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Title: Essays Author: Henry Lawson * A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook * eBook No.: 2000771h.html Language: English Date first posted: September 2020 Most recent update: September 2020 This eBook was produced by: Walter Moore Project Gutenberg of Australia eBooks are created from printed editions which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular paper edition. Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this file. This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg Australia Licence which may be viewed online.
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A Neglected History
The Building Fiend
The Mistakes of Other Colonies
Nationality in Colonisation
The New Religion
A Leader of the Future
An Article on Man
The Cant and Dirt of Labour Literature
The Bush and the Ideal
Crime in the Bush
Some Popular Australian Mistakes
Bermagui — In a Strange Sunset
The Last Shaft in Log Paddock
The Last Shaft
The End of Log Paddock
Published in The Republican, 1887
We must admit that the Centennial celebrations in Sydney were not wholly useless. The glorious occasion called forth from every daily, weekly and monthly periodical, every advertising medium, twopenny calendar, and centennial keepsake, a more or less complete history of Australian progress during the past 100 years. The youngsters in our schools, and Australians generally, had thus for the first time the salient facts regarding the history of Australia thrust before them.
If this is Australia, and not a mere outlying suburb of England: if we really are the nucleus of a nation and not a mere handful of expatriated people dependent on an English Colonial Secretary for guidance and tuition, it behoves us to educate our children to a knowledge of the country they call their own.
It is a matter of public shame that while we have now commemorated our hundredth anniversary, not one in every ten children attending Public schools throughout the colonies is acquainted with a single historical fact about Australia.
The children are taught more of the meanest state in Europe than of the country they are born and bred in, despite the singularity of its characteristics, the interest of its history, the rapidity of its advance, and the stupendous promise of its future.
They can conjure with the name of Captain Cook; they are aware that he sailed into Botany Bay, and they have some indistinct theories regarding him, but of the men who in the past fought for the freedom of our constitution as it is, they scarcely know the names.
It is of course desirable that they should be familiar with the features of European history, but that they should at the same time be so grossly unacquainted with their native land is an obvious anomaly.
Select almost any Australian schoolboy from one of the higher classes and you will find that he can glibly recite the names of the English sovereigns from the Conqueror to Victoria, with the dates of their ascension. He can then give you their relationship to each other, and the principal events and noteworthy persons of each reign, with a rapidity that runs clear away from elocution and transmutes the English language into a kind of lightning gibberish. If you ask for geographical information he can quote, without drawing breath, the rivers, mountains and towns in Europe, and can then run through the counties and towns of England, repeating such names as Kent, Surrey, Sussex, Berkshire, Hampshire, Wiltshire, etc., with a great relish. But if you ask him what town in Australia was formerly called Bendigo, or where Port Phillip settlement was, he becomes bashfully silent, and if you follow this by inquiries as to the Black War in Tasmania, or ask him the causes which led to the Fight of Vinegar Hill, he will come to the conclusion that you are “greening” him, and will leave with an injured air.
Of the gradual separation of one colony from another, of the differences still existing in their constitutions, and of the men and influences which have made them what they are he knows nothing. His knowledge of the natural history and geographical features of Australasia he picks up chiefly from the talk of his associates, and the information he casually encounters in the newspapers.
It is quite time that our children were taught a little more about their country, for shame’s sake. Are they always to be “Colonials” and not “Australians”?
It may be urged that the early history of Australia is for the most part better left unknown; but for that reason are all the bright spots, the clean pages, the good deeds, and the noble names, to be left unremembered too?
There is apparently quite another reason why Australian history may not claim a place in the school’s curriculum. It is considered necessary that a loyal spirit should be instilled into the minds of the rising generation: an attachment to a mother land which they have never seen: a “home” which should remain always dearer to them than the place of their birth and childhood. This object might be considerably retarded if the children learned how the mother land cradled and nursed the nation they belonged to, and the measure of gratitude and respect they owe her for her tender guardianship: if they knew how the present Australian aristocracy (so loyal and sceptre loving) arose, and whence they came; how the Old New South Wales convict slaveholders and tyrants tried to drag Victoria into the sewer while she made efforts for liberty; how the same worthies tried to divert a convict stream into the northern settlement (now Queensland) that they might reap the benefit of convict labour; if the noble efforts of Lang resulted in the freedom of the mother colony, and lastly how Australian honour and interests were sold right and left for mammon.
If all these things, and much more that might and would become apparent, were taught, Australian school children might develop a spirit totally at variance with the wishes of Australian Groveldom.
They might form a low admiration for the thirty digger patriots, who on that eventful December morning in 1854 died in the Eureka Stockade to gain a juster government for their country and to baulk the first “try on” of what was no less than convict government in a free colony. They might also learn to love the blue flag with the white cross, that bonny “Flag of the Southern Cross”, which only rose once, but rose to mark the brightest spot in Australian history, and to give a severe check to that high-handed government which is only now gaining ground again.
They might acquire a preference for some national and patriotic song of their own homes and their own appointed rulers, rather than to stand in a row and squeal, in obedience to custom and command, “God Save our Gracious Queen”.
In their present state of blissful compulsory ignorance they cannot perceive the foolishness of singing praises of the graciousness of their condescending magnate, a ruler at the further end of the world who, knowing as little of them and their lives and aspirations as they know of her, is nevertheless their sovereign and potentate, and who is sometimes benevolent enough to send them a brief cable message judiciously filtered through her own appointed underling and deputy.
When the school children of Australia are told more truths about their own country, and fewer lies about the virtues of Royalty, the day will be near when we can place our own national flag in one of the proudest places among the ensigns of the world.
“Land of the free; thy kingdom is to come.” - CAMPBELL
Published in "The Republican" (Australian Republican Association) 1887
There can be no doubt but that without sentiment the world would be worse than it now is; but sentiment, though a good servant, is a bad master. Though not wishing to make a virtue of selfishness, it must be admitted that a man is more liable to make a fool of himself when actuated by feelings of the heart than by those of the head, and in private life we are very apt to sacrifice the interests of those dependent upon us, for the sake of others, from sympathetic motives.
Sentimental loyalty has recently done both these things in a most pronounced manner for Australians, and perhaps stigmatised them as petty bullies, with a tinge of cowardice into the bargain. This was the loyalty which sent several hundred jingoes and several thousand pounds to assist England in crushing a brave nation of savages who were fighting for a country of no earthly use to anyone but themselves. Following closely upon the “Contingent” bungle, and when the Russian war scare was at its height, this loyalty tumbled over itself in its hurry to make an independent colonial declaration of war against Russia by sending the money and jingoes thither. But war with Russia and war with the Soudanese were two very different things, and as the former did not come off perhaps Australia lost whatever benefit she may have derived from a dearly-bought lesson not to meddle in Northern affairs.
Since then sentimental loyalty has gone on whining, blundering, and bullying through this year of Jubilee until it brought to the surface an undercurrent of Republicanism which long had existed in spite of the Contingent, in spite of the Jubilee pop and fizz, and in spite of the lying messages to which our Government prostituted the cable which connects us with the Northern world.
And as sentimental loyalty has done this much for us, and brought gladness and hope to the heart of many a true Australian, with the knowledge that he is by no means alone in his convictions, we will dismiss it—with thanks.
“That Australia needs the protection of England against the encroachment of dishonest and designing nations” constitutes the hind legs of political loyalty. If the following questions are honestly answered political loyalty must either fall or go about on false legs, which it is most likely to do:—
1. Are there no other nations which are not dishonest and designing on the face of the earth save England and her dependencies?
2. Is Australia bounded by nations that would annex and divide her as Poland was annexed and divided, that she needs protection?
3. Is Australia a neutral field of vantage for troops between two deadly hostile nations as Belgium is between France and Germany that she needs protection? Is Australia hated as a thief, a bully, and a hypocrite, as England is that she needs protection? Is Australia solid gold? Is she peopled by women alone; or does she misrule a nation of Irish and a nation of Hindoos that she needs the protection of England against the encroachment of dishonest and designing nations?
America needed the protection of England against the encroachment of her (England’s) free and easy taxation policy; and England proceeded to protect her in a manner essentially British. She made elaborate preparations to carry out the “stamping out” policy recently so loudly advocated here. But it was a game two could play, and America won it, and though the world was full of “swords and fire then”, she has gone on ever since, increasing in wealth and power, checked only for a few years by “dishonesty and design”, not of other nations, but within herself. The only protection Australia needs is from the landlordism, the title-worship, the class distinctions and privileges, the oppression of the poor, the monarchy, and all the dust-covered customs that England has humped out of the middle ages where she properly belongs. Australia’s progress has been marvellously fast, but not half fast enough for to-day. Once free, the spirit of independence or self-dependence will push her ahead 50 per cent faster. Poverty is but slightly felt in Australia, and therefore Australians sleep. They will awaken presently to find they have slumbered too long; to find the good old English gentleman over them; the good old English squire over them, the good old English lord over them, the good old English aristocracy rolling round them in cushioned carriages, scarcely deigning to rest their eyes on the “common people” who toil, starve, and rot for them; and the good old English throne over them all.
They will awaken to find the cornstalk in the Australian back softened and made pliable by winters of poverty, and the Australian forelock accustomed to being pulled to “your ’onner” the squire and his progeny. Then the Australians can kick and hurt themselves as the Irish do, threaten and starve as the poor of England do, explode dynamite and hang as the Nihilists do, and curse themselves for sleeping when their rights could have been made invulnerable without bloodshed and without toil.
Published in "The Republican" (Australian Republican Association) 1888
It cannot be denied that these colonies are bitterly jealous of each other’s position in the esteem of the English upper crust, and that this jealousy has helped to make the Australians such contemptible toadies is amply proved by the recent visits of British big bugs to our shores.
We are told that Cain killed his brother Abel because he was jealous of the latter’s influence with the Lord, and we may safely assume that had Cain and Abel been heterodox there would have been no blood spilt between them. On the same line of reasoning, if Australians were to be Australians, or rather if Australians were as separate from any other nation as Australia from any other land, there would be no jealousy between them on England’s account. There would of course remain little friendly rivalries between the colonies, but these would only act as spurs to their common prosperity.
There can be no Imperial Federation in the true meaning of the word Federation. Imperial Federation means a union between England and each one of her colonies individually, whilst the colonies themselves would be divided by bitterness and jealousy of the meanest and most despicable kind. Say, can there ever be as brotherly a feeling between the Australian colonies of Great Britain as there would be between the United States of Australia?
Why on earth do we want closer connection with England? We have little in common with English people except our language. We are fast becoming an entirely different people. We are more liberal, and, considering our age, more progressive than England is. The majority of English people know nothing of Australia, and even the higher classes understand neither us nor our country. The latter entertain a sort of good-natured contempt for us which is only the outcome of their contact with our own shoddy aristocracy, which is several degrees more contemptible than that of England.
The loyal talk of Patriotism, Old England, Mother Land, etc. Patriotism? after Egypt, Burmah, Soudan, etc. Bah! it sickens one. Go and read “His Natural Life”, and other natural lives, by Marcus Clarke, and then talk of the dear old Mother Land that gave us birth.
Another argument used by the loyal, is that we should at least entertain a brotherly feeling for Englishmen and be ready to assist them in extremity. So we should, but we cannot assist Englishmen in Soudan or Burmah, neither can we assist them in Egypt with the “eyes of centuries” looking down upon us. “Where then can we assist Englishmen?” you ask. Amid the slums and alleys of London, or under the pitiless eyes of the stone lions (symbolical of the pity of the aristocracy) in Trafalgar Square, my masters!
Who says Australia offers not a home for every poor Englishman, or any other countryman that finds his way to our shores? And what sort of thanks do we get for it? Take the Cockney newchum, for instance; for many years after arrival, the burden of his cry is “Yer oughter go ’ome to Hingland, young man. Yer oughter see Lunnon, young man.” When he is not saying this he is running down Australians and the country that gives him food and shelter to their very faces. If England is such a glorious place why do not all the newchums stay there, or go back as soon as they earn passage money?
We shall never be understood or respected by the English until we carry our individuality to extremes, and by asserting our independence, become of sufficient consequence in their eyes to merit a closer study than they have hitherto accorded us. Every few weeks an English journalist or big bug comes out on a flying visit, drinks champagne and gorges beef with men who are no more representative Australians than Laplanders are, and returns to England a recognised authority upon the colonies.
Dr Cameron Lees has just gone, and left his “last impressions” of Australians upon the page of a Melbourne daily—among a lot of type marks—that amount to the same thing as saying Australians are provided with a pair of arms and a pair of legs apiece. He says that there is a tendency to bounce amongst some young Australians. He is very near the truth in that statement, but the tendency to bounce, as he calls it, is that spirit of independence that is growing and spreading slowly, surely, and almost silently. The calm precedes a storm. Telegrams fly, war clouds spread, and the air is filled with rumours, but nothing happens, and when everything is calm again war breaks out in some totally unexpected quarter. It is the same with revolution; so long as the proper spirit is spreading amongst our young men, we are satisfied that it spreads without bombast or parade.
There is one thing that we see with regret. It is that jealous, unkind feeling that exists between New South Wales and Victoria, and it is caused by reasons explained in the beginning of this article. Deny it as you may, it is nevertheless true that these two colonies do not entertain anything like the good-will that they should for each other, and although Victorians are very American in their egotism and very ready to disparage New South Wales, it must be admitted that the latter colony has not always treated the former in a fair spirit. The Soudan bungle was born partly of sentimental loyalty and partly of the afore-mentioned jealousy existing between the colonies, and now at a time when the colonies should club closer together our Government is doing all they can to widen the breach by trying to pass a bill enabling New South Wales to monopolise the name “Australia”.
If this feeling of animosity is fed or permitted to grow between the two colonies it will end—laugh as you may—in iron and fire and cannon smoke rolling over the Murray!—and then! “Perish Australia!”
Federation should begin at home. If Federation —whether Imperial or of the world should ever appear in a better light than at present there will be plenty of time to consider it. But for the present, let our colonies try to cultivate a still more brotherly feeling for each other, and the day will come when the sons of all the colonies can clasp hands and say truly, “We are Australians—we know no other land!”
Written as a Letter to the Editor — The Bulletin — Sydney, NSW, 5 January 1889
Man was given the earth to live on, but in the city Greed demands that he should live above it and beneath it, because one square inch of land costs gold, and gold is dearer than human life. Man can live a certain depth below the surface of the earth, and Greed demands that he should do so. Hence the thousands that live in the cellars and dens of our great cities. The day has yet to come when dwellings may be dug so deep that mechanical means may become necessary to supply the dwellers therein with air. We may yet have to pay for the air we breathe or have it cut off like gas. But Greed is never satisfied; a house may be twelve storeys high, and yet the very space within the roof is coveted. The ingenuity of the architect is taxed to save every inch that can yield rent, and thus we have rows of garret windows with the sinister look of evil things.
It may be contended that garrets are not a source of danger in case of fire, but that on the contrary they often facilitate the escape of such inmates as may be cut off from below, by affording them a passage to the roof. This is very true in cases where the roofs are provided with parapets or other means of escape, but even as we write we can see a row of three garret windows that would afford to fire-imprisoned inmates a passage to a more damnable trap than Satan could invent. A roof so sloping that a cat could not climb it, with three garret windows out of reach of the ridge and of one another. The roof, unprotected by a parapet, goes down to a line of flimsy guttering that would scarcely bear the weight of a hen, let alone afford a footing for a man. Beneath this is a wall forty or fifty feet high, unbroken by a balcony or roof of any kind. The number of garret roofs and walls of this description is unlimited; you may see them in every Sydney street.
Adjoining the house of which we have just spoken are the blackened walls and rafters of the building that was the scene of a terrible fatality on Christmas morn. The incident is not likely to fade quickly from the minds of those who witnessed it.
The sun is just rising on our sunny Christmas Day when the people of Church Hill are aroused from their slumbers by terrible cries that ring out clear across the house-tops. A man, surrounded by fire and smoke, is clinging to a garret window, caught in the awful trap that the carelessness of landlords and builders has made for him. In a voice that sounds like the voice of a madman he calls on man and God for aid. Men who see him there shudder, and women faint, or wrap clothes around their heads to shut out the terrible cries that shall sound in their ears for many long years to come. The poor fellow on the roof gallantly endeavours to draw up the other man, who has just climbed out of the window. A parapet or bar of iron connecting these windows with the adjoining roof would now save two lives, but these things cost gold, and gold is dearer than human life.
The last man slips and falls headlong. The other, stupefied by the shock and exhausted by heat and smoke, soon ceases his mad endeavour to tear up the slates and is seen to totter. Then turn your eyes away. They are carried out limp and crushed and bleeding, but if their death will be the means of bringing architects and builders to a sense of their responsibility, or the Government to a sense of theirs, it cannot be said that they died in vain.
And now a word about the Fire Brigade. The Brigade people will probably shirk at the responsibility of their late arrival and the absence of the fire-escape by saying that the people of the boarding house failed to report the fire in time — that they wasted time in the hopeless endeavour of trying to extinguish it. But do the Fire Brigade people always expect to be informed of that which it is their duty to know? Where is the watchman, the lookout and the alarms? Is it not a shame that in these days of mechanical science a house may burn for half-an-hour without a single Brigade being aware of it? Let the Brigade people and their admirers say what they like, the facts are the same: two men had been killed at the burning of the Wentworth boarding house and a woman saved before a brass helmet was seen in the distance. It’s time people got to know that it is sheer nonsense to expect the inmates of a burning house to do the right thing at the right time. But it is hopeless to expect the Government to attend to these matters in days when the citizens have to roll up in a mob and threaten Parliament House in order to make their representatives do their duty.
Published in The Albany Observer 24 May 1890
Written using the pen name "Joe Swallow"
West Australia is at present the land of promise in the south; but whether it will ever be anything else than a land of “promise” depends mainly on its people, and on those who are coming here to make homes — not those who come to “make fortunes”, a fact which is disregarded by the well-meaning but mistaken persons who are now industriously “puffing” West Australia in the other colonies.
Fortune-hunters have been the curse of the eastern colonies; but, like some other classes, they are often more sinned against than sinning. Some years ago lying reports of prosperity in New South Wales, Victoria, and Queensland were spread in the old countries, whereby inducing great numbers of young men to immigrate. Many of these people were fortune-hunters, no doubt, but it was only natural that the bitterness of their disappointment should turn their hearts against the land to which they had been enticed by foul means, and rob them of any desire to settle down, like good colonists, and by years of hard work and self-denial make themselves a home and the colonies a nation.
The statement that these false reports were spread in England is not made recklessly. The writer knew a young Englishman who had in his possession a copy of a circular which had been scattered broadcast throughout London and the counties, and on which was printed what purported to be the scale of wages and the cost of living in Australia. It is needless to say that in this circular the prosperity of the colonies was grossly exaggerated. Amongst other equally false, and I may say criminal, representations it was averred that the daily wage of the labouring class averaged from fifteen shillings to a pound. We would not like to say that this circular emanated from the governments either of the colonies or England, but a great many believed it did. It was published surreptitiously.
But to come to the point. Reports equally false and exaggerated as the one quoted above are now being spread in the east with regard to West Australia, enticing to this colony numbers of people who are but one remove from being paupers, and who have no intention of settling down and helping in the development of the country by the labour of their hands. Their sole idea is to “make money” and then “clear out”, returning to the enjoyments of the pleasant eastern cities.
Before leaving New South Wales I heard a resident of West Australia — then on a visit to Sydney — declare that labourers in Albany and Perth were receiving fourteen shillings a day; and were so independent that it was impossible to get a man to carry your luggage from the wharf. Of course, we did not believe this report, but many do, and come on the strength of it, and afterwards by unfavourable accounts they prevent many really desirable colonists from coming.
Those interested in the development of West Australia seem to think that the only thing necessary is to get people here — and to get people by fair means or foul. This is a false and injurious theory. As far as population goes it should be a question of quality, not quantity. True colonists and pioneers need no other inducements than those offered by a new and fertile country, and fortune-hunters will flock round them like birds of prey. When the good colonists have made the country what it will be, the population will come soon enough.
In the old days, when the new lands lay thousands of miles from “home”, the fortune-hunter was forced to stay, for some time at least, in the land to which he had recklessly hurried. There were no short passages, and cheap fares “home”, and, ten to one, by the time the immigrant was in a position to return, he would have settled down, reconciled to his position, and thus become a great colonist.
But it is different with West Australia. The eastern colonies from which (let us suppose) she derives the population are too near; and when the new comer finds he has “made a mistake” it goes hard with him if he does not rectify it by returning whence he came, within six months — often by the next boat. And even when the fortune-hunter has made a little (West Australian) money, those pleasant eastern cities gleam too brightly and too near for him to resist the temptation to return; and so he goes on taking with him his, or West Australia’s, gold, and leaving the colony poorer, if anything, for his visit.
What we want in West Australia more than anything else, and what we must have before this country will follow, not say lead, on the others, and that which will be the colony’s salvation is patriotism. It is very common to hear people who are in the habit of “taking notice” of things, say, on arriving here from the eastern colonies: “There seems to be something wrong with the country.” Most thinkers agree with them in this; many are positive that there is “something” wrong; but there is the widest divergence of opinion regarding the nature of this all-important “something”. One might think that there is an atmosphere of conservatism about the people; but, even the conditions necessary to the existence of conservatism seem to be wanting. In short, if I may use metaphor to express our meaning — the people of West Australia have no existence. Thousands inhabit the country, it is true, but as a class they take no interest in the land further than that conducive to a selfish individual welfare. The people do not seem to realise that this country has got to be made a home for a nation, or at least a great part of one, by the future great Australian nation, and, more than this, the people in (I was going to say of) this country do not seem to realise that the coming nation are to be of their own children. No doubt the responsibility and exertion of self-government will raise the minds of the West Australian people to a recognition of these things; but when, in the name of Heaven, is this Responsible Government to be brought about? The cynic answers, “When, after a year or so, England shakes up West Australia and tells her that her sleepy request has been listened to, and that she must rouse up and mind shop!”
Somebody, who evidently does not believe that “God helps those who help themselves” complained in the columns of a local paper that the other colonies took little or no interest in the welfare of West Australia. This is false. Upon this subject there has been more straight decisive writing in one Sydney paper, and more serious talk at one Sydney street corner than there has been in the whole of West Australia. The gist of public opinion in the East respecting this matter is: that West Australia must have Responsible Government; that it is to the interests of the eastern colonies, as well as of West Australia, that this should be brought about; and, that if the western people do not make a decisive movement in the matter soon, it will be necessary in the interests of Australia as a whole for the other colonies to take the matter up.
This country should become something better than a camp for adventurers, who will “fold up their tents like the Arabs and silently steal away” (to Arabia). There is a great deal said about the barrenness of the land and its unfitness for settlement, but the same thing was said of the eastern portion of the continent, which is now on a fair way of becoming a paradise for agriculturists and graziers. Read the early despatches sent “home” when shortly after the settlement of Botany Bay the colony was described as a desert where nothing would grow, and yet when we left New South Wales a few weeks ago its driest and hottest towns were being washed off the land, and rescue boats were being sent up by the dozen right to the centre of the site of that imaginary “Great Australian Desert” of our grandfathers. The rising generation will yet see their inland seas of flood water curbed and stored in great artificial lakes, reservoirs, and canals, and the same thing can be done in the west. Some people say we want a Ballarat or two to make the colony. A couple of Ballarats would give us a good start no doubt, but that is all; Ballarats don’t last, and we want something else to keep the country going.
Let the natives of the colony stand up in its interests, if only because they are natives — that is if that grand old love for one’s native land still exists in these unromantic days. Let the people who have adopted this as their country try and forget the old one — which could not have treated them well, as their continued presence here proves — and do the best for the country that affords them an asylum. And let the people, one and all, irrespective of class, creed, or nationality, do their utmost for the advancement of West Australia because — for the noblest of all reasons — because it is to be the land of their children.
And afterwards, in the years that are to come, when the West will be rich in farms and pasturelands, and dotted with cities as fair as Adelaide, and as busy as Sydney or Melbourne; when mighty steamers glide in through the waters of the Sound, to discharge their cargoes at great bustling wharves, and travellers land to stroll through our parklike streets, that shall rival those of Ballarat, and to view our mansions and galleries of art, then — when there shall be streets of noble stone warehouses, and the heights shall be crowned by public buildings and palaces of art — then in the centre places shall stand the monuments, and from honoured niches in our art galleries shall smile the unforgotten faces of “Our country’s pioneers”, the men who shall have earned the title of good colonists.
Published in the Albany Observer 03 June 1890
Written using the pen name "Joe Swallow"
The rivalry existing between the several towns of a colony is conducive in its effects to the general welfare of the colony, because such emulation is favourable to the formation of more equally balanced centres in different parts of the country, and thus leads to the general decentralisation of the population.
Centralisation is admitted to be a blunder in any country, but in a new colony, which it is necessary to populate, centralisation is directly opposed to the principles of colonisation.
The congregation of the bulk of a country’s population in one or two large towns is about as sensible in idea, and as injurious in its effects, both physically and morally, as the crowding together of a family in one room of a large house, when all the other rooms are empty and available. A country with but one city deserving of the name is about as natural as a horse with one leg.
The eastern colonies have learned the evils of centralisation in common with the evils of a great many other things, and it is to the interests of Western Australia (born in more enlightened days) to profit by the experiences of her elder sisters.
The capitals of New South Wales and Victoria are out of all proportion with the size of their inland populations, and the size of their inland towns. These cities make good show windows for their respective colonies, no doubt, but a show window is of little use without the corresponding stock to back it up. The city of Ballarat stands out as a brilliant exception among the inland “cities” of the east, but Ballarat rose under exceptional conditions. The city of Bathurst — occupying a position in New South Wales corresponding (geographically) to that of Ballarat in Victoria — is the dullest, dreariest, sleepiest, deadest hole I ever set foot in. A few towns in New South Wales, like energetic little Dubbo, with its gas, etc., have lately begun to wake up and go ahead, but these towns should have been cities long ago.
I often think that if some of the surplus suburbs of Sydney were shifted up country a few hundred miles, New South Wales would benefit greatly by the change. In Sydney human beings are sardined together in a manner which would not be credited by the people of New South Wales, but they’ll have to credit it shortly.
In Sydney we have slums and “hells” equal to any found in London. We have human sties of the worst description. We have Chinamen packed in hundreds, over the ceilings and under the floors of “buildings” in the main street of Sydney — the notorious George Street South. We have hundreds of unemployed living in our parks, we have “model lodging houses”, we have ragged schools (where little children starve more for bread than knowledge), we have “refuges”, soup kitchens, and whole streets of brothels, and yet we point triumphantly to the “marvellous growth” of our capital city as a proof of the colony’s prosperity. Marvellous growth! I would call it a rank growth rather.
The foregoing sentences contain nothing but truth, and truth to which the general public of Sydney is wilfully blind. I have seen back roofs in Lower George Street where slates have been removed and substituted by sheets of glass in order that the reeking crowds of Chinamen and their wretched European women might have light enough to grope their way about in their filthy sleeping-places — over the ceilings.
The fact about the ragged school children comes from the teacher of one of these schools in Kent Street, since removed to a place off Oxford Street. She described her pupils as being “little better than savages”, and half-starved. And now, with regard to the unemployed. On the night on which I embarked aboard the Australien for Albany I counted 135 animated bundles of rags and bones sleeping round the goods sheds of the Orient and M.M. Companies’ wharves at Circular Quay.
When that old rookery the Artillery Arms fell in George Street, killing two people, an unsavoury stream of terrified Chinamen and their women rushed out from the doors of a neighbouring “hell”, and formed the largest and most disheartening crowd that I ever saw issue from a single building.
It might be argued that a large city like Sydney supplies the fields with workers, but such an argument could easily be refuted. Now, supposing Sydney supplied the inland districts with people, what sort of a farmer would the excitable and physically weak city youth, or of what use would the wretched, sharp-faced, sinister-looking larrikin of Woolloomooloo, Redfern or Darling Harbour, be in the country or anywhere else? What sort of farmers’ wives would the fashionable, frivolous city girl or her wretched sisters of the town make?
But at present Sydney does not supply the inland districts with population; it is generally the new arrival who goes up country. If Sydney has any influence over the population of the West, it is to decrease it. Where does the discontented farmer’s son, who has listened to marvellous tales of the city go to? Where does the half-hearted farmer, who has had two or three bad seasons, generally drift to? And whither does she drift — the hysterical girl who has fallen once? The answer to these questions, nine times out of ten, is to the city.
I can give an example, to my own knowledge, of the immigration of farmers to the city. I know one of the best farming districts in New South Wales, where from within an area of five square miles, no less than eight farmers left for the city during a period of five years. Let these farmers be represented by letters of the alphabet and I will endeavour to the best of my knowledge to tell what became of some of them and their farms.
A. An old couple living in the city on the proceeds of the sale of their farm. Farm not paying subsequent purchaser.
B. A large family, mother keeping a boarding-house, father and sons out working at various trades, girls at home and at service. Farm gone to ruin.
C. Father labouring, sons ditto — farm gone to ruin.
D. Small family, father, a land and building speculator, doing well. Farm let for a nominal rental; tenant not cultivating it, fences going to ruin.
E. Large family, father “looking for work” and drinking; sons ditto; girls and wife at service; one son on farm.
F. Family: father dead — of rum and whisky — farm deserted and a wilderness; mother drinking; and the girls going to the bad.
This is the way in which Sydney supplies the country with people.
Melbourne profited by the mistakes of Sydney in the formation of her streets. Ballarat, Adelaide, and other rising towns are improving on Melbourne, and there is no reason why the future cities of Western Australia should not be as perfect as it is possible for cities to be. Some people will say that it is too soon to talk about this sort of thing, but I would like to ask them if the streets of Albany, for instance, are being laid out on the most approved plans, or likely to be a credit to the city that Albany is to be? I have not seen Perth or Fremantle yet, but I am inclined to fear that their streets are not exactly as wide or straight as those of Ballarat or Melbourne, and I would not be surprised to find in our northern capital or its rival, a Woolloomooloo, in embryo. People should insist on having their towns laid out on the latest and most approved plan. The western people should bear in mind that half-a-dozen little towns with plenty of energy, and placed in convenient farming or grazing centres, are worth more than one city ten times their congregate size. We want no regions like Little Bourke Street, with its stagnant lanes and blind alleys in our western cities that are to be.
There is another evil which arises from centralisation, and which I forgot to mention — Carlyle might have called it “centralism” — it is the power which a great city wields over country districts. The voices of the country people are scarcely ever heard on momentous questions, and in times of popular clamour, panic, or political excitement of any kind, the city “mob” is all-powerful to rule the destiny of a nation.
And now I come to think of it, New South Wales and Queensland have, during the present year, found out another “mistake” which has already cost them a pretty penny, and is likely to cost much more — it is the building of their most important towns beneath the level of flood waters.
Published in the Albany Observer 21 June
Written using the pen name "Joe Swallow"
Class, creed, and nationality are words which should find no place in the vocabulary of the Australians, because these words are synonymous with everything that is hostile to the peace and happiness of the world; they are written deep on the bloodiest fields that ever lay under battle smoke, and their baneful meaning has been learnt by the fireside of many a home.
The Australians, and more especially the West Australians, should judge a man by his worth as a colonist and a citizen, without regard to his creed or country. I do not object to Chinamen because they are Chinamen, nor because their creed is not the same as mine — I object to them because, as a nation, they are bad citizens and bad colonists. This may be easily seen when we reflect that, while the people of Sydney rose as one man and refused to allow a ship-load of Chinamen to land, the best known, and perhaps the most respected gentleman in Sydney was a Chinaman, the philanthropic Mr Quong Tart.
Any colonial historian who has attempted to compile a history of Dr Lang without offending anyone can tell you that old world prejudices still exist in Australia; but I think I may say, with the “pardonable pride” of an Australian, that my countrymen as a rule do not get up on their liberal allowance of lower limbs and swear at plain facts when the facts happen to be unpleasant to them, so I will endeavour, from personal observations, to set forth the merits of the Germans as colonists, and explain wherein they are superior to us in this respect. I wish to write of the Germans in particular, because the German portion of our population is greater than that of any other nationality, excepting of course ourselves, and therefore the Germans have the greatest claim on our attention.
We cannot determine wherein the colonists of one nationality are superior to those of another by simply comparing one colony with another, because England has, and always had, a monopoly of colonization. We must look nearer home, or rather, at home, for our comparisons, and here in Australia we can easily find materials for our argument.
In an article entitled “The Mistakes of Other Colonies”, I gave an illustration of the influx into the city of farmers from a certain district in New South Wales. Now, although the great majority of farmers in this district were Germans, there was not one German amongst the families whom I mentioned as having deserted their farms, and, moreover, at this time the German farms were all paying well and the German families were in comfortable circumstances. There must be a reason for this and there can only be one — it is that the German farmers are better than the English, Irish and their descendants, better even, perhaps, than the Scotch. I have seen German and English farms worked side by side throughout a whole district — the Mudgee district, New South Wales — and the German farmers were invariably the most successful. By English I mean, of course, the English, Irish and their descendants in Australia, and for the sake of convenience I shall refer to them as Australians. Place an Australian on a sheep or cattle station and he will lick creation, as the Americans say. But put him on a farm, and ten to one he will fail where a German would make a fortune. I think the reason why the Australians cannot compete with the Germans in agriculture is because of the careless, easy-going disposition of the former. I don’t want to imply that the Australian is lazy; he will often go to work and waste a tremendous amount of energy in a very short time, but what good results come from wasted energy? German energy is never wasted. Though the German farmer works constantly and persistently he seldom turns up one furrow or one spadeful of earth more than is necessary. The German farmer studies agriculture, even its technical language, and he knows what he is doing when he puts in a crop; while the Australian seldom knows more than that if he scratches up a bit of ground with the plough, throws a bit of seed wheat over it, and harrows it in he will most probably get a crop of wheat of some sort. Many of the back farms in New South Wales look like patches where the emus have been scratching.
I knew a small farmer in New South Wales who had a pair of splendid draught horses just old enough to go to work. He also had a shed, or what they call a barn in England, for the storage of his wheat. The shed was not quite large enough to hold his last crop of grain, but it “wasn’t worth his while” to take a day off and add a few sheets of bark to the structure. So, after threshing, he left a dozen bags of wheat outside the door for that night, and “didn’t bother” covering them up because he “didn’t think it would rain”. He also left the sliprails communicating with the horse paddock imperfectly fastened because he didn’t think the horses would get at the wheat. That night a thunderstorm burst over the place and soaked everything, but not before the horses had got at the wheat and eaten their fill. Both horses were found dead in the morning. I give the story as an instance of what I may call “native carelessness”. Imagine a German farmer to be guilty of such negligence.
At farming the Australians are beaten by that same dogged, methodical persistence that drove the French army back in disgraceful rout and captured Paris; and until the Australian farmers go about their work in a methodical manner, and call theory to their aid, they must never hope to be as successful as the Germans, or even compete with them. The fact that we cannot compete with them now is proved, by the preponderance of Teutonic names in the prize lists of the agricultural shows of the East.
But the very fact that we cannot compete with the Germans at farming proves that the country has everything to gain, and nothing to lose, by their presence. I think that Western Australia would benefit immeasurably by an immigration of German farmers; I am sure the eastern colonies have done so.
I believe that a great many trades unionists regard German mechanics with the eye of distrust because it is asserted that Germans are willing to work long hours, and take low wages rather than go idle for any length of time; but how many men in the unions would do, and do the same thing? The Germans who immigrate are just as democratic as the Australians, and as ready to stand up for the rights of labour. But, at any rate, this objection cannot be brought against the German farmer. Their only faults are that they often work their women too hard, and are apt to be a little unneighbourly at times; but these faults are seldom seen in mature Germans of the second and third generation.
The Australian of German parentage differs little from the ordinary type of Australian — as far as it has developed. The only difference, if any, is that the descendants of Germans are a little more methodical and level-headed than the others; and I think that a time is coming when Australia will need all the level-headed men she can get.
Germans who immigrate are not as a rule conservative; when they come out here they come to make the country their home, and they have sense enough to see that the interests of Australia lie in the same direction as theirs and their children’s. And, moreover, the Germans do not bring with them the wretched national and religious hatreds that are the curse of our own “parent” lands.
If we are to assist immigration, why should our assistance be extended to any one nation in particular? Why not offer encouragement to desirable colonists such as the Germans? Germans are just as true to their adopted lands as men of any other nationality; truer to Australia than some who are more closely related to us, and German Australians are just as patriotic as those of British parentage. We get the true Australian, anyway, in the course of time, and the sunny south will be none the less great because its people spring from the stoutest sons of the greatest nations on earth, and not from one or two nations only.
Published in The Albany Observer 5 July 1890
Written using the pen name "Joe Swallow"
I am glad to see that the workmen of Albany are beginning to form branch unions here because I think that the surest and the shortest road to the great social reformation of the future lies through trades unionism.
No doubt if a simple-minded writer attempted in this enlightened year to explain the objects of trades unionism he would be referred to his aged grandmother as a fitting pupil to undergo a course of instruction in the art of sucking eggs; but at the same time there are many, perhaps thousands, of intelligent people who hold altogether wrong ideas regarding trades unionism and its objects. As an instance of this, I once heard a gentleman say that trades unionism was an evil and unnatural thing because it was a formation of brotherhoods antagonistic to the formation of a universal brotherhood. I never thought that an intelligent man could get such a mighty grip on the bull’s tail.
It is true that unions are formed for protection against unprincipled labour as well as unprincipled capital, but if man is selfish and unphilanthropic enough to go in opposition to the principles of labour unionism so long as it is to his interest to do so he must abide by the consequences. The fault is his and not the union’s. Every workman should bear in mind that self-denial in the individual is quite as essential to social reformation as it is to individual reformation.
In the “Mississippi Pilot” Mark Twain tells the story of the rise of the Pilots’ Union on the Mississippi River. The promoters of this union were boycotted from the first, and it was only after great perseverance and self-denial that they were in a position to cope with their opponents. Then the tables turned rapidly, and the other party were soon in a position similar to that occupied by the unionists at the outset. Many of the old pilots held out to the bitter end with a courage worthy of a more philanthropic cause, and when they were at last compelled by necessity to seek admission to the union fold they were obliged to pay entrance fees of sufficient size to have swallowed up all the profits of their selfishness, even had they been in constant employment up to that time. In fact, it was with the greatest difficulty that some of these bitter spirits were got into the union at all. Perhaps these stringent measures were necessary under the circumstances, and considering that this was in the early days of the rise of trades unionism; but our unions of today are not obliged to adopt such measures and it is not their policy to do so. Trades unionism is not “a formation of brotherhoods antagonistic to the formation of a universal brotherhood”, as my friend remarked. Trades unionism really aims at the abolition of all unions and class distinctions, and when this is accomplished it will be no longer necessary for men to combine against their fellowmen.
Trades unionism is a new and grand religion; it recognises no creed, sect, language or nationality; it is a universal religion — it spreads from the centres of European civilization to the youngest settlements on the most remote portions of the earth; it is open to all and will include all — the Atheist, the Christian, the Agnostic, the Unitarian, the Socialist, the Conservative, the Royalist, the Republican, the black, and the white, and a time will come when all the “ists”, “isms”, etc., will be merged and lost in one great “ism” — the unionism of labour.
There is something grand in the rise and progress of trades unionism; it is like a great green vine growing steadily round the world and bearing fruit in all its branches. There is no branch union so small or remote that it does not contribute strength to the grand union, and there is no branch so insignificant and unimportant as not to be able to depend upon the assistance of the main unions in a good cause.
I have seen the unions from Townsville to Adelaide stand up as one man, and demand justice for some small branch union. I have seen the stern-faced unionists of Sydney gather in thousands (forming a meeting that had to be divided into three portions) and stand for five long hours arranging plans of campaign and subscribing funds to carry them out, simply because a body of men, whom they had never seen and who were separated from them by fifteen thousand miles of sea, sought their assistance against a bitter wrong. I refer to the great dock labourers’ strike, and I must add, in justice to the outsiders, that many rich and influential gentlemen in Sydney, and many workmen outside the unions, worked like unionists on this occasion.
Of course, we all know that there is one great flaw in the theory of universal brotherhood. It is where the Chinaman comes in. The Chinaman is a kind of gigantic eastern question, which will take a deal of solving. There will be no difficulty in including the progressive “Jap” in the scheme, and the American negro is already a man and brother. The American Indian, the African and South Sea savage, and the aboriginals of Australia will soon in the course of civilization become extinct, and so relieve the preachers of universal brotherhood of all anxiety on their account. The Chinaman remains to be dealt with. Whether he is the going man; the descendant of a people who once ruled the old world and were crowded into the East by the spread of European civilisation, we do not know; whether he is (God forbid it) the coming man time alone can tell. But our time won’t tell it, and the Chinese question is, I fear, one of the problems which we must leave to our children to solve. The Chinese nation is an unnatural, and, as far as we know, an unprecedented growth on the history of the world, and in all schemes for the furtherance of the universal brotherhood we must leave the Chinaman out of the question altogether; or at least until we can understand him better.
For my part I think a time will come eventually when the Chinaman will have to be either killed or cured — probably the former — but it would be advisable for the world to wait further (Chinese) developments before taking decisive action in the matter. In the mean time we will have plenty of work to do by way of civilizing ourselves. I think the European nations should have left the Chinaman alone in the first place.
The woman’s question is another bugbear with trades unionists, and one which places them in a very delicate position. The position of the unions with regard to female labour is often misunderstood even by unionists themselves. It is not, as some advocates of woman’s rights think, a question of trades unionism against woman, but the old question in a new guise — of trades unionism against cheap labour. It is all very well to say that it is a woman’s place to keep house, and a man’s place to keep her; but I know for a fact that many poor women in cities are obliged to go out and work by the day in order to feed a large family of small children and a lazy or drunken husband. Something must be done in this matter, either Adam must be compelled to keep Eve in comfort in return for her domestic services or Eve must be allowed to earn her living by working at such trades as are most suited to her strength. Of course under the existing social conditions Adam is not always able to keep Eve and himself in comfort, and so they both starve, or live in a state of starvation. But this is one of the evils for the cure of which trades unions exist.
I think, if I may venture an opinion on the subject, woman should be allowed to work at such trades as are suited to her, but she should be required to learn the trade thoroughly, and not work for less than the union standard of wages. In order to do this she would have to be received into the union in the first place as an apprentice. I think this would do more towards keeping female labour within proper limits than any offensive measures could do.
But the female labour question is one that cannot be disposed of in a few lines, and, with the editor’s permission I would like to devote some future article to the question.
In the mean time I would be glad if some Western writer would start a controversy on the subject, for the woman question will have to be dealt with sooner or later in Western Australia.
Published in “The Worker”, Sydney, 10 June 1893
Some of our bards are fond of singing about a saint — a man of peace and love, with the form of an artist’s model — whom they call “the leader of the future”, or “the man that is to come”, or refer to as the individual we want and are waiting for. We might wait, for he won’t come. They picture an ideal Christ, not the real man; their “leader of the future” was really a leader of the past — if he ever existed. The Bible writers seemed to think that he did live. Anyway, we are led to believe that the nearest approach to Him was born in Western Asia some eighteen hundred years ago. He was a naturally intelligent carpenter and a Socialist. There were greater men in his time and before him; and there have been since; but he was an honest man — and original. He preached peace and goodwill and brotherhood, and the people hanged him — or, at least they crucified him, which amounts to the same thing.
Another kind of leader rose in the vicinity of Mecca. They didn’t hang him. His followers depended on the power of the sword rather than that of the tongue or pen. Sword and tongue ran a close race for centuries, and the sword came out ahead: the Christians couldn’t get along without it. The pen and tongue are at war with the sword today — the first two on the side of Labour and the other on that of Monopoly. Who’s getting the best of it? Labour tried the power of the sword in France a hundred years ago. Who got the best of it then?
And yet our saviour is to be a man of peace, is he?
* * * * * * * *
The leader of the future will be a man, not a god: gods don’t knock round nowadays. He’ll rise on the top of a barricade first, perhaps, and when the smoke clears away we’ll be able to see what manner of man he is. He’ll most likely come with a bloodstained bandage round his forehead and carry one arm in a sling and a club in the hand of the other. His uniform will be the uniform of the unemployed. He won’t have a “calm, majestic front” — he’ll most likely have a rag over one eye and the rest of his face covered with burnt powder and dust and blood, and a stubby beard of a week’s growth; also, he might have black teeth and a brutal cast of countenance. His language will not be Christlike, or Dan O’Connor-like. His remarks will be short and to the point, and vulgar, and lurid, very offensive to the delicate ear. Delicate ears will be “shifted” a lot in those days.
* * * * * * * * *
This leader of the future will not reason calmly and well; he’ll not stop to reason at all, even if he can — he’ll feel too mad. He’ll think of his starved wife and children and the old folks, of the few pounds he saved out of his miserable wages and was swindled out of by “financial institutions” at the beginning of winter, and of his mates, shot down in the streets like mad dogs or stuck like pigs behind the barricade. He might feel by instinct that he is to avenge, in some part, the shameful, cowardly wrongs of centuries behind him. He won’t pause to consider. Hatred and the sense of injustice will urge him on. He might be ignorant and narrow-minded — one of those men who, when they get hold of an idea, will stick to it as though ideas were scarce in the world and monopolised by companies. He will be an individualist really, and so will be the majority of his followers — he’ll want revenge above all things, except brandy, maybe — he’ll hate all except those who follow him — he’ll want to burn down artificial things and blow them up, and comprehensively abolish the society which produces victims like him, and if he gets half a show he’ll do it. And, now we come to think of it, he will be a god for the time. His followers will follow him as long as the work of destruction goes on and he keeps ahead of it.
* * * * * * * * *
The Parliament of Labour and the Parliament of Greed will go down alike before him — and all the little parliaments that flourish for a day — for his revolution will rise from beneath them all — even the lowest and most extreme. He will have need to depend on no league except the union of misery. We shall know his army when it comes by the uniform of rags. The Socialists of today are really working against the possibility of his coming because they want to reform, not to destroy. They’ll be included in the general destruction. How blind the rich are!
He won’t last long at the time, if that’s any comfort (if he did there would be few left to rule or be ruled) but he’ll make things lively while he lasts. There will be a good many of him, and he’ll turn up often in future times, and postpone the millennium some thousands of years.
If he drinks, he will celebrate victory with a howling spree, and want to set up as a king on his own account, after the fashion of the Yankee Caesar (he of the “Column”), and then his followers will cut off his head and put it on a pole before he sobers up.
Such a man will lead the people yet, and again at intervals.
Published in “The Republican” 1887
The other day a “Britisher” wrote to one of our leading journals to say that it was very easy to be an “Australian” — “you only have to wear a cabbage-tree hat and say ‘bloody’.” We don’t know about the cabbage-tree hat, it’s getting rare — he might have left out the hat altogether, or any other would have done as well — but we have no doubts concerning the “blank”. Taking it all round, we are inclined to think that the much-abused “new-chum” got one in that time — straight from the shoulder.
We are getting tired of hearing and reading about the average Australian, and the height of his average intelligence over that of other nationalities, and the average superiority of him from a physical point of view — not to speak of his average morality and sobriety; and we think it about time he was averaged up and taken down a peg or two — for his own benefit. We are seeing too much of the pleasant side of truth.
We are an Australian ourself. We’re not particularly proud about it, or glad; though there was a time when we would swell out our manly chest and thump it with our fist whilst proudly declaring our nativity; but lately we began to entertain a most unpatriotic, irreligious doubt as to whether we would now be much worse — or worse off — had we been born a Chinaman. We merely say that we are a “native” to show that the following ought not to be prejudiced; anyway, it will be written in the interests of truth — and Australia. The average Australian poet has written so much rot in praise of his country and countrymen — especially bushmen — that whatever doubts they entertain concerning their own superiority are “in a fair way of being dispelled” — to let ’em down softly; and, when a man begins to think he is perfect, you can’t do anything for him, God alone can help him.
The average Australian boy is a cheeky brat with a leaning towards larrikinism, a craving for cigarettes, and no ambition beyond the cricket and football field; he regards his parents with contempt, takes it for granted that his mother mostly talks nonsense or “rot” when she talks to him — and he doesn’t always hesitate to tell her so.
The average Australian youth is a weedy individual with a weak, dirty, and contemptible vocabulary, and a cramped mind devoted to sport; his god is a two-legged brute with unnaturally developed muscles and no brains.
The average Australian man has not been developed yet.
It is true that the Labour cause has been ahead in Australia, but that was not due to the average intelligence of the Australian — the brunt of the battle was borne by a few exceptional men from all nations — a few “grand fellows” scattered about here and there in townships and shearing sheds; and now that those men are getting tired of doing all the work and standing all the kicks, the bottom is likely to fall out of the cause; it will be a “caws” directly, fashionable amongst church people only.
The average Australian bushman is too selfish, narrow-minded, and fond of the booze to liberate his country. The average shearer thinks that he is the only wronged individual, and that the squatter is the only tyrant on the face of the earth. Also, the shearer is too often a god-almighty in his own estimation; and it would be good for him to know that Australia might worry along if there wasn’t a sheep in all the land.
And as for the city: The Unions might be crushed, the Labour cause abolished, and every fat man get into parliament, and these things would be of less importance to the towney than the fact that Bill Somebody sprained his (blanky) groin at football last Saturday and mightn’t be able to play in the forthcoming match.
The average Australian intelligence gives a Searle the burial of a hero, and doesn’t know the name of Gordon or Kendall from that of Adam; it thinks more about Carbine than one-man-one-vote; it tolerates mobs of animals called “pushes” in the cities, and a gang of spielers in every township; and it expects a few foreigners to liberate the country or keep it from absolute slavery — and it’s time the average Australian heard about these things and mended his ways accordingly.
Published in “The Republican” 1887
It is fashionable to sneer.
It could scarcely have been so fashionable in say, Byron’s time, or in the time of Thackeray, because had it been so those men would never have been considered the great and original writers they were. For, in order to be original and to live, the writing of a man must be really against the “fashions” of his time.
It is fashionable to sneer nowadays; it is fashionable to say that there is nothing good and pure in the world. It is fashionable to laugh at the idea of honour among men; and it is considered wisdom to believe and act accordingly. It is fashionable to be a liar, a swindler, a blackguard; it seems even fashionable to be “found out”, but not clever. It is fashionable to be a successful thing.
I am not sure how it is in other lands. These conclusions are built in Australia.
It is not fashionable to write this way.
Gambling, which is called “sporting”, is the most popular thing in Australia, and our best writers pander to it, because they are too blind to see that if they wrote as cleverly against it they would be thought a good deal more of.
This reminds me that a “poet of the people” might write for them all his life and starve; they will scarcely recognise — just tolerate — him, that’s all; but if he turns round suddenly and stings ’em pretty smart they will immediately begin to think a great deal of him. A smart sting of that sort must necessarily have truth in it, you understand.
We may as well finish with writers now we have commenced. Here is a plan for a fashionable, or popular, Australian short story:
Write three inches of marriage, and put some stars underneath; then write about a foot of adultery, making it as dirty, or “racy”, as you dare, or as the law allows; put some more stars, and finish up with an inch or two of divorce. Then that “little thing of yours” will be read, and thought a good little thing, and you’ll be considered a very clever writer. But your work won’t live longer than the issue of the paper in which it appears.
Speaking of popular things, the most popular man in an Australian country town is very often the greatest rascal and the man with the flattest head. Were he intelligent he wouldn’t be popular.
This brings up a famous remark made long ago by a man who would have been wise in any generation. He was reported to have ejaculated with feeling, “What foolish thing have I said that the people cheer me?” or words to that effect. It was more a remark than a question. Judging his wisdom from that remark alone, we are inclined to think that he did make a fool of himself on the occasion referred to. He must have been a wise man, or he wouldn’t have known it. He must have been an honest man, else he wouldn’t have said it. The funniest point of the business is that for generations after his death the wisdom of the world whooped louder for these few words than for many other observations of his; and, had he gone back immediately and mounted the stump and told the old original crowd what he thought, the chances are that they would have barracked for him more enthusiastically than before. Such is man. But this is wandering from the point.
We will have to take writers, for instance, again. You need not be truthful, but you must be clever; you need not be just, so long as you are humorous. We didn’t say “funny”, because it would sound nasty there. The average reader looks more for humour than justice, more for smartness than truth, and it’s a pity that all those things couldn’t always be together.
It is fashionable to look for dirt nowadays, and find it in everything. The Australian boy does it because he hears the Australian young man, and thinks it clever. He wants to be “manly” and for the same reason he smokes and drinks and becomes a larrikin. The young men see filth in most everything, because — because it’s fashionable. We admire the manliness of the age.
Suppose an average man-about-town to meet a girl who is as God intended her to be; the man would take her for a hypocrite; he wouldn’t believe in her, because he doesn’t believe in the purity of woman outside his own family circle. He might consider her the opposite to what she really is. Most likely he would see “encouragement” in the very simplicity or innocence of her conversation, and come to the conclusion that “it would be good enough.” That last expression might seem offensive in print, but then, you know, it’s — it’s fashionable among men. If the larrikin language were to be printed a few times with suitable comments, it wouldn’t be used so much by gentlemen.
No, a pure true girl who speaks as she thinks would be put down either as a hypocrite or as being “a bit gone here” by the average man-about-town. We admire the man-about-town, we have the greatest of respect and admiration — almost awe — for the “man of the world” of today. He is so clever, so witty, so bitingly sarcastic, so humorous (not “funny”); he so thoroughly understands human nature — men and women; he is so infallible, so unassailable (not to be had, you know); so blindly, ignorantly egotistical.
Damn him, for a blatant fool with a dirty mind and a dirty mouth.
Put aside all the bosh about Australia’s noble sport, her youth and beauty, her sun-bright skies and grassy plains, her “shining rivers”, her enterprise and her “resources”, her loyalty, or, on the other hand, her Republicanism — put aside all the rot that has ever been written about Australia, and what remains? The remnant of a dying race of men who were men, though somewhat small-minded, and a rising race of “dudes” and larrikins. What a land for swindlers!
We will not say that Australia is becoming “wicked”, because “wicked” is an “old womanish” word, and the user would be considered soft. You mustn’t be soft nowadays; you must appear manly.
It is not fashionable to prophesy, but we’ll chance it. In a few years, perhaps, Australian cities will be the most unprincipled in the world, and dirtier than ever the British hypocrite accused Paris of being. And when the societies of these cities are most vicious and their witty (not funny) men most grandly cynical, some great man will rise and turn his soul against all that is fashionable in his time, and his works will create a reaction — and live.
Published in “The Worker” Sydney 6 October 1894
It is a great pity that the word “scab” ever dirtied the pages of a workman’s newspaper. It is a filthy term in its present meaning — objectionable every way you look at it. It should never be used by one man in reference to another, no matter how bad the other may be. It is a cowardly word, because it is mostly used behind a man’s back; few men, except bullies who have the brute strength to back them, would call a man so to his face. If it is used face to face, it is only in the heat of a drunken row, the prelude to a fight, or in cases where the other man is physically weaker. It is a low, ignorant word, and only appeals to ignorance and brutality. It does no good — you can’t convert a man by using that word behind his back; and if you do use it so, then he’s as good a man as you are.
It is a low, filthy, evil-working, ignorant, cowardly, and brutal term, and belongs to the slang of the brainless, apish larrikins and the drunken prostitutes of the city slums. A man only uses it when he hasn’t got the brains to say something clean and cutting. You will often find that the bushman who doesn’t swear or mix dirt with his language can cut sharper with his tongue when he likes than the men who do.
The word free labourer is unsuitable because it conveys a false impression — one might as well say “independent”. No labourer is “free”, anyway. Let us use “non-Unionist” until, at least, a better word turns up.
* * * * * * * *
Many objectionable words of another kind — often used in stump oratory and Labour papers — might be placed under the heading of the alleged words. “Skiteley Wing”, which is objectionable in the first place because it is an idiotic attempt at a pun, and a man only makes a pun when, if he is a writer, he wants to pander to the capacity or “taste” of the ignorant; or when he has not the brains to make anything else.
Such words are objectionable because they are senseless, too senseless even to be ridiculous — they are childish, silly. We wonder how any full-grown man with the usual quantity of brains could raise a smile at such silly, childish mumble-jumble. It would be deemed beneath the contempt or intelligence even of a city gutter boy.
Now, taking the widest possible view and admitting that there might be a meaning implied in these sounds, how many of our correspondents who use the term “Skiteley Wing” have the ghost of a reason to think that King (with all his crimes) is a skiter? Then take the silly name “Georgy-Porgy”, as used by some beacons of light and liberty in connection with Dibbs. Now — always admitting that there is a language (sort of “language of music”) in the sounds — can Dibbs’ bitterest and most extreme hater truthfully and reasonably state that he thinks there is anything “Georgy” or “Porgy” about him?
Let us talk straight in plain English, and not weaken our arguments with silly sounds that mean nothing.
Which reminds us that we once heard a courtly gentleman of the old school say to a young “lady” at a picnic up country:
“I’m afraid you are an icicle, Miss Brown.”
Then she, with a desire to show off, made answer sharply: “Then, I’m afraid you’re a kysical, Mister Lowe.”
“There is no such word, Miss Brown,” he said quietly.
“Oh, yes there is.”
He bowed, and turned away; and she left also with a very red face. She always hated him after that, of course — being a woman.
Try to make every man, who uses silly sounds in his arguments, feel and look as foolish as that young lady did, and by-and-by we’ll have less funny business and bosh, and more sense in our labour literature and oratory.
There are many words in the “language of liberty” which, although they were good words originally, have been so abused, gushed about, and used by hypocrites, fanatics, and ranters, that they are now almost on a par with the cant of Christianity. “Truth” is one of them — it might now be mistaken for “Trewth”; “Comrade” is another; “Tyranny” is another, and also “Liberty”, or Freedom itself. The word “comrade” always suggests to me a bilious fanatic who calls himself a “Socialist”, and who has no faith in human nature — his own included.
That egotistic word “mateship” — which was born of New Australian imagination, and gushed about to a sickening extent — implied a state of things which never existed any more than the glorious old unionism which was going to bear us on to freedom on one wave. The one was altogether too glorious, and the other too angelic to exist amongst mortals. We must look at the nasty side of truth as well as the other, the conceited side. When our ideal “mateship” is realised, the monopolists will not be able to hold the land from us.
There are four words which will be fondly remembered by us when we are old men, and when the A.W.U. will only remember with shame that so many of its members were foolish and ignorant enough to use and admire such words as “scab”, and “Skiteley Wing”. These four words — “chum”, “jolly”, “mate”, and “sweetheart” — will never die.
Published in “The Bulletin” 27 February 1897
British ignorance of Australia is certainly no greater than the coastal Australian’s ignorance of the Australian back country. The people of our cities look at the bush proper through the green spectacles of bush bards and new-chum press-writers, and are content — wisely, if they knew it — to sit down all their lives on the rim of Australia.
No one who has not been there can realise the awful desolation of Out Back in ordinary seasons; few even of those who have tramped there can realise it. One might imagine a tropical jungle, a “glittering” ice-field, a “rolling” prairie, a “Northern” forest, an “African” desert; but not a mighty stretch of country which is neither desert nor fertile land, nor anything else you can think of — except thousands of miles of patchy scrub. A region which is not quite desert enough to be provided with oases, nor tolerable enough to have permanent rivers. A region where there are no seasons to speak of; where the surface will bake for nine months or a year, and then suddenly become a boundless marsh; where the single river, flowing between drought-baked banks and under blazing skies, will rise from a muddy gutter to a second Mississippi, because of the Northern rains. A country where human life can just exist; a country that carries sheep with difficulty in fair seasons — though at first sight you would think it incapable of carrying goats at its best — and their worst.
If the back country were a desert we might love it, as the Arabs are alleged to love their desert, for the sake of the oases; if it were a region of noble ranges, mighty forests, shining rivers, broad lakes, and grassy plains, we would love it for these things; as it is, we don’t know how to take it, and prefer not to take it at all — at least not until a general earthquake or a mighty scheme of irrigation breaks the dreadful monotony, and alters the face of it beyond recognition.
I have been accused of painting the bush in the darkest colours from some equally dark personal motives. I might be biased — having been there; but it is time the general public knew the back country as it is, if only for the sake of the bush outcasts who have to tramp for ever through broiling mulga scrub and baking lignum, or across blazing plains by endless tracks of red dust and grey, through a land of living death.
After reading bush literature in prose and verse, and after trying the bush for myself, I feel inclined to doubt all scenery that is boomed. But Bill and Jim do not see the bush as it is; and if they write verses about it — as they frequently do in camp — they put in shining rivers and grassy plains, and western hills, and dawn and morn and eve and gloaming, and forest boles of gigantic size — everything, in fact, which is not and never was in bush scenery or language; and the more the drought bakes them the more inspired they seem to become. Perhaps they unconsciously see the bush as it should be, and their literature is the result of a craving for the ideal.
I watched a mate of mine sit down in camp on the parched Warrego — which was a dusty gutter with a streak of water like dirty milk — and write about “the broad, shining Darling”. The Darling, when we had last seen it, was a narrow streak of mud between ashen banks, with a barge bogged in it. Two weeks later this mate was sitting in a dusty depression in the surface, which he alleged was the channel of a river called the Paroo, writing an ode to “the rippling Warrego”.
The average Australian bushman may exult in the bush because he has never seen any desert country to compare it with. Mainland shearers clear out by the next boat they can catch after they get their cheques. But my Warrego bard was born in St Petersburg, and had travelled through France and some of the fairest countries on earth. Ideal bush literature is an interesting subject, anyway, and it is written and accepted as realistic by the bushmen themselves. Its popularity is wonderful, and most pathetic.
The moral is the universal one: “Let us irrigate”.
The bush bard, in fact, is temporarily blinded to the Real by the intensity of his own vision of the Ideal. Sun-pictures fade idly on his retina; his brain is stimulated by a Light from Within. It is a case not uncommon:
The lover “beauteous Helen” names
Some Ethiop black as coal;
For Cupid takes to light his flames,
The X-rays of the Soul.
The mother of a horse-faced boy,
Who hugs his dirty doll
With “Pretty child!” will, sure, employ
The X-rays of the Soul.
The bard who writes “fair, shining lake”
Instead of “muddy hole”,
And “trees” for “mulga scrub”, must take
The X-rays of the Soul.
No wonder seek the Wordsworth band
That “light” from pole to pole;
They never share “on sea or land”
The X-rays of the Soul.
Published in “The Bulletin” 11 February 1899
The average city man’s ignorance concerning the nearer bush — to say nothing of “Out Back” — and the human life therein, is greater even than the average new-chum’s, for the new-chum usually takes pains to collect information concerning the land of his exile, adoption or hope. To the city mind the drovers, the shearers, the station hands, the “cockies” or farmers, the teamsters, and even the diggers, all belong to one and the same class, and are accepted in the street under the general term of “bushies” — and no questions asked. The city mind is too much occupied by the board-and-lodging or rent problems, etc., to have any but the vaguest ideas concerning the unique conditions of the life that lies beyond the cities. And, in return, the Sydney or Melbourne man is regarded out back as a jackeroo or new-chum — little or no distinction being made between the Australian-born “green-hand” and the newly-arrived cockney; which is just. But it is with the farmer or “cockie” class that the writer is here chiefly concerned, for it is mostly in the so-called “settled” districts that are committed the crimes which seem so brutally senseless or motiveless to city people.
The shearer is a social animal at his worst; he is often a city bushman — i.e., a man who has been through and round and between the provinces by rail and boat. Not unfrequently he is an English public school man and a man of the world; so even the veriest outback bushie, whose metropolis is Bourke, is brought in touch with outside civilisation. But there are hundreds of out-of-the-way places in the nearer bush of Australia — hidden away in unheard-of “pockets” in the ranges; on barren creeks (abandoned by pioneering farmers and pastoralists “moving up country” half a century ago); up at the ends of long, dark gullies, and away out on Godforsaken “box”, native-apple, or stringy-bark flats — where families live for generations in mental darkness almost inconceivable in this enlightened age and country. They are often in a worse condition mentally than savages to the manner born; for natural savages have a social law, a social intercourse — perhaps more or less inadequate, but infinitely better than none at all. Some of these families live from one year’s end to another without seeing a face except the face of somebody of their own class, and that of an occasional stranger whose character or sanity must at least be doubtful, to explain his presence in such places. Some of these families are descended from a convict of the worst type on one side or the other, perhaps on both; and, if not born criminals, are trained in shady ways from childhood. Conceived and bred under the shadow of exile, hardship or “trouble”, the sullen, brooding spirit which enwraps their lonely bush-buried homes will carry further their moral degradation. You may sometimes see a dray or spring-cart, of antiquated pattern, dragging wearily and unnoticed into the “township”, and containing a woman, haggard and spiritless-looking, or hard and vicious-faced — or else a sullen, brooding man — who sells produce for tea, flour, and sugar, and goes out again within the hour, without, perhaps, having exchanged half-a-dozen words with anyone. This is the only hint conveyed to the outer fringe of God’s country — and wasted on apathetic neighbours — of the existence of such a people.
These places need to be humanised. There are things done in the bush (where large families, and sometimes several large families, pig together in ignorance in badly partitioned huts) known well to neighbours; or to school-teachers — mere lads, going through their martyrdom in such places — and to girl-teachers too, God forgive us! — or even to the police; things which would make a strong man shudder. Clean-minded people shrink from admitting the existence of such things, until one, bolder than the rest, and with the certainty of having his or her good name connected with, perhaps, one of the dirtiest cases known to police annals, speaks up for the sake of outraged nature and reason, and “horrifies” Australia. But too often the informant is one of the brooding, unhealthy-minded ruck who speaks up only from mottoes of envy or revenge.
We want light οn these places. We have the crime of the Dederers — the two brothers who killed their father and burned the body as they would have burned a log, and yet seemed quite unconscious of having done anything out of the common. To those who know the conditions under which many families like the Dederers exist in Australia, their crime is neither inexplicable nor particularly astounding. The Dederers, if I remember rightly, were reported as never having been even to the nearest “township” in their dark lives. No doubt they were incapable of expressing, in any sort of language, bush or otherwise, what they felt; if, indeed, they felt anything.
Such dark ignorance is especially dangerous because it is apelike in its “emotions”, in its likes and dislikes. There are families in the bush with the male members of whom an intelligent and experienced bushman would never trust himself alone — if he had reason to be satisfied with the natural shape of the back of his head; nor yet with the female members — if he valued his neck and the post mortem memory of him. You might be mates with a man in the bush for months, and be under the impression that you are on the best of terms with him, or even fancy that he has a decided liking for you, and yet he might brood over some fancied slight or injury — something you have said or done, or haven’t said or done — anything, in fact, that might suggest itself to an ignorant, morose, and vindictive nature — until his alleged mind is in such a diseased condition that he is capable of turning on you any moment of the day or night and doing you to death.
So the respectable farmer — too outspoken and careless, perhaps, but good-hearted, and never dreaming of the existence of an enemy — turning to slumber again after the “cockcrow” hitch in his sleep, hears a furtive whistle and the clatter of retreating hoofs on slanting sliprails and thinks it is some over-late or early neighbours passing through; but starts wide enough awake next time to see the glare, sniff the smoke, and hear the roar and crackle of fire, and, rushing out, white-faced and with heart standing still, finds a shed or stack — the stack of unthreshed wheat, perhaps — in flames. The crime of arson used to be very, very common in Australia — and no “land laws” or “wrongs of Ireland” to explain its prevalence. Such malice is terrifying to those who have seen what it is capable of. You never know when you are safe, no matter how carefully you guard your words, looks, or actions; and the only remedy — for the application of which the law would promptly hang you — would be to sit up nights with a gun with a chalked sight, until you get a glimpse of your ape-minded and unprovoked enemy, and then carefully shoot him.
There are places in Australia where the existence of the evil eye and of witches is believed in; and where national, religious, and clan hatreds, which perhaps have died out in the old-world countries from which they came, are preserved in their original intensity; where is all the ignorant suspicion and distrust of a half-savage peasantry. The police, whose duty it is to collect returns for harmless agricultural statistics, can tell you of the difficulty they experience — and not in such out-of-the-way localities either — and of the obstacles thrown in their way when trying to obtain the barest reliable information. “Experienced great difficulty in obtaining information from landholders”; “Declines to supply necessary information”; Still refuses”, etc., are common on the margins and “remark” spaces of returned and re-returned schedule-forms. Perhaps the cruellest of all the bad sights of the bush is the case of the child born to a family with which it has nothing in common mentally (possibly physically) — the “throw-back” to original and better stock — whose bright mind is slowly but surely warped to madness by the conditions of life under which the individual is expected to be contented and happy. Such warped natures are often responsible for the worst sexual crimes. There are brutally selfish parents in the bush who regard and work their children as slaves — and worse. Any experienced bush schoolteacher could bear me out in this, with heart-rending stories of child slavery and ill-treatment almost past belief. I remember the case of a boy who attended night-school with me for a few months in the bush. His parents sent him under pressure of “public opinion”. He had to work from daylight until after dark, and do the work of a man — or be starved and beaten to it. He was nineteen, and an idiot. But some people said that he was only an adopted son.
Democratic Maoriland, with its natural and geographical advantages over Australia, is yet not free from the dark spot I refer to. I have known three white children at a Maori (native) school who belonged to a family of (originally) seventeen children. Two or three of the family were alleged to be the children of the eldest unmarried daughter. Of the three who attended school, two girls and a boy, the boy was over fourteen; the girls eight and nine. The boy was ignorant even of the existence of an alphabet. He had the face of a wegzened, vicious little old man; and a good deal of the nature. The girls’ faces were little masks of what their mother’s might have been were she twenty or thirty years older. Both parents looked younger and fresher than the children. Boy and girls rose at daylight, cooked their parents’ breakfast (bacon, eggs, etc.), carried it in to them, had a meal of bread and fat, and, when necessary, went into the bush to cut and get together a load of firewood. And the girls were eight and nine. The boy’s physical development was naturally abnormal, but his head didn’t seem to belong to his body. Sons can be overworked, starved, stunted mentally, and otherwise cruelly treated to such an extent that they are capable of turning upon and killing a brutish parent — just as savage slaves will, when they get the chance, kill their savage masters.
Then there is the unprovoked, unpremeditated, passionless, and almost inexplicable bush murder, when two mates have lived together in the bush for years, until they can pass days and weeks without exchanging a word, or noticing anything unusual in the circumstance — till the shadow of the over-hanging, brooding ridge, or the awful monotony of the horizonless plain, deadens and darkens the mind of one so that the very presence of his mate, perhaps, becomes a constant source of vague but haunting irritation. Then, one day, being behind the other with an axe or an adze to his hand, he suddenly, but dispassionately, smashes his skull, and is afterwards utterly unable to account for his action except by the muttered explanations that he “had to do it”, or “something made me do it”. Bush loneliness has the same sort of influence on the blackfellow alone with whites — as instance the latest reported crime committed by a blackfellow, who afterwards expressed sorrow for killing the “poor old man”, but couldn’t understand why he did it, unless it was because the white man, having stooped to drink, was in “such a good position for killing”.
Such crimes as those just instanced, and worse, might be described as the ultimate result of a craving for variety — for something better or brighter, perhaps, but, anyway, something different — the protest of the outraged nature of the black or white savage against the — to him — unnatural conditions.
Respectability only intensifies the awful monotony of these wretched bush townships — till the women are forced to watch for dirt and holes in a neighbour’s washing hung out on the line, and men to gossip and make mischief like women. Shortcomings in a neighbour are talked about and exaggerated — and invented. Even a tragedy is secretly welcomed notwithstanding the fact that the whole community is supposed, in double-column headlines, to be horrified. Careless remarks are caught up, disturbed, and magnified. No respectable girl can leave the township on an innocent visit without something discreditable being discovered to be connected with her departure from the wretched hole. City spielers attach themselves to local pubs, and prey with little or no disguise on idiotic cheque-men; bush larrikins — who are becoming more contemptible and cowardly than their city prototypes openly boast of their “successes”, and give the girl’s name. And both classes are accepted as commonplace — the community never dreams of giving them an hour’s start to get out of reach of men, or stand the penalty.
Then there is the miserable bush feud which arises (perhaps started generations ago — the original cause forgotten) over a stray bull, a party fence, a girl, a practical joke, a misunderstanding or a fancied slight — anything or nothing; and is brooded over by men who have little else to think about in the brooding bush. There is the threat to “pull yer” and have satisfaction — the miserable court case and cross action brought on the paltriest pretences that ever merited the disgust of a magistrate — intensifying hatreds to a murderous degree. And “friends” aid and abet and fan the hell-fire in men’s hearts, till at last birth is given to the spirit that sneaks out after dark and cuts a neighbour’s wire-fences, or before daylight and stands a gate ajar, or softly lets down the rails that a neighbour’s own cattle may get into his crop or garden, destroying the result of months of weary toil and taking the food out of his children’s mouths. The spirit that shoots or hamstrings horses grazing under the starlight; that sets a match to stack or shed.
Mischief breeds mischief; malice, malice; and the tongues of the local hags applaud and chorus, and damn and exaggerate and lie, until the wretched hole is ripe for a “horror”. Then the Horror comes.
Published in “The Bulletin” 18 November 1893
In conclusion. We wish to Heaven that Australian writers would leave off trying to make a paradise out of the Out Back Hell; if only out of consideration for the poor, hopeless, half-starved wretches who carry swags through it and look in vain for work — and ask in vain for tucker very often. What’s the good of making a heaven of a hell when by describing it as it really is we might do some good for the lost souls there?
Published in “The Daily Telegraph” Sydney 28 Feb 1903
A dusty patch in the Dingo Scrub,
That was cleared and ploughed in vain —
(What matters it now if the soil be soaked
And the bush be dark with rain?)
A heap of stones where the chimney stood,
And a post on the boundary line —
For forty years of my father’s life
And fifteen years of mine.
It is so hard to make city people understand. If you went out into the dry country now you would wonder not only how sheep or cattle, or even goats, could survive in the drought, but how strong men could live through it. Strong men die often in the heat wave — and what of the women and children out there?
It is a blazing desolation. No sign of crops, no sign of grass, the sods bake white and crumble to dust on the ploughed ground — the surface under the scrub is as bare as a road, and as dusty. Imagine it! nothing but dust and sand and blazing heat for hundreds of miles! All road, all dust. And where is the water? that is one of the first questions that occur to you; for there is no more sign of water than there is of grass. The water is at the “bore”, or in a muddy hole down the creek, or in a dam or tank, with a screen of saplings and boughs over it sometimes, to lessen evaporation. The water is thick and yellow, or the colour of dirty milk, and warm. They have to drink it. And what if the last gallon evaporated, and the next water five, ten, fifteen, or twenty miles away? Well, they’d have to take the stock to the water and camp there, or cart it for household purposes on drays in tanks and barrels. And if the nearest water wasn’t within reach? what would they do then? God knows! — I don’t; but God generally sends a shower at the last moment. What do you know of it, who step a few feet to your tap or filter for a clean, cool drink?
“The country looks awful!” they say, and that expresses it. But you couldn’t realise the drought unless you saw it — and then you couldn’t realise it unless you lived through it; and even then — well a man does not know what he can go through and leave behind him as an evil dream. The country in the drought is dreadful — it is enough to terrify a new chum; but I heard someone say that men could get used to the infernal regions, and, after going through several droughts, I am inclined to believe it.
It blazes all day — you can see the white heat flowing, dancing, dazzling — and it is stifling all night. Often the smothering hot night is worse than the fiercely glaring day. I had a fancy that one could hear the drought; you’ve heard the something devilish in the roar of a fire where a fire should not be? — a house on fire — well, it seemed something like that.
Haggard eyes stare vainly at every sign of a cloud for rain. The great white sun rises with almost the heat of noon; and so, day after day, week after week, month after month, until people cease to hope, or even to waste words suggesting that it might rain soon.
“Whenever are we going to get a little rain?” says the baked, gaunt Bushwoman, wearily — and that is all. What do you know of it, you who have not sacrificed the best years of your manhood, the youth of your sons and daughters, and every trace of girlish beauty in your wife’s face, trying to make a home in the Bush? What do you know of it, who have not been ruined by the drought time and time again? What do you know of it, who did not depend for a year’s provisions on the crop that was scorched from the surface as it sprouted, or the cows and steers that starved to death one by one before your eyes?
And what do the well-meaning good people of the city know of the Bush people who suggest making them objects of charity! If I went into a bare, drought-stricken Bush home to-day, I would glance round and understand it all, but I wouldn’t know what to say. I’d be no longer in touch with them — I’d not be suffering with them. I wouldn’t attempt to sympathise with them (except perhaps in the case of a quarrel with a neighbouring squatter), for they have no use for sympathy, and the strangeness of it would embarrass them. I’d sit and feel very ill at ease, and I could not meet the Bushwoman’s haggard eyes, that look one through and through and size one up; for I’d feel the poor weak citified creature I am. I’d as soon think of striking my father in the face, were he alive, as dream of offering that Bushwoman food and clothes for her family, or putting my hand in my pocket and offering her husband money. If I did so I’d probably be shown the shortest track to the boundary, and so be let down lightly. And, in the evening, they would sit down, in their dusty rags, to their meal of damper and meat, or damper and tea — and brood over a new wrong, an unexpected insult.
No! The Bush people must be helped wholesale — by the Government, by the public, by the people. Every spare penny should be spent on water conservation and irrigation, in sinking tanks and putting down bores, in locking out thousands and thousands of miles of rivers — almost at sea level — where oceans of water waste away after each flood time. To attend to these things is a national work, for the benefit of the whole nation; to neglect them is a national crime — it is suicidal.
The big squatter, bank, or company, with many stations, have a margin for drought losses. There may be rain on one run to make up for the losses through drought on another; and one good season often makes up for several bad ones. It is the small squatter, cockatoo, selector, or farmer who suffers so cruelly, and, in time of drought, they should not be called upon to pay an instalment of one penny an acre on their barren lands. I know how they slave and how they suffer.
I was “brought up” well “inside” in “good country”, yet the scrub round our selection was dotted with dusty little patches, with the remains of a fence, a heap of chimney stones, and the ruins of a hut — all that was left of twenty, thirty, forty years of white slavery through blazing droughts.
I like living illustrations. Take our own few neighbours, for instance. There was C—. He alone first, and later on he and his wife — and later on he and his boys and girls — bullocked for years, digging the flinty stumps and trees out of the soil that was almost as flinty, ’ploughing the hard ground. I’ve seen some of it blown up with blasting powder before the heavy, strong bullock-plough could make an impression there; trenching it for an orchard and vineyard, and carting every shovelful of manure they could get from the stables of the nearest town. He took fencing and tank-sinking contracts between whiles, and went out with his boys to make flour, meat, tea, and sugar for the family. And they worked like slaves. You don’t know how they work in the Bush. The great drought of the early eighties ruined them — the same that burnt us off our selection. The last time I saw old C— he was doing pick-and-shovel work at Prospect — but later on, I believe, he was promoted to the charge of a horse and dray. His old wife was taking in washing in Sydney.
These selections were shoved back in stony, scrubby, barren ridges, while thousands of acres of good land were wanted for sheep, or lying idle as old land grants. But that’s another question.
During the same drought W—, the squatter, was driven to the railway line, on his way to a Sydney asylum, handcuffed between two policemen. He was raving mad.
And the B—s. They were the big people there in my time. They had a brick house and a fine vineyard, orchard, and farm. In the old days the old man and his wife worked on stations round, and took up a bit of land and built a humpy there, working nights and Sundays, and begged “slips” and planted fruit trees. In later years they slaved, men, women, and children, till the eldest daughter looked as old as her mother, and the eldest son was a stoop-shouldered old man at 30. The old man worked until he died, and the place began to look beautiful. One season they had to scrape the soil away from the roots of every vine of a big new vineyard, and collect the grubs that were destroying the vines; also to treat the fruit trees for a blight. But these are little things in Australian farming. Then, a succession of droughts, and then the dread pleuro pneumonia in the drought. They had fifteen milkers down with it one morning and lost most of them. Then, at last, a terrific hailstorm that stripped the great vineyard of ripening grapes. The eldest son was going to be married that year, “after wine-making”. He is working for wages on a station now. The rest of the family are scattered, and the bank has taken over the old farm. And so the white slavery of more than half a century of one family, who bullocked at it as only Germans will. The useless sacrifice of the youth, beauty, strength, and happiness of two generations. It is the awful waste of strong, brave lives and long years of toil that appals me.
There was poor Harry S—, our nearest neighbour, on a small selection, who worked like the rest. They were very poor — they often lived and grafted on damper, tea, and sugar. He strained himself lifting logs in a paddock he was clearing. I saw him carried home one day on a sheet of bark, with his face covered. There’s a little weazened old woman out there who has been “queer in her head” ever since her husband was carried home dead. She has bad turns sometimes, and then she keeps crying out: “Oh, my dear, good, kind husband! He’s not dead! He can’t be dead! It’s a lie they’re tellin’ me! Oh! why did you tell me sich a wicked lie?” and so on, over and over again while the fit lasts.
There was “Hard R—”, the selector, who, one blazing day, when he thought he was alone, fell on his knees behind a stump, out of sight of the house, and prayed for rain as perhaps man never prayed before. But they have little time for praying out there. They must work on holidays and Sundays in the drought, carting water, lifting weak cattle, and dragging them out of mud-holes, cutting down creek-oak and native apple tree for them to eat, burning the carcases, and fighting bush fires. It is backbreaking, heartbreaking work. The young men often rise earliest and work hardest on their wedding days.
There was a woman, a selector’s wife, a big, strong, intelligent woman, who had new ideas about farming, and wanted to break away from the old rule-of-thumb system. She had thought out a pretty name for the place when it should be a farm with a brick house, with trees and flowers and vines round it. The ground was about the poorest in the district and the selector carted manure to it. He was a little nuggety Norwegian, an educated man in his country and an intelligent man. He had the reputation of being the honestest and hardest-working man in the district, as well as one of the strongest. He worked round about, carpentering, bricklaying, etc., to make money to keep the family and pay up the instalments on the selections, and to spend on the land; and he cleared it and fenced it, and ploughed it between whiles, and often dug out flinty stumps and “burnt off” or dug in the dam at night after a long, hard day’s work in the nearest town. They used to say he never rested.
One year she persuaded him to save and buy up all the wheaten chaff he could get, and mostly on that she kept the milking cows alive through the terrible drought. Then came that dread cattle disease, and they died one after the other. She doctored them herself while he was away. The eldest son, a delicate boy, was often sick while bleeding the cattle, and she had to do it herself. Several days passed without a fresh case, and she began to hope; several more days, and she rejoiced. Then, in the morning came the children running with the news that there was another cow down — the best milker. Then the woman broke down. She sat on a log, her hands lying hopelessly and helplessly on her knees, and stared — just stared with haggard, hopeless, wide-opened eyes — out over the blazing ruin and desolation that was round the home that was never named. The picture is before me yet — I wish I could paint it. The cows and steers died till all were gone, and there was hot, heavy work to burn the carcases where firewood was scarce.
The selector took another contract, dam-sinking this time, and worked harder than he had ever done before, to make money to buy more cows. But one day he “felt very queer”, and started home to his camp: halfway he felt worse and began to run. He sat down on a stool with his back to the wall of the hut and died.
I saw him when he was dead. The doctor said it was something of the heart and an old thing. Some said it was the only time they ever saw him rest. I thought that the vertical knit in his forehead was deeper than it had been in life, and that he looked as though he were in pain; but they said that that was on account of the post-mortem. And, as I watched — it might have been because of the dry mist that came before my eyes — I fancied that his horny, knotted hands seemed to work as I had seen them work while he slept — as though grasping the handle of an axe or a pick. Death couldn’t whiten nor smooth the scarred, knotted fingers, nor mend the twisted, broken nails.
Burials are hurried in the drought. The clay sods on the grave begin to whiten in the fierce heat as the mourners turn away. And, as I turned away from his grave I wished that I could write, or paint, or do something to help these people — my Bush people — for he was my father.
Published in “The Bulletin” 7 July 1910
Bermagui, where the mystery was. Sunset, and a sad, old mysterious bright gold-to-dull copper one. Red flag with broad white cross; gloomy and half fearful, half threatening in sunset glare.
Sort of jumbled curve of bay — sand, rotten rock and beach scrub and tussock. As if it were meant to be a clean curve with white sand. But jutting out of rotting earth and sand and bastard rock — that were not “points”, nor anything else — were left, mixed up with scraggy bush and scrub and coarse tufts that Nature forgot, or hadn’t time to shove away and tidy up. Scene started in a hurry, left half finished and forgotten. Blue hill or bastard mountain to the west, running down to pygmy peak at the end of it. Mount Dromedary — and looks like it. Tired, sulky, obstinate old Dromedary in the dusk, shutting out daylight. Point same rotten clay or rock tipped with a fringe of bastard, scraggy, dead trees. Stacks of sleepers, sleepers and sawn timber along darkening clay road. Jumble of sand, and mongrel scrub, and tussock, and Beach Hotel. Jumble of weatherboard shanties. All seem to face sunset with guilty, glazed and gleaming eyes turned towards where, far out at the end of the mountain, Lamont Young’s party were lost — or not lost — nearly thirty years ago. One house, back behind clumps of decent trees to the left, with only one guilty, glassy, brassy eye visible from deck. Showing well above jumble of houses on hill at the back, one small, oblong, weatherboard, bare, verandah-less “cottage”, with two eyes more glazy, more glaring, more blazing and guiltier than all the rest, against sunset.
Darkness falls. Flares glaring on wharf and deck. Long sawn timber swung aboard and below with amazing clumsiness and carelessness. Hurry, hurry, hurry. Snatching hatfuls of cargo from every little port. Too lightly laden. Chancing it and running across from Mainland and Tasmania over perhaps the most dangerous seas in the world, in little more than ballast. I know it and have known it for many years. Way back in Dann’s time, Clark Russel speaks of it. Rotten ships started off round the world too deeply laden. Down here, in Lawson’s time, coffin ships from Newcastle and Sydney have fallen into a trough and through the bottom, like a kettle filled with bullets. And men drowned like rats in same kettle with lid cramped on. Now it’s all haste — razor-edged competition and greed. I’ve been round the Cape, from Durban to Sydney, where the Waratah was lost, and I know.
I’d rather be in one of our little Mallacoota or Cunningham cutters, with a comfortable bellyful of cargo, off Gabo, in a sea, than in some of our long, high, narrow, top-heavy, too-lightly-laden, speed-greedy liners, in the long, greasy, devilish beam roll. The little cutter sits upright, anyway, and climbs like a cat. Think of the liner turned turtle! Hundreds — men, women, children, lads and lasses — trapped, helpless; the most horrible death you could imagine at sea. When she swamps, there’s light, at least, to the last, and a chance for it.
But we are sketching Bermagui. Chaff goes ashore. (Points and trees dark and dreary.) More cheese comes on board. Cheese, butter, eggs, sawn timber, calves, pigs, and sleepers, and in the season, wool! We can’t get away from wool. Pigs and calves slung aboard anyhow.
But let us get out of this.
Light on Montague Island like star in the east. Moonlight.
Passed Ulladulla in my sleep; but it sounds like cheese, butter, eggs, calves, pigs, pumpkins, and, in the season, wool. Same as Cunnamulla, in Queensland, always suggests mashed pumpkin or pumpkin pies to me.
Hatches left off, with chain round, to give air to stock. Roaring of young bulls, blowing of calves, grunting and squealing of pigs in cattle hold — and ditto in saloon smoking-room, for they’re drinking a bit. If we only had a donkey, and a sheep or two, and a goat, we’d be complete forward. Sailor says there’s queer cattle in the saloon sometimes.
Roused by strange noise just as I was dozing off. It was the fore-cabin steward with the jim-jams in his sleep. Most uncanny sounds I ever heard.
Morning bright and glorious. Off Port Hacking. Rockdale over beyond showing the cliffs. Cutter between the Heads. Sails of fishing boats — dark brown, clay-coloured, light brown with touch of yellow, yellowish grey, plain grey, tawny and almost black. The heads at nine o’clock.
That is Australia. No meadows and fields showing fair down to the sea, nor aught, as in other lands, to hint of the great wealth of riches within her. Shelving rock coast, capped with hopeless and forbidding, dry coastal scrub — you’d never dream of what was behind and within.
Published in “The Bulletin” 3 June 1915
It is another rainy day. Rainy days seem to be growing more frequent of late — I wish I’d saved up for some of them. But it’s much too far along towards the end of Elder Man’s Lane to hope to save up a decent sum for the dreary, dry, sapped and ring-barked Flat of Old Age.
Elder Man’s Lane looks a long lane before you come to it, but when you reach it you seem to be through it very quickly — sometimes. It’s where your hair gets like the dead trees on Ring-barked Flat — and sometimes your heart’s as hard. But enough of that! There’s such a thing as a green old age, I suppose. I know there’s such a thing as a green youth. But we’ll leave all that out.
Elder Man’s Lane has brought me round to the home of my boyhood, some two hundred miles west and north of Sydney. Here, in the Old Place, the west was always where the east is in any other place. It seems so still. But, to me, things have always been more or less back-to-front or the-other-way-about. The Mudgee line always seemed to branch off to the south, instead of to the north-west at Wallerawang Junction, and vice versa coming down. But, then, I’ve always passed the Junction in the night, and that might have something to do with it. (There’s no day “passenger” on the Mudgee line, except at holiday time; so the ordinary passenger misses some of the grandest scenery in Australia. But that’s got nothing to do with it.)
Anyway, the Old Place always seemed vague, and vaguely far off, like the Sunset Islands, when we were away from it — as other places were when we were at home — and the afterglow from sunset glares and fades just as ghostly as it did when we used to reckon that that same sun (which seems to set in an east where the west ought to be) went down behind the low ridges across the Cudgegong River, and then travelled all round behind the Mudgee Hills and rose again behind our hills. It took him all night to go round, we reckoned. He seemed to rise just back of our hills, and it was hot enough in the droughts of the early eighties for that to be so.
So I, John Lawrence, sit in the House that Father Built, and write painfully in the same room, at the same table, in the same schoolboy hand that I started to “form” here nearly forty years ago. And with much the same orthography and grammar.
I think we’ll send the Other Self, “John Lawrence”, back to Sydney. He’s out of place here and is restless and depressed and homesick; and no wonder. The old place is very dark today, and the old tree-ivy in front makes it darker still. We’ll send John back down along the lines, and across to North Sydney by the Horse Punt, where, no doubt, his casual friend, Benno, will be wondering what became of that writin’ bloke. So long, Jack! Meet you down below.
So I, Henry Hertzberg Larsen, sit in the house my father built.
The scene is little changed, Mary. At least, it is little changed until you look into it. It’s something like an author reading his own proofs; he reads on all right for a while, and then, no matter how he tries to concentrate, he begins to read as he wrote the thing, or as it ought to be; and not as the comps, think it ought to be.
But later on, I noticed that “our hill” — “The box-covered ridge where the five-corners grew” — has become a pine ridge. There were only three tall pines on the peak above the saddle in my time, but these had been cut down for timber. I noticed no change on the last visit, twenty years ago; but successive ring-barkers, woudcarters and bushfires had cleared most of the box scrub away, and given the young pines a chance. And, lo! a pine ridge against sunrise where white box was yesterday. It would look more fitting against sunset. But then, the sunset is turned round here, as I said before.
All the old people seem alive, except my father and one or two mates of his, who happened to be of regular and steady habits. We buried my father in another place, some twenty-five years ago, and the rest of the family have long left the old home; so it doesn’t seem as haunted as it otherwise might have been. There was a fair-headed, blue-eyed Norwegian sister of mine, buried over there under the darkening Mudgee Hills, who might have helped to make my life very different: but — damn these dark, rainy days!
Darkness and rain. And, behind the ridge, the weird gullies of the past, the home of many tragedies, with their flattened waste-heaps — ghostly even in daylight, amongst saplings that have grown to trees — lying like the graves of diggers’ hopes. The gullies with their sordid and ghastly tragedies, strangely connected nearly always with mysterious fossicking mates; a hut, a bunk, a dead body and a shot-gun.
I remember the last in my time. An acquaintance came down, as was customary with him, to have a yarn with one of the old mates on Sunday morning. He knocked, and called, and then pushed open the door of the hut. The old fossicker was lying with his face towards the wall, the gun in the bunk beside him. He had shot himself, or had been shot, on the previous Friday. His fossicking mate was drinking in town. He swore that he had not gone up that gully with his mate on Friday night, but had turned back for more drink and had slept on the road. There was a story, strangely familiar to me, that these two had been mates in Queensland; that one had committed a murder there, and the dead man knew it; that they had quarrelled on their way home from a spree in town that night, and one had threatened to “inform” on the other. A girl, belonging to a family at the foot of the gully, said that she heard the two quarrelling as they went up the gully. But, then, girls — and women, too — will say strange things. And for no apparent reason on God’s earth — things that hang men or send them to gaol for life. Anyway, the other mate got off. But angry men burnt that hut to the last stick, and scattered the ashes. I was shown the place yesterday, and bare and ghostly, even ghastly, it looked among the saplings on a dull day. I wonder what it would look like in the twilight of a fine day — or by moonlight? Or in the ghostly Bush daybreak? Children avoid it going home from school, just as we avoided the sites of other huts.
(Don’t bother, I’m coming to the “Last Shaft in Log Paddock” presently. We’ll all come to the last shaft soon enough.)
These two old fossickers were the last in Sapling and Golden Gullies. Legend says a similar tragedy was connected with the first two prospecting mates, long ago, before the Rush.
Then there was the strange case of old “Vat-you-Blease”, or “Sich-a-Vay”, the German. He got his early nicknames from expressions of his. They called him a “Dutchman”, so most likely he wasn’t; and he wasn’t old — just about midway in Elder Man’s Lane.
Now, this place used to be called “Pipeclay”, on account of the quantity of that stuff brought up from below. There were great waste heaps of it on the flat. But they’re all gone now, with the tailings and gravel, to make roads or something. On Specimen Flat, at the foot of Golden Gully, they brought up heaps of stuff that felt fine and silky, like pipeclay; but it was black, of the blue-blackest — a grass-killing stuff when it rained and the clay “ran”. Old diggers used to have a great prejudice against it; but “Vat-you-Blease” had great faith in it. He called it “plack vitevash”. And so he himself came to be “Black Vitevash” or, as the younger folk put it, “Old Black Vitevash”.
Well, one day, “Black Vitevash” was missing. He wasn’t missing long, for he was a cheerful soul and popular. It was on a Monday morning, and he hadn’t turned up anywhere over Sunday. His bed was made up on the stretcher, almost hospital fashion. Everything was neat and tidy. The tent had been swept, too, and the space before it. The frying-pan was scoured and hanging on the nail on its accustomed sapling. The little camp-oven was clean. His mullocky moleskins had been hung out to dry, and the clay had caked, so that it could be beaten off. He had, evidently, had the digger’s usual Saturday afternoon cleanup. A much-patched shirt, washed and folded, lay on the bunk. His heavy clay-clogged bluchers stood outside the tent flap. But the rough serge Sunday suit and everything else in the shape of clothing were gone. And “Black Vitevash” was gone too. He’s been gone for nearly five years. The police were out and searched all the old digger holes; and parties were on the ridges and in the scrub for days. Some kept up the search for weeks. But they found no “Black Vitevash” — except the clay.
Maybe in town he had got important news from “Home” or somewhere, and, with no time to say good-bye to anybody, had slipped into the train unnoticed. Maybe he had found a nugget, or got a lot of coarse gold in some forgotten “wash”. Maybe anything. Maybe he was a hunted man. Maybe he’s a happy man now in Christiana, Stockholm or Helsingfors. And maybe he’s tramping or sailing, somewhere in the world, broken-hearted and grey because of the Girl Who Couldn’t Wait. She was well known to many diggers.
And that’s the tale of the “Fairy Fossicker”. The children always found lollies at “Black Vitevash’s” camp after his fortnightly visit to the township; and, somehow, they don’t avoid that site. They don’t mind going past there in the dusk. They’ll even play round it in the moonlight. There’s a ring amongst the saplings that’s been there since I can remember. Some said a travelling circus made it in the hard ground. Some say it is because of a peculiar ring of subsoil formation (maybe black whitewash) that makes the grass above it grow a different colour. But the children don’t believe these things. The Fairies made it.
And, to finish with a rather pleasant story, yet with a sort of sadness about it. There were two old diggers, named Frank and George Dale. Not only brothers, but mates. They had come out together as young men, and had knocked about the diggings for many years. And whatever romance they left behind them stayed there. They had a neat bark hut opposite where I am writing now, in Log Paddock. They fossicked round and did odd bush-carpentering and fencing jobs to get the wherewithal to prospect. When they had made a few pounds they “put down a shaft”. I knew them as long as I can remember. They simply drifted into my childhood like something that had been there all the time; and they faded out of my later, wandering years like something that had never been.
But Frank is very close to me to-night. George was a personality in the background.
Every Saturday, digger-like, they’d knock off at one o’clock, and go down to the creek and wash their clothes; to appear on Sunday afternoon in clean shirts and moles, with fresh spotted handkerchiefs round their necks. And every Sunday, between twelve and one, we boys would go across to the hut, for Frank could bake a joint as it should be baked, with the best Yorkshire pudding I ever tasted, coiled like a roly-poly round the “roast” in the camp-oven, and done just a nice yellow-brown. Frank; by the way, had a face whereof the lower part always smiled, whether he felt that way or not. So they lived their harmless, useful lives, helping neighbours in sickness and trouble, and going on their harmless, brotherly little periodical sprees, till at last, having saved a few pounds, they put down a shaft in McDonald’s paddock; and there they struck their Golden Hole — several hundred pounds. In the first flush of victory, of course, they were “Going Home” at last; and then they suddenly found themselves too old. At least, it was discovered that George was; in fact, he gave his share to another old mate, and knocked off for good before the gold was worked out.
Then the two brothers shifted over to Budgee-Budgee, and built the neatest of all their huts there, in a pleasant spot near a spring, and made a garden. And each made a will in favour of the other; the property of the one who died last to go to a younger brother — or was it a younger sister? Something of that sort, in England. They went to the Mudgee Hospital together at last — the ultimate result of fighting the water in many wet claims. There George died. And Frank died later on on the same day. So they went Home, and were buried in the new cemetery near the Racecourse, amongst others of the last of the old diggers. The gold that it had taken a lifetime (and God knows how many buried hopes) to win, went to some stodgy, retired tradesman in England, who had faint recollection of Frank or “Jarge” as went “abrard” — somebody who didn’t know how to use money, and couldn’t tell the map of Australia from a dog’s hind leg.
I shall have to leave The Last Shaft in Log Paddock to another story, after all.
Published in “The Bulletin” 9 December 1915
I don’t feel lonely now as I sit writing by night in the “front room” of the old home by Log Paddock. I used to feel very, very lonely here as a boy, thirty-odd years ago, when they were all alive and around me. The Bush seemed haunted then by a Future, which is dead. I’ve got in touch with the world since that time. Besides, two old digger-mates, Bill Payne and Harry McDermott, who have batched in the old house for years, are smoking their pipes in reflective silence, one on each side of the big kitchen fireplace, after a hard day’s battling with the water in a wet shaft (thinly disguised as a contract well) that they are trying to bottom at the other end of Log Paddock. (This end has been “this end” from time immemorial.)
Moreover, “Young Jack” McDermott — he’s about thirty-three — will be home soon from an Irish-German wedding down at Müller’s farm, with a ridiculous and grossly-exaggerated account of the whole business, and a warmly-coloured and highly-improper description of the young couple’s immediate future. They have to be all night in the train in wintry weather. Also, he’ll bring a bottle of good Weinsberg port-wine for me from a vineyard across “the crick”.
Jack has come home with a mate of German descent; and I can hear him taking his father to task about the way the Old Man brought him up. Jack has the same affection and regard for his father as Benno had for his “Old ’Uns”; but Jack has a different way of showing it. However, he gets little change from the Old Man.
Near midnight. The rain has cleared away, and it is bright moonlight. Log Paddock, opposite — which isn’t a log paddock, and hasn’t been one since the writer’s childhood — looks strangely open. I had forgotten to notice that the bush has been cleared away (for the second time since convict days), and only a few shade trees left for the immortal Cow. For this, from being first a farming and vine-growing, then a mining, and, next, a wheat district, has become mostly cow-cocky. This will help you to understand some things.
The log fence — I remember parts of it — was composed of two long logs laid side by side on the ground, with chocks across, and other two logs on top of them, and so on. There isn’t a log of it left now, and hasn’t been for many a long year. They all went for timbering shafts, for post-and-rail fences and firewood. Then there was a stout two-rail fence — I saw it put up. Now that is gone, and Log Paddock is surrounded by the eternal wire-netting, with two barbed wires on top. For Bunny had triumphed here. But barbed wire was a blessed relief from the eternal, bullocking “billeting”. Every curse brings an antidotal blessing. And poor people make a living out of the rabbits. At least, they are locally and tolerantly referred to as “the poor people”. Some of the “poor” people average £4 a week, and over. My philanthropic friend, whose heart bleeds for the rabbiter, averages thirty shillings; and he averages it under protest.
Talking of fences. I’m always expecting a fence where there’s none now. Round the old house is a very old two-rail, and along the road frontage a barbed wire with an old post here and there mortised for two rails; sometimes several of these posts in a row — as in front of the house. They seem, in the moonlight, like passing ghosts that pause momentarily and stare. I didn’t know why they did that to me until it struck me that they were the remains of a fence that I had put up, as a boy, more than thirty years ago. But good timber had long been scarce, even then, and the post and rails had belonged to another fence.
I’d like to have a portrait of that boy as he was then. Those old grey posts haunt me in their old grey way, with thoughts and fancies of another boy whom I saw recently in Sydney. An old grey aunt said that this young fellow was the dead spit of me as I was at his age. She said that the likeness was so startling that he gave her quite a shock at first sight. She thought she’d gone back thirty years — or I’d come on. He is my son Jim.
(Never mind. We’re coming to “The Last Shaft in Log Paddock” soon.)
Dawn breaking above Golden Gully. Then, slowly, the sunrise over old Mount Buckaroo purples all along the Mudgee Hills. The old German vineyards are flushed above the slopes beyond the dark-green she-oaks across Pipeclay Creek. But they are greatly changed. They have long got away from the old, cast-iron, immigrant German idea that handicapped two generations — the immigrant German generation and the first Australian-Germans, the fixed idea, as an idea can only be fixed in Teuton minds, that vines would grow nowhere but on a sunny slope. Nowadays the best are grown on the levels above and some even on the creek flats. The slopes from which the old, old vines were uprooted, are bare and “scalded”, and will probably grow nothing for years. Very modern houses and cellars have taken the places of the old, German, snake-infested ones. They say that snakes have grown scarce in the district. Perhaps Laughing Jack could explain, since he’s been protected. But snakes come out of some of those cellars yet. I know because I’ve been bitten by one.
There’s the enlarged portrait of a young man on the wall, amongst old prints that used to belong to us. A young man with a full face, roguish eyes and a dark moustache rather pointed and turned up at the corners. I knew him well. He was full of whimsical humour and practical jokes of a harmless sort. He first appeared, in my boyish memory, at the back door while the Chieftainess was entertaining a German lady-friend of the old school and a severe-looking schoolmistress — childless, and of another old school. He was then sinking a shaft with a party, of whom my father was one, on the original two-acre freehold, just behind the house. His name was Harry McDermott.
He married and came with his young wife to live in the old house the day we were leaving.
On my last visit, twenty-odd years ago, he was little changed. (On that occasion, by the way, I took his two boys up to Con O’Donnell’s to buy lollies. One of the boys was Jack.) Harry was expecting to strike it rich in a shaft in Log Paddock. He said at the dinner-table that if I, in my travels abroad, should happen to come across a party of three — a jolly, good-looking fellow like himself; a sour, discontented, jealous-looking old woman; and a pretty, soulful, golden-haired, happy young woman — I’d know at once that it was him and his wife and the children’s governess, and that he’d struck his golden hole at last and was making a grand tour of the world.
Out in the kitchen an old man is getting an early breakfast ready at the big, open fireplace. At least, he has the appearance of an old man. His hair — what is left of it — is as white as his beard. He is bent, and, when he walks, his legs, seen from the rear, are shrunken and “gone”. His eyelids have dropped and his eyes are half-shut most of the time. He seldom smiles, and only gives a grunt of a laugh now and again; but in one of the few brighter moments he opens his eyes, and a ghost of the old whimsical manner comes back. For his name is Harry McDermott. (The Last Shaft is very near now.)
He lost his wife ten years ago, and he and his mate have batched in the old house nearly ever since. His children have grown up and drifted off. All except “Young Jack”. Everything in the old home is almost as the wife and mother left it — save, of course, in the matter of window curtains and little woman’s things like chat. The front bedroom is never used. He sleeps on a bunk in the kitchen, and his mate and Jack in the “boys’ room” between. (I used to be one of “the boys”.) The big kitchen dresser is as it was always kept clean and tidy, as only old diggers amongst landsmen keep things. Of the astonishingly complete crockery outfit scarce a dish has been broken.
Harry McDermott and his mate, Billy Payne, live by well-sinking and prospecting and getting a bit of gold now and then. But the shallows and the dry ground have long been worked out; for nearly all Log Paddock, when you get down a little, is a subterranean lake. They are sinking a well for a cow-cocky amongst the ancient workings at the upper end of Log Paddock — with an eye to a “bit o’ gold” at the “bottom”, if they can reach it. People say they shall never bottom that shaft — or well, if you like it better. But they sink in the mullock, and they bail and timber, battling bravely down. It is sawn slabs now instead of split, with cleats at the corners instead of pegs. It looks as neat as if the shaft were bricked. But they can’t keep the water out. There was a little water “follerin’ ’em down” last week. There’s 6ft now. It’s no use bailing on Sunday, as of old; for the same depth will be there on Monday morning.
Young Jack is going to “knock off for a week” (he’s fencing) and give them a hand to help bottom that shaft. But he knows the case is hopeless. It would need a steam-pump, and all the gold they are likely to get wouldn’t pay for the engine oil. Oh, the lifelong faith of the gold-digger!
Billy starts off first in the morning, while Harry cuts the dinner and puts it in the tucker-bag. Then Harry starts, with the dog after him. Going up the road, there is always from a quarter to half a mile between the mates. And in like manner shall they come home in the evening. Only then the dog will be in the lead. They were known to walk together once — when there was trouble at home. Ι wonder if they’ll walk home together if they strike gold? They’re about the only two old professional diggers left in the district.
And they’ll stick to that shaft, and dig out the mullock, and put in the slabs, and fight the water as sailors fight it in the hold of a stricken ship. For they are fighting for something which is dearer to an old digger than his life — they are fighting for Independence in their old age! No old digger looks forward to living with a married son or daughter in the city — or with a daughter-in-law or son-in-law — when he is “worked out”.
And Ι’ll always have a vision of an old grey digger, at the bottom of a wet shaft, working by the dim light of the candle in its socket stuck in the side — working at the slabs in his spectacles! Harry McDermott’s eyes have failed him.
Now, I suppose you’ve already forgotten the jolly young digger — and the wife — and the governess?
* * * * * * * * *
So we old writers go timbering up the walls of our ruined lives, and sinking through the mullock of the Present, and bailing out, and delving in the drift and the wash for the gold of human nature and the best part of the Past. And we very seldom find them.
The End Of Log Paddock
Published in “The Bulletin” 6 March 1916
Some time back I wrote that Cowcockyism and Cow were the end of Log Paddock, the District and My Own People, but I know now that they weren’t. For the other Sunday I read that Log Paddock had been leased by a syndicate and was to be turned into a stud farm, and “it was hoped it would give a great impetus to racing in the Mudgee district”.
They have thought and dreamed and talked of and bred and trained horses for little else but racing in the Mudgee district for as far back as my memory goes, and for the last ten or twenty years the younger men have thought and dreamed and talked of nothing else — unless it be girls and dancing. And in other districts as well, I suppose. Draught and other useful horses had to come by chance — and take their chance. Racehorses, with their clothes, were ever on the roads and are ever on the trains. They’re amongst the earliest memories of my childhood. So I don’t see what “impetus” racing needs in the Mudgee district. Nearly every boy’s ambition was to be a jockey, when it wasn’t to be a mounted trooper — or a bushranger. Jockey came first.
Opposite Log Paddock and across the “Guv’mint Road” stands what used to be “Our Hill”, with slopes or “sidings” above the frost-line in the severest winter, and nooks or “pockets” which were always warm in the sharpest weather; where the cows used to go to calve, and the cattle camped at nights when it was bitter cold on the flats. I suppose the old selection will be part of the stud farm, and stables built up there for brood mares — for warmth in winter and coolness in summer. And the old house (where the local papers say I was born, but I wasn’t) — where we fought drought and ruin and death for so many years — will be a camp for the cigarette-smoking, spitting weeds they call jockeys and trainers.
I was never on the sacred soil of a racecourse in my life — except perhaps to pick buttercups and daisies at Mudgee, when we were children, and the crusty old jockey-caretaker seemed to look on even that as a sacrilege, and would shoo us off. Later on, when I went there to shoot hares, I was shooed off again — because my gun might upset the nerves of a brood mare or two who boarded at the back of the grandstand. Even the offer of a hare now and then couldn’t bribe the caretaker. So it was a good sanctuary.
There was a lockup, or log or slab strongroom or “dead-house” at the course, for the convenience of the mad-drunks who were a natural result of a combination of horseracing, bad liquor, mixed drinks and mixed religions. Before that they used to be handcuffed to a bullock-chain stretched between two stumps, ten or a dozen at a time. Good, jolly old Father O’D— used to go out every race meeting to “keep the boys in order” with his buggy-whip; but they said with a wink that he mostly had a horse running, too. The cemetery is quite close.
Across Log Paddock from Our Hill, and across the “crick” are the bare, scalded slopes where Germany grew the vine long years agone and made money when the “rushes” came, maddening the diggers with new wine and making them throw away the gold they’d come so far to win. Often they threw away their lives and souls too.
But Germany also grew wheat and fruit and pigs and sheep and cattle: There is little, or few, or none of these now. Those slopes grow nothing now — not even the native bush or grass; for, uproot them as you will, those old vineyards have spoiled the soil for anything else for long to come — maybe a hundred years or more. There are vineyards on the upper flats now, where wheat used to grow, and the abundant, heavy wine is ruining local youth and completing the ruin of local age.
I don’t know whether there’s truth in wine, but I know there was madness in our kind, and there is plenty sad proof of it. Beer may be bad enough in cities, but I know the effects of that cheap, new or “doctored” wine in our districts. I sampled some of my native vintage at a “wine” shop (there are many of them) on my native heath, so to speak, when I last set foot on it on a visit some holidays past, and the effect was startling no less to myself than to my friends. I’d arrived on good Australian beer, happy but sober. It took three days and several gallons of bottled ale to repair the damage.
But sporting will have a worse effect on Australia, as a whole, for it leads to the neglect of the healthy vices as well as the healthy virtues; and, like healthy virtues, when healthy vices are neglected too long they perish. And when both perish a nation perishes.
So we take a last look at Log Paddock, where nothing grows now but a little “loosin” and other hay — for the keows mostly, in time of drought.
And at the Last Shaft, which I wrote about some time ago — which two of my father’s old mates struggled so bravely to “bottom” (one of them died last year as a result of that struggle — and the other is hoeing grape-vines now). The shaft is a well now for the benefit of the cow. I suppose it will soon be a well for the benefit of that other curse of ours, horse racing.
Let me see. In the first place they felt they had to exterminate the kangaroo. I saw the process of extermination. With the kangaroo (and the cattle later) went the useful or hunting dogs that might have kept down the rabbits. So the rabbits when they came got rid of the farmers — and, somehow, of the hares, too. Then someone imported starlings and sparrows and other birds, so the people will soon have to net their vineyards and orchards. Then someone imported the bony, useless carp, and they came up the “cricks” and are exterminating the edible native fish. (That was the only real, healthy recreation near Log Paddock — fishing.) Somebody put down a bore in order to drain the paddock underground and get at what little gold might be left, and the cool, pleasant evergreen surface springs dried up; and the creek, for some reason of its own, has shrunken; the clear, cool, she-oak, which shaded lily-decked pools of my old Eurunderee Creek, have vanished with the pleasant green banks and sedges, the reeds, the watercress and the water-lilies. The very water, what there is of it, seems dead — stale, unhealthy and yellow, like the dead face of a dyspeptic.
So this is the end of Log Paddock, on the early settling days, the “roaring” days and the farming days. The ’possums have gone, the magpies, the bell-birds, the butcher birds, the rosellas — all the native birds. Even the scents of the bush. And my own people are going too.
Published in “The Australian Soldiers’ Gift Book” 1918
To Corporal ERNEST WATT (“Benno”) of B Company, 18th Battalion, formerly of Sydney, Calcutta, Egypt, the Dardanelles, And now recovering from wounds in Harefield Hospital, England.
Dear Old Benno,
Enclosed clipping from Melbourne Age will show you how I got on your track. I was very bad, and had been for some time, when I got your first letter, and was strongly entrenched in “Havelock” Ward, Walker Hospital, when I got your second, and full of trouble.
This is written from part of the Murrumbidgee, N.S.W., Irrigation Area, known as Yanco — I suppose you’ve heard of it (it’s been heard of a good deal lately). Anyway, you’ll see it when you come Home. It is a spread of green, all chequered off, with little homes, and trees, and clear, green fringed canals and channels — just like English brooks — set in the midst of a bare, scorching, dusty red and parched yellow Dead Land that’s a lot older than Egypt. You’ve seen Egypt — desert, Nile, and oasis? — Well!
They’ve put me in a little place on a two-acre block, with an orchard, and gum saplings growing along the back fence, and a clear “channel” with raised banks at my front and back gates where you can let the water in onto the ground. I’ll hold it down anyway till one of our crippled mates comes back who knows more about fruit trees than I do. He won’t want to know much. You know something about fruit anyhow, having peddled it often enough. I can tell a peach tree by eating a peach off it; or chewing a leaf — but that’s about all.
It’s hot here in February, and last Saturday was the limit. It was a corker. It’s so hot here just now that you can wash out your pants, and hang them on the line and run round the house and take them down dry.
It’s a prohibition area, and the driest and thirstiest I ever struck in spite of the abundant water supply; and they rub it into us with picture shows with screens showing the Curse of Derrink. Every time a red hot dust storm comes along there’s scarcely a man amongst us who wouldn’t like to sample a gallon or two of that curse. We can only get together in the alleged cool of the evening and sing “The Gate’s a Jar for me”, and hope for a demijohn from Narrandera (an ungodly town just outside the area.)
I find that the greatest and bitterest — and, maybe the strongest — opposition to our honest agitation for a decent pub, comes, not so much from the Wowsers, as indirectly, from the jar exporters of Narrandera, and directly from our own importers of tangle-foot and smiling-juice — the middlemen — from the Sly Grog Interests — Private Enterprise and Vested Interests again! The subsoil is as hard as —(this was locally censored). I wish I had some of your miners and sappers on my block, for I think it needs a throifle of dynamite in addition to the “elbow grease” the application of which our genial sub-manager is so constantly urging. But, with the aid of a two-ended pick, and a few loads of manure, any man can knock out a living here and have time to write poetry.
The nights here are like the Breath of Paradise, and look like it, and the way the fruit trees and vines grow and bear is a miracle out of the Bible. They’d grow in rock, I think, if watered three times a summer. The people appear to be about the most cosmopolitan and democratic I ever came across — the pick of the middle-aged and elderly men from all corners of the Commonwealth and some of the best farmers from all corners of the world, from Finland (Land of Fens and Freedom) to Patagonia. There’s a Patagonian colony here — I must look them up — and a Broken Hill colony — not beloved of officials (the third house from mine is called Broken Hill), and the women folk are mostly Bush women and girls, and wonderfully fair (not sun-burned); but, here and there and now and then you see (and hear) a Bushwoman of the “Drover’s Wife” type. I’ve just got acquaint’ wi’ a couple of Lancashire lassies (sisters) in business here. I had thought that Australian girls had no equals, but now I hae me doots. And I never saw such a gathering of the Clans! Even the few Irishmen here are so Irish that you can easily mistake them for Scots. I believe that Father Riedy is a Scot, back on one side or the other. But then, all Scots are Irish back on the mother’s side. The Reverend Mr Campbell is more Irish than Father Riedy. They’ve been at it for some time in the local “Irrigator” (tantalising name for a paper here), till they suspected each other of Sictinarism and ended by fierce words. (It started over the pub question.) Then the editor (a big Sullivan, by the way) said that since the controversy had taken this turn it was now closed.
And they’re breeding jim-jam vegetables here too. “Sugar” or “water” melons that are white inside, and pumpkins like green gourds from Egypt or the Holy Land; and rock melons that are Irish green inside shading into orange-yellow — a happy combination just now, come to think of it; and fantod marrows — or are they squashes? — like the knee frills of a clown. I half thought that they were a part of the Horrors of Prohibition when I first came to settle here.
They all taste good — too good, indeed. But I sighed for a sight of the pumpkins of me childhood, that we used to cut up with an axe. You can peel these with a penknife. I did think I knew a pumpkin from a Bondi Bluebottle until I came to Leeton, and went into a shop to buy one. Of course, this being a good, irrigated, fruit and vegetable growing district, the fruit and vegetables you buy in shops are scarce and dear and scraggy.
They’ll breed something here yet. They’ll breed the nucleus of a young race that will raise the Flag of Independence against Sydney — and Melbourne too, for that matter — and form the Home State of Australia, with Eden or Mallacoota and the Murray for its outlets, and Narrandera — that pretty, solid, green clad, cool, cleanly drowsy, boozy, and honest town — for the capital, and Leeton for its garden. Then you’ll see the Australian flag again. The last time it was seen it was carried through the London Strand wreathed in flowers. What time we sent our thousands home to help the Dock Labourers.
Of course you all heard how A— E— died. I saw him the day they marched down to the ships — was with him in the file — also his wife and daughter. I knew the meaning of a woman smiling through her tears then. She said he’d be safe because the bullets would flatten on his face — and I believe they would have — but it was somewhere in the region of the heart that the poor chap got it at last. He was fifty-five if a day and as grey as a badger, but he’d bluffed ’em all. You know how that drunken blackguard could bluff. His grin was in splendid working order, but I had my suspicions — there was something in his throat and eyes more than the fumes of the last whiskies he’d got somehow.
I met them in the street after the news came. The poor little woman was crying a good deal, but the girl’s eyes were very dry, and a bit hard, I thought. She’d stuck to her father all through as we all know. She looked at me straight in the eyes for a while, till I wondered what she was at. Then suddenly she said, defiant like, it seemed to me, “I knew my father would do it!” Then she choked and broke down and turned away. I was glad she did. And I was glad, too, then, if I hadn’t been before, that I didn’t turn her father down over that last gaol affair of his, when everyone else — even his own wife — did. They’ve sent them his D.S.O. since, so I’ve heard, and his daughter has it. His wife can hold up her head now when she hears his name mentioned. The daughter never held it down.
A— E— saw his last chance and took it; and, I suppose, in that last charge of yours there was many a lone hand fighter like him. Not for a cause or a land that he knew nothing about and cared less. Not for his own country that had gaoled, starved, disgraced and ruined him for a disease which they called a crime; but for the sake of the one or two true friends who had believed in him and had stuck to him through it all.
As a complete contrast to the story of poor E— comes the bright little story of my other friend, Cecil Hartt (“the Harttist”), who is in Harefield Hospital with you now. He might be your next pal there — I wouldn’t be surprised. If he is, show this to him, and — if you are gone he’ll read it all the same. He told me, last letter, that the Turks had shot him up with the very best intentions, and, any way it goes, Ι think Cecil is a lucky dog. To leave Sydney a not very well known and not very well paid artist, and, within three months, to see Asia and Africa, to charge up hill for his country, and to be brought back to Egypt a blooming full-blown hero! (He must have been a rather swearsome hero while the flies and dust lasted.) And none the worse but for the loss of a foot! If he’d lost eighteen inches off those long legs of his he’d still be a decent height. Besides, he doesn’t draw with his foot, you know, and never did, notwithstanding what some low down shirking rival artists might have hinted to the contrary. And now he’s comfortable in that great Harefield Hospital, amongst all—palls, and with Australian nurses to fuss round and see that he doesn’t get all right too soon. And his work in demand by leading London illustrated papers!
He told me, writing from the hospital in Egypt (Hellopolis or some name like that) that his heart was aching to be home in Australia again — as much as he had wanted to see England and France. Now, I’ll tell you this, Benno, old chap, and you can tell the nurse if you like: married or single, “happy” home or not — there’s such a thing as home-homesickness as well as the foreign kind; and when the hero welcome — or prodigal son welcome — it doesn’t matter which — is over, you’ll feel in your bowels that awful, sinking, world-emptiness which is infinitely worse than any homesickness abroad, because it is born of the hoary father of all disillusions and is, or will seem to be the End — the Limit. It’s a mighty reaction of course — the same as on the first night in a Promised Land, like this, after a long trip. It comes sudden and unexpected, like a hail of shrapnel in a clear sky. I’ve felt that kind of home-sickness for the last place I came from, or for anywhere, and so, I suppose, have most of the other oldsters here. Then, for a space, you’d be ready to hug the first stray Turk you came across, and drop a tear over his shoulder for the sake of the good old (they’ll seem old then) the good old times you had with him.
And if Allah does not forbid and I do get away after all — as doctor’s orderly (or disorderly), mascot, or Regimental Goat, or something — and we pass each other on the water — I’ll get a wireless to you somehow. And if a submarine gets us I’ll get a wireless to you all the same. And if, when that message comes to you, [you] feel a chilly breath on your cheek — and maybe faintly catch the faint and mournful strains of a harp at the same time — you’ll know I’ve been elected; but you’ll be sure I’ll be doing my best under those depressing circumstances and keeping up a fire for you. If, on the other hand, you feel a hot breath, and get a whiff of something like sulphur at the same time, you’ll know that I’m amongst friends and old pals, and looking out a cool and shady corner against your arrival. But we’ll meet before that.
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