On the Wallaby. Or, Through the East and Across Australia - Guy Boothby - ebook

On the Wallaby. Or, Through the East and Across Australia ebook

Guy Boothby

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A prolific Australian novelist, Guy Boothby was noted for sensational fiction in variety magazines around the end of the nineteenth century. In 1894 he published On the Wallaby. Or, Through the East and Across Australia, an account of the travels of himself and his brother, including a description of their journey across Australia from Cooktown to Adelaide. He wrote over 50 books over the course of a decade.

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Contents

Preface

Introduction

We Leave Adelaide ’€” Steerage Passengers ’€” Arrival at Colombo

Colombo ’€” Kandy ’€” Anuradhapura

Colombo ’€” Penano ’€” Singapore ’€” Opium Dens

En Route to British Borneo ’€” Labuan ’€” Sandahkan ’€” Singapore ’€” Banca

Batavia, Buitenzorg

The Java and Arafura Seas ’€” The Yahudi ’€” Torres Straits ’€” Thursday Island ’€” New Guinea ’€” Pearl Diving

Thursday Island ’€” Cape York ’€” Albany Pass ’€” Light Ships ’€” Cooktown ’€” Port Douglas

Cairns ’€” Sugar Industry ’€” Kanakas ’€” Rice Cultivation ’€” Cairns and Herberton Railway ’€” The Barron Falls

Townsville ’€” Separation ’€” The Frozen Meat Trade ’€” James Morril

Charters Towers ’€” Mines ’€” Chinese ’€” ’€˜The Only’€™ Smith ’€” Gilberton ’€” Georgetown ’€” Etheridge and Croydon Gold Fields

Normanton ’€” Horse Dealers ’€” We Prepare to Cross the Continent to Adelaide ’€” ’€˜Mr. Pickwick’€™

Our First Camp ’€” Cattle Stations ’€” Spear Creek ’€” Flinders River ’€” Cloncurry

Hughenden ’€” Coach Journey

The Great Plains ’€” A Mail Change ’€” The Killarney Hotel ’€” Sesbania ’€” Oondooroo ’€” Winton ’€” Westlands ’€” Boundary-rider’€™s Tent ’€” Bimerah

Bimerah ’€” Stonehenge ’€” A Hard Struggle ’€” Jundah

Windorah ’€” Terrible State of Country ’€” We are again obliged to turn back ’€” Horses Die ’€” Privations ’€” The Barcoo ’€” Welford Downs ’€” Boundary Rider’€™s Hut ’€” Milo

Adavale ’€” The Bulloo River ’€” Emudilla ’€” Jim Collins ’€” Comongin ’€” Corrobboree ’€” Bushed ’€” Gouryanah ’€” Cowley Plains

Cowley Plains ’€” Bechel Creek ’€” River Swimming ’€” Black Soil ’€” Cunamulla ’€” The Warrego ’€” Barringun

Bourke ’€” We prepare for a row of 1,500 miles ’€” River Steamers ’€” The Darling River ’€” Wilcannia ’€” Weinteriga ’€” Menindie ’€” The ’€˜Decoy’€™

Wentworth ’€” The Murray River ’€” The Australian Irrigation Colonies ’€” Morgan ’€” Adelaide again

Introduction

“HOW much?’

“Forty-seven pounds, sixteen shillings, and eight pence halfpenny.’

“Great Scott! you don’t really mean to say that’s all?’

“Every cent!’ The audit was by no means reassuring. We wanted money badly, no one will ever know how badly, and forty-seven pounds with a few odd shillings and a halfpenny, while in itself a pleasant sum to possess, is by no means an amount sufficient to justify one in setting out on extensive wanderings. Things had not gone well with us in the immediate past, and we were determined to go. As the Long’un put it, “It behoved us to shake the dust of Australia from off our feet.’ And though, myself, I don’t know how the act of shaking the dust from off’ one’s feet should be accomplished, it certainly sounded the proper course to pursue, and when one embarks on a new undertaking, it is surely best to begin in the most orthodox manner.

Hitherto, we had been eminently respectable, from which it may be inferred that our method of earning our livelihoods had never been the subject of parliamentary, private, or police inquiry. Whatever else we may have been, we certainly were not new chums; for between us we had experienced almost every phase of colonial life, had been jacks of all trades, from Government officials and stock-brokers, to dramatists, actors, conjurors, ventriloquists, gold miners, and station hands. Being rovers to the backbone, we were, consequently, neither the possessors of untold wealth nor were we bigoted in our ideas. There was a sage once who, for reasons unnecessary to state here, lived in an iron tank on Sydney’s Circular Quay. Between remittances, he was in a measure well content, and inasmuch as he lived from day to day on such broken victuals as he himself discovered, he came gradually to understand many and curious things. From his lips I learnt wisdom.

“My son!’ he once said, looking up at me from the bunghole entrance to his abode, “believe me, to have nothing is to have everything, and to know starvation is to have acquired all the wisdom of the world.’

I had not then sufficient experience to grasp his meaning, but it has become more clear to me since.

With a show of great secrecy, the Long’un and I had been closeted together all the evening. The hotel candle spluttered and hissed preparatory to going out, and our hard earned capital, even to the odd halfpenny, lay on the table winking and blinking at us, as much as to say “Come, make up your minds quickly. In for a penny, in for a pound. Go out into the big world again, see real life, and as far as we are able, we’ll help you!’

I looked at the Long’un, and the Long’un looked at me. Evidently the same thoughts were animating us both.

“Old man, is it agreed, then, that we make tracks and see things?’

“It is agreed; let us trek.’

Even so was laid the foundation of our extraordinary journey.

Now there are ways and ways of oversea travelling. There are first class passages in Orient liners, and there are working passages on dingy ocean tramps. The former are certainly the more luxurious, but the latter, to my thinking, are, to him who would see and understand, infinitely preferable. There is still another way, an intermediate class, called steerage, where one meets many strange folk. These are the people whose lives make a certain class of books, and with them we decided to throw in our lot.

Our minds once made up, the next business became the finding of a boat likely to contain the phases of character we required, and for some days this appeared impossible. Then, late one sultry afternoon, news reached us of the very vessel we wanted, a foreigner, homeward bound. She was advertised as possessing excellent and cheap steerage accommodation, and, what was still more to our taste, was to sail the following day.

We sought the office instantly, booked our passages for that Clapham Junction of the world. Port Said, and went home to pack.

Chapter 1

We Leave Adelaide–Steerage Passengers–arrival at Colombo

Oh what a bright, fresh morning! A brisk breeze chases fleecy-clouds across a turquoise sky; big green rollers break in a flouse of foam on saffron sands, and throw continuous spray over a wooden jetty; two ocean steamers lie out in the offing, and half a dozen small tugs struggle backwards and forwards between them. Such is the scene on the morning of our departure, early in December 1892, bound we know not whither, and to bring up we know not where.

Our baggage has preceded us on board, and when we ourselves follow in a pot-valiant tender, but little larger than a Zanzibari surf-boat, the wind has risen to a moderate gale. Two friends, with expressed solicitude for our welfare, but what is more likely, a certain amount of curiosity as to our departure, accompany us on board, and even now I can see the expression on their faces, as they realise to what sort of imprisonment we have voluntarily condemned ourselves. Some people have a special faculty for realising; they could realise on anything–an idea, a politician’s broken promise, or even a Wildcat Silver share. Myself I am not so fortunate. I have only tried to realise once in my life, and then the man seemed doubtful as to how I had come by the article. It only realised seven and sixpence.

The vessel, whose name I will not mention, having in my mind certain remarks which hereafter I may be called upon to make concerning her, is of about 3,000 tons register. No doubt she is a serviceable enough craft, but to our minds, accustomed to the trim tautness of our own mail-boats, the untidiness of her decks, the ungainliness of her crew, and the guttural vociferations of her officers seem unship-shape to the last degree.

Arriving on board, and announcing ourselves steerage passengers, we are with small ceremony directed forrard, and introduced to our quarters, situated deep down in the bowels of the forrard hatch. Even in the bright sunshine, it neither looks nor smells like a pleasant place, so, for the reason that pride is a sin and must be overcome, we are not conceited about our advanced position in the ship.

At the foot of the companion we find ourselves in a large, bare hold or saloon (the title is optional), perhaps forty feet long by twenty wide, lighted from the hatchway, which, in fair weather, always remains uncovered. Out of this hold open six small cabins, three on either side, each containing two tiers of iron shelving, which again are divided into six narrow bunks. Thus it will be seen that every cabin is capable of containing twelve occupants, each of whom brings with him, for use in the tropics, a peculiar and distinct, copyrighted odour of his own. In addition to these, a few single cabins are set apart for the use of families and female passengers. In the saloon are fixed, for dining purposes, small deal tables on iron trestles, but each passenger is expected to supply his or her own table utensils, as well as bedding and toilet requisites. Altogether, it is about as dirty and dingy a place as can be imagined.

Steam has been up some time, and as we finish the inspection of our new abode, the whistle sounds for strangers to leave the ship. We conduct our friends, with becoming ceremony, to the gangway, and bid them farewell. It is an impressive moment. Then the launch whistles, the gangway is hauled aboard, the big ship swings slowly round, the screw begins to revolve, and we are on our way.

It would be impossible, even if it could be a matter of interest, to express in words the thoughts which animate us, as standing side by side, we watch the shore fading into the dim distance. Surely, whether one likes or dislikes the place one is leaving, a certain feeling of regret must accompany the last view of it, and with the lessening of that familiar vision, a peculiar and indescribable tenderness towards it creeps round the heart, never to leave it quite the same again. Adelaide is gone, and the wide world lies before us across the seas.

As we swing round to face down the gulf, a lordly P. & O. boat passes us, also homeward bound, her flags waving, passengers cheering, and her band playing “Home, sweet Home’. The familiar melody sounds peculiarly sweet across the water, and in we try to raise a cheer for her. But it is in vain. For the first time we realise that we are on board a foreign boat, where soap and cheering are unknown.

By this time it is nearly two o’clock, and our midday meal is being taken forrard in ship’s buckets. It consists, we discover, of a diffident soup, so modest that it hides its countenance under a mask of abominable fat; this is followed by some peculiar, parboiled beef, potatoes, and cabbage, the latter being, to our tastes, completely spoiled by the presence of the Fatherland-beloved carraway seed. Bread is served ad libitum, but is so sour as to be almost uneatable. Altogether, our first meal on board cannot be reckoned a success, and we express our feelings accordingly.

During its progress, however, we are permitted an opportunity of studying our fellow passengers. They are a motley crew, perhaps sixty-five in number, the like of which I’ve never seen congregated together before. Their nationalities embrace English, Irish, Scotch, Americans, French, Germans,

Italians, Greeks, Portuguese, Spaniards, Afghans, Hindoos, and Singhalese, while their shore-going occupations must have included every profession, from the management of oyster saloons to scientific thieving. Among the number are Pyrenean bear leaders, collectors of birds and reptiles, Italian organ grinders, returning settlers, world roving adventurers, and last, but not least, half a dozen Afghan camel men.

We pass from face to face, until our eyes fall and fasten on a Hadji Mullah, whose home is on the other side of far Kabul. He is exceptionally tall and cadaverous, his face is long, lean, and hatchet shaped, his hands and feet have evidently been designed by an architect with a liking for broad effect, while his clothes are simple swathes of calico, twisted in such a manner as to bring into extra prominence every peculiarity of his extraordinary anatomy. His legs, from the knees downwards, are bare to the winds of heaven, and, as finishing touches, his feet are thrust into unlaced Blucher boots, three sizes too large for him. We were present when he arrived on board. On gaining the deck, he said “Allah’ most emphatically, then turning to the side, shrieked to his compatriots to pass him up his baggage. Somehow it could not be found, and the excitement that followed surpasses description. At length a small bundle, tied up in a dirty red pocket-handkerchief, made its appearance, and was conveyed by its owner with anxious care to his berth below.

As soon as we are fairly under way, and our meagre meal has been disposed of, we betake ourselves to the fo’c’s’le head, destined throughout the voyage to be our favourite camping place, and as we watch the coastline recede from sight, fall to discussing our situation and condition. While thus occupied, we make the acquaintance of our three most trusty allies, some reference to whom may not be out of place.

They are a strange trio. The eldest is a Yorkshireman, broad in back and accent, a native of Bradford, and a vigorous but not over clever ruffian; the second is an Irishman, from County Gal way, rather undersized, and possessed of more than an ordinary share of his country’s wit; while the third, a Londoner from the district of Bayswater, has all the life of the streets at his fingers’ ends and a fund of quaint cockney humour to boot. They have been friends–so we discover, later–for many years, and certainly they have seen a great number of queer experiences together, in out-of-the-way corners of the globe: diamond-digging in South Africa, gold-mining in Australia, blackbirding among the Islands, before the mast here, there, and everywhere, often quarrelling, sometimes fighting, but for some strange reason never separating. What is taking them home we cannot discover, but we are continually being assured that it is business of a most important nature. Without hesitation, we nickname them Bradford, Galway, and the Dook of Bayswater, and by these names and none others are they known throughout the voyage. Genial, good-hearted rascals,–here’s a health to you where’er you go. Some day 1 shall hope to tell the world the strange and curious stories you told me I

Tea, or by whatever name the meal may be designated, is served at two bells (five o’clock), and consists of bread (sour, as at dinner time), badly boiled rice (and a suicidal description of cake), which is washed down with tea of a museum-like flavour and description. Being disinclined always to go hungry, it begins to dawn upon us that the sooner we make friends with the cook or his mate, the sooner we shall escape partial starvation. Accordingly, as soon as dinner in the first saloon is over, and the chief cook is released from his duties, we lay our plans for him, determining to win our way into his affections or perish in the attempt.

Our good fortune decrees that he shall be an elderly person of easy-going temperament, and what is still luckier, able to speak a little English, of which accomplishment he is particularly vain.

Now there are ways and ways of flattering a man. There is the heavy-handed compliment, akin to a shovel that brains the recipient right off, and sends him staggering back, powerless to appreciate or it; there is the grovelling compliment, too abject for return, even if were needed; and lastly, there is the indirect or insinuated compliment which, with a man of moderate intelligence, not only achieves its end, but in so doing disarms suspicion and creates delight.

We fix him on the weather side of his galley, in the act of lighting his after-dinner pipe, and the following conversation ensues.

The Inevitable. “Gute Nacht, mein Herr!’

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