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A Ramble with the Blacks by John Lang


A FRIEND of mine had a sheep "run" at a place called Booreea, distant from Sydney about 190 miles in the Bathurst direction; and on one occasion, when he was about to visit the "run," in order to witness the washing and shearing, I agreed to accompany him. On the day appointed we set out on horseback, and travelled as lightly as possible. In my cloak I had two shirts, two pairs of socks, a comb, and tooth-brush, two silk pocket--handkerchiefs, and a cake of Windsor soap. My friend's luggage was uniform with my own; and, like mine, was strapped across the pommel of his saddle. Our attire was colonial to the last degree: dark corduroy trousers, fitting loosely, except at the knees; shooting-coat and waistcoat, of coarse dark-blue cloth; and Leghorn hats, with very wide brims. In those days it signified very little how we attired ourselves, every-body knew us, and all about us, and our affairs. The colony even then--in 1835--was, to all intents and purposes, a monopoly, and in the hands of a comparatively few people; the assignment system was still in vogue; my friend "owned" about eighty-five convicts, and I, too, had a limited number. We little dreamt in those days, that ere long so many millions of tons of "free flesh" would be landed alive on those shores.

Onward we rode to Paramatta, fifteen miles distant, from Sydney, where we refreshed our horses and ourselves; and then pushed on to Penrith, where we stayed for the night, under the hospitable roof of Sir John Jamieson. We had only ridden forty miles, but as we intended to ride sixty on the following day, we deemed it prudent to give the horses a long rest. Sir John Jamieson was a member of the council, and with other members of the council (all large land and stock holders) opposed the petition of those colonists (not large land and stock holders) to the throne to have transportation to Sydney abolished. The reader must know that the abolition of transportation to New South Wales affected all the large holders of convict servants, just us the abolition of slavery in the West Indies affected the great sugar-planters. It well-nigh ruined the whole of them. Many, indeed, were completely ruined, men holding thousands of head of cattle and tens of thousands of sheep. To carry on such concerns with "free labour" was out of the question. The emigrants, when they began to pour in, demanded and held out for high wages. The man who said he was a shepherd, or a stockman, required from twenty to twenty-five shillings a week, a full ration, two suits of slop clothing a year, and a blanket. Knowing nothing of the pursuit for which he hired himself, but labouring under the false impression that anybody could be a stockman or a shepherd, he was in most cases worse than useless. Having no dread of the lash; no dread of having his tea, sugar, rum, tobacco, and soap stopped; and being put on government allowance, namely, nine pounds of coarse flour, and seven pounds of salt--verysalt--beef, or five of pork--very salt pork--he was in most cases careless, idle, and if spoken to on the subject, insolent and aggravating. Many of my friends cut the throats of their sheep, flocks of eight and ten thousand, for the sake of their fat; and slaughtered whole herds of cattle--fat oxen, milch cows, and young calves, for the sake of their hides! In many cases, where the stations were very far distant, even the hides and the tallow were not taken from the animals. The expense of conveying such commodities to Sydney would have exceeded the amount they would have realized in the market, and the sheep and the cattle were left to rot on the abandoned station. I have often since put to myself the question--"Why not have suffered them to live, and go wherever they listed?" There was no lack of pasture for their maintenance. It is true that the sheep would have been scattered and gradually devoured by the aboriginal dogs; but not so with the cattle, the breed of which, however, would have deteriorated, and by this time would have been as small as the oxen on the Malabar coast.

Some large holders--only a few--did suffer their stock to go free; but the majority immolated them, as sacrifices on the shrine of departed prosperity. A ruined man in his wrath and despair is rarely in a condition to reason. None, save the lords of Leadenhall Street on the 1st of September, 1858, can comprehend the feelings of the lords of Botany Bay when that fatal fiat went forth--"No more convicts!" Yes. None save those who were awakened to the reflection--"No more East India Company," can entertain even a glimmer of the rancour which swelled each stockholder's breast against the man who moved "that horrible resolution" in the House of Commons. Not even the advocacy of the late Charles Buller, M.P., to whom we paid by subscription £500 a year for his advocacy of our "interests" in the House, could prevail; and we lost that cause which he took in hand for us, although he afterwards gained another cause for us, namely, an "Elective Representative Assembly." You may frown, Mr. Roebuck. You may smile, Mr. Isaac Butt; but what I have stated is the truth; I know it, not from hearsay, but of my own personal knowledge; for the hand that traces these lines scaled and addressed two of the letters to "Charles Buller, Esq., M.P.," enclosing the money, in all £1,000. But I am digressing.

On the following morning we resumed our journey, and crossed the Blue Mountains. By the way, the friend with whom I was travelling had been one of the three gentlemen who first explored that region, crossed those mountains, and discovered the glorious plains of Bathurst that lie beyond them. The scenery in these mountains is neither grand nor imposing. Here and there you meet with a pretty view; but upon the whole the panorama is dull, flat, monotonous, and uninteresting--at all events, in comparison with mountain scenery in every other part of the known world that I have visited.

At noon it began to rain very heavily, and we were drenched to the skin. We did not mind that, for the morning had been close and hot, and this bath from the clouds was extremely refreshing. Moreover, the earth panted for moisture, as did the trees, and the shrubs, and the plants. Nor did the rain impede our progress. We were mounted on good cattle, which dashed over the ground without requiring either whip or spur; all we had to do was to hold them, and keep them on the track. We did not, however, reach Bathurst that night. An adventure on the road detained us for more than an hour. We met a woman without bonnet or shoes, travelling towards Sydney. She was a good-looking woman, of about six-and-twenty years of age, and of a slim figure. She was Irish. At first we thought she was insane, and parleyed with her in that wild spot where we espied her. She told us a rather plausible story, in order to account for her whereabouts and pitiable condition; but in cross-examination she broke down, and confessed that she was an assigned servant, and had run away from her master, "because the mistress had ill-treated her." She had been seven days in the bush, she said, and had endured every species of hardship. We knew the family from which she had run away, and we promised her that if she would return with us to Bathurst we would guarantee that her offence would be forgiven. She hesitated; whereupon we reminded her that she would be captured, to a certainty, ere long, and placed in the factory at Paramatta, where they would cut off all her beautiful black hair. She still hesitated, whereupon I gave her a draught of brandy out of a flask which I carried in my pocket. This appeal was all-powerful. She blessed us very fervently, and expressed her readiness to act upon our advice. I then placed her on my saddle, and loosening the "off" stirrup-leather threw it over the pommel, and contrived to give her a safe seat. I then got behind her, and, while she held on by the horse's mane, I fed her with some ham sandwiches, which she devoured voraciously.

Night was coming on, and we agreed to stay at a roadside inn, about twelve miles from Bathurst, and remain till daybreak. The inn was a slab hut, roofed with sheets of bark, and containing three apartments. One was occupied by the landlord, his wife, and seven children; another was "the public room," and the third apartment was the bedroom for travellers. The only refreshment that the inn could afford consisted of salt beef and "damper" (unleavened bread baked in ashes). The only liquor to be had there was rum, which was watered, and otherwise adulterated by Chili pods, to make it (as Falstaff says of ginger), "hot i' the mouth." There were no windows in the inn. They were not required, since the interstices between the slabs suffered the wind, the rain, and the light of day to penetrate simultaneously. The signboard, which was nailed to a tree near the abode, was rather an ambitious one--"The Royal Arms." The furniture was of the most primitive description imaginable; a table made out of some old beer-casks, benches of the iron-bark tree, and for stools, small blocks of limestone did duty. The bedsteads consisted of two benches placed crossways, one at the head, the other at the feet; on these were placed slabs of wood, then a layer of straw, and over that a blanket not particularly clean. Sheets and counterpanes were dispensed with. The house was lighted by the large wood fire in the broad fireplace. We asked for candles, but there was "only half a one in the house," the remnant of a tallow-dip, and that was stuck into the neck of an empty ginger-beer bottle. The bedroom we resigned to the unfortunate woman, and my friend and myself spread our cloaks on some fresh straw, threw ourselves down thereon, and slept as soundly as though we had been reposing upon beds of down, and velvet pillows.

At daylight the children of the landlord awakened us by the noise they made while dressing. We arose, shook ourselves, washed in a bucket of water, combed our hair, and thus completed our toilet. I ought not to omit to mention, perhaps, that the landlord's wife rubbed our boots over, whilst they were on our feet, with a greasy cloth.

The unfortunate woman, whom we were taking back to her master and mistress, having breakfasted on the salt beef and damper, and some very weak brandy-and-water (the brandy from my flask)--for there was no tea, coffee, or milk to be had--we resumed our journey, and arrived at the inn at Bathurst at a quarter to nine o'clock. Here we had the good fortune to meet with the master of the fugitive, who promised us that he would respect the guarantee we had given to her: and he kept his word; for on our return we paid him a visit, and saw our late charge waiting at table.

Insomuch as neither my friend nor myself were at all fatigued, and as our horses were very fresh, we resolved on proceeding as soon as we had breakfasted. The inn at Bathurst was admirably found in all that travellers require, and the accommodation for man and horse comparatively excellent. The charges were high, but, under the circumstances, anything but exorbitant: a fowl, 5s.; eggs, 6d. each; a bottle of ale, 5s.; a glass of sherry, half-a-crown; a cup of tea, 1s. 6d. At the period of which I am speaking no one would have thought of killing sheep. Just then the wool mania was at its height, and an ewe was worth from £2 to £2 10s. Some persons who foresaw that it would not last long sold off, and realized enormous fortunes. Only those were ruined who held on till the crash came and convulsed the colony. Had my friend sold his sheep in 1837--and he had some half-dozen runs--he would have netted some £300,000. In 1841-42 he was barely solvent! Such was the fluctuation in the value of colonial property.

It was much the same with land. In 1838 land near Sydney, or within seven miles, was worth £100 an acre. In 1842, it was not worth £10 an acre; in fact, it was unsaleable at any price.

But let us hasten to Booreea. After travelling all day through a variegated and picturesque country--for instance, at times the road passed through forests of gigantic trees; at times, the road passed through, or wound round, huge rocks of gray limestone; at times we might have fancied we were riding through downs which had been cultivated, albeit we knew they were as they had been left by the hand of the Creator--we arrived at a roadside inn, precisely such a one as I have already described, and found in stores equally well, or rather equally badly. This was the only halting place on the road between Bathurst and Booreea and other sheep stations, the roads to which branched off from this point. The consequence was, that this little inn, the "General Macquarie," was, if not much frequented, seldom without a traveller.

As we had done on the previous night, my friend and myself made our beds on the floor of the hut with some straw, and turned in all standing. Previously to doing so, however, we ate, with a keen appetite and relish, a hearty supper of damper and pork. Never shall I forget the terrible night I passed, pursued as I was by every species of monster that the imagination of man conjures up in his brain during that troubled sleep, commonly called "nightmare".

At six o'clock on the following morning we started, and at four P.M. arrived at our destination; having accomplished the fifty miles in ten hours, without in the least fatiguing our horses.

The hut of the superintendent at Booreea--a nighly respectable young man of colonial extraction--was a tolerably comfortable abode. It was built of wooden slabs, but was "mudded" on the outside, and lime-whited, so that its appearance was rather cheerful as we approached it. In this hut there were apertures, the shape of windows, to let in the light, and shutters to keep put the cold, and wind, and rain, during the night. The furniture, too, though far from elegant, wore a comparatively civilized air. There were six strong chairs in the sitting-room, and a substantial cedar table, and there was a mantelpiece over the huge fireplace, on which were ranged crockery, plates, and tea-cups and saucers, instead of those tin utensils of the kind we had found at the roadside inns. On the floor was a thick layer of limestone, so pounded down as to make it resemble white slabs of marble. The ceiling--for the hut had a roof--was also lime-whited, and from it were suspended several sides of bacon, pigs' faces, and huge pieces of smoked beef. There were also poultry of every kind in the yard--and a flock of pigeons and several cows and calves in an adjacent paddock. In short, as far as eatables were concerned, we were now "in clover;" and what was of equal importance, the straw mattrasses and blankets upon which we had to sleep were as clean as possible. The superintendent did not expect a visit from his master, and when he came home, and found us in possession of his abode, he was not a little surprised. His kangaroo dogs, eight in number, had accompanied him in his rounds that day, and had killed a forester (a large species of kangaroo), the tail of which he brought home with him for soup. The tail of a kangaroo is a mass of sinews, and the reader who has not tasted of the soup can have no idea how delicious it is, especially when flavoured with Harvey's sauce, or mushroom catsup, both of which were "in store;" for the superintendent (my friend and myself were happy to reflect) was one of those men who liked good living, even in the distant interior. The hut-keeper, moreover (a convict who had been originally a waiter at a London tavern), was an excellent cook, and, on the first evening of our arrival (as well as on subsequent evenings), gave us a most unexceptionable dinner, and served it up in a truly artistic style. There was the kangaroo-tail soup, a boiled leg of fresh pork, with peas--pudding, two pairs of very young and tender pigeons, maccaroni, and cheese, and a pumpkin tart. The only liquor which the superintendent could afford to keep for his stray guests was some excellent Jamaica rum; and this, well diluted with water, we found extremely palatable.

Let me describe Mr. Warner, the superintendent of the sheep station. I do so chiefly to show what effect change of climate and of occupation has upon the human race, so far as offspring is concerned. Mr. Warner stood about six feet two, and weighed about twelve stone. He was strong active, lithe, and graceful in his movements. Neither the Life Guards nor the Blues could exhibit a handsomer or better-built or more erect specimen of a man. He was one of thirteen children. He had seven brothers, all of whom were as tall as, if not taller than, himself; and five sisters, whose average height was five feet eleven and a half. Mr. Warner's father was one of the most miserable--looking little men I ever beheld, and his mother proportionately diminutive. The former had been a clerk--in a mercantile house in the city of London, and at twenty-two years of age had become "unfortunate," that is to say, he was convicted of embezzlement, and transported for seven years. His young wife followed him to the colony, succeeded in getting him "assigned" to her, and they became farmers in the interior. Thrifty to the last degree, they were very prosperous, and reared their large family in the most respectable and praiseworthy manner. The old man was reputed to be worth £40,000; but as soon as his sons were old enough he invariably sent them abroad in the colony to earn their own living, and make their own way in the world.

I had seen so much of sheep-washing and sheep-shearing in my life, that I had little or no interest in the operations; and after my third day at Booreea, I determined on having a day or two with the blacks in the bush, in order that I might have an opportunity of observing their habits, customs, and mode of living in their thoroughly wild state. There happened to be a tribe encamped some four miles off, and I sent a shepherd to summon several of the leading men to attend upon me. They came. I made known to them my desire, and they seemed perfectly willing to gratify it. That afternoon, I caused to be stowed in a bag a damper, weighing ten pounds; and a piece of salt beef, weighing five pounds; and a piece of salt pork, weighing four pounds; some tea and brown sugar, two tin pannikins, a knife and fork, and iron spoon, a wooden platter, and a bottle of rum. Thus provisioned, I had my blanket wrapped up; and, armed with a double--barrelled fowling-piece, and a plentiful supply of powder and shot, I walked forth, at the head of the tribe, which consisted of about twenty men, nine women, and sixteen children, of various ages, from thirteen years to three weeks old.

The men were, for the most part, well-built and muscular; and so were the women. The only clothing that they wore was that which Nature dictates, even to the savage, ought not to be dispensed with. It was formed of a number of strips of opossum skin, about a foot and four inches long, and was fastened to a girdle tied round the loins. The girdle is a cord, which the black women ("gins," as they are called) make with their fingers out of the inner and stringy barks of the trees. They also make nets, for carrying their light burdens in, out of this bark. The black man seldom or never carries any burden, save his spear and boomerang,--or a shield and a waddy (a club of about fifteen inches long, and made of very heavy and very hard wood). The whole of the tribe with which I was roving in the wilds were thus armed, and one or two of them had small tomahawks of European, or rather colonial, manufacture. The tomahawk, which a black fellow prizes, is an instrument about five inches long, two inches wide, and three--quarters of an inch thick. With the aid of this weapon he will rapidly ascend a tree twelve yards in circumference, and whose first branches are fifty feet from the ground. He can perform this feat with the aid of a sharp--pointed stone, fastened to the end of a short stick; but it takes him a longer time than with a tomahawk.

At sundown we were some five miles distant from the station, and in the heart of as beautiful a forest as ever was seen. Here we halted, and the camp was formed. The first thing that a black man does is to light a fire. He finds two pieces of dry wood, and rubs them together so rapidly that, in less than ten minutes, ignition takes place. Some dry leaves, dry grass, and a few rotten sticks feed the flame, and ere long there are fires in all directions. The next thing is to form a shelter. With the tomahawk they strip, from the gigantic trees, sheets of bark eight feet long by six feet wide, and with three of these sheets of bark a hut is formed. Food is the next consideration. Where we then were, the opossum and the flying squirrel were the only animals within reach. To procure these, two savages ascended a lofty tree--an old tree--with hollow branches, broken at the outer ends. In these branches the animals abide. The one savage stations himself at the end of the hollow branch, tomahawk in hand, but so concealed that the opossum cannot see him. The other savage, with his tomahawk, strikes the other end of the branch, and goes on tapping and hammering till the affrighted animals attempt to escape, when they are killed and fall to the earth. A sufficient number procured, they are equitably apportioned, and each mess (generally three men and their wives and children) proceed to cook their food. The animals are thrown upon the fire, hair and all. Skinning is considered not only unnecessary, but a waste. When the opossum or other animal bursts, or "pops," with the heat of the fire, he is "done," and pulled off. The men then sit down and eat him, throwing over their shoulders, every now and then, a morsel for their wives and children. From this, the reader will glean that the savage of New Holland is not a particularly gallant person.

Before composing themselves to sleep, the black fellows like their song, in which they all join in the chorus--men, women, and children. In fact, they sing themselves to sleep. To the civilized ear, there is not so much of melody as of vigour and sameness in their compositions, which relate chiefly to war and women.

The male savage--the adult--when asleep, is a perfect study. Albeit he has a bark hut to shelter him, he prefers lying near the fire on the bare earth. He lies on the broad of his back, his arms extended above his head, and his legs stretched out to their extremest length. His slumber, if I may be permitted to use the phrase, is truly rhapsodical. He does not snore, and his breathing is as light as that of an infant. The women, on the contrary, sleep in a sitting position, their arms enfolding their ankles, and their heads resting on their knees. The children lie with their stomachs on the earth. I have seen the adult males sleeping profoundly in the manner above described, with a burning sun shining on their faces, and countless mosquitoes and ants settled on their carcases, and deriving aliment from their skins, without disturbing them. I have also seen them thus sleep on during a terrific thunderstorm and a very heavy downfall of rain.

Some of the tribes in Australia will not search for food till driven to do so by the direst hunger, and when gorged will sleep for several days and nights consecutively; but many tribes--and the tribe I was roaming with was one of them--eat and sleep at something approaching regular intervals.

It was past ten o'clock. All the camp was now wrapped in repose, and, enveloping myself in my blanket, I threw myself on a sheet of bark, and with my jacket spread over a small log of wood for a pillow, I dropped off, and slept as soundly as possible.

And thus ended the first day of my sojourn with the blacks.

The savage of New Holland is not addicted to early rising. Like the author of the essays, "Elia," he does not appreciate the maxim that we should go to sleep with the lamb, and rise with the lark. The sun is well up in the heavens before he opens his eyes, sits on his haunches, runs his fingers through his long hair, and stares around him with a vacant expression of countenance.

It was nine o'clock on the morning of my second day before my black companions were all awakened from their slumbers, and then they began to chatter--men, women, and children--like so many magpies. I did not understand what they said, but their language was wonderfully musical; it was so full of vowels. Their voices also were of a sweet tone. In his savage state, the native of New Holland never keeps any provender in store, and is indifferent about breakfast. Indeed, he rarely eats until long past twelve o'clock, and prefers the evening as the time to take his one meal per diem.

I was bent upon travelling due south, and shaped my course by consulting occasionally a small compass which I carried in my waistcoat pocket. It was a quarter past ten before we were fairly on the march, and we travelled at the rate of about three miles an hour, the women carrying the young children on their backs. We had not journeyed far when one of the blacks pointed to a spot upon the ground, and gave me to understand that it was the fresh imprint of a kangaroo's foot. I signified a desire to go in pursuit of the animal. A signal for silence was then made, and we proceeded cautiously, some of the blacks tracking the kangaroo, others keeping a look-out ahead. Presently one of the party espied the animal quietly feeding near a patch of brushwood. I had often heard of the blacks spearing a kangaroo, but I had never witnessed it. Their mode of proceeding was this:--They surrounded and hemmed in the prey, each man with his spear poised. The kangaroo--the most timid of creatures--as soon as he caught sight of one of his pursuers bounded off in the opposite direction, and came down towards where I was standing with a small party of the tribe. When he came within sixty yards of us, and was on the bound, three spears were thrown at him. One missed him; the other two went through his body and killed him on the spot. One of the women wanted the skin, and it was stripped off and given to her. The only fat upon the kangaroo--and that seldom weighs more than two ounces--is found upon the root of the tail. With this the blacks greased their foreheads and hair. I signified to them by gestures that they should take some of the flesh; but they answered, by gestures, that there was no occasion for so doing, as there were more to be had. And in this they were correct, for we came across no less than eleven within the next two hours; but as I was anxious to push on, and get into regions where the foot of civilized man had never trod, we did not go in pursuit of them.

We now came upon the most beautiful scenery imaginable. It was not grand, but picturesque. Here and there were purling streams of very clear water meandering over pebbles, and through little rocks of limestone. The trees which skirted the valley were not lofty, but beautifully shaped, and their foliage of the richest, darkest green. In their branches were parrots of every size and plumage. It is no exaggeration to say I might have shot thousands of them; but I was reserving my ammunition for other game--the bronze-winged pigeon, the wild duck and the swan. But beautiful as was the scene, its sameness--like that of the lower range of the Himalaya mountains--began to pall upon me. Every hill, every bend in the stream, every valley, every clump of trees--the one was so like the other; and I was not sorry when we came upon a scene of a very different character.

We were now steering due south over gray limestone rocks. In some of these rocks were caverns of incalculable extent. I had brought with me several pieces of candle, in order that if I could not sleep at night I might read the only book I carried--namely, a duodecimo volume, containing all the stories in the Arabian Nights. There was not a particle of vegetation in the region we were then exploring, not a dry stick to be had, and I was obliged to have recourse to my gun for the purpose of procuring a light. This I effected by drawing the charge of shot from one of the barrels, ramming down over the powder a piece of rag and then discharging the piece. The candle lighted, I entered one of these caverns with several of the blacks, and looked around me. From the smoothness of the walls, the level of the floors, and the arched roofs, one might almost fancy they had been excavated by the hand of man. We penetrated the cavern with extreme caution, for in some, if not all of them, there are openings in the floor which lead to caverns beneath. An enterprising traveller once, with the aid of lanterns and a rope ladder, went down to a third tier, and declared that there were other tiers beneath. In a word, these caverns may be mentioned as amongst the wonders of the world. They resemble in some respects the catacombs of Malta, only they are on a grander scale, and are the work of nature, not of art. I did not penetrate more than thirty or forty yards. I confess I was too nervous to lose sight of the aperture or opening, through which in the distance glimmered the light of day; for had a vampyre or a bat, the sole occupants of these miraculous abodes, extinguished the flame, as they did in the case of the traveller who was compelled to use lanterns, most probably the ingenuity of the savage could not have rescued me from that awful darkness which prevailed beyond the spot on which I then stood. Never shall I forget the scene in that cavern: the five naked savages, each armed with his spear and boomerang, myself in thoroughly bush-attire, holding in my hand that piece of bullock-fat candle; the stillness, the darkness which the light had but feebly dispelled! Oh! how gratifying to my sight was the glorious glaring light of day, and the sun's scorching rays, when I left the damp cold air of that mysterious cavern!

Onward we went. It was now three o'clock, and I was becoming rather fatigued and anxious--anxious lest we should not cross the limestone ridge before nightfall. The monotony of these rocks, which were all alike in shape and colour, palled upon my sight even more than the monotony which, in the first instance, they had relieved. At five o'clock, however, we came upon a plain, or extensive valley skirted by gigantic gum-trees in full flower--a whitish, sweet-smelling flower, filled with honey, upon which the parrots and other birds feed. At the further end of the plain was a large sheet of water, or lagoon, upon which there were myriads of wild ducks and black swans. Gun in hand, and followed by the blacks, who had their boomerangs ready to throw on the flight of the birds, I approached the edge of the water; but before I could get within 150 yards of them they were all on the wing, and after flying for at least a quarter of an hour, very high in the air, they at last settled down in the centre of the lagoon, and far beyond the reach of my fowling-piece.

I pointed to the ducks, and then in dumb show went through the operation of eating. They comprehended my meaning immediately, and without being indebted to Colonel Hawker, or any other great sportsman, for the idea, they at once devised the means of putting me within gunshot of the game. They stripped from one of the gigantic trees two sheets of bark, each twenty feet long by ten wide. These they constructed into canoes, and lashed them together with strips of the kangaroo skin. In the bows of the canoes, and in fact all round them, they placed small branches of trees and leafy boughs, so that I might be concealed, and the moving mass, taken for a tree, inspire the birds with no alarm. The wind happen ed to blow lightly from the spot where we stood, and as soon as the rude bark was launched it began to glide across the lagoon at the rate of about two miles an hour. In about ten minutes I was within fifty yards of the ducks, which covered a space of at least one acre. They rose. Such a mass! I discharged first one barrel and then the other. Nine birds fell, four killed and five wounded, all of which we picked up. That was the first time these ducks had ever heard the report of a gun, or had been disturbed. As we could not pull back, we suffered the flotilla to cross the lagoon, and landed on the opposite side. Forasmuch as numbers of ducks uprose at our approach, I conjectured that there were nests in the vicinity; and I was right in my conjecture, for I might have brought away a cart-load of eggs instead of a couple of dozens. We then left the flotilla, and walked round to the point whence we had started. By the time we arrived, the camp was formed, and the fires lighted. One of the ducks I skinned and grilled on some very live coals for my own dinner, and excellent eating it was. The remainder I gave to the blacks, who cooked them and ate them in the same way as they had cooked and eaten the opossums. They throw them on the fire, feathers and all, and when they "popped" they took them off and devoured every morsel of them.

Weary with the day's journey, I retired to rest at an early hour--half--past nine--and slept till daylight, when I arose and determined on walking round the lake in search of a swan. I did my best to waken one of the men, but to no purpose; he was much too fast asleep. I poked him in the chest with a stick; I kicked him in the ribs, and shouted out his name--"Kooldaree;" I placed a piece of burning rag close to his nostrils; I pulled his hair with my fore-finger and thumb; I made a noose with a piece of string, placed it round his great toe, and tugged at it. All was useless. Had he been under the influence of chloroform, or in a mesmeric trance, he could not have slept on more profoundly. I was therefore compelled to go alone in my ramble. There was no chance of my being lost, for even had I lost sight of the smoke issuing from the camp, the blacks, on missing me, would soon have "tracked" me up and found me. (With their wonderful power of tracking, the reader is of course acquainted.) I saw several swans, but they were so fearfully shy that I could not get within gun-shot of them. The ducks which I had seen on the previous evening were again settled in the centre of the lagoon; but without assistance I was unable to launch the "bark;" and had I done so, I question whether a second expedition in that quarter would have been attended with success. I fell in with a brace of emus, and might have shot them easily; but it was not worth my while to do so, and I returned empty handed.

Having breakfasted on hard-boiled ducks' eggs, a crust of damper, and some weak rum-and-water, and the camp being in readiness to start, off we went--"due south." After travelling for about three hours, we came upon the most dense forest I ever beheld, and so thick was the brushwood in some parts that it was almost impenetrable. The forest swarmed with quail and wild pigeon, chiefly of the bronze-wing species. The former got up in such numbers, close to our feet, that the blacks for awhile amused themselves by throwing their waddies in every covey and killing numbers of them. In this forest also there were the largest ant-hills, or ant-houses, that I have ever beheld. Some of them were seven or eight feet high, and built of mud, which had become as hard as stone. The ants were at least an inch long, and resembled in shape the large black ant of the upper provinces of the East Indies. Out of curiosity I caused one of these edifices, which had been deserted, to be broken into, and was amazed at the ingenuity and skill displayed in its construction. The blacks gave me to understand that it would have been very dangerous to have molested an inhabited hill, as the occupants would attack us in swarms, pursue us for miles, and, if they caught us, destroy us. Here and there in the forest were to be seen small patches of sunlight, but, as a whole, it may be faithfully described as being in perpetual shade. Nearly all the wild trees in Australia are evergreens. Once more I was oppressed with the monotony of the scene, and panted for a change. It was not, however, until past four o'clock that we came into a different line of country, and found ourselves at the foot of a long and low belt of rocky mountains, some two thousand feet above the level of the forest. These mountains were wooded, but not thickly, and the trees were not very tall. At an altitude of about eight hundred feet, I resolved on halting for the night upon a piece of table-land comprising some four or five acres. The scenery was "very pretty," but that is all that could be said of it. For me its charm, in those days, was the reflection--This spot the eye of civilized man has never seen. His steps were never on thy sward. Yet, apart from the scenery, there was much food for contemplation around me. How came those pieces of crystal, sparkling like huge diamonds in the sun's rays, to be scattered about in all directions? What is the meaning of these shells on these rocks several hundred miles from the coast? Has the sea ever been here? And was that dense forest once a bed of the ocean? Were there once shoals of fish where the quail now build their nests? While busied in these [not very original] reflections, the blacks were providing the means of shelter for me and for themselves. There were no sheets of bark in that region; but they cut down some saplings, with prongs at the ends, and with these and some boughs they constructed a tenement, resembling a summer-house or arbour, capable of keeping out the wind and the dew; and upon the rocks they lighted the fires. Meanwhile, the women and some of the elder children went in search of water, and returned with it. That for me they brought in the tin pannikin; that for themselves in bags made out of the skins of kangaroos. We were in no difficulty in respect to food: with pigeons and large parrots the place abounded, and in twenty minutes I shot more than would have sufficed for a much larger number of people. The blacks, too, did considerable execution amongst them with their boomerangs and waddies. Upon the rock on which my fire was lighted, having brushed away the coals, I roasted my tender pigeon, and never devoured a more delicious morsel in my life.

Just before the camp retired to rest that night, there arose a quarrel between two of the men. The horrible cause of the strife was jealousy touching one of the women. The savage of New Holland is--

"One not easily jealous.
But being wroth, perplex'd i' the extreme."

At first their warfare was merely of a wordy nature; but at length one of the disputants--the aggrieved party--sprang up, handed his waddy to the supposed evil-doer, and then bent his head forward, placing his hands over his knees--putting himself, in short, in the attitude of a man giving a "back" at the game of leap-frog. The other party seized the waddy, and dealt the aggrieved party such a blow on the top of the head, that had his skull not been twice as thick as that of a European, his brains would have been battered in. As it was, he only reeled a little--he was stunned for a minute or so. By-the-way, the blood flowed freely down his face, and rendered him a ghastly spectacle. As soon as the other party delivered his blow he threw the waddy on the ground, and presented his cranium to his antagonist, in the posture already described. "Whack!" descended the waddy, with awful force, producing the effect which a reporter of a prize--fight would describe in the columns of "Bell's Life" as "groggy," while the blood flowed in several small streams, and saturated his bushy hair. He was not long, however, before he came to time, seized the waddy, and gave his second blow another stunner; but not sufficient to finish the fight, which continued until each party had received no less than seven blows, and the supposed evil-doer had fallen to the earth, and was unable to pick up the waddy. He lay on the flat of his back, his arms and legs extended as in his sleep. I thought he was dead, but I was mistaken. In less than two hours he revived, sat up, drank some water, and ate his supper. And what struck me as the strangest part of the whole proceeding, the late foes seemed perfectly reconciled to each other, and, if possible, better friends than ever.

I had seen the miserable blacks, in the vicinity of Sydney and Paramatta, when maddened by ardent spirits--administered to them by European blackguards--kick, bite, scratch, and tear each other's hair, screaming like demons all the while; but this was the first really aboriginal duel that I had witnessed. I cannot say that the sight afforded me any satisfaction; on the contrary. But I could not help admiring the extreme fairness which characterized the encounter; while the chivalrous cessation of every hostile feeling when the battle was over inspired me with some respect for this phase of savage nature.

That night there was a birth in the camp. I had no idea that such an event was so near at hand, and knew nothing about it until next morning, when I saw the child--a little boy--at his mother's breast. Fearing that she would be too fatigued to travel, I suggested a halt, but the blacks only laughed and shook their heads; and at ten o'clock we were again on the move--the woman carrying her new-born and perfectly naked babe in a net, which was fastened round her neck, and hung half--way down her back. There it lay--coiled up like a little squirrel. From inquiries which I made subsequently, I learnt that the aboriginal women very rarely die in childbirth, and that the ravages of death amongst the children are nothing like so great as amongst the children of civilized people. They have none of those contagious diseases to which our children are subject. No whooping-cough, no measles, no "thrush," no scarlet fever, no cow, chicken, or small-pox--no over-anxious mothers, no attentive medical men (not that I intend to speak disparagingly of the profession); and from my own personal knowledge I am enabled to state that they cut their teeth without having their gums lanced, and without any medicine to assist Nature in that painful, but simple, operation.


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