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As three quick shots were our acknowledged danger signal, I fully expected to be involved at any moment in the pleasant adventure of rescuing Francis from a tree with an infuriated bull ramping at the foot of it. Indeed, for a few seconds I had an ugly thought that Francis had no cartridges except those in his magazine, but all doubts as to the course of events was set aside in a minute or two by the breaking out of pandemonium. The proceedings as we heard them may be most graphically and succinctly described as bellow, bullet, bark and Birtles. We ran forward and found Francis just emerged from a chaos of heavy firing and bovine rage, perspiring with glee over the corpse of his adversary.
It appeared that Dinkum had traced the enemy to his lair and that the enemy had promptly started to chase our faithful hound over the horizon. Francis created a diversion and Dinkum selecting the tenderest spot he could find on his quarry, seized it with a firm grip and proceeded to enjoy a sort of Luna Park ride, while the buffalo cavorted round, much annoyed by the whole adventure and alternately trying to rid himself of his burden and to reach Francis.
Dinkum was thoroughly excited and when we arrived he was sitting on the buffalo's head fairly shouting with triumph and we had to drag him off almost forcibly before we could settle down to the hard work of removing the horns. That operation
called for nearly two hours of axe and knife work. The buffalo is one of the toughest animals in the world without a doubt and his forehead is constructed to stop a railway train without suffering material damage.
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At Pine Creek we dined at our first hotel since Longreach. We found the place a decadent edition of Eumungalan. The Chinese signs were not so ubiquitous and the Chinese themselves were not so prosperous. One of them had a chalked announcement outside his shop : " Yess, we have no bananas," but the main charm of Pine Creek was the hotel where the proprietress gave us such a meal as we had not had on the remainder of the journey.
She was a calm eyed, sparsely built bushwoman, who talked quite casually about her trip of sixteen hundred miles from Western Australia a few years before in a dray ; of a seventy mile dry stage when the throats of the wayfarers became so parched that all the adults carried pebbles in their mouths and the children became too voiceless to cry and the dogs of the party had to be taken out and shot because there was no hope of their being saved until water was reached and the travellers had not the heart to leave them to die by the roadside.
She talked about it as if it were all very humdrum to her and she was more interested in the fact that I knew some relatives of hers in Brisbane than that, in her girlhood, she had spent months sleeping on the ground with an armed guard by the camp fires
and her loaded rifle beside her as a defence against wild blackfellows.
When we left she was indignant that we insisted on paying for our meals and by way of compromise insisted on treating us all to a stirrup cup, shook
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hands with us heartily and said: " Good-bye, old man," as if she had known us all our lives.
We were quite depressed for a good ten miles out that times were so bad in Pine Creek. Francis blamed it all on to the Government, as was his wont, but the undergrowth and the sporting habits of the Chinese prospector, who in these regions is apt to dig a shaft twenty feet deep in the centre of the highway and leave it to be turned into a man trap by the next season's long grass, removed all thoughts but those of Heaven from our minds.
Hunting over wire is a mere parlour game beside driving a motor-car where John Chinaman has been at work with his little pick and shovel. Dodging his bunkers was a nerve racking job, both for the observer standing on his high post above the level
of the back of the seats and for the Engineer who was sometimes called on to stop the car in a matter of feet; so nobody was more relieved than these two weary people when a broad road hove in sight and Darwin, twenty miles away, became virtually
an accomplished goal.
It was a sleepy Sunday afternoon when, at the hour of the siesta, we drove into that queer city. Little black children shining of countenance from Sunday morning's soap were going to Sunday school. There were also brindle children, yellow children, copper coloured children and white children, obviously bent on the same errand. Otherwise, the main streets were deserted, except for an odd wandering horse and the inevitable and interminable
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goat, when we drove to the best hotel in the town and aroused a sleepy batman.
We felt, perhaps, a little slighted that he gave no shout of welcome upon our coming to the end of our 3,300 mile journey. We were amazed and indignant, too, when we had to be unpleasant to him and quote the law to persuade him to wake the
proprietress, who presently appeared in white muslin and a very bad temper.
No, she said, she had no rooms. If we wanted rooms we should have wired for them. She did not take strangers in unless she knew them. She was quite obdurate and civilised. I asked if we could get accommodation elsewhere and she instantly
named a place, which Francis forthwith loudly despised as a haunt of blacks and Chinamen.
Fortunately, at this moment, I became aware of an unsavoury individual, presumably standing behind me, whose form was reflected all too clearly in a large, double looking-glass at the end of the hall. He was garbed in what might once have been a khaki shirt-it might once, indeed, in its youth, have been even clean--a pair of blackfellow's dungaree trousers frayed into thread at the bottoms, from the belt whereof depended one very large knife and some strong string which could reasonably have been mistaken for a strangling cord. Below the frayed bottoms of the dungarees and a pair of swollen and dirty bare ankles, the stranger was shod in blood-stained sand shoes, one with a flapping sole, and above his unprepossessing sartorial outfit was one of the most astonishingly villainous sets of dirty whiskers I had ever seen.
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While I was meditating on the unpleasantness of this unhappy human specimen, the thought struck me like a chilly blast that it was myself and that I had better get identified if we hoped to sleep in beds that night.
It took hard work and much eloquence to persuade the landlady that we were admissible into decent hotel society. She had heard that we were coming, but she had also heard that I was a city journalist and she had expected riding breeches, Bedford cords and manicured hands, Bush or no Bush. I think it took her quite a little while definitely to rid herself of the suspicion that I was an interloper who had murdered the real heir to her hospitality.
However, when we had got ourselves into whites,she more than atoned for her cold suspicion by giving us the best rooms in the house and abrogating in our favour the rules which limited the use of bath-rooms by ordinary guests.
In half an hour we were civilised and immaculate. We had, in the words of the Engineer, a " good shot of whisky inside us" ; our beards were trimmed; we had had a meal which we had not had to cook and we were all very sleepy.
Only Francis was sorry to reach civilisation. " Can't sleep in these confounded beds," he grumbled, gazing resentfully at the wide expanse of his couch, " wish there was a decent creek here- abouts we could camp on."
And he went forth to give Dinkum his third bone-Dinkum seemed to own the city of Darwin, whose inhabitants, apart from the little dogs in his vicinity, constantly brought him tribute--muttering dismally the while about our accursed state of comfort.
DARWIN AND ITS INHABITANTS; THEIR COLOUR AND THEIR EXTREMISM WITH A FEW WORDS ABOUT WHARVES AND POLITICIANS.
DARWIN is a city which bulks very small in the general life of this great world; but Australia has heard a great deal of it and its name generally conjures up, for the average newspaper reader, a picture of turbulent revolutionaries marching through the streets of a sort of small scale Glasgow gone mad in the wilderness; of a trembling Governor cowering before a sleek but militant population of` Communists, mainly disposed in triumphant attitudes about the charred ruins of the Vestey Meatworks. This conception was born of events which happened immediately after the close of the Great VVar.
To—day, whatever it may have been some years ago, that is not Darwin.
Certainly the present Administrator will tell you with gusto of his first garden party which was graced by the uninvited presence of several hostile democrats,who took possession of the drive to Government House and doled out to the guests a leaflet inveighing against all constituted authority and adjuring the recipients to remember that in a few
minutes they would be eating the bread of tyranny and forging another link in the fetters of a downtrodden and starving proletariat.
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That sort of thing could, as I say, happen in Darwin some years ago. It happened to such an extent that, after the Administrator, the King's representative, had been found guilty of assault by a Darwin civil jury because he induced the
distributor of leaflets to depart from the precincts of his garden, the jury system went into abeyance and diverse deportations and the sudden hibernation of what Labour called the " Octopus " (which is Vesteys' Meatworks) completely altered the atmosphere. For it is a singular fact that Bolshevism seems only able to live in the Commonwealth when there is a bloated capitalist in the background providing the agitators with a generous taxation field from which to pay for the motor-cars
and fat pickings.
Therefore the " Octopus " having allowed the weeds to grow among its tentacles (otherwise its works), the agitators have departed, and the old wars have given place to a sort of guerrilla argument which blazes up only when there is an election in
the air or a Parliamentary Party or a newspaper man at the Hotel Victoria.
To-day Darwin is a lazy town, full of Oriental smells, the source whereof is Chinamen. Darwin still has its empty meatworks. Darwin has an eligibly situated jail at Fanny Bay upon the seafront, before whose portals stands a monument to
record that here Ross and Keith Smith landed on their pioneer flight from England to Australia. Darwin has a host of fine stone and clay houses built in the cheap 'seventies and 'eighties to accommodate the potentates of the future White Empire
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of the North, when the horizon of history was still golden and Chinese labour was both abundant and cheap. Alas, the descendants of some of the coolie labour of the last generation have inherited these dwellings, for potentates there are none !
Darwin has a Tree of Knowledge, once the rallying point of all Red Flag disputes, in whose shade three or four ragged whites sit daily, despondent in the very heart of a bustling Chinatown, miserably scheming plots whereby they may stow away in the next steamer for the South. They sit by the hour and stare across the way at the Chinese Club, wherein sleek young Orientals, of the third Australian generation, loll about and read the Sydney Referee.
Then there is a wide, empty, blue harbour and the elbow—shaped jetty ; streets which bear so little traffic that all their pavements are grass—grown; a Government House in an unmown garden, from whose spacious veranda at eventide, you may, if you will and the light is propitious, see the Darwin crocodile taking his promenade across the mudflats beyond Lovers' Walk ; a long barrack of Government offices facing the sea; a few detached buildings which are the homes of many hopeful company
representatives, sometimes three to a room, who spend their days cursing the Government and their nights in cheering up (by telegraph) their sanguine and trusting shareholders in the cities of the South.
And there was, when we were there, the iceworks owned by a white man with a japanese wife ; managed by an ambidextrous Sino-Malay ; superinended mechanically by a Dane and staffed by a sort of inharmonic human spectrum ranging through
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every known ethnological shade from dull yellow to deep black.
Also, beyond the pier, lay the good ship Huddersfield, a fat, black vessel of three hundred tons burden which served the purpose of Government yacht, navy, police boat, cargo-wallah, and Royal Mail steamer to the whole of the Territorian Coast.
Upon its littered deck, recumbent, one might, through a glass, behold a noble seaman, serving his country, with a fishing line tied to his toe.
Lastly, behold those Chinese—those Australian-born Chinese who own the whole main commercial street of shimmering iron shops and restaurants; the Chinese who have the only social club in the Territory and the best football team in Darwin; who engulf both the Cingalese barber and the white barber in their commercial sea ; who buy their fish in a bath of blood and a Gehenna of yapping dogs on the footpath, what time a grimy fisherman, redolent of béche-de—mer, performs ling—chi upon it with a hatchet.
Endless are the sons of Canton. Even they control the local picture show, wherein you may sit " upon the canvas " for five shillings under a sweltering sky and hear the management counted out in Cantonese : " Yat-yee——sam—see " when the
lantern goes wrong or when the proprietors' quaking emissary has perforce to come before the curtain and announce: " Charlee Chaplin, ee no come. Maskee ! Ness boat ! "
They do the tailoring and the cooking and the
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waiting and the building ; everything, in fact, but the quarrelling and the talking and the theorising, which are left to the Civil Service and the decadent unions and the Goose Club, an elegant and radical assembly which meets in the purple dusk outside the Government offices of an evening and scents its proceedings with a cow—dung fire, which serves the double purpose of keeping away the mosquitoes and providing what it considers fit incense for the Government. Much wisdom is spoken in the Goose Club, but it never appears in the files of the bi-weekly press which the Chinese compositors set up every Monday and Friday.
Yes ; a lazy, sleepy, more than half corrugated-iron town is Darwin, with gardens which consist very largely of rows of Shell benzine drums with dejected crotons in them ; destitute of crowds, on ordinary days, save for those which seem to live permanently in hotel bars and Monday moming's huddle of misery gathered round the Health Department notice on the Patagonian restaurant, which sets out the names of the fortunates who are to enjoy a week's relief work on the roads.
" The following are instructed to report . . . " says the notice peremptorily to the men whom agitation and decadence have apparently made slaves of a hated Administration.
Once or twice, when I sat drinking tea among the sloe—eyed Patagonians, these relief men outside looked so wretched and despondent that I asked some of them in and fed them.
Their tale was unanimously heart—rending. They all had at least six children. They all had been ruined by the exactions of the Government and the oppression
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of Vesteys, plus the cruel commercial system of the Chinamen and the wicked insistence of the Courts that they should not return to Southern Australia without paying their debts. None of them drank, gambled, swore, stayed out at night, fought
policemen, beat their wives or forgot to render their income—tax returns. Before they came to Darwin from a polyglot variety of countries, their employers had begged them, almost weeping, to remain and accept positions of responsibility. And they one and all asseverated upon their solemn oaths their fixed determination, at the first opportunity, to leave the bloody country for ever and ever.
Strangely enough, though, none of them ever seemed to do it. Those who were fortunate among them were allowed from time to time to listlessly tickle, with a pick, a grass—grown road leading nowhere and carrying no traffic. The profession
of those who were not fortunate appeared to be watching the industrious Chinese.
My heart bled for them all until I chanced to meet some of the most virtuous of them at midnight, eating five shillings each worth of Chinese comestibles, washed down with a quart or so of good Irish liquor, and surrounded with a jovial array of bottles not yet empty.
And when, after that, I read in the Darwin Times a description of the local race meeting in which it was broadly set forth that " many of the men employed on relief work were noticed arriving in taxicabs and had all the appearance of being well nourished, clothed and shod," I was able to believe
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it without an effort. For all that, there were certainly many cases of genuine hardship, though they seemed to be far from the rule.
The real Bolshevik of the Northern Territory has, of course, left or degenerated, and from the point of view of White Australia there is some room for regret in that. The Unionists of the old order who threatened the lives of white men and, with the backing of insurgent sections of the so-called capitalist classes, deported Government officials whom they did not like, and rejected the trade of certain steamship lines because one of their captains laughed at a drunken wharf labourer who had fallen
into Darwin Bay, were at least virile white men with minds of their own, who put the fear of the Lord into cheeky Asiatics and carried the song of
" Advance, Australia Fair," into the very heart of Chinatown.
But to-day the only virile white men in the capital of the Territory seem to be the commercial travellers who pass through, the company promoters, the young men at the cable station who play tennis regularly in spite of the heat, and a few other birds
of passage whose hearts are in the South, together with the two local lawyers who show a real vigour in contention and sometimes unite to make the path of bureaucracy an unusually stony one.
For the rest, Darwin looks what it is——the capital of a country twelve hundred miles long which, after a century of settlement, can produce only about
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L14,000 worth of exports per annum ; which is governed by six or seven authorities, some of them located a couple of thousand miles away from it; which is old enough to be dirty ; lovely enough in its surroundings to be frequently enchanting ; halfheartedly busy once a month when the boat comes in ; and pathetically hopeful and trusting when Ministers and Public Works Committees are on the spot.
Darwin has come to look on these invaders with something like humorous tolerance. It gets a lot of fun and a lot of free drinks out of them, so that nobody really has a grievance against them except the local printers.
The printers' grievance when we were there was this :-
No Public Works Committee ever travels northward without afterwards spending its time on shipboard (or rather its secretary's time) in producing a volume of reminiscences. One of the latest, issued just before our visit, dealt with port facilities-one ship calls every month or thereabouts, mark you.
It bore the entrancing title : " Report - Together -With - Minutes - of - Evidence - and - Appendix -
Relating - to - the - Proposed - Provision - of --Wharfage - Accommodation - and - Shipping -
Facilities - Including - Sheds - and - Railway - and -Vehicle - Approaches - at - Darwin."
It cost the country 8,000 miles in travelling expenses for five or six members, plus their salaries, to have this important document collated. It ran to 130 foolscap pages and contained about
330,000 words. It cost 2.5 per cent. of the
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value of the annual overseas exports through Darwin to print,apart from the Committee's expenses, and the Darwin press was naturally most annoyed that it was not put into type locally.
Darwin--industrial Darwin, anyhow-was even more annoyed than the printers because the Committee tried to meddle with its wharf. For the wharf is an historic feature of Darwin and one cannot help wondering why the town holds no monument
to its designer, a democrat of the first water.
It is in the shape of a set square, that wharf, built with so sharp an angle that no railway truck can get round it without the aid of a turntable, an arrangement which, though it is expensive in unnecessary labour at about nine shillings an hour, has been so great a boon to the downtrodden of the North that the Waterside Workers' Union has made its alteration a national issue round which war more than once raged and for the upholding of which the " Red Flag " was more than once sung in the Darwin streets.
All of which goes to prove, in the words of one of the most riotous gentlemen in Darwin, that what Darwin really needs is "proletarian" local government. That undoubtedly, in the light of this and other experiences, would cure all its present ills by
Civic Death, which is the surest of all medicines. At the same time, nobody will dispute that local control by sane Government, not by peripatetic Reds, is desirable.
AN ADMINISTRATOR AT HOME. HIS HABITS, AUTHORITY, SIMPLICITY AND FIRMNESS, AND ALL ABOUT A GENTLEMAN WHO SHOT THE WRONG MAN, AND THE RESULT OF HIS MISTAKE ON THE NORTHERN TERRITORY CONSTITUTION.
THE Administrator of the Northern Territory keeps up nothing of the state which one would expect of the ruler of a territory 500,000 square miles in extent.
Decorative houseboys do not swarm in his garden as they do in the League of Nations Residency at Rabaul, where the League representative dwells in an atmosphere of semi—royalty, what time his few citizens who are white enough to care verge on semi-bankruptcy.
No private secretaries bar your way when you go to see the King's Representative in Darwin as they do in Rabaul, where their formula of procedure is to leave you to cool your heels on the veranda for an hour to take some of the mettle out of you.
No. The Administrator of the Northern Territory has, perforce, to follow the example of the Gracchi in simplicity.
When you desire to see him there is no need to make an appointment. You merely walk down the long drive to the small office annexe to Government House where, as you pass out of the potent
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Darwin sunshine into the coolness of the wide veranda, you are greeted by a small youth who drags himself from the fascination of a trigonometry book to attend to you. Through the bare ante-room you have a glimpse of a big, plain office with all the doors and windows wide, and you hear a big, plain voice say : " Show him in."
Next moment you are in the Presence and, with surprise, realise that the Presence is in his shirtsleeves ; that he has very evidently honoured you by laying aside a villainous—looking pipe ; that his ancient felt hat, hanging on the wall, has the appear-
ance of having been sat upon; that the main decorations of the painted walls are a Martini-Henri police carbine and a printer's calendar.
You notice that the Administrator has big, still hands, accustomed to hard work, and if he gives you time to think before he begins to question you (as he inevitably will) you say to yourself that here is somebody who measures up to his life-story, which is not only romantic but historic.
Mr. Urquhart is of the swarthy, Highland type, tall and very broad—shouldered, with a countenance weather-beaten and well branded with the evidence that he has not lived his sixty-eight years free of the punches of men and the kicks of restive horses.
You would say that he was the last man to be the writer of lyrics of a standard which has earned them a place in a national anthology, but he is. On the other hand, he might easily be picked out as a bold leader of native police, a pioneer who founded towns, quelled gold rush riots, and who can run his finger over many a line on the
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Australian map and declare with truth : " I took the first wheeled vehicle or the first pack—horse over that route." He can claim that, too.
It is, after all, quite in keeping with the nature of his position that the Administrator of the Northern Territory is a human paradox. Everything around him which is official comes well within the meaning of the word. He lives in a house which is called
Government House, but he has not the rank of Governor. He is called Administrator and paid a salary to be one, but so soon as he shows the slightest open inclination to live up to his title, the Minister- which means a clerk in the Home and Territories
Department whose views his political chief reflects-stifles his effort with telegrams. It is significant
that the name of this clerk, utterly inexperienced in Northern Territory affairs, is a greater name in Darwin than that of Mr. Urquhart of Government House.
Every Civil Servant is quite open about this, and the general public—what there is of it-agrees enthusiastically that the Northern Territory is not governed on the spot, but from thousands of miles away. There is no doubt that with all its weaknesses, however, the local Darwin Administration is doing its utmost to make a success of its work and that, underneath all the petty quarrelling and scandal-mongering which goes on there, there is real, if usually thwarted, purpose.
But to return to the Administrator himself. Legally, he has an advisory council to help him with his labours. Actually, nobody seems to know what has become of it, except that, more or less
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unofficially, it has dissolved itself. Ostensibly, it broke up because it could not agree, which seems a very strange reason indeed for the death of any deliberative assembly; really, it probably died, if the truth were known, because the sultans of the Home and Territories office left it nothing to do but quarrel and because its advice was dominant only when it agreed with their own views conceived in an atmosphere as foreign to Darwin as Pekin is to Sheffield. Obviously it, and Melbourne, could not agree very often, their views being 3,000 miles apart.
However, the Council vanished and that was the end of it. The Administrator remains. But hereagain paradox intrudes in another aspect, for he does not administer everything. Oh, no! In several important departments he has no rights whatever. ·
The Post Office——which is the most efficient branch in Australia, mainly because the people of the outback will stand no nonsense about so important a mitigation of their loneliness as the mails, is outside local jurisdiction. It is governed by an official in Adelaide on the other side of the continent. Melbourne, fifteen days distant by boat, governs the only railway. Brisbane, eleven days distant, manages the Customs. The Public Works Department is tied by red tape to Melbourne, so that altogether the Government of the Territory is scattered round 4,000 miles of Australian coastline.
The local Administrator only really has power over the police, agriculture, education, lands and mining, and Heaven only knows why those have
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been remitted to Darwin when New South Wales, Tasmania and Australian New Guinea have no finger in the Territory pie whatever.
Did I say that the Administrator had power over these departments ? That needs qualification. He has power so long as he does not spend fifty pounds outside his estimates without Melbourne's express authority ; provided nobody political in Melbourne develops a personal interest in his doings ; provided the Minister is not importuned to override him.
He has no right to choose his staff. It is said in Darwin that he cannot rid himself of Civil Servants whom he regards as undesirable, and there is a lot of evidence to support it.
Under the circumstances, it is a compliment to be able to say that, despite all these limitations, the Administrator nevertheless does actually count for something in Darwin. He is not the sort of man who allows himself to become a figurehead, and he has done more to establish industrial peace in the Territory during his reign than any other man during the Australian regime before him.
He came four years ago (this is written in I925) to find Darwin in the grip of Bolshevism. The Territory Workers' Union was almost in complete control. State officials were compelled to join its ranks and if they did not please it and bow down to its agitators, out they went neck and crop by the medium of the black-list.
The previous Administrator had just been virtually
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drummed out of the capital with his family by an utterly unjust democracy; his senior officials had been summarily ordered aboard a steamer and ejected by a riotous populace from their positions while Mr. Hughes, the then Prime Minister, looked on from Melbourne and talked futilely about going through the Bolsheviks of the North like the wrath of God. A Minister of State whom he sent to investigate was farewelled to the tune of the " Red Flag " sung in all the many hybrid accents of the North.
Largely, of course, this state of affairs was due to the honest supineness and inexperience of the the previous Administrator, Dr. Gilruth, a veterinary professor whose theories had appealed to the Home and Territory Department, and Mr. Urquhart's position was rendered the more difficult because, before he came, there was an acting-Governor in office in whose mind placation and submission to the will of the mob seemed to have synonymous meanings and who left behind him a Bolshevism. on whose brow he had unconsciously placed a seal of triumph.
Subsequent events were amusing. Bolshevism took an instant dislike to its new viceroy and particularly to his square jaw and determined-looking countenance. It began taming operations, as has been told elsewhere, by attending his first garden party, and distributing its propaganda among his guests, an incident which led to an agitator's ejection from Government House grounds and a conviction of the Administrator for assault by a Union-ridden jury, a consummation which was looked upon
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by red Darwin with delight and as an evidence that they were still the real rulers of the North.
Then followed another extraordinary legal incident. Two pleasant gentlemen, leaders of local democratic thought, went one night to the Chinese picture show. Thanks to mental differences they were not at one on the inner tenets of Bolshevism.
During the interval, it unfortunately happened that Comrade Number One, a man of strong convictions, who was sitting in the front seats among the aristocracy, turned to survey the polyglot humanity behind him and beheld Comrade Number Two.
Whereupon, being an honest commissar as well as a firmly convinced one and desiring that there should be no misconception in the mind of the public regarding his views about his adversary, he reached into the depths of his moleskins, fished out a large
revolver and without interference from the fascinated audience, rose to his feet and fired at Comrade Number Two, who very discreetly crawled under the seat and left the field to the blacks and Chinamen. One of the latter was so incautious as to be in the line of fire and was killed.
Comrade Number One, amid the sympathetic murmurs of the populace, was thereupon arrested and placed upon his trial. His plea, in effect, was " not guilty " on the ground that he had not killed the man he aimed at. The jury eagerly accepted it.
Comrade Number One went free with his revolver and nobody was very obviously annoyed but the
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Administrator, though in the light of past experience Darwin did not worry about that, even if somewhat puzzled by the unusual phenomena which attended the incident.
The town waited for the usual Ministerial fireworks from Melbourne, but they did not come. It waited for the publication of telegrams from the Administrator in the Southern Press accompanied by the usual fulminating leading articles. It was dis appointed. All that happened was that the Government Gazette came out one afternoon with an inconspicuous announcement that the jury system had been abolished.
The wail which went up from the camps of Bolshevism, suddenly become conscious of the existence of the Magna Charta and British justice, was heard throughout the length and breadth of the land, but as nothing happened, even when the Labour Press descended to ridicule the Administrator's personal appearance and made unjustifiable and cowardly reflections upon his origin and when cries of violence and the word revolution were heard on every hand, the extremists thought they read signs of Governmental weakness into the situation.
The previous Administrator, on such occasions, had posted armed guards outside Government House and had never gone out except under escort. The new one was to be seen any day, his coat over his arm, taking his evening stroll in his garden, with an old pipe in his mouth, preserving his aloofness, yet at the same time enjoying the air as if his life were not supposedly in jeopardy and the populace were not crying anarchy around him.
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Emboldened by his amiable attitude, the agitators took another step.
" He does not realise our strength," they said, " we deported the last man. Now we will do the same with this one. He shall go South by the next boat."
Presently the ship arrived and found excitement at fever heat, except in Government circles. The usual special constables were not called out as in case of the ordinary and frequent disturbances of the Territory. Lee Enfields and ball cartridges were
not served out to the police force.
But just about the time the ship was being tied up to the Darwin wharf, something happened at the Union head-quarters. No one knows precisely what, but legend says that the incident was as follows. The leading officials were sitting in their committee-
room in the iron shanty which served as head-quarters when a knock came at the outer door. Somebody went out and found a man there. He was a big man in spotless white shirt and trousers, a dilapidated hat hanging familiarly over one eye. He had the easy, smiling manners of an old friend, a charred pipe full of the vile tobacco that only strong Bushmen can smoke firmly between his teeth. Under his arm was a short, murderous-looking Martini carbine.
The man was alone. He had apparently passed unnoticed up the street.
" Will you tell the President," he said to the Union official at the door, " that the Administrator is here."
The emissary from the committee-room retired
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and gave the message. There was a pause. Then the President said, laughing-the words are repeated by one who declares he was present-" Shut the blanky door. You don't know what a madman like that might do."
I do not vouch for the story, but it is told, and so the ship sailed without the Administrator, who later deported three hundred disturbing unionists.
From which it will be seen, having regard to the peace which has reigned since his appointment, that if he is restricted in power, his personality is his own and he has done much good during his term of office. He fulfils the Government's limited conception of his work. His advice and guidance as a Northerner with forty years' experience, his initial firmness in matters of law and order and the out-spoken and fearless criticism of Melbourne which appears in his annual reports, so different in their
tone from the pale tenderness of the average official document of the kind, must occasionally have a distinct influence upon Parliament and certainly do upon Australian public opinion, however little their wisdom may appeal to the Commonwealth Junior Civil Service.
A man who commanded native police on the Norman in the days of the gold rushes of the palmy 'seventies; the man who built towns along the North Queensland border in the times when the local inhabitants were numbered among the wildest
savages of the continent; who is something of a
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scholar and much more of a gentleman in the best sense of the word; who beside all this has been Police Commissioner in one of the largest States in the Commonwealth, is unlikely to have his effectiveness reduced to zero by any kind of repression.
But the pity of it is that, having such men, the Government does not make more use of them and less of its Melbourne staff. At the moment of writing, following the publication of a good deal of the matter in this book, which was printed in the Australian press, it is trying to reform the Northern Territory by turning the one administrative authority over its population of under three thousand into three, consisting of a Commission and two administrators, together with a fresh access of Civil Servants in addition to the present decentralised departmental governments.
It is a silly business. If the Administrator were given a free hand; an elective Commission or Council ; a substantial grant from revenue ; decent land laws and an independence from Melbourne as nearly total as possible, the people of the North
would soon be upon their mettle and the electors and Parliament of Australia would be saved a lot of the valuable time which they now spend " investigating " Territory conditions and devising new and increasingly futile remedies for Northern emptiness.
A SYNOPSIS OF THE WORK AND HABITS, PAST AND FUTURE, OF THE CIVIL SERVICE OF THE NORTHERN TERRITORY.
THE machinery and government of the Northern Territory of Australia are exactly what one would expect in a country which contains one white inhabitant to every 250 square miles and which can produce overseas exports valued at only L5 per head of the white population.
There is no ceremony in Darwin. The service which administers the country is, perforce, a bare-bone service, because the people of Australia have become thoroughly sick of financing experiment after experiment in colonisation over the better part
of a century without reaping any result but trouble. Private secretaries, as the tropics usually understand them, do not seem to exist as a race. The white duck which is de rigueur in other parts of the tropical Empire sees the light only on Sundays or when a man becomes engaged to a local beauty. Washing is dear, and shabby grey and khaki replace the white of other hot lands. Therefore the Civil Service is not only barebone but also unpicturesque.
It is more or less a nerveless and lifeless thing because it has little or nothing to do; no really concrete policy to work on ; no unity of purpose as
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between the controlling heads of the departments which, as is told in another place, are scattered half-way round the coastline of Australia ; no incentive to do anything, in fact, but please the Melbourne juniors who are the country's overlords, make itself as pleasant as possible to visiting politicians and keep in sufficiently good health to enable it to enjoy the simple pleasures which go with life in every tropical clime.
Sometimes, some newly arrived potentate, unversed in the atmosphere, makes mischief, but he is soon cured. While I was in Darwin the most urgent matter of local politics was the dismissal of a nurse from the local hospital, an act of retrenchment performed in person by the Government Secretary (the official next in seniority to the Administrator) who, marching to the hospital, it was said had sternly ordered the poor woman to leave and had remained there, like another Cromwell, until he was assured of obedience. When we arrived in Darwin the local press had pages of discussion about the incident. They were printing in full the strictures of the local judge on the Government Secretary's conduct, the Court having been asked to decide, among other complications, whether a nurse was a Civil Servant.
The local population was also divided with a fierceness vigorous enough in an older world to bring about a division of kingdoms, and the lawyers—both of them—were making matters so thoroughly warm for everybody concerned, with the help of the local member of the Federal Parliament, who has certainly a voice in the National legislature, if
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not a vote, that some of the victors seemed dejected enough under the onslaught to die.
Generally, however, as I have said, the Civil Service is a futile thing through lack of purpose, doing nothing very effective because there is nothing much to do it for, and going nowhere because there is no place worth going to. So every morning its members just meander to their offices and write minutes.
Heaven only knows how many files of minutes there are in Darwin. Its leading citizen, who is also something of a wag, proudly points out to sightseers that it produces more memoranda per head of population than any other land on earth, not ex-
cluding North America. They seem to tower in daunting piles in every office; From nine-thirty till four every day, the beehive of Government buildings labours to provide data which will feed the insatiable curiosity of Mr. ———, the clerk in charge of Territory affairs in Melbourne, from whom nothing may be hidden and who likes to feel, one may judge, that he holds Northern White Australia in the hollow of his hands.
" I am very busy this morning. Mr. —— wants to know . . ." is the formula which excuses all activity or official preoccupation to callers upon departmental heads in Darwin.
Someone has, perhaps, recommended the building of two or three wells in the interior to save the lives of the infrequent travellers or isolated inhabitants in this dry season. Mr. —— has your minute No. 2357/J/25 and wants to know all about the
geology and geography of the spot, what the population is and will be during the next ten years, together
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with a chart of the native flora and fauna ; also the local death-rate shown on a graph for a period of ten years ; whether the man who is to sink the wells is honest and God-fearing and what state he comes from.
Somebody has, again, come to the conclusion that the Administration might turn an honest penny by leasing the Government Garage, emblem of the glorious past when His Majesty the King gave his servants the use of a motor in their Territory capital. An offer has been made to the Administrator of £ 50 per annum for the building. Will the officer responsible kindly treat the matter as urgent and tell Mr. ——— whether the prospective lessee comes of good family and is of cleanly habits ? Will the Bank guarantee his rent and can it be vouched by three reputable white people that he regularly washes
himself and does not stay out after dark ?—something like that, anyhow.
The Government garage scandal is a standing case, and it is on record that by the time the matter had been fought out with Melbourne over 2,500 miles of telegraph line, the disgusted citizen who had offered to take the lease had solved his troubles by
seeking out a Chinaman with an empty shed and driving a bargain which it required no more formality to clinch than the passing of a pound note as a deposit on the rent.
Outside the diversions of minute writing and report, the Darwin service gives most of its time to petty bickering about its status. Fortunately for the Territory, however, it does not matter very much, and what little work there is to be done can
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be accomplished by the bush section of the service without much interference from the bureaucracy in the capital.
That side of the Government falls mostly to the old-time men inherited from the South Australian regime, rough—and-ready fellows, almost exclusively policemen, who have been tried and proved by twenty to forty years in the wilderness and who seem to think moleskin trousers, elastic—side boots a felt hat and a singlet well glazed with a coat of that dirt which interior conditions make necessary, to be the only uniform required to cover a real, if rule of thumb, efficiency. Somebody in Darwin
defined the difference between these old hands (with whom the Administrator himself may be classed though in a higher plane) by saying that the younger men of the Commonwealth believe the road to Territory salvation is entirely paved with soft brain
matter bound with red tape ; while the inland men believe that it is made up of common sense freely mixed with bone and muscle.
There are, however, deeper differences, and in the soft-footed ideas of Darwin, thrown into relief by the manliness of the old-time sergeants, one may read one of the strongest reasons why progress has shunned the country since the days of Commonwealth control began.
South Australia, while it managed Territory affairs, had a rough and appropriate way with her. Her men were chosen to match her methods.
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The resulting regime was, to quote Mrs. AEneas Gunn, a " friendly, bushwhacking old Government " which dug the Bush people in the ribs and only used red tape to lace its boots with——as is said to have been done by one sergeant when the Commonwealth made him its first issue of that necessary material.
Despite the hardship of the times and a regular menu of corned beef and damper and an adverse credit balance, the people and the authorities got along very well together on the live and let live principle. There were (to again ascend to quotation) " no blanky-ologies " in the outlook of the old regime on tropical problems and no " side " about its methods of managing its enterprises.
Its only train, on the southward journey to Pine Creek, used to stop when the passengers felt inclined and " boil the billy " in the bush. Everybody was a postman——everybody, indeed, is to-day ; but in the old days letter delivery was not embarrassed by the residents' now frequent necessity of avoiding the receipt of income-tax papers.
The police took a paternal interest in one's wanderings and saw that one carried arms on the overland telegraph line or in other insalubrious regions. The country, despite its methods, had representation in both State and Federal Parliaments, a privilege which it does not now enjoy.
Then, hey presto, a young and enthusiastic Commonwealth authority took matters over and became immediately seized with the vital and urgent necessity of bringing light to the Northern savages, black and white; of " opening up this tremendous and promising territory with a view
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to forestalling the inevitable land greed of the watching Orient " ; of developing its " vast agricultural potentialities " and making full use of its " unparalleled primary resources."
As a preliminary to the ushering in of the Golden Age, it sent Northward, as an Administrator, a veterinary professor who, upon arriving, became " His Excellency " and shone with a very bright light indeed against the memory of the humble judge who had preceded him as a mere " Resident." He was followed by a gilded staff of secretaries who filled the corridors of Government House (late the Residency), and it introduced pert young experts who, brushing aside half a century of research by
bewhiskered old adventurer scientists, began anew and rediscovered only part of what had been known to the South Australians for a half century. Also the Government sent another expedition, led by Melbourne professors, to rediscover the interior and to rename mountains and rivers with their own names as a sort of screen between the ancient and modern of local history.
Most of the old South Australian technique of government went with a sweep or two of the pen. Most of the more valuable of the old South Australian records disappeared in one glorious bonfire after a disgusted glance through them which satisfied the horrified researchers of the reasons why the defunct administration had failed.
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It is legend in Darwin that one shocked young secretary discovered files disfigured by thumbmarks which looked as if they had been made " by a perspiring labourer " ; while another was nauseated by the ribald manner in which some officials ad-
dressed each other by their Christian names and added addenda to learned treatises on aboriginal customs, asking for the name of something good in the Melbourne Cup or demanding the dispatch of a case of rum or ten pounds of niggerhead. Young
efficiency almost swooned as it dipped into the past in which these things happened ; then, recovering, made " Reform and Modern Methods " its battle cry.
In a trice everybody became everybody else's obedient servant. The new Administrator, instead of driving round the town in an old buggy and dropping in to smoke with the populace whenever the fancy took him, began to hold vice-regal levees.
The local train acquired a regular, if inaccurate, schedule, and ranks which had never aspired to a dignity greater than that conferred by their own Christian names in their dealings with the world at large were exalted into Chief-Deputy-Executives.
Thus the new bureaucracy began to build and, at the word " reform," which it had fathered, every politician and crank in Melbourne thirsted for the Northern Millennium. The Northern Territory became the Federal Parliament's hobby. It discovered
that it was a land capable of growing anything from asparagus to tobacco, and any man who thought otherwise lost his humanity in political circles and became a target for the sneers of outraged Members.
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Nothing, it was suggested, but villainous ineptitude had prevented the Territory from becoming a vista of smiling fields, and a Labour Government, which happened at that moment to be in office, set out to prove it. The memorial of its effort today, fourteen years afterwards, may be seen in a paddock of long, dank, coarse grass; a scarcely used railway siding with the name of a now forgotten politician upon it ; and a curious legend about a pumpkin which was grown there as the new State Experimental Farm's only real output at a cost of something like L8,000, and which, in process of export to Darwin, was lost or stolen by some humorist in the train.
And, of course, the great pastoral Golden Age was also ushered in with sheep, at a euphonious place for which the singularly appropriate name of Bitter Springs seemed too unromantic and which was therefore rechristened Mataranka. It was more obviously suitable, to the naked eye of anybody who had spent five minutes in sheep country, for the production of rhinoceri than of merinos, but that did not worry the staff of Darwin, which was painfully astonished when the flock died of foot rot and got lost in the long grass after producing wool so mingled with grass seed as to be useless for practical purposes. Eventually the wool industry, like agriculture, died. It need not have died if it had been established under private enterprise in a
more suitable locality.
After that, unfortunately, Vestey Brothers opened a huge meatworks at Darwin and introduced the Bolsheviki as a force which captured the civil
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service, bent it to its will and eventually was able to regard it from so king-like a height that anybody who did not belong to the Northern Territory Workers' Union and obey the commands of its leaders could not be a junior Civil Servant, and that those few who were beyond the reach of Union membership could not live in the Territory without the consent of the Union bosses who, sad to say, deported the new Chief Governing Representative (notwithstanding his freshly acquired title of Administrator), together with his senior lieutenants and his ox and his ass and all things official and unofficial which had the ill-luck to be his.
Meanwhile the Bolsheviks changed the mining policy. Their panacea for all evils became : " Sink plenty of shafts for minerals and subsidise the sinkers at the rate of L1 per foot; subsidise agriculture and capture the Southern Press." This proved an excellent plan while it lasted. All one had to do was to go out and keep on sinking shafts, wherever one wished, and the result was a handsome income. Unfortunately, Mr. Urquhart, when he arrived as Administrator, " killed the mineral industry " (vide the Darwin Labour paper) by cutting off the subsidy, which left a large proportion of the population in the menial position of having to accept work on the roads, a species of occupation which no gentleman relishes.
In any case, however, had the land been really worth mining or farming (as some of it is) and adequately capitalised concerns been encouraged to do their own subsidising, nothing would have pre- vented progress. As it was, the Civil Servant soon
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learnt that the interior was a place to be left alone, and to-day little result of official enthusiasm can be seen, except for a few miners who are too proud to live on relief work and six or seven farmers who draw average bonuses of L200 per annum or a little more, and have their efforts to grow, say, ten square yards of lucerne or a quarter of an acre of tobacco minutely described in the annual departmental reports, together with paeans of hope against the day when the whole North will be a smiling chessboard of farms.
The last effort of the reformers was to nationalise the hotels, but this proving as great a farce as their other ventures, they settled down to a course of management from Melbourne with occasional " exploring expeditions " into regions which had mostly heard the tonk, tonk of bullock bells as much as forty years ago. The real " Never Never," with its small and philosophic populations, its long, dry stages, its myall blacks, cattle duffers, malarial dysentery, barcoo rot, flies and dust and snakes and mosquitoes and loneliness, it bequeathed to the old-time sergeants before it relapsed into its continued mesmeric minute-making condition. And the sergeants, virtually royal in their own domains, since they were mainly so isolated that it took six weeks to reach them with a letter, continued to govern as they had always done with a rude common sense well fitted to their surrounding, even if their justice was often rough and their knowledge of the law imperfect.
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The first one I met was sharing his breakfast with a hairy person who was strongly suspected by the whole country-side of horse stealing. He was very dirty, and so was his vis-a-vis, because they were saving their water supply for the Commissioner of Police, who, they opined, being a new chum, would probably " do with a bit of a douse." The sergeant was not omitting to enlarge on the inevitable fate of horse thieves and the discomforts of Fanny Bay Jail and his guest, with the best will in the world, was fully agreeing with him. He knew the troubles of the horse thief, possibly, better than the police, and, as for Fanny Bay, well, hadn't he been there ?
Another sergeant in our repertoire was two or three hundred miles away from the last one. He was greatly troubled because, having no tobacco, he could not encourage his native witnesses to give evidence in his court. Ergo, the wheels of justice
were temporarily chocked with an immovable brake.
The sergeant had a confused sort of idea that there was no law in the land later than 1911, though he said that the Government had occasionally sent him " some damned books " which did not worry him overmuch.
" What you want out here," he said, " is not law, except where taxes and licences are concerned. For the rest, give me common sense." He had on his table a pair of dental forceps which still grasped another gentleman's tooth, and his walls, between the revolvers and the almanacs, were lined with shelves of bottles which advertised that beside being magistrate and police force he was also dog poisoner and doctor. He thought we were lucky
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to catch him at home, because, pursuant to Darwin orders, he was due to leave and make a preliminary survey of one of the many dream railways which intersect the Territory of the future in the minds of the Federal Parliament. His wife was in Mel-
bourne-and a good job, too, with the fever season coming on. Besides, it gave him freedom to have her absent and he thought he would ride over to the next station about 300 miles away and see what the local constable was doing with his time.
Didn't he regret that there was no telegraph line
to his station? Upon his sacred Sam, he didn't-the nearest telegraph station, five hundred miles
away, was five hundred miles too close.
Did he want anything? Oh, God, yes he did! If we had a bit of niggerhead (i.e. tobacco) or rice to spare he would pray for us next time he went to church, which would probably be when he was buried.
We should have liked to talk a lot more with him, but a teamster came to report his arrival in the district and a man put his head round the door and said something about his leases on the near-by river and after that our friend had to go out and stir up
his chain gang, which consisted of four murderers, a person who had stolen half a bottle of rum, and a bright lad who, when addressed by the police and asked to desist from throwing stones at one of his enemies, made indelicate signs reflecting unjustly upon the morals of authority.
The doyen of all the Territory Sergeants is Stott, of Alice Springs. He is more like a feudal baron than a policeman. In his demesne, facts of nature
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scarcely exist without the imprimatur of Sergeant Stott. For five hundred miles on every side of him-nay, for twelve hundred miles west of his head-quarters-he is the law and the standing orders, so to speak.
You ask who built the winding road across the stony McDonnell Ranges, graded as carefully as any skilled engineer could grade it? Sergeant Robert Stott. You inquire who planned the track round the Depot sandhills? They tell you " Bob Stott "-forty miles of it for fifty pounds with black labour !"
You see him sitting at the head of his own board at the residency, an earl on one side, a countess on the other, a famous professor devoted to botany and an equally famous ethnologist lower down the table, and he measures up with them all in pose, in dignity and in shrewd knowledge of the world and of men.
You behold him in his room surrounded by his guns and laying down the law on a dozen subjects- giving counsel here, making precedent, examining a suspect, whittling a vice-regal programme, and you feel that he is greater than common men. South of Tennant's Creek, where the dry belt begins, and out of the West Australian border, he is the real ruler of the country-side by virtue of an out-back experience wider than that of most of the other Territorian officials put together.
He says that presently, when the railway comes through, he will retire and leave the business to younger men. He hopes to buy a little sheep property on Birt's Plain. If not, he supposes they
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will bury him in his uniform, which be doesn't wear at ordinary times.
Perhaps the newfangled scheme for the " development " of the Territory which the Commonwealth Government has just framed will oust him, but whether he and the other old-time sergeants and constables and bush officials go or stay, they at
least will have the satisfaction of knowing that they have left a deeper mark on the history of the interior than the much more widely advertised bureaucracy with its theories and its minutes.
WE BEGIN THE SOUTHWARD JOURNEY ALONG THE OVERLAND TELEGRAPH LINE, AND MEET MANY HOSPITABLE TELEGRAPHISTS ENSCONCED IN OLD-TIME FORTS. OF THE OVERLAND AND ITS LIFE AND SANDHILLS AND A FEW WORDS ABOUT A LONELY ENGLISH FAMILY AND AN OLD-TIME EXPLORER.
ON July 22nd, after a few days of the delights of Darwin, we girded up our loins, restored our dungarees and, amid the hearty and well—lubricated farewells of a great proportion of the populace, we set out for home. Mr. Urquhart, the Administrator, received us at Government House before we left. The hotel insisted on providing us and everyone else within range with refreshments in celebration of the event. A sentimental lady came upon the scene with a tremendous bone for Dinkum, and at three o'clock in the afternoon we were sailing down the main road to the Katherine, with the lightened load
and the high hearts which always mark the beginning of the return half of every journey.
Not that there was anything to be light-hearted about. For now we were to face a strain, certainly not as severe as that of the Boorooloola Track, but sufficiently difficult for a car which had withstood the northward journey, and as anxious in that our
success in achieving the whole distance would mean
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that we should add to the pioneer performances already gained, that we would be the first motor party to completely cross the Northern Territory, north to south, and the first to travel either from Darwin to Sydney or Katherine to Oodnadatta. Even south of Oodnadatta, where the railway runs, we were to be only the fourth car in history to negotiate the South Australian sandhills completely, and Birtles, as it happened, was one of the pioneers of a previous journey.
In all our aims we succeeded, but there was much hard work in the doing, for the journey southward
along the Overland Telegraph line is a very different matter from the frequently done trip between Oodnadatta and the Katherine, northwards, the reason for the difficulty lying in the fact that the south-easterly monsoon gives a gentle slope to the
sandhills on the southern side, while leaving them steep of access and crumbling of surface on the northern approaches.
The southward journey, however, for all its difficulties, is a fascinating odyssey. First one travels through the blue, springing bush of the heavy rainfall belt below the capital, where rivers tinkle every few miles; where flowering ti trees overhang little streams ; where the country-side is gay of a morning with bird life ; where every river crossing has an iron boat half buried in the sand against the need of the infrequent wayfarer, pushing down in the next wet season.
There is much bathing in cool fords on hot after-noons; pauses to admire the giant anthills, which spring up thirty feet, sometimes shaped like Mount
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Sinai, often flat-sided and narrow with razor ends pointed, by the compass, invariably north and south, a curious testimony to the regularity of weather direction in this region.
You cross the Katherine and push south on a broad track ploughed up with bullock wagons. You camp at Bitter Springs, rush on and find yourself in the old Elsey Station, scene of Mrs. Gunn's " We of the Never Never," pausing for a few minutes
to be sad over the Maluka's grave and to dole out sugar and tobacco to the few survivors of that cheerful epic of the bush, in tribute to the brave little woman who wrote it and rescued in its pages a slice of the old bush life, now so quickly drowning
in a sea of modernity.
Little remains of the home of the " Little Missis " except its natural features. The station house has gone ; the players on her stage have retired into the Great Never Never beyond the stars. Only a white flowering oleander bush grows to tell that once a
woman dared the wilderness here, and in the dust one sees the tracks of the railway surveyor's Ford which goes up and down every week to Daley Waters. Soon the iron horse will be here.
Farther south, where a few years ago were long dry stages, Government wells have wiped out thirst. But even these become more widely spaced and, on towards Daley Waters, each clearing has its teams, nursing themselves for a long thirsty trek to the
next water. Rivers become less frequent and, where you meet them, more dry. You reach, once more, a place where telegraph stations and an odd cattle station
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are the only settlement ; where all the life, or nearly all, is linked together along a thread of clearing, very fascinating and very imposing in its monotony. For two thousand miles the Overland Telegraph line runs from Darwin to Adelaide and, all the way, till you reach civilisation the wise traveller is never far out of sight of it—a mesmeric line of blue posts fifteen or twenty feet high, with a measured chain of cleared land on either side of it and two sagging cables on top.
A community to itself is the Overland. It is true that telegraph stations are sixty to eighty miles apart, but fifty years of loneliness have established an esprit de corps like that of an old regiment among the solitary men who guard the keys, and at almost every station there are well—kept graves to advertise that the way, within the lifetime of many living, was kept open only at the cost of bloodshed.
The very telegraph offices themselves are forts, built with thick walls and loopholes; with paved courtyards, well and pump in centre; with high spiked gates and with every safeguard that strategy could devise.
Yet, even then, life was not safe from the 'seventies to the 'nineties.
One quiet night at Barrow Creek four or five occupants sat outside the enclosure in the dusk telling the interminable yarns which lonely men love, when several unarmed blacks came down and began to barter. Soon the interchange of talk
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became friendly. More blacks came. Then their gins followed. The pow-wow went on for a time. Suddenly there was a rush and a shriek, a hurtling of spears from all sides and scuttling away of the decoys running to pick up the weapons which they
had left at a little distance. When the fray was over two telegraphists lay dead, and before the station was safe, the South Australian Government was compelled to inaugurate a little war. Skull Creek, a mile or two away, marks the site of the final battle. There the whole local tribe was wiped out, and to—day the defences of the Barrow, nestling under rugged, spinifex-clothed hills, are merely history.
Time was when every station had tales of danger and raiding to tell ; when it was illegal for travellers to pass down the "O.T." line unless they carried firearms ; when rifles hung on every post office wall for loan to passers—by who needed them. In such an atmosphere can it be wondered at that the line developed a technique of communication quite unique? No motor cars brought news in a few weeks from the cities. Rare camel teams were the limit of modernity, and all the regular traffic con—
sisted of an occasional mailman or Government official, odd mobs of cattle and explorers, with, once in a while, the Repairers' Flying Gang, keeping down the scrub on either side of the line and mending breaks.
Is it strange that every evening it became a habit to take the key and, in bush parlance, " have a chip " with the next-door neighbour, eighty miles north ; then to relay the news farther south till the
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whole of a thousand miles of Territory shared in all that was happening and in all the humour of the country—side as wide across as from London to Rome-what mobs were on the way; what wells had gone dry ; who had won the winter football in
Darwin; the best tips for half the races in the world——it is a great gambling community, the O.T.—who had been arrested for horse-stealing; the yarn about the Governor and the black gin purveyed by the drover from over the Headingley Track; an inquiry whether Billy the Priest had arrived with a Government rifle ; the pleasant information that Rose's mob (due in five days' time with luck) were carrying Southern papers only a few weeks old; the descriptions of the new station lady who was braving the wilds somewhere for love of a scrubby, freckled young man with saddle—bowed legs and a cabbage-tree hat ? All these things and more went down the Overland of old time. To-day there is some slight variation, but the spirit does not change and it is even still possible, there being no doctor in a thousand miles, for the line clear signal to come through in a quiet night, followed by the statement :
"We've got a cove here, Bill, with his hand bitten by a camel. Darwin doctor says we got to cut it off at once. If we send a boy down can you lend us a saw and a razor ? Ours have gone rusty."
Do you wonder that the Telegraph lines lent our journey southward a social atmosphere lacking on the upward journey? No kindness was too great for these officials. At no station did we have to ask for anything. You arrived and it was :
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" Come inside and have a wash, boys. We heard you were coming."
Then a meal which always spoke of excited cooking of special viands and an opening of canned fruit and other dainties reserved against birthdays, Christmas and illness. Afterwards, the lending of tobacco; the quiet hour on the veranda or in deck-
chairs under the stars; the invitation to stay a week ; the exchange of gossip, and last:
" Do you mind taking a bit of mail with you? You might catch some of the fellows coming north and they'll be glad to have their letters early."
Always the last rite, that mail delivery, which ended in our carrying the first motor mail the whole length of the Territory.
Life, for three weeks, was made up of telegraph stations, beginning with Daley Waters, just out of the heavy rainfall belt in hot savannah country, grading down through Newcastle Waters, where the new capital of the Northern section of the Territory
is to be and where the last western edge of the Barkley Tableland fades into the sandy beginnings of the Murrinji track, once so dreaded by bushmen making west; thence to Powell's Creek and into the queer, half-desolate quartz, mulga and sand country which forms a piebald landscape with odd belts of rolling downs to the westward and desert to the eastward, to Tennant's Creek, seven hundred miles from Darwin, where the twenty-inch rainfall belt ends finally and the ten-inch rain begins.
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A very lonely and beautiful spot is Tennant's Creek, seen at evening with a veil of blue mist over the ranges. The way through the pass beyond it seems, in gathering darkness, a little like the gates of hell. The soil of the hills is red and rocky and
barren, with outcrops of heavy ironstone ore, and the level valleys through which the track and the Telegraph line run is rose—red sand planted with wire and other native grass and lank spinifex, and treed with great, moaning, thin—leafed mulga trees.
Beyond it the way became harder, the land rising gradually towards the McDonnell Range Plateau, which occupies the true centre of Australia, from 2,000 feet to 4,000 feet above sea—level. At every mile there were more sand creeks and rivers, more
wind, more struggling, and a track which dodged off and on the Telegraph line at its own sweet will, burying itself occasionally head high in wild oats; always so thickly grassed as to make the collecting bundles of hay under the car a menace to our safety on the blazing middays which succeeded freezing nights.
Next to the Boorooloola—Katherine journey, the 189 miles from Tennant's Creek to Barrow Creek was our hardest experience. The sand was frequently bottomless.
You would find yourself at all sorts of odd moments with your wheels revolving on an upward slope in a mess of pulver which seemed to have no bottom. The engine was always full of dust. The radiator was for ever boiling. The water supply had to be watched lovingly. Rabbit—holes added a new terror, since, hidden in the undergrowth, they were unseeable
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until the wheels sank into them, and at the end of every stage where one saw suddenly standing out of the bushes the poppet head of a Government well, there was the job of drawing water in a fifteen-gallon bucket from eighty feet below with a hand
A curious experience, this water drawing, too. Usually the troughs beside the well were dry, and at the first clank of the bucket going down the air would be filled with the twittering of birds which would descend upon us in a screaming mass, bending the boughs of the saplings around with their weight, and rushing, heedless of our presence, to drink so soon as the bucket reached the well—top.
If we drew off a little, having placed water in the trough, we would see a few miserable wallabies, disregarding the dog, sneak forward to drink, and once or twice aged blackfellows, remnants of some decadent tribe, appeared, asking for a little tobacco and some water.
Again, of nights, one heard now and then the crashing roar of half-frantic cattle being pushed through the bush between one well and another, drovers shouting, leaders bellowing, pack-horses going by with a rush and a jingle, the whole running a race with death ....
Came a morning when we saw ahead of us, salmon-red and almost bare, a curious fold in the earth a long way off.
" First real sandhill I " cried Francis, tightening
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his belt, and from then onward we had plenty of sandhills ; sandhills which we rushed at full speed and negotiated in a cloud of dust and curses ; sand-hills where we charged through timber in order to have a surface a little more substantial than un-vegetated parts afforded; sandhills on which our wheels revolved, throwing up a cloud of dust, so that the only possible procedure was to out shovel, or go down on one's hands and knees and dig to the hard surface underneath our wheels, cleaning away the soft sand ahead to give the car another chance to rush. With a light load it would not have been so bad, but with our burden the traversing of this type of country required the greatest care.
It was after coming over one of these mountains of dust that we reached Wyecliffe Well one afternoon and there found living a man, his wife and two daughters. They were all English. They had come straight to Central Australia from Kent more
than fifteen years previously, and they were eking out an existence with a few cattle and the water rights of the Government well.
The two girls could neither remember having seen a town or a train, though they were seventeen years and fifteen years old, respectively. They had never ridden in a motor-car——we gave them their first ride, much to their delight—- and they seemed quite happy and content, and proud of their home comforts. Thanks to the presence of the well, they had the only bathroom in Central Australia, and it appeared to worry them not at all that the nearest white woman neighbour was 250 miles away to the
WE FINISH A PIONEER CROSSING OF AUSTRALIA, GRADUATING FROM BUFFALOES TO CIVILISATION IN THE LAST STAGES, AND ARE INHOSPITABLY RECEIVED BY A HOSTESS WHO JUDGED US ON OUR APPEARANCES.
IT seemed strange to see a railway after fourteen hundred miles of railwayless Bush. We saw it at Eumungalan. That euphonically named city, which stands upon the Katherine River, is the terminal of the Territory's only line and is a couple of miles north from the old Katherine settlement.
When a bridge crosses the Katherine, which is about the size of the Amazon when it is in flood and of the Isis when it is not, the railway will cross it, too, and go thence down into the hinterland, which will, thereupon (vide any Ministerial forecast) proceed to blossom like the rose and confound its critics.
That, of course, will be some time from now, even despite the elaborate administrative machinery which the Federal Government proposes to establish at Newcastle Waters and other newly designated capitals in the name of progress and development.
Twenty-seven workmen were at work on the bridge when we arrived ; or to be more exact they were not at work. They were, in plain fact, on
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strike and seemed to regard Time as their playground and expectoration as their profession.
They voiced their joint intention when I interviewed them of continuing to strike for ever and ever unless the Government relented from its classconscious and hard-hearted attitude towards them, and one gentleman from the gang, whose oratory had induced a hoarseness due for lubrication, as he broadly hinted with many strange oaths, uttered the awful threat before his God that the moment he had the fare and could find a method of circumventing the cruel statute which forbade him to abscond from his Chinese creditors, he would set forth immediately for the South and leave the Administration to build its own profane bridges.
Then he spat scornfully into the Katherine River which purled, unheeding, sixty feet below him and looked so thirstily in the direction of the local hotel, that I thought it well to say farewell to him before he abandoned indirect methods in favour of plain
invitation. So I bade him good-bye and left him with a disgusted countenance to contemplate my meanness while I set out to survey the great city of Eumungalan, what time Francis and the Engineer loaded petrol at the railway station.
The town had a homelike appearance. It was built at the rate of about one emporium to the acre on the standard model of an enlarged sentry box with a peaklike veranda in front. The only building material in use was galvanised iron and it was much like most other small bush towns except for the hue of the population. It was a busy place and its traders were
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enterprising as you could see by the good old British signs which decorated their windows`, such as :
" WONG FOO LING, Tailor and Greengrocer; fresh bread on Tuesday," or
" CHOP SUEY LAU AND COMPANY, Butcher and Iroumonger, Garden seeds a speciality."
(Seven oranges, a. pair of stirrup leathers, some corsets indelicately exposed, peanuts
and a mat of rice in thewindowfor evidence). " Suits cut in the latest style; all the best
materials. Please buy your kerosene here."
Driving away the goats which occupied the front veranda of one of those gilded palaces of commerce,
I entered and exchanged confidences therein with a moonfaced damsel. Her English was purer than mine ; her smile was beguiling.
She asked me if I were a surveyor or breaking a motor record. Then she told me that she and her father and her father's father had all been Australians descended from " a distinguished family in Kwangtung " ; also that oranges were three shillings and sixpence per dozen——very dear for Australia. My astonished reaction to this last information produced a husband—a young and smiling husband, carrying a copy of a Sydney sporting paper——who demanded forthwith to be told who had won the last Rugby match in Sydney.
Not knowing, I said so ; whereupon he handed me his card-great shades of the wild outback !——and asked me, if I heard in Darwin of the result, to save his life by sending him the good news which he opined would be to the effect that " Sydney had
licked the socks off the Queenslanders."
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I asked him if I could get a mat of rice on my return journey, and his Australian wife remarked in Cantonese something to the effect that there was no time like the present and that he had better get the money out of me now as I might not return. She
canvassed, very prudently, the chances of my being eaten by an alligator or killed in a car accident.
So, being equally prudent, I left without the rice being ordered and the Scarlet Runner was soon out of Eumungalan.
Of course, the inhabitants came to their doors nursing almond eyed babies to see us off on the Darwin road, which no car had traversed for seventeen years-and then one only——and whose 230 miles we needed to cover to complete our crossing
of the continent.
We were told that it was an appalling road, but after the Boorooloola track it proved a pleasant disappointment in the way of real trouble. It had been, at one time, a coach track for the first sixty-four miles to Pine Creek. From there onwards there was sometimes a broad, clear road for half a dozen miles and then no road whatever, but only a bridle path overgrown with light vegetation, but clear of real obstacles except for the works of John Chinaman, of whom more hereafter. Our main difficulty, indeed, was roadfinding and it was not until we had had several lessons that we established the axiom that most good roads were wrong roads and invariably ran away from the railway line to some deserted mine in the wilderness.
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It was in course of learning this lesson that we caught our first buffalo. We found ourselves well off our true course on the Marakai track, so determined to have a look at the Mary River. Stopping at a creek, I went ahead to do some advance explora-
tion and, coming upon a sandy path, was much intrigued by the spoor of some beast which ran across it. Not having my rifle, I was afraid to follow it, but returning to the car found Francis in a state of suppressed excitement, with the news that he had found a buffalo wallow hard by.
That solved the problem of the tracks and we set out to find their author. In a few minutes we discovered him, a fine young bull. Francis and I tossed hurriedly for our only heavy rifle. Francis won and, sighting from the car, took pot luck at three hundred and fifty yards.
The buffalo reared, charged a few yards and then bolted. He was obviously wounded but still active. There was a rush from the car. Francis followed him. I followed Francis with a ·310 carbine, the Engineer brought up the rear and Dinkum circled all over the landscape trying to pick up the scent and, whenever he crossed it, yelling blue murder.
We travelled a quarter of a mile through high grass, each with one wary eye on a handy tree and expecting every minute to be charged. Finally, at the top of a stony ridge, I called ahalt and left Francis to go ahead on the principle that a man with a high power rifle has more confidence in a wheeling fight when there is nobody but his actual adversary to be shot.
Followed a long tropic silence : then two shots in quick succession.
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north, 400 miles to the east, and 1,200 miles to the west.
Indeed, said the mother, it was an advantage, because they were able to keep themselves to themselves.
Seventy miles on, with only one settler in between, we came upon Barrow Creek Telegraph Station, populated mainly by an Afghan camel team, 150 strong, whereof the commander was a huge, turbanned person, with a very small and gorgeous wife,
arrayed in a tailored costume and smoking a clay pipe with great gusto.
We camped for the night twenty-eight miles south at Stirling Station, within sight of Central Mount Sturt, the true geographical centre of gravity of Australia. Our host was Mr. Ross, a quiet, well-preserved old gentleman of seventy years of age-the single white man on the place.
A little bit of history, this hale old man. So far back as 1874 he crossed from South Australia to Perth with the Giles Exploring Expedition, and on the return journey was second in command.
Later, he brought the first camels through the Lake Eyre track from Hergott Springs to Queensland, and as Francis had taken the first motor-car over the same route, it was a rare foregathering.
Still later, Mr. Ross had explored the route of the Overland Telegraph line ahead of McDonald Stuart, who surveyed the route, and ever since he had lived in Centralia, over much of which he had been the
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first white man to travel, managing stations, pioneering pastoral country and opening up tracks, and, as he put it himself, " making a crust."
His views of the Centralian future were pessimistic. The water problem seemed to him an almost insuperable difficulty, though he admitted that on portions of the best country stock fattened well.
He showed us the usual bush hospitality, and two days after we had left him we ate the last of his gift of beef outside Alice Springs, with Mount Gillen towering to the west of us.
A LITTLE TILT WITH TWO FEET OF DEATH AND SOME REFLECTIONS AND REMINISCENCES FOUNDED THEREON.
Near Tennant's Creek
July 29th I924.
WE are camped for half a day for overhaul, and while Francis and his whiskered assistant lie under the car with oil dripping into their eyes—they say there is no room for me, as there are not enough drips to go round——Dinkum and I, full of good
wallaby, are enjoying, under a shady tree, a companionship which has become a little closer by reason of a mutual adventure which we have shared in the dark of the early morning, and which we have kept strictly to ourselves in the interests of the
The dawn was first breaking when it happened. The wind had dropped to let the morning come up, when I was awakened out of a sound sleep by a cold nose placed silently and without warning in the middle of my face. Still more asleep than awake, but very much annoyed at this intrusion into my unconsciousness, I brushed the nose aside. It came back, without sound. Again I brushed it aside, petulantly. It returned with two gentle paws beside it.
That settled it. Broad awake, I knew that something untoward was happening in the camp, something that called for circumspect warning.
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Mist was all around. You could not see two yards in the pre-dawn darkness, which in these regions is far inkier than that of midnight. I lay very still, listening for a step and creeping one hand towards my rifle, my hair instinctively rising for no reason that I could have told.
A shadowy movement beside me proved Dinkum moving. I saw him go, a soft-footed ghost, and settle full length and watching a yard from my feet. I could not see his eyes, so I knew that his gaze was across the lower end of my sleeping tar-
paulin, which was rolled, mummy-wrapper fashion, round my feet.
It was at that stage that I grew conscious of a live, cold weight on my ankles, whereupon, discretion being occasionally one of my virtues, I became stiller than before, except for my hair, which seemed to walk about on my head more through horror
than through fear.
There was no doubt about the explanation of the weight and of Dinkum's behaviour.
It was, beyond question, a snake.
What kind of snake, or how much snake, was another matter. He felt, in that painful instant of realisation, about the size of a well-fed anaconda, and he seemed at first to be on my bare flesh, casting his beady eyes around in search of a soft spot into which to sink a couple of foot-long fangs.
Fortunately, the reassuring thought flashed through my mind that, having on three pairs of socks and some other armour against the cold, I had a fighting chance in a biting match of my enemy leaving most of his poison on the wool, and so deep
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was the sense of consolation engendered by this knowledge that I felt curiously safe and calm, and began to devise means of parting company with my enemy, who might or might not be completely inside the blanket and tarpaulin.
Obviously, the thing to do was to jump for it. But when you have rolled yourself four or five times round with coverings and are wearing two singlets, two coats and a long overcoat inside the outer protective rolls, agility is a matter of luck rather than of good judgment.
After thinking the matter over for three years and some minutes, I decided that there was nothing else to do. I was afraid to call lest the vibration of my body should irritate my visitor's poison flow into action. I was certain that if I bent to strike I should only maim him, in which case I should inevitably be bitten.
Very carefully and very slowly, therefore, I rose an inch or so from the ground from waist upwards until I could get the palms of my hands flat on the ground—one of them on a bonny briar of North Australian variety, with spikes that seemed a few
inches long. There I rested for a moment calculating chances.
Should I land on my feet with all my coverings still around me and an angry snake inside doing his worst, or should I come out free? No use thinking about it.
I am sure that no hangman ever dropped his victim with greater velocity than mine as I leapt out of those bedclothes, which accommodatingly fell clear away in a heap. I hurriedly bundled
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them into a roll, a great to-do inside advertising the indignation of the remaining occupant, whose destruction I achieved in the first rays of the northern daylight a little way out of camp.
He proved to be a fine, fat death-adder, altogether an ugly and unpleasant character of a species addicted to earning its warmth o' nights by trespass. Dinkum permitted himself the luxury of a growl when it was all over as the camp rose to the reveille of " Daylight! " And I am afraid that this evening I shall not enjoy my rest so well as I might have done.
For nobody is ever easy about the snake. Of all the things of the earth he is the most uncanny and the most hated. I know there are blustering fellows who don't mind him, who merely catch him by the tail, give him a good swing round their heads
and crack him like a whip so that his head flies off.
But the most noble disciple of this valiant cult whom I ever knew was the first man to look for a stick when we one day chanced upon a small reptile, and the rest of the tale is disorder and ignominy.
Myself, I have lived with snakes from the time I reached this earth and I have never grown comfortable with them. I was born, indeed, in the middle of one of the greatest floods of the West, when all the snakes from miles around made a beeline for the cheerful piece of land on which I was in process of coming into the world. In the hut in which I spent some of my early youth there was for a time a snake which lived in a hole in the corner
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and defied the hostile intentions of the household until, one happy day, my mother discovered him perched cosily on my two-year-old chest. She was very annoyed, was my mother. It did not appeal to her sense of order and decency that a serpent
should use her first-born for a hot-water bottle, so she stalked out-the whole five feet one inch of her--and secured her long-handled shovel, which was about her own height, and a saucer of milk-goat's milk-which she put down on the mud floor
very softly, what time I slept peacefully on and dreamt, no doubt, of my coming breakfast. Then she retired to a safe distance and waited the issue.
If I woke first and disturbed Satan, then there was no doubt but what Satan would take a peck or two at me, and then they would have put me in a soap-box and torn up a patchwork quilt to sew round it, and somebody would somehow have found
a Prayer Book among the thirty or so people who lived within a hundred square miles, and the population would have come over for the day on horseback, or in buggies, and an unregenerate person would have read a service over me in the morning before the assembly had luncheon under the trees and hurried home to beat the sunset.
As it was, my guest smelt the milk, of which some snakes are greedily fond, before I woke up, and had it served up to him with a dose of shovel for salt, and instead of going to heaven and being a happy little angel with wings I grew first into a small, thin, sad boy, with nothing to fight but occasional wandering youths and a varied assortment of black piccaninnies ; who was dressed by his
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devoted female parent in turkey-red, so that if he wandered off into the bush he could be descried afar by the searchers ; who travelled across Queensland three or four times in a dray; who lived in stations where the dusty sheep came in in thousands in woollen coats, and went out looking thin and cold without their wool (what time the old-fashioned hand-shears rang and there was a continual cry for tar, and sometimes even for bloody tar) ; who dwelt in a timber camp, where the sawmill blew up and where the assistant sawmiller had fought Indians in Idaho and could repeat pages of the Iliad in Greek ; thence to go to a great gold-mining town, and later to work on the last great Queensland gold rush as a pug-boy, and finally come to man's estate and ascend into paradise as a prosaic sort of newspaper man and writer of long sentences.
And in all that time I saw many snakes, got to know their species and varieties and habits ; found them in my blankets and in other people's blankets ; met them in the mating season on narrow paths, or when they had gone into some small bush to shed
their skins. I have chased them in the off-season and broken their backs. I know which are poisonous and which are not, and I believe I know which are maligned unjustly and which justly as deadly, but at the same time I have never lost the will to shiver at them.
Even the carpet-snake, who is generally a sleepy, harmless sort of chap with nothing poisonous about him, gives you that feeling, and though you may keep him as a pet you invariably have an unpleasant feeling that one of these days he may wake
into venomousness and show his fangs.
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I have handled a good many carpet-snakes in my time, and found most of them kittenish and some friendly, and only once has one attempted reprisals effectively. It was while I was a bare-legged youngster going to school in Mount Morgan. I was
not a strong lad or even courageous in the ordinary school frays or mischiefs, but I knew a good deal more of bush things than most other boys, and I had vague ambitions in naughtiness which one cold day crystallised in a definite direction as I was going to school and beheld a pleasant young serpent by the roadside. He was a small carpet-snake-under three feet long, I should say-and evidently quite young and inexperienced, which made him uncertain in his movements. Besides, I was apparently between him and his hole. The moment I set eyes on him my thoughts coupled him with a schoolmistress whom I knew.
I could see him quite plainly in my mind's eye in company with that schoolmistress-the school-mistress reaching into her drawer short-sightedly for chalk, and God giving her an indignant and homesick carpet-snake as a substitute. I could imagine the subsequent pursuit in which the whole bare-legged class would join, what time I went piously for the head master and smelling-salts-and I may say that I was not unmindful even of the possibility that the rest of the day would be more or less teacherless.
In the circumstances, what more simple for a small boy with a sharp knife than to cut a forked stick and to capture that snake ? In a trice he was in bondage. His body was stretched taut. The
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back of his neck was grasped firmly in my right hand to such good purpose that his tongue stuck out like a lightning conductor. His tail lashed impotently on my left wrist.
I had to go along the railway line to school, and, as it happened, all the men-a thousand or two of them-were coming off morning shift. It was a glorious progress for any small boy. Several others of my own ilk followed enviously in my wake, full
of pleas: " Aw, lemme hold 'im, Spider "-that was my modest nickname in those halcyon days-" Garn I Dicken, it's my turn first." And, of course, it did not lessen one's feelings of triumph when the sooty miners, with their crib baskets, took notice and remarked : " Oi, Boy Ellis, I b'long to think thy feyther will be a-ticklin' o' thee, beyin' he foinds thee."
What wonder that one's gait became more stiff and Grenadierish and swashbucklering, one's caution a little absent ?
Suddenly, as I turned to acknowledge the chaff of a passing group of grown-up admirers, I relaxed that snake from his attitude of tautness just a hair's breadth. Instantly he seemed to develop the strength of Laocoon. I tried to straighten him out
again, but he refused to straighten out. He became more bent. He pulled my hands closer together. Finally he wrapped himself round my wrist, pulled his head out and-as it seemed to me-carefully selecting a spot between my thumb and first finger,
deliberately bit me. Then he went home.
I also went home. All my followers came with me, since it gave them a grand excuse for not going
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to school, and even though I heard that the school-mistress nearly had hysterics for me, I never told her my ultimate intentions about that snake, though every year at the season in which I was bitten a red mark came up to remind me to do it.
The carpet-snake, beside being the most harmless of Australian snakes, grows the biggest of them all. He is, of course, a constrictor-a true python. Views differ as to how big he grows. The size of the biggest one you ever saw depends largely on
your state of sobriety, your imagination and your estimate of the company you are in. If the wine is sufficiently red and the audience wears eyeglasses and Bedford cords, carpet-snakes are apt to grow to thirty-five feet in length and develop a ferocity which is only limited by the descriptive potentialities of the Australian language. But, from experience, I have always believed till I went to New Guinea in 1923 that cold fact and a Pan-Australian python more than twenty feet in length could not
However, New Guinea taught me a lesson. It was not very civilised, part of the Bismarck Archipelago. It was late at night and it was raining. I was staying or a day for two with a Czecho-Slovak planter, the only possessor of a spare bed in the district. We had, as a fellow-guest,a Wurtemberger, and the three of us had been enjoying an evening with the plantation super-
intendent of the Expropriation Board. It did not detract from the good-fellowship of the night that
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the Wurtemberger was one of the expropriated and that the superintendent was playing host in what had been his own house and serving him in what had been his own steins. The super-intendent had a large case of beer, two kinds of whisky and some gin or methylated spirits--he did not know which. Anyone who has seen a Wurtemberger and a Bohemian with a case of beer will know that we drank it all and, having politely put the plantation man to bed, proceeded to go home along the narrow, German road through the tall, knife-bladed kunai grass.
First in the procession went a black boy with a frizz, snow-white with lime, and a hibiscus behind his ear, a red lavalava and a lantern. Then my Bohemian friend and his Teutonic guest, arm-in-arm, rather in the maudlin stage. Then myself, herding them along like sheep-a limited capacity for beer kept me sober. And lastly an assortment of bearer boys loaded down with cameras and gifts and their own impedimenta. It was pitch dark, and my friends were whiling away the journey by singing :
" Wei nicht liebt Wein, Weib und Gesang,
Er bleibt ein Narr sein Leben lang
Und Narren sind Wir nicht-
Nein, Narren sind wir nicht."
Quite without warning, in the middle of the fourth verse, the leader boy suddenly let out a yell like seven fiends, dived through the party, cast the lantern into the kunai in his terror, and started to retreat in his tracks.
All the other boys, by way of farewell, yelled: " Marster, beeg fella Tambaran, he stop! " and then
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precipitately dropped their bundles and followed him. My two foreign friends, relieved of forward impetus, sat down in the mud. They really didn't care whether they were walking or not, but, like wound-up clocks, they went on singing.
Idle for me, a stranger to New Guinea, to ask them what a tambaran was. All I could get out of them was, " wass Martin Luther spricht." I tried them in pidgin: " What name this fella tambaran? " etc. I tried : " Wie heisst Tambaran auf Englisch ? "
I shook them. All I got was: " Und Narren sintt wir nicht "- an assertion with which I heartily disagreed.
Finally I gave it up and went back to where the boys were shivering at the plantation gate. The best they could say was that a tambaran was a debbil debbil and all appeared very frightened.
Now, I have a great respect for debbil debbils. You may talk about native superstition if you like, but in Australia, at any rate, when a black man says debbil debbil, look out. There is generally something behind it. So it was with great caution that
I went ahead, seeing that my revolver was all in order and accessible. I walked past the still singing Germans and struck a match, and in the dim glare which followed I saw, two feet ahead of me, what looked like the biggest
snake in the world. He seemed in the exaggerating glimmer of that match to be as thick as a man's body, and he came out of the kunai on one side of the track and went off the road into the kunai on the other side with an air of depressing illimitability.
How long he was I cannot say, but he must have
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been well over twenty feet, and what had happened to him was this. He had, during the late afternoon or early evening, had his dinner off a pig somewhere near by, and with porous still undigested and forming a projection about the size of a politician's self-confidence in the middle of his anatomy, he had started to crawl gingerly across the track. Unhappily for him, the Germans, when they build their roads, put a high camber on them to allow them to shed their water, and poor old Python had found it impossible to drag his dinner up the grade. Where-fore there he was in the rain, safely anchored and slipping into the unconsciousness of his digestive sleep far from home in the land of the enemy.
I guided the Germans over him and-still singing-we all went home. The boys arrived by a round-about route, and the next morning my friend the Czecho-Slovak said at breakfast (just after mid-day) : " I must have been drunk last night. I thought
I saw a snake, coming home." " You did," I said simply, reaching for the aspirin which figured largely on the breakfast menu.
But it is not this sort of snake that worries any bushman, nor that makes him, in certain seasons on the great golden plains of the North-West, fold himself tightly in his blankets when going to bed. Neither, if there were only carpet-snakes in the world, would he trouble to kick over his saddle and -- all his camp chattels of a morning. The snake that makes him do that is my friend of last evening, the
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death-adder, whose name maligns him--I have known two men who have been bitten by him and lived to vote at the next election. There is not much of him as a snake, but what he lacks in length he makes up in guile, and what debt he still owes to
the devil he pays in ugliness.
He takes the colour of the ground on which he lives. He may be a shadow on a rock ; a wind-blown rib of dead leaves; the mottle of sunlight on a scrub path ; an iron bark stick ; a torn-up tuft of grass-anything in fact till you anger him or do something to awaken his satanic sense, and then he becomes all snake, and snake with unexpected characteristics.
In the mating season a black or a brown or a tiger-snake may charge you, though I am afraid that most of these charges represent the anguished effort of a very stupid entity to get to his hole to which you are blocking the way, but the death-adder is
a cat of quite another colour. He combines an appearance of loathsome sloth with the speed of lightning and the elusiveness of a three-card man.
You find him, a repulsive eighteen inches on the ground before you, trying to disguise himself as a very dead twig, and you raise your stick ; the two ends of him come together with a flick ; he seems to go into the air like a released spring, and if you
have been incautious enough to crouch down over him, seeing that he is so small and so hard to see, you may find him biting you in the eye or sliding down your shirt-front; or he may slip off into thin air, as any snake will, no matter how big, if you take your eye off him for a flick of an instant,
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and when you find him again he may be in your blankets or greet you with a playful nip on the finger when you put your hand into the flour-bag, or crawl into one of your socks or your best Sunday go-to-meeting hat.
Everybody hates the death-adder, and the more you have to do with him the more you loathe him ; but he is not as ferocious as the tiger-snake, who may try your speed, and not as poisonous as the brown snake which, despite the fact that the black snake is unjustly maligned as the most deadly in Australia-I have yet to discover a real, a certified murder to his credit--is the most dangerous of all.
Not that any of them are to be played with. I have said that some people claim to swing snakes round by the tail and switch their heads off, and though actually this is done, though rarely except in case of emergency, it is a wise man who takes no chances with them. The best cure for snake-bite is my mother's old-fashioned long-handle camp shovel applied with vigour to the snake before he gets a chance to bite you. Failing that, a sharp knife, a good tourniquet and a boundless faith in Providence are the only things which will see you through, and even these fail sometimes-witness the case of the unhappy Saltbush Bill at Innamincka (or was it Bedourie ?).
" Sur," wrote the old-fashioned policeman who chronicled it, " I hev to report Mister Bill Smith is ded. A snake bit him in the jugglar vein, and although I made a deep cut according to police instructions and give the string two or three winds
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with a stick, the poor cow pegged out, and we put him out of the way of the crows yestiddy."
Anyone west of I39 will make a sworn declaration about that yarn and about some other snake stories less printable. But we are glad we have no real snake stories to tell outside last night's- just a few reptiles killed by the roadside, with Francis yelping with delight in the chase and Dinkum barking round as if he were doing any work.
There is no romance about the snake——only horror. Or rather agony. When you come to analyse your feelings about him you are surprised to find they are somewhat the same as those which made you want to rush in and batter to death the horse that you heard squealing in pain. Hatred of snakes is a primitive instinct, unexplainable, akin to the predisposition which animals feel to kill maimed things. It is something of a mystery. There are no words for the sensations which it produces in you.