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Title: The Golden Nineties Author: Henry Lawson * A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook * eBook No.: 2000821h.html Language: English Date first posted: August 2020 Most recent update: August 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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“The Golden Nineties” were published in The Australian Star Sydney, New South Wales, 30 September 1899 through 25 November 1899, with an addendum 23 December 1899. The various headings have been converted to chapters to make reading easier.
Chapter 1. - Albany Before the Boom
Chapter 2. - West Australia Before the Boom
Chapter 3. - "The Rush"
Chapter 4. - Sydney in the Golden Nineties
Chapter 5. - The New Westward Ho! — Saloon
Chapter 6. - For the Selection
Chapter 7. - A Frozen Saloon
Chapter 8. - Fremantle
Chapter 9. - Some Figures
Chapter 10. - Crowded Out
Chapter 11. - Jones, of New South Wales
Chapter 12. - We Rescue Our Property From Protection
Chapter 13. - Written on the Spot
Chapter 14. - Perth
Chapter 15. - The Tent-Dwellers
Chapter 16. - The Hessian House
“They take things easy in Fremantle,” said the captain of the S.S. Paroo.
We were to have left Albany on Monday morning, having stayed over Sunday, for they don’t work on the wharf there on that day for intercolonial steamers; but the Bullara, which had lain off Fremantle for the last ten days or so, without seeing a chance of getting safely alongside the pier, came alongside the Albany jetty at daylight with a bashed bulwark and thirty tons of Fremantle cargo for us to take back and try our luck with. The Bullara evidently hadn’t been taking things easy at Fremantle. She had had a rough voyage of it round her anchor, for upwards of a fortnight, in the vicinity of the doubtful breakwater, which was being built, to enable steamers to lie alongside the pier in reasonable weather, to tempt ocean liners to make that their first port of call — instead of Albany — and for the alleged benefit of the country and of future generations.
We had made quite a long voyage from Sydney. We stayed one night in Melbourne, where the writer had a week’s business to do, and a small army of friends to see, and three days at Port Adelaide, where he had no business, and didn’t know anybody. But the captain, officers, and crew had head office, homes, wives, and sweethearts there. They had only debts in Melbourne, perhaps. The principal industry of Melbourne at that time (in ’95-’96) was debts.
Adelaide has, I think, the most Australian Zoological Gardens in the world. The most noticeable thing in Port Adelaide seemed to be the train running through the main street, with the stoker ringing a bullock bell (at least, it sounded like one) in front to scare off furniture vans, etc. It suggested the ridiculous idea that the South Australian railway system was about to be put up for sale by auction, and would presently be going, going, gone!
By the delay in Adelaide we missed the last heavy gale; and I was very sorry for it, and greatly disappointed. The glass kept going down, and the wind and the sea getting up all the way from Melbourne, and I felt more hopeful every time the joker of the ship’s company remarked cheerfully that the glass was still falling, and we saw, and felt, that the elements were rising. We bobbed a bit at anchor near the Semaphore that night, but got up the river and away from the sea weather early next morning; and, when we came out again, on the third day, there was only the usual greasy, unsatisfactory swell.
I like to go through a good “old man” gale. I like to see and feel the ship roll over and stand on end and gambol and take an interest in life and enjoy herself generally. “Oh, for the sweep of the wild, wet weather!” It’s grand! It’s glorious. It breaks the flat monotony of the voyage, and rouses the enthusiasm of the passengers who don’t get sea-sick. And the sick ones get properly sick, and dead to the world, and can be stowed away somewhere below, out of sight and earshot, and cease to be such prevalent, depressing, half-alive nuisances.
This reminds me of a previous voyage across the Bight in a French liner. We had a good rough time, and, one nice awful night, an anchor broke loose somewhere aft — or forward — it was hard to tell which was which down in the cabin where we were — and sounded like a Chinese war. We thought we had made a dent in the coast that time. They stopped the engines, or slowed down, and closed the scuttles (we were in the steerage) to prevent us from rushing on deck and endangering our lives, and getting in the way of the sailors, in order to gratify our morbid curiosity — the modern craving for sensationalism. There were cursing and praying, and urgent appeals for information in seventeen languages: French, German, Italian, Arabic, Spanish, English, Irish, Scottish, modern Greek and modern Australian. A fat, middle-aged Frenchwoman lugged her box out from the women’s cabin, fastened two life-belts round it, and a third one round herself, mounted the box, took a good grip of the straps, and held on, while the stout old trunk travelled up and down, and across the cabin, and fetched up against things, and started again. We climbed on stools and tables, and into bunks, and sought, in all the languages, to persuade her that human lives and our shins were of more importance than her blessed old port-rubbish; but she continued, perforce, in wild career until she went through the match-board side of the temporary bar — trunk and all. The good-natured Swiss stewards interfered at this point, extricated her from amongst the broken bottles, and stowed her away somewhere — still attached to her property.
At least I’m not sure I remember all that. The “joker’s” yarns, and things he remembers, get mixed up sometimes with one’s mental notes.
Albany hasn’t changed much since 1889-90, when the new town was built. There were one or two old families popularly supposed to exist there then, but they kept to themselves. It should be interesting to study the effects of nearly half a century of utter loneliness and isolation upon their temperaments. There were a few common white aborigines, who were supposed to have been, and doubtless were, more or less, the slaves of the one or two first families in the days before the advent of the first steam engine (a portable vertical, connected with a brickyard, which arrived somewhere in the mid-eighties, and caused a sensation amongst the natives, black and white), and have been ever since for aught we know. The seeker after information, local, historical, genealogical, or otherwise, was met with growling monosyllables, ominous in tone, and warning frowns, which may have been intended for his good. For the rest Albany was a camp of T’othersiders and new-chums — tradesmen, labourers, and clerks; the train was running to Perth then, and things were going ahead in the building line in Albany. Road-makers — and the Lord knows where those roads were made to, or why they were made — went out into the wilderness, lived on kangaroo when rations gave out before the contract was completed — and made cheques. Nice, soft, juicy new-chums, poor devils! went into the bush, fencing, clearing, running wire for contractors, and cooking for camps; and shed their skins, like snakes, because of the heat and the mosquitoes; and broke their hearts — and went mad, some of them — because of the terrible loneliness and the Past; and died, and were buried or not, as it happened. Or they fought out their own salvation, and got away East — never dreaming that, a year or so hence — as counter-jumpers, clerks, etc., in eastern cities — they might be scraping, and scheming, and stinting all the day, for the price of a steerage ticket to the Golden West, and lying awake, think, think, thinking over it till the small hours, to fall asleep and dream that they had got it in a lump sum. We were lonely T’othersiders then, and the first families didn’t seem aware of our existence, and we clung together — never dreaming that in two or three years we would rush the country in thousands and swamp out the sandgroping element as completely as if it had taken to the outer wilderness and committed suicide. But I mean to do the sandgropers justice later on.
Chinese, imported on terms of agreement similar to those for the alleged breach of which unfortunate Afghans were gaoled lately at Bourke, cooked, gardened, etc., on the few small sheep stations, and were assisted with the shearing by the local blacks. The Chinese and the blacks (this from personal experience and observation) were treated with greater consideration than the casual white — if he were shown any consideration at all. But King Billy, I am glad to believe, is more or less privileged and kindly thought of all over settled Australia; and — well, John Chinaman’s patience is an unknown quantity, and hath sudden and unexpected endings; the station super., knowing this, riding out into the wilds at sunrise, and leaving his wife alone in the lonely homestead all day, is haunted by the thought of the Chinese cook in connection with the carving knife. The Chinese cook and the carving knife are too handy to each other in lonely places to make it worth while showing one’s superiority over the cook on every possible occasion.
Alleged aboriginal names end in “up”, along the line from Albany; there are “Marbleup”, “Kendinup”, and — there’s a place called “Chokerup”. The bush round there looks just the place for it. By the way, speaking of black names, the blacks round King George’s Sound use the words “boomerang”, “nulla nulla”, “bawl!”, “budgeree”, etc., and new-chums — and most T’othersiders, I believe — think they are speaking from their own language; whereas those terms were brought by the whites from the East, and the blacks themselves, no doubt, take them as English words. They, of course, have a different dialect from that of the aborigines of old Eastern Australia.
There was a blackfellow at Kendinup, who could speak French, and, what is more than can be said of many English people who profess to read and speak it, he could understand it. He had been aboard a French whaler for a couple of years.
Fancy King Billy as a Jack Tar — two years before the mast!
This blackfellow’s history must have been a strange and interesting one; but personal histories, in old West Australia, which may have been strange and interesting ones, were generally veiled in obscurity, as dark as Billy Rex himself — or the history of that dark country. The French blackfellow was, perhaps, the finest specimen of his race that I had seen. He stated that he had had enough of civilisation — he craved for no more of it. He preferred to live as his fathers had lived, and eat ’possum when there was no kangaroo nor fish, nor wild fowl, and wear a ’possum skin rug for an overcoat, and a blanket in cold weather — and crouch under a wretched mi-mi (a break-wind of three strips of bark and a bough) in the cold and rain of winter, rather than camp comfortably in a galvanised iron hut, with a brick fireplace and a load of wood supplied. He wore only the ’possum-skin rug when I saw him; he opened the homestead gate for me with the air of a kingly courtier of ye olden tyme, bowed me through Frenchily, or, rather, like a Spaniard — and standing erect as the king himself, with his right hand extended before him, palm upwards, he cadged sixpence, and a pipe o’ tobacco.
There are many fine-looking half-caste girls, they say, living wild with the blacks in the outer bush. It is said that the best-looking and most intelligent are crosses between the blacks and Chinese. I happened to know one of the latter (civilised). Her strange and wonderful beauty might have made a sensation on any stage, and money for the popular and enterprising manager.
These girls were seldom or never brought into the stations, or near camps, when the tribe came down from the north or east, into Albany or the nearer bush, for the shearing, or with native weapons, skins, precious wood, etc.; the girls were left somewhere out of reach of civilisation. The ugly gins came in, though, and, arranging their kangaroo tails, rugs, or native weapons (manufactured specially for sale to the new-chums, and thus, indirectly, for export) to the best advantage on doorstep or threshold of camp or hut, they’d squat on their hams, get out their pipes, and be prepared to wait patiently and silently for a day or so, or until such time as the spirit moved you to buy — or kick them out of that. The blacks seem to believe that the spirit moves as slowly in us as it does in their own dusky bosoms — judge us from themselves, in fact, just the same as we judge one another. I’ve noticed the same thing with the Maoris, and suppose it’s the same with native races all over the world. I learned to sit, for an hour, if need be, in a cow-like but, on my part at least, unembarrassed silence, with a row of Maoris, who I knew had some, to them, important communication to make, or wanted to buy something of me.
Things are arranged, out at the ends of those roads from King George’s Sound, and in connection with the native women, in various ways, which could not, very well, be set down here. Contracting parties take, or used to take, out parcels of old clothes and damaged tobacco as “presents” to natives’ roosters.
As late as ’90 — or was it the end of ’89? — there were, in connection with the spearing of an explorer bushman, and after considerable bush hardship, difficulty and danger, captured and brought into Albany the remnant of a tribe of mongrel, dwarfish blacks, whose appearance gave rise to considerable curiosity, even amongst the local “sandgropers”, and was thought to be sufficiently important and interesting to be paragraphed in the local newspaper, for the stories of the existence of such a tribe of blacks had, up till then, been regarded as fairy tales. And these didn’t come from the interior either; but from a waste of sandy, spiky, scrubby country near the west coast. Shows how much we know about our own country, and what a wide field De Rougemont had.
There was a blackfellow in Albany who used to make his rude weapons of wood and stone at a carpenter’s bench, and with such tools as he could cadge or borrow — including files and a grindstone. When the English or French mailboat was signalled he’d gather the remnants of his tribe, and retire to the scrub to make up — and, maybe, hold a dress rehearsal. Thusly, the first sight that greeted the wide eyes and open mouths of eager new-chums — come ashore for an hour’s run, and racing up the jetty to see whose foot would be the first on Australian soil — would be a dusky warrior chief in all his native glory. A ’possum rug on his shoulders, a fearsome and wonderful arrangement (that would have put any fashion of Paris hats in the shade) of sticks, reeds, grass, clay and whitewash on his head, and his noble, savage lineaments “picked out” to an alarming extent with whiting and red raddle and ochre (cadged from one of the house painters). Standing erect, motionless and silent, seemingly impassive as the Sphinx; boomerang, stone tomahawk, etc., in left hand, spear (grounded) in right, and the remnant of his tribe (“Mrs Williams” — ugliest gin in the known West, Old Sally, and Dirty Dick) grouped at his feet. Describe a circle of new-chums and tourists — some dressed in the latest London fashion — the majority with open eyes, and mouths and ears stretched to the limit — and awe, or respect, if anything, in their expressions — and one or two saloon passengers, or “jokers”, who saw through the thing at the first glance, and are enjoying the show from behind, as well as in front — and willing to pay for the extra fun — all of which noted by and well known to William Rex, who, if the spirit moved him, and he thought it safe and judicious, from a business point of view — would acknowledge or recognise the superior intelligence of the aforesaid keen observers amongst his possible patrons by solemnly, slowly, yet momentarily closing down the whitewashed lid of the awful bloodshot optic that was on their side. That wink “doubled-up” many an observant humourist — to the surprise of more sober fellow-passengers, who couldn’t see what there was to laugh at. The gins offered rugs and weapons for sale with one hand — holding the other, all the time, rigidly extended, the wrist resting on a drawn-up knee — never for a moment drawing in the black and yellow begging claw — and they, or Dirty Dick — or, perchance, a hireling half-caste (in the character of a slave), if such suited the passengers’ fancies, or imaginations — answered questions and interpreted when absolutely necessary from a business point of view. It was understood, or supposed to be understood, to be beneath the dignity of the dusky chief to hold converse directly with the pale-faced strangers, whose fathers had slain his warriors, and laid waste his hunting-grounds. To the white natives the scene was commonplace, of course, and passed unnoticed, and unchuckled at; but the elaborate simplicity of it all was very restful and comforting to me. Billy himself could see and enjoy the humour of it — after he had carefully secured the “gate” from the gins; otherwise, he regarded the whole thing from a strictly business point of view, as hinted above. There seems sometimes a touch of Scotch in King Billy. I was his first victim, but later on, when I got to know him — and he me — he said he’d get me a genuine stone tomahawk, such as the blacks used, by means of a blackfellow who was going north-west to join a party of blacks, who were in touch with a tribe of the interior — so I shouted for him now and then. But — well, I left before the weapon had time to be passed south, and so I remain undecided as to whether there is or is not a touch of Irish in King William, also.
I have invented — or altered — the names for the Last of Their Race. Mrs Williams may be living yet — and she made determined attempts to get out a summons for “damfamation” of character against a friend of mine, who, innocently, and at the suggestion of a better-informed, but totally unprincipled brother humorist, addressed her as “Miss” Williams. She subsequently tried to settle the matter out of court, too, with a billet of hardwood. Take the ugliest Chinaman (and there are some fairly plain ones) in Lower George Street, give him a coat of lampblack mixed with turpentine — or black lead (never mind the polish), and you’ll have a fair idea of Mrs Williams, who was so enthusiastic concerning her fair fame. But there I’m not trying to score a point at the expense of my black countrymen. This “ad.”, if I know anything of human nature — and King Billy still runs his little “silver coin” show — will bring him extra sixpences — and good luck to him! the lowest and most degraded, most cheerful, humorous, and by me at least, and least of his subjects, mostly kindly-thought-of of monarchs.
I don’t think an apology is due to the reader for the length of my Albany article. I don’t think an apology should be owing to the reader for anything published (this for obvious reasons), but that is another question — and a wide one. Albany has long been the first and last corner of Australia as far as the world is concerned. It is the first spot of Australian ground seen and trodden by the majority of immigrants, tourists, and professional wanderers; the last by most departing Australians. The first place from which we get the gist of English mail news, the last whereat we post letters in Australia. Albany holds a unique position geographically, and is unique in several other respects. It has the only harbour as far as West Australia is concerned; and I don’t remember ever seeing it written about.
I have, in publishing these articles, a purpose which I might find space to explain fully later on. I want to write of Australia as I have seen it, and do my share towards preserving Australian history. If I cannot win my readers without the assistance of the sex-problem, or except by pandering to sensationalism, or morbid curiosity, I do not deserve to win them. If I cannot hold my readers through a serial, or series of sketches, without recourse to such old newspaper tricks as, say, leaving the hero or heroine in peril of life or honour at the end of each instalment, then I do not deserve to hold them. And if — as some editors think, but I do not believe — the Australian reader only wants sex-problem, sensation, or local news and scandal, then it is part of my duty to try and cure him. It might cure him of me, but I’ll take my chance. In short, I intend to write as I think — to write what I believe to be true, and Australian.
I’ve been analysing my strong and enduring sympathy for those black countrymen o’mine, of King George’s Sound especially, and I’ve come to the conclusion that it is partly on account of the following incident. I was sitting at the door of the loneliest hut in the most desolate waste of bush, watching about the saddest Australian sunset that I think I had ever seen burn to ashes; I had nothing to read, and no one to listen to, and no hopes of a mail, and was feeling oh! so lonely and desolate-hearted, when I was aware of King Billy, with a broad grin, and a bundle of newspapers and letters from home, which he had brought ten miles from the nearest point on the railway line. I don’t think I ever got or shall ever get a cheaper “thick”-penn’orth and stick o’ bacca worth of joy.
One peculiarity I noticed with the blacks was that, when coming into the station, if in a party, they’d divide into two; if only one black and a gin, they’d come, though abreast of each other — that is at equal distances from the homestead — they’d come with about half a mile of flat or gully between them, and cooeey and screech to each other across that space till obliged to come together at their goal; it must have been wearing on their lungs; while there was no possible reason that a white man could fathom why they couldn’t walk together and yabba quietly and comfortably. Then, again, they or some of the party always made a circle, and came into the station from the scrub behind, while there was no apparent reason why they shouldn’t walk up to the front door in a body.
The gins carried, in place of matches, a piece of lighted bark, which they damped slightly in the mud whenever they came to a waterhole, to make the fire bite, or draw, I suppose — to keep it in.
Speaking of gins reminds me that when they want to cadge, or beg a favour of you, or have a row with you, they will often spend a day edging on the most likely one of their party. I think this is true of most dark races. Whenever I saw a circle of Maori women squatting round one for any length of time I knew that something was brewing. When dealing with savages, whether black or white, never explain before doing a thing, else you’ll have bother. Do what you want to do, and explain afterwards, if you like. This is a golden rule, I think, the world over, and if you want to get on you ought to tie it to your tongue, so to speak, with a strong piece of string.
Albany is situated on the side of a ridge sloping to the shores of the inner “sound” or harbour (apparently landlocked as viewed from the town), the ridge running in a concave curve between two rocky, rugged hills of considerable height — hills and hyphen-ridge isolated; the whole something suggestive, from the steamer’s deck, of a roofless grandstand, flanked by squat towers. Albany is something larger than Watson’s Bay, built closer, would be. The parallel streets, from the water’s edge to the top of the ridge, are called “terraces”. The town has a good front, something quaint, yet, because there is only the row of buildings facing you, and built close together, there is the suggestion of an imposing reality as retained by a model, on the smallest scale, of a great city. As in the case of one or two of Maoriland’s miniature cities-in-wood by the sea — the open sea front of Napier, for instance. The Albany post and telegraph office (of more importance to Eastern Australia than we realise) looks more imposing from the water than from the street front, on account of its deep basement. It is, if I remember, in situation about the first and last building in Albany — under the corner of Mount Clarence. The new, rounded wing, built in some quaint, old English style, is a decided improvement, being picturesque and refreshing to eyes grown weary of the square and oblong architecture of Eastern Australian cities. The style of the new retaining wall, with its steps down to the water, is also original — pretty and pleasing.
There used to be an old-fashioned brick roundhouse, or guardhouse, at the end of one of the “terraces”. Also, several low-browed, sinister, doored and windowed brick houses, of the dingy, whitewashed variety, of old convict times. I hope they are gone now. Mount Clarence — the nearest to the Sound — the hill you go round in under — is dry and barren; the other is a dark “hill of wet”, covered with bush and great granite boulders, and having, overlooking the town, a dark rock cliff, to the base of which, up the rich-soil siding, perch pretty cottages, whose owners might all be carpenters, painters, and gardeners, by the look of their homes. A rural road runs round under the shoulder of this hill, over the ridge from the town; and most West Australian wild flowers grow round there — including, of course, the wattle — and who forgets the scent of boronia growing wild?
Across on the opposite shore from the town are hopeless sand-hills, amongst which are situated many desirable town allotments, sold to innocent stay-at-home Sydney- and Melbourne-siders in the vague stir that preceded the gold boom. From the shallows at the head of the harbour (a great deal of which is barely covered by the tide) dark, dense, dank, scrub and marshy ti-tree country running round to the coastal wastes of dry scrub. Outside are naked bluffs and headlands. And, from the back doors of Albany, on the top of the ridge, a brooding wilderness sweeping away and round to blazing sand-wastes — to the great Gulf, and across South Australia into New South Wales and Queensland! Look at the map, and get some idea of the awful, hopeless immensity of it.
Albany hadn’t changed much since I was there seven years before. Albany will never change much — it is a pretty town, but vague. It seems to exist only in a far-away-on-the-horizon sort of way; I like it all the better for that.
From the top of Mount Clarence the sea — with bits of lonely coast-vision, along which there is no sign of Albany, nor of any other place — no sign that Australia is inhabited, in fact — and desolation, as far as the eye can see — accentuated on the horizon by the faint blue “fin” of an inland range. There is a tall substantial flagstaff on the crown rock of Mount Clarence, stayed, and set in cement. It was erected during the Russian scare — and stands a relic of that scare. I forget the main idea of it — if there was one, or how Albany was to fight, if fight it meant to, or whither it was to flee, if it intended to run at the first alarm. I have a faint recollection of having heard of a battery over on the other side, across the sand-hills, and having seen uniforms other than those of the “cops” and prisoners; but can’t reconcile this with my general impression of Albany, in ’89.
Poor, hopeful devils, stowing away at Colombo, or some such place, with bright visions of Adelaide, Melbourne, and Sydney in their troubled heads, were handed over to the law at Albany, often to their great surprise, and always to their intense disgust. They put in their little times making or mending streets, and on the reclamation works, and then were free to go — where? An attempt was made to persuade the authorities to sentence them to such terms of imprisonment as would keep them handy until the returning steamer could take them back to the port from which they had stolen a passage — this with an idea of discouraging the practice of stowing away. But even the obliging West Australian Government of that time couldn’t see their way clear to do this. Some of the poor wandering vagabonds and outcasts, who travelled with such discomfort and difficulty, may have been glad to fall in with such an arrangement, before they were done — to get out of West Australia at any price — and with the chance, in prospective, of stowing away successfully on one of another line of boats that didn’t call at Albany.
The railway line runs through the old gaol yard, the ends having been knocked out, and the remaining glass-topped old walls left standing on each side of the rails —
“With a whistle and whirr
Comes the nine o’clock down
Through the walls of a gaol
Into Albany town —”
and something about “train” and “the lovely old days of Broad Arrow and Chain —”. But the lone, unsociable Yankee editor of the Land Company’s paper “reckoned” quietly that it would touch too many round there at that time. Local opinion seemed set against any inflow of original ideas. The Yankee editor had caught the spirit of the place early.
It was a popular idea amongst T’othersiders that local authorities wired or wrote East for information, if any, concerning our characters and antecedents (if we’d left such behind) directly we landed. Perhaps the authorities themselves started or encouraged the notion, with an idea of saving themselves some trouble, or encouraging such of us as had need for it to turn over a new leaf in a new land, and discouraging such others as might be tempted to turn a leaf the wrong way. I dunno — but such was the atmosphere. Anyway, it is a fair specimen of the notions that are invented and kept in stock to pass time in places where there’s nothing to talk about.
The Customs officer, or “tide waiter” (how did that word come here?) was conservative and conscientious, as some found out who sought too often to smuggle supplies of tobacco (for self and friends) from passing boats. After that it was small quantities, and every man his own smuggler — or the speculating smoker would distribute a dangerous quantity about the persons of companions in exile, but then the trouble lay, after the party had got ashore and all danger had passed, in collecting and recollecting the right number of cakes. Tobacco was dear, and none too good in Albany, in ’89.
The Customs shed was midway on the wharf (and guarded, I remember, by a stout, red-faced janitor, with a wooden leg and no poetry). The easy-going New South Welsh protectionist, who’d shed no tears on leaving home, nor has he shed ’em yet — climbing from the tender to the jetty with a well-worn saddle, or some such personal property, which he’d never dreamed was dutiable — would walk off the shore end, perhaps an hour later, an excited free trader, a fierce patriot, an exile and an orphan, in a “blanky nigger-drivin’ country”.
There was an old prisoner — he might have been the last of the convicts — who used to drive the Governmental cow to and fro, in the early morning, and in the gloaming, and milk, and garden, and clean up, and potter round about the post office or the gaol (at opposite ends of the town) all day. Our acquaintanceship began one fine morning, about half-past eight, as I was waiting for the delivery window to open. He was sweeping round the basement, and remarked casually to his broom that my pipe made his mouth water. I got him a clay and a stick of twist. His conversation was slow, and on abstract subjects, and not nearly so interesting to me as his personality — but harmless and restful. He said he hadn’t made up his mind what he’d do or where he’d go when he lost his billet. The broad arrows on his uniform were faded and faint, scarcely distinguishable at a short distance. He remarked that he’d have to get his “arrers” touched up a bit — they come out in the washin’. It was a strange acquaintanceship (and vague), now I come to think of it. I heard afterwards that there was a penalty of five pounds “hangin’” to it as far as I was concerned — I never heard what he’d have got: it might have cost him his place. But the constable never thought to mention the matter to me. There seemed something vaguely kind about Albany in this respect. Are the poor and unfortunate better off, out of gaol, in new democratic places? The gaol cow was a pretty, plump, contented little white one, whose dignity didn’t appear to suffer in the slightest degree by the fact of her being driven and milked by a felon. The felon’s face was round and calm, with something bovine in expression — a suggestion as of a successful and contented farmer — but perhaps this came with the milking job. Whatever may have been his sins, sorrows, and sufferings, loves, hates, and wrongs in the past, his face and words gave no hint of them. I didn’t see him this last time I was in Albany. Perhaps he’d got the sack. Anyway — I hope he gets enough tobacco.
I once — to break a howling silence (or for the want of some business of my own to occupy my mind) — asked the eldest inhabitant why the stowaway prisoners and others, who worked restfully on the roads, without any visible guard over them, didn’t clear out. He scratched behind his ear, thought, and said, “Wheres?” His intellect laboured a little longer, and the result was, “Wot do they want to clear out for?” That silenced me. Also, where would they be able to get plain clothes? The old resident (who told few lies, for he seldom talked, and probably wouldn’t have known one when he told it) followed me up leisurely for a quarter of a mile or so, and wanted to know why I wanted to know why the convicts didn’t clear out! This scared me, but now I think it was only his intellect starting to work for the first time in his life — the dawn of curiosity. Anyway, I pulled myself together, and told him that I asked the question because I was thinking about going to gaol myself, and wanted to know. I reckon that stunned his intellect for another ten years.
There was no regular intercolonial line of steamers to Albany in ‘89. The town depended, firstly, on the fact that it had the only harbour handy in the colony, and (for existence) on the ocean liners that called there. Way back of that there was the jarra and sandalwood industries, and kangaroo skins, and the whalers, and, I think, a few sealers. Then the railway syndicate, the navvy army, and the line to York, and so to Perth. Carriers must have done well before the line was made. There were several coal-hulks in Albany (old sailing ships with histories), and Albanian labourers got fairly regular spells at lumping and wharf labouring. They started to build the new town, which was finished in a few months — a year or two at most. Carpenters and bricklayers were in demand then, even at twelve shillings a day. T’othersider house painters hadn’t heard of the rush of work — there was no gold to account for it — sailors worked as brush-hands, and so, when the first practised hand arrived (the present writer) he had, in the first hour, the choice of three bosses (one a gardener) at top all-round-man wages. And thereby hang other anecdotes which don’t belong to this sketch.
Boarding-houses did well, and the overflow rented huts or cottages, and batched. The land round the marshes looked more like potato ground than any I had seen, but few or no vegetables were grown. The hash houses depended on the boats, and boarders often went short of greens and roots, even to the danger of scurvy. A five-pound note laid out in a town allotment in Perth, or in a little business, might have ensured a fortune five years later, independent of the chances of the goldfields. But nobody knew. Vague rumours of gold finds merged into the old story of a mountain of gold. There was the local yarn concerning someone, whose identity was never clear, who was said to have found gold above Albany, or brought some in, or to have shown a nugget while in liquor, or to have been seen with uncoined gold on him; and of some other one, or ones, who were shepherding him, or trying to track him to his supposed “find”, or thinking or talking about going to watch and follow him next time he went out. But nobody took serious notice of these yarns, and they only served to fill in between the puffs of visionary smokers on warm, lazy Sunday afternoons or evenings, when there was nothing else to talk about. Kimberley was forgotten.
A lonely Yankee editor came, from Lord knows where, to conduct a biweekly paper, to be run in the interests of the Land Company. An old brick cottage was hired, a galvanised iron shed built on to the end of it, a small, one-man power steam engine and plant imported. The editor had a calico sign prepared (it was about thirty feet long), and nailed up along the front, and on it appeared the words: “Albany Observer. Biggest circulation in West Australia. Best and Brightest Pennyworth in the Colonies.” Then he proceeded to grind out the first issue. The Albanians lounged in front of the sign, and scratched behind their ears, and could make nothing of it. They got no ideas from it. They saw no sign of the coming time in it.
Huddart-Parker sent over a pioneer boat or two. And the old Wendοuree, of all the boats in the world for a Bight trip. I remember a grey, rolling and pitching day, down the South Coast, on the Wendouree, twelve years ago — Lord! how the time goes past! A rough, leaden day, that went out in a dark, rainy, stormy night; and a little group of cloaked and overcoated passengers gathered under a dripping awning by the dim light of a swinging lantern; and the joker of that little ship’s company (he had no overcoat, I remember) singing “Th’ Romany Rye” —
“Who is so free as the Romany Rye?”
“See where our campfire gleams through the trees,”
and he pointed to Green Cape light, gleaming brightly through the watery darkness. It was nearly being the last land light we should ever see. But that’s another incident. And the last of the old Wendouree foregathers with other old wrecks on the bank at lobby’s.
The mail boats often arrived at King George’s Sound on Saturday night; the post office was not opened on Sunday morning. When the boat was signalled, a red flag by daylight, or a red lantern at night, was run up on the P.O. flagstaff. That lantern was a dull red beacon of hope, which set many a lonely heart, that was breaking for home, beating quickly. If not too late, all Albany would drift down to the jetty, but there were always a few going out with the tender into the moonlit Sound, where, rising above the horizon, or out of the faint, uncertain haze on the water in the nearer distance, like the evening star, was seen the headlight of the liner. Maybe a few notes of music would reach our ears first, clear and beautiful, from the liner’s deck, across the moonlit tide. Then a new-chum, standing in the bows of the tender, would lift a cornet to his mouth and send the challenge clear, the notes dropping across the water, and thrown back, one by one, from the bald headland.
“Should Auld — Acquaintance — be — forgot?”
The ship’s cornet would want to know, too. Then the answering cheers from both sides, and voices and cornets would go at it again with enthusiasm. For they’d wandered mony a weary foot, an’ seas between ’em braid had roared syn Auld Lang Syne.
Presently, suddenly, it seemed, in the moonlight haze, when distances and movements are so uncertain, the whole line of the ship’s electrics would swing to us, and blaze out. Presently the great anchor jolted down, the tender ran alongside. A row of cloaked figures and curious faces at the rail. We can imagine the emotions of new-chums at their first glimpse of Australia — the land of their hopes and dreams. Perhaps they have a vague expectation of seeing some sign of the gold or the, to them, strange, new far-away land in our dress or appearances. They saw it often after ’95, when lucky diggers (running across East, in exemption time) ragged, unshorn, and unkempt, some of them, burned to bricks, and wild-eyed, tumbled aboard (like schoolboys let loose for Christmas), at King George’s Sound, and down into the saloon. I would have liked to have studied the expressions on the faces of the passengers, saloon and steerage, on such an occasion.
A hurried comparison of notes between the agent and post official, and the corresponding satellites on board; a trotting up and down the gangway with mailbags and luggage, if there was not enough to sling, and no cargo; a dive down into the saloon for a drink, maybe. “All right there?” “Go astern!” (on the tender). “Clear — Look out for that rope! — Mind your heads! — Good-bye! — Good-bye!” .... “Clock-clock clock — clock — clockclockclockclockclock —” of the liner’s cable being snuffled up into the nose of her. And — Ow! — The siren! — The old, bald headland would jump again.... And we’d be cluck — cluck — clucking round the long black jetty into the silent, little town, while a bright star was setting on the mystic horizon, out on the open sea. But we had the mailbags, with all their hidden possibilities, for us.
Three o’clock in the morning perhaps. The silent whispering crowd on the dark balcony outside the delivery window, the general, irresolute start communicated by the sliding back of the shutter. The local light first, swaggering indifferently — who has no soul beyond “the Sound”, fortunate devil! The loneliest and least hopeful new-chum or T’othersider, sliding back to the rear, to prolong anticipation or hope — or to postpone the hearing of the fatal words, “Nothing for you!” — or because he has heard it so often that he is ashamed to be told it again, and fancies everyone else has noticed it, and can read his anxiety or bitter disappointment in his face. At the window at last. The clerk glances at the white face — he knows the name by this time. He seems a long while. “That’s a good sign!” cries the wanderer’s heart — not his reason.... “You’ve got yours in a lump this time!” He takes the parcel hurriedly, to cover the trembling of his hands; but sees in a flash the two letters in women’s hand-writing, one from Mother and one from — “Hold on! Hold on! — there’s a registered letter. Sign here.” He grins a foolish grin, and cracks a lame joke. But his heart goes thump — thump — thump, in spite of the mask we must wear, and the lies we must act, because we are English — or of the English.
I’ve been a long time getting to the gold, you’ll say, but then most of us are; few get there, in fact. I. find I’ve been trying to write in everything I’ve been going to write about the last ten years or so — and I remember so much. I like to linger over these years; Ι was yet young in the Golden Nineties. Probably, when I am old, and irritable, and decided, and unreliable, I will talk of these times as some old diggers do of the Roaring Fifties. And, perhaps, I’ll read these lines as the work of a young fool I knew vaguely in “those days”.
The nineties — our nineties — are dying, and, when they are dead, a hundred years of history will be deader for ever than the years of the histories of most other countries. History might repeat itself, but never the first century of a new country.
I never hear of a rush, or a war, or a great movement without fancying Ι hear the music of it over the horizon; and so I can hear the roll of war drums inland in South Africa at the present moment; but whether they be Boer drums or British it would serve no purpose to say. In the case of a rush I hear the music of all the songs they used to sing on the diggings as far back as I can remember, and it always ends with “Auld Lang Syne”. All seems to begin and end with “Auld Lang Syne” in these sad days; a birth song, it can be, a song of meeting, and a parting song, a war hymn! — and a dead march.
Oh! about “the rush”? Let me see. The first rush Ι remember was the rush to Gulgong, from “Th’ Old Pipeclay” — the last rush before Gulgong, and the nearest to it — and from the rest of the world. Let’s see; it must be over twenty-five years ago! Bullock teams, tip-drays, spring-carts, packhorses, on bad roads, or, rather rough tracks, through stringy-bark bush; now and then a load of sheets of stringy-bark and sapling rafters from Pipeclay; tables upside down on top, with bedding, “personal effects” — and aspects — and cooking utensils, between the legs; cradles — for both gold and babies — tin dishes, picks and shovels, and the all-important hand bellows for the pointing-forge; and the three-legged pot was great in the land in those days, and the camp-oven; fifty swags in a dray. Horsemen, footmen, and packhorses — and a circus! All going to Gulgong from all the world. Ι don’t remember what sort of swags the diggers carried in those days, or how they dressed, but I remember always the gold dish, and the pick and shovel. Ι can’t call to mind whether I went in a spring-cart, or a dray, or was carried in front of someone on horseback, but have an idea that Ι was stowed amongst the bedding on top of a load, at least part of the way. Rows of lighted tents, huts going up in the moonlight for diggers’ wives and families; tree-felling and pick-pointing at sunrise. The palmy days of Gulgong, far away and unreal to me now as a “transformation scene”. The memory of it all impresses me very much in the same way as did the first Christmas pantomime Ι saw as an intensely impressionable bush boy. And big, boyish, jolly-faced, and good-hearted diggers. And a “money box”! — the contents of which later on, when times grew hard on us, went (I remember being given to understand) towards the purchase of a new baby brother, whom I hadn’t asked for, and didn’t want.
Ι had childish but decided opinions re the foolishness of taking babies as a gift, let alone buying them; but perhaps I was prejudiced on account of my money-box.
We weren’t found under cabbages when I was a child. We were bought from Chinese hawkers — not the vegetable variety, but those who went round with boxes of drapery, fancy goods, cotton, needles, tape, etc., slung to the ends of their poles. I hated and dreaded the sight of a Chinese hawker, for Ι firmly believed that he hawked babies under the top shelves of his boxes. By the way, if you fancy you are a strong man, try the weight of the ordinary, weedy, bush Chinaman’s loaded baskets; you’ll get a surprise, and some idea of what practice can do in the way of weight-carrying.
There now! In my desperate hurry to get on with the Golden Nineties I’ve stumbled backwards into the early seventies, and drifted into my first childhood — if not the second. Best give it up this week, and start with a clean sheet next Saturday.
Gulgong, by the way, is a hot, dry, barren, hopeless little pastoral town, with patches of gravel and funnel-shaped holes where the shafts were, and the Bathurst burr flourishing all over the spaces between. And, of course, the goats; they came with the first of the rush, and haunt the old diggings longer than anything else. But far and faint, and faint and far, comes the echo of Gulgong — Gulgong in the Roaring Days!
“If I could only raise the price of a steerage ticket to West Australia!”
This was the burden of the unemployed clerk’s and workman’s song in Sydney in the middle nineties. There was little or nothing doing in the building line; and, when there is nothing doing in the building line there is little in any other — save, perhaps, that of the labour agitator.
Many workmen were seen drifting hopelessly about the streets in the daytime — a sad sign for me, for I knew all the sordid, cruel little “domestic” jars and miseries that went to make up the great shameful (doubly shameful in a young and “prosperous” country) misery behind it.
You could tell them by signs that were plain; by the inkstains, by the bits of mortar or plaster on their hats and clothes; by the paint spots; the lime-discoloured nails; the French polisher by the stains on his hands and nails; and, even with stains worn off, hands scrubbed clean, and “Sunday-go-mashings” on, you could tell the carpenter, painter, comp., etc., if you looked close enough, by the shape of thumb or finger — the protective, horny, excrescence formed by the most frequently-used tool — as on the inside of the second finger of the house painter’s hand, for instance, where it rests against the handle of the brush. But, most of all, you could tell them by their “drift” in the street — the saddest and most hopeless drag of all.
They went through the “wanted” columns of the Herald each morning — I have seen them outside the Herald office at four o’clock on winter mornings striking matches to run down the columns on the sheets pasted on the board — posted there for that purpose, and by a paper which, perhaps, in that very issue ridiculed the suggestion of poverty and hardship in New South Wales; and had, maybe, a thankful leader on the gratifying prosperity of the colony; the satisfactory, or “wonderful” — or even “marvellous” — progress that has been made during the last ten years. (Amen.)
The unemployed tradesman’s only chance of job came and went before eight o’clock in the morning; then he might as well lie on his back for the rest of the day, if he could — better, for it saved his boots. He answered advertisements in company with from five to fifty unlucky poor devils. Sometimes he got a job for a few days, which scarcely paid for boot wear. And, towards the end the whole thing would seem so utterly hopeless and useless to him that he would only look or make a pretence of looking through the Herald, and go out in the streets, lest those who were near to him would say what the selfish and ignorant world thought and said and preached and printed and published broadcast — that he didn’t want work. To get out of the country was the only hope.
“My God! If I could only get away to West Australia, or somewhere!”
No one who has not tramped with the unemployed can begin to realise the misery of it: the bitter humiliation of dependence on friends and relatives. And the hopelessness of it — the impotence of it! The dull (not “dumb”, worse luck!) monotonous misery of domestic life under unemployed conditions. The agony of slinking in to dinner and meeting the eye of your landlady, who has to slave to pay the landlord, and the rest — or worse, the cold — though often bloodshot — stare of the greasy, cheap restaurant keeper, who sat by the door, three times a day, with a stony eye on the sixpences, and looked eager, and often fit, to smash you if you hesitated. Because he had to run his place as half lodging house, half brothel, in order to scrape in the ten to twenty pounds a week he had to pay the owner — say, a member of the Upper House. The vague, but ever-haunting, idea that when you’re once out the front door it might be shut against you for ever; the loss of the feeling of security, of the sense of the right of privacy in your room; the humiliating misery, to a tidy, sensitive man, of down-trodden heels, flapping soles, and dirty, frayed linen. It makes a furtive, self-torturing coward of him. It takes away his “grip” altogether; just when he needs it most. I know how, under certain conditions, a pair of solid soles, level heels, and a clean collar can put more heart into a man than anything else short of a steady billet. I remember once, in those hard old days, getting hold of what I thought was a pair of fairly good boots. They were left at our lodgings by a well-to-do lodger, and the landlady thought, with a glance at my own boots, that I might take a turn out of them. She had good reason for thinking so. I restrained my joy until I got to my room, where I found I had no longer occasion to restrain it, for I saw that the boots were not a pair! There had been an oversight somewhere. It was a cruel disappointment. But I soaked the sole of one of those odd boots — they were large, fortunately — and hammered it round, edgeways, to serve as a fellow to the other, till I could wear both as a pair. They were tan, but I blackened them with many coats of blacking and polish, and I wore them out tramping for work in this old city of Sydney, which I love above all other cities I have seen, and will love above all I’m likely to see, and to which, no doubt, I’ll drift back in the end, as I’ve always done in the past.
Tie a man down, and leave him, and he can struggle for freedom; starve him and he can hope and “battle” for a full meal; put him in danger of his life, and he can fight for it. But to let him live and get enough to eat and be healthy, but shabby and dependent, and with “responsibilities”, and willing and eager to “take anything he can get to do”, yet never able to get it, though he tramp through leather, sock and skin! Is there any prison or position more cruelly hopeless to a “straight” man than that?
The workman’s instinct rebels against idleness; it murders him slowly — kills the manhood in him sometimes (though not often), for sometimes, in the end, he comes to regard the Herald only as a blanket in the Domain on cold nights — then he is lost. Note, when there is an accident in the street — a ’bus horse fallen down, for instance — the men who run to help are invariably of the honest unemployed — a little group of shabby men, who were hanging, “listlessly”, you might say, about the kerb. And they’ll work to help for an hour if necessary without hope or expectation of a penny in return. This is the workman’s instinct, taking the only chance it gets.
The fourpenny, the threepenny — even the twopenny — restaurant, or eating-room, was established in Sydney; lifting the sixpenny one to quite a respectable position — to the position occupied by the shilling and eighteen-penny restaurants in the eighties, which were better years for the workman. Furniture went for next to nothing — for the carting of it away — and that is always a bad sign for the city; when the price of furniture, food, and ’bus fares goes up it is a sign that times are brightening. The unemployed gathered at the Queen’s Statue, where the raggedest wanted to know why the working man wasn’t working — and echo, and the traffic, answered “Why?” The most hopeless and bravest formed little processions at night, with skull and crossbones, and “Bread and Work” on transparencies, and pestered the Government with deputations, and provided the daily papers with dull and harmless half-columns on the unemployed question; and, when they began to bore the general public and make the Government uncomfortable, they were set to work shifting sand, or trucked out into the big scrubs at the ends of the railway lines, from which it would take months for such as weren’t starved, or absorbed by the awful outback hell, to walk, or work their way back to the Statue and bother Ministers. But wasn’t it a shameful, pitiful, squalid, paltry, and helpless business for a great and growing country?
I have written about these things before, many times, and to little purpose, I think, now. There was a time, when I was younger, and madder, and “narrower”, and more ignorant of the world, more sincere and loyal to man, and braver and truer-hearted than I am now; when I dreamed of barricades and a red death for the sake of right and justice, and all that sort of thing, and wrote about it, too, in prose and rhyme. But now I don’t think I’d live for a week under the freedom or tyranny of unionism, universal brotherhood, glorious liberty, or whatever you like to call it, provided I could get out of the land of freedom inside the said week. I think the clerks and counter-jumpers, who keep a family and keep up an appearance on a pound a week, and the sweated shop-girls, have a greater claim on our sympathy than the working man. But he’s an old mate of mine, and, besides, I like to write of the unemployed workman sometimes, because I have an idea, born of experience, that such is human nature, some poor devil, reading, might take comfort and heart again in the fact that someone with a chance to talk in print has been through it all.
Good all-round tradesmen, who had “served their time” — that is, wasted five of the best years of their life to learn a trade (“He that hath a trade hath an estate!” you know) were lucky if they averaged five shillings a day. Some, rather than remain idle, took “piece work” at prices which didn’t allow them to average four shillings, however hard they grafted. And yet others took to ’bus-driving, and other things, at which they made less. And all the time things were booming in the building line in West Australia, but steerage fares were high.
But at last, perhaps, Brother Bill, or, more likely, and yielding to the influence of a married sister, brother-in-law Bill would come to the rescue, and “fix up” Jack, Jim, or Tom — “lend” him his fare to West Australia, and maybe a pound or two to land with; and they’d go — the carpenter with his tool chest, or such tools as he hadn’t sold or pawned, and couldn’t manage without; the painter with overalls, aprons, duster, and putty knife, and maybe a box of sign-writing “tools”; the plasterer with his precious “laying trowel”, “hawk”, “float”, “joint rules”, “pointing trowel”, etc., and the bricklayer with his trowel, plumb-bob, spirit level, etc., in lime-dusty sugar bags; the comp. with his favourite “stick”; the counter-jumpers, clerks, and the rest with their “recommendations”, and old mates and friends would see them off, as described, with personal feeling at least, in the last sketch of that book of mine, While the Billy Boils.
They were brave days, those hard old days. We were heroes without knowing it. We dared do more than the King of France or the Pope of Rome in their prime; we dared do more than the richest men in the world, and many of the wisest — the self-sufficient know-alls! We dared do more than the bravest generals and officers, and many of the rank and file — Tom Atkins, with all his bulldog pluck. There was no pay, no pension, no glory attached to what we dared do, for, for the sake of our poor pride — because of the shame we felt for “livin’ with your friends” when we couldn’t get work — we dared go aboard the steamer with nothing save the clothes we stood straight in, and land blindly in a strange town, with nothing more save a brave grin for the worst.
And the well-connected black sheep, or ne’er-do-well, came out with only five hundred pounds or so, an extensive wardrobe in expensive bags, and letters of introduction to his Australian nibs, with which to face the cold, cruel world. And his mother and sisters wept for him at home, and the colonial Government gave him a free pass, if he wanted one, and a billet; or, at the worst and best, he drank or flashed away his money in the city, and went to the bush, which made a man of him who was a snob; or, and again at the worst or best, he died of bush beer and spirits, and the bush bard (I’ve been there myself) sat beside his bunk and held his hand in the sad Australian sunset while he babbled of home and mother, and wrote poems about him afterwards containing libels on the “brave-hearted ne’er-do-well’s” relatives, who bought him off, out of the country, after he had broken their hearts and nearly bankrupt them. The romantic British black sheep had a good run in this country, and many gentle tears were shed over his lonely grave. And such is the world’s sympathy. He is the poetic and popular hard-up; mine the real one.
But never mind, old mates of mine, of the days when things were dead in the building line! Keep faith in human nature, and a brave grin for the rest, and we’ll sing a song of triumph yet, leaders, rank and file — if not in this world, then in one of the other two.
I was one of those who were wise enough to go west, saloon, with a few pounds, and foolish enough to come back steerage with a few shillings. There was nothing brilliant, not even a gleam of originality, in that; the blunder is as old as the Prodigal Son with whom it no doubt originated. Anybody can see that it was dull, common-place, foolishness on my part. My friends have told me so. I should have gone steerage with nothing, and come back saloon with a pile; I can see that for myself now, but was too busy, battling for groceries, those times, to think of the future.
The Paroi was an Adelaide Steamship Company’s boat, and so our manly, nuggety, pleasant little quartermaster — oldest hand, and favourite with the captain, who had taken him out of several boats into several others; our cheerful, intelligent little quartermaster — who held a first mate’s certificate, but preferred to remain comfortably a quartermaster — was, on account of the company’s initials, obliged to do his duty with, knitted large in red across the front of his blue guernsey, the letters,
And no one seemed to notice it; he had doubtless forgotten all about it, and couldn’t have smiled, or received an impression, had his attention been drawn to it, for I take it that the joke, if it was a joke, was worn out shortly after the company started. I suppose a man, who showed no sign of it in his face, general appearance, speech, or manner, could, in the way of business, go about with “Fool” writ large across the front of him, and no notice be taken of it after a little while — nothing seen in it to grin about. It would need a new joke every five minutes, and a broad joke at that, to keep the English world smiling moderately nowadays.
First among the passengers — first on account of his name, mostly, and partly because of his general good-sortedness — was a mining expert, a stout, elderly gentleman of Pickwickian proportions — there was a hint of Pickwick about his specs, too; he was a Russian Pole, from the States, or a German — the wife says he was a Russian — travelling in the interest of some big syndicate, or syndicate of syndicates. All the gold that hasn’t been found in the world belongs by right to the syndicates, you understand, because they have most of the gold that has been found, and went to some trouble and expense, and put up with considerable anxiety and consequent loss of sleep to get it from the diggers. And, in case they should be cheated of their due, they send boundary riders all over the world to where gold is being got, or likely to be found. Our expert had been in South Africa, and all round several times; he had about £500 worth of jewellery on his fingers and shirt — some of it presents no doubt. And his name — well, here’s his card:
MINING ENGINEER, AND
There was a joke to the effect that, when the old gentleman called at a post office, en route, and asked, “If dere vas any letters for Modest Maryan-ski?” the delivery clerk, if he had noticed the address on envelopes, would regard him with great interest; or seeing a stout, pleasant-faced, well-to-do elderly gentleman before him he would think it was a joke he couldn’t catch on to for the moment, and grin as in duty bound. Then Modest would exclaim, “I asked you if dere vas any letters for Modest Maryan-ski? Are you deaf? Vat makes you stand crinning dere, and doing nossing? Vas it funny?” Probably, by this time, the clerk would be hysterical, and maybe he’d shove a less emotional fellow clerk behind the window, and recover out of sight of Modest Maryan-ski.
But Mr Darrow, Maryanski’s assistant, a slight, quiet, gentlemanly Yankee, from some big mineralogical college in the States — who collected everlasting flowers, seaweed, and shell for his mother — a dear old lady by her portrait — Mr Darrow, one sadly beautiful evening on the upper deck, about the time when sea-travellers grow confidential, told me about things which Maryanski had done for poor devils on Godforsaken fever-stricken fields — and which only Darrow and the said poor devils knew of — that gave me a great respect for the old gentleman. I ceased to see anything humorous about his name; but I saw where the “Modest” came in.
But Modest Maryanski was a man of the world, who knew the wisdom of getting what he paid for. There were no eggs after Melbourne! and this was scandalous, from Maryanski’s point of view: “It was dredful! Eet vos vrightful! No x vor der laties!”
He sought earnestly, wildly, to rouse our enthusiasm in the matter.
“You Australians,” he cried, despairingly, “vill complain about nossing! If they gif you poison, and keeled you, you vould not complain!”
He had been used to the first hotels, and saloons, in the world, while we — I, at least — had been used to the bush, and workman’s boarding-houses. He was on a coaster in democratic Australia, where he couldn’t pay more than we did. But he didn’t see these things. So even men of the world have their limitations.
They got some “x” for him at Adelaide, and then he devoted his attention to “looking after the laties”, as he called it. He got a concert in full swing in the music-room on deck, when, about ten o’clock, the ’lectrics were turned out without warning. Oh! but Maryanski was an excited foreigner then, and implored us to join him in a mutiny. We were angry, too; but his broken English and his gestures in the moonlight overbalanced us. You see, it was “sailing day”, the stewards had had an extra hard day, and wanted a rest.
But worse was to come. Maryanski shared a four berth cabin with another gentleman, and when he went to turn in he found that the other two berths were occupied. It was not right. Considering the high fares they had no right to put four in a cabin of that size. He had his bedding bundled out into the big half-moon shaped smoking-room, over the screw. Now, the vibration from the screw has been troubling Australian shipping owners for years, and is always a subject for care and anxiety when a new intercolonial boat is being built at home. There was a heavy head sea off Kangaroo Island, and the vibration of the screw that night was like that of a heavy luggage train brake van coming down a steep place in the mountains.
Now, the spirit of the sea was on me. I was feeling healthy and restless; drunk with the intoxication that comes of change; so I turned out, as is my habit, on first nights, and stormy nights, at sea, in the small hours, buttoned on my overcoat, and stepped out — it was a deck cabin — on to the damp deck, glistening for a few yards in the light of a subdued ’lectric. I wanted to go up on the top deck, and watch the damp, dark decks and ghostly boats in their harness dip and slant as far as the funnel, standing now to starboard, now to port, and pouring out volumes of black smoke to be flattened down by the wind; to hear the roar, and see the ghostly phosphorescent breast of what Kipling calls a “mother wave” rise out of the wild darkness, close alongside, or under the counter; to look, for contrast, down through the skylight, into the quiet music-room, with velvet lounges all round, delicate panel paintings, tapestry curtains, a piano at one end, a sheet of music or a book here and there — and, perhaps, a lifeless figure of a seasick passenger, who couldn’t breathe in the staterooms, rolled up in a rug; a canary cage or two; and a flourishing fernery round the railed light, well over the dining saloon beneath. To see, perhaps, several tons of water come over the rail amidships. I wanted then to dodge for’ard to the fo’c’sle head, where the silent watch, big in oilskins, like a solid black ghost, moved up and down, now on one side, now on the other, of the anchor gear, struck the big ship’s bell in response to another bell, somewhere aft, and from where I could see an oil-skinned figure moving, aslant, but otherwise undisturbed by the rolling, on the bridge above; and down over the bows a seemingly fathomless black gulf, from which a thunder of foam rose halfway up to us, as the steamer “swooshed” through it with a mighty swoosh that is like nothing on land. To feel the swelling rise of the ship, and the swoop that lifts you on tiptoe, and fills your lungs.
But, first, I stepped into the smoke-room to load and light my pipe, for I intended to smoke if the wind let me, and I was aware of a figure that might have been the figure of Pickwick himself, in pyjamas, poking about a bed that had been made up on one of the lounges under a light; and a voice, which was not the voice of Pickwick, or “any English”, but which cried aloud, in foreign tones of agony, which rose above the wail of the gale:
“Eet vos a vloating hell. Eet vos a vloating h-e-ell!”
Maryanski left the boat at Albany, and took train to Perth. We all went ashore to the station to see him off, and his spectacles beamed round on us like the glasses of a young grandfather of us all. We sent him off with a cheer that must have surprised the natives of those parts — if they were at last capable of experiencing the emotion of surprise.
He must have had fresh cause for grumbling if the railway system hadn’t changed since I was up that line. That little train used to clock, clock, clock, and rattle along in a free-and-easy, all brothers-and-sisters sort of way; travellers showed the guard their ticket or whisky flask, according to which came handiest; the driver and stoker got down at fettlers’ huts to have a cup of tea — or a nip. And the travellers, whom unforeseen and inscrutable Fate had destined for places like Beenup, Chokerup, Putitup, or Chuckitup, stepped down on to the ballast, and were left in the midst of an “inward-drawing” wilderness, where the “weird melancholy of the Australian bush” has her camp — she only haunts other places — with no particular track to anywhere, and no one to tell the traveller where on earth he’d got to, or which way he was to go to get anywhere else.
Now (thinking of Maryanski), I’m a democrat, I hope, and have been what I thought was a socialist; also a red Republican — everything short of a dynamitard; but I’m constantly meeting bloated capitalists, and their agents, who turn out to be pleasant-faced, gentle-spoken, simple-hearted, good-natured men — even cheerful, and jolly, and boyish. ’Tis a world of changing contradictions, and man will never get the hang of it. Take our own Randolph Bedford, the mining speculator, for instance, and ex-bard, and journalist; he went to the West on his uppers, and, devoting the brains he had put in contributions to the Bulletin, and other papers, to the purpose of making money, he naturally made a pile. He has a winning smile and dimples, and would look, with his moustache off and his hat on, like a cheerful, fat boy, untroubled with intellect.
I think most journalists could make money if they left off writing, and put their brain work into something else. G. R. Sims, I hear, made a good thing out of a hair restorer. And I’m devoting some of my surplus brooding to the invention of a — No! I won’t give it away.
There was a rejected Queensland labour candidate on board, with a purse of sovereigns — measurement of contents not published — and a framed testimonial, which is all that a successful Australian statesman might reasonably hope for when his time comes.
There was another Pole beside Maryanski, a gaunt, sad-eyed Pole, who was going over to start a store up Kalgoorlie way, and had some big packing-cases full of goods in the hold. I’d been reading The Polish Insurrection, and was full of it, and enthusiastic about the fair land of Poland. I tried it on these two Poles, but missed fire somehow. They smiled at one another in a quietly amused way, so I concluded that I wasn’t so well up in Polish politics as I thought. I did far better one other time, on the subject of revolutions, on a French boat, with a lot of soldiers going home from New Caledonia. But perhaps the Poles had fought on opposite sides, and hence their quiet grins.
There was a mining man returning West with some of his family. He had a long-barrelled revolver, with which, one glorious, sunny, breezy morning, in the Bight, he took flying shots at the sea birds over the stern until the captain interfered angrily, and suddenly. If you shoot sea birds something is sure to happen to you and the ship in the end. (See the point?)
There was a digger, who had been over to Sydney to see the last of and bury the last of his family — a grown-up daughter — and was now going back with no one’s sake for whom to fight the battle for the gold in the West, going back because there was nothing to keep him in the East any more.
“But I’m glad I got over in time to see the last of her,” he said slowly and sadly to me, one evening by the rail. “She was a good girl.... A good daughter to me.” He got his pipe going. “She was ailin’ when I went over the first time, or I’d ’a’ managed to take her with me, and leave her in Perth.” (There was something wrong with his pipe. Someone in the music-room started to sing “Swannie River”.) “She was a good girl, Annie — The mother died when she was a child.”
He turned his shoulder to me abruptly, folded his arms tightly on the rail, and gazed out over the darkening sea. The singer had a good voice, and sung the song well:
“Ober de face of all creation —
Eb’ry where I roam.”
There was a theatrical agent, with a great stock of very original anecdotes — most of them belonging to the smoking-room, and to the list of funny things you can’t print — and a testimonial, which was all, save his fare, that the poor players of his acquaintance had to give him. There were two Australian ne’er-do-wells being sent to the West; one, a frank, fresh-faced boy, couldn’t understand why he couldn’t raise a lather with ordinary soap in the hot salt water bath. “I didn’t know that before!” he said to me, with wide eyes and refreshing ignorance; and he asked me how it was. I didn’t know myself exactly; but I told him at once that the salt in the water killed the soapiness that was in the soap (or something to that effect), and so retained my position in his eyes as an experienced traveller.
There were two females travelling on the mamma-dear-and-daughter racket — though there seemed little difference in their ages; the scraggiest was mamma-dear. They dressed for dinner, and on every other possible occasion; they were probably both good sailors, but they played the seasick, as well as the love-sick, and home-sick, games for all they were worth — and more; with an exaggerated monkeying of interesting beauty in distress which was very sickening. They seemed very poor hands at the game — rushed things from the start; and one of them, the “daughter”, got caught in her own trap before the voyage was over — she fell in love with the intended victim, who was also a snob.
It was during the height of the Trilby boom; two young ladies on board were reading Trilby, and there was a parson who was the dead spit of Svengali. The world is covered with coincidences of this sort.
There was an old maid, who dressed like a Charley’s Aunt, and had a lonely time; and there were three newly married couples. The old maid — she had the children hunger in her eyes — used to haunt the newly married couples, and beam on their canoodling with moist eyes, as if she longed to adopt them, and take them to her lonely breast. She had plenty of money, ’twas said, and I wished she had adopted at least one of those newly married couples. The oldest and newliest married had a cabin to themselves after Adelaide. They were captain’s guests. They were swells. The Joker had an idea of “sneaking” the dinner-gong, tin-kettling them suddenly late at night, and diving back to our cabins ere the alarm spread. But we were afraid of the captain.
And who forgets little Teddy, the chief steward? He had reduced all things to a system — except sea-sickness. He was very good to the ladies — brotherly and confidential. He said that most people are seasick “different”; the nurse of a home for drunks once told me that “they all had the horrors different”, but maybe that was only from a professional point of view — made up of details. Teddy had the courses put on the table, and plates removed at the stroke of the gong, without the slightest regard to tastes or appetite; in this matter he was an unflinching tyrant. A bright Australian girl on board said that Teddy had a good deal of dry humour belonging to him, and stowed away somewhere. He would come into her cabin in the morning, when she was seasick, and had her teeth out, and make her repeat her requests several times, because, she said, he was interested in the way she said “muffin”, for instance, with the teeth out.
Most bush people have a general idea of a steamship. The main deck runs right fore and aft, under the deck cabins and deck houses. Where there are no cabins at the side there are the bulwarks, about as high as a two-rail fence. The Paroo’s smoking-room was built over the stern, and the shape of it, under a top promenade deck, where there was a skylight, and the big double, old-fashioned hand-steering wheel, which was intended for use if the steam steering gear — under the bridge for’ard — broke down. In front of the centre of the smoke-room was the bar — “the pub”, and on each side, by the bulwark, a wing of deck cabins — nice, roomy, breezy cabins, with red curtains to the windows. In front of the pub was dining-saloon, skylight, and in front of that, still on deck, the music-room; then hatch of the after hold, with some clear deck round it; then the great funnel stack, with the upper lifeboat decks, and under them, on the main deck, on each side, two little covered streets, running right forward in which were the big, steaming kitchen, the butcher’s and baker’s shops, cabins for the engineers and petty officers, the lamp and paint room, perhaps, if it wasn’t for’ard. And, in front of the funnels, on the end of the boat deck, was the bridge, with the steering room, the chart room, the captain’s and an officer’s cabin underneath. And down over beyond the bridge were the second, or steerage, cabins; and the sailors’ quarters, under the fo’c’s’le head. Get some old sailor to explain.
The dining-saloon, as big as a good-sized cow-yard, the full width of the boat, with long tables and soft carpets between and cushioned armchairs that swung round; with ceiling in pure white and gold, and curtained portholes, with panel paintings between; and passages of sleeping cabins leading off. You could go along one passage to the intermediate kitchen, the pantry, the lavatories, and bathrooms, where you could get hot and cold baths; in another passage were the ladies’ cabins and retiring room.
And all down along underneath, under the floors, as it were, and beneath the waterline, are the great fore and after cargo holds, the engine-room, and stoke-hole. And from the engine-room along the bottom of the vessel runs the great shaft that turns the screw that drives the steamer; and behind the screw is fixed the big iron rudder that steers the boat. And there you are. If little Jimmy or Jacky wants to know why the water can’t get in through the hole the shaft goes out through, tell him it’s so closely cased and fitted with great brass (that’s near enough) collars and “washers”, and kept so well oiled that only a little water sweats in; and tell him that there are steam pumps on board. And if he further wants to know — which he, no doubt, will, for I know him — why the cargo doesn’t get in the road of the turning shaft — tell him that every exposed portion of moving machinery on board ship is covered, and protected by sheet iron casing.
If you want to know what seasickness is, and can’t get to sea, the only way I know would be to start early in the afternoon, and get very drunk on mixed drinks; when you wake in the morning you’ll have some idea of sea-sickness — or else there’s something seriously wrong with your constitution. A good many chaps going by boat have a send-off before they go on board; and when they wake up next morning at sea — say, a close, muggy, wet, sloppy morning — and are “whipping the cat”, with seasickness on top of it, they suffer properly. They get their money’s worth. I’ve seen a strong man throw himself, face down, on the wet deck, the water coming over on him in bucketfuls, and yell for his mother. We had to carry him into a cabin and fill him with whisky hot. And the women let their hair go, and flop and lie round any way, with their clothes hanging on to them anyhow. All you can do, if they won’t go to the cabin, is to throw a rug over them and leave them. The girl who is a good sailor is a great girl on board.
We have a saying that if you were properly seasick, and someone were to offer you a fortune in a bag — hold it out to you and ask you to take it — you’d only say, provided you weren’t speechless:
“Go-’way! — Go’way! Le’ me ’lone!”
Another annoying thing, if you are a man, and very seasick, is to have a comic mate following you all over the beastly boat, and asking you, “How do you feel now, old man?” And if you ain’t goin’ to have any dinner? With a false ring of sympathy in his voice, and a foolish, fixed grin on his hateful, idiotic mug.
I was only sick twice at sea — or three times, rather; the first trip — and I fought it down; once in the stinking little cabin of a New Zealand coasting tub, when they shut us down in a gale; and once on a French boat, when they killed a big scrub bullock, and cut its throat, and the carpenter hurried up with a tot, and, without warning —! He went away swinging the tot on his forefinger, and wiping his bristly mouth with the back of his hand. I saw a basket of plucked fowls kicking on that boat, too, and — well, it wasn’t our way.
In “going saloon” under favourable conditions, as soon as you are out of sight of wharf and head, and when the long, drawn-out, conventional, useless misery of seeing and being “seen off” at the wharf is over, a contentment which is wide, complete, and soul-satisfying begins to settle over your spirit. There is nothing to do till the end of the trip but to rest and be lazy and enjoy yourself. No work, no appointments, no visits are possible — no shopping. And the utter uselessness of bothering or worrying over what you forgot to do, or left behind, is so plainly apparent to even the most fidgety man that he doesn’t bother about it at all. Nothing freshens and opens and draws hearts together like the sea. You all feel more like boys and girls. Hard business men begin to feel and to talk as they did early in their professional careers — before the long drag of failures, that comes before success, embittered their lives. Your conversation grows fresh, and frank, and confidential, as it was when you first came to the city, an eager-hearted boy. Yes, at sea we feel and talk about things that we left off feeling — or, at least, mentioning — when we left off being boys. The influence of the sea; and then we are all friends and strangers, and can talk without the fear of our most innocent remark being spread round by wives and acquaintances, and twisted and distorted, given a sinister significance, and so coming back to our outraged ears to madden and embitter us.
I only travelled in one saloon where the passengers didn’t thaw on the second day out. There was a full saloon, mostly of well-to-do people from a New Zealand city, a city in a hole where there is no caste — only a dead level of cliquism — where they hate each other only in a less degree than they hate the stranger who tries to settle down amongst them without plenty of money to spend, or who, having brought money with him, tries to remain and make more after he has spent it. The women sat at the tables, and ate as if their elbows were hemmed in by sharp-pointed spikes. But we had an antidote. He was a big man, with limbs like a bullock — an ex-fighting man from somewhere in the north of North Island. He’d given up drink, and reformed, and made money contracting, but he’d been a very rough man. He’d talk about his life, frankly and cheerfully, later on in the trip. He wore a big white duck suit, a cork hat, a white shirt with no collar, but all his studs were sovereigns. He had the biggest hands I’d seen on a man. Now, the first to “put him away” was a New Zealand watchmaker on board, a man of the pug, snob breed.
“Just you wait and see me poke it at the big cove at dinner!” he said, after he’d given us the ex-pug’s history. “I’ll take him down a peg.”
Now, I failed to see in what particular the “big cove” needed taking down a peg. He seemed quiet, cheerful, and good-natured. He had a square face, a good strong face, with hard folds, and there was a light, or line, about his brown eyes that I could see, and that made me feel as if I’d rather have him for a mate in a tight place than anyone else on board.
Came dinner, with the pricked elbows and screwed-up shoulders of the women. The big man sat next the mate at the head of the table, and Pugsnob opposite. Presently Pugsnob opened the ball:
“By the way, you were up about Te — once?—in 18—, wasn’t it?”
The big man blinked down across at him good-naturedly.
“Yes, I was,” he said, in a full, cheerful voice, that could be heard at the end of the furthest table; “and, by the way, I seen you there, too. I thought I know’d your face, but couldn’t fix it.”
Pugsnob was silent. He hadn’t expected the big man to take it that way.
“You was there, wasn’t you? You had a case about mendin’ watches that they wouldn’t pay for. Said you spoiled ’em. But they was a hard crowd.”
“You didn’t stop long!” said Pugsnob, sullenly.
“No,” said the big man cheerily. “I stopped about three weeks longer than I should. I got into trouble there.”
“You had a fight?”
“Oh, yes. With the bullock driver. That was a big fight, but he was too much for me.” Deathly silence in the saloon; then the snob tried again.
“You got run in?”
“Oh, yes. I got on the spree after the fight and got run in. Served me right. I was a fool those days. I set fire to the lockup, too. I heard yer tellin’ about that in the smoke-room this morning. I couldn’t get out any other way, so I thought I’d burn myself out!” Then, indicating a basket of sponge cakes, “Pass me some of them things like yer fingers, will yer?”
Pugsnob did as he was bid; and then sat looking as if a bad character had forced his conversation upon him in public.
I noticed a fashionable-looking young lady, on the opposite side of the table lower down, glance at the big fighting man once or twice with a glance that was neither of contempt nor disgust — as was the one she flashed at Pugsnob, but more as of appreciative interest.
The big man was the most popular with the men for the rest of the trip, and took the place of the Joker. And we rubbed it into Pugsnob, too. “When are you going to take the big chap down again?” we’d ask. “Pass some of them there things like yer fingers, will you, Pugsnob?”
Oh, but it’s glorious to be up early in the morning at sea, when the decks have been washed down, at the expense of about three times as much water and energy as would seem needful to a landsman, and the water has been rubbed off with things like india rubber hoes, and everything is fresh and bright, and there’s a round breeze blowing, and the blue sea is covered with whitecaps; and, maybe, there’s an island or a headland close at hand, with a line of breakers round the base.
It’s grand on a sunny, bounding day, out on the Bight! You can lounge or lie on deck chair or rugs, and watch the masthead moving constantly backward or forward, and across the pale blue zenith; the fleecy clouds flying across; you can prop yourself up and see, now the silver clouds in the far-off lower skies, now a league-long roller pouring the spray from its ridge, and every now and then a mighty white-capped wall of green rising beyond the bulwarks. Then someone laughs, “Look out!” and you feel the decks slant over — over! and rise with a swelling rise, and swoop with a motion that makes you grip seat or handrail, and sends a rush of life through you!
We waited for the breakfast, dinner and tea gongs, and lounged and lay round, and played deck quoits, and cards, and dominoes, and draughts in the smoking-room, and yarned lazily, and read magazines. We did all things lazily. You can, at sea, get too lazy to hold up a book — almost too lazy to dress; you could scarcely get any more gloriously lazy than that. So it’s a good thing to take slippers, and soft shirts with collars — things that you can put on without exertion. And sometimes in the evening we had a concert, with printed programmes — printed by a steward who was a comp., and who printed the “menu” — as souvenirs of the voyage.
And, in the evening, when the last crimson streak of sunset has faded, and the moonlight throws the shadows of spars and rigging like a sliding ebon framework on the white deck and the headlight is swinging high for’ard. This is the time of day at sea when you can feel honestly sentimental, and talk poetry, if she wants to talk it, to a girl you happen to be sitting beside in a sheltered nook — sheltered from the wind and observation. “They forget we have our night glasses on the bridge,” said a chief officer once to me and I stowed that hint away in my memory.
And this is the time at sea when your arm will slip round the waist of a girl you didn’t know before you came on board — without her seeming to notice it. Say a plump, jolly, good-hearted, fresh-faced, Gippsland, Blue Mountain, or New England girl, with, if the weather is cold, fur edging round her jacket, and a boa — and a cloak to hide your arm. You fix the deck chairs at a comfortable angle, arrange cushions for her, and one rug does for two pairs of knees. You tuck the rug in your side, and she tucks it in hers, and — there you are. What more do you want?
And, maybe, one of the promenading couples will pause, seeing you two sitting so closely and quietly together, and ask how you are getting on; and, very likely, the girl herself will reply for both: “Oh, we’re getting on very well, thank you.” And this gives you greater confidence in yourself, and your arm goes a little closer round her waist, without her seeming to notice it.
The sea does all this; but the land spoils it.
But I forgot — and I may as well confess — that I was part of one of the three newly-married couples referred to before; so the girl, in this case, belonged to me.
We were delayed at Albany until the afternoon of the third day, because of the Bullara, and got up the coast an hour too late to negotiate the channel, and so had to come round outside Rottnest Island.
“You’ll be lucky if you get ashore tomorrow,” said the captain to the passengers, “and, if it comes on to blow, you’ll be lucky if you get ashore in a week. They take things easy in Fremantle.” And he seemed to drop into an easy way of taking things himself. There were only two berths at the pier where our boat could lie, and both were occupied.
Most of my sea trips ended in the night. You wake suddenly next morning to the harsh clank and rattle of donkey-engines and hoisting gear, and you miss something at once — the steady throbbing of the screw; the thing you felt all day, the last thing before you went to sleep, and the first thing when you woke, till it seemed part of your life, or you a part of it. The great heart of the ship is at rest awhile — dead, as far as you are concerned — and its silence, especially after a long voyage, is almost painful. You look out the porthole, and see a stretch of dull grey water, some sailing ships at anchor, or a warehouse, a wharf, and trucks. Then there’s the good-bye to fellow passengers, whom you seem to have known all your life, but partings are seldom noticed in the change, the hurry and bustle of disembarkation. And, the next day, ashore, that voyage seems years ago.
At about nine o’clock we dropped anchor, and swung round it all night. At daylight we crawled in a little closer to the pier. The captain appeared in a free-and-easy costume, and with a casual aspect. He went ashore (casually) after breakfast, and it was understood that he was going to try and make arrangements to come alongside something — but he didn’t seem as if it would make any difference to him whether he came alongside a whale or a wharf, or drifted round, like the Lost Galleon, for ever. He returned later on, taking things easier than ever, and we were at liberty to understand he hadn’t made arrangements to come alongside anything. We were also allowed to be under the impression that a launch would come shortly, and take us off. I wouldn’t have cared much if we hadn’t come off for a fortnight. Teddy, our steward, was more than a father to us, and I had ascertained, from personal observation, that there was a sufficiency of provisions and liquor aboard.
Besides, they were transferring some of the cargo into a lighter, and few things interest me more than the loading or discharging of a ship. I had overlooked and superintended those operations throughout the voyage, and several voyages, to the entire disapproval, I am afraid, of the boat’s officers, and the various lumpers and foremen.
But then, we had reasons for wishing to be in town during business hours, and had no sort of a guarantee that a launch wouldn’t come along in the middle of the night, and take us off, in the usual free-and-easy Fremantle manner, and discharge us in the mud.
The captain said he couldn’t give us any of our luggage out of the hold — couldn’t open the hatches. If he strained a point for one person who had “only a small box”, he’d have to oblige his fellow-passengers who had a ton. Anyway, if we took the luggage out, it would have “to go into bond” — whatever that was. We’d get it when the boat got alongside, but the captain didn’t know when that would be. It might be tomorrow, and it might be a fortnight. He didn’t know, but he might have to take the luggage back to Albany and return it by rail — couldn’t say. He seemed indifferent about it too, and his serenity was in no wise ruffled by the decided enthusiasm on the subject displayed by the passengers. An hour or two passed, but nothing arrived except a false alarm in the shape of a tug, which came dead for us amidships, sent all the passengers skurrying after their portmanteaus, and sheered off at the last moment. Then two workmen came in a row-boat for a chum aboard, and took him off, with all his worldly goods and three cheers. At last a sailing-boat came alongside, and several of us made a bargain with the commander thereof, and got aboard as best we could. The commander and his crew of one took things easy while the craft tried her best to play leap-frog over the steamer. We were stowed aft, and our luggage for’ard — the boatman didn’t seem particular as to which. The skipper was about to stow a baby for’ard, and accommodate the mother with a portmanteau to nurse on her knee and comfort. We helped to get the sail up and push off; we cόuld have taken command of that craft, I think, without a protest from the crew, and sailed for the Antarctic. The boat took things easy, and we took things wet till her nose touched Fremantle. The free and easiness of the business warned us to the extent of revolting against the imposition of an extra “saxpence”, but the crew took even that easy, and deliberately searched himself till he found a bad sixpence, which he gave us in change. We scored one to him, and set our wandering feet on West Australia.
I came to the conclusion that the majority of citizens of Fremantle and Perth were left-handed, because when we were directed to take the first turning to the left and the second to the right we mostly found afterwards that we should have taken the first turning to the right and the second to the left. After going astray some fifty miles I put my theory into practice, and got on very well.
But, seriously, next day, in Perth, I found it so hard to get even an indirect direction anywhere, let alone a right one — to get even “laid on” to a chap that would “lay yer on” to the person or place you wanted to find — that I inquired and thought out the reason. It was very plain and simple. Perth was practically a new city, a brand new city, full of strangers.
We had wisely left our light luggage on board. We spent two hours vainly tramping about Fremantle in search of lodgings for the night, and found accommodation at last in one of the leading hotels of West Australia. There were three boats in, and Lord knows how many hundreds of T’othersiders, and though there was plenty of accommodation for single men — respectable or otherwise — there seemed to have been no provision made for married couples.
I have hung out in Sydney restaurants. I have been grateful enough for a piece of burnt hide to eat with our damper, in a bush pub, to overlook and even take a charitable view of the aggressive indifference of the landlord; but when we pay at the rate of three guineas a week at a leading hotel, where a hot bath is a thing unknown in midwinter, and where your boots disappear for an indefinite period and turn up unexpectedly with a coat of dull blacking in addition to the mud, I expect the proprietor and his minions to at least simulate some interest in worldly matters.
The population of Perth and Fremantle at the end of the eighties was about 7000 each; that of Albany 1000 or 1500 — according to how many happened to be in town (at the pubs mostly) on Saturday night. The railway workshops contributed greatly to the population of Albany, which town, as remarked in the first sketch of this series, hasn’t changed. The population of Perth in the winter of 1896, when we were there, was about 40,000, and hundreds coming every week!
We landed in Fremantle, and stayed there the night. Next day we went again to Perth to hunt for lodgings. Grubbing and clearing, and little galvanised iron, weatherboard, and brick suburbs were being built all along the sandy, scrubby bit of line from Fremantle to Perth. We tramped Perth most of the day in search of reasonable lodging, but none was to be found. The balcony and verandah floors of second-class boarding-houses were covered at night by the horizontal forms of single men, who took up their swags next morning, took the morning train to the goldfields, or camped on the outskirts of the city, and got a job. Cottages were taken before they were built, and the tenants of existing cottages often got a bonus of from anything up to twenty-five pounds to go out. They camped in tents, hessian houses, or put up weatherboard boxes.
The young man of limited cash who’d brought his wife with him only realised the size of his blunder after the first day in Perth. Work plentiful, wages fair, but the prices of meat and groceries appalling, and a cottage not to be thought of. The fields, because of the heat and fever, were no place to take a wife to, even if the husband could have afforded to buy such comforts as could be purchased on the fields, and have plenty of cash in hand for contingencies; but no man with funds for contingencies took his wife to West Australia. And the foolish young husband found that, instead of going to the fields and making a pile, he’d have to hustle for groceries in Perth. There was work for women in the shops in Perth, but most Australian husbands are too proud to allow their wives to work for wages — or too soft — or too jealous — or too selfish — call it what you like, Cynic.
We hunted for a roof to cover us till afternoon, when the case seemed hopeless. There seemed nothing for it but to pay at the rate of three or four guineas a week till the next boat sailed for Sydney. For the rest of the day I devoted my energies to the finding of an old workman chum of mine, by the name of Jones — Jones, of New South Wales; Jack Jones. He’d come over the year before. He was a joker, by the way, a born comedian, with a quiet grin and an inexhaustible store of quaint and original lies. He didn’t know I was coming. He’d written to me a couple of months previously, saying that things were grand in the building line in Perth. He said that of an evening and on Saturday afternoons the spilt beer ran out the pub doors and down the gutter; he said that it was just the country for a man of his rank in times of peace. He added that a great deal of the spilt beer was on account of laughing at his jokes. He said that chaps with plenty of money followed him about with handfuls of silver, ready to shout. And he urged me to come.
Jack ranked as a plasterer’s improver. There were buildings going up all over Perth, and I visited most of them in search of Jack. At last, late in the afternoon, in the west end of the city, I met a “cove” whose spots advertised that he was a plasterer, and he knew Jones of New South Wales, and it was evident, by his grin, that he appreciated him. He “laid me on” to some new cottages where I’d find Jones.
I found Jack at work, or, rather, surreptitiously preparing to knock off. He met me with his quiet grin and hard hand-grip; he wasn’t surprised to see me; no one was surprised to see anyone in Perth in the Golden Nineties. He said that, if I could hang out for five minutes, his boss would be gone, and we’d go over to the pub and have a wet to celebrate the event. He was suffering, or enjoying, his last fortnight of grass widowerhood, having built a hessian house and sent to Sydney for his wife. He had a small tent, and he placed his house at my disposal until I could “run one up” for myself.
A couple of days later we went down to Fremantle, and aboard the Paroi — which had got alongside the pier at last — to see about our baggage. We found the lighter luggage safe, in charge of our staunch little friend Teddy, the steward; the tin trunks were vaguely supposed to have gone ashore, and to be “in bond”. We carried the portmanteau, etc., halfway up the wharf, and rested. A Son of Toil came on the scene — he must have been a younger son of Toil, I think, who had no expectations from his father — who’d quarrelled with the “guv’nor”, in fact. He dispensed with the necessity of an introduction, seized the lightest of the portmanteaus, carried it to the end of the pier, and wanted eighteenpence. His argument was that he hadn’t earned a shilling for three days, and had a family to keep (to keep him, I suppose). I gave him a shilling, and invited him, for a further consideration, to see me to the railway station, and then to the Customs House, for the boxes. But just then a Customs officer interrupted. He wanted to know where I was taking those portmanteaus to, and what I had in them. I thought it best to be civil in a new land; so I told him all I could. I told him that I didn’t know exactly what the wife had in her portmanteaus, couldn’t give him a list on the spot, even if I felt myself justified in so doing. I explained that I was a newly-married man. I told him that I had a book of poetry in my portmanteau, written out of my own head (he didn’t seem surprised). I told him that the rest was prose, in manuscript mostly, and partly poetry — the latter mostly in an unfinished condition (he scratched his head). I asked him if there was any duty on poetry in West Australia, and said that if there was I could take my poetry back aboard, tear it up, throw it over the side, and then carry it ashore again in my head, and rewrite it in Perth. They couldn’t charge me for poetry carried in my head. I went on to explain that I hadn’t imported the poetry for sale in West Australia, but intended to take it back to Sydney, and sell it to the Sydney Bulletin, provided they hadn’t found too many new poets during my absence, but he seemed puzzled, then suspicious, and at last he said that I’d better take the portmanteaus to the Customs shed, and put ’em through with the rest of my things.
In the Customs shed there were the passengers from three boats, in various degrees of excitement. They wanted their luggage. The shed was nearly full of high stacks of luggage, and nobody seemed to be in authority, or responsible. There was a calm, casual-looking man in his shirt sleeves at a desk in a corner, and I appealed to him. He might, for all the energy or emotion he displayed, have been a clerk in a hay and corn store on a quiet day — or a Sydney civil servant before the startling days of the Public Service Board. He said that if I looked round I’d “see the chap”. I looked round, but could neither see nor hear of a “chap” that might have been in authority. I went to the man at the desk again; he said I’d better look round and see if I could see my things. I saw the trunks under a ton or two of other trunks, and with great exertion got them out into a clear space of asphalt. The man at the desk said he thought it would be all right, so I went for a van. When I returned I found that someone had turned up, stowed my trunks away again, and vanished.
I found and got them out a second time. The van wasn’t allowed through the gate, so I and the Son of Toil carried the boxes down to it. We had carried the last and heaviest trunk halfway when I heard someone in the rear yelling, “Hi there!” It was the Customs officer who had interviewed me on the pier concerning the poetry. He wanted to know where I was taking those trunks to. I said I was taking them to the railway station. He asked me if I had a “permit”. I kept my temper, and explained. He didn’t seem to hear the explanation, but was struck by the idea that he’d have to see what was in that trunk. It was nearing train time; I opened the trunk passionately, cutting the cords in my hurry. I also opened and emptied my heart to him. The vocabulary was that of a rough shearing-shed I’d “picked up” in once. He scratched his head, looked abstractedly at some books in the top of the trunk, said, “All right”, and went back to the shed, and I never saw him more.
All facts. But, seriously, I don’t expect any Government to make provision for a rush of adventurers who only intend to make as much money as they can, and then clear out of the country with it. The Customs and other officials, may, some of them, have been bright, energetic — even impulsive, emotional — not to say men of poetic temperaments, who were stunned by the gold rush, and hadn’t recovered when I struck them.
There was a scramble with the luggage on Fremantle railway station, and nothing further happened till Perth was reached, where I had a difference with the station officials, who objected to our leaving our things on the platform, where, it seemed, they obstructed the rush to Coolgardie. I approached the station master as a married man and a brother. He seemed touched, and said I could leave my trunks on the platform till I got a cart. I got a carter, at boom rates, and so got that infernal luggage safely down to camp.
Ever since I left Sydney I’d been exasperated whenever I lifted one end, and puzzled whenever I thought of it on the voyage, by the extraordinary weight of those boxes of mine — or, rather, the wife’s. So one day, in camp, when she was out, I investigated. I found, on top, in the biggest trunk, a favourite set of flat irons, which I thought I’d hidden away where they couldn’t be found during packing-up operations in our lodgings in Sydney. I didn’t trouble to look further. I knew I had enough crockery to start an hotel, and no doubt a full set of kitchen utensils. And, for aught I knew, it was all dutiable.
Our wives — God bless ’em! — will never understand why they must pay for taking things that belong to them from one country to another — no, not if you talk to them till they’re great-grandmothers. And they won’t — no matter how much luggage is allowed to the passenger, or how high freight rates are — leave a rag behind them if they can help it.
But, ah, well! — if our wives were as wise as we many of us rovers would have very bare homes in the end.
We have given up the awful hunt for lodgings, and have joined a camp by the river. We have been our own architect and builder, and are now the proud possessor of a bag-andcanvas covered frame, with a tent inside. Galvanised iron cases make an excellent floor — the sides and ends serving as joists — and packing cases come in very handy in the shape of furniture. A nail-can, with holes knocked in it, does very well for a fireplace, and the smoke ascends to the blue vault above without the assistance of a flue. We prefer this arrangement to any house that was ever built — it is healthier, more comfortable, and a good deal more private. We have only seen one dude in the vicinity as yet, and he was lost. The home cost five pounds, including a wire mattress, stretcher, bedding, etc., and it’s all portable property, and you can’t get tolerable lodging under 30 shillings in the city. The situation is sandy, but select. The swell establishment in camp is built of packing-cases and tin, but the people are not proud. We call the main street George Street, and the cross streets, Bathurst, Market, and King Streets.
We live at the corner of Bathurst and King streets. The opposite corner is occupied by the cook tent of our fellow-countryman, Mr Jones, of New South Wales. We are all T’othersiders. West Australia just now is the Land of the T’othersiders.
It is rumoured that the Government intend to collect all the camps about Perth, and place them on one piece of land set apart for the purpose. I think, provided the ground was suitable, and the fee reasonable, and the Government supplied water, and saw that order was kept, this change would meet with the views of the majority of the tent dwellers about Perth. We might have a store and a church and a pub, and even a little parliament of our own — also a policeman.
There is an old Government camp adjoining the proposed site of the new one, but its occupants are not likely to trouble us. They won’t trespass much, though some of us might eventually crowd them. They are all dead, in fact, and some of them have been so for many years. They sleep underground, and have white stones instead of tents over them.
I’m inclined to like the policemen of Perth. They are sociable and obliging as a rule — and they take things easy. They do not seem, as some of their Eastern brethren do, to regard it as insulting behaviour, or riotous conduct, on your part to ask to be directed to the post office. And the world-weary stranger can drift round about Perth pretty much as he likes, without running the slightest risk of being arrested on suspicion of being on the spot with intention to see the scenery. A lot of new policemen are put on — mostly on trial. In the absence of uniforms they wear bands on their coat-sleeves, like bits of braces. I saw one drop into an hotel parlour, and heard him say to two men there:
“You coves better slip out the back and home. Your missuses is after you out in the front.”
I think the sand has been the salvation of Perth. If the soil were clayey half the present population would probably be dead or dying of fever now. You see, forty or fifty thousand are camped in and about a town built and drained for seven or eight thousand. The sand absorbs the filth that should be carried off by sewers; but, in summer, much of it comes to the surface again; then the hospitals are filled — and the graveyard fences extended.
Perth is going ahead marvellously. The older residents cannot possibly realise the changes which have come to pass around them, but to even the well-informed T’othersider, and especially to one who was here a few years ago, Perth is a revelation. If the goldfields hold out, and other mining industries are developed, this city will take an important place amongst the cities of the south, but if the West Australia of today is only the result of a boom, in another year or two it will be the most desolate of Southern cities.
In Perth on Saturday night, and under the verandahs, when the close row of well-lighted shops — though many of them one-storeyed — suggested big buildings above, it was hard to keep hold of the idea that you weren’t in Sydney; the more so as you were constantly meeting people whom you used to meet in George Street on Saturday nights; and the crowd was as thick as in George Street. Every dozen yards or so it would be, “ ’Elli, Jack? When did you come over?” “Bill’s here.” “Seen Jim since you came?” “Did you bring the wife?” etc., etc.
There was a great deal of drinking — partly, no doubt, on account of so many old mates meeting in a new land; but there were few rows.
I suppose that, because of the great number compared with the size of the city, there was, comparatively speaking, more shopping done on Saturday night in Perth than in any other Australian city. Drapery and most things, except rent, meat, groceries, and bread, were cheap — often cheaper than in the East. This was, I believe, on account of the direct freights and the shorter voyage from England.
Down at Subiaco, a mile or so along the line to Fremantle, and in the midst of the scrub, was a large camp of T’othersiders, with all sorts of dwellings, from the 6 x 8 tent to the new brick cottage; and here you found bits of Waverley, bits of Woollahra, bits of Newtown, etc., so to speak — little communities from these and other places in the East, camped together — old neighbours of eastern cities and suburbs, who were neighbours still in the great camping communities of the West. Carpenters and other tradesmen, who brought their families over, often found that it paid them to pay a deposit on an allotment, and run up a weatherboard shanty, even though they never intended to settle in West Australia. I used to suppose that when the boom burst, and things went flat in the building line, these tradesmen would simply pack up their few necessaries, walk out of their temporary homes, and off their allotments, and go aboard the boat, leaving the houses to fall to pieces or be used as firewood for the city. Speaking of allotments, I met more than one man in Perth who had a piece of land “somewhere about” — having bought it years before, when Perth and Albany “building sites” were boomed in the East — but had no time, or lacked the energy, to go and look it up.
The Swan River is a mile or more wide at Perth, but very shallow. Almost anywhere on the river, when out sailing, you can get out and push behind if you like. You can have a few shots at wild duck, too, but you’ll never hit ’em, for they are mostly flying about a mile high. There is no entrance to the river at Fremantle for small steamers, but they are making one — also canals through the shallows above Perth. Apparently the only industry along the river above Perth is that of brickmaking; the bricks are brought down in shallow barges, moved by means of long sweeps; or a man goes forward on the barge, sticks a pole into the mud, leans hard on it, and works aft; he literally “walks” his craft down. The river scenery is the most melancholy of any I have seen in Australia.
That was our official name; the name by which we were known to the police and the health inspector.
The first of the tent-dwellers to arrive, by twos and threes, at the commencement of the building boom, landed with the pound, more or less, which was left after paying their fares across, and humped their traps from Perth Railway Station down to the river bank, near the “Causeway” (a long road bank, with a short bridge in the middle across the river, at West Perth), or wherever they would be allowed to camp, pitched the tent, boiled the billy, made a meal of bread and tinned junk from the nearest grocer, or whatever else there was to eat, and then, if it was yet early in the day, went round to the new buildings, shops, offices, or workshops — according to their professions, trades, or incapacities — and looked for a job or billet.
When my friend Jones and his two mates landed they had their tools, tent, a billy, half a sixpenny cake of tobacco, and five shillings, which last was reduced by the train fares from Fremantle to Perth. They pitched their tent by the river, bought a piece of salt beef and a loaf of bread, and borrowed a kerosene tin to boil the beef in. It was after dark, and while they compared first impressions a starved kangaroo dog snatched the meat out of the water — which, by the way, was boiling hot — and vanished. Jack says things looked very dismal then — even to him. He walked out of camp into the darkness without a word, and his mates thought he’d gone to drown himself. He said so afterwards, but he couldn’t find the river; so he went up town and talked the third grocer round and returned with a good supply of tucker.
T’othersiders camped in the scrub about Perth, or in paddocks, or on vacant allotments, with the permission of landholders, or by paying a nominal ground rent. There were many little private camps, and they were invariably kept clean, and the campers were respectable, hard-working, and well-conducted; but the Government saw fit to have all the camps collected on to two or three large pieces of ground called “Government” camps. This was one of the results of an agitation — of which more later on — started by T’othersiders in business in Perth.
Our Government camp was in West Perth, on a sandy slope, with the cemetery on the ridge, and an alleged stream — called officially “the Brook” — along the bottom of the slope. On one side was the river reserve, and on the other city allotments. The camp ground was measured off in blocks of four-tent allotments, each of a size to hold a tent or hessian house comfortably. Along the watercourse frontage was a row of “married men’s” allotments, each about twice the size of the others, which were called the “single men” allotments, and there was such a rush for these by men with their wives in West Australia, as well as those who thought of bringing theirs over from the East, that a second row of married men’s allotments had to be measured off behind the first. Conveniences were to be built, and water laid on — the latter didn’t arrive in my time — and the tent license was 7s. 6d. per month. There was of course some dummying and a little land speculating swindling amongst the campers. I forget how many hundreds of allotments there were, or how many camped there at the most, but we began to get pretty crowded before I left. Several were born there, and one or two died.
The pick of the allotments, the first in the lower corner, under the only tree on the ground, was secured by a tailor, who put up a hessian house, which cost him thirty pounds. In the top corner of the camp an old woman of the hag type — a sandgroper — pitched her family tent and camp on the junction of four single men’s allotments, and defied the powers to move her. She had “plenty of influence”. She said that her husband was an inspector of nuisances (or something of that sort), and she wasn’t going to camp “down there amongst the riff-raff, and all-sorts”, meaning ourselves. Her voice, especially when raised in the training of her family, carried about a mile, and the single men said that her breath carried about half that distance; hers was gin by the quart bottle. The roughest of the single men admired her vocabulary. We were glad that she was even so exclusive as she was.
We were next door but one to the tailor’s aristocratic establishment in the street facing “the Brook”. The health inspector rode down one day, and casually mentioned that he wouldn’t use the brook water for drinking or cooking — it was only fit for washing clothes or dishes. We found, soon enough, that the brook was one of the city’s natural sewers — perhaps the main one. We didn’t use the water for washing up. There was a well to the reserve, near the river, and, until water was laid on, the camp bailed that well out several times a day. It was emptied early, and the latecomers squatted on the gravel heap, and waited for the spring to make a sufficient depth of water for them to dip their buckets. The caretaker of the reserve, who seemed to think he owned the land, padlocked the lid of that well down one night; there was a great buzz in camp next morning, but nothing was done till Jack Jones went down to the well with his buckets, and an axe. As a precaution, he left the fragments of the padlock and staple in the Brook, and nothing further was heard of the matter.
There was water in the sand, two or three feet down (this was in winter), and Jack was struck by an idea. He dug a hole, and sunk two cement barrels — end on end, with the bottom knocked out of the top one — their depth in the sand. He reckoned he’d have water enough at his tent door for all the washing, and would only have to carry a couple of buckets a day from the well for cooking and drinking. But someone pointed out that, as the cemetery ran all along the top of the camp — and taking into consideration the formation of the slope, and the average depth of the sand — the same water that soaked through some hundreds of coffins of various ages would fill Jack’s lower barrel. So he thoughtfully and sorrowfully dug his barrels up, to be used as firewood, and filled the hole.
A framework shaped like that of an ordinary gable-ended hut, but built, of course, of much lighter material, and covered with hessian; a tent inside with the space of a foot or so between it and the outer covering — space enough in front of the tent, and still under the hessian, to serve as a kitchen or living-room; fireplace in front by the side of the door. The tent itself may be looped up all round in fine weather, and the atmosphere be as pure in the morning as when you turn in. The hessian covering, though not waterproof, keeps off the rush of the heat or rain, saves the tent, and hides the shadow pantomime on the tent sides when you’re retiring to rest, which would otherwise interest and amuse the whole camp.
A hessian house can cost from thirty shillings to thirty pounds, according to the financial position and fancy, or the enterprise and mechanical ability of the builder. You can have a sawn softwood frame, put up by a “proper” carpenter, and covered with whole hessian, a tent of best twill, a tongued-and-grooved floor, glass windows, brick chimney, stove, table, chairs, parlour, separate kitchen, etc., etc. Or you can make a frame cut from saplings and cover it with flour bags — bought from the baker at so much a dozen — ripped lengthways, and sewn together side by side; a cheap calico tent; a floor of galvanised iron cases, turned down so that the sides serve as joists ready fixed, and with the ends knocked out for underfloor ventilation; a chimney of scrap-iron (picked up about the buildings); fireplace plastered with mud for safety; and an oven formed of an oil-drum set horizontally in bricks, and used the same as a colonial oven. Table, a small picked galvanised iron case on four stakes; boxes and stools. And here’s an idea for an easy chair: A couple of cement barrels sawn in halves across the staves, the tub end of one turned down, the tub (or bottom) half of the other set upright on top of the first, nailed to it and the staves cut away, so as to leave a back and sides, or “arms”. A pillow, or cushion, and a rug, or a bit of judicious packing — and there you are. You mightn’t find an easier chair in the world to sit on. I’d undertake to make one (without the stuffing) in half an hour. And, on occasion, you could turn the chair upside down, the back and sides resting on the ground, and there you’d have a washtub with a fixed stool supporting it — a portable combined tub and stool. Or, you could cut out every other stave of the lower half, polish and varnish, or paint, and make a piece of art furniture of it.
We had house linen, and rugs, and tableware with us, and our camp cost, according to my pocket-book, as follows: Tent, £1 10s.; wire mattress on legs, with soft mattress, £1 15s.; buckets, saucepan frying-pan, gridiron, billies, lamp, 10s.; timber, including floor, wood for cupboard, etc., £1; say £5 altogether.
The hessian house can be made any size, and you couldn’t have a cleaner, fresher, or healthier home, or one more suited to the climate. There are some model camps of this description at Balmoral, and other places about Sydney, and I think it the most sensible way to live in Australia.
The only drawback is that, when the outer cover begins to “perish”, and on a blazing hot day, if a spark from the fire catches — whiff! There might be time to snatch up the baby and run.
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