THIS book tells the story of the first motor-car journey across the Continent of Australia from Sydney, the capital of New South Wales, to Darwin, the capital of the Northern Territory of Australia, and back, which constituted, then, the longest
overland continuous motor trek achieved within the Commonwealth. Its accomplishment proved anincentive to many other motor-car parties to cross the Continent, though none have as yet sought to travel the whole of our route. It did, apparently,
a good deal toward opening up the Northward roads across the Continent.
The personnel of the party consisted of Mr.Francis Birtles, the best known Overlander inAustralia, Mr. ]. L. Simpson, of Messrs. Bean Cars, Ltd., of Dudley, England, and myself, as leader.
The car used was a I4 h.p. standard Bean 1924 Model, with reinforced springing, and the Expedition was entirely equipped with British- or Australian-made instruments and outfit.
The object of the journey was, primarily, not to achieve a motoring feat, but to allow me, as Special Commissioner of a powerful group of Australian newspapers, headed by the Sydney Daily Telegraph, and of the Australian Meat Council to
examine the conditions of the Northern Territory
and to attempt to form a conclusion as to why 100 years of colonising effort had left so few marks of progress on that vast area of 523,000 square miles, which, settled first in I828, carries to-day less than 3,000 white inhabitants. To the Sydney
Daily Telegraph Newspaper Company my thanks for their courteous permission to use material garnered on the journey for the purposes of this narrative are due.
Some of the articles which I wrote on my return to Sydney were widely discussed in political circles, and almost immediately following their publication the Commonwealth Government introduced legislation in the Federal Parliament embodying many of the main administrative principles which I had advocated.
It remains only to be added that during the past year or two, a very lively public interest has been developed in the Northern Territory, out of proportion to its true importance as a factor in the immediate future of Australian settlement. This is based on the popular belief that its emptiness renders it an Achilles heel in respect of possible Oriental invasion.
Actually, White North Queensland, as yet only a twentieth occupied, is illimitably more fertile and tempting to an invader, especially in view of its geographical situation, organised communications and rainfall. Its partial emptiness is a real temptation, quite unnecessary, since its conditions in the main are such as to make the way of the settlerwith grit comparatively easy.
It will be half a century before we can think
of the Northern Territory except as a land of large pastoral holdings, but there need be no weeping over its condition. The Eastern coastal region of Australia--I have been over most of it from end to end and from side to side--together with West
and South Australia, should support I2o,ooo,ooo people, living at not less than European standards.
So that we may multiply our populations a good deal before we need suffer congestion enough to feel disturbed at the empty state of the interior.
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IN WHICH THREE OLD FRIENDS MAP A 6,000-MILE jOURNEY; OF THEIR DOG AND THEIR DIFFICULTIES, THEIR BRITISH CAR AND THEIR SCORN OF MAPS. OF THE ENGLISHMAN WHO CAME WITH THEM AND HIS IDEAS, AND ALL THE THINGS WHICH HAPPENED BEFORE THEY STARTED.
ONE morning, early in IQ24, I was walking down George Street, in the City of Sydney, thinking about the iniquities of politics, when I beheld, sitting in the front of a very little and very battered grey motor-car, a very large blue and black cattle
dog, of a rare North Queensland breed, surveying an astonished city world through a pair of enormous black goggles which gave him a surprisingly human air.
There was quite a crowd about the car, for its dilapidation was such as to spur any idler's curiosity, and the big dog, one ear sticking up stiff and the other lying at rest along the side of his face, after the manner of his breed, gazed upon the multitude
with that air of supercilious doubt which comes to a hound only when he knows man-nature thoroughly,
16 THE LONG LEAD
has walked two or three times across Australia, ridden a few thousand miles on motor- cars, among all sorts and conditions of people under the tutelage of a wise, firm and affectionate master ; hunted all the game of a great continent and pioneered the flying industry of the southern hemisphere for puppies.
I walked over to the car, for we were very old friends. " Hullo, Dinkum, old boy," I said. " Where did you hail from? Where's Frank? Frank come, eh ? "
And Dinkum, smiling all over his face and holding out a paw to be shaken, while not relaxing his vigilance towards the common onlookers, said: " Ee-ee-yaw," just in time to anticipate a peculiar voice behind me which shouted: " Enter the King of Cape York."
Before I could look round a tall figure in a solar topee - headgear which no one ever wears in Sydney- and a long, yellow overcoat, forced its way through the crowd and was shaking my hand as if I were a long-lost brother.
" Hullo," shouted the figure, " where have you been ? I've been looking for you for the best part of a month. What do you mean by going to Melbourne when I've come two thousand miles to start off on this Overland trip of ours ? "
" What trip ? " I asked.
"The one you talked about three years ago," said Francis Birtles, Australia's Greatest Overlander. " When can you start ? "
" Ee-yaw," said Dinkum.
THE LONG LEAD I7
I looked at Francis carefully. He had not changed in those three years since we had originally planned that trip together. The lines were a little deeper on his weather-beaten face. His hands were a trifle more scarred. His grey eyes were a trifle older and his Viking hair a little less golden, but with his forty-odd years he was still as lithe as a youngster and as straight as an arrow.
Fever had marked him a little, but, as ever, since I saw him start off to ride a bicycle round Australia in the days of I9O8 when that was really a feat, his countenance was lit by a questing eagerness to be gone upon adventure.
I asked him how he had been faring, and he said that since he had seen me little had been happening. It was true that he had run out of rations in the Gulf country and had starved for three months. And then he had had a row with a teamster who had cast aspersions on his mother and they had both taken a bit of time to convalesce.
Oh, and had he seen me since he made that wet weather survey in the North Territory and his petrol tank had hit a stump in the long grass and blown up and burnt all his money and equipment, and sent him naked and ashamed into a Mission hospital
to be waited on by women for months? Well, let's not think of it. Fancy a strong man having to be nursed by the females of the species like a just born babe-and he supposed I knew all about flying to Alice Springs ?
I did. It didn't stop him rambling on--about his father , whom he had just been to see, and the
18 THE LONG LEAD
moving picture of a native war and other remote events which he was just now exhibiting.
Every little while Dinkum interrupted as if he understood it all-he had certainly shared in it-and then his master would say :
" Lie down, you shivering mongrel."
And presently when, oblivious of the crowd, he had told me most of his adventures in casual fashion, he came back to his original point.
" Now, about this trip ? "
" Yes ! "
" Well, let's get ready."
In ten minutes it was all arranged. So soon as my engagements were clear we were to be off. And without any delay we started our planning.
It was a happy time, that time of preparation. We had to find a car suitable for the journey, roomy and yet solid, built to box with hidden stumps; with low radiator water consumption, for in the tropics of Central Australia the ordinary engine will evaporate five or six gallons every three hours ; with an engine absolutely reliable, to carry us over six thousand miles of largely roadless country without shocking our judgment by erratic benzine consumption ; with a frame which would not bend or break under the heaviest load ever carried across a continent; a plant with a low gear ratio for rough country and yet with sufficient
ratio of speed to allow sand-creeks to be charged with a dizzy rush. Further, we decided, she must
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be British and everything about her--accessories, benzine, tools, equipment--must have been made under the Union jack or the Australian flag.
In a word, what we needed seemed the impossible, and I found it one morning during an interregnum on H.M.S. Hood, while accompanying the British Special Service squadron as the Australian Press representative on the Australian coast.
There she lay alongside the Admiral's Rolls-Royce, a red, fourteen horse-power, new model Bean, made in Dudley with Midland Country staunchness, of the famous Hadfield steels. I christened her the Scarlet Runner from her colour and, afterwards, when I came to know every inch of her battered sides; to diagnose by ear the most trivial ills of her digestion ; to sit straining, on dark nights when we were pushing on to find a suitable camp, listening to the rhythmic beat of her fine engine; to talk to her like a horse as we forced her up stony mountains where roads did not exist, and to sit tight as Francis, teeth closed, eyes gleaming, raced her through a cloud of sand in some dangerous, dry Centralian river, she seemed more animal than mechanical; to develop a personality of her own, so that we felt that she was more one of the party than a mere machine of cold iron and steel-something with spirit and grit, well typified by the blue lion badge on her silver radiator band.
Yes. Happy days, those days when you might behold us, of a sunny April afternoon, remoulding the Government charts on my veranda, Dinkum sitting in the offing, quizzically regarding our efforts of memory and cocking one ear to try and
20 THE LONG LEAD
catch the strange words we say about official maps of Australia.
All maps of the interior seem to be gloriously inaccurate. I do not know what genius collated them, but I know many things of him, and Francis knows some more--that he was an arch-optimist in the matter of water distribution ; that, in many sad and provable instances, he seems to have acted on information which he received from his cousin's aunt's camel-driver, who had it from the mailman's inaccurate, old grandmother.
Francis is especially scornful of maps.
" Angel's Well ! " he snorts, putting a collodion-stained finger on a large and confident name which springs up joyfully from the centre of what we know to be a dry plain, deluding the traveller into the idea that here is lavish water. " Whoever heard
of Angel's Well? There isn't enough water within a hundred miles of there to give a bird a drink.. . . Why, in 1908 when I was coming through there, making for home hell-for-leather in front of the wet season . . . "
He trails off into narrative and I light my pipe.
A great man is Francis, full of odysseys and enthusiasm for " yarning " in congenial company. Homer would have loved him. He comes of an ancient Saxon family in Cheshire and looks like one of King Alfred's warriors. He has been apprentice
on a sailing ship; a soldier in the Boer war; a policeman along the Zambesi ; and, either by himself or with his brother, he has to his credit the opening of most of the long, bush motor roads in Australia. Besides that (as I have said earlier) , he was the first
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man to ride a bicycle round Australia and, as evidence of his endurance, one needs only to remember his unbroken record cycle race from Perth, in Western Australia, to Sydney--3100 miles in thirty-one days. Naturally he is full of yarns.
" So I lifted the blanket and I said : ' Ho ! You black devil! You like catchim flour! You like catchim baccy (tobacco), eh !' And I whips my Winchester out from underneath . . . "
" That happened near this Angel's Well place," says Francis, " and I had to trek forty miles before I found any water there."
Behind him, the green precipice which I call my lawn slopes away to a picket fence. Near the cypress pine tree below, a black spaniel is chasing wrens. Across the valley and the red roofs of Mosman, a tramcar hurtles down through the trees to a strip of golden beach. And spread out before us is the wide sweep of water, surf-bordered and bound in by tall and rugged promontories, which is Sydney's famous Middle Harbour. Beyond it, and a black- and-white Manly ferry steamer, gently rolling, towers the knife-edge sheer of the North Head of Port jackson.
" Angel's Well! " growls Francis. " Angel's Grandmother! I wonder if Bauhinia Downs is still deserted ? We might get a bit of meat there."
So we return to the delusive map, that fair and pleasant prospect of Outback, all pink and yellow where we know it to be dust and wind and dying
22 THE LONG LEAD
rabbits and live camels; all calm where we know it to be a violence of tropic rain and roaring, turgid rivers or tragic sand, and draw the red line which we are to follow a little farther across it, scorning the towns which look in print as if they owned at least two cathedrals apiece and which, in actuality, often consist of a shanty and a few goats. We pass contemptuously by what seem great rivers and which we have seen as dry sandbeds at this time of year, with chattering galahs in the trees above their infrequent water-holes.
We mark our way over long plains and span the friendly Horse Creeks and Cattle Creeks, Sandy Creeks and Palm Creeks, which testify to our rude geographers' lack of originality. (They are as frequent as White Harts in England.) We strive to recall from our joint past experiences which ranges are really ranges and which mere imper- ceptible caterpillar elevations in the plain ; whether there is timber on certain stages that we may not go fireless ; where the sand begins.
" Spinifex . . . yes, all spinifex round there . . .well, if the creek is up, we'll raft her across. Now, don't forget that extra axe and the windlass. Have you got the Spanish windlass down ? "
Plenty of work for axe and windlass on this trek. Yet it all sounds so easy in the twittering peace of a Mosman garden, this little journey of six thousand miles or so.
Round curls the pen, with its following blue-black line.
" W'e may as well see the Limmen River," says Francis. " Haven't been there for years."
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We are committed to another one hundred and fifty miles of timber and long grass and stumps and ranges, with one short sweep of the wrist.
" And a bit of a trip to the Mary-we might get a buffalo there," I add.
" Squawk !-Squawk !-Squawk ! " mimics Fran-
cis, imitating the ludicrously inadequate note of the water buffalo, so that Dinkum wakes out of a smiling dream of bones and peeps over the veranda rail, as if he expected an old, red-eyed bull to get out of the motor-bus which has stopped a hundred
yards below and come ambling up the front path.
Thus we plan the journey which we have talked of for years in the intervals when Francis has come out of the wilds to see his friends and relatives, and at last it is all over.
The last ink is dry ; the tea bell rings. We sit round Spanish mahogany, reflecting silver, scarcely tasting as we discuss quart pots, rations and the car.
* * * *
Of course, this is not all done in a day. There are weeks of it-·weeks in which routes are made ; weeks in which pink, urgent telegrams come and go ; nights when we sit under the yellow electrics over the problem of deciding how one can make a self-
contained, starvation-proof, and well-fuelled travelling home for three months for three men and two dogs out of an ordinary five-seater motor-car.
There is much puzzling about fuel which we must carry for 1,400 miles at one stage ; there is speculation as to how near the skin we can strip the
24 THE LONG LEAD
Engineer, a young man named john Simpson, a mechanical expert, whom we have been asked by the manufacturers of the Bean car to take, so that he may study her behaviour under Australian conditions. There are discussions of ammunition and rifles; of weather and the necessity for a second blanket, and there is a happy day of accounting when, reckoning the things we have marked as indispensable, we find we have provided a load of three tons for a car which is built to carry 9 cwts.
Then there is the careful recast in which the load is reduced to I7 cwts. minimum at starting and 24 to 25 cwts. at our last railway depot, 1,900 miles from Sydney.
And, just when we have reached that stage, the Engineer appears, bringing with him the Scarlet Runner, which has been in New Zealand helping to entertain the Special Service Squadron.
We have waited the Engineer's coming with no little concern, for we know that he is completely inexperienced in Australian conditions and, in case of accident in the wilds, our safety may depend, therefore, entirely on his personality and native endurance. We have been told that he is sturdy and cheerful-" the kind of man you will be calling Johnny in ten minutes." And so, mainly, we find him, when one day he arrives quite suddenly, very " Midlandish," very businesslike, full of plans and tales of adventure in the mud of New Zealand.
We find him haunted by a desire to persuade us to revise everything we have done, his boyish eagerness complicated by a perfect trust in maps,
THE LONG LEAD 25
an imperfect trust in Francis, who seems to him a sort of wild man from Borneo, and a firm conviction, bred of laboratory experience, that no motor built to carry nine hundredweights can carry twenty-four for any distance even on a good road.
From the beginning I had endless amusement (in a perfectly impartial way) from his differences with Francis arising out of their entirely incongruous educations.
The Engineer would come to me and say that it was murder to any car to so cruelly load her up, as we proposed. Very well, Francis would retort, he had murdered many cars in his time, and another more or less would not make much difference.
And what did we need with a spare axle? the Engineer, who had never broken an axle in his life, would demand.
Francis would counter that where we were going necks and axles were likely to be broken any minute and would, perhaps, relate how once he had owned a car which in the Calvert Country (Heaven only knows how he got a motor into that unsanctified North Australian wild !) had fallen in halves. Then the Engineer, with the well-bred politeness of a contemptuous Englishman, would insinuate that it had been very careless of Francis to let such an unparalleled accident happen.
Lastly, there was the question of driving. The Engineer, after hearing what Francis (who, as I have said, holds nine of the ten great transcontinental driving records in Australia) had to say on the right method of taking the car along, came to me with a white face and averred that Francis
26 THE LONG LEAD
might be a bushman, but that he knew nothing whatever about motor-cars. He suggested, in effect, that I might tactfully break the ground for a few lessons for Francis.
An hour afterwards Birtles himself arrived with a grin on his countenance, and remarked : " What do you think? Your newchum friend has just told me that you can't make the radiator on a Bean car boil ! By the living snakes ! "
Of course, it was quite useless to try to reconcile their view-points. The Engineer had been taught that a motor-car must be driven to endure through the ages. He usually sat at the wheel with an assumption that all roads were paved roads, and that there was a tramcar and a traffic policeman always lurking somewhere handy. He never fell out of the habit of giving traffic signals at corners when the nearest traffic was 200 miles away, and he lived in daily anguish at the things which Francis's retard method of benzine saving and even speed systems entailed, and which led our old pioneer driver to behave as if he were perpetually
haunted by fuel shortage, and as if long grass and stumps and hill-side chasms were always imminent.
Therefore, seeing that they were bred, as it were, in different motoring worlds, the argument did not cease and the Engineer did not capitulate until, one day, as he stood by the side of the track, watching a cloud of dust which was Francis and the Scarlet
THE LONG LEAD 27
Runner, rip through a seemingly unnegotiable sand drift, he ejaculated that Francis was a devil, not a motor driver.
All the preliminary arguments, however, served to fill in time until the happy fourth of June, when, in a winter drizzle, we set on our adventure from the heart of the City of Sydney.
THE LONG LEAD 28
THE JOURNEY BEGINS WITH A CROWD AND A POLICEMAN AND DEVELOPS IN MUD, COLD AND ADVENTURE ; OF AUSTRALIAN ROADS AND THEIR HABITS ; OF LOADS AND THE PROFANITY FRANCIS BIRTLES.
WE left Sydney on Thursday, june 4th, 1924; or more correctly, we were hunted out of Sydney by the insatiable curiosity of civilisation.
We had not bargained for being hunted because, being so long temporarily civilised, some of us had forgotten the characteristics of the average citizen. Our plans had included a quiet and unobtrusive drive through the streets from the garage where all night Francis had stood making, in masterly fashion, a cubic yard of dunnage fit into a cubicfoot, to the Sydney Daily Telegraph office; a stirrup cup in the manager's room; a few kindly words from our friends; a quiet parting from our families; a word of reassurance to our insurance agents ; a quick start to avoid the cinematographers and, then-hey for the high road !
What actually happened was this :
At 10.45 a.m. the Scarlet Runner drew up at the kerb outside the Daily Telegraph office as had been arranged. She was loaded down with impedimenta from running boards to far above her body lines. The two dogs, Dinkum, old and knowing
THE LONG LEAD 29
and blue, with one ear up and the other one down, quite at ease; Wowser, our bull-pup, on a leash wondering what it was all about. Green swag covers, clean and new, were rolled above the front mudwings. The running boards were weighted down with ration cases piled so high that all doors of the car were closed. A couple of rifie barrels poked their noses raffishly out of the load astern; two cameras hung from the windscreen ready for any emergency, and two unmistakably tropical topees, swathed in white flour bags, were tied to the hood frame. Above the radiator floated the intertwined Union jack and Australian stars, symbol of the fact that we were an all-British outfit, and in the driving seat, in khaki, with his South African
ribbons up, sat Francis.
The car stopped and immediately people seemed to fall out of the air into a crowd around it. A
small boy on the pavement said :
" Oo! lt's Mister Birtles goin' exploring."
A Fat Man looked up in amazement : " It's that Birtles," he said.
Forty or fifty people crowded to the edge of the pavement, and their faces assumed a sort of gloating passivity.
" Going exploring ? " said one of them to Francis.
" He ain't an explorer," said the Fat Man derisively. " He's a humbug. Says parts of Australia is all sand. Fat lot he
knows ! "
Then the small boy chimed in : " He is a explorer.I seed him in the pitchers."
Long silence, while one had an impression of endless faces invading one's shyness and of Francis
30 THE LONG LEAD
getting up and walking round the car as if Sydney didn't exist, examining the springs and shock absorbers.
Five hundred or tive thousand people seemed to pour into the street while we tightened up the straps and made sure of the balance of our load.
A shrill voice cried : " Look at the pretty dogs ! " and an indiscreet admirer tried to pet Dinkum, but that wise animal, who loathed the smell of whisky, drove him off snarling.
Another wall of people arrived, and a man on the outskirts who evidently could not see what was happening asked why someone did not send for the ambulance, and in the name of God whether presence of mind was dead in this civilised city.
At that stage the faces blotted out all the scenery, and the atmosphere seemed to be composed entirely of perspiration and rain.
Presently, a policeman came. He was a very young policeman with the manner of von Hindenburg, and the voice of a bull.
" Here ! What are you doing ? " he shouted.
" Pulled up at the footpath," we said.
" Well, get out of it," shouted the young constable, " You are holding up the traffic."
All this, of course, happened in less time than it takes to tell.
We moved off at last, the crowd dividing grudgingly. Then we drove round the block and came back. We had a glimpse of a dismayed-looking group of newspaper directors, editors, office boys
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and printers; of wives and relatives waving us farewell; of ten storeys of faces in the building above the footpath. People rushed out and kissed us or wrung our hands according to their rights and inclinations.
" Good-bye " - " Pleasant journey " - " Don't bring home a black wife "-" Be careful of the girls ! "-" Remember me to Darwin ! "-in a minute we were lost in the traffic of Pitt Street. An hour later we were beyond the city; by two o'clock we were under the shadow of the Blue Mountains, only a pall of soaked smoke on the eastern horizon to tell us that a million people were crowded there in rain-washed streets behind us. At four o'clock we were over the mountains, which only a hundred years ago were an impenetrable mystery of unexplored bush and which, today, as one sees them in crossing, consist of rocky eminences hidden by a long line of hydros, boarding houses, girls' schools, golf links, advertising signs and garages.
Sundown saw us at a wayside inn which once was a convict station in the days when they built the road across here, and no one travelled except in caravan with red coats for a guard. At nine we were at Bathurst, a prosperous city of the plains, clean and green and still and, like all the rest of the country-side, full of rain.
We slept in the hotel parlour our first night out, and left Bathurst in the morning swathed in two overcoats apiece. All day it rained. It rained at Molong and at Wellington and at Dubbo. It rained at at Narromine that the road was a bog,
32 THE LONG LEAD
and pools of water lay plentifully upon it. At seven miles from that great city, in the darkness which fell upon us cloaked in bitter cold, we called a halt and, dragging a heavy log from beside a farmer's fence, we set it on fire and made camp, rejoicing to find that our new tarpaulins were damp-proof even in an inch of water and that the dogs, sleeping inside on our feet, were very effective footwarmers.
At five next morning, two uneasy figures shook the rain from their coverings and began to quarrel about cooking the bacon. At six, still in darkness, we were away, anxious to make as much time as possible before more rain fell, in the hope of running
out of the wet weather belt. At seven we were bogged in the middle of the main road, which was more like a quarry filled with glue than a state highway.
A damp, clinging fog hung over the land, hiding even our motor lights at a range of a few yards, and icicles
dripped on the damp fences along the roadside.
I left the Engineer descanting on the danger to our wheels of trying to move in this situation, and ploughed ahead through the murk to reconnoitre. As I went, I looked for a second at the party. It was all very miserable. Already the Scarlet Runner was losing her pristine newness, though her blue lion badge shone untarnished on her radiator. Francis was behind the car ; the Engineer treading gingerly along the footboard to avoid the mud of the roadway. The two canines shivered doggily
in the background.
Half an hour later when I returned, the fog had disappeared, and a sullen dawn had replaced it.
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Around lay a vast sea of churned-up mud, becoming every moment more glutinous (for the rain had
ceased) in the freezing morning wind.
The Scarlet Runner was bathed in mire from end to end. Her differential casing was sitting in it. In the roadway, Dinkum was taking a stroll. His feet had become enormous, round scones of clay, and he wore a disgusted expression on his intelligent
countenance as if he had exhausted his store of swear-words.
From beneath the car protruded two bare ankles, blue with cold, ending in boots cased with mud a foot wide. Their motion told of somebody in acute labour underneath the foot-board, and every now and then a junk of sludgy mother earth, the size
of a small melon, would be thrown out from near the front wheels. From the same region there exuded a profane and familiar melody which told the initiated observer that Francis Birtles was underneath, enjoying life and performing that filthy rite known on the overland as " digging her out."
How many cars Francis has dug out in his time, Heaven alone knows.
Later on his face emerged. It was not pretty. His eyebrows were supports for stalactites of mud. His forehead, his hands, his hair, were a mass of it. He began to swear comfortingly, and I knew that at last we were properly on the road. For in the city, Francis does not swear. He is mild and gentle and unprofane. But once his task begins, once his shoulders are square, bullock drivers turn pale before his language, and Billingsgate becomes a subject for contempt. Swearing is almost a
34 THE LONG LEAD
profession with Francis, and he is proud of it. As he does not drink or smoke, he says, and the ladies bore him, he must have some vice, and better one that relieves the soul and clears the brain than one which saps the constitution and makes for an early
grave, or helps fellow humans to damnation and publicans to the ownership of mansions.
It took us three hours to compel the Scarlet Runner and the mud to part company. All the New Zealand experience of the Engineer availed him nothing. He had to admit that New Zealand mire was only a gruellish imitation of the Australian product which, every time we moved, formed itself more thickly on our wheels until, literally, after half a dozen yards laborious travelling, they were two feet wide with a mass of soil which defied all ordinary methods of removal.
In the afternoon the rain cleared, as the long plains of the North began to open up. In the evening we camped beyond the city of Nyngan, and all the ease seemed to have gone out of our travel for the Engineer, while to us two more experienced wayfarers, realities became more real.
After to-morrow, the long road of the west lay before us, through Quilpie, through Longreach, back to the Queensland border to Boulia, to the railhead at Dajarra, nineteen hundred miles from our starting place for seventy gallons of benzine ; then
into the wilderness of the Northern Territory and the Gulf of Carpentaria. No more cathedral cities ;
THE LONG LEAD 35
no more broad rivers ; no more real greenery after to-morrow for two thousand miles and then only a parched grey-green, pale beside the emerald hues of the south. Stony " jump downs " and " jump ups," sandy creeks without bottom, timber and
untracked mountains obtruded themselves into the picture very forcibly as we sat before the huge fire which we had lighted, what time I made fragrant johnny cakes, and Francis, still heavily caked with mud in spite of sedulous ablutions, proceeded with
the overlanding education of the Engineer. Tonight, his lecture was on snakes against the time when we should reach the tropics.
" If you wake in the night," said Francis instructively, and with his mouth full of hot johnny cake, " and find something warm lying on your face, keep quite still, because it will be a death adder. They always pick out your face. If you move an eighth of an inch, he'll catch hold of you to stop himself falling off, and then you'll be stone dead when we find you in the morning."
" Well, what do I do? " asked the Engineer, for whom his supper seemed to have lost its savour.
You wait," said Francis, " till we find you and pull the blanky thing off by enticing it with condensed milk."
" And suppose it bites me while I'm waiting? " asked the Engineer.
" Then," said Francis, helping himself to another cake, " you call me-my handwriting's better than
the Boss's-and you say: ' Frank, will you write to mother and tell her that all my savings are in the old teapot . . .' "
36 THE LONG LEAD
" I believe you are pulling my leg," snorted the Engineer.
But from that moment we noticed that he wrapped himself up very closely every evening in his tarpaulin.
The next night Francis, as a sign that he had reverted to the pristine, tied the bull pup up with his best necktie. The day afterwards, needing a receptacle in which to store mineral specimens, I removed my socks and did not replace them except on one or two special occasions during many thousand miles.
At midday on the third day out from Sydney we passed through the old, flat, decaying pastoral town of Bourke. We drove through the afternoon into the eye of a blinding and almost tropic sun on a dusty pad which seemed to carry no traffic but camels. We fed, at evening, at a little wayside shanty where there was only black tea and bread and corned beef to be had, and at night we travelled in biting cold across a seemingly endless plain which, like all plains at night, appeared to be a steep, sloping declivity.
We camped in the galvanised woolshed of Bringengabba with pink sand and mulga round about us and with a riot of steely stars glinting above us.
It was very cold. Sydney seemed three months instead of three days away.
" To-morrow," said Francis, skilfully arranging his dog on his feet preparatory to going to rest, " we'll be on the Overland."
And early next day we crossed the Queensland border.
OF THE SEARCH FOR THE BUSH AND THE "OLD-TIME " AUSTRALIA; OF THE DEAD SHADOWS THAT LIVED IN IT AND THE TOWNS AND THE LUXURIES ARE LEFT BEHIND US, AND HOW WE FOUND THE "WILD" LIVING 2,000 MILES FROM ITS ANCIENT DOMAIN.
TO-DAY the Australian Bush is the most swiftly changing scene in the world. Once, when you crossed the N. S. Wales border you were in the wilds ; and that was only a matter of three decades or so ago, too.
Now, the Bush is more than a little like Eldorado, in that nobody knows exactly where it is and that the farther you search for it, the farther away it seems to be. It is quite true that the cities have illusions about the Bush, but they are mainly bornof prejudice or sarcasm. Melbourne pretends to imagine, for instance, that large tracts of N. S. Wales are the wilds. In Sydney, citizens begin to feel adventurous when they have outstripped the boarding houses of the Blue Mountains and left Bathurst
behind them ; while when careless names like " Nevertire " begin to spring up along the road. the ordinary tourist often enjoys Scott or Amundsen-like feelings, and is not quite sure whether or no
he ought to write to the paper about it and arrange a lecture somewhere in the City.
But this is not the Bush; it has not been the Bush for half a century. Yet, crossing the Queensland border, one, forgetful of the swiftness of change,
38 THE LONG LEAD
expects something better of nature. Here, in the land where I was born and into which Francis and the Engineer and I drove ourselves, that sunny fourth morning out from Sydney, was really the Bush in my quite recent boyhood; a range with a flavour so definite that it was easy to distinguish it and its manners from those of the farmland of the coast and of the city dwellers.
Its roads were narrow and winding tracks, going round trees instead of demolishing them, and being careful not to miss any of the sparse water-holes in the dry country-side.
A wonderful place was a western Queensland water-hole in those halcyon days, if you chanced to reach it in the season just when everybody was going somewhere, to shearing or to town. Round it the whole life of the district gathered.
The teams would be there with their piled wagons of simple commodities-flour and sugar in bags; tea in great chests; potatoes in red tins; golden syrup in tremendous cans. Maybe there would be a tiny circus, with rude and spangled maidens in it, who picked up handkerchiefs from off the ground with the backs of their heads in tents the size of a large toadstool, all full of quiet shearers and travellers early in the night.
Sundowners going out to the Never Never with their " blueys " (swags or bundles) on their backs, tea and sugar and water-bags carried conventionally in the right hands, charred billycan in the left, their faces shaded by immense cabbage-tree hats
well arrayed with bobbing corks to keep away the flies, were sure to pause there on their march, to
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fill up their water-bags and listen to the slow talk around the many fires of "ringers" and "wet wool" and the new, strange wonder of Labour which had been given birth in Brisbane in a building which was said to bear the legend above its portals: "For the Brotherhood of Man - No gods or dogs allowed."
Again, there would surely be in the camp an old-time family-most certainly riding in a dray with a cape tilt above it, drawn by a great, gaunt, Rosinante of a mare learned by long practice in the art of sleeping on her feet on the road. In the dray would be the man of the house, bearded, visionary, always hopeful that presently he would find somewhere out in the beyond a long, Mitchell grass plain with restful waters, and a bank manager who would love him' very dearly and finance him for years so that he might make a selection home for his tired woman and the four or five happy children (all in galatea, the girls wearing mushroom hats). And trailing out behind there would be dogs and a goat or two, a saddle horse and heaven knows what beside, always shepherded by one of the barefooted boys of the family. There might be even a crate of fowls somewhere slung beneath the wagon, and you would notice that the family washing tubs were handy in the equipage, where they could be got at quickly to make a raft at some river to ferry the children across.
In the dawn, lying low in your blankets, and watching out of the corner of your eye, the first
40 THE LONG LEAD
blue wisps of smoke rising from the many fires around, you would hear, any day, a sound like hail in the infinite distance. And as you looked at the sky, if you did not know, it would swell into a great, swishing patter that seemed almost like the onward rush of a flood, rustling the small trees and smothering all other noises but the occasional shouts of men and the hoarse barking of dogs. Then the landscape would form itself into a level sea of dusty grey backs and queer, bleating, stupid animal faces moving with a strange appearance of inevitability.
Sheep always seem to flow rather than walk when you see them in the mass, and there is something curiously arresting and fatalistic about them when they travel with the quiet, pink-tongued, black-coated kelpies guiding them and the stockmen following pipe in mouth, hunched with contentment as they support themselves with a whip handle pressed upon their pummels, after a hearty open-air breakfast.
As you still lay cosily in your blankets, the mob would tail off into the distance until, in the life of the listener, they became no more than a distant mutter hidden in a high rising dust cloud, with, yet passing, a procession of riders and blackboys,
urging along belled horses with hobbles hung round their necks and followed, perhaps, if they came from the very far North, by immaculate black gins in white moleskins, clean blue skirts and black mushroom hats--the harems of the drovers of old
The march of the sheep is the Australian sub-
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stitute for the tramp of armed men. For us it has made as much history as ever armies have made in older worlds and more prosperity. To-day it is the only thing that has survived out of the old time, though now mobs are not on so grand a scale as of yore, and the drovers have, in deference to public opinion, abandoned their harems and their habits of riding their horses into public bars.
Most of the other old things seem to have gone in the southeastern Australian States. No more along the western roads the coaches of Cobb and Co. roar. No more you may meet the squatter, with something very like a mediaeval retinue, returning with his family from a holiday in the rare and distant cities of the coast. The romantic Afghan hawker`who traversed the roads with his van, bargaining with the bush women for pink silks and with the men for dungarees and blue spotted handkerchiefs, has
faded out into memory before the onslaught of the mail order houses.
The very roads have changed till the old-time people would not recognise them. The stations own their dozen cars, and some of them their aero-planes. The railways have pushed out into all sorts of unexpected places. What once was an adventure of weeks to traverse has become an easy six-hour spin for a lady in her motor. The little men who scratched along on tiny holdings of fifteen or twenty thousand acres-you may laugh if you like in England where that is a Duke's demesne- who were so unimportant that their names were
42 THE LONG LEAD
Patsy Rafferty or something plain like that, and who replaced education with a large growth of uncropped whiskers, have now become respected Esquires or, joining the Angels, have left behind them a sleek progeny with an Oxford accent, a taste in horse-flesh and home comforts ferreted out of the American magazines, and installed in the new red-roofed homesteads regardless of expense.
The greatest hardship now in travelling through this land is (in the words of Francis) suffering " the blanky glare from the benzine tins " which careless wayfarers have thrown from their cars, and we were glad to leave it, with the elusive Bush always somewhere in front of us, but we never able to catch up with it.
Right through Quilpie where the railhead of the western line from Brisbane is ; up along the Milo track to that great station which once shore a quarter of a million sheep every season, we travelled, but still civilisation seemed to dog us, even though the black soil plains opened out before us in broad stretches beyond the rugged hills of the Cheviots where we camped one rocky
The sun grew warmer as we went north, but there was still a fence on either side. The Drummond Ranges came into view, blue, clean cut, mysterious in the distance. The Mitchell grass paddocks were like endless wheatfields, and sometimes, with good Bush eyes, we might see for a moment something in the dim distance that looked like a momentary flicker of the curtain of haze which hid the end of things and murmur : " Hullo,
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see that kangaroo! " But still the real Bush did not come, and there were gates and red roofs every few miles.
Then came the Barcoo country ; a river winding in and out of grassy glades; tall, dove-coloured native companions walking lover-like along the banks of the little water-holes and dancing away with outspread wings as we approached, giving their
The water mirage which mitigates the parched look of the level plains in the west turned the whole country-side into a sea of illusion, and gave the trees and the stock an appearance of standing a foot deep in a calm, tropic sea.
Three days out from the Queensland border we passed, at evening, through the town of Isisford, centre of one of the richest sheep-producing districts in the world, and in the dark rode down the Tropic of Capricorn, which runs through the middle of the main street of Longreach, capital of Western Central Queensland. And after resting a day or two and overhauling the car in the Longreach Motor Works, one of the finest repair plants in the Southern Hemisphere, we set out on the Winton Road.
So rapid is transport progress that the owner of the Motor Works, Mr. Ridley, was able to relate that, many years before, he had journeyed four hundred miles from Brisbane to fit a magneto to a car, there being nobody else among 300,000 people in the interval of country who had so much as seen one, much less with the qualifications to adjust one.
To-day, the district in which he lives seems to
44 THE LONG LEAD
have a motor-car to the square inch ; yet so recently as 1908 I rode in the first car (so far as I know) which set out from the sister town of Blackall, farther south, to journey to Longreach and the North-west. It was a very different contraption to the Scarlet Runner. But to-day everything was different except the long, steaming bore channels which carry through the town the water which the bores bring several thousand feet from the bowels of the earth. Greek shops, fine motor roads, new buildings and the hum of " Quantas," the aerial mail service overhead, proved that here there was no Bush any more than anywhere else
On Winton Plain, we sniffed the wild, meeting drovers from the Cape York country; but it was only a sniff. For how can there be wild when the mail car roars by with its load of commercial travellers, and the ambulance pleads for the road as it tears ahead in a cloud of dust on a 200-mile race of succour and relief?
Winton was no better-a city of wealth, blazing in a Sunday sun, full of small boys, driving billy-goats in go-carts. And here a nice, savage blue cattle dog whom Dinkum hauled round the landscape by his ear.
But we did not stay one moment longer than we needed, for Francis and I were each becoming restless and longing for the Never Never Land, where one did not have to open gates and the night
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was full of eyes and one could sit cosily within the ring of one's fire and know by instinct that just without the range of its rays a dozen eager black- fellows were watching you with precious delight of theatre-goers seeing something beyond the worth of their money.
So we waited only to sleep and have a hot bath beside a bore; stopping not even to gaze in the
early morning at the stark, blue beauty of the Selwyn ranges, driving hard through a still hot afternoon when great wool wagons came lumbering past us through eerie, red spinifex-clad hills ; camping again, raising the dust across the shimmering stone-carpeted, grassless Boulia plain, into Boulia itself, where the Engineer, entering the local store to buy something, came back full of indignation at the discovery that all the change they could give for his ten-pound note was local money printed by storekeepers or written by drovers on brown paper.
Into camp once more at the long water-hole eight miles away; more hard driving over a ploughed- up road of red sand and in a blinding sun and into Dajarra in a chilly morning-our last rail-head for 1,400·mjles; our last glimpse of a post office for the same distance; and, after that, following another blinding day, we found ourselves 2,ooo miles from our starting point in a station yard.
A mob of cattle, camped a mile away, sent up a cloud of dust against the lingering blaze of the sunset. Lights came out from the kitchen. A man in a white apron stood at the door and coo-eed
46 THE LONG LEAD
with invitation. We sat down with a dozen station hands and fed and fed again ; pressed to eat huge helpings of pie and salt beef and bread washed down with mugs of real black tea.
Nobody at the board wore more than a singlet and a pair of moleskin trousers. There were no dress suits. The Engineer gallantly attempted to discuss wireless to make conversation, but none present had ever seen a wireless set, or seemed to want to see one for that matter. But when he spoke of theatres an old fellow at the end of the table said :
" When I was a lad I seen Maggie Moore in ' Struck Oil.' That was a good theatre, that was.
"Me and Bill Walters was down in Sydney for the Cup-some time or other in the 'eighties, I think it was-and we seen her, and Bill took a dislike to some bloke on the stage and threw an apple at him ....
" It was a great night," he added reflectively, " a ding-dong night."
When we left to find an evening camp everybody said "So long," and the cook gave us a round of boiled beef, and the butcher pressed on us enough salt beef to last us a week ; and when they had offered us tea and sugar and asked us to look out for a man who was sick and whom we might meet with a drover's outfit about three hundred miles ahead of us (" He'll be there if he hasn't pegged out," they said), they allowed us to depart, feeling that at last we were on the edge of things, where com-
munities are five hundred miles wide; where kindness is the golden rule; where there are no
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locks on any doors and few doors to put them on, and where, be you the humblest wanderer, without a home or property or any claim upon the community but your own illness or hunger, you may be sure that you will be nursed to the rim of the grave
if ill ; and that every man will share his last crust with you if you are hungry.
At last, the shadow of the bush had fallen upon our journey, and one day soon, when we camped at a great water-hole on the Barkley Tableland and looked out on a rolling plain as wide as the earth without seeing anything but the morning strings of cattle coming in to drink, covered with the dust of a ten-mile walk ; when we lay there at night and saw, just beyond the firelight, the gleam of dingo eyes; when we woke to the womp, womp, womp of kangaroos, startled into flight when they discovered us; when we heard, for the first time in the midnight stillness, the sound of the earth revolving as you only hear it in absolute solitude, we knew that " the old days " had not all gone and that we were beyond the fences and in the Never Never at last.
THE ART OF OVERLANDING EXPLAINED IN SOME OF ITS PHRASES ; ROAD-JUDGING ; THE REPAIR OF BREAKAGES AND OTHER INTERESTING MATTERS.
FRANCIS BIRTLES and I have agreed that, when we are both old and decrepit and unfit for any journey except that across the Styx, we shall devote the fag-end of our lives in writing a monumental hand-book for the use of Australian travellers, if by then there be any who do not pass along their way by air.
It will be called the " Overlander's Guide," and nothing will be missing from its pages either in warning or instruction which is at all likely to save the wanderer from error and make his way-faring a smooth and simple journey. There will be recipes for making johnny cakes and damper and for preparing pigweed as a vegetable and as a poultice. Our work will tell you the native herbs which mitigate Barcoo rot ; where to find and how to track the witchedee grub which every true black Australian relishes; how to delude the bee when you are digging out his " sugar bag," and many another detail conducive to caravan happiness.
But, in the main--for these are trifles-we shall
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devote ourselves to the instruction of the motorist, for to him who would push his way across the overland by car, there are likely to come many sad experiences, only to be mitigated by a knowledge of things far beyond the ordinary ambit of steering
wheels, sparking plugs and brakes. I well remember, not without an inward sense of amusement, the education of the Engineer, bred on English roads and in an English atmosphere, in these matters.
It began just across the Queensland border from New South Wales, at that period in the journey when nerves were not as yet attuned to continual vigilance and to the strain of watching for the effects of our heavy load on the car, and of sleeping on hard ground and dining on an unaccustomed ration.
We had passed Hungerford when, observing an alteration in the nature of the track, I said to the Engineer, who was driving: " From here onward you must follow instructions as to speed and driving methods or else we shall have an accident."
The Engineer looked at me with an injured air and replied : " Don't you think I can drive a motor-car ? "
" Yes," I answered, " but you have no experience in nursing one, and you are not on a real road now."
He looked out over the bonnet in amazement.
" But it is a road," he retorted, " a broad, open road."
And he proceeded to emphasise the goodness of sight by speeding up to thirty miles an hour.
I looked at the road, too. But I knew that it
5o THE LONG LEAD
wasn't a road at all ; it was just a place where the grass had been worn off. It was a perfectly level track, but a hundred yards ahead it took a sharp bend. In a main, made road that would have nothing more than an historic significance; but
here, beyond doubt, the reason of that bend would still exist, probably half hidden in the dust.
Francis saw it too. " Look out," he cried, " there's a ' tyre twister ' patch at that corner."
" ' Tyre twisters ' ? What are they ? " asked the Engineer gaily over his shoulder, still doing his thirty miles an hour.
" Bang ! jolt ! Bang ! Wee—ish ! "
The car pulled up in an inconceivably short space, and out came the tyre pump. One tyre and tube were nearly pushed out of the rim. It was a sorry mess.
I asked the Engineer if he would like to see what had done it. He said feelingly that he would. So we went back and found the road studded with little sharp tree stumps, barely showing above the dust, but as hard as stone and as sharp as knives. We had deduced that they were there by the bend and by the fact that a certain hard breed of mulga grew by the roadside, and by the knowledge that, if the track had been cleared, the continual wear on it and the wind would have removed the soil from around the stumps, leaving them protruding, just sufficiently to be a nuisance.
From then onward, the Engineer showed more respect for our judgment, and for many days he was never without a mentor, and the conversation would go very like this : " You see that little green
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shrub about half a mile away? That is a mimosa bush. It likes a bit of moisture to its roots, and it is fifteen to one that where it is planted the water trickles down to it and has formed a sharp-sided gully. Go slowly or else we'll have a nasty jolt there because the surface being the colour it is, and the shadows so intense from that big tree on the right, you won't see the depression until your front wheels are in it.
" Anyway, you should go slowly on a curve with a load. The greatest strain on a rough road for a heavily-loaded chassis is the side-throw strain caused by swinging the car on a curve, and the biggest strain on a driver is a system of driving which means that he has continually to use his brakes to slow down, and which causes him to be
always on the jump. Even, slow speed gets you farther than rush, brake, bump and crawl.
" Now we are coming to a hill. You will note that there is smoke bush growing on it. That means
that it is rough, rather stony ground, probably full of washouts. If they run towards us it doesn't matter ; but they don't, because you'll notice those gum trees about a mile away on the right--that shows where the creek is and the water will flow
to the creek, so that we are bound to go slowly up the hill, and we will have to watch carefully ....
" Hullo ! What's this ? A bit of a mud puddle, you think, easy to run through because it isn't deep? You wait, my friend. Well, look at those trees; you find them only on soggy ground with clay underneath?"
The car stops, and Francis gets out and enters
52 THE LONG LEAD
the mud puddle which monopolises the straight and narrow path along which we must go, and promptly sinks above his knees in a sort of glue.
Trust Francis to know a dangerous clay pan by instinct !
And so on it goes.
Take the case of repairs on the road. You cannot take a heavy motor-car, weighing with its peak load about 45 cwts., across 6,ooo miles of mostly virgin tracks, through heavy scrub, long grass and interminable sand, without accidents, and fairly serious accidents at that. For instance, when you pass over a stone at twelve miles an hour and hit your differential so hard that the car stops in mid-air, and you save yourself from going through the windscreen only through the goodness of Providence, something untoward is bound to happen.
What happened in our case, being on the steep slope of a creek, was that the engine dithered for a moment or two, trying to recover lost way, and that a few hours afterwards we stopped in the middle of a dusty cattle camp, of which the whole surface had been beaten to a fine pulver an inch and a half deep, with a pinion tooth broken and the painful
necessity before us of taking down our back axle and (thanks to that accursed natural inconvenience called ratio) replacing both crown wheel and pinion.
That looked a pretty job to the Engineer. He was not enthusiastic about it by any means.
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" Isn't there a garage we can tow her to? " he asked.
"There is," said Francis. " Six hundred and eighty-three miles away. What do you want with a garage, anyhow ? "
That was that. It was pitch dark, too. So, the first thing in such a situation being to have a good meal and the second to have a good sleep, and the third to have another good meal, we abandoned our troubles for the night.
In the morning, they were added to by a howling gale which was sweeping the fine dust of the camp into a cloud.
Francis was already at work when I woke. He had the car jacked up and, having unloaded our water drums and ration cases, was waiting for some kind soul to aid in making a platform on which to rest the car body. This accomplished, we found a
bent mulga tree and upon it, formed, with our luggage straps, a series of slings in which we cradled our back axle, which was taken apart and operated upon in mid air.
Before the new parts were put in, I formed a tent of tarpaulin round the two workers so that the wind would not fill the differential casing with dust, and before each part was fitted and oiled it was dipped in benzine to ensure its cleanliness. It took us a full day to complete the job, and when it was finished Francis delivered himself thus :
" There isn't any job you can't do on a car, so long as you have a box spanner, some fencing wire and a bit of common sense."
He needed all those things when we had our
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second break-out in the wilds beyond Boorooloola.
This time it was the cross steering rod which had parted in the middle in an accident. It was so broken that it could not be rescrewed. We had no spare part. Our tools, of necessity, were limited, and the void between ourselves and a garage had in-
creased to something well over 1,000 miles.
Did that worry Francis ? It did not. He tackled the problem with glee.
First, he took off the broken ends of the rod and fitted them loosely into a box spanner. Then, casting round for materials in which to pack them, he discovered that all our photographic films were sealed in small, round tins.
What more easy than to melt these down in a hot fire and pour them into the box spanner so that, when they cooled, the broken rod was held rigidly in it as if it had been soldered and almost strongly enough to stand perpendicular and forward
But the main strain, of course, was the side strain, so having replaced the rod under the car, Francis took a piece of wire rope, clamped it along the rod with U-bolts, and so completed a device which only needed, two days later, a sleeve made out
of the upright of an old iron bedstead which we found in a deserted station house, to make it ornamental as well as useful. We travelled over a thousand miles with it, over rough country, without accident.
Lastly, there was the case of the broken king pin. It was an entirely unavoidable break, and it said
something for the staunchness of the car that we
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did not all break our necks as well, since we drove in very long grass into a very hard stump.
However, when we had said a prayer of thanks-giving and counted our losses, we found that they were represented entirely by that king pin. How to make, a thousand miles from a garage, a king pin fit to take two tons of car fourteen hundred miles to home ?
As simple as you like. Take one hollow jack handle and file the outer side to the shape of the original pin. Take a box spanner and cut it open and squeeze inside. Then take a bolt from which the head has been cut and, by dint of patient filing
and hammering, form that into a bore for the whole and-hey, presto !-the thing is done.
But it is not breakages or the vagaries of open roads which give an overlander most trouble. It is pristine bush, sand and water.
Only the post-graduate course in the art of travelling will inform him of these matters ; of the kinds of timber which may be safely charged at full speed knowing that the weight and impetus of your vehicle will destroy them ; of the species which you .
must avoid like the plague, because you know that they will snap off suddenly and high up and come hurtling into the car through the windscreen; of the wretched plants which have tap roots so deep and a nature so solid that to rush at them is to court destruction.
And in sand, you must know on what you may
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take a wheel and on what you may not, and that is a gift of instinct and long and bitter experience, rather than knowledge. Some sand is bottomless and in it you sink to your floor-boards without warning. Other sand is bottomless but of a different
consistency, and that you may charge with a rush and a roar. Again, there are brands which seem impossible but which give you no trouble ; and stretches which are a bit of both, so that if you know your work you may compromise and get through.
Water is less important than it once was. The motor-car has done a great deal to minimise its importance to travellers in the inland. For, where once it needed all the endurance there was in a man and in his horses to cover a fifty-mile dry stage, now a motor-car with twenty gallons of water aboard may safely negotiate it under the worst possible conditions.
To-day, all the motorist needs to know is that no water supply is endless, and that in the inland tropics there is no thirstier animal than a radiator, which will drink six gallons every three hours on a really hot day with the wind behind the car. Therefore, slow driving, an open bonnet where there is no grass or sand to intrude, and a thermometer on the radiator are essentials which save a great deal of trouble.
The final curse of the track across the southern continent is long grass. It is an inconvenience, but generally it is not only as a cloak for stumps, stones and ant-beds that it figures as a danger. With novices it may be, but with men who know the country and who can read the significance of
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its every feature, it does not always matter so much.
The real trouble is that long grass is the mother of fire, and fire is what the cross-country motorist with seventy gallons of benzine on board must most fear. Drop your cigarette butt overboard and, in a moment, the country-side is ablaze, and so are
you. Therefore, the rules of a travelling car with grass country to cross should be more rigid about smoking than the laws of the Medes and Persians.
Generally speaking, however, the danger lies more under the car than above it. When you have been travelling for a few hundred miles, you discover, looking below, that all your undergear is polished as if all the sailors in the Atlantic had been at work on it.
And, tied between your brake rods and other fixtures and the floor, you will find dry, well-packed bundles of the hay which you have mown, a sort of tinder from the effects of the Northern sun, and jammed so tightly under the hot engine bed that it needs all your strength to dislodge it.
Leave the bundle of hay ten minutes too long; let your engine get hotter than it should ; let there be a piece of hard wood caught up with the reaping and placed in such a position that it is submitted to fast friction so as to raise a spark and, without
warning, you may find yourself upon the roll of the deceased and bound for that happy land where all motor-cars have golden wheels and nothing ever breaks.
THE SCARLET RUNNER, 1,000 MILES 0UT, ACQUIRES AN EXTRA LOAD AND PREPARE FOR 1,400 MILES OF JOURNEY THROUGH THE WILDERNESS. SHE CHASES KANGAROOS AND EMUS, AND THE ENGINEER BECOMES TOTEM BROTHER TO THE SCRUB TURKEY, AND NEARLY LOSES HIS DINNER. TO WHICH IS ADDED (BY THE PARTY'S WAR C0RRESPONDENT) A BRIEF RESUME OF THE CANINE WARS.
" OH, put it on," I said to Francis. " We may as well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb." Francis twitched another benzine drum on to the load.
We were at Dajarra railway station, coming near to the outer edge of civilisation, loading up benzine for the last long trek to Darwin through lands devoid of all convenience, barren of roads for a great part of the way, and rich in little for the way-
farer but short rations, bewilderment and hard work.
All of us had lost our air of pristine cleanness in the last nine or ten days. Only the Engineer retained the remnants of his city clothes. The other two of us had descended to ancient khaki shirts and dungaree trousers. Our whiskers had grown into an inch or so of stubble; our hats- later to be superseded by the white topees, as yet hanging in mud-spattered bags to the car fixtures-
had had holes cut in them with a knife for ventilation. We were full of high hopes, and altogether looked as disreputable an expedition as ever set out for the wilds.
The Scarlet Runner herself shared our state.
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Her front wheel brakes were already disconnected ; a battalion of extra spring leaves, reinforced with snubbers and leather binding straps, lent a look of big-gun solidity to her undergear. Long streaks of mud and samples of all the dust of 1,800 miles
behind, streaked her body. Her hood was gone, and we were not to need it, for we saw no rain for 5,000 miles of our journey—not a single drop of it. But it was her load which you noticed now, for here our desert equipment had been taken on,
bringing the weight which she carried faithfully for three months afterwards, with some variations, to 25 cwt. We had rearranged all our gear. Tool cases and spare parts, reserve rations and tinned goods occupied the lower strata of the running boards, to the level of the tops of the doors. The mudwings in front carried sleeping kit—one blanket, a snake-and-mosquito net of cheese cloth, a sugar bag for clothes container, soap and odd impedimenta, the whole wrapped in a green tarpaulin, twelve feet by eight, for Francis and myself ; for the Engineer, because of his lack of bush experience, a drover's sleeping mattress and an extra blanket.
The body of the car held general luggage and ammunition, cameras, medical supplies and a cavity for the dogs. Forward, just behind the main seat, a Hat tin box topped the luggage to form a platform on which I could stand when we were in dangerous grass country, thus giving me a view of the track ahead from an eminence about a foot above the level of the top of the back of the front seat. Many a weary hour I spent on this height, during my apprenticeship holding on to a rope for balance, but later
60 THE LONG LEAD
becoming so acrobatic that I could stand there without any extraneous support under most conditions.
Behind, and in every available space, were packed eight-gallon iron drums of benzine, each weighing eighty pounds, which, beside the eleven gallons in our tank, were to take us to the Darwin railhead 1,380 miles away, and which actually did land us
there with only half a gallon to spare. And the whole, so that there should be a minimum of strain on the car body through load movement, was tied down with bands of steel wire rope twitched tight over hard wood batons by the united strength of the party. Only the tin trunk which served as immediate ration supply holder, the water drums, the Spanish windlass, which was our engine of emergency power, the " swags" which held our camping kit and our rifles and cameras were free from this packing process, and, so firmly was the whole load bound, that we found it quite a work of art at times to release any part of it, without
broken arms from flying twitch poles.
Never was there such an object as the Scarlet Runner. She looked more like an immense porter's barrow on wheels than a motor-car on tour, but the load never seemed to be an overbearing strain on her, and we still, when it was needed, got our forty miles an hour out of her at a pinch, though in quite a lot of the country through which we passed, we were well content with four.
There was plenty of adventure in the journey
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from now onwards; travellers to meet on the road; long yarns by strange camp-fires at night; thrilling moments when somebody's hand went up as we skirted through golden plains, signal for a snatched light rifle, a noiseless dropping off the
car, a second while the world stood still as one took aim at a small grey, bird-head just above the grass. Then the sound of the shot would go rolling over the plain till it seemed to reach the end of the world, and Dinkum would be off the car like lightning, and that night we would camp early and make a big fire and the frying pan would come out, with a tin of green peas (all the way from France), and there would be a great sizzling of the pan and a silent, eagerly eaten meal ending with Francis's inevitable eulogy:
" Give me plain turkey every time. That sticks to your ribs."
Or again, some morning we would see in the distance, giant against the shivering blue of a low-reaching horizon, the shape of a windmill, evident only as a sort of undulatory haze, seen as if through rippling water. Not a fence, not a house, not a human being or a horse in sight. The road is steeped in water, illusion of the great Australian mirage. The heat is sleepy ; the grass golden, waving for mile upon mile upon endless mile, with here and there a bar of brigalow trees, or a tall river—bank growth of gum sweeping across it very far away. Suddenly, we emerge on to a dry plain fenced into a huge paddock. The grass has been eaten off it, for it is rather dry, with huge claypan spaces in its centre; the timber at its edge is lower and
62 THE LONG LEAD
wider spread between the trees than the country in the tract which we have just left.
Up goes Francis's hand. " Look ! "
You look, straining your eyes through the haze. A dim wraith crosses your road a mile, two miles,
perhaps, three miles away. You sense the movement of it rather than see its actuality.
" Shall we ? " says Francis.
" Go ahead I " I say.
Then Francis girds his belt a little tighter, and spits on his hands to give himself a firmer grip of
the steering wheel. Turning to Dinkum, he says, all in one horrid breath and with that politeness
which is permissible between friends : " N ow—you—lie- down—you-miserable—son-of— a- Cape- York - black— gin-
and- if—you— get—off — the - car - while — this - fun-is—on-by- the—living-Oysters-of-Cape—Somerset—I'll—shoot-your- hide-full-of-holes."
I climb on my perch behind the seat.
" Ready! " The car leaps forward. It gains speed. Its horn yells like a devil as Francis leans against the button on the door.
Out of the trees comes a tall old—man kangaroo. He is the shadow we have seen. He starts across the plain in leaps twenty feet long. The dust flies out from under his feet in little hot gouts; his neck is stretched forward; his tail hits the ground in effort. You feel the car wheel and go after him. In and out we chase him across the plain; through trees and under trees; missing gullies and stumps by a few inches as Francis feels my signal tap on his shoulders. We gain, when suddenly our adversary turns right round
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and goes clean over the radiator and away at right angles. Again, we pick up ground on him. You forget everything but the irregularities of the plain which magnify themselves to your eye and leap up swiftly at you till that bounding old kangaroo
comes to a full-stop against a wire fence from which he bounces high in the air like a rubber ball. If we need fresh meat it is the end of him, but we never kill except in case of need. Usually, sooner or later, our adversary jumps over the slip-rails or foils us at a creek and Francis, chortling with excitement of the chase and profanely calming an indignant Dinkum who hates to see a good thing disappearing over the horizon, remarks that a little run of that sort will help old Grey Nose's liver and teach him
not to eat out other people's paddocks.
A most thrilling form of sport this, for you never know when your front wheels will run into a rut and you will turn over, or what is lurking for you in the way of soft ground and danger in the plain.
Not only kangaroos suffered from our humour but many a slinking dingo, sneaking around in hope of stealing a lonely calf or a straggling ewe, found himself run down along the track; and for a dingo , when we found him, there was no mercy if he could not fmd shelter, for he is a destroyer to whom no flesh goes amiss.
Sometimes, too, we chased the emu, the ostrich of the Australian plains, but I never chose him as as a quarry if I could help it, because Dinkum had an insatiable hunger for chicken, and at least once we had more than a little excitement, rescuing a cornered bird from him. That time, we had one at
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bay in the angle of a fence, and I incautiously left the car to pull off the dog, who had parted company with us while we were still moving and engaged himself in a fray with the great bird. Not apparently recognising me as a friend, the emu wasted no
time in parley when I reached the ground. Shaking off the dog, it rushed at me, and only by a hair's breadth missed me with its foot, mainly through the vigour of its own bad temper. As its kick is about as gentle as that of an infuriated bull, I retired in fast order to the car, holding an indignant and loudly protesting Dinkum by the tail.
All these bush things have a swiftness incredible to anybody who has not tested their speed mechanically. On a two-mile stretch over rough ground one kangaroo, a splendid specimen, out-stripped us when our speedometer needle hung consistently at 34.8 miles per hour ; even the little red wallaroo seemed to make light of a regular thirty miles an hour, while the emu, with his long legs, proved capable of the same speed when pressed, and the dingo, always reckoned a fast animal among bushmen, came a rather poor third at from twenty-seven to twenty-nine miles over short stretches.
But the swiftest of all our feathered and furred companions was my friend and brother, the willy wagtail.
Two of these little black and white elves flew before us as we left Sydney, and all the way they were wherever we might be, one of them sitting on
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the radiator in the morning chickering away in his impudent voice. On hot days they would fly ahead, wheeling in circles, perching now and then on a bush or on the backs of feeding cattle, and return bubbling with glee to annoy Dinkum. We often
wondered whether they were the same pair, but, however that might be, there was no doubt about their relationship to myself for, when I was a little lad in the Bush, my old black friends told me of my totem brotherhood to them. An appropriate one, Francis said, for a journalist, since the wag-tail is always gossiping (like journalists !), and in colour he is blue-black and white (like ink and paper !).
While we discussed totem brotherhoods, the Engineer, who, coming from Worcestershire, had never been blessed with a totem brother in his early youth, showed a desire to share with Francis and myself the advantages which our Australianism
had brought us. Francis, the wag of the party, said: " Very well, as a Past Grand Master of the Order of the Black, I am in a position to decide your totem family. You are hereby initiated as a Brother of the Plain Turkey."
The Engineer beamed.
He lost no opportunity of referring to himself as a Brother of the Turkey tribe. He questioned me at length about his privileges. I related to him the details of an entirely forged turkey corroboree. I swamped him in aboriginal lore. Then, one fine
morning, we had one of those sudden stops, those quick shots, and a grey turkey brought on board.
At evening a large plucked bird, fat and luscious, tied to a piece of wire hung over a hot, gidgee fire.
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I sat by and basted him, what time Wowser, the bulldog, hungriest pup in the world, lay in the offing and sniffed as if he had never been fed in his life. Peas I put into the pan and the little bit of sage I had brought with me, and pepper and the least bit of dough from the damper ; canned vegetables and cinnamon, so that presently there rose in the clear Northern air an aroma which would have drawn King john from his lampreys.
The cloth was laid ; the tea was made.
The turkey and the frying pan were brought from the fire and placed sizzling beside me.
" Yum! Yum! " said the Engineer, who was a hungry person. " Hullo ! You haven't laid my plate."
We looked at him in sad amaze.
" No," I said, " turkey for dinner to-night."
"I know that," said the Engineer. " I feel as if I could eat a whole one myself."
Francis looked shocked.
" But you can't ! " he said.
" Can't ? " said the Engineer. " You try me ! "
" Why, you damned old cannibal," shouted Francis, " any man who eats his totem brother is accursed till the stars fall on him."
We pretended to be quite fanatical about it, and it was a full five minutes before we let the Engineer have his meal ; during which period he swore vigorously, and Dinkum, that intelligent hound, sat not far away with his straight ear unusually perpendicular, very obviously hoping that the Engineer was ill and that an extra drumstick and a large piece of well-grilled breast would be his by inheritance before the evening was much older.
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Dinkum himself did not go without his special form of sport on this portion of the journey. For, so soon as we began to leave the railway zone, old-time hospitality prevailed. You would sit down to luncheon at some station and consume huge
rounds of comed beef and yeast bread, and tea out of immense blue and white enamel mugs, while admiring the artistic tapestry of events with which the owners of the dining-room had papered the walls
—sheets from the Sydney Referee immortalising the features of Filipino boxers; a page from the WorId's News depicting a very small man patiently throttling a sixty-foot anaconda ; the King, perhaps going to the opening of Parliament, snipped from an Illustrated London News of the year before last, and a pot pourri of pretty faces from the stage, and the Federal Parliament.
Here you would find real conversation, not because the average cattle station or shearer's hut usually harbours any Houghtons or Coleridges, but because, after all, the mother of all fascinating talk is the vivid interest of the talker ; and because also, there is nothing like solitude—one mail a fortnight, and a view consisting of several million blades of grass lying beside each other with a background of bullocks—to give zest to one's tongue.
Behold that old fellow at the end of the table in a blue flannel shirt and dungaree trousers. He has a piece of bread in one hand, the size of the Land of Canaan. His table knife, a pointed,
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villainous affair with a black handle, upon which ever and anon he spears a large chunk of defunct Shorthorn steer, he uses as a baton.
" Me," he says oracularly, discussing his guests with true politeness, " me, I don't go too much or'narily on these here reporters. You remember that bit that was in the Sydney Bulletin the year before last about the stallion that savaged a man on
Mount Margaret ? "
" I do," I say, lying vigorously.
" Well, now," says my friend triumphantly, " there's a yarn for you. I know! (wave with the butcher's knife). You can't tell me! (volcanic absorption of meat and bread). I was there, I was! (tierce, parry, etc.). That wasn't a stallion at all. It was a mare."
" There was a bit," says a little, stubby fellow with a red handkerchief around his neck, " about dorg fights last month, but, lumme, they don't know anything about fights. You can see plain they don't know a legger from an ear dog."
" You know what they said ? " he shouts. " They said an ear-hold dorg could lick a legger any day."
" So they can," says the belligerent voice of Francis from the other end of the board, his tone suggesting that somebody has just impugned the virtue of his mother or the faithfulness of his best friend.
" Garn ! " says the Little Scrubby Man, " where'd you ever see a ear-dorg could do that ? "
" Under the table ! " retorts Francis cheerfully.
Then it appears that the Little Scrubby Man has a dorg, a half bull terrier that uses the leg
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hold, and that no canine from here to Nova Zembla can lick, and a babel of argument arises during which Francis holds that leggers are cruel, and that he would shoot one if he owned it, and presently we all adjourn to a shady tree to try practical conclusions.
Woebetide most of our adversaries. In Dinkum, somewhere, there is some dingo blood bred back to the old Alsatians which fathered our wild—dog breed when they were left on our shores three hundred years ago by the Dutch navigators. And, behind the Alsatian in him, there is a wolf, so that his methods are unconventional. He takes his grip in the air, and there are no preliminaries; just a short order from Francis, a flying blue streak; a howl from the adversary who is trying to push Dinkum's claws out of the middle of his face, and Dinkum himself firmly attached by his teeth to the slowly stretching ear of his enemy, which sad beast, all over blood, he is hauling vigorously round a shocked landscape amid the cheers of everybody in and out of the party.
At no outback station do they think you have complied with the laws of hospitality if you arrive in company with a dog and do not give the station dogs a chance to " have a bit of his hide."
And only twice in the whole journey did we suffer defeat, though, when we reached Sydney, our faithful hound looked as if somebody had torn pieces out of him with a pair of pincers.
Once the dog that beat him was not a dog at all, but a wild cat; a powerful wild cat which was discovered beginning to gorge on a hawk with a
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three-foot wing spread which it had crept upon and overcome. Dinkum took that cat altogether too easily as he soon discovered. He went at it with a rush, and both disappeared into the long grass.
There arose a discordance as if a Negro saxophone player had gone mad, whereupon, rushing forward, we discovered Dinkum with the wild cat wrapped round his face like a fur, turning somersaults most athletically and giving tongue with all
the vigour of a healthy pair of outraged lungs. His other defeat happened from the deftness of a legger which seized his front foot--a cruel business——before his ear was in jeopardy and maintained his grip until humanity compelled us to intervene.
But of all the fights along the road, the most memorable was our war with the Lake Nash bulldog.
Lake Nash is a big cattle station on the border of the Northern Territory. Upon arriving there, I got out of the car and started to walk up the garden path. I walked cheerfully, but half-way to the veranda I stopped suddenly. I stared. Then I tiptoed softly backwards and, arriving
at the gate, slipped hurriedly through it and firmly set the latch amid roars of laughter from the remainder of the party. Right in the middle of the garden path was the largest brindle bulldog I had ever seen, eyeing me with a curiosity which, as it turned out,
was meant to be welcoming, but which had a dinner hour flavour too disconcerting to be disregarded.
The only member of the party who did not laugh
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was Dinkum. At first sight he took a dislike to that bulldog. He disliked him doubly when he found him sharing a bedroom with Francis next morning, and Francis sharing his matutinal biscuit with him, and it was after that that we noticed him walking round and round the guileless young animal surveying him with a puzzled look in his eye, going near him, retreating and regarding him
again from afar.
It was not till just as we were leaving that it dawned on us what was happening. The best of bulldogs has scarcely any ears. That bulldog had practically none, and though he gave the challenge many times, our warrior would have nothing of him as an adversary until he had satisfied himself that there was a loose bit of fiesh or skin somewhere which would make a serviceable tooth hold.
Then, and then only, when he had been ordered on board the car for the road did he decide to give battle and take a chance with the loose skin of that bulldog's neck. Lake Nash saw a splendid fight that morning, but though the local dog had weight
on his side, he got a nasty mauling for his pains. ` But as the Lake Nash manager said, " He was a young dog, and needed some experience?
" There's a dog out at Camoweal I'd like you to lick," he said at parting, not a little perturbed by the state of his own animal.
And, being always willing to oblige, we saw to it when we came near Camoweal that we met his wishes. That Camoweal dog--a surly mongrel of the breed which runs out and barks at shy horses- will remember us for a long time to come.
AFTER AN ADVENTURE ON THE PLAINS, WE REACH THE BARKLEY TABLELAND. ITS SCENERY AND POSSIBILITIES DESCRIBED, TOGETHER WITH AN OUTLINE OF THE TROUBLES OF A MAN WHO WANTED THE CITY OF LONDON TO KEEP HIS HORSE IN. ALSO A FEW WORDS ABOUT THE LOCAL DERBY AND THE ONE POLICEMAN IN 3,OO MILES WHO WAS A POOR WORKING MAN.
ONE evening, when Sydney seemed a year away--we were really ten days out-we ran late into the night, seeking a hot water bore where we could camp, and in whose steaming channels we could remove some of the mire of the journey. It was a cool, brilliant evening dominated by Orion and the Pleiades, the grass whispering with a slight breeze, the faint lume of timber in the far distance; the air full of strange, little animal noises which seemed to intrude from all sides when you paused for a minute.
There was no road, for we were cutting sheer across a paddock, the size of Norfolk, saving a few miles; so when tea was done, I left the party and strolled ahead, taking a bearing by the stars in order to get our direction. Soon, the fire behind seemed
a tiny dot of flame in a wall of velvet, though the voices of Francis and the Engineer came clear and sharp as if they were a hundred yards away instead of a mile or more.
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Then, ahead against the timber lume, I saw a faint cloud rising; so gauzy that you were conscious of it only because of its motion as it climbed, gently corkscrewing, into the high clarity of Heaven.
Bending ear to earth, one heard faint sounds, as if there were a great wind at the end of the world.
Two broad beams of white light lay suddenly along the plain, and the silence was rudely broken by the chug of the Scarlet Runner's self-starter ....
In a few minutes the car had found me and taken me aboard. The Heavens wheeled. The plain, always seeming with its conventional illusion to incline steeply downwards before us, slipped by in a steady, narrowly illuminated stream of swish-
ing gold. Small, mazed animals rushed away, too seized with the urgency of escape to scream.
Once a kangaroo became caught by the hypnotism of the headlights and bounded along just ahead of us, keeping his distance and never letting us gain, till a turn threw him out of the glare and released him from his bondage.
Each mile the cloud in the sky became taller, more turgid, more defined, till at last it towered right above us, seeming to be accompanied by a great restlessness of noise, a trampling, a shouting, a heaving light here and there, the barking of dogs, all growing till the earth itself moved like the waves of the sea.
" Lights out ! Down, Dinkum ! Quiet, boy ! "
We stopped, not speaking, and as far as the eye could see in the darkness, eddied round us a steady current of heaving chines and switching tails, horns tossed skywards, green eyes that peered
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out of a wall of blackness and melted into it again in a flash. A great mob of travelling cattle flowed steadily past, an animal now and then baulking to sniff at the car, or at Dinkum, high and quivering on his haunches above the load.
A whip cracked. The sea had rolled back from us, leaving behind the odour of dust and afar, so it seemed, though really it was quite near, a glowing point of red high up.
I left the Scarlet Runner, dust all about me.
" Who's ahoy? "
The glowing point of fire became a man on a quietly-stepping horse. He stood out against the sky, pipe alight, felt hat a battered fragment of a sierra; stockwhip, short-handled and looped, supported at the knee.
" Ben Smith, drover from Forest Home in the Cape." `
" How long out ? "
" Oh, about two months."
We stopped and talked to Ben Smith, giving him all the news; how So-and-so's mob was sold at L2.10s.; how the water hole at such—and-such a place was low ; how the bore water at such another point had ceased to How; what the meatworks
were paying per hundred in Brisbane; all about the slump in hides. And he in turn told us how dry it was up North and how cattle were not worth shooting. Then:
" Where might you be bound ? " he asked.
" Darwin," we said, " and back to Sydney down the Overland."
He lit his pipe slowly, the flame of the match
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showing a lean, dark-moustached face, weatherbeaten and philosophic, lined but serene and full of good humour, as if nothing could anger or disturb it.
" Darwin, eh? That's a long lead-a good bit more than three smokes and a canter."
" That's true. Better men have gone farther on a worse moke."
" You need a good neddy for that," said Ben Smith, the drover from up in the wilderness of the Cape. " See you later on! Got to get these blankers to water to-night ! So long, chaps ! "
" So long ! Good camping ! "
Head high, pipe radiant, stockwhip thrown over his arm, that debonair silhouette, Ben Smith, rode out of our lives, he with two thousand miles of Southward trek before him and a thirsty mob fast becoming only a cloud in our world again ; we, to face the long lead Northwards which, as he had said, called for much longer travelling than could be done in " three smokes and a canter."
That was the beginning of the plains. We swept over them up through the border country, through the little town of Camoweal, and opened our second last gate in the " rabbit proof," the barrier of small- meshed wire netting which Queenslanders believe to be the longest fence in the world. For three thousand miles it runs down into the corner of South
Australia from the Gulf of Carpentaria and along the boundary between N. S. Wales and Queens- land to the sea. The reason of it is the rabbit,
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which, brought to Australia as a pet, has become an all devouring pest, and must be kept out of a respectable state at any cost.
Through the gate we came upon the famous Barkley Tableland. Everybody in Australia talks of the Barkley Tableland. It is one of those places full of " vast potentialities "——oh, delightful and well-worn phrase of the politicians, ninety-nine per cent. of whom have never been to the Barkley country, but believe it to be capable of carrying a sheep to the acre; of absorbing more than half the population of England and Wales; of flowing with milk and honey ; of solving the white Australia problem; of breeding a race of tropical white people and of achieving, Heaven only knows what other Utopian consummations.
Actually it is a series of long, golden, Mitchell grass plains, more coarsely pastured than the Mitchell country of the South; a land in which it is easy to make roads by the simple device of running a fireplough or scoop straight across the landscape. It is splendid cattle country, though very poorly watered and, though it is high and crisp in climate, it lacks a good many of the features which make the best of the sheep land of Central Queensland what it is——shade, abounding rivers, country which
floods in the rainy season and abundant bore water. It is like a great, wide garden bed of limestone and black soil with intrusions of the timbers of the acacia variety, of poor land growing gutta percha trees and of what is technically known as " desert " - tall spinifex and turkey bush-—which is really very good reserve country in a dry season.
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But, despite its many friends, there is no sheep to the acre country in this tract the size of the British Isles or more. Indeed, it is very doubtful whether it will carry more than a sheep to four acres under fairly intensive improvements, even when a breed of sheep has been acclimatised to suit its special conditions.
And, although, as I say, it is excellent cattle country, there is not the slightest use expecting permanency of herds without a continuously heavy importation of bulls, until somebody is prepared to spend fifteen years of careful and expert breeding in acclimatisation work.
Undoubtedly, in time, the Barkley Tableland will be a great pastoral centre; but just now it is cut into stations, the largest of which is about the size of Belgium and which carries less than 4o,ooo head of cattle and a white population which does not run
to much more than a dozen.
Paradoxically enough, the most enthusiastic advocates of the Tableland are its worst enemies. No Australian Member of Parliament can make a speech about settlement without referring to its possibilities, and political advocacy has been so
successful that a good deal of oversea capital is available for its development.
But, unfortunately, it is one of those vast jobs which call for millions of pounds for water supply, fencing, a port on the McArthur River, stocking and the protection of the stock against pest and drought, and so soon as any enterprise involving millions, no matter of what benefit to the country, is mentioned in Australia, every politician within a thousand
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mile radius goes a pale yellow in hue and says a short prayer for the safety of his seat.
Being a democratic people, well protected by a benign British Admiralty, we Australians are nurtured in the idea that millions are a curse even when they mean high wages, added wealth and swifter growth. Any concern willing to invest eight or nine million pounds in Australia (except, of course, in the form of loans to Labour Governments) is a trust and an octopus. So, while no politician has as yet been seen packing his portmanteau and trekking hastily to the fields of gold on the Barkley Tableland, and though no local pastoral company, knowing the risks, will do it either, the national attitude so far has been com-
pletely dog in the manger, entirely dominated by an odious fear of electoral opinion, and the only measures taken to promote the growth of this great Northern area have been some spasmodic and speculative individual efforts insufficiently backed to bear the cost of fifteen or twenty years' initial and profitless work, and to counter the small tinkering by visionary Governments which have not always understood the alpha of the problems with which they were faced.
Given longer leases than the forty years now obtaining in the Northern Territory, backed with a system of preference to earnest developers which would place speculative holders at a definite disadvantage against those prepared to spend money
on improvements and stocking on an adequate scale, this country would in time be a great asset.As matters stand, under the newest Government
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schemes, any investor is by way of being a philanthropist.
The road across the Barkley Tableland is the only one in the Northern Territory on which a motor-car can travel at an average rate of thirty miles an hour. There is not much diversity in scenery. You climb one gentle and golden undulation and before you is the view: red cattle feeding, wide spread grass, grass, grass, melting into the blue on either side at the very limit of your eyes' range ; a bluey—coppery sky overhead, playground of a burning sun ; a long straight ribbon of road climbing another gentle eminence. Over that next little hill, an almost exact replica of the view you have just forsaken greets you ; and an endless progression of sameness which sets you repeating Mark Twain's rhythmic catch :
"Punch, brothers, punch; punch with care.
Punch in the presence of the passenger."
It goes on till a bar of trees, afar, seems an event ; a cloud, an unbearable novelty ; a crow, a matter of interest ; and a water-hole, like a fragrant landfall after a fortnight spent at sea.
At Lorne Creek, where you camp, the broad stream is a little world of its own, with wild things coming down softly to drink, timid of you and your rifles. In the morning, long lines of cattle, walking fast, drive past unheeding and bury their noses in the
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cool water around the trampled margin of the lake. You see them going leisurely and sated back to their
pastures as you drive away.
Presently, as you travel on, something like a white sheet hung out to dry in the distance comes into view. It resolves itself into a house—a store in fact—built of iron, with a gabled roof and no veranda ; with a police station just across the road and a race course at the back of it, and a prideful but wrathful owner with a terrific grievance and an unbounded sense of hospitality.
He is, we know, the only storekeeper in seven hundred miles between Camoweal and Boorooloola ; the only one in a thousand miles by the western track, for is this not the Rankine, that great city of two houses, to which, once a year, all the population which has two legs and a horse to put them across within five hundred miles around comes over for its week's racing ? Did we not meet them as much as four hundred miles away from it, already on the road as we travelled through, sometimes mounted upon the very Captain Cuttles and Zevs and Manfreds with which they proposed to win big money ?
Did they not look upon us hospitably and beg us to come back with them, promising us a " full week of it—as long as the beer lasts," with racing all day and dances all night and (as a special attraction) " So-and-so's missus bringing two girls with her
from Cloncurry "— Heaven only knows how the word had drifted through so far, about the imminence of the coming of those two maidens from a real town, whose approach sent up the trade in new white moleskins and elastic-sides boots and
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spotted handkerchieis all over the Barkley and Carpentaria Inland !
Even the storekeeper was excited about them, though the gloom of his great trouble had made an anarchist of him, ready to raise the banner of rebellion against ordered civilisation at the word.
What he wanted, he said, was very little ; just a square mile of country in the centre of the township to keep his horse in. What was a square mile, anyhow? Yet the miserable tyrants of Melbourne refused him this tiny right. But, he concluded, after a philosophic pause, he supposed it didn't matter, because we would all be dead some day, and anyhow he was running his horse in the open even if he did not own the lease of the land.
Who was to know but the policeman, who was a good fellow and who had a blind eye like most other policemen in the wilds ?
The storekeeper and his customers (one had come 200 miles to buy tobacco ; the other had travelled in to the races, which were ten days off, through a misunderstanding based upon the fact that he had been in the wilds for a year and had got a week or so out in his reckoning of the date) told us that from now onwards across the Tableland we should see " mobs of scenery." " Mobs " is the superlative of everything in the Territory. It is the equivalent of superabundance.
They were right. Less than fifty miles on we saw Alexandria Head station, the centre of activity in
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that pastoral property to which I have referred as being the size of Belgium. It consisted of a house or two, low and comfortable ; a windmill ; a tank ; several imported trees; some cattle and a fence. Later we came upon termite or white ant nests and some gum trees, and a sign which some wag, who had been in Sydney apparently on holiday during that dreadful time when the pavement was being reorganised by a hard-hearted police force, had erected and which sternly adjured the wayfarer to
" keep to the left." There was about 2,000 unencumbered miles of left to keep to.
After a further interval of forty of fifty miles, we came on another sign of life-a wagon and a solitary traveller who, sign that we were in the bush, asked us unaffectedly if we had a little tobacco.
Still another two or three hours' run on a thirty-mile-an-hour road and we saw a windmill and, towards sundown, one hundred and ten miles from Alexandria we reached an intrusion of timber in the undulating country-side which made us think
we were back in Southern Queensland.
Half—way through the wood we found it full of commotion. The cause of commotion was cattle; its deus ex machina: was a very young man with a very juvenile moustache, who seemed to be in command of about 200 cows and a drove of black beauty. The black band ranged through all the darker hues of humanity and in age was anything from seven to seventy, and all well mounted on indignant horses which were being prodded, pushed and shrieked at. The young white man sat bolt
upright on his charger, a fine stamp of horse, glued
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to his saddle with that indefinable air of being a centaur which is reserved by a Divine Providence to lend distinction to the British cavalry officer. I wagered with Francis that such he was, but Francis is a canny person who knows all sorts and con-
ditions of men at a glance and he would not bet.
When we approached the young man we found that I was right. He was an Hussar, English accent and all, and he had been in Australia three or four months and on Brunette Downs, the station which we were approaching, only a few weeks. He had
been down seventy or a hundred or a hundred and twenty miles collecting unbranded cows from another property together with his body-guard.
He seemed to conduct the conversation with unease because we had not been introduced, and he sat bolt upright on his horse and called me " sir," as if I had been a colonel, despite the dirt and stubble which made us all look like bushrangers.
No Australian would have or could have been at the same time so courteous and so detached or, with the same experience, more thoroughly at home in his surroundings.
He asked us if we had heard the result of the Boat-race, to which we replied that we didn't even know the date for certain, and had forgotten that Oxford and Cambridge existed; that anyway they were thirteen thousand miles away and we regretted that isolation somewhat dimmed the importance of these international events to those who had never seen
At that moment the 200 cows ahead became infected with the germ of haste and took to the
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bush in all directions, with young and old black, fellow and black girl racing through the small timber after them, the while screaming imprecations, and our young friend went off, chest to pummel, to restore order. _
When we caught him up he was calm ; the cattle were in a compact and contrite mob and we were at Brunette Downs, with a chewing camel team in the foreground ; a homestead on high blocks in the background; a well-borer's outfit in the middle distance; a manager who presided patriarchally a little later at the dinner table and said grace as if he were in a seminary for young men ; and a great lowing and bellowing of cattle and barking of dogs.
Refusing a warm invitation to spend a day or two, we decided to push on in the cool of the evening to Anthony's Lagoons, sixty miles away. Largely, the landscape was small timber and " desert," which latter class of country was saddened for us by an uncertain soil which, at short and indefinite intervals, fell into straight holes in the very middle of the track. It was delicate going in the dark, and the transition from tropic heat to a deep, still evening cold made everybody so sleepy that we had to
watch ourselves very closely.
It was after midnight when we pulled up to the police station at Anthony's—a tin hut with no garden, but surrounded by a veritable sea of white goats.
When we awoke, in the dawn, well wrapped in our tarpaulins, an argument was in progress within the station from which we gathered that somebody
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was trying to persuade the constable to don his uniform in our honour.
He was adamant against it.
" I'm a plain working—man with a flannel-shirt
mind," he shouted, " and if a blanky journalist in an eyeglass don't like it he can lump it."
* * *
His face was worth seeing when he stood beside our tarpaulins a few minutes later and saw our
unwashed, bearded uncleanliness unfold.
A guffaw from the doorway told us that his friend and mentor with a regard to clothes found the situation humorous even if the joke was against him.
TO BE CONTINUED