surprise by
visitors from other countries. His fame had travelled early. Even now
the typical Australian, to foreign pens and brushes, is a horseman
whirling several yards of stock-whip around while racing after long-
horned cattle, just as the cowboy is considered typically American. But
the horseman is merely one of a hundred types. He is more picturesque
than the general run; the thrill of romance and adventure runs through
his career, which appeals to the untamable blood that courses under the
veneer of civilisation in the Anglo-Saxon; and he is seized upon with
so much zest as to overshadow all other types, if not to entirely
obliterate them in far-off places. The miner is grudgingly permitted to
step on to the stage occasionally, and the shearer is briefly noticed
in season; but the horseman is an evergreen.

At one time everybody rode, but closer settlement, railways, coaches,
and steamers have so limited the usefulness of the hack that thousands
of people in every State are as much out of place in a saddle as a Jack
Tar, while the majority in big towns have never been on a horse's back
in their lives.

On agricultural and dairy farms little riding is necessary. The farmer
may ride to and from work, bareback, on the plough-horse, and his sons
and daughters ride about the paddock or farm on quiet old mokes, but
send them after half-wild cattle or brumbies on a scrubby run, put them
on a cutting-out camp, or on a buck-jumper, and most of them would be
hopelessly at sea.

Selectors, as a rule, shape much better, many of them being smart
cattle-men and rough-riders. They work intermittently on neighbouring
stations, and occasionally go droving. Girls ride bareback or in a
man's saddle round the selection fences, muster their stock from the
bush, riding at times full gallop through thick and thin. This was a
simple matter to all of them in the days when the bush was wide.
Marsupials and dingoes were plentiful, and so were wild horses in many
places, and men and girls trooped forth on Sundays and holidays to hunt
them, and the greater part of the day would be spent riding hard
through thick timber and over rough country. On the road home they
jumped their horses over logs and fences just for sport, or to see who
had the best horse. Kangarooing was a fashionable pastime then.

The tactics of the town breaker make the old hand and the backblocker
tired to look at. In their way a horse would be caught and driven round
a few times with the mouthing reins, then ridden without loss of time.
Of course they bucked, bucked hard and often; but the men were like
sticking-plasters on their backs. The town breaker shuts his colt up
for two or three days, with its head strapped back to its chest; then
he pulls and twists it about for a week with clothes-lines, after which
it is led around half the universe beside another horse, often with a
dummy flopping and wobbling on its back. A bag on the end of a long
stick is banged about its back and legs and drawn over its head to cure
it of nervousness; dry cow-hides that make a great clatter are thrown
against its heels, and every night it is turned out short-hobbled. When
it is too dead to look round at an earthquake the breaker mounts it in
a very small yard, or perhaps he will take it on to a sandhill or a
boggy flat, where it would be extra hard to buck and a fall wouldn't
hurt. It takes the unfortunate animal about two years to recover from
the ordeal.

When the runs everywhere were wild and broad, with never a fence to
block the movements of the half-wild cattle, every station had its
coterie of brilliant horsemen. Horses were many, always fresh and ready
for a set-to, and men had to ride. When one applied for a billet he was
given a noted buckjumper to test his ability in the pigskin, and if he
failed to sit him he was turned away with contempt. No other
credentials were asked of him.

Australia can lay claim to the cleverest horsemen in the world, but you
must go back on to the big cattle runs to find them in numbers. The
riders have drifted farther out, passing and on with the march of
civilisation. The Richmond and Clarence Rivers have always been noted
for good horsemen, and likewise the Monaro country. When competing for
buckjumping prizes at country shows it is common to see riders, seeking
to excel one another, sitting bucking horses without bridle or saddle,
having first thrown off the latter and then the former without

As men run so they ride—in all shapes and sizes. A good many people
contend that long-legged men should be able to stick better than the
short-legged variety. But this is not borne out by practical results.
My experience teaches me that length of limb is no essential. A little,
proppy-legged boy may sit with ease a horse that would throw the long
one sky-high. Some of the best buckjump riders I have seen were short-
legged men. In any case it is not requisite to grip with the legs to
sit a bucking horse. Balance riders, the prettiest of horsemen, do not
grip, nor hold any more than when riding an ordinary horse at a hand
gallop. In the latter case there is no exertion or effort on the
rider's part to keep an easy, even seat; the limbs are at ease, there
is no rigidity of any muscle; he sits carelessly, yet gracefully, his
body following involuntarily the motion of the horse. In the same
manner it is possible for any rider with practice to adapt himself to
the movements of a bucking horse.

For all that, the majority of riders grip the saddle with some part of
the legs when the horse sets to. Beginners grip with the knees—the
hardest and most weakening of all. And they lean forward, their heads
nodding and jerking fit to dislocate their necks. Formerly they were
told to sit back; now they are told to sit straight. A straight sitter
can balance and follow the movements of his animated foundation with
greater ease; when the animal is rearing his body swings forward almost
of its own accord, and when the quadruped hoists its tail end his body
swings back automatically to meet it. The thigh grip is the most
commonly used, but causes a considerable strain on the muscles. The
best of all is the calf grip, and the hardest to learn. It is here
where the long fellow has the advantage over the mannikin. This grip is
much favoured by aborigines.

But grip of any kind makes hard work of riding. It concentrates the
whole force and power necessary to counteract the efforts of the horse
on one set of muscles, whereas the needful exertion should be
distributed throughout the body, as when riding at a gentle canter.
This does not apply to new chums; they bring everything into play—arms,
legs, and head are exercised in a manner that amounts almost to
violence. But watch the balance rider. I have seen him on a rough-
bucking horse lighting his pipe, with the reins swinging over his arm,
and "sitting loosely in the saddle all the while."

Some rough-riders are like fish out of water if not jammed in a saddle
that fits like a tight boot—made to order—with stiff, seven-inch knee-
pads. Others will ride anything in a hunting or poley saddle, and
without a crupper. A good surcingle, however, is indispensable. Breast-
plates, martingales, &c., are merely superfluous leather. Novices and
others who lack proficiency use a kid (a bundle of green sticks rolled
in a bag and strapped across the pommel), or a swag or a monkey (a
strap looped between the D's for the right hand to grip). The crupper
is another favourite hold, and many, when "slewed," grip the side of
the saddle and pull themselves straight again.

The best men riders become broken up after a few years. Nearly every
organ in the body is affected, and scores of good horsemen become
physical wrecks at middle age through continual hard riding. I have
seen men vomit blood after a rough set-to, and others sitting in the
saddle with blood running from the nose. About one rider in fifty
between the ages of twenty-five and thirty-five has steady nerves; over
that age the proportion is about one in five hundred.

There are experts among women as well as among men. I remember two
sisters on the Richmond who could handle and ride a colt as well as the
best—and though they used any kind of saddle, they mostly rode in the
approved feminine fashion. Some men believe that a woman, jammed behind
the horns of a side-saddle, should have less difficulty in sitting a
buck than a man has in his saddle. But a little reflection will show
that a woman, sitting comparatively on one side of the horse, hasn't
the same advantage to follow its movements as the man has, who sits
equilaterally and centrally over the animal. The sisters referred to
rode bucks in either saddle.

Out-back there are plenty of men who can ride anything ever foaled,
whom no horse can throw from its back—and there are some terrific
buckjumpers on the big cattle stations. The cowboys who came out one
time from Arizona or thereabouts with a Wild West Show, and who were
said to represent America's best, met their Waterloo on many occasions
on the Australian tour. Even Bathurst horses rolled them in the dirt.
And there was always some bystander ready to mount the outlaw, and ride
him to a standstill.

Horses have been known to buck out of saddle and bridle without
breaking or unbuckling a strap or girth. Some buck straight ahead,
propping with forelegs out—they're easy; others buck round and round
till trees and grass are aswim, and some stand on their heads and throw
somersaults; but the hardest of all to sit is the brute that takes a
flying leap forward, then bucks backward in the twinkle of an eye,
slews round like greased lightning, and then takes off again with an
electrifying side spring—going in two directions at once. I rode one of
him once for two seconds. Something like an earthquake happened, and
the ground jumped up and hit me on the back of the head.

Some horses never buck, even when first saddled. A few are quite docile
and tractable at first asking, and later on, when you have ceased to
expect an argument, they suddenly treat you to the trick-work of a
genius; and others are outlaws for the term of their natural lives.

I have found little horses harder to sit than big ones, especially if
they are round in the barrel. When the midget is doubled up like a
Catherine-wheel, you see nothing but the pommel of the saddle, with a
little wisp of hair in front of it. You are sitting on a pin-point, as
it were. On a big horse you have plenty of room, and its movements are
more communicable; you could ride him with your eyes shut in

One hears a good deal of rot talked at times even among horsemen anent
the staying powers of a determined rooter. An experienced rider said in
rebuttal of some exaggerations of this kind: "Some will buck off and on
all day, but no horse can buck more than thirty seconds without a
spell. I'll answer for that statement against the world. A horse is not
bucking that does not buck twice a second, and no horse can buck sixty
times without having a wind. I've put a watch on them, and he's a daisy
that goes fifteen seconds." Many horses buck slowly, taking long, high
leaps, but probably these would be classed with the pigjumpers.

Lauri, the bushranger, was a noted horseman. He was in a yard one day
among a lot of unbroken colts when the police suddenly appeared. His
own horse was out of reach, as the police closed up from different
directions. The yard gates were open, and the mob of colts were
stringing out into the bush. Lauri sprang on to the capping, ran along
it to the gate-post, and thence dropped on to the back of a big bay
colt as it was running through. The terrified animal sped into the
bush, kicking, striking, and bucking at a furious rate. But he served
Lauri's purpose. He was nimble enough, when out of danger, to spring
clear of the frantic animal.



My first taste of selection life was on Myrtle Creek, a narrow, sinuous
stream that is fed by a thousand perennial springs in Wyan Mountain,
and empties into Bungawalbyn Creek, the south arm of the Richmond
River. We moved from Grafton, Ben Buckle and I, being among the
foremost of the settlers who flocked there about 1890. It is a populous
and prosperous part now, with a railway through it, and there are
sawmills and stores and schools, and progress committees strewn about
it, but at the time we trekked it was all virgin forest.

The rain started soon after we did, and before sundown we had left the
macadamised road, and got well on into difficulties. We had two teams,
with a combined muster of ten bullocks. Ben had charge of six and a
small wagon, while I endeavoured to make the other four pull an old
dray. We were loaded only with household effects, tools, rations, and a
coop of fowls, and with fair weather we might have got through our
fifty-mile journey comfortably in a week; but the fates were against

Neither of us knew much about bullock driving, and the bullocks were a
bad lot. They took very little notice of what we said, and when we laid
the whip on to the leaders they would run off and tangle the whole team
up. Once Ben's team ran right off the road, knocked down part of an old
two-railed fence, and bolted down a paddock. We both ran after it, one
on each side, shouting "Whey!" till the off front wheel caught against
a small spotted gum and stopped them. It was hard work cutting that
tree down from behind the wheel, and when it fell, it nearly crippled
two bullocks, and set them going again. We "shooed" them towards the
road, and got back at the expense of another panel of fence. Another
hour was lost repairing the damage; then we got into heavy ground. At
the foot of a hill my off leader jibbed, and when we proceeded to
infuse some energy into him with a waddy he lay down and sulked. We
left the team there while we took the wagon to the top of the hill,
where we intended to camp. Then we returned with the six bullocks for
the dray. Spot, the sulker, still refused to get up, and, finally, we
had to unyoke him and "spare-chain" him out of the way. He got up later
on, and followed us to camp.

There was a drizzling rain all the time, and, as we couldn't take the
tarpaulin off the furniture, we had to make a camp under the wagon,
crawling in and out on hands and knees. A cowhide and a sheet of tin
served us for mattresses on the wet ground, and, with a lot of
patience, we managed to get a good log fire going under a sheet of
bark, behind the wagon. It wasn't a safe place to sleep, and we thought
of the teamster who, years ago, slept under his dray on rain-softened
ground, and during the night the wheels sank till the bed of the dray
pinned him to the earth. But our wagon did not play us any scurvy trick
of that kind. We were stoking, however, most of the night, and also
lost much rest driving 'possums away from the rations.

We had only gone about a mile next day when Spot jibbed, and had to be
dragged off the road again. He followed us for the rest of the day. He
was a great bullock to follow. He got to like being a spare bullock so
well that, as soon as the yoke was put on him in the morning, he would
lie down with an injured expression on his face, and we had to unyoke
him again, and shift out of his way. This left us with a workable team
of eight, which necessitated a change in our mode of progression. We
would draw the wagon along for a mile or two, then return with the team
for the dray. Ben drove the near side bullocks while I looked after
their mates on the off side. This enabled us to keep on the road much
more than usual, but still we got bogged pretty often. We managed to
dig our way out in most cases, but occasionally we had to unload as
well, and load up again on firm ground.

Our greatest causes of annoyance were the registered gates on the road.
They were not wide enough, and though we took every precaution, the
posts still evinced a desire to come with us. Generally we only pulled
down one, but now and again the team would become obstreperous, and we
would be considerably put out on seeing the wagon knock down one post
and the dray bowl over the other. It cost us a lot of time and hard
labour putting in gate-posts on the way over.

Old teamsters will tell you that a bullock-whip is a formidable weapon
when you know how to use it, and most effective in "putting the come
hither" on the off-siders. We had got down to one whip, made of
remnants. It looked formidable enough, but in its wet and flabby state
it was as awkward as it was useless. The thing would cling to the
handle, get fast round the yokes and chains, or encircle one's neck
like a wet dishcloth, just when it was wanted to get the "come-hither"
on Snider at a critical moment.

Crossing Myall Creek our coop fell off and broke, and half the fowls
got out. We tried to catch them with damper crumbs, but they seemed to
prefer grasshoppers. So we had to run them down, in which process we
left half our clothes hanging on tenacious myall twigs. That same
afternoon the dray brushed a dead iron-bark tree, and a sheet of loose
bark, about forty feet long, came down on top of the bullock horse,
completely covering him. He hung back so prodigiously that the
greenhide halter snapped, and, with head and tail erect, and snorting
like a locomotive, he started back for Grafton at full gallop. Luckily
we had made a secure job of the last gate we passed through, and there
we got him after a two-mile walk.


To us the primitive life we entered upon had many charms. There were
deep waterholes, lagoons, and broad swamps and marshes everywhere. Game
simply swarmed over this country, and we stored salt and pickled duck
by the hundredweight. In wet weather ducks walked about the flats and
perched on the logs we had cut for splitting, preening themselves
within range of the tents. There, too, we could watch the stately
jabiru, the dance of the brolgas, the gathering of pelicans, and study
the inquisitive emus as they marched closely past our camps. From the
fireside in the evenings we have shot kangaroos, wallabies, and
dingoes, as they passed along the creek.

We had many feathered pets—little bush birds in endless variety;
magpies and butcher-birds shared our meals, picking up the crumbs we
threw to them; kookaburras kept us company at work, watching for grubs;
parrots swarmed in thousands among the gum-blossoms. At night the
curlews screamed around us, and mopokes called from the scrub. When the
black cockatoos paid us a visit, flying low and with shrill cries from
tree to tree, we looked for rain, and when we heard the Australian
cuckoo we expected fine weather.

But there were other aspects of the situation that were not quite so
enchanting. Most of our neighbours were married men, and many of them
brought their wives and families with them on horseback, in buggies and
carts, and on top of the dunnage. One man came with a loaded dray,
drawn by one horse. His wife, with a child in her arms, accompanied
him. They had a hard passage over, and when they left the main road the
woman had to walk every inch of the way, in a drizzling rain, across
melon-hole flats and through sheets of surface water, her skirts
dragging through long grass and catching on sticks and bushes. When she
reached our camp she set the baby down in a horse-collar, and greeted
us with a tragic gesture. "My God, look at me!" she cried. We looked—
and laughed. She laughed, too, while she wrung the water from her
dripping skirts and shook them out. She was a rosy-cheeked, cheerful
little soul, and I have often since noticed her name mentioned in the
paper in connection with socials, presentations, and such functions.
She is a leading light in the community, as she deserves to be.

In some instances the houses had been built before the family appeared,
but mostly only a rough hut, used afterwards as a kitchen, was there to
receive them. In a few cases not even the site for the camp had been
picked, and when the dray pulled up on a rise and all got down, there
was an inspection of the ground, and much discussion and walking about.
The woman wanted to be as near as possible to the water, but the man
was afraid of floods and preferred the high ground. She was tired,
night was coming on, the dray had to be unloaded, supper cooked, tents
pitched, and beds made, so he had his way—which accounts for so many
selectors' huts being a mile away from water.

The first evening on a new selection under such circumstances is not as
cheerful as one could wish. It is the beginning of a new life—a hard
one, with nothing done and everything to do. There is no house in
sight, no sign of life but that of wild birds and animals, and the
freed horses feeding out into the wilderness of trees. Boxes,
furniture, tools, and camp-ware are strewn about the dray, a fire burns
under a tree, and a tent or two is erected near by. This is home. The
children enjoy it; it is new and strange and novel, and they race
about, climbing trees, gathering wild flowers, rooting hollow logs, and
hunting goanas and 'possums. Every day they learn a little more of
their new world, venturing farther and farther afield, and making new
disoveries, naming hills and swamps and lagoons for future reference,
until they are thoroughly acquainted with the local geography, and know
where to find their cows and horses, where the wildfowl are most
abundant, and the holes where fish are to be caught. To the mother,
seated on the ground by the fire, and watching the sun go down as she
eats her first meal, and listening to the croaking of frogs and
chirruping of crickets, the groaning of interlocked trees, and the
wailing of curlews, it is a wretchedness that brings tears to her eyes.

Her husband is full of hope, and fairly bristles with ideas and
schemes. He walks over his "capital site," and points out to his
patient spouse and his admiring progeny (who have wonderful faith in
father) where the henhouse and the pigsty are going to be, where the
grindstone will stand, and the way the fence will run. He takes his hat
off and squints up trees, pointing out the way they will fall, showing
them the good splitting ones, and estimating how many slabs or posts
and rails they will produce. What he plans that first night usually
takes him about ten years to carry out.

Timber was so plentiful in our neighbourhood that we could almost
follow our boundary round, splitting the posts and rails, and throwing
them on to the line from the stump. There was very little hauling. But
many shallow waterholes and gilghies to cross made fencing at times
unpleasant. Posts would be pointed on dry land, and rails adzed to fit.
Then both of us would wade in, one with the post and the other with a
heavy maul, drive the post into the soft ground and place the rails in
position, then hurry out to brush off a horde of leeches that would be
clinging to our legs. They were ugly, ravenous brutes. If you plunged a
stick into the water, you would see the long-striped monstrosities
streaking for it from all sides. Yet we would wade into any swamp, and
swim into any lagoon, to bring out ducks we had shot.

Ringbarking was considered an "improvement" at this time, so we had
several hundred acres to ring. This was light work, and enabled us to
find dozens of sugar-bags (bees' nests). We had always a good supply of
honey on hand. A few months after the ringing process the selection
begins to look bedraggled, lonely, and miserable. Trees are bare and
ghostly white, long strips of bark swing in the wind, and dead limbs
and bark encumber the ground in all directions. It saddens one to look
at the dead white trunks, and to see nothing but crows and eaglehawks
perched in the leafless tops that erstwhile diffused the sweetest
perfume over the land, and called brilliant-hued parrots in millions to
feast among the honey-laden blossoms. And the sawmills are calling for
that timber now.

We carried our own wood as we wanted it; there was plenty of it handy.
Likewise we carried our water in kerosene-tins. Mosquitoes came in
swarms from the holes at night, necessitating the burning of cowdung in
our bedrooms; 'possums were other nocturnal visitors. They scampered
about the roof of our house, purred down the chimney, and sometimes got
inside. Snakes, centipedes, and scorpions were the only things we had
to fear, and a careful inspection of our bedding was made every night
before turning in.

Our camps were pretty close together, and at night one would visit the
other for a yarn. One night a young fellow, approaching the camp of two
new chums, imitated the howl of a dingo. The chummies were sitting at
their fire, but instantly sprang up and shouted, "Sool him, Pincher!
Catch him. Snapper!" The dogs plunged into the darkness, and presently
a frantic voice was heard yelling out to call them off. Snapper had
caught him. The joker escaped with only slight damage to skin and
garments; but he never "played dingo" again.

Everybody had cows, of course, and in the mornings you would see a man
milking at one side of a sapling-yard and another yoking bullocks or
harnessing horses at the other side. Sometimes the calves were tethered
to trees to keep the cows near; and very often the latter were milked
in a bail fixed up against a big log, or in the fork of a log which did
duty for bail, yard, and calf-pen. With milk, butter, eggs, fish, game,
and honey in abundance, and later, when little cultivation patches were
got going, any amount of vegetables, there wasn't much left to
purchase. Still, there was nothing coming in, as grazing alone on a
small area was a slow process, so the majority took contracts to keep
the pot boiling—working on the roads and squattages, droving, horse-
breaking, and making a little occasionally at horse and cattle dealing,
and between whiles clearing, improving, and building up substantial and
comfortable homesteads.

One thrifty old man, who looked after a selection for his two sons
while they were away working, saved up all his eggs for market. He was
a Scotchman, and a very indifferent horseman. It was four miles down to
the main road, where he met the coach every mail-day. He carried the
eggs in a bucket on horseback, which was not a very easy task,
considering the creeks and gullies he had to cross, and it became more
difficult as the fences went up, as he had then to dismount several
times on the way to let down sliprails. Still, he managed very well
till one afternoon, when a catastrophe happened. He was riding along at
a brisk walk, balancing his bucket of eggs on the pommel. Suddenly a
rat-kangaroo leaped from its nest close under-the horse's nose, and
with a snort the animal sprang from under the old man. As he speared
into the grass the bucket, toppling over from the pommel, shot the eggs
in a deluge over him. No candidate for parliamentary honours could
dream of being so thoroughly plastered with eggs as he was. The
disaster, however, did not kill the budding industry, though for a
couple of weeks the old fellow carried his precious load down on foot.

On Sundays the settlers went farther afield, to deep holes for fishing,
or to take note of the progress being made on distant selections,
riding over the "runs," and inspecting each other's cattle. There was
plenty of room for riding, for kangarooing, and for dingo-hunting
through leagues of bush, scrub, and mountains, where bell-birds made
melody overhead, and Wonga pigeons and brush turkeys were flushed from
under graceful cabbage-trees, the leaves of which we used for making
hats; by groves of kurrajong, from the bark of which the blacks made
fishing-nets and dillybags; through fields of cunjevoi, that provided
them with pungent cake; over beds of delicious yams and sarsaparilla-
vines, so much sought by bushmen for summer drinks.

As women increased, Sunday visiting took a new phase, the whole family
trooping through the bush, father leading the way—with an eye on the
look-out for splitting trees and bees' nests, the children hunting for
'possums, and mother warning them to look out for snakes. There was a
"warming," too, as each house was completed; in fact, dancing was
pretty frequent at one place and another. Sometimes we danced on the
grass, as when several families were out picnicking.

They travelled in carts and on horseback, starting away before sunrise.
When the last contingent had been picked up the procession at times was
rather astonishing to a stranger. You would see a man sitting in a cart
playing a fiddle, and another performing on horseback with a
concertina, while two or three cartloads of joyous humanity would be
singing gaily in chorus. They foregathered, too, for card-playing; they
had shooting and fishing excursions, and got up bush races
occasionally. These are the happy days of selection life, though we
don't always think so at the time, days we like to look back upon and
talk over, days that are never forgotten—

"When gum-trees whispered o'er the camp fire's blaze."



Shearing is the most important event of the year on a sheep station.
For weeks beforehand preparations are made for it, whilst any other
work can be done at little notice. The shearers' hut has to be patched
up, the gaps in the shed repaired, gates, fences, and yards fixed up,
wool tables cleaned and put in place, the press erected (where it is
not permanently housed in a modern shed), machinery and a hundred and
one other items attended to. Stacks of wood have to be cut in the
neighbouring bush and drawn in to huts and homestead; the iron tanks
are replenished, or arrangements otherwise made for a water-supply. It
is the busiest time of the year, a time of bustle and excitement, that
seems to accentuate the loneliness and quietness of the surroundings
for the rest of the year. For three or four weeks, or months, you hear
the constant click of the shears, the shouting of men, the bleating of
sheep, and the barking of dogs; you see the flashing of snowy fleeces,
the ringing and rushing of huge flocks, galloping horsemen, and clouds
of dust. Then one morning the whole busy scene has vanished; there is
silence about the huts and shed, and the only living things to be seen
are the crows feasting on dead sheep outside the yard.

The time of starting at any shed is seldom advertised. Such news is
carried in the bush by mulga wire—in other words, by travellers passing
from place to place. Then, again, a number of sheds will follow in
rotation, the shearers and shed hands going from one to the other. Most
squatters prefer men fresh from a shed to those who have not recently
had a cut, as with the latter there is frequently much delay during the
first week with knocked-up wrists. But when men are plentiful, and
there is a market to catch, or other considerations make it convenient
or urgent, there is no waiting for anybody's cut-out, and a dozen
adjoining stations may be in full swing at the one time. The general
cut-out then means a merry time at "Mother's" (the wayside hostelry),
where a shearers' race meeting and other attractions are held to wind
up the season.

Stands are sometimes booked weeks and months prior to date of shearing,
applications being accompanied in many cases with a sovereign as a
guarantee of good faith, the amount being refunded at the settling up,
or donated to the local hospital if forfeited by non-appearance. Many
men after sending their pounds along find as the time draws near that
something more pressing, or some unlooked-for circumstance, will
prevent their filling their engagement. This difficulty is easily
surmounted if the shearer is not well known. He sells his stand to a
mate, or wires one at the place to sell it for him, and thus saves his
deposit. Of course, the purchaser must take the name of the man who
originally engaged. Dozens of men in this way impersonate others, and
are known by certain names on one district and by different names in
other parts. A shearer whose cognomen, say, is Bill Brown will one year
be a big, freckled-faced man, with red hair and beard, and next year he
will be a little, dark man. Sometimes a Bill Brown is discovered to be
Jim Smith, and trouble ensues; but generally the culprits make pretty
sure of their ground beforehand. Again, scores of men changed their
names after the '91 strike. Tom Jones, the non-unionist, would efface
himself in a far-back locality, and appear long afterwards among the
unionists as Bill Smith. Wherever he shore he would hear the vilest
epithets hurled at the memory of Tom Jones, and many a threat of
vengeance avowed, and the pseudo Bill Smith, to keep up appearances,
would do likewise, and express the most caustic opinion of all on his
own self. Squatters, as a rule, soon forget the faces of men who have
been temporary employees. They are familiar with the names in their
books, but they are, year after year, being hoodwinked by Bill Smiths
who are in reality Tom Joneses.

On the morning of the roll-call you will see two or three hundred men
gathered about the hut. The majority are horsemen or bikemen. Some
drive up in spiders, sulkies, tilted carts, and other traps; the rest
are footmen, who come in tired and footsore, carrying heavy swags.
Gleaming white tents spring up like mushrooms among the bush clumps and
along the creek, thin wreaths of smoke curl up from all manner of
places, and the jingling of horse-bells makes music everywhere, mingled
with the yowling and ferocious scrimmages that result from the meeting
of many strange dogs. These out-campers look on the hut with loathing;
some of them, long inured to a gipsy life, would not camp under a roof
under any consideration. Others have an equal dislike to the open. One
of the latter, on reaching the hut, will first of all examine the
vacant bunks, pick the most suitable, and put his swag on it. Everybody
recognises that bunk then as reserved, and if the owner of the swag
gets on, he remains in possession till the shed cuts out; but if his
name is not called he has to vacate it pretty quickly, or he will find
his dunnage thrown on the floor.

The roll-call is an interesting function. The big crowd of men and boys
line up near the hut. A pretty mixed lot they look; they are all shapes
and sizes, and as various in their colours and nationalities. Many are
joking or laughing; some show absolute indifference—their names are not
down, and all they can hope for is a supply of rations when the cook
gets his stores; others stand with folded arms, or arms akimbo,
watching and waiting with anxious faces, thinking, perhaps, of wives
and little ones, miles away, who are waiting for their first pound. No
two are dressed alike.

There are men in rags, there are many in silk, or starched white
shirts, collars and ties, and with polished boots, gold rings and
diamond pins, and nuggets of gold dangling from their watch-chains.
Gentlemen they look, with soft white skin, men whom you would think had
never done a day's hard work. These are some of the big guns, who can
do their 150 to 200 a day, who travel from State to State, and are
probably shearing nine months out of the twelve. There are battered-
looking derelicts, who are also ringers but are heavy drinkers. There
are here University graduates, lost heirs to fortunes, sons of big men
in England, broken-down school-masters, lawyers, ex-policemen, poets,
artists, journalists, cheek by jowl with horny-handed navvies, and a
few who put a cross for their signatures, all waiting with varying
degrees of interest to hear the verdict of the wool king.

Having checked the names of his men, the manager reads out the terms of
agreement. If the shearing is to be conducted under the rules of the
P.U. or A.W.U., a good deal of time is occupied in signing; but under
verbal agreement, which seems to give the most satisfaction, the
business is quickly disposed of. The shed hands are then engaged, a few
questions asked by the men, and the price list of station stores is
produced. This is compared with the list of the town grocer, but the
station usually obtains the custom, and expects to, unless the charges
are comparatively heavy. Then the cook is chosen.

The shearing rate in most parts is 24s. per hundred, with variations
according to locality and class of sheep. The rouseabout's usual pay is
from 25s. a week and tucker, and in small sheds the station pays the
cook the customary 4s. per man per week, and all hands are boxed
together. Where the rouseabout receives 7s. per day and finds himself
he pays his share of the bill; when he has a separate hut he puts on
his own cook, and is expected to feed all travelling rouseabouts who
call, while shearers feed shearers. Under this system the rouseabout
loses, as he gets no pay for wet days. Wet days, too, prevent the
traveller going on, and he hangs around. Odd ones are occasionally
given the word to move on by the cook. But these are regular loafers,
who would, if permitted, put in an appearance at every meal as long as
the shed lasted, and then expect to have their bags filled for the
road. Nothing riles a cook more than the tactics of these gentry; his
good name and chances of election on future occasions depend largely on
keeping down the mess account.

The men also choose a representative, who becomes responsible head of
the mess department, and through whom all negotiations take place as
between employer and men, and to whom all disputes are referred. He
accompanies the cook to the station immediately after election, and
orders stores, utensils, tinware, cutlery, &c. The cook takes immediate
charge of these, but the rep. is the responsible party. He must be a
financial unionist in a union shed; it is his office to receive the
union delegates, distribute tickets, &c.

The shearers in twos and threes file to the store, returning each with
a pair or two of shears,* a bottle of salad oil, and an oil-stone. The
rest of the day is spent variously in arranging bunks, hunting up wool-
packs and sheepskins for mattresses, turning at the grindstone, fixing
up water-tins and oil-stone boards on the stands, and rigging the
shears. The blades are pulled back and the knockers filed down, so that
the shears will take a bigger blow. This is called "putting Kinchler on
them," from the fact that it was first adopted by John Kinsella, who
died in Armidale about August, 1902. The shears are also fitted with a
strap, which passes over the hand. Putting this on requires an expert,
one man's services being often requisitioned by half a dozen of his
confrères. Many bind basil or sheepskin round the grip, and those who
are not endowed with powerful wrists cut strips off the bow with cold
chisels, to weaken the spring. It is common for a shearer to spend a
whole day in preparing his blades for work.

* Since this sketch was written machine-shearing has become general in
Australia. Rates and wages vary from time to time; in recent years they
have substantially improved in favour of the men. The housing
accommodation is now much better than a few years ago, and is under the
supervision of the Government.

A typical backblock hut, where these men are temporarily housed, is a
long, narrow structure built of galvanised iron. Bunks are ranged in
tiers along the sides, usually two tiers, though sometimes there are
three. There is always a rush for bottom bunks. They are just long
enough for the average man to stretch in. The men, for obvious reasons,
sleep feet to feet and head to head. The dining-table runs down the
centre. It is made of casing, or sheet iron, tacked on to a rough
frame, the legs sunk in the ground, while the seats are simply round
saplings, or narrow scantling, laid on rough forks, or spiked on to low
posts. There is just enough room for a man to walk between them and the
bunks. At night two or three evil-smelling slush lamps flicker and
splutter and fizzle along the table, and these, with the odour of
drugs, liquor, soiled shed clothes, stale boots, and unaired blankets,
have not exactly an improving effect on the meal. One doesn't need to
be fastidious. The men seldom all sit down together. Some are sitting
on the bunks, with feet on the stools, puffing fragrant tobacco smoke
over the table while others are eating; some are shaving or dressing,
others are shaking out blankets and making beds. And there is the
everlasting smell of saddles and packs and eucalyptus. Then the late
rouseabouts, who have been cleaning up, and benighted musterers come
rushing in, hungry and anxious-looking, wondering if there's any
blancmange left. They hustle into their places, and one calls out,
"Sling th' poisoned baker this way, Texas!" Another shouts, "Chuck us a
bun, will yer!" or "Jerk that spottified brownie this way, Snoozer!"
while some hardened sinner demands, "What d'yer call this, cook? Goat,
or a hunk of a cart-'orse? Dog scratch me, it's as tough as Mother Lord
Harry!" Tea over, they smoke and yarn, or play cards till ten o'clock.
All lights must be out at ten "by the cook's orders." He has to get up
early. To a quiet man, or one who is fond of reading, the shearers' hut
is a den of horror. There are men whose tongues are never still, and,
as might be expected, these are the ones who seldom say anything worth
hearing. There is the rattling of dice and the shuffling and chatter of
card-players; the repetition of "Fifteen two, fifteen four"; and the
euchre-players' everlasting "Pass!" "I'm away!" "She's down!" "By me!"
and so forth. The man who bangs his fist on the table with every
winning card he plays is particularly obnoxious. Occasionally he gets
his deserts in the form of a flying boot. There are draught-players,
domino enthusiasts, noughts-and-crosses cranks, and fox-and-goose
lunatics; there are loud discussions, arguments—mostly about dogs and
horses—yarning, singing, and whistling, to the accompaniment of half a
dozen mouth-organs, tin whistles, Jews' harps, and a cracked
concertina. It's hard to follow the adventures of Reginald de Clancy
through the jungles of the Punjab under such disturbing conditions; it
is harder still to compose a soulful epistle to your best girl, pining
for her shearer boy down south, or to dash off a fetching little ode to
the entrancing beauty of her eyes.

At ten o'clock a bucket of tea and another of coffee are placed on the
floor, and there is a rush for pannikins and buns. You feel glad that
there will soon be peace; but it is not unadulterated. When the lights
are out you learn the sleeping characters of your shed mates. There are
several asthmatical nuisances who cough intermittently; about a dozen
go pighunting, and are pursuing the spotted one nearly all night;
others fidget and kick and roll, have nightmares and other nocturnal
visitations, and yell blue murder in their sleep; a few are troubled
with insomnia, and get up at frequent intervals to fill and light their
pipes. And there are the town-goers, who come stumbling in about
midnight, with noise enough to awaken the next man. When that row has
subsided the thirty or forty dogs tied up outside begin to corroboree
in dismal and melancholy tones. Somebody yells at them to lie down, and
one or two get up to throw firewood and jam-tins at them. The nights
are pretty near all alike, so you don't wonder at the number of tents
and bush gunyahs there are scattered about the neighbourhood.

On many of the big stations there is separate accommodation for
shearers and rouseabouts—detached kitchens and special dining-rooms for
each. The sleeping apartments are partitioned off, having two or four
bunks in each. There are sitting-rooms, card-rooms, and reading-rooms.
There is no piano yet, but probably that will come along in the near
future. These good sheds are often systematically worked by one band of
men year after year. Now and again a couple drop out, and strangers
fill their places. Otherwise a stranger has little chance against the
old hands, who are booked for the following year as soon as the shed
cuts out. Under this long-range system New Zealanders, after finishing
the season in their own country, often complete the year with a run of
sheds through Victoria, New South Wales, and Queensland.


The day starts early. The cook's bell, soon after daylight, is the
first summons—to "awake and arise." There is more tea and brownie, and
the men file to the shed. Stands have been drawn for, water-tins fixed
up to dip shears in, oil-bottles hung, and boards nailed conveniently
for oil-stones, pipe and tobacco, &c., and each man goes to his place.
On one side of the board are narrow pens, one for each man, for the
shorn sheep; on the other side a wide catch-pen for every two men.
These pairs are called penmates, and they turn the grindstone for each
other. They are not always boon companions; they are sometimes deadly
enemies. In many sheds there is a double board; in others the catch-
pens are in the centre, and there is a board on each side. The big
machine-sheds, as a rule, are roomy and substantial structures, though
mostly built of galvanised iron. Some of the cocky sheds of old time,
with the huge gumlog press, are still standing, covered with bark and
walled with slabs. The common backblock shed is not walled, except in
part with the low stubs that form the pens. The gap between this fence
and the roof, in hot or dusty places, is screened with bagging or
hessian. Everything is pretty rough and slipshod about these sheds. The
yards and pens are built of logs, rails, stubs, and boughs; the shed is
covered with bushes or cane grass, occasionally further protected with
hessian blinds. It is low and flat, so low that a tall man often bumps
his head against the cross-beams; and dust, leaves, and twigs are
continually falling on the board and getting mixed up with the wool.
There is not much comfort. It is often many miles away from the station
homestead, and being used for but a short time once a year, and having
no caretaker between whiles, it is too risky to build an elaborate and
expensive shed. In any case, as shearing can only be done in dry
weather, it answers the purpose as well as the best. The galvanised
iron shed is cleaner, but in summer the heat is terrific. For working
purposes, and for the sheep, the cane grass or the bough shed is the

Thursday and Friday are the most favoured days on which to start
shearing. The first couple of days are the hardest on backs and wrists,
and commencing near the end of the week provides a break of a day and a
half, and the operators are consequently in good trim when they toe the
scratch on Monday morning. The first mob of sheep in is closely
examined and criticised, and when the pens are full hands play among
the backs and shoulders to ascertain the quality and density of the
wool. When there is good show of yolk and the fleeces are free of
burrs, sand, and grass seed, the knights of the blades are jubilant.

As the overseer, or "man-over-the-board," comes in, the men rise
expectantly, and at the first jingle of the bell there is a wild rush
into the catch-pens and a scramble for sheep. Struggling animals are
dragged out and dumped on to each stand, and at once the shears are
clicking from end to end, every man striving for the honour of first
fleece. The belly wool is the first part taken off, the sheep being sat
on the board between the operator's legs, its forelegs held back under
his left arm. The fleece is opened up along the neck, from the brisket
to the left ear, and shorn down the left side, well over the spine, to
the tail; then the animal is turned, shorn down the offside, finishing
off the thigh, and half pitched through the open gate. Then another is
grabbed, dragged on to the board, and dumped on its rear extremity with
its heart palpitating like a wounded bird's. But they seldom kick,
except when a junk of skin is taken off. Then there is a demand for
tar. The breathless hurry of every man, the apparent desperate desire
to separate fleece and sheep in a certain time, is the first thing that
strikes the stranger in a shearing shed. The ringer, or fastest
shearer, soon singles out when hands are in. There are two or three
jigging very close to him, and these keep up a perpetual race, whilst
the others try to keep as near as possible, or are running one another.
The drummer, or slowest shearer, is about the only man who doesn't seem
to care when supper-time comes. But his position is not conspicuous at
the start.

A shearer who answered to the name of Dick gained a little notoriety
during the first week in a northern shed. Only a couple then had their
hands in, and Dick had third highest tally. Swelling with pride and
magnanimity, he said to his penmate: "Cut in, Mac, you can lick lots of
these coves here. You'll be fourth, anyway." Next day "Mac" was ahead,
and said he to Dick: "Cut in, Dick, you can lick lots of these coves
here. You'll be fifth, anyway." The yarn went round, and every man-Jack
was doing his level best. One after another, the others passed Dick's
tally, till finally one shouted across the board: "Cut in, Dick, you'll
be last, anyway." And Dick was.

In most sheds where pinking is desirable the ringer, no matter how good
or fast he may be, is restricted to a certain limit, and no one is
allowed to go beyond him. This prevents tomahawking, and it explains
why a man will make a phenomenal record in one shed and cut only an
ordinary tally in another. Of course, the quality and weight of the
fleeces, and the size and condition of the sheep, have also a lot to do
with the fluctuations of tallies. The easiest of all to cut are lambs
and hoggets, and the next best are the ewes. Breed, condition, and
weight of sheep, density of wool, and the season just passed through
have a big influence on the tally barometer. There is a sudden drop
when the shears get to work on the wethers, whilst the hardest and
slowest work is done on the rams and ram stags. Each of these latter is
counted as two sheep.

A run is anything from seventy-five to ninety minutes, when the bell
rings for smoke-o, lunch, afternoon tea, or knock off. Shearers drink
tea all day, a bucket of it being kept continually hung in the shed,
replenished from time to time as required. One or two pannikins only
are used, and everybody dips them into the bucket. The sheep are
counted out at the end of each run, and the tallies are posted on a
board in a conspicuous place every morning. These morning bulletins
command a good deal of notice and interest; they are scanned by
visitors and swagmen; even the little tarboy, between runs, derives a
lot of satisfaction from comparing one man's tally with another's, and
computing the daily earnings of the big guns. If the boss is not
particular about the sheep being pinked (shorn so closely and even that
the skin shows plainly), the tallies are at times remarkable. At
Barenya station, for instance, on September 19, 1895, 26 men averaged
172 each; on the same day eight men averaged 236 each; and on the 20th
26 men averaged 175 each. The record for hand-shearing is held by Jack
Howe, who shore 327 ewes in 7 hours 20 minutes at Alice Downs
(Queensland), in October, 1892. His tallies for the last 11 days at the
shed were 149, 264, 131, 249, 257, 258, 262, 267, 321, and 190 lambs
and 30 wethers. On July 16, 1904, he shore 337 sheep in 8 hours with
the machine.

The following unique records belong to an earlier date: At Belalie, on
the Warrego, in 1884, Sid Ross shore 9 lambs in 9 minutes, and at
Evesham, in 1886, Jimmy Fisher shore 50 lambs in one run before
breakfast (about 75 minutes). At Charlotte Plains, Warrego River, in
1885, Alex. Miller shore 4,362 sheep in three weeks and three days, an
average of 203 per day throughout the shed. "Long" Maloney shore 22,000
in one season in South Australia, Victoria, and New South Wales. In
1876 Angus M'Innes shore against Jack Gunn, at Parratoo, South
Australia, for £50, when the former shore 180 sandback wethers in one
day, and but for a timely interference would have exterminated two
boundary riders because they had no more sheep in. At Fowler's Bay, in
1874, the lengthy Maloney shore 11 big wethers in 11 minutes, using a
pair of Ward and Payne's 38's. At a shed on the Paroo, in 1884, seven—
namely, Allan M'Callam, Bamphil (the "Warbler"), Jack Lynch, Jimmy
Donaldson ("Maorilander"), "Warrigal Jack," M'Donald (the "Barrier
Ringer"), "Long Bob" Hobbs, and Jack Reid (the "Victorian")—shore 1,540
sheep in one day, an average of 220 per man. At Parelli, in 1885,
another Jack M'Donald, who weighed only 6 st. 9 lb., shore 187 full-
fleeced wethers in 7½ hours.

A shearer who used the tongs all over the Commonwealth during the
squabble between pastoralists and shearers in 1902, gave the following
particulars of his earnings: In 1899 he shore 23,538 sheep, receiving
£235 7s. 7d.; in 1900, 22,976 for £229 15s. 2½d.; in 1901, 23,142 for
£231 9s. 5d.; and during the first half of 1902 he shore 10,379, his
cheque being £103 15s. l0d. This man was a long way below being a
champion. A fair team of 30 men can average 100 per day. But bad
weather, much travelling, and long breaks between sheds, prevent the
majority of fairly smart shearers making enough to carry them through
the year. Jimmy Power, who was the champion machine shearer, and whose
record is 315 sheep in 7 hours 40 minutes, made at Barenya in 1904,
shore 40,000 in one season. His bones are now resting in South Africa.
As a rule, better money is made with machines than by hand. The tallies
are higher in the aggregate, the work is lighter and cleaner, and the
operator has to find neither shears, stone, nor oil, and never loses
any of his rest-time at the grindstone. His only expense, so far as the
actual work is concerned, is for combs and cutters, which amounts to
merely a few pence per hundred sheep.

Harry Livingstone, the Queenslander, in successive days in 1910, shore
223, 225, 237, 237, and 221. The pay was 24s. per 100. The same season
38 men at Cambridge Downs in one day averaged 198½ sheep per man,
Harrison, who rung the shed, being top with 265.

Bigger tallies are made in Queensland than in New South Wales, the
sheep of the mother State being noted for greater density of wool.
Smaller tallies, however, are cut nowadays all round than formerly, on
account of the improved breed of sheep, which carry more wool. Merinos
in good country are fine sheep to shear, while the introduction of the
Vermont strain makes the work more arduous in any locality. The
Shropshires and crossbreds also make heavy work; they are big, whereas
the merinos are small, compact animals.

The sheep in the catch-pens are not taken as they come, but are
carefully picked by the penmates right through. A glance at the back is
sufficient to decide which of the penned animals will cut best. The
lightest and thinnest-woolled sheep are always grabbed, providing they
are clean, and a desperate race ensues when it comes to the last two in
the pen. This enclosure is not refilled until the last sheep, called
the cobbler, is caught, and each of the mates shows his generosity by
trying hard to let go first, so as to leave him for the other. It does
not follow that when a slow and a fast shearer are penmates the former
will get all the cobblers; he can shear as a stiff horse races—only he
sprints when the third last is caught. There is also hard cutting among
greedy persons for a bell sheep (the one caught just as the bell is
about to ring off). It is against the rules to lay hands on a sheep
after the bell has rung to knock off, but the men time themselves to a
minute, and put on an extra spurt to beat the bell. By this means they
shear many sheep in smoke-o and mealtimes, while the majority of blades
are idle.

Every shed in the country, one might say, has had its squabbles over
the wetness or non-wetness of sheep. No shearer cares to handle wet
sheep—except near the cut-out, when he wants to finish and get to
another shed. It is often an excellent excuse for a camp in the hut,
when the work has been hard, or broken weather has caused an outbreak
of that epidemic known as tired feeling. If there has been a slight
shower the previous day or night, they go to work in the morning with
speculations as to the condition of the wool. One or two sheep are
shorn, and the verdict is "wet." The manager feels the sheep in the
pens, and votes "dry," and there's a wrangle.

The dampness or otherwise of wool is not easy to judge on a sheep's
back, or when it is freshly cut. A moist atmosphere gives a clammy,
wettish feeling to yolky wool. In one shed the classer took a piece of
wool from an alleged wet fleece and a piece from the bins, shorn the
day before, and asked the rep. which was the wet one. He tested both,
and picked the one that came from the bins. At another shed, when a
shower of rain had damped things a little during the night, the
manager, having a shrewd idea as to the temper of his team, hurried
down early in the morning and let out the sheep that had been penned
overnight, filling their places with damp sheep from the yard. The men
shore them till breakfast-time without protest. The pens were cut out
in the second run; then the dry sheep were put in. Each man shore one
and each man proclaimed his fleece wet. One fellow asserted that his
particular hogget was sopping, and he'd be pick-axed if he was going to
continue on sheep like that, to get rheumatism and other abominable
complaints for the sake of a few bob. The sheep were turned out, and
they remained out for two days. There was no dampness about them when
they came back.


While the work is in full swing it is one of the principal sights of
the district, and the board is often graced with the presence of ladies
from town, their gay dresses contrasting markedly with the rough and
rugged surroundings. The sheds attract visitors even from towns that
have grown up within a stone's-throw of them, who find much to interest
them in the various operations going on. In many parts it takes the
place of the annual shows of thickly-populated centres. The board is
narrow. There is barely room for the skirts to pass along without
brushing against the long row of stooping shearers; and their presence
interferes with the pickers-up, who have no time for dallying, but have
to whip up the fleeces and run, and many a muttered commentary is
passed on them in consequence. The shearers resent their presence, and
try desperately to hide their bare feet, or bag moccasins, and the gaps
in their shearing togs, any kind of clothing being worn at the greasy
work on the board. They are not seen to the best advantage, and they
don't like it, especially those who "act the swell" in town. They are
covered with grease and blood, and reeking with perspiration.
Particularly unpleasant is it to the man by whom they happen to stand,
criticising the cut and his operations generally, and saying "Poor
thing!" when the nervously-held blades nip the skin. Some hard case is
bound to "throw-off" at him at such times, and he sees apoplectic faces
both sides of him. He takes off more skin, and the man-over-the-board
remarks, "I'd leave him enough skin to start another coat with, Tom,"
or, when the tar-boy is waiting assiduously on the nervous person,
"Best way would be to dip that sheep in the tarpot, Jack." The ladies
laugh merrily, and say "Poor thing!" with emphasis, while they go away
with the idea that "Tom" is the worst shearer in that shed, though, in
reality, he may be one of the best. A chip at such a time is poignant
in its effect, and the victim feels fit to drop through the floor.
Afterwards he is chaffed unmercifully by his mates, and the board
becomes uproarious with laughter.

Talking of this reminds me of a youthful picker-up in a backblock shed
who was an excellent mimic. When occasion offered he would walk slowly
and heavily down the board, and stopping opposite one who was cutting
hard for a tally, say, in imitation of the man-over-the-board, "That
tomahawking won't do. You'll have to shear better than that, M'Nab."
M'Nab's shears would give a nervous jump with the shock, and he would
commence with some humble apology or explanation, when his eye would
suddenly alight on his tormentor's boots. The next instant there would
be a hurry-scurry up the board, and the wild scamper of a released
sheep, with half a fleece hanging off it, among the men, and wild
yells, laughter, and angry protestations along the stands. The mimic
was mostly cornered in the hut at night, when he would have to pay
forfeit of some kind. This did not trouble him, as the wags of the shed
secretly recouped him for any loss.

A good captain has no trouble with his men. He may "chip" them often,
but while his chips are effective, they leave no bitterness. For
instance: "You needn't be afraid to take the stockings off them. Jack"
(referring to the leg wool); "there's no snakes about here."

The work in and about the shed is under sectional heads. The man-over-
the-board, for instance, merely superintends the actual shearing and
keeps time. Occasionally he may brand a few bales as they come from the
press. The wool-classer has charge of the men at the tables, such as
the wool-rollers, who skirt, divide, and roll the fleeces as they are
thrown out by the pickers-up; the piece-pickers, who sort out the first
and second pieces, stains, dags, and locks. He also keeps an eye to the
pressers as they fill the press-boxes from the bins. These classers
hail generally from the metropolis, travelling thousands of miles in a
season, going from shed to shed, classing the clips at a pound per
thousand fleeces, and very often taking wool-scouring contracts as
well. There are plenty of good classers among bush workers, who class
the clips at a few stations in the neighbourhood where they are known,
and take any other work offering between shearing, including boundary-
riding, tank-sinking, and fencing. The mustering and drafting are
usually under the supervision of the manager himself, or his station
overseer. In machine-sheds there is an extra boss ("boss" is the common
term applied to any man who is over other men), the expert who has
charge of the machinery.

On an ordinary single board there are two pickers-up, one to each half.
They are smart youths, and often command men's pay. They are ever
darting to and fro, picking up the belly wool, to prevent it mixing
with the fleeces, and throwing it into bales, which are hung in
convenient positions along by the side of the board, sweeping the
stands as soon as a sheep is let go and while another is being caught,
and picking up the fleeces and throwing them out on the table. The
latter is done quickly and dexterously. It is so picked up that with a
single light throw it spreads right out over the table like a blanket,
not a wrinkle or turned-over corner showing, and without severing any
portion of it. A bad picker-up makes double work for the men at the
table, in straightening out fleeces and lapping breaks. When the
fleeces are falling rapidly along the board, or when several let go
simultaneously to the cry of "Wool away!" these youths are kept on the
run, their canvas shoes or big moccasins making much "wop-wop" (one of
their pet designations) as they bound to and fro. Besides keeping the
stands clear of wool, they attend to the calls for tar. The pots stand
in juxtaposition, each containing tar or sheep-dip, and a stick with a
piece of rag or wool bunched on the end of it. Where the Wolseley
clippers are used the tar-boy's services are seldom required. Only
novices and very clumsy hands tear the skin with these nicely-adjusted
implements. The pickers-up are under everybody's thumb. They are
ordered about by the man-over-the-board, and the moment they cross out
of his kingdom to the wool tables they are subject to the ruling of the
classer. Then they are hustled by the shearers, have to clean up when
everybody else has left off, and carry out the locks and bellies to the


Australia owes much to the prospector for the advance of inland
settlement and the placing of many of her notable towns. Early
squatters figured largely in the exploration and opening up of wild and
hitherto unknown regions; but the prospector and his kin had led the
way, and in some instances had gone days and weeks of travel beyond the
stockman's farthest point. We have little or no record of these
exploits, for the gold-hunter is not the sort of person who wants the
limelight kept on him and the public following his movements; but old
diggers tell of lonely wanderings far out into mountain gorges and
along hills and creeks and gullies where no white man had ever been.
Here and there traces of these prospecting tours remained for years,
but mostly they were obliterated or unnoticed when the shepherd pushed
out with his flocks; in some cases the first knowledge was received
from the blacks, who told of white men digging for yellow metal long
before there was any thought of settlement in that part of the country,
whence they had come and whither they had gone, or where they had
"tumbled down."

Some of the best goldfields were discovered by blacks and shepherds,
the former without knowing the metal had any value, the latter,
perhaps, after prospectors had been many times over the scene. In
Westralia a miner's track passed close by a rich quartz outcrop, and
though that track went a hundred miles or more farther out, and perhaps
thousands of miners passed to and fro, often camping alongside that
partly-exposed wealth, nobody noticed it, and it was only discovered
accidentally long, long afterwards. Again, how many men had climbed
over the bleak and stony regions of Broken Hill before the world's
greatest silver-mine was hit upon by Charles Rasp, a boundary-rider.
They were riding two hundred miles farther north in the quest of gold
in what was then called Death's Corner—the droughty, dust-ridden Mount
Browne. Even that was found by two horsemen who were bound still
farther out. They stopped to get a drink on a flat just after rain, and
while drinking saw specks of gold in the clear water and glittering in
the washed earth.

There are also many lost reefs, and many rich alluvial deposits dropped
upon accidentally, which the finders could never again locate. A well-
authenticated story is told of some surveyors' men who dug up what were
supposed to be huge lumps of brass. They did not carry any of it away,
but long afterwards, having learnt something about gold in the
meantime, and realised that their brass was worth an independence, they
made many but fruitless efforts to rediscover the treasure-trove. There
is little in the experiences of man that can compare with the bitter
chagrin of one who has mislaid his goldmine. A man may make several
fortunes in a lifetime, and go through them all like water through a
sieve, and die poor as a Sydney 'bus horse; still, it wouldn't worry
him half as much as a bad mother-in-law; but the ghost of that wealth
which his waking eyes have seen, and which is his, and his only, if he
can find the spot again, will walk with him and sleep with him through
the rest of his days.

The prospector is a sturdy, independent man, guided only by the
auriferous aspect of the country, daring alike the desert and the
mountain fastness, making his home temporarily, and plying his pick and
shovel where the earth promises to give up something of its hoarded
treasures. He is equipped with tools, tent, and plenty of provisions,
and has two or three horses for shifting about. He may be here to-day
and a hundred miles away in a week's time. Therefore no search parties
go out for him if he does not come back in a reasonable time; nobody
bothers if he never comes back. He may die in his tent or perish on a
dry stage, and none know until some one, long after, perhaps, chances
to come upon his bleaching skeleton. Many have been so found, their
rusted tools only telling their avocation; and they have been buried in
the lonely wilds, their names unknown.

Domiciled far from the madding crowd, shut in by frowning hills, hidden
in deep glens and gullies, amid the silence of range and mountain, the
fascinating pursuit of the glittering speck keeps him from feeling
lonely. He scarcely gives a thought to the solitude of his environment.
Only when his quest has long been in vain, his supplies are short, and
his clothes are worn does the canker-worm of melancholy creep into his
heart, as the great brooding night comes upon him sitting over his
solitary fire. Then the howls of the dingoes and the cries of the
night-birds call back the ghosts of other years and make him wish again
for the joys of home.

The old diggers were a venturesome lot—whence came our hardy, gritty,
self-reliant bush-men. That irresistible magnet, gold, attracting alike
the kid-gloved and the horny-handed, had drawn the strong and
adventurous from all parts of the civilised world, a mixture of many
nations that is slowly blending into a race peculiarly Australian. They
chanced the blacks and all the perils of an uninhabited bush of a land
unknown. There is little, not excepting fever, blight, thirst, and
hunger, that will stop the peregrinating digger in his hurrying,
feverish search for gold.

It is a good life, a happy life, though perhaps one of the hardest that
can be lived. The digger gives little attention to personal comfort,
and is hardly ever housed in anything more substantial than a light
tent. Fossickers, who settle on what they term "played-out fields,"
build more lasting homes; and, of course, the thousands of miners who
find employment in the big permanent mines, as Mount Morgan and
Bendigo, have all the conveniences of a comfortable town residence. But
these are altogether apart from the wandering digger and prospector,
the pioneers of the fields, who are often for weeks and months cut off
from all intercourse with the rest of their kind, and wholly dependent
on themselves for everything; such men carried pick and shovel over
trackless hills and flats where fine towns like Ballarat, Stawell, and
Ararat are now standing as a result of their stout-heartedness and
enterprise. These were among the earliest discovered fields. Tents
still gleam whitely along flat and hill around those towns, the train
runs through miles of country that is literally honeycombed with
miners' shafts. Pick your tent at random, and smoke an evening pipe
there, and you will hear enough yarns of the old days to fill a book—
especially from the greybeards who saw the exciting whirl of early
rushes, and who have flitted like restless butterflies from place to
place over nearly all Australia since, and drifted back, poor as crows,
after handling many fortunes, to make their last home on the old
historic fields. They are all Eureka veterans, of course. When one
takes into account all the survivors of that shindy who are still
surviving, he is inclined to doubt the accuracy of Peter Lalor's war-
office statistics; but it would be rude to doubt the old veteran.

Bendigo is a mammoth that has held its head up since the discovery of
gold—a mine probably unequalled in the world's history. In 1903 it
yielded seven tons of gold, after being worked continuously for fifty-
three years. Though the field covers only a few hundred acres of
ground, during that time it produced over £70,000,000 worth of gold.
Here, too, we find the deepest shafts—between four thousand and five
thousand feet. The heat is sometimes so great at these depths that the
men work almost naked under a spray of water. At times, instead of a
spray, blocks of ice are lowered to keep down the temperature.

Nothing attracts like gold, and one lucky swing of a digger's pick may
cause a mushroom town to spring up in the wilderness in a night.
Progress is then rapid, and if the field peters out, the non-diggers
seem to get along well enough. Sometimes the place drops back to the
position of a wayside pub and store, but not often.

Eurowie, above Broken Hill, is a cluster of mud and stone walls that
was once a lively little township. It was my first experience of an
abandoned town, and passing through it in the early morning, after
being rocked about in a coach all night, I thought it was a melancholy
spectacle. In this instance the permanent mines of Broken Hill had
drawn the population.

A prospector "striking it lucky" nowadays can rejoice to his heart's
content. I struck a rejoicing camp one afternoon on the Solferino Road.
A red shirt, blue blanket, and a white sheet were stuck up on poles,
proudly representing the old-song tricolour—red, white, and blue.
Bottles, pannikins, and the remains of a banquet were strewn about, but
the miners were too "happy" to give reliable information. That sort of
thing wouldn't do in the old days, nor would it be safe in lonely
places now. Experienced diggers usually "crack hard-up," and the big
find is only reported when the responsibility has been passed on to the
bank, perhaps not till long after that. Sensations of this sort bring
crowds about the workings, and diggers don't like to be watched,
especially as there is always a sprinkling of that undesirable class
following the rushes who prefer to profit by the toil of others, either
in direct spoliation or jumping, rather than share the hard work and
disappointments of the prospector.

In West Australia it was customary for gold-bearers to plant their pile
on the road if they suspected an ambuscade, or had reason to believe
they would be followed in the night, or a breakdown happened, or want
of water or some other cause made it inconvenient to go right through
with the precious metal. A hole resembling a grave would be dug by the
roadside and heaped up; perhaps it would be railed in—certainly it
would have a cross, and some such inscription as this:—

In Memoriam.
BILL SMITH, Prospector.
Aged 46.

The passing traveller, reading that, would mutter, "Poor fellow!" and
pass on. A good many Bill Smiths died that way on West Australian
tracks. When Sam Napier dug up the Blanch Barkly nugget at the Kingower
diggings (Victoria) in 1857 he and his brother took it out secretly and
buried it at midnight in a deep hole sunk in the middle of the tent.
They considered that their lives depended on keeping the matter quiet,
and for three months they left it there, working meanwhile at the
claim. It was twenty-eight inches long by ten inches wide, and from
half to three-quarters of an inch thick, weighing 1,743 oz. 13 dwt.,
and was valued at £7,000. Finally they took it to Melbourne alone in a
one-horse cart, and armed with a shotgun and a revolver. Subsequently
it was shipped to England and smelted. Napier, after being lionised in
London, received by the Queen and Prince of Wales, and becoming a
Member of Parliament in Canada, dropped into the ranks of the back-
woodsmen, and died a lonely death at a lumber camp's supply depot in
the wilds of Ontario. The body was found days afterwards sitting at a
table, and partly eaten by rats. This occurred somewhere about the end
of 1902.

Among the most important nuggets found during the golden area may be
mentioned the Welcome Stranger and the Sarah Sands, the respective
weights being 2,268 oz. 10 dwt. 14 gr. and 2,796 oz. The Welcome
Stranger was found at Moliagul (Victoria) on February 9, 1869, by John
Deacon and Richard Gates, who sold it for £9,600. In November of the
same year a specimen weighing 350 lb., two-thirds pure gold, was found
near Braidwood, New South Wales.

The Welcome Nugget, which weighed 2,169 oz., and was valued at £9,325,
was found by two new chum sailors at Bakery Hill, Ballarat, in 1858.
Beyers and Holterman's slab, cut out of a reef at Hawkin's Hill, was
worth £29,600. It was 4 feet 9 inches long, 3 feet 3 inches wide, with
an average thickness of 4 inches. Many huge cakes, which looked well in
jewellers' windows in the palmy days when nuggets were "fashionable,"
were made at the smelters'. A digger named Krohman obtained a nice lump
of 24,879 oz. of gold from 466½ tons of quartz.

It is a lamentable fact that very few of the numerous diggers who
discovered big nuggets, or otherwise made sensational finds, were
benefited to any extent by their good fortune. A few thrifty ones made
good use of their suddenly-acquired wealth, but the majority appear to
die poor, or are hard up within a few years after having handled
thousands. Rich to-day and poor to-morrow, easily got and quickly
spent, summed up the devil-may-care diggers when gold was more
plentiful than it is now. Louis Michel, who first discovered gold in
Victoria (a few weeks after Hargreaves reported the find at Bathurst,
New South Wales, in 1851), was a wealthy man when he gave up digging at
Ballarat for an hotel business. He made another fortune over the bar,
his takings often reaching as high as £20 before breakfast. He lost it
all, and died (1904) a poor man. Louis Beyers (Holterman's mate) died
at Morgan's Goldfield (West Australia) in June, 1910. A weary old man
he was then, straining his dim eyes to the last for "a bit of the
colour." I have myself followed the lead with old Bendigonians on a
fossickers' field who had made enough money to last me half a dozen
lifetimes (on the basis of what I can make fossicking in an ink-
bottle), yet found it hard now to pay a monthly bill of £2 at the
store. But they don't worry over it. I never met one who showed any
keen regret that he had not taken care of his pile when he had it.
While he still can pan off a few specks he seems contented. But don't
take him away from the diggings. Let him live and die on the alluring
vein of gold. His only bitter memory, as before mentioned, is the fact
of his having narrowly missed a big find, or mislaid one that he had
found. Had he succeeded there, and become a millionaire in a week, and
a pauper again in a month, he would be comparatively a happy person.

Most miners who have followed the calling for years can look back on
some big mine or recall some lucky hit that they had been within a
pickthrust of hitting themselves. Many a shaft that had been abandoned
as a duffer has turned up trumps after all. A digger told me that he
went into a deep shaft on a Victorian field and discovered a nugget
nearly as big as his head sticking out of the side where the sinkers
had left off work. Rain had washed the dirt off the face of it and left
it glittering. Those who sank the shaft had worked there for weeks, and
scarcely got a colour for their trouble. Others have gone into
abandoned shafts, and after carrying them down perhaps hundreds of feet
farther bottomed on good gold. Such experiences were common on the
early Victorian fields before deep sinking was attempted.

The discovery of Mount Morgan is ascribed to the man after whom it is
named, but old residents in the locality give the credit to William
McKinlay. The latter's widow said one day to a local pressman: "We
missed being possessors of the mountain, but why should my dead husband
not have the credit of being the discoverer of Mount Morgan?" William
McKinlay was a stockman on Culliungal Station from 1861, and frequently
prospected along the Dee and on Mundic Creek. He first found gold at
Mount Morgan in 1877, but delayed taking it up on account of the
ironstone, against which there was then a strong prejudice amongst
miners, and the matter was for a long time a family secret. Eventually
a relative let the cat out of the bag, and Morgan at once became a
world-wide celebrity.

It may be mentioned that the first discovery of gold, for which
Hargreaves' name is honoured, was disputed by George Hunt, of
Merrylands, New South Wales, who passed out in February, 1902. He first
prospected around Lewis Ponds, near Bathurst, and washed 17 dwt. of
gold on February 5, 1851—his birthday. He met Hargreaves shortly
afterwards, and it was some days subsequently, according to his
version, that the Californian made his first find. While Hunt walked to
Orange for rations Hargreaves went into Sydney and reported the
discovery of gold. He received a Government reward of £10,000 in 1853,
and on January 1, 1877, he was granted an annuity of £250 for life. He
died in 1891. Hunt worked on the diggings without, as he put it, making
anything of a splash. He was a hardy old fellow, and in his youth had
served in the Royal Engineers. On one occasion, when seventy-nine years
of age, he carried his swag from Orange to Sydney (192 miles) in a

I met an old digger, known as "Shovelling Archie," on the Boyne River,
Queensland, who had been one of the pioneers on the Gympie and Palmer
River diggings. What the prospectors faced in those regions may be
gauged from the fact that in the subsequent rush from settled parts the
ways were literally lined with human bones. Scores went under to fever
and ague, many got bushed and perished, and untold numbers were
murdered by blacks. It was good country for the aborigine; he waxed fat
and strong and numerous, and, being an extremely hostile person, was
worthy of first place in a long category of risks. Chinese, who jogged
to the fields in droves, were his special mark. Archie had earned an
independence several times over on those rushes; he had gambled with
the rest, when a common stake at cards was a match-boxful of gold; and
when I saw him he was groom and gardener on a station at fifteen
shillings a week. He still played cards at times, but the stake was
only a box of matches, and he "whipped the cat" when he lost that. He
was looking forward to the time when he should have enough money saved
up (at fifteen shillings a week) to equip him for a six months'
prospecting expedition. I think he must have been nearly seventy years
of age then.

It was not uncommon to see diggers lighting their pipes with five-pound
notes in the Roaring Fifties. This has been done also in later times,
not alone by purse-proud diggers, but by flash station hands. I have
seen it done more than once in a public-house bar, but in such cases
the burning was mostly trickery, the note being first treated with
spirit. A successful prospector, while on his way from Albany to
Adelaide, amused himself by throwing sovereigns at a gull hovering
astern. Somewhere about a hundred coins had plunked into the sea when
the exasperated skipper rushed him and had him locked up for safety.
Five months later the Sovereign Fool bolted back to West Australia,
leaving a destitute wife behind him, and soon afterwards he was seen
washing up dishes in a coffee-stall.

Speaking of the prodigality of diggers brings me to the yarn of the
golden horseshoes. The affair was generally credited to John Johnson,
who pegged out for the last time at Kymoola, near Stanthorpe
(Queensland), about the end of 1902. Johnson, however, was merely one
of many diggers who contributed the gold from which the shoes were
made. He was known as "the rich digger of Beechworth," from the fact
that he struck a very rich claim in the bed of Woolshed Creek, and,
after getting a quantity of gold from it, employed fifty men to strip
and raise wash-dirt at £9 per week each, which was the rate of wages
then ruling for shovelmen. Besides these, he paid day sluicers £12 per
week and night sluicers £15 per week, his wages bill amounting
altogether to about £500 per week. After taking about £60,000 clear
from the claim, he handed it over to twenty-five of his employees, who
worked it out with good results. Johnson went into tin-mining in the
Stanthorpe district in 1872, and followed various mining pursuits there
until his death, thirty years later, expending pretty well the whole of
his fortune in search of the rich lead that never materialised.

About the beginning of 1856, when Beechworth was wallowing in wealth,
the first travelling show, known as Tinker Brown's Circus, arrived on
the field, and it was announced that a piebald trick horse, called
Castor, would appear in the ring shod with gold. During the
performance, however, Raynor, the ring master, stated that through an
unforeseen circumstance the shoes had not been put on, but as a
guarantee of good faith they were handed round the ring for inspection.
The shoes weighed 32 oz. About this time the first election for the
Ovens took place, and a woolshed storekeeper, named Cameron, was
elected. He being the diggers' nominee, in commemoration of the event
the shoes were then tacked on the piebald, and the new member rode him
through Beechworth town and back, the shoes losing three ounces in
weight on the journey.

Upon the return of Cameron, Johnson shouted twelve dozen of champagne,
which, at twenty shillings a bottle, cost him £144. The heads were
knocked off the bottles, the champagne poured into buckets, and served
out to the electors in pint pots. This was but one of the many big
champagne shouts that night, one of hundreds in that golden era when
nuggets and sovereigns went over the hotel bars in glittering streams.


There is always hope for the gold-digger, always the fascinating
prospect of speedy affluence. Even the ragged fossicker, permanently
cooped in a miserable little humpy, is buoyed up by the digger's dream,
living in hopes, till his last claim is pegged out in Necropolis.

"It's short commons just now," said one to me at Nanango; "but a single
thrust of the pick to-morrow may give me a fortune. That's the best o'
diggin'. You've got the possible of a big lift every day of your life—
which you never have workin' for wages. You own the marvellous wealth
that's in the earth, if you can find it. An' big junks of it have been
found thousands o' times over. Why not again? Why not me? There was
Bill Brown," he went on, "used to camp under the rise there—livin' on
the smell of an oil rag for years. An' where is he now? Keepin' a pub
and store on the Burdekin. Doin' well! An' how did he strike it lucky?
He was sittin' under a tree, broodin' over his troubles an' his poverty
an' playing mumbly-peg in an idle sort o' way, when th' point o' th'
knife hit a seventy-ounce slug. Just about an inch below the surface it
was—an' not another anywhere about. Seven 'und'ed men proved that by
tearin' up the neighbourhood. They only got tired. That's wot made me
take to mumbly-peg. Ken play any man in the district now. Got into the
habit so I can't scarce sit down a minute without playin'. Ain't ever
hit anything valuable, though."

Unlike the prospector, who explores new country and is the precursor of
nearly all rushes, the fossicker comes in at the tail end, remaining on
the diggings when the more ambitious miners have adjudged the place
worked out, and have passed on to better-paying quarters. They come to
pick the bones of the torn-up field as crows flock to a carcass that
drovers have butchered on the road. There is always a big percentage of
old men among them, and a good sprinkling of Chinese. These old men
have probably been the pioneers of many a field; have been hardy,
vigorous, eager miners in the forefront of many a rush, and followed
the illusive glamour of gold from the Werriwee to the Cloncurry, from
Tambaroora to Coolgardie, but at last dropped out of the ranks, and
settled on the "poor man's diggings," there to potter about for the
rest of their days.

There are others who fossick all over the country, never making a home,
but ever moving on from place to place, carrying a limited kit of light
tools. After a long run of bad luck, one of these will take a job for a
while on a station to earn clothes. His swag contains many little
parcels of stones and gems, carefully tied up in pieces of rag in
pockets and old socks. He displays them on the road when you meet him,
and talks grandly of big mines he is going to astonish you with as soon
as the man of faith and capital to back him materialises. In a general
way he is known as a prospector, and likes to call himself such; but a
man who merely hen-scratches about the country, and, being mostly a
hatter, hasn't the means or ability to sink a shaft deeper than shovel-
throw—and only an odd one has tools to do that—is a rather superficial
sort of prospector. Fossicker fits him better, notwithstanding he makes
at times some sensational finds, as when he strikes the outcrop of a
big reef, or hits on a shallow corner of a rich alluvial flat.

The true prospector is accoutred with a somewhat cumbersome plant for
deep sinking, tents, cooking utensils, &c., and at times spends weeks
putting down a single shaft; but whether he bottoms a duffer or strikes
it rich doesn't disturb his equanimity much, for he is generally
supported by tributors, often by a syndicate of working men, and, after
he has descended a certain depth, by Government. I once spent a little
while with two prospectors who were sinking on the side of a stony
ridge between Leyburn and Texas, Queensland. These men had been
supported for two years by four station hands. Though nothing payable
had been struck during that time, the latter were still daily expecting
the long-delayed summons to throw up their billets and go mining.
Scores of men have bettered themselves by this kind of enterprise.

The Albert Goldfield, better known as Mount Browne, is a good example
of the fossicker's happy hunting-ground. It is dotted with conical
piles of gibbers, and surrounded by treeless, stony hills, resembling
the kopjes of South Africa. I sampled it in 1896. I struck gold the
second day, and at the end of a fortnight I had amassed the neat little
sum of £250. I had not exhausted the field. There was still a lot of
gold there. But I wasn't of an avaricious nature. I was satisfied. I
left the rest for the poor fossickers, and departed for new fields and
pastures fresh.

A stranger riding or driving into the township of Tilbooburra at this
time ran a risk of breaking his neck through the broken ground. Yawning
holes and earth heaps menaced him on all sides, reaching to the
backyards of the hotels; the one quarter-mile street ended abruptly on
a honeycombed flat, across which ran a zigzag path, in places only a
foot wide, and shaving private soakage holes. A man had to be sober to
walk that street at night or he was likely to fall off it.

Hidden in all manner of nooks and corners among the piles of gibbers
were some of the most primitive and peculiar habitations to be found
anywhere in the Commonwealth. Every advantage was taken of depressions,
pockets, and other adaptable formations in the rock heaps; so that it
often happened that two or three of the four walls of a house consisted
of rough rock in irregular position as Nature placed them, being roofed
over with stones, tin, iron, or tarpaulin. Family residences were built
of canvas or hessian, a fireplace made of all shaped stones and pug
filling one end, and the whole surrounded with a brush wall to break
the wind. Often the sleeping-room was merely a large tent, sheltered in
among the rocks, with a living-room in front built of bushes. Every man
was his own architect and builder. Many houses were built with no other
tools than a crowbar, shovel, and tomahawk.

The majority of the fossickers only got sufficient gold for a bare
living. At lamb-marking and shearing-time many of them were glad of the
change afforded for a few weeks on the stations. In the meantime, in
the case of married men, the women practically kept themselves and
children by fossicking. Some of these women could use the pick and
shovel and the cradle, and pan off and clean gold, as well as any
miner. One man, who was a blacksmith by trade, and frequently went out
on the stations to "change his luck," credited his wife with being a
better miner than himself, and said that she could strike a run of gold
in half the time that it would take him to find it. Like most old
miners, he believed that luck favoured particular persons, while it
persistently refused to assimilate with others. You will hear one say,
"My luck is dead out," or "I have had rotten luck," and he will
probably go and get dead drunk, or do something equally foolish, to
break the spell. John Chinaman, when his luck persists in running the
wrong way, goes home and wallops his joss; and between the fetish of
John Chinaman and that of the old fossicker there does not seem to be
much difference.

The fossicker mostly worked in proximity to his home. Occasionally when
the ground petered out he took his pick and shovel and went away among
the hills. Here he fossicked about till he struck a likely spot; then
he filled his billy or handkerchief or his hat with wash-dirt, and
carried it home to try it. If the prospect was good, he went to work in
earnest, bringing the dirt to water in a barrow, or in two kerosene-
tins, on a yoke across his shoulders. Dirt was carried long distances
in this way. Each man had his own soakage, but soakages were not to be
had anywhere. It was common to see two holes sunk side by side, and
while a good supply of water was obtainable from one the other was dry.
Again, one soakage would contain good drinking water, another within
arm's length of it would be quite brackish. A good soakage was the
fossicker's principal asset.

Some, instead of carrying the dirt to the soakage, made a little dam at
the claim, where puddling tubs and cradle were fixed, and in various
ways conveyed water to it. Some carried it in cans, others filled a
cask, and rolled it along as one would a barrel of beer. A few had a
small iron axle screwed on to each end of the cask, to which shafts
were fixed, and the cask was pulled along like a hand roller. Strolling
about among the rock cones one would meet here a team of youngsters
drawing one of these casks of water to "father's claim," and there a
team of goats similarly engaged, or drawing a load of wood on a cart,
made out of a gin-case and the wheels of a perambulator.

The big man among the gold-seekers there was the puddler. He owned
horses, drays, a dam, and a jinny-wheel. Though the claim and the dam
might be a mile apart, the horses were trained to bring in the loads of
dirt and take back the empty drays alone. One which had the Government
stroke badly was accompanied to and fro by a steady dog, who would give
him a nip on the heel when his "tired feeling" became too pronounced.
When the dams dried up the puddlers joined the fossickers and dry-
blowers. The drier the weather the better for the latter, for they only
required a little water for cleaning the gold, which was amply supplied
by a small soakage. Those who did not have machines did their dry-
blowing with two dishes, pouring the earth from one into the other in a
gentle wind. This was slow work, each dishful requiring several
operations to reduce it. One needed strong arms and an inexhaustible
stock of patience.

A good downfall of rain brought out the speckers. The little nippers
were the best at specking. They roamed the hills and flats, following
every gully, rut, and watercourse with eyes ever searching the wet
ground for a glittering speck, which was eagerly transferred to a small
bottle half filled with water. All classes participated, and the
children of the business people made good pocket-money by this means.
To the untrained eye specks are not always what they seem. I did my
first mining under the directorship of an old Bendigonian, and one day
I sunk a shaft that fairly scintillated with specks. I had often read
of shafts on rich fields that glittered like a jeweller's shop. This
was evidently one of them. I stood and admired it. I made a rough
mental calculation of the wealth around me, and thought what I would
buy with it. I bought several cattle stations and a couple of townships
in five minutes to keep up with my income. Then I rushed over to the
mining director with the good news. He rubbed his nose with a grimy
finger, and smiled broadly.

"Glitters all round, you say?"


"Fr'm top to bottom?"


He shook his head slowly.

"Fool's gold, boy! Fool's gold!"

"What's fool's gold?"


He went across to the hole, his face beaming all the time. He was an
old man, who had often laughed at the new chums fifty years ago. He
brought a cynical eye to bear on the glitter as he moved round, but
didn't say anything. I thought he looked puzzled. My hopes revived. I
pointed to a big glittering, sparkling flake near the bottom. He slid
down and picked it out. He placed it carefully in the palm of one hand,
and crushed it to powder with the thumb of the other hand. He picked
out some more of the jewellery, and in the same cold, methodical way
crumbled my castles to dust. Then he scooped up a shovelful of wash-
dirt from the bottom, carried it to the water, and having washed and
panned it off, showed a few bright specks in his hand. These he rubbed
and rubbed, spat on, and rubbed again, without making any impression on
them, except to impart a brighter shine.

"You can't crumble that, boy," he concluded. "That's the stuff you're
lookin' for—that's the key to all th' pleasures of earth—th' key that
will unlock anything but the gates of heaven."


No utensil is so generally used in the bush as the billy-can; none is
more widely distributed, none better known in Australia. It is cheap,
light, useful, and a burden to no man. It goes with every traveller, it
figures in comedy and tragedy, and has been the repository of the last
words of many a perished swagman. Often it is found with the grim
message scratched on the bottom, beside the dead owner.

Billy is famous. Story-writers and poets have immortalised him; he
figures proudly in a hundred tales, in a thousand poems.

He seems to have originated on the Victorian goldfields. The early
miners consumed great quantities of French tinned soup, called bouilli;
and the empty bouilli-cans were used for the same purposes as are now
the specially made "billy-cans." Quart-pots, jackshays, pannikins, and
other relatives followed as a matter of course.

For a horseman or cyclist on a short journey, who has no cooking to do,
the quart-pot is the handier. But where there is one quart-pot in the
bush there are ten billy-cans. The billy is carried in all manner of
hands—black, white, yellow, and brindle. Shearers, miners, drovers,
knockabouts, and even the poorest deadbeats on the track, carry it a-
swing at their sides. It is swung under wagons, bullock-drays, hawkers'
vans—every kind of vehicle that traverses the bush; and it jingles a
tune to the Afghan from the back of his camel. The dainty housewife in
town not infrequently sets it on her polished stove, and it often takes
the place of the kettle in the cooky's home. Go into any aboriginal
camp in the bush, and you will see billy-cans there, but seldom any
other utensils. All classes of people, whether city dwellers or
backblockers, take it along with them when they go picnicking. There is
scarcely a camp or hut in Australia without one, and some have a dozen.
And what an array they would make if they were all stood in line! There
would be a hundred miles of billy-cans! And the quarts and pannikins
that are carried about would build a mountain.

Every traveller has a pannikin or two and one or two billies. Some have
three—of varying sizes to fit one in the other. The tea-billy and meat-
billy are the most common; the third is an auxiliary. Some swagmen have
a special water-billy, carried in the hand, with a tightly-fitting bag
drawn over it to keep it cool. The bag also prevents the footman's
trousers being blackened from contact and the horseman's pack from
being soiled. This is called a rugged billy.

A simple way of keeping liquid cool in a billy-can is to put the lid on
upside down and fill it with water.

Billies are of all sizes—from one to six quarts. The most favoured are
the two-quart for tea, and four-quart for meat; while the general all-
round billy is the three-quart size. I have seen many a hard-up swagman
with an improvised billy made from a fruit-tin, with a bit of fencing
wire for handle. This is known as a "Whitely King," from the fact that
the Secretary of the Pastoralists' Union, during a shearers' strike,
sent out a band of non-unionists furnished with this kind of utensil.
They are therefore despised by bushmen.

Most travellers are particular as to how they boil their billies, for
carelessness means waste of time and injury to the billy. The old style
was to put a fork at each side of the fire, with a pole across to hang
the billy from. The tripod answered the same purpose. Another method
was to put two logs closely together so that the billy would stand on
them—which left very little room for the fire. Some used a long pole
resting on a fork, with the small end over the fire and the butt
weighted on the ground. In using this the traveller had to be careful
to keep his blaze down, or the pole would burn through.

No such clumsy, time-wasting methods are employed to-day—except at
fixed camps, where the forks and cross-piece are put up, and a chain or
looped wire for hooks hung therefrom. The traveller places two small
sticks on the ground with the ends in the fire, or rakes out a few
coals and stands the billy on them, close to the fire. He doesn't build
a fire round it or jam it against the wood. The new chum does that, and
his billy has a bright, shiny glow. This is caused by hot, vapoury
smoke, the result of leaving insufficient air-space, One notices, too,
that the old hand fills his billy to the brim, while the inexperienced
man often puts his billy to the fire only partially filled, and
consequently the rim, being unprotected, is very soon burnt off. A
half-filled billy should never be placed against a fire, but stood or
hung over it. The old hand, again, lifts his quart from the fire, and
can carry it a long distance, with two sticks thrust crosswise through
the handle so that the ends grip the sides like a pair of tongs. It
looks simple, but it requires practice. When he has a smoky fire he
lays two sticks across the top of the can to keep out the smoke.

An old whaler was once camped on the Severn River, living on fish. He
had only one billy. He first made his tea in it, which he poured into a
pannikin, then boiled his fish in it. He also had a small block of wood
the same size as the billy, on which he sat and smoked. One evening at
dusk he came up from the river with a tomahawk in his hand, and making
for what he took to be the block, stuck the tommy into it. A yell of
dismay escaped the old fellow when he found he had driven it through
the bottom of his billy. Yet, with a piece of calico through the gap,
and the edges battered down, he used it for months after. Another
member of the battling band found a rusty billy, half embedded in mud,
at the edge of a waterhole. It was full of water, and on forcing the
lid off, he found a fish, about a pound weight, scurrying around in it.
It was shaped like a boomerang, and had undoubtedly got in through a
small aperture in the lid when very young. That billy, probably,
performed its last duty when it boiled its life-long prisoner.

Among some travellers billy-boiling takes the form of a competition.
The man of experience, looking over an array of well-used billies,
says: "I'll back my billy to boil first." Interest being thus awakened,
the others then put fiery spurs to their own utensils, each waiting,
with tea-bag in hand, for the first ripple. Of course, some are
specially adapted for quick boiling, whilst others are "naturally
slow." A man with a quick boiler is always ready to back it against any
other. He understands it, and can judge its boiling-time to within a
few seconds. An old billy will boil quicker than a new one. The water
is also worth considering. River-water will boil quicker than rain-
water, stagnant water quicker than running water, whilst water that has
once been boiled and cooled will boil again quicker than any other.

Yet, there is many a tedious wait for the billy to boil, and rejoicing
of hungry ones when it begins to bubble. The old diggers on Ballarat
and Bendigo used to sing, "Oh, what would you do if the billy boiled
over?" when it was time to make the tea. And what legends are wrapped
around the billy! Yarns are always being told, and bush songs are
always being sung around a million camp fires while the billy boils.


There is one thing about the inlander that favourably impresses itself
upon those who have to look after a city's water supply, and that is
his careful use of the liquid. If he sees a tap dripping in the street
he will try to turn it off, because his teaching through life has been
against waste of the wet element. The most hateful tasks of his boyhood
were carrying water and carrying wood. The majority of inland
youngsters have to go through that mill in some form or other, no
matter whether they dwell in the solitude of the bush or in a town; and
they are not always free in the more potential city—as Broken Hill.

Here the carrying is much diversified. The big silver city is set in a
dust-blown region where there are no rivers or creeks. When the
reservoir fails, water is conveyed by train from South Australia, and
every afternoon crowds of women and children congregate at the station
with buckets, tubs, and other vessels, while a few men mingle among
them with casks and small tanks. The water is portioned out, and as the
supply is seldom equal to the demand, there is much rushing and
crushing and clatter of tinware as soon as the train slows up, and no
little acrimony among poor old dames when the josting causes a drop to
be spilt. There are few who don't hump water through the streets these
days, and it is a sloppy, bustling station they hump it from. The
gardens go to ruin, a bath is a luxury, clothes are worn much longer
than usual, and it is nearly as cheap to have a glass of beer as a
glass of water. In fact, that is not a rare excuse with some of the
miners when they find the footpaths too narrow going home.

"Been economisin' with th' water. Mush save water, y'know. . . .

In the bush every man has to tussle with the problem for himself. He is
his own water and sewerage board. He is also something of a
meteorologist, born of long study of atmospheric conditions and the
habit of looking around him frequently for signs of rain. One of his
pet indicators is the moon. He likes to see a "wet moon" come in—that
is, when the moon has a hazy circle round it. The smoke from the
chimney, the salt on the table, and the frog in the cask, are
infallible barometers. He notes also the flight and cries of birds, the
appearance of insects, and specially the conduct of ants. His rheumatic
leg and his corns, too, warn him of approaching dampness, and cause him
to notice more particularly the direction of the wind, and to watch the
horizon for looming clouds. Standing out in the night, with the wind
blowing in his face, he can smell the coming rain like a cow, and you
see him hold his head back and sniff very much in the same manner as
that docile quadruped.

Throughout the large areas drained by coastal rivers there is seldom a
lack of water. Still, you don't get it in the kitchen by simply turning
on a tap. Here and there a squattage home or a town house will have
water laid on from square iron tanks standing on a high stage. These
are sometimes filled by steam power; mostly they are filled by means of
a hand-pump. In summer this water would pretty well scald a pig, and in
winter it would freeze a frog. Thus it is necessary to have in addition
an underground tank, bricked and cemented. Town people, who have not
got this to tide them over dry times, purchase water at 6d. to 1s. a
cask. The drier the weather the better for the water-carriers. It is
their harvest-time.

At many selections you will see an iron tank in a cart or bullock-dray,
drawn up alongside the house. There is no tap to the tank as a rule.
When the women want water they climb on to the dray and dip the water
out with a dipper, pouring it into a bucket on the ground. At the
waterhole these tanks are filled with buckets, the process often
requiring two men, one to dip up the water and the other to empty it.
Some have a stage and a home-made pump.

Another feature of these places is the cask and slide with which young
Hopeful, who is the wood and water "joey" on most selections, keeps the
home supplied from the creek. Often the water for washing and cooking
is drawn from a contiguous hole with the cask and slide, and the
drinking supply conveyed long distances in drums on a pack-horse. This
is emptied as required into canvas bags, mostly hung under the veranda.
Under conditions such as these, a plunge bath in the creek or a swim in
the water-hole—with a quiet horse as fun-contributor—is perforce
superseded by more restricted methods of bathing. A common practice is
to make a shower-bath with a kerosene-tin, which is run up and down on
pulleys. A rough-and-ready shower is a tin with a perforated bottom,
hung to a limb near the waterhole. While one stands under it, another
pours the water in with a bucket. It is less of a deluge than when
poured over one directly from the bucket. Some pour the water over
themselves with a pannikin, or hold a colander over their heads to
spray it, or use the watering-can. The latter is mother's method when
shower-bathing the children.

On small mining fields I have seen men fill a cask and roll it along
the ground as one would a barrel of beer. Others had a small iron axle
screwed on to each end of the cask, to which shafts were affixed, and
the cask was pulled along like a hand roller. Usually boys did the
hauling, though occasionally the locomotive power was a horse or a team
of goats. The low trolly forms a link between this style and the slide.

The whim and tip-buckets are common on sheep-runs, and the bucket and
windlass where-ever wells are used. Windmills are everywhere; riding
across the Darling Downs you may see twenty to thirty windmills at one
time. On the rivers many other methods are adopted. Some have a force
pump rigged at the water's edge. This requires some one on top to watch
the receiver and yell out when it is full. A stout wire stretched
tightly from the top of the bank to a post in the water is a labour-
saving device much in use. Along the wire a bucket runs on a ring,
being drawn up with a windlass. Many carry the water in two buckets,
using a yoke across the shoulders or an iron hoop between the vessels.
The latter is mostly used by women, upon whom much of this drudgery
falls in busy times, especially in the rugged days of home-making.
Walking inside the hoop, the buckets are kept away from the skirt, and
the arms at the same time are relieved of the strain of holding them
out. A thin piece of deal about three inches square floats in each
bucket to keep the water from splashing. Sometimes mother and daughter
take a big bucket between them on the potstick, or use the wash-tub for
carrying. Water is not carried up for washing: the washing is carried
down to the water.

Black gins are largely employed by bushwomen for washing and carrying
water. They carry the buckets on their heads, and can climb steep
banks, negotiate logs, and even stoop to pick up small objects from the
ground without putting a hand to the bucket. I remember one old gin
whom we used to employ every Saturday to fill a big water-butt from the
river. She kept a nail on the wall-plate, and as each bucketful was
poured in she made a mark level with the water-line. If, on returning
with the next load, she found the tide low, she would fling the empty
bucket from her, and there would be angry inquiries for "Missus." At
such times Biddy would only complete her contract on the original price
being; supplemented with a "tuck-out" or a smoke. One day I went to get
a drink from the cask with a pannikin as Biddy was returning to the
river. She happened to look back, and seeing me at the cask, dropped
her bucket and ran up, yelling as though the house was on fire. She
chased me through the place with a waddy, threatening to break my
several kinds of neck, and had another angry altercation with the
"Missus." Then she sat by the cask until I had gone, when she carefully
marked the waterline again and resumed operations. Once the cask was
full, however, we could splash it about as much as we liked; indeed,
the sooner it was emptied the better pleased was Biddy.

When the rain begins to patter down, or as the storm-clouds come
rolling up, in most country places there is a rush to put out the tubs
and buckets to supplement the casks and galvanised tanks that stand at
the back corners. The roof of the house is the catchment area, and
spouting, made by folding strips of tin or by nailing two boards
together, is run round to catch every drop that falls on it. Here Brown
has often to hustle in the wet, stopping leaks in the spouting, and
propping it up when strong winds twist it out of position. After a dry
spell, if the cask has not been kept full, the staves are shrunken, and
the water runs out as fast as it runs in. With a bag made into a hood
over his head, an iron wedge in one hand and an axe in the other, he
goes round and round it, tapping down the hoops and here and there
caulking big leaks with pieces of rag. Even the milk-dishes and the
dipper and the boiler are doing their share in catching the precious
fluid. Rain-water is a desideratum everywhere. Consequently when a good
downpour is anticipated the vessels are all emptied in readiness. Now
and again Brown makes a mistake. Big black clouds and a general
appearance of heavy rain induce him to tip over half a cask of river or
dam water, so as not to have it mixed when he can have it all of the
first quality. Then a mere sprinkle rewards him, and a yawning barrel
gapes after the passing storm. The boys, who have to fill it up again,
pass some stringent remarks about father at this juncture, and a vote
of no confidence in him as a weather prophet is carried unanimously.

In the interior the waterbag is indispensable. It is an Australian
invention, and there is nothing to beat it. Besides being convenient to
carry, it keeps the water cool in hot weather. The travellers' bag is
rarely seen in coastal parts, but out-back nearly every storekeeper
stocks it. A squatter used to carry one that had a long tube-like
bottle let in at the bottom, the mouth being hidden under a small flap.
He had many a good swig of whisky out of that on the road, when
onlookers thought he was drinking water. There are bags, too, that have
a partition down the middle, with a neck at each top corner, so that
one half may be filled with water and the other half with lemonade.
When the thermometer has climbed over the century, there is nothing
more delicious than a pull from each side of this bag. The only
objection is that some travellers pull too much at one side, and then
they lose their hats, or get "a touch of the sun"—or both.


Though lacking the attractions, variety of sights and entertainments,
the festivities and general gaiety that the cities offer, Christmastide
brings good cheer to the denizens of the ranges and forests, and is
looked forward to and enjoyed in the humblest places.

It is a time when the scattered flocks foregather from far and wide
under the old rooftree. There are innumerable homes from which many
have gone out to battle with the world, as shearers, drovers, carriers,
fencers, tank-sinkers, station hands, prospectors and miners, stockmen,
and bush rouseabouts, leaving only the old couple, and probably one or
two of the youngest members of the family. The boys may be working
within easy reach, and they may be hundreds of miles away. In either
case "mother" expects them home.

Preparations are made weeks beforehand; Willie and Jim and Bob are
daily discussed, and surprises are planned for them. Their rooms are
done up and readied, and the old paddock is made doubly secure for
their horses, which, being strange, "are sure to try to make back." The
chips and bones, leaves, and pieces of paper are raked up and burnt in
little heaps; the garden is trimmed up, the house is painted or
whitewashed outside, the steps and fireplace receive similar attention,
and the inside walls are papered, if only with newspapers.

The sentiments and predilections of the old people in this respect are
shared to a great extent by the young, whose thoughts turn now to home
and kindred ties more than at any other time of the year, and some will
bridge the gulf that lies between them in spite of all obstacles.

One Christmas Eve a girl who had been at service in Winton (Queensland)
started by coach for Boulia, where her parents lived. There had been
heavy rains on the way, and on reaching Caddie Creek it was found
impossible to cross the flood by vehicle, and the horses were taken
out. But the girl was determined not to turn back, and she was equally
resolved not to remain on the bank. She won the sympathy of the driver
and a male passenger by telling them that she had never missed a
Christmas dinner at home, and she did not want to miss this one. The
men then fastened a strap round their bodies, and, with the girl
clinging to it between them, successfully negotiated a seventy yards'
swim. At Middleton, some miles farther on, she swam another flooded
creek on horseback, and, drenched and mud-covered, she eventually
reached Boulia in time to participate in the all-important function.

One of the principal features of the time is the gay array of bushes
that deck the veranda-posts of the houses. In towns men go round with
drayloads of green bushes, selling them for sixpence or a shilling a
bundle; but outside they are cut and dragged home by the children. A
big armful is lashed to each post till the veranda is hidden behind a
wall of greenery. Even the selector's hut, standing alone in a
wilderness of trees, is annually decorated in this way, and the
prospectors' camp, pitched where no one passes, and where the usual
greetings are exchanged only between the two mates, sports an emerald
cluster on the pole for "auld lang syne."

Another custom favoured by those who still cling to Old World
associations is the hanging of the mistletoe from the centre of the
ceiling. Any bush does for a mistletoe in Australia; but the shy young
bushman seldom takes advantage of the privilege it gives him when some
pretty little creature he admires stands defiantly under it. He knows
nothing of the old traditions that enshrine the bough; in his home it
is suspended mainly to minimise the annoyance caused by flies settling
on the table.

More important than the mistletoe to him and his sister is the
Christmas mail, which brings the pictorial annuals, seasonable
presents, cards, and letters from far-off friends and relatives. The
arrival of the mailman, jogging along lonely tracks, is at all times
welcome, but now he comes under the halo of a bushified Santa Claus.
The annuals are more appreciated by bush people than by city folk; the
whole family will gather round, with heads clustered together, peering
over one another's shoulders, while one turns the pages.

On the goldfields the miners take delight in surreptitiously
introducing a few small nuggets into the plum-duff—and they do not go
round the table after dinner collecting them as some women do the
coins. The gold becomes the property of whoever finds it, and it is
made into pins, rings, and brooches. This habit of salting the pudding
induces a good deal of prospecting, and as the prospectors have to eat
up the tailings, it is probably the reason that so many people don't
feel very well after the Christmas gorge.

Hop-beer, ginger-beer, and honeymead are also made, and stored away in
kegs and bottles. "Sugarbags" are plentiful in many parts of the bush,
and a good nest or two is usually left for December, when the trees are
felled and the bees robbed. The beer is made from the comb after the
honey has been drained out of it. Sarsaparilla is another extensively-
made drink, the vines growing plentifully among the ranges. The women
and children are fond of these home-made drinks, but father is not
always so enthusiastic.

A day or two before Christmas the wanderers return. First comes Jim,
cantering up the track with a valise strapped in front of him and a
smoke-cloud trailing behind, while the old folks and the little ones
are watching with glad faces from the veranda. Towards sundown Bill
appears on the hill in another direction, and comes jogging along
quietly with a well-loaded pack-horse, and quart-pots, bells, and
hobble-chains rattling and jingling to every stride. The children run
shouting to meet him, and some ride back behind him and some perch on
the pack. They help him to unsaddle and carry his pack-bags in; they
take his tired horses to water, and lead them through the slip-rails,
and let them go in the paddock with a gentle pat on the neck. The sun
is down, perhaps, when Bob comes plodding slowly along through the
trees, carrying his swag, and swinging a billy in one hand, while he
shakes a little bush before his face with the other to keep the flies

"Poor old Bob!" says mother, "still walking!" The youngsters race down
the road again, and they carry his billy and tucker-bag for him and
hang on to his hands as though helping the tired traveller home. They
all talk to him at once, their eyes dancing with excitement, telling
him that Jim and Willie are home, and that Strawberry has a young calf
and the speckly hen has ten chickens. Bob listens with a dry smile as
he plods along, recalling when he, too, was interested in Strawberry
and the hens. When he reaches the door the smile broadens, and he says,
"Merry Christmas!" and throws his swag down against the wall. They
crowd round him, wringing his hands till he feels tired, and ask him
how he's been getting on.

"Orlright," says Bob simply.

Though Bob has "humped bluey" home, he has probably as many pound notes
in his pockets as those who come in creaking saddles, and he feels well
repaid for his long tramp and his many months of hard work and battling
in the backblocks when he observes the pleased look on his mother's
face as he hands her the bulk of his savings.

The brothers swop yarns till late at night, telling of their
experiences and adventures by flood and field; and each has some
curiosity to show, brought home as a token or keepsake from strange and
far-off parts of the bush. The old home, which has so long been dull
and quiet, now rings with merry laughter and glad voices, and when Bob
does a jig in his clod-smashers the very roof shakes and the crockery
rattles loudly on the dresser. There is an hour or two's dancing,
maybe, to the strains of the violin. Then somebody goes off for the
Jackson girls, and the Maloneys, and the Andersons, and old
acquaintances are renewed—likewise the dancing.

On Christmas Eve the boys go out with guns for scrub turkeys, pigeons,
and ducks. Often they spend the whole day shooting in the scrubs, and
round the swamps and lagoons; and they come home well laden with game.
All hands and the cook turn to after tea and pluck the birds. The
bushman's table is very rarely without game at this time.

Christmas Day is quiet, and generally dull—a day of rest; but Boxing
Day makes up for it with a quantum of sport and excitement. There are
usually horse-races somewhere in the vicinity, or a cricket match
between Wombat Hill and Emu Creek. A cricket match isn't very
sensational, except when the ball lodges in the hollow spout of a tree
or gets lost down a rabbit-burrow and has to be dug out. A kangaroo
hunt is more exhilarating. A dozen girls and young men ride out in the
morning, and when the game is sighted the whole cavalcade starts off at
a gallop, with the dogs in the lead. The mob breaks right and left, and
when the dogs separate there is often a split in the pursuing party,
many of whom do not meet again until they return home.

Sometimes a horse comes down, or a lady rider, more enthusiastic than
prudent, parts company with her mount in the thick timber, or loses her
seat in jumping logs and water-courses. Sometimes a dingo is brought to
bay in a reedy swamp, or he darts into a hollow log, and has to be
smoked, prodded, or chopped out. The kangaroo, too, after a long run,
will occasionally spring into a waterhole and fight his assailants.
When the whole party have gathered round him with sticks, however, he
has but a small chance of victory.

There are many persons in the bush every year to whom the festive
season is only a memory. These are men camped in lonely parts, batching
at station out-camps or boundary-riders' huts. Some of them have been
so long alone that, though they know that Christmas is somewhere near,
they could not tell you whether it is two days ahead or two days past.
I have often found men keeping up Saturday or Monday for the Sabbath,
even within a few miles of a town. The majority of bush workers who
have no homes of their own, and no kith or kin within reach, spend
their Christmas at an hotel, mostly drinking. I remember one man who
rode into a western town to enjoy himself, and got drunk the first
night; and it was nearly a fortnight afterwards before he properly
recovered his senses. Then he asked the publican how many days it was
to Christmas.

"About three hundred and fifty-seven," said the publican. "Yesterday
was New Year's Day."

The man from Farther-Out thought hard for some seconds; then he said,
still hopefully, "Did I keep up Christmas?"

"You did," said the publican. "You had a roaring time."

"That's orlright, then," was the rejoinder. S'long's I kep' up
Christmas, 'm satisfied. Let's 'ave a drink—and a 'Appy New Year to
yer, an' many of 'em."



This site is full of FREE ebooks - Project Gutenberg Australia